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What Novelist Leïla Slimani Can’t Live Without

Photo-Illustration: Courtesy

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 novelist Leila Slimani, whose new novel The Country of Others is out now, about the French dictionary, Afro comb, and 0.38mm pen she can’t live without.

I first bought one of these Muji pens many years ago — I was on the street in Paris, and I needed to write something. I happened to be outside a Muji, so I purchased a pen from there, and now I’m completely obsessed with them. They glide very quickly across the page — I have them in blue and black and have tried different sizes but prefer the 0.38mm version. I’ve now developed a superstition — I’m convinced I will write something good as long as I do it in this pen. In every town I travel to, I will find a Muji; I have picked pens up from Lisbon, Madrid, you name it. I’ve noticed my son likes to steal them from me, too, so I am always picking up extras.

My father bought me my first Moleskine when I was just 17, and now, every time I finish one, I buy a brand new one. I now have drawers of them; we recently moved to Lisbon, and my first worry was that I might lose my collection of Moleskines. I write everything in these; book preparation, ideas for short fiction, but I will also jot down a recipe, or a conversation I heard in a bar. Sometimes, I will pick one up — say, from 1998, or 2012 — and reread everything. I take notebooks and pens very seriously, and like to get them in black, or perhaps blue.

Photo: retailer

As a writer, I often do presentations or talks onstage, and people always look at your shoes and socks. So I think it’s very important for a writer to have good shoes and socks; I must own 50 or 60 pairs of socks in total — I am crazy about them. Sometimes I will buy very expensive ones, but these from & Other Stories are excellent, as they’re not too expensive but good quality. It is a sign of refinement, to have beautiful socks. In terms of shoes, I favour a “boy” shoe — I own about 20 pairs of Churches, for example — and I like being able to show my socks off. I think they can communicate a message; something funny or quirky. So I like a bold colour, or, in this case, a little bit of glitter.

Photo: retailer

My mother would always put a blanket on my shoulders when I was little. When I moved to Paris, I brought my blanket with me, and when I was feeling alone, I would wrap it round my shoulders to comfort me. I feel protected when I wear one — plus, writing always makes me cold, so I have lots of them around the home. This style is typically found in the North of Morocco, where the nights are very cold, and they remind me of the style my grandmother would have in her house. When I have this wrapped around me, writing away in the cold, I feel like an old Russian writer with a glass of vodka. [Editor’s note: Leila’s exact throw has sold out, but we found a similar one. The price is converted from Euros].

In Paris, I lived near the Rue Saint-Anne — the Japanese district. It’s a very long street, and it’s existed since the late 1920s or 1930s. I would spend a lot of time there. I first bought these onion rings there and I just fell in love. They’re so crispy but not too greasy or heavy, which you sometimes get with other onion rings. I love snacking on them in my studio when I’m writing. Sometimes, I will treat myself to these after I hit my word count — they go great with a glass of red wine. But you do have to clean your teeth afterwards.

I’ve been using an Afro comb like this for as long as I can remember. My mother had hair like me, too, and in the ’70s or ’80s she heard about these combs especially designed for her hair. I can remember watching her comb her hair and the volume of it just going up and out as she combed it. She gave me my own when I was 16. Hairdressers often don’t know what to do with hair like mine, so it used to be hard for me to take care of myself. They would say, “We can’t take you, we don’t know how to treat your hair” — it can be quite humiliating. But for me, it was a political statement to embrace my hair, to say, you can be a French writer with frizzy hair. [Editor’s note: This price has been converted from euros].

This is a French synonym dictionary, and a very literary one — it’s wonderful. Reading it is like travelling through language, and you learn the diversification of the French language through it. I don’t understand writers who don’t use dictionaries like this — to me, it’s like a painter refusing to use paint. I could read this like a book – in fact my son and I will often leaf through it at night. I like to keep it with me, which isn’t very convenient, as it’s quite big. My husband is always complaining when we travel, as it makes our luggage a bit heavier. But it’s like a superstition; even when I don’t read it, I like knowing it’s there. [Editor’s note: This price has been converted from euros].

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What Novelist Leïla Slimani Can’t Live Without