Journalist Dana Thomas asks the most important question about luxury: what is it worth if it lacks integrity? Part contemporary history and part investigation, her exploration of who makes what where is also beautifully written. If you’ve ever wanted to unpack your high-end bag (literally, figuratively), Deluxe should be your first stop.
A Visit from the Goon Squad
I do not expect anyone to ever compare our writing, but I unexpectedly read this twice while I was drafting I’ll Eat When I’m Dead because it is so successfully broad. Egan’s masterpiece uses points of view so diverse that some characters never meet, and the success of that gave me huge comfort (along with a goal to shoot for) when I was trying to give myself permission to have characters with real distance between them.
Ways of Seeing
I quoted a large passage from this book in the first chapter of my book, and though I tried to give Berger a royalty for that quote before he passed away, permission was given gratis. To me, that encapsulates the spirit of this amazing text, first written for a BBC series: this knowledge is for everyone. The writing is accessible, considered, and still revolutionary. Berger might have been an old, white, British man, but he was an amazing, thoughtful writer and a dyed-in-the-wool feminist. A must for your bookshelf.
Elizabeth L. Cline
I bought this book immediately after hearing Cline interviewed on Fresh Air when she discussed the then-recent collapse of the Rana Plaza building in Bangladesh that resulted in the deaths of over 400 workers. Though it helped me to establish RAGE’s mission, if you care about fashion at all, you should pick up Overdressed. Easy to read and full of sharp insights, it is part personal narrative, part history, and part investigation, as Cline creates a phony company, travels to China, and attempts to trace the supply chain of her pretend apparel line.
Bad Girls Go Everywhere
More of my Margot background, this biography of Helen Gurley Brown by Dr. Jennifer Scanlon focuses heavily on her time at Cosmopolitan magazine, and the impact of her particular brand of stylish/sexy/single feminism—while still asking, um, IS this feminism? If you want to go down the Helen rabbit hole, this is where to start.
My first novel, I’ll Eat When I’m Dead, is a murder mystery set at a fashion magazine. During the eight-month process of drafting it, I read, for one reason or another, many of the books on this list, and by the time I got through edits and proofreads a year later, I’d read the rest and composed a very light syllabus for anyone who wants to learn more about the garment industry, magazines, and contemporary women’s labor.
Much of this is a result of the magazine in the novel, which became a character in its own right. Called RAGE Fashion Book, it is my absolute and total fantasy about fashion magazines: one, it is the most glamorous place on earth, and two, it only features (and accepts advertising from) luxury brands that prove their goods were made with living wage labor. The book is, of course, fiction, and so there’s a lot that gets papered over in terms of the complexity of making such a promise, but I still did my research—on the fashion, beauty and garment industries, on my characters, and on the kind of writing I wanted to accomplish. I genuinely enjoyed reading all of these books, and I hope you will, too.
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