Honor Levy Doesn't Care If You've Read Her Book

Honor Levy Doesn't Care If You've Read Her Book

By Patrick Sproull
May 17, 2024

Honor Levy is kinda blasé about publishing her first book, My First Book.

She doesn’t care if people don’t read it. “I wouldn’t mind if people just bought it,” she tells PAPER. “I’ve been thinking about a book as an object or a prop and the memeification of My Year of Rest and Relaxation. I’d be totally happy if people bought it and just had it in their houses and looked at it years later.” Simultaneously she’s already worried about it aging. “The book already feels so dated to me and I’m so nostalgic. But…” she fumbles around for the right quote. “Today is a gift, that’s why they call it the present.”

Levy has been marketed by her publishers as a fresh new Gen Z voice with a Tomorrow and Tomorrow and Tomorrow-ish book cover. She’s aware that no Fresh New Gen Z Voice would ever call themselves that. A lot of other people are doing Levy’s publicity for her. “If it’s marketed as a Gen Z book then the real Gen Z-ers will be like… this is not it,” she says. “I think a thing that a lot of Gen Z can relate to is that words don’t mean enough or they mean too much.”

And with her first book, Levy commits words to paper that both mean too much and too little and are only legible to readers born after 1995. Publishing a book is a fundamentally sincere act; being debilitatingly online is not. My First Book is easily the most successful example of this nano-genre (emphasis on the “nano”). Taking the form of vignettes about what it means to experience the World Wide Web when your brain is still pliable and corruptible, My First Book is like the mentally ill little sister of Patricia Lockwood’s No One Is Talking About This. It’s a weird, hypnotic book for the people who mourned their Nintendogs, who bore witness to #Cut4Bieber, whose first priority after school was to go on Miniclip. Very few people will get it — but it’s what Penguin Press is publishing today.

My First Book was driven by Levy’s keen interest in archiving her online life. She has a file on her laptop called “Nostalgia Machine,” consisting of old Flash and Nintendo games as well as PDFs of her favorite YA novels. “Anytime I remember something from my youth I go and find it so I can look back on it,” she says.

Other classics featured in Nostalgia Machine include “Salad Fingers” and “Narwhals.” Levy was just listening to “Potter Puppet Pals” the other day, she tells me: “That shit was the funniest shit I’ve ever seen. It’s, like, indelible in the hippocampus.” Levy speaks with the cadence of a stand-up comic and adopts different voices throughout our conversation. She slaloms through topics and references at breakneck speed, making it clear that many subjects, thoughts and theories are clearly indelible in her hippocampus.

She is fascinated by the shared experiences that have bonded her generation. “The great thing about COVID was that we were all going through the same thing all at once,” she says. “All American grandparents remember where they were when JFK got shot and our equivalent of that moment is ‘Kony 2012.’” Levy takes a moment to briefly mourn the Ugandan warlord, who she says died of COVID (he is reportedly still alive). “It turning out to be a scam maybe prepared some Gen Z people for their apathy towards the world,” she theorizes, before moving onto the subject of Harambe. “I don’t know if he’s in the book, but he should be. The day he died, that was our JFK. What a senseless killing of a noble beast that then became a meme.”

Despite being a first-time author, Levy is no stranger to the world of publishing. While still enrolled at Bennington, the Vermont college that yielded Bret Easton Ellis and Donna Tartt (“Oh, I totally went there because of them,” she offers), Levy was published by The New Yorker. Having seemingly popped out of the blue, she became an online curio. Reddit became convinced she was the grand-niece of French philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy. She claims she’s not, but it’s a fire she happily fueled. “I used to play with self-mythology a lot before it got away from me,” she says mysteriously. “People just make shit up but then you can kind of run with it.”

My First Book is Levy’s greatest stab at making it into the annals of literary history. She riffs on the ubiquity of autofiction by jamming her book full of falsehoods. “My old editor Gian and I talked about writing a collection of fiction in the style of theory and creative non-fiction, but it’s filled with lies,” she explains. “So, [the story] ‘Internet Girl’ is very personal in a lot of ways but also totally made up, like I never got naked on Omegle.” The original title of the book was Here Lies, in reference to both a Dorothy Parker story collection and the small fact it was full of lies. At one point she wanted to include cultural criticism of events that didn’t exist.

Levy met her first editor, Giancarlo DiTrapano, when she moved to New York. She sought an internship at Tyrant Books, DiTrapano’s independent, countercultural publishing house, but after he read her writing, he wanted to publish it as My First Book. Then, in 2021, DiTrapano passed away suddenly and My First Book went untouched. She emphasizes that the bulk of My First Book comes from her thesis at Bennington. When Penguin scooped it up, they made minor alterations, but the book remains largely the same. “It felt like it was weighing me down,” she explains. “I haven’t begun a new, big project since, but now that it’s in your bedroom in your hands I feel free to do that.”

