You may have been reading some particularly hilarious articles on Vice recently, and you may or may not have noticed that some of the sharpest, wittiest and generally most honest come from a girl named Bertie Brandes. Originally a writer, Bertie is now publisher of a magazine called The Mushpit which she co-runs with Charlotte Roberts.
The magazine is "basically everything we ever wanted but couldn’t find between the pages of the glossy magazines thrust upon us in relative adulthood. It’s influenced hugely by Cheap Date, a short-lived incredible project edited by jaded Vogue writers, which was hands down the best “women’s” magazine of all time. The Mushpit also has elements of the absurd nonsense of magazines like J-17, Sassy and Sugar, which may not have been particularly good for us but had a great tone, and didn’t encourage their readers to buy an £800 jacket for “spring”.
Read about Bertie’s most inspirational books now, and take as many leaves out of her own book as you can — she’s a seriously smart lady. Oh, and by the way, there is a photo missing for Jay McInerney – Story of My Life as Bertie has misplaced her copy. Apologies.
Elizabeth Smart – At Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept
It’s slightly embarrassing to include this because I’m no longer an angsty teenage girl, but I remember it being incredibly important when I was about 18. As with the majority of my most treasured books, I found this on my dad’s floor, read it out of curiosity, and was transfixed. I think I was so taken by it partly because I hadn’t read anything in this tone of a similar structure or length, both of which felt incredibly familiar and personal. It inspired years of attempted fictional journals, none of which, I hope, will ever come to light.
D.H. Thomas – The White Hotel
I plucked this out of my dad’s bookshelf (again) because I liked the cover, and was drawn in by the peculiar erotica of the opening poem. It remains one of the most beautiful, intense and devastating novels I’ve ever read. It is also the only book (I know of) in which a disembodied womb flies around a bedroom, and guests take turns suckling the protaganist as the hotel around everyone inside it slowly burns to the ground. You should read it.
James Joyce – Ulysses
One thing I learned as an English undergraduate was that the only book you’re ever really allowed to say is your favourite book of all time (it’s a terrible thing to say regardless) is Ulysses and that is because there is literally no way of ever understanding it in full. James Joyce was a cracker, he was either the most intelligent man in the history of humanity, or incredibly good at pretending. Either way, the descriptive passages in Ulysses, whether I had the faintest clue what was going on or not, are by far the most vivid, exciting and profound I have ever had the pleasure of experiencing. Incidentally, my grandmother, who is frighteningly well read, maintains that she can understand Finnegan’s Wake – I seriously hope she’s lying.
Joseph Conrad – Nostromo
I remember trying to plough through the opening chapters of this, hoping desperately it would pick up, and suddenly being swept along as if it were poetry. It is dense but deceptively fluid, and I can picture the closing image of Nostromo in the rowing boat as if I’d re-read it this morning. I recently saw a man reading this on the tube and tried to catch his eye and tell him how much I loved it (a little weird, I know) but he was, of course, totally rapt. Perhaps not the best introduction to Conrad but definitely my firm favourite, perseverance is key.
Jay McInerney – Story of My Life
It would be pretty unfair of me to write a roundup of the most influential novels I’ve read and not include Story of My Life, a book I have arguably ripped off the for the last two years in basically everything I’ve written. I owe a great deal to Alison and her impressive social life, and have relentlessly pillaged her valley girl tone of voice and inspired nonchalance to my own gain. This book also made me realise that you can be inane and superficial and proud. Amen.
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