Emma Straub is the author of the New York Times Best Seller The Vacationers and the brand new novel All Adults Here. Emma is also a bookseller! She runs the beloved Books are Magic in Brooklyn, New York with her husband Michael. She joined us for a conversation about life during a pandemic, family, and her new favorite romcoms.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
AMY BRINKER: Thanks so much for joining me, Emma. Can you tell me a little bit about the recent days of the store? I know you guys have been doing great staff Zoom calls and things.
EMMA STRAUB: Thanks for having me, Amy. I think, as a store we’re doing well. People have been so supportive and are placing orders all day long and all night long. The best part of the orders coming in is that in every single one there’s a little notes field where you can say, please wrap this one it’s for my mom’s birthday or whatever, normally. But now there are just all these little love notes