Former Beauty Editor of US Vogue, Daisy Garnett has spent her lifetime nosing the pages of different publications, whether in research for her own book, Cooking Lessons, or crafting the fashion bylines that made her name. Garnett let us take a glimpse at her bookshelf, with her reading list for the summer, in this first instalment of By the Book.
You write about fashion, and cooking – two topics which can appear impenetrable to outsiders. How do you make them relatable or universal?
I think if you really love something then you are in. Even if you need to unravel something you’re looking at or reading – a poem, say, or a painting – if you love it, if it speaks to you, then you’re already accessing it in some powerful way. And if you write about it without pretension, simply and straightforwardly, trying to convey why it is worthy, not of being written about, but of being read about by someone else, then you can’t fail.
Where do you enjoy doing your writing or reading?
I enjoy reading anywhere. I use public transport to get around, and I love reading on a long tube journey. Of course, it is on holiday that you tend to have the most time to read and I love the luxury, which I don’t have in my everyday life, of knowing I have hours of reading time in my day. I write mostly at my desk in London, where I live, or else on a laptop in a library – any library will do. I don’t always enjoy writing however. I find it hard; that’s as it should be.
What grips you in a book?
Writing that is bristling with energy.
What would your ‘desert island book’ be?
Middlemarch by George Elliot. That book contains every secret.
As a writer, what turns you off?
That weird style of writing that is often used in the art world, and can be nonsensical.
What’s your favourite line from literature?
Prospero’s famous line in The Tempest: “We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.’
Who’s your hero in fiction?
Felix Young from The Europeans by Henry James.
Who’s your literary icon?
Two of them; Mary Wollstencraft, and her daughter, Mary Shelley.
The story of the Guinness heir whose death inspired The Beatles song. He was at the centre of boho life in London in the ‘60s. The book is not brilliantly written — Howard is no stylist, but it is unpretentious and a quick, highly enjoyable, gossipy read, full of fascinating characters — none more so than Browne’s mother, Oonagh Guinness.
The Elena Ferrante quartet. These are not new but they are essential reading. What a pleasure you have in store if you haven’t read Ferrante. The quartet are comprised of four novels that tell the story of two brilliant women growing up in poverty in Naples. The first is My Brilliant Friend, and once you’ve finished it you will be relieved that you have three more to go. That’s how good it is.
Again, not new, just brill. This is Smith’s memoir about her relationship with Robert Mapplethorpe and their joint love affair with New York. The story is fantastic. Smith’s writing, surprising and brilliant.
This was recently re-published. It is an oral history about Robert Fraser and the art and music scene in London in the ‘60s and ‘70s. It is so funny and informing and good. Everyone who was anyone at that time has talked to Vyner, and she captures their voices brilliantly.
If you like oral histories, then the one about Edie Sedgwick by Jean Stein and George Plimpton is also brilliant and again, captures a whole era and scene.
And again, in that same vein, another oral history: Truman Capote biography by George Plimpton is FANTASTIC.
Another biography of an astonishing person, but from a different era: Infinite Variety: The Life and Legend of the Marchesa Casati by Scot D. Ryersson and Michael Orlando Yaccarino. The writing isn’t the best, but it is such a good story that it doesn’t matter too much. Casati was a legend in early 20th century, her creative life expressed in the way she dressed, partied and entertained. She was a truly singular person.