Two of the greatest mysteries of my life have been why Britney Spears was reading my second novel and whether she liked it. The fact that she was reading (or at least holding) To Feel Stuff came to my attention on July 1, 2008, according to the chain of “Re: i am crying” emails in my sent folder.
I’d received a Google notification about the book’s mention.
When I checked the link, it took me to a Britney fan site where I found the image above and zooming in saw:
First I became euphoric. Then I ordered it on a t-shirt through Zazzle. Britney Spears has long been one of the people I’d want at my “any three people, living or dead” dinner. As much as I know I sound like a delusional guy in a strip club when I say that I sense a real complexity behind her persona, I do. In real life I think it’s not that unusual to look at someone you don’t know very well and feel that there’s something you recognize in them. It just sounds much more dumb when you’re sharing that feeling about a famous person. Basically, it’s extremely hard for me to explain why I like Spears so much, the same way it’s hard for me to describe why I love my boyfriend. Admittedly, it has something to do with a perceived struggle with despair, my sense that she’s willing to go along with a little of the bullshit, but can’t handle much more than a little.
This is the context I have for the night of the photo. It’s March 18, 2008. Her parents have taken her to dinner at Paradise Cove in Malibu. They’re supposedly celebrating her mom Lynne’s birthday. Some fans online say that she’s wearing a dress she wore while pregnant with son Jayden, but she’s not pregnant here. Britney does not look very happy. This is a few nights after she has had dinner with Mel Gibson (I mention this because I think we have to consider the wild possibility that Mel gave her the book).
What’s so mysterious about Britney carrying this particular novel of mine is that no one really read this novel. My first book did decent numbers and is much more popular, but this one didn’t sell so hot. I just checked the last sales statement, and as of this July, To Feel Stuff has sold about 13,000 copies. Back in 2008, probably a few thousand less. Whenever People magazine asks a celebrity what she’s reading, it’s inevitably something that hundreds of thousands of people are reading. Julia Roberts will say she’s reading Dostoevsky, and I’m always like, “Okay honey, he doesn’t need the help.” If To Feel Stuff had been more known, or if I was a big author, then the book landing in Britney’s hand would have been a slightly less bewildering event. But the book came out quietly, and most of the time when I meet voracious readers and they ask for the titles of my novels, there is zero recognition.
After seeing the Paradise Cove picture, I felt an almost panicky curiosity about how and why Britney ended up with my novel. I think it was the feeling of wanting to call her up and ask her questions, but, you know, not having her number or that kind of access to her. I mellowed myself out by figuring that one day the opportunity to get some context would present itself. I thought that it could happen when my boyfriend was writing on MTV awards shows, and I’d goad him into asking her about it backstage. Or it could happen at my actress friend’s movie premiere after-party, or our stylist friend could start dressing her and bring it up naturally in conversation. But it never did. Maybe other people want to know the meaning of life, but this is the thing that I want to know.
This panicky curiosity reached a new fervor when The X Factor premiered a couple of weeks ago. If you haven’t watched because you think you know who Britney Spears is, then I want to tell you to watch at least one audition episode and I will be deeply shocked if you are not surprised by some quality of hers that reveals itself to you for the first time. I call her the 5000 piece puzzle. She’s that girl who gives you just enough to draw you in, then shuts you out. She’s not at all cold or cagey, but she’s not falling all over herself to be liked or likeable. She’s more enigmatic than you probably think. The best I can put it is that she feels like a person who you’d feel really honored to know on the odd, odd chance that she let you. I guess what I’m trying to say is that she strikes me as a person of substance, and I’m not just saying that because she probably read my book.
So when I watched The X Factor premiere, I was practically gnashing at the couch because I couldn’t believe that four years had gone by and still I had no better understanding of what To Feel Stuff was doing in Britney Spears’ possession. I’m finally putting this essay out there with the hope that it will echo around the Internet and somehow return a lead or some insight. If you know her, please consider directing her to this page. If you are her, oh my god. These are the top 5 questions that I badly want answered, addressed to Britney Spears.
1. Did you pick the book for yourself or did someone give it to you?
2. If you picked it, why? Or if someone gave it to you, why did they think you would like it?
3. Did you like it?
4. If so, holy shit. If not, what was lacking for you? I’d like to hear about what was disappointing about it.
5. Did you bring it out to dinner with you that night because you were really absorbed in it, or is it just something that you were carrying?
Andrea Seigel is the author of three novels and the writer of the forthcoming movie Laggies, to be directed by Lynn Shelton