California girl Lauren Conrad is famous for living her life on camera — first on MTV’s Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County and then on The Hills. She worked as a magazine intern at Teen Vogue and in fashion marketing in Los Angeles. She designed a line of clothing with an emphasis on flirty, let’s-go- drinking dresses. Her face is on magazine covers, her name in boldfaced type. She’s admired by fans for her sweet, stunned affect even when boyfriends flame out and a best girlfriend moves on. She is 23 years old, and celebrated for being a celebrity.
Now, though, what Conrad really wants to do is write: L.A. Candy, her first novel, is also the first fruit of a three-book deal. In it, 19-year-old California girl ”Jane Roberts” becomes famous for living her life on a reality TV show called…L.A. Candy. She works as an intern in L.A. She has boy troubles, a falling-out with a girlfriend, and a sweet, stunned affect. So far, ”Jane” hasn’t gotten a three-book deal. But then, there are still two books to go.
Is there nothing LC can’t do? Well, uh, yes. Write a ”novel.” Authors need to be judged as writers, not as multitasking buzz generators — even if the person in question is a blithe It Girl known for remarks like ”Shoes make me happy” and ”I don’t feel girly without long hair.” And even if her book tests well with her target readers. Publishers these days are laying off staff and cutting the number of titles on their lists; the book business is suffering along with everyone else, and there’s little room to gamble on an untried writer, however exciting that new voice. Yet with one eye on marketing opportunities and the other on TV ratings, these same publishers have given the okay to a larky novice who’d be the first to admit that she just thought authoring might be, you know, cool.
In this, of course, Conrad joins an elite group of dilettantes and debutants who have already heeded the advice of English teachers through the ages and written about what they know, including Fabio (bodice rippers), Naomi Campbell (thinly disguised tales of a supermodel), Pamela Anderson (thinly disguised tales of a bazoomy sex kitten), and Nicole Richie (thinly disguised tales of a thin socialite). But books aren’t handbags or cosmetic lines, products devised to extend a famous person’s brand. Any celebrity can choose between zipper A and magnetic snap B to ”design” a reasonably trendy satchel. Very few are as talented as Carrie Fisher, Steve Martin, or Hugh Laurie — highly literate polymaths who just happen to have found fame as performers first and as authors later. Those who enjoy Kirk Douglas, Jimmy Buffett, or Mick Foley might be drawn to the literary endeavors that bear their names. Still, most of us would be better served by renting Spartacus, listening to ”Margaritaville,” or watching Foley’s old WWF videos starring Mankind vs. The Undertaker.
As for Lauren Conrad’s novel, it’s a dismal portent of the future of pop culture, disguised as escapist fiction aimed at young-adult LC fans who might like a bookshaped object as a keepsake now that Conrad has left her popular show. The author (or ”authors,” allowing for the possibility of anonymous assistance) follows that write-what-you-know credo faithfully. And perhaps that’s why the book’s most deeply felt scene involves Jane, a member of her tech crew, and a cordless microphone. ”Well,” the crew member tells young Jane as she prepares for her first night of living on camera, ”I’m gonna have you tape this microphone to the inside of the front of your bra and run the wire around your side, then I’ll clip the mike pack on the back of your bra.”
Not surprisingly, Jane takes to the whole mike-in-bra thing really well. Likewise, Conrad ought to do just fine on her 10-city book tour — it’ll be just like reality TV, only with books as props. C