A feature on writer and actress Tavi Gevinson’s reading nook.
A content collaboration between West Elm, StreetEasy, and The Brooklyn Public Library.
Photographed by Sean Santiago.
Originally published for West Elm’s blog as “A Visit To Tavi Gevinson’s Brooklyn Reading Nook”
When writer and actress Tavi Gevinson vacated her West Village apartment for Fort Greene, Brooklyn, she did so for many of the same reasons people turn to New York’s most populous borough: SPACE. “My old apartment was adorable, but small,” the Rookie Magazine founder says, “and after two years, I had really outgrown it.”
After learning of partnership potential with 300 Ashland, a new development along Brooklyn’s Flatbush Ave thoroughfare, she jumped at the opportunity. Gevinson’s new digs, which need to function as both home and workspace for the self-employed maven, fit all of her needs perfectly. Not only did her new one-bedroom have ample space and natural light, but its central location afforded proximity to several train lines and some of the city’s best cultural institutions. Just down the block is the esteemed Brooklyn Academy of Music (which Tavi has already been sure to snap selfies from) and the Brooklyn Museum and Brooklyn Botanical gardens are a short subway trip away. Another exciting development? The Brooklyn Public Library has plans to open a branch right in the base of 300 Ashland.
To help celebrate her new home, west elm and Street Easy teamed up with Tavi to help outfit her new apartment and share a special glimpse into the avid bookworm’s reading nook. Take a closer look below as Tavi shares five of her favorite books, pulled from her new neighbor, The Brooklyn Public Library! Want to see more of the space? Head over to Street Easy to see the Tavi’s full apartment!
Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?
by Kathleen Collins
This short story collection is both sweeping and intimate; cinemascoped and lived-in; a blend of Kathleen Collins’ filmmaking perspective with details that feel culled from personal experience. One story describes a love scene as though the narrator is setting up shots for a movie. Another covers a couple’s whole life together in a series of vignettes and half-unspoken rapport, like maybe true love is a kind of two-person omniscience; maybe true love is background music. Sex is, in part, a way for these characters to get to know themselves, and to know how they are seen by others. The reader listens in on inner and shared dialogues about blackness, black womanhood, and family. Collins died in 1988 and these stories were published posthumously, but the questions she explored remain relevant–and her capturing of them, revolutionary.
Killing and Dying
by Adrian Tomine
I don’t think you have to be a good person to make good art, but it’s really nice when the forces of creativity and compassion feed each other, instead of being at odds. When I interviewed Adrian Tomine about this book of graphic stories, he talked about how being a father has affected his work: “When I was a young, single guy, people either sucked, or they were awesome. And that was it. I loved some people, and everybody else could go to hell, you know? And I think now I have really complicated feelings about the average person that I meet. I realize that’s actually a really useful thing as a writer, to try and bring into your work. To take that feeling of, This guy’s kind of an asshole, but I sort of feel sorry for him, and I sort of relate to him, and to try to impose that on these fictional characters, has been a fun challenge for me.” I’ve always loved his books, going back to his earliest Drawn & Quarterly comics from when he was a teen. But in Killing and Dying, the care given to every character, all in uniquely difficult positions, is a beautiful example of how being open in life can open up possibilities within art. Also, comics seem like the hardest thing to make (to me), and I have so much respect for anyone who does them.
The Witches: Salem, 1692
by Stacy Schiff
I read this book about the witch trials in Salem when I was doing The Crucible on Broadway. I needed help understanding the gravity of words and actions that, in 21st century secularism, seemed either inconsequential (“go to hell”) or silly (dancing in the woods). Much has been written of the witch hunt over the years — it was Marion Starkey’s already extensive The Devil in Massachusetts that inspired Arthur Miller to write his play begin with — but nothing captured my attention like this one. Stacy Schiff’s descriptions are utterly enthralling, without falling into the sensationalist, cover-story-feeling tone of other books that try to make history “fun.” Schiff lets the research speak for itself: According to court records, Mary Warren’s tongue hung out of her mouth for so long that it turned black. When Tituba spread her story of meeting with the devil throughout Salem, Schiff writes that it was like she’d handed out hallucinogens. That helped me process what it would be like for your world to actually be that small; no images, no information, no culture, nothing but your community and your beliefs and like, a bog. Schiff’s portraits of people/characters I’d hated since high school–Reverend Parris, for example–humanized them in ways political allegories can’t. (The Crucible is a rare allegory which treats its characters like people instead of symbols, but it’s not perfectly spelled out for every production or, say, 16 year-old English student.) I’d imagine rereading The Witches now would illuminate even more about America’s history of paranoia and hysteria. It would also help to see how, when assigning roles of heroes and villians gets you nowhere, understanding where everyone is coming from may actually make for progress, rather than fatality.
History of Beauty
by Umberto Eco
What to do when you’re totally fatigued from being inundated with images and notions of conventional beauty? Place it in historical context, of course! I like having this around as a reference book and to lend some perspective; make my daily experience with appearance more interesting. While it’s largely concerned with representations of beauty in art, it reads more like philosophy than art history. One of many Umberto Eco works that have had me rethink what I’d previously believed about personal style, taste, and aesthetics.
I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard
by Halley Feiffer
Everyone I know who saw the last production of this play talks how about how it wrecked them emotionally. I didn’t get to see it, but reading it is so gutting that I don’t know if I could handle a performance. It centers on the relationship between a young actress and her esteemed playwright father. Both have been hollowed out by their respective experiences with abusive parents and with show business. Act I begins with them bracing themselves for the review of the daughter’s new play, but their frenetic opening night energy turns grim. Success becomes as threatening as failure. And then–well, I started tearing up just describing Act II to a friend the other day. The last time I reread I’m Gonna Pray For You So Hard, I was reminded of this line from Shaw’s Man and Superman: “There are two tragedies in life. One is not to get your heart’s desire. The other is to get it.” And yet! This story isn’t fueled by cynicism or bitterness, but Halley Feiffer’s deep sense of compassion.