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Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
If you follow Isaac Mizrahi on IG, you’ll have seen his book collection (he’ll also give you tours of his kitchen and garden in Bridgehampton, NY, from where he shares cooking videos that have found an enthusiastic online audience.) The designer has a long, colorful resume: documentary subject (1995’s Unzipped); actor (last played Amos Hart in Chicago on Broadway); costume designer; cabaret performer (he has an annual residency at the Café Carlyle); director; early Target collaborator; author (including his memoir, I.M.); Project Runway All-Stars judge; and TV talk show host. He recently launched pet accessories and a travel and beauty collection and is writing his first novel.
The New York-born and -based four-time CFDA winner learned to sew making puppets (see Lil’ Isaac on his IG) and bought his first sewing machine at 10 with babysitting money; went to the High School of Performing Arts and later made his acting debut in Fame, based on student life there; studied at Parsons; worked for Calvin Klein and Perry Ellis; made clothes for Liza Minnelli (for which is was nominated for an Emmy) and Michelle Obama; collects paste jewelry and hats; has a dog named Kitty and a Japanese cherry tree named Elaine (after Stritch); has a ballroom house named after him; and would like Dan Levy to play him in a biopic.
Fan of: Burt Bacharach (whom he interviewed for Interview), The Mary Tyler Moore Show and matchy-matchy, the Frick Collection, breakfast parties, Carmargue salt and Plugrá butter, Annick Goutal fragrances Eau d’Hadrien and Le Chèvrefeuille. Not so much: store-bought hair product (he whips up his own), summer, mobile boarding passes. Make one of his picks your next airplane read.
The book that…
…kept me up way too late:
The Murder of Roger Ackroyd. I just started reading Agatha Christie late in life. It’s incredibly engrossing and a lesson in plotting.
…made my weep:
Beauty makes me weep more than tragedy. There are songs in The Shakespeare play Twelfth Night that make me weep literally every time I read them.
…I read in one sitting, it was that good:
Less by Andrew Sean Greer. It was so funny and charming. A real page turner.
…I first bought:
One of the first things I ever bought that cost something was a beautiful, old, leather-bound collection of the series The Decline And Fall of the Roman Empire by Edward Gibbon. I bought it ‘cause it looked so good on the shelf in my bedroom, and I ended up reading a lot of it!
…I last bought:
Shy, the Mary Rodgers autobiography, which I loved. It was difficult to read with a lot of footnotes, but it was really interesting and quite dishy. A lot of incredible stories. Also maybe this is a double for the Jeopardy! (The book that taught me this Jeopardy!-worthy bit of trivia): It revealed facts on the subject of musical theater, which I thought I knew everything about.
…sealed a friendship:
A few friendships: the seven volumes of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time. I have three friends I can think of who are as obsessed with these books as I am. And they are dearer for it. It’s for sure the greatest thing I’ve ever read in my life.
…holds the recipe to a favorite dish:
The best recipe is from Lidia Bastianich from her book of Lidia’s Favorite Recipes. It’s ziti with sausage, onions, and fennel. I discovered it about 15 years ago, she cooked it on my show, and I cook it at least five times a year.
…has the best ending:
Henry James’s The Portrait of a Lady. It’s so incredibly realistic and modern in that it does not resolve. The treatment of the ending makes it such a more important story. I am not sure there’s an editor alive who would permit him to use that ending today.
…I could only have discovered at…:
I could only have discovered the series of Mapp and Lucia books by E.F. Benson at Three Lives bookstore. One of the REALLY SMART people there recommended it. I always listen when anyone there recommends a book.
…I’d want signed by the author:
I would love any of Philip Roth’s books signed by him. Once my friend Mark Morris and I spied him dining at a restaurant in NYC called Shun Lee Palace, and I had my chance to meet him. I was going to go over to the table and Mark goaded me on, but I was just too intimidated.
…I consider literary comfort food:
I love all kinds of food writing. I know that sounds like a literal answer but I adore M.F.K. Fisher. I love Ruth Reichel. There are so many books about food that I could list. Life is Meals by James and Kay Salter. Tender at the Bone by Reichl. Blood, Bones & Butter by Gabrielle Hamilton. (Those last two are more of food memoirs.) Anything about Julia Child. The Auberge of the Flowering Hearth by Roy Andreis de Groot. Not to mention cookbooks.
Read Mizrahi’s Picks:
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