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Island Bookshelf: Turning the camera on herself


It would seem that author Ariel Levy has conquered virtually every goal she ever set for herself, becoming an award winning writer and well-known author at New York and The New Yorker magazines.

Her offbeat ideas and challenging assignments took her around the world, from South Africa to Paris, Mongolia and more. If she admired an adventurous woman, someone who was “too much,” she set about to interview her and bring her to the world’s attention. She was determined to face every challenge with her own combination of guts and intelligence, nearly always prevailing.

In “The Rules Do Not Apply,” her brief but poignant memoir of times when life proved beyond her control, she fearlessly turns the camera on herself, sharing with the reader all the pain, romance, heartbreak and loss anyone can pack into 207 pages.

She is unsparingly honest, even about her own flaws. From dizzying heights of love to excruciating moments of loss, she distills a grace that touches the reader deeply.

The memoir was a New York Times bestseller and was named one of the best books of the year by Time, Vogue, Esquire, NPR, The Guardian, Harper’s Bazaar, Entertainment Weekly and Women.com.

A graduate of Wesleyan University, Ariel Levy found a job after college at Planned Parenthood as a typist “but they fired me after just one week because I am an extremely poor typist,” she relates on her website. “Almost immediately thereafter, I was hired at New York magazine. As a typist. I kept typing there for 12 years.”

Ever sure of her ability to write, she pushed forward in pursuit of groundbreaking stories until she reached a position as a contributing editor at New York magazine. An essay she wrote caught the eye of David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker. He tried to persuade her to do a story for him sometime, but realized he’d need to woo her away from New York magazine. She joined the New Yorker staff in 2008.

For all her globetrotting, Ms. Levy exudes true contentment at the chance to now spend her time living and writing on Shelter Island, which plays an important role in her memoir. “I first visited Shelter Island in my 20s,” with friends at the home of designer Jonathan Adler and fashion guru Simon Doonan. “The Island is such an incredible place,” she said.

Then, about 13 years ago, she settled in her own house on the Island.

“I write in a tiny room, with my desk and computer at the window where I can watch the turkeys go by. For enormous periods of time, I haven’t been off this Island.”

She reluctantly pried herself out of her Island clamshell recently to take part in the New Yorker Festival in New York City.

“We like to go to Vine Street,” she said, speaking of favorite spots on the Island, “and I like the new Italian restaurant, Isola. We don’t venture off the Island until after the summer season. Then, of course,” she admitted, “over the winter, you can go a little bonkers.”