It's Lit! Fashion Director Bay Garnett Shares Her Reading List

Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Welcome to It's Lit – a series of discussions about books. Join us every month to find out who's reading what.
British stylist Bay Garnett was one of the first fashion editors to pair elusive couture creations with accessible charity shop treasures in shoots for Vogue. Credited with pioneering "thrifting", she and her fellow magpie stylist, Kira Jolliffe founded the anti-fashion magazines Cheap Date and Fanpages, and co-authored the book The Cheap Date Guide To Style. The DIY guide was inspired by another style bible: Cheap Chic. "I have spent so many hours of my life looking at that book; Chloë Sevigny gave it to me and I immediately fell in love with it," Garnett recalls, handing me an original copy from 1975. "It’s basically about how to dress cheaply and still look cool. I’m so obsessed with it I wrote to the authors and asked them if they’d do a fanpage for us 30 years later, and they did."
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
The fashion director-at-large of ES Magazine has always relied on books for inspiration. "I went through a real stage about 20 years ago – before the internet – of obsessively researching my shoots. I used to spend hours looking at books; punk books, Debbie Harry books, books on advertising in the '70s – I miss doing that now," she says. "Your ideas were more your own then because you had to search for them and you had to know about them," Garnett laments.
Although she still has a large collection of photography and reference books, most of her reading these days is devoted to fiction. "I’m lucky, in a literary sense," says Garnett; her mother, the author and broadcaster Polly Devlin, was awarded an OBE for services to literature; her brother-in-law is the publishing director of Fourth Estate books; and her aunt was married to the Nobel Prize-winning poet and playwright Seamus Heaney. "I don’t know if I’d be so into books if I hadn’t had this rich influence," she admits.
Keen to discover what gems are on Garnett’s shelves – an original Heaney poem included – we visited her at home in Shepherd’s Bush and found out why she’s reluctant to join a book club, the title that left her feeling "winded" and why she rarely hangs on to novels anymore.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
What are you reading right now?
I’m reading Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood. I love her – I haven’t read her for years but she’s just so good.
Are you someone that juggles multiple titles at once?
I try to dip in and out of nonfiction but with fiction I find I can only read one novel at a time. More than one means I’m not really loving my book.
When and where do you like to read?
I don’t read in the day, unless I’m on holiday. I read at weekends and at night. I love reading before I go to sleep or on a Saturday morning. It’s a real treat; it’s me time.
Is there a book you’ve read more than once?
Yeah, Jane Eyre, which is my favourite book. I’ve read The Catcher in the Rye twice and I might have read an Anne Tyler more than once, who’s another favourite of mine. A Spool of Blue Thread, her last one, was so good.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Do you have a favourite bookshop?
I love Daunt Books on Holland Park Avenue. The people in there are always incredibly nice. I also like Lutyens & Rubinstein on Kensington Park Road and my favourite is Heywood Hill in Mayfair.
Which magazines are you faithful to?
I always read The Week and The New Yorker. Sometimes it’s great and sometimes it’s boring. I like ES. That’s about it. I don’t really read fashion magazines anymore. I used to when I was much younger. Although I’ll still dip into them for lovely shoots.
How do you choose what to read next?
Recommendations. Or often my next read will be based on an author I’ve loved that I want to read more of. I don’t buy unknown authors that much because I usually feel disappointed – I like sticking with people who I know and love that have been recommended to me. I love sharing books with friends and talking about them too. I always discuss books with my best friend, even if we don’t always agree on them. Two recent favourites we both liked are Still Missing by Chevy Stevens and My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent. Another close friend lives in the country and I always take four or five books with me to give to her when I visit – she calls it "the Bay shelf".
Have you ever been part of a book club?
No, I haven’t. I’m not sure I’d want to though – if I did, I’d want to be the stupidest person there [laughs]; I wouldn’t want to listen to people talking about a book in a plodding way, do you know what I mean?
You don’t want to be dictated to, right?
Exactly. It’s one of the wonderful things about reading in a way – it’s just your own world, isn’t it?
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Do you have a favourite author?
Charlotte Brontë, Anne Tyler, Jeffrey Eugenides and Jonathan Franzen; I think he’s a genius.
What was the last book that made you cry?
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan really ripped me apart, I don’t think I cried but it was very moving. I was in shock after reading that; I felt winded.
How do you organise your bookshelves?
I don’t keep paperbacks. I’m not a collector of books to be honest, after I’ve read them I give them away. I keep very few – I just don’t have the room.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
What do you use as a bookmark?
I’ve got an old bookmark from Somerset House that’s white leather with a neon pink silhouette of the London Eye and Saint Paul's. I’ve lost it so many times and it always comes back to me.
What are your favourite nonfiction books?
Stefan Zweig’s brilliant biography of Marie Antoinette is one of the best I’ve ever read. And I love Anthony Lane, he’s a brilliant essayist. Patti Smith’s Just Kids is just fantastic and Cheap Chic is one of the best books ever written on style. I’m also a big Eminem fan so I’d recommend Whatever You Say I Am.
Which three books would you recommend to a stranger?
You have to read Tony and Susan, I love that book, it’s incredible. I’d also recommend In Cold Blood because it’s such a good read, and Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler. Or The Great Gatsby – you can’t go wrong with that.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Photographed by Matilda Hill-Jenkins.
Bay’s Reading List
Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
The Catcher in the Rye by J. D. Salinger
A Spool of Blue Thread by Anne Tyler
Still Missing by Chevy Stevens
My Absolute Darling by Gabriel Tallent
Freedom by Jonathan Franzen
The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan
Marie Antoinette: The Portrait of an Average Woman by Stefan Zweig
Just Kids by Patti Smith
Cheap Chic by Carol Troy and Caterine Milinaire
Whatever You Say I Am: The Life and Times of Eminem by Anthony Bozza
Tony and Susan by Austin Wright
In Cold Blood by Truman Capote
Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler
The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald
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