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 hairspray and the electric toothbrush. We asked author Rumaan Alam — whose new novel Leave the World Behind was recently short-listed for the National Book Award for Fiction — about the hand cream, jeans, and snack he can’t live without.
I often work as a book critic, but even when I’m not reading a book for review, I have a certain mental tic to flag things inside of it. Simply underlining doesn’t help because it’s hard to locate where that thing that I underlined is. These stick outside of a book so that you can flip through all of the pages you’ve marked. I use them all the time. Also, I think they’re very handsome. You can buy the little Post-it flags that lawyers will put on contracts to show you where you’re supposed to sign, but these Semikolon ones are just more attractive. There’s something European about them.
I used to work for women’s magazines and one of the lessons I internalized from beauty editors was that a lot of that stuff is just kind of bullshit. A lot of real beauty editors use, like, olive oil and nothing else. They’re in the business of recommending complex potions, but they themselves stay well-preserved by using natural, simple things. This coconut oil is that kind of thing. I prefer using it to lotion, especially in the summer: We go to the beach a lot so I use it after lying in the sun for six hours when I feel like a raisin. And in the dead of winter, when my hands are so dry I feel like I’m going to die, it helps. It feels like a way of doing something that’s natural and healthy.
At some point in my adulthood, the experience of buying clothes fundamentally changed. I’m never in a dressing room trying anything on anymore. But I do remember trying these jeans on at Uniqlo, which is a brand that I love but a store that I absolutely hate going to. Whoever designed the stairs at the one in Soho is a sociopath because they’re designed to feel like they’re going to vanish and you’re going to fall. Anyway, when I tried on these jeans I realized that I loved the way they fit, I loved the feel of the denim on my hand. When I’m not working in an office, these are the only pants I wear. I have them in black — I used to be anti–black jeans for a long time, and then I realized that if you wear black jeans and a black blazer, you look like you’re wearing a suit, but you feel more comfortable. You can create the illusion of being dressed up.
Once every two years or so, I buy a new black blazer because I wear the hell out of them and they get sort of shiny and worn after a while. This is the last one I bought and I absolutely love it. It’s so well-made and is the kind of thing that’s deceptive in its simplicity. It’s actually very hard to find a nicely made black blazer for men. It has Acne’s signature pink-blush color under the collar, but that’s kind of the only flourish that makes it seem in any way specific. It’s the kind of clothing you put on and feel good in — you hold your body higher, you’re attentive to your posture. It’s a bit like armor, you feel equipped to go into any situation.
This is absolutely imperative in the dead of winter. Certainly what I do for a living is like the inverse of manual labor, but somehow my hands are always really dry in the winter. I’m cooking, I’m washing my hands, and I’m dealing with the kids who are elementary-aged, so I’m washing my hands again because they’re always having runny noses and germs. This is a very, very nourishing cream that really moisturizes the skin. It is absolutely worth every penny.
These bars are so good. Normally, I am a profoundly anti-coconut person, but somehow, in this bar, it is so delicious. I eat one basically every day at 10 o’clock in the morning. It tastes like candy, but it also tastes like virtue. I used to eat Cliff Bars, but those taste like you’re chewing on sawdust. I also ate Kind bars, and I felt like I was eating a Snickers. I don’t know if the One Bar is healthy — I pretend that it is — but I do know that it’s delicious.
A couple of years ago, for some reason, I switched from writing in pen almost all the time to writing in pencil. It’s imperative to me that the pencil is really sharp, and since I can’t carry around one of those elementary-school, plastic pencil sharpeners that catch the shavings, I needed a tiny pencil sharpener that I could carry with me. I found this very handsome brass one and bought a really beautiful vintage ashtray that I keep on my desk for the pencil shavings. It’s very civilized. The sharpener is just a very well-made, utilitarian object. It’s tiny, very heavy, and it really makes the pencil sharp.
This is a to-do list app and it’s extremely easy to look at. You just pull down on the screen to add some