Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
The title of Paulina Porizkova’s book of autobiographical essays, No Filter (The Open Field), speaks to an emotional candor familiar to followers of her IG feed. There she bares all: anxiety and depression, insecurity and invisibility, aging and menopause, dating in her 50s (she’s on Raya) plus makeup-free photos and near nudes.
Born in Czechoslovakia, Porizkova was raised by her grandmother when the Soviets invaded and her anticommunist parents fled to Sweden until her mother returned for her at age six. She began modeling at 15, when she got her first apartment in Paris, then moved to New York at 17, where she got a baby grand piano she still owns.
A former face of Estée Lauder, Porizkova is still involved in fashion and beauty: walking for Fendi and appearing in campaigns for La Ligne, Karen Millen, Camilla and Marc, and Laura Geller Beauty. She speaks four languages; wrote a piece about her childhood during Soviet occupation for the L.A. Times; spoke about beauty standards and aging at the Aspen Ideas Festivals, has a dog named Ludwig and a cat named Oskar; reads hands; and competed on the Panamanian-jungle-set reality show Beyond the Edge.
Likes: cocktails and perfumes that remind her of the smell of a library, art nouveau, owls, opera, tapping, Rag & Bone “denim” sweatpants. Dislikes: working out, ice cream. The scoop on her book picks below.
The book that:
…I could have only discovered in a hotel lobby bookshelf:
The World According to Garp by John Irving. I was about 16, on a modeling job in some exotic location, and had accidentally left my book (in Swedish) on the plane. I’m almost chronically unable to fall asleep without reading, so I scoured the hotel’s bookshelf where guests had left their vacation books behind and picked up the fattest one I found to last me through the trip. The first chapter was challenging. My English was good enough for conversation, but I had only read books in Czech and Swedish. The second chapter got easier, and by the third, I was hooked and the language was no longer a problem.
…I recommend over and over again:
Far from the Tree by Andrew Solomon. Being that we are all the children of someone, and many of us have children, this book speaks for all of us. The idea that in order to easily love our children we want them to be replicas of ourselves, mirroring us because that makes us feel validated, was a galvanizing concept for me. And the difficulties of love when one is presented with something different than oneself.
…currently sits on my nightstand:
Bleak House by Charles Dickens. I read it in my teens, and decided to revisit. No one, in my opinion, has captured characters in writing as exquisitely as Dickens. To me, he was and remains the master of description.
…my comfort book:
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith may have happened decades earlier and in a faraway place called Brooklyn, but Francie, borrowing books in alphabetical order from the library and intending to read them all, was mirroring me oceans and time away.
…the first book I bought:
The Joy of Sex by Alex Comfort in an airport shop, going on one of my many work trips. Boy, was it illuminating!
…that broke my heart:
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. Two lovers on what should be their most romantic night, their wedding night, so thoroughly misunderstand one another, they end up separating in the morning. The heartbreak here lies in intent and miscommunication, where I believe most of our heartbreak begins.
…swear I’ll finish one day:
Ulysses by James Joyce. Need I add more?
…that sealed a friendship:
Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. I loved that book so much that when I met Ann in person at a party, I made my way over to fangirl out over her. We have been friends ever since. I have read everything she has ever written. Who she is as a person directly translates into who she is as an author: A writer of such depth, consistency, honesty, wisdom and beauty that I can’t single out any of her books as my favorite; they are all her children and I love them all equally – if for different reasons.
…I’d want signed by the author:
David Copperfield By Charles Dickens and Don Quixote by Miguel de Cervantes. I’m not a braggart by nature, but boy, owning those two would make me insufferable. Good thing it’s not gonna happen.
…I’d pass on to my kids:
Fall by Neal Stephenson. It’s a sort of followup to Reamde, and since it deals with a world online, and both my boys are huge techies (working in the videogame world and AI research), I know they’d both really enjoy reading about people’s brains being downloaded into an artificial world and creating an existence and a civilization from scratch.
…made me weep uncontrollably:
On Living by Kerry Egan. This series of essays is as heartbreaking as it is life-affirming. It’s a peek into the life of a woman chaplain working in a hospice, witnessing the beauty, pain, and regrets of lives lived. Although I sobbed my way through the book, I came away cleansed and inspired to make the best of the life I have.
The 13 ½ lives of Captain Bluebear by Walter Moers. I bought this book for my then thirteen-year-old son, Jonathan, because it looked cool on a bookshelf. As soon as he started reading it, he kept insisting that I read it too. “Mom, you’re gonna love it!” He was right. It has since become a family treasure. It’s one of the most imaginative and creative books I’ve ever read and almost impossible to categorize. And it works both for adults and kids.
…shaped my worldview:
Every single book I have ever read has contributed to my worldview. Some in sizeable, noticeably shifting ways, some with more gentle nudges, and many with just a slight drop of something I had not yet thought of, but it’s safe to say that the person I am today was shaped in large part by the books I’ve consumed.
Riza Cruz is an editor and writer based in New York.