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What Author Brit Bennett Can’t Live Without

Photo: Miranda Barnes, Illustration: Joe McKendry

A version of this story originally appeared on the Strategist U.S.

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 stain-remover pen and the tongue-cleaner. We asked Brit Bennett, author of the critically acclaimed novel The Vanishing Half, about the travel mug, pen, and brow gel she can’t live without.

£16 for 12

This is my favourite pen. When you go to sign a book, people always want to give you a Sharpie, and I just don’t love Sharpies — I don’t like the smell of them or the way they sound on paper. The uni-ball pens are smooth when you write; I like that smoothness. I’m someone whose hand kind of drags across the page, and these don’t smear easily. They’re useful in that way — you don’t end up with just a black smudge along your hand. I don’t use them so much for fiction writing, but I do use them for all the other things I might need a pen for throughout the day.

My parents got this for me as a Christmas gift maybe three or four years ago. I’m definitely a coffee sipper — I sip the same cup for a couple of hours, usually when I’m writing in the morning. I’m also someone who cares deeply about the temperature of beverages. So this quite quickly became indispensable. It’s easy: You charge it, and through an app, you can set what temperature you want your coffee to be. Mine is set to the default, which is 135 degrees Fahrenheit or something like that. Your phone notifies you once the coffee has reached that temperature. Beyond all the bells and whistles of the app, there’s just something nice about knowing that the mug will keep my coffee at the temperature I want for a few hours.

I drop my phone a lot. Fortunately, I’ve broken my screen only once in all the time I’ve had a smartphone. This is not a sexy case — it’s sort of clunky — but that’s why I love it. It does its job in protecting your phone if you’re a clumsy person like myself. It also has a sliding card-holder so I can keep a few cards in there. I find that really convenient; it’s where I keep my MetroCard so I don’t have to be searching through bags and pockets when I’m running to catch the train. You can stick your debit card and ID in there, too.

In times such as these, when many of us are sort of freelancing on our eyebrows, it’s really useful to have a product like this to help me tame mine. Somebody at Sephora recommended it to me. There’s just a comb and the brow gel. I was using it before the lockdowns started, but it has definitely become really important to me now that I’m sort of going it alone with my eyebrows.

Apple AirPods
£143

I’m very late to AirPods — I got them a few months ago. I was always an over-the-ear, wireless Beats person. I was never into AirPods because I thought I would lose them immediately. But they’ve also quickly become something I really love for the convenience and the fact that they charge in the case. They’re helpful for Zoom calls because they’re a little bit sleeker than the over-the-ear headphones I was using. There’s a kind of naturalness when you wear AirPods on a Zoom call; it feels a little more like you’re just talking to somebody.

Nike Air Max 90
£70
£70
Photo: retailer

Growing up, I always had one pair of shoes that I got at the beginning of the school year and just wore. But my sister is a huge sneakerhead; she got me really into sneakers and pointed me toward the Air Max 90s, which are now my favourites. It’s a classic sneaker that comes in lots of fun colourways and is just comfortable. Mine are a sort of teal and blue; I bought them so long ago I don’t remember where I got them from. In New York, you spend a lot of time looking at people’s feet because you’re walking places or you’re on the train looking at someone’s shoes. God forbid, you’re making eye contact.

Like I said, I’m somebody who really cares about the temperatures of beverages. I saw this on a list somewhere — it might even have been a list from the Strategist — and it was recommended as a really good travel mug. I got one, and ever since, I’ve become sort of an evangelist for it. I’ve told everyone in my family that they need to get one because it’s amazing at keeping beverages at whatever temperature you want them to be kept. I’ve put hot coffee in there and come back to it six, seven hours later and it’s still hot. One time, I had some iced coffee in it, and I went to a friend’s barbecue in the desert and forgot the mug in my car. The next day, when I went to take the mug out of my car, I could still hear the ice cubes clinking inside it.

I first read this when I was in college. I was studying abroad in Oxford at the time, and it was one of the books I was assigned for a class on postcolonial literature. Reading it was truly a life-changing experience. The book is about what it means to be a Black American, and I read it when I was outside of America for the first time in my life. I would go places and be seen as an outsider because I am American, as much as because I am Black. So I deeply associate the book with that time in my life, when I ventured outside of the country and experienced a little bit of the world. I’ve returned to it since and am always amazed how the images and the scenes in the book still give me the same feelings they did when I was 20, 21 years old. It’s one of the more straightforward plots as far as Morrison goes, but the characters are so memorable, so strange. The language, the images, and all the things you pick up a Morrison novel for are there too. But what’s most amazing to me is that when I return to the book, I still have that same feeling I had when I read it for the first time.

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What Author Brit Bennett Can’t Live Without