When The Hills reality star Lauren Conrad's novels L.A. Candy and Sweet Little Lies made it to the New York Times best-seller list 12 weeks in a row, simultaneously holding the No. 1 positions in both hardcover and paperback, a million struggling writers committed spiritual hara-kiri. "As a published author, as a playwright ... and as a human being, this was all just a little bit too much for me," one author wrote on his website.
Conrad's fans, though, couldn't care less. The actress just came out with two more books. When she signed them recently at the Grove in L.A., the line (long, unyielding, tweens for days), disappeared inside the front door of Barnes & Noble and reassembled itself upstairs on the third floor.
Someone asked: Do you think she really wrote her books? "Yes, I do," says Madeline Hulstrom, one of the young women languishing in high heels. "Yes. I do. Because they sound just like her talking."
Hulstrom, 19, described by her friends as "stalkertastic," is known in her sorority for her obsession with Lauren Conrad. She wears the clothes Conrad designs for Kohl's. She belts her shirts over her skirts, as Conrad suggests, to emphasize her waist. She even owns the same Chanel purse.
"Her novels, they're not exactly UCLA textbooks," Hulstrom adds.
Conrad was a stranger to literature until high school, when she was forced to read The Great Gatsby as a class assignment. Other than Goodnight Moon, it is the book she cites most often as her favorite, the one she would bring with her if stranded on a desert island, and not just to use to crack open coconuts. Perhaps she sees herself in Jay Gatsby. Perhaps she relates to Fitzgerald's critique of a greedy, decadent and corrupt society. Perhaps, as nonfans speculate, it is the only book she has ever read. Perhaps, as seriously nonfans speculate, that is being optimistic.
"It was the first book I can remember ever really enjoying. I'm not really a big reader," she admits on the phone the day before. "It kind of changed my view on books."
Still, as she signed her initials in big, looping script, fans hung on her every word. Conrad to a girl in a wheelchair: "All of these little girls say I look tired. No, I tell them. I'm just old."
To a baby: "Aren't you a little trooper?"
To herself, in a droll voice: "It's exciting stuff, signing names in books. I love that it's like Disneyland. You must be this tall to ride this ride."
One fan, 27-year-old Crystal, says she admires Conrad's realness, sweetness and ambition. Asked what she thinks of Conrad's literary stylings, she grimaces. "Well, I'm not a big reader. But her books are hard to put down."
You might parse Conrad's style guide as a kind of accidental autobiography. There is sheer human drama in how she tries to ignore her upper thighs and focus instead on her collarbone and shoulders, how her heart breaks at the thought of school uniforms and how she has a love/hate relationship with her suitcase.
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Or you might simply take her fashion advice. "Like you would on any day spent in the wilderness, you should have a good plan when preparing to shop," she writes.
At her signing, Conrad — or "LC" to the cognoscenti — looks exceedingly lovely in a navy BCBG Max Azria dress and black-patent Giuseppe Zanotti pumps ("I don't know about the belt," frets one of her handlers, "it was a last-minute switch-out").
Her devotees, careful students all, wear iterations of the same outfit.
Is it any surprise that Lauren Conrad Style has barely been out a week and is already holding court at No. 2 on the Times list? The cult of Conrad may not be big readers, but when they do crack a book, they certainly read the crap out of it.