Moments after Adina Grigore opens the door of her Greenpoint apartment, she produces green smoothies and a bowl of very virtuous looking muffins. “These taste healthy,” she says, furrowing her brow. “I made up the recipe, but the consistency isn’t quite right.” One imagines she made this face often while developing S.W. Basics, her natural skincare line, in a previous kitchen.
Adina is known as an expert on wellness and DIY beauty (she recently poured mud on Dr. Oz). She is less known as a hilarious, outspoken book lover with a treasure trove of recommendations. That changes starting now…
First things first, it’s so nice to walk into someone’s home and see so many books!
They’re spilling out everywhere. For a while, my husband Adam and I instituted a rule where we had to swap one out for every new book we brought home. I think that made it worse. We rebelled by bringing in even more!
There are so many books, like my college textbooks, where year after year, I’ll tell myself, “You’re never going to crack this open again.” But then they’re about feminism and film, anthropology and sociology, and I’m like, “I just can’t get rid of that.” But sometimes, just seeing a book on your shelf — even just seeing its title — reminds you to be different. So I’ll see a book like Amy Goodman’s Standing Up to the Madness, and be like, “Oh, right. Don’t forget. Have courage.”
What does reading mean to you?
Reading is the only thing that actually makes me feel smarter. That may sound really basic, but my parents are immigrants and we only spoke Romanian at home, so reading was how I got better at English. Reading — particularly fiction — was the only time where, at the end of a book, I would feel different. I’d feel like I’d actually evolved. People point to meditation or yoga as things that contribute to personal change, but books are the only things that do that for me.
What do you typically read?
I’m usually simultaneously reading a work of fiction and a self-help/business book. I was obsessed with Harry Potter. I loved The Hunger Games. Not that those books are garbage, but they’re different than what a lot of literary people would say. I think there is a split, between people who say they don’t have time to read, and people who are like, “I just read the latest work by insert-obscure-author-only-five-people-have-heard-of.” But who cares what you’re reading? When you’re done, your life is different.
Let’s talk about these self-help/business books.
I like them because they make me go, “Now I have the answer!” Of course, it’s never-ending. There will always be another secret I don’t know. The interesting thing about a lot of business books is the premise is right in the title. Like Think and Grow Rich, which is such a cliché now. Oftentimes, it’s not the content that changes you as much as the experience of reading it. After 150 pages of someone going, “If you want to get rich badly enough, think you can!” you start to go, “Yeah, that sounds about right.”
The depressing side of such books, though, is they’re often written by founders. A lot of times, people had a lucky accident that led to their companies being successful. Then they pat themselves on the back, act like they had a perfect formula, and write from the point of view of, “Success is who I am.” That’s not helpful to anyone.
Sometimes, just seeing a book on your shelf — even just seeing its title — reminds you to be different.
Speaking of founders with books, has writing your own books changed your perspective?
Absolutely. It gave me the perspective that we take books for granted. Because it is fucking impossible to write a book. There is nothing you can do, no shortcut you can take, that will make you not need to sit down and write. You have to write, then edit, then hate it, then edit it again. Sometimes you read a book and it feels like it was whipped up and thrown out into the world in this effortless way. It’s like, no, you’re reading someone’s 200 or 1000 or however many pages, and that is a fuck ton of work.
Not to mention some editor has to read it, like, seven times.
But that’s a good point. A book has gone through at least one, if not two or three, other people. There’s usually an agent, an editor, and a fact checker/copyeditor — as a minimum. When you read things online, it’s hard to know what’s been vetted. The Internet lets you read about any topic for five seconds and think you’re an expert. It’s like going to WebMD and thinking you’re a doctor. But at the end of a book, you can usually say, “I have a pretty good handle on that topic.”
We take books for granted. Because it is fucking impossible to write a book.
Speaking of impossible things, here’s an impossible question: Do you have a favorite book of all time?
Probably The Handmaid’s Tale. I don’t know if I’d say it was enjoyable, but I would say that it rocked my world. It’s the kind of book where you should read it, and re-read it, and always remember it. I love books that get me to realize a) How much worse the world can be, and b) How it’s our job to not let it get that way.
My favorite self-helpy book is The War of Art. It’s life-changing. I think anyone trying to do anything creative should read this book. A friend recommended it to me, saying, “this is what will unblock you,” and it really, really did. Every page actually changes how you feel.
Did any books have a big impact on you growing up?
My mom definitely bought me abridged versions of classics when I was little. I remember LOVING David Copperfield enough that I read it again, which isn’t something I usually do. I’m pretty anti re-watching and re-reading things. I’m like, ‘There’s so much out there! You can’t go back!”
But I got obsessed with Sweet Valley High and everything by R.L. Stine. I think R.L. Stine made me fall in love with stories, and the idea that you could feel a different way at the beginning, middle, and end of something. Even at ten, I had internalized that I really enjoyed reading what I wasn’t “supposed” to be reading.
Then there are those classics, like Anna Karenina and Oliver Twist, where you go into them like, “Yeah, I’m just reading this because everyone says I’m supposed to.” Then they change you. Except for The Old Man and the Sea. I HATED that one. To the people who love it, I get what you’re saying, but I’m like, “Yes, that’s a man in a boat. Let’s talk about The Hunger Games. “
What’s one recent read you really loved?
You know what we need to talk about? Come As You Are.
On the surface, it seems like it’s going to be super science-y, but it’s not. She’s essentially saying, “Are you a woman? If you are, you’ve been told your whole life that your experience of sexuality is wrong, that you should be both more and less sexual, and that there is a box your sexuality should fit into.” And then she’s like, “That’s not true, that’s not true, and let me say this again, it’s not true.”
At 32 and married, I wasn’t sitting around thinking about these things, but I was so glad to read this. You don’t realize how deep all the shame and self-criticism goes. The way these things affect your identity is so important. Everyone should read this book.
The topic of identity has become so monumental.
It’s crazy the way identity has become such a big question. My parents came here from Romania, and my aunt and uncle were refugees, which I only recently found out. I have a lot of conflicted feelings right now. I also feel a lot of self-hate, for being white. There was so much privilege, in terms of how easily my family got here. Every day, I feel the consequences of being a woman. I don’t feel the consequences of being an immigrant as much.
One thing I don’t often talk about is that I’m bisexual, and I strongly identify with being bisexual. I want to fight for queer rights, but I’m a woman married to a man. So I feel like I do a lot of standing behind closed doors, being like, “Yes! I’m with you!” And then feeling guilt because I’m not actually out there.
Somehow, I still feel like an outsider. And part of the problem is that everyone’s an outsider right now. We’re trying hard to be there for each other, but we’re also lonely.
Have books helped you find a sense of community?
Yes. I read because a lot of times, it’s more comforting than other people. As my career has progressed, a lot of my interactions have become really stressful. Being in a bad energy situation — where you sense someone is being snarky or projecting their insecurity — is dangerous to my life, dangerous to my well-being, and dangerous to my goals. So I try to surround myself with things that make me go “I can do this!” Only a few people make me feel that way. And so do books.
When I read books, I’m like, “I feel like I know this person.” So now I’ll reach out to them. When I read Bad Feminist, I reached out to Roxane Gay. I think that’s one other thing I’ve learned from writing a book. There are actual people behind these books. The sense of community is real.
I try to surround myself with things that make me go “I can do this!” Only a few people make me feel that way. So do books.