There is only one person I know who appreciates a well-curated butter shelf more than I do, and that person is actress Hayley Magnus. She is excellent at discerning the demi-sel from the sel, and I regard any of her butter endorsements with the utmost respect. She has impeccable taste in butter, books, and friends. This site is about butter, I believe, which is why she asked me to write this recommendation.
- Christina Gregory Jones
Photography by Cara Robbins
Girls At Library: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a lifelong reader?
Hayley Magnus: I was already a keen reader by ten but Harry Potter was a game changer. I think the first three had already been released in Australia by the time I begrudgingly picked up The Philosopher’s Stone. I had been wary after supposing it some sort of Beatrix Potter extension. One of my favorite parts of reading is space left by an author for you to continue in. I spent far more time in my imagined Hogwarts, drinking butterbeer and excelling at Potions than I did in grade 6 math.
GAL: Why did you want to become an actor?
HM: I'm very indecisive. Choosing between eggs and pancakes is something that consumes me more than I consume it! But I always wanted to be an actor. As an actor I have to opportunity to be a Doctor, a 14th Century Warrior, or a noodle.
I often tell the story about how, as a precocious seven year old I would tell adults I wanted to become a Volcanologist. I did love Dante's Peak but it was mostly just a good temporary cover until I could reveal that I wanted to be an actor. It's incredibly liberating to pretend to be someone else. Sometimes when Im feeling a little more magnanimous about it I see it as an exercise in empathy. To play a ’terrible’ person is an opportunity to imagine how someone can justify their actions. It is not a meritocratic industry. It is notoriously unpredictable and you have to wait to be given permission to do it. It is constant rejection and I cry more than I should. But I can pay my rent because I play pretend for a living and that's pretty magical so I’m going to stick with it.
GAL: Who is your favorite author?
HM: This is a hard and cruel question. I’m going to say Laurie Colwin and Raymond Carver because both of them are dead and then living authors know they have time to work their way into my ‘favorite’ list.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
HM: I love to read on the floor with my legs crossed. In the bath. In bed when its dark outside. In the kitchen while I wait for the kettle. I am like the green eggs and ham of reading. I could do it on a train, I could do it in a plane etc. etc. but I also really like reading in cafes because:
A- I’m pretentious
B- I like the availability of food and drink
C- I find I can concentrate really well when there is some mild background noise.
GAL: Rumor has it that you have a cherished art book collection. What’s included in that?
HM: My boyfriend owns Family Books on Fairfax: an esoteric, predominately art based book store. This is a great contributor to our large Art book collection. The books live in little boxes that get covered during the day because we don’t want the sun to fade the spines and because we are ridiculous. There is a whole process when we have guests to quickly remove the covers so we can pretend to be normal people. Some of my favorites are Jonas Wood: Painting and Drawing, David Hockney Dog Days, Estelle Hanania Happy Purim, Jason Nocito Pud, and The 1975 NASA Graphics Standard Manual. I’d like to pay more attention to our Art Book collection because they probably deserve it.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
HM: Definitely recommendations. I also look for recommendations from people I admire whether I know them or not. If I like something in the list then I will look into another mentioned author on the list. Alternatively, if I see a book on that list that I don’t like then I will probably lose respect for the person. I’ve found The New Yorker Fiction podcast to be a great resource too.
GAL: If you could pick one character to play as an actress, from existing plays or books, who would you like to portray and why?
HM: I heard a rumor that they have already made the Harry Potter movies, but fingers crossed that its just some weird fan fiction home job. Alternatively, I’d love to play Sally Jay Gorce from Elaine Dundy’s The Dud Avocado. She is a neurotic American girl in Paris in the 1950s with pink hair and penchant for Martinis. She is unlucky in love, in finances, in work, and in laundry and laments her outfits “stubbornly divide themselves into three looks: Tyrolean Peasant, Bar Girl, and Dreaded Librarian”.
Basically I would play a much more adorable version of myself, all over France and get to mack with a bunch of cute *hopefully* guys.
GAL: Ok. We'll bite. What character from Harry Potter would you be?
HM: I would love to be Winky- the house elf who made an appearance in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire. She was a totally tragic figure who becomes addicted to butterbeer. I think I would make a brilliant subservient, sloshed house elf.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
HM: Much to my annoyance, I am living a non-fiction life so I prefer to read fiction.
GAL: Is it important for you to physically hold a book you read? Or can you read on a device with no problem and no impact on the experience?
HM: It is of paramount importance to hold a physical book! I feel very strongly about the subject. I love the tangible quality of a book. I love to see the dog eared pages, the watermarks, the remanence of cheese flavored chips. It’s so satisfying to note your progress in a physical book- to see your bookmark move from front to back.
I travel often for work and know that books may be more cumbersome than their slick alternatives, but I've got enough electronics to spill tea on. I don't need another.
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
HM: I can’t choose a forever favorite but definitely there are a few go-to’s that I'm often recommending:
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel Garcia Marquez
Passion and Affect by Laurie Colwin
10.04 by Ben Lerner.
Anything by Evelyn Waugh
Outline by Rachel Cusk
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
HM: A Bit Too Long and A Bit Too Funny
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
HM: Happy All The Time by Laurie Colwin.
Colwin is not widely known but should be. This book is an extension of a short story from her book Passion and Affect (ALSO RECOMMENDED!) The characters are just too good! It’s like a much weirder Nancy Meyer story set in 70s Manhattan.
A Room of One's Own by Virginia Woolf.
It may be an obvious choice but so is washing your hands and people don’t seem to do that either. It should be mandatory reading. Especially for GAL readers. It’s shocking how this essay, written in 1928, can still be so relevant today. I remember feeling inspired while reading this book but also a bit shitty for how little I’ve done to shift the status quo even though I have so many more liberties than Woolf did. Read this book and light a fire under your butt.
Leaving Atocha Station by Ben Lerner.
Previously known for his Poetry, this was Ben Lerner’s first novel. His protagonist, an american poet in Spain, is excruciatingly awkward, jealous and insecure which really speaks to me personally. Leaving Atocha Station and 10.04 (his second book) are very smart and very funny and like nothing else i’ve read in a long time.