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What Rebecca Makkai Can’t Live Without

Photo: Susan Aurinko

If you’re like us, you’ve probably wondered what famous people add to their carts. Not the JAR brooch and Louis XV chair, but the hand sanitizer and the electric toothbrush. We asked Rebecca Makkai, author of The Great Believers about the snail serum, red shoes, and iPhone case she can’t live without.

I love this thing almost more than my phone. You throw it over your shoulder like a purse, and then you have your phone (which, when you’re wearing it on a strap, you cannot drop into the toilet!), plus your ID and a couple of credit cards. [Editor’s note: Brooke Shields loves hers, too.] Plus it cuts the line of a boring shirt, and you can mix up the straps and cases like old-school Swatches. If I didn’t have to carry an EpiPen (which, to take this list way too seriously, is something I literally could not live without), I’d never slog a purse around again.

Book tour is not great for your skin. You’re under stress, you’re flying every day, in every city there are old friends who want to take you out for a drink … and then you’re supposed to make yourself look decent enough each night that when people post Insta photos, you won’t die of shame. It might seem weird to rub snail slime on your face, but is it weirder than eating snails? Is it weirder than wearing silk, which, let’s face it, comes out of a worm’s butt? The snails are not hurt in the slime harvesting, and your skin looks so lovely and glowy. [Editor’s note: This is one of our beauty writer’s favorites.]


One of the top reasons I will never leave Chicago is that if you go to the grocery store in other states, they don’t have a giardiniera section. They don’t even have it as an option in their delis. Good giardiniera lights your sinus on fire as well as your tongue and your soul. Plus, it’s vegetables. I mean, there’s cauliflower in there, for crying out loud. You can even rinse the oil off if you want to be virtuous. I’ll put it into plain yogurt for lunch, or I’ll chop it up with salad instead of dressing. If you make a veggie sub and you don’t put this stuff on there, your sub is mad at you. My favorite, Kelsey D’s, is only available in Chicago grocery stores, but this one’s okay, too.

I have a lot of favorite literary magazines, but Tin House is the one I recommend as everyone’s gateway drug. It’s diverse and fresh, more visual than some, the cover is always pretty enough to lick, and there are great sections like “Lost and Found,” which discusses old, forgotten books. Sometimes the issue is themed, sometimes it’s a glorious free-for-all. You might think you don’t like poetry because the last time you read it was when Mrs. Finkelstein made you memorize “The Rhodora” in tenth grade. You might think you don’t like short stories because you picked up The New Yorker in 1996 and read some tale of suburban ennui that ended with a guy throwing pebbles at his own window, and you were like, “I guess I just like my fiction long.” This is your chance to try again. They’re so lovely that I can’t throw my old ones away, so I’m always foisting them off on students.

In moments of fitful boredom, this is the one thing keeping me from High Blood Pressure Hour on Twitter. Do you really want to check Twitter right before you get on a plane? Do you really want to read about treason at bedtime? I’ll read an actual book till I’m too tired, then I’ll pick up my phone to set my alarm, then my thumb will hover over the Bluebird of Angst, and instead I’ll click on the crossword. I find Fridays too annoying because I’ll end up with spaces where “Seventh longest river in the Yukon” crosses with the name of some jai alai star. For some reason, Saturday is easier than Friday. Mondays I’ll save for right after a plane has landed, and I’ll see if I can solve before we make it to the gate. Wednesdays are perfect for bedtime. Tuesdays are for cab rides.

I have no idea why this tastes so much better than regular coconut water. It’s smooth and hydrating, and after an intense yoga class when I don’t feel like eating right away, this is my lunch. (Followed by actual lunch, followed by I’m-bored-at-3-p.m. lunch. But at least one of those lunches was very hydrating.)

Do you have red shoes? You need red shoes. They don’t have to be these red shoes, they could be flats, they could be cowboy boots, they could be flip-flops. They go with everything except, okay, maybe not red pants. Look at these shoes. You could wear them with a little black dress; you could wear them with jeans; you could wear them with a yellow jumpsuit. I couldn’t wear a yellow jumpsuit, but maybe you could. Go get yourself red shoes.

This anthology comes out once a year, and I look forward to it with the same fervor that, as a child of the Dark Ages, I once looked forward to the one night a year when The Wizard of Oz would come on TV. It’s the best way I know of to find your new favorite authors; you read the stories, find your five or six favorites, read the little essays in the back about how they came to be written, read the bios of the authors, and then run out to buy their books or wait for their debuts. Each year has a different flavor thanks to the guest editors, so if you’re bored it’s your own fault. Once, in my early 20s, I was heading out the door to the emergency room with an asthma attack, and I grabbed up the 2001 volume. While I waited to be seen, I read guest editor Barbara Kingsolver’s introduction to that year’s stories. It might have had something to do with the lack of oxygen, but I swear to God that introduction taught me how to write.

I don’t have much of a sweet tooth, but one square of dark chocolate every day or two is just about perfect. All Lake Champlain chocolate is divine, but the darker the better for me (what I’d really like is baking chocolate with one single grain of sugar). This stuff has a kick, plus some crunch and protein from the pepitas. If you keep it in the refrigerator, you have to eat it slower because it’s harder to bite into. If you really try, you can Charlie Bucket that thing for like an hour.

Apparently, this stuff is great for the millions of little creatures that live in your gut or something, but I couldn’t care less because what it really is, is an excuse to swill pickle juice straight from your fridge. You’re supposed to have one shot a day, but I have about half a bottle a day, which might mean my gut is building a small army.

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What Rebecca Makkai Can’t Live Without