In the period post-college and post-Tyrant, Levy became a kind of New York-specific literary e-girl. She spoke at readings, published stories and essays in niche lit magazines, and became part of the now-tedious community of online randoms known for hanging around Dimes Square. Levy speaks fondly of her time in Dimes Square, where she rubbed shoulders with the likes of Red Scare podcaster Dasha Nekrasova, writer Mike Crumplar and extremely far-right blogger Curtis Yarvin. “Like any artistic scene, Dimes Square in 2021 attracted people from all walks of life,” she says, assuming a kind of PR-y monotone. “Traditional Catholics, Manhattan socialites, progressive activists, Nietzschean bodybuilders, tech bros, eco terrorists, crypto scammers and experimental artists all mingled under the same roof.”

Dimes Square was populated by one-time Bernie Sanders supporters, including Levy, but they soon started to parrot right-wing sayings and aesthetics. Was it real or an extended bit? Is there even a difference? Either way, Levy was a founding member. She co-hosted a podcast, “Wet Brain,” which featured her conversion to traditional Catholicism. She was quoted in The New York Times about her decision to pull a short story from The Drunken Canal after they wouldn’t let her say “retarded.” She blithely told Vanity Fair she would take money from tech billionaire and Trump supporter Peter Thiel when the magazine investigated claims he had funneled money into Dimes Square personalities.

Levy explains that she loved the brief online fascination with Dimes Square because of her own interest in historical literary scenes. She wanted to have her own version of the Romantics, the Beatniks, the Algonquin Round Table, the Brat Pack. “I love self-contained mythology. I love seeing how different people in history knew each other. I think New York was really exciting because my friends and I were all making stuff and putting it out there. But, you know, a myth can run away…” she trails off. “We’re just vessels, we’re not in total control. The post-COVID 2021 vibe shift era was so electric but then the vibe got depleted. I was having a little identity crisis, very ‘mask eats the face’ vibes.”

And so, in November 2023, Levy moved home to LA, where she grew up. “I just was really tired and I didn’t know what was real or who I was,” she says. “Maybe I was just doing too many stimulants and having a bad break-up, but I was like, damn, I’m just straight up confused.” Dimes Square was her early-twenties experience of hanging with friends and talking shit about the state of the world — though she was often mic’d up and quoted in major New York magazines. That has clearly affected her. “Doing things for the sake of being transgressive? I mean, I learned my lesson! I also thought the word ‘reactionary’ just meant you were reacting to things. No, it means right-wing.”

With the return to LA and the book’s publication, Levy is attempting to move on with her life. “I think it’s very easy to be like, ‘Fuck identity politics! They gave us identity politics to divide us. Fuck cancel culture! If you’re not canceled, who are you?’ but that is very tired,” she says. “My politics are contrarian but it’s time to grow up.” So is Dimes Square over? “It’s over for me in a way,” she says.

Given the company she kept and the comments she made, I wonder if she regrets any of it. “I do,” she says. She regrets “Wet Brain”: “A podcast is just an inherently bad form, it’s too many ideas too fast. Listening to people all the time without being able to talk back, it really does something to your brain.” The podcast produced an online community, spawning its own stories, memes and discourses. “The tenets of it were joking about things that feel bad now,” she says. “It was like, ‘Ironic? Sincere? Nuh-uh, I love God! Or yes, I might be racist,’ all things that feel tired. Now that’s what all of downtown New York is doing.” She takes a moment before unloading: “I don’t regret it but I also don’t regret the book but I also regret everything I’ve ever done. Yeah, if I’ve said anything that hurt anyone or hurt their feelings, I regret it. But it’s a good question: do I regret it? I feel weird about it all the time.”

With the release of the book, she’s aware that “the right-wing stuff” will haunt her. “I’m scared of being canceled for being right-wing or whatever,” she says. Well, are you? “I think I’m...” she pauses. “I don’t want to say I’m a centrist, because that’s the worst thing you can be today. I think I have libertarian leanings. I don’t even know that much about politics but some of my ideas might be called more right but also some more left, so I don’t really know.”

Levy comes from a theater background — you can still see her high school drama class monologue on YouTube — and she treated Dimes Square like her theater camp. “I think when you’re really young, a girl, on the internet, in New York, and pretty good at making memes and really good at consuming memes, it can feel like an almost spiritual or noble thing to just channel culture,” she explains. “Put me in front of a microphone and I play a character.”

How much of a character is Levy playing today, then? “In interviews I thought I was going to be way different,” she says forlornly. “What I feel like I’m doing when I’m posting on social media, when I’m doing the podcast, when I’m writing fiction, it’s all performance. But I’m not Andy Warhol or Caroline Calloway; I can’t perform the self in a one-on-one conversation. It’s a blessing and a curse because it makes you a less legendary artist, probably.”

As we wrap up, Levy asks me in a childlike voice: “Do you hate me now? Do you not like me?” No, I don’t hate you, I say. “Well, it would be totally fine if this whole thing was a crazy takedown because you know what? It was the moment that counted.”

Photography: Olivia Parker and Parker Hao