Read like Sarah Jessica Parker
The Happy Reader is a bookish magazine made for Penguin by the editors of Fantastic Man. The structure is fabulously simple: there will be an interview with a celebrity reader (previous interviewees have included Kristen Scott Thomas, Grace Wales Bonner and Jarvis Cocker); and there will be a book of the season, which acts as the inspiration for the art, profiles, and letters printed in the second half of the magazine.
The celebrity interview in this latest issue is with Sarah Jessica Parker. It is in the form of a Q&A, which I usually find to be a cop out. The pleasure of a celebrity interview is usually less about what the celebrity is actually saying, more about the way they are profiled: what are they wearing? What does their face do when asked an uncomfortable question? etc.
Not so with The Happy Reader: Parker is interviewed by the writer Paul Flynn, and the conversation is strangely intimate because it is rooted in a shared love of books. One passage, where Parker describes her first apartment in New York — which was leant to her by a friend, Timothy, who was sick with HIV — is more beautiful, and more revealing, than any celebrity profile I have read:
“My mom cooked some food and put it in a jar, drove me to New York city and dropped me off. He’d left me the keys at the deli next door. It was a loft near a club called Trax, near a very expensive shoe store called To Boot, opposite a Chemical Bank, a store called Parachute and of course a coffee shop, just down the street from Gray’s Papaya, one of my favourite restaurants. I loved it. Everybody rang that bell, my bell, all night long looking for Trax. Timothy came and stayed with me. He said, ‘I’m sick’. He was gone within a year and a half of his diagnosis. So, that was my first apartment in New York. It was Timothy’s.”
The interview is footnoted, lusciously, with surprising little details. Donna Tartt is mentioned, and the footnote tells you about her iconic style: “menswear-inspired outfits involving pinstripe suits, trench coats and bright ties”; Manolo Blahnik’s footnote tells you that his favourite book is Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary.
The Happy Reader is an exploration, and a celebration, of the many ways you can tell a story. This is a magazine finely attuned to the pleasure of the writer, or interviewee’s, voice; and the curious way one story blossoms into another: Sarah Jessica Parker’s story becomes Manolo Blahnik’s, which, in turn, becomes Flaubert’s.