Books

Kim Kardashian West
Selfish

By what standard would Kim Kardashian West have us judge Selfish, a collection of selfies that documents an eight-year stretch in her life? Like any exercise whose pleasures depend on pattern recognition – it is picture after picture of a single person’s face – the book has a hypnotic, even narcotic, effect. By its conclusion, in the week of her marriage to Kanye West, I found myself in a kind of post-immersive fugue state, briefly convinced it was enough for a book to simply exist.

She is good at her art. Throughout the book, non-Kardashian humans have that haunted look people get when they are taking selfies: weird wild eyes, dubious lip formations, necks craned at angles that raise questions of vertebral health. Not Kim – though the production values are rarely up to scratch. The oddest spread is a two-page selfie wherein you must infer that her eyes look bright and playful and her lips are theatrically pursed, because most of the face is buried in the binding of the book. The caption reads: “I’m obsessed with contour.”

And yet the book pairs nicely with other recent memoirs that manipulate the effects of supply and demand. It’s most like “Ongoingness”, an essay by Sarah Manguso that discusses her 800,000-word diary but doesn’t quote a word. In Kardashian’s case, what’s omitted is the world beyond the self. “I was in Africa in a diamond mine,” one caption explains. The picture is just a smiling woman in sunglasses and a hard hat.

She suggests a case for this, writing: “I can look at any photo of myself and can tell who did my hair and make-up, where I was and who I was with.” The captions do provide such details, though rarely all at once. While this means the connective tissue that structures a life is absent from the text, in the caption genre, “Vegas nights” might be enough.

There are genuinely funny parts. Some of it is genuinely cute. There is the interesting decision to include a nude snap that leaked on the web, then double-down with a sudden barrage of accompanying nudes.

There are occasional attempts to make her life “relatable”, but who cares? For the most part, the book presents her as an alien on earth: bizarre and exceptional and hard to understand. It’s for the best. The minute we need to open a book and see ourselves staring back, there’ll be no more need for artists; there’ll be no hope left.  CR

Rizzoli, 352pp, $29.95

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on May 16, 2015 as "Kim Kardashian West, Selfish". Subscribe here.

Reviewer: CR