MCKENZIE RALEY & STEF HALMOS
Photos by: Laurel Golio
Introducing two industrious, kind, and intelligent Brooklyn-based ladies: Mckenzie Raley and Stef Halmos. Mckenzie launched her successful lingerie company Land of Women in 2013, which can currently be found in Barneys, Bona Drag, and The Dreslyn to name just a few. Stef is an acclaimed visual artist. They happened to meet online, and after one date, there was no chance of either person existing happily without the other. Their dog Wolfie couldn't be more pleased about their impending nuptials.
GAL: What was the name of the first book you fell in love with, that turned you into a life long reader?
MR: I was always more of a poetry fan, but I think the first book I really fell in love with was The Bean Trees by Barbara Kingsolver. I grew up in the Wisconsin countryside surrounded by dairy farms and maple trees so the way she described nature and insects and plants so vividly was familiar yet entirely unfamiliar in that it took place in Tucson, AZ. I was fascinated by that whole ecosystem.
SH: I didn’t begin to really enjoy (and eventually crave) reading until about 16, when I read Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston. Water is an important motif in that book, and having grown up surrounded by water myself, I had my first visceral experience with literature because of it.
GAL: What is the power of story? Describe some ways in which fictional narratives have impacted you and your life.
MR: To me the power of a story is it’s transformative capabilities. I’m a total dreamer in every sense. Reading about far away sea ports or lush jungles was always gentle reminder, when I was in my teens and early 20’s especially, that I am still small in the universe and there’s still a lot to explore.
SH: Fiction has played a huge role in my life. Sometimes to a fault. Specifically, I think fiction has most acutely informed my notions of love.
GAL: How often do you read? Please estimate.
MR: My attention span has gotten the best of me here in NYC. I usually have to be on vacation to truly commit to a book. I’d say an hour or two a week but I confess that is mostly in magazine form.
SH: I read for an hour before bed most nights, unless it’s Sunday night…HBO gets my attention on Sunday night. Sorry, books, but who can help themselves?!
GAL: Do you have a current – or “forever” – favorite book?
MR: Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch by Henry Miller.
SH: I don’t have a “current favorite”. I love so many books. Historically, my “forever favorites” are based on the circumstances in which I read them. For example, Lolita (Nabokov) is important because I hauled it on my back while hiking in Peru…Humble Humbert was literally an albatross, weighing me down. The irony in that has made it endure in my life, despite the many problems I have with the content of its pages. Another example is The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion: I read this book - an absolutely devastating piece - while sitting poolside in the summertime. My body would dry off in the sun but my cheeks stayed wet with tears. It was such a strange sensation and a really beautiful, singular experience.
GAL: Who is your favorite author? If impossible to choose, please name two.
MR: So many! Henry Miller, Barbara Kingsolver, Jimmy Santiago Baca, Junot Diaz, Joan Didion, Milan Kundera, Leonard Koren. Impossible to choose two.
SH: Yikes. Susan Sontag and Edith Wharton. (And Joan Didion! And Roland Barthes! And Kurt Vonnegut! And Virginia Woolf!)
GAL: We have a friend who has a “Sanity Shelf” dedicated to books she returns to again and again, to reread for pleasure, knowledge, and solace. What books would be on your Sanity Shelf?
MR: I’d say Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch is also on that shelf, but in addition to that: The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera, Great Expectations by Charles Dickens, As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh by Susan Sontag and The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath.
SH: I don’t consume a singular book repeatedly. But the book I most often pick up as a creative reference and just to re-read for pleasure is Mercury by the incredible poet Ariana Reines.
GAL: Do you have a current favorite reading spot? Where is it?
MR: In bed next to my (soon-to-be) wife.
SH: In bed with my nightstand light to my left, and my soon-to-be wife to my right.
GAL: How do you choose the books you read?
MR: Lately Stef has been my go to for recommendations. I don’t really read any new novels, mostly old ones that I’ve been meaning to read.
SH: I ask friends what they’re into at the moment and typically I end up with something great. For my 30th birthday I had everyone bring a book they love or like or think is funny. I’m still getting through those, and so many of them are radical.
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?
MR: I am a huge fan of the iPad but some books that I’ve had forever that I want to come back to, I just need to hold them to complete the feeling.
SH: I used to insist on reading a hard copy of a book, but I think that was more snobbery than anything. Eventually I accepted that, while the physical object is important to me for chronological and romantic reasons, the content within books (regardless of how it reaches me) is what’s crucial, irreplaceable, and intangible. So now I just read, no matter the format.
GAL: Do you prefer non-fiction to fiction? If so, why?
MR: A bit of both. I do love a good biography (Grace Coddington’s memoir was incredible, I read that in about 4 days). Fiction allows me to fantasize a little bit more though. I’m half dreamer, half pragmatist so my bookshelf is 50/50.
SH: I prefer fiction, despite my favorite authors often being non-fiction writers.
GAL: If you read non-fiction, what genre do you prefer?
MR: Biographies and motivational books mostly. Dale Carnegie’s How to Win Friends and Influence People was probably one of the most inspiring and informative books I’ve ever read. Definitely recommend it to any entrepreneurs out there.
SH: Social theory, great journalism, and memoirs.
GAL: If you were to write your memoir, what would you title it?
MR: I don’t think I could write an entire book about myself. Probably my inner Midwesterner talking. I would, however like to write a book where I interview other women’s stories re life and business, women I know and admire. I’d probably call it Women Talking With Women.
SH: Via Instagram, I recently posted an architectural photograph with the caption, “The buildings are sculptures, so sculptures are everywhere!”. Maysha Mohamedi, an immensely important painter/ thinker / friend, commented, “That’s the title of your book!”. She was referring to something else, but seeing as I can’t cook up a better answer here, I’m going to take her advice…
GAL: Please name three books you recommend reading, and the reasons for your choices.
MR: Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver is essentially poetry. For the times when you are cooped up in your tiny Brooklyn apartment this book will make you feel rain, smell dirt and hear the rustling of trees.
Bossypants by Tina Fey because of her confidence, humility, tact and humor and for any woman that needs a reminder that she’s a badass and she can do this.
Wabi-Sabi for Artists, Designers, Poets, and Philosophers by Leonard Koren. His way of simplifying human practices is so thought-provoking and relaxing. His book on aesthetics is equally moving.
SH: A Room of One’s Own by Virginia Woolf. It’s a beautiful piece on the female experience, and from a brilliant literary feminist.
On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan. He does a phenomenal job building and executing climax, and this book exemplifies that. It’s such a simple story told through two very complex, nuanced, conflicted characters; absolutely heartbreaking.
Bossypants by Tina Fey. Because if you haven’t read that yet…wtf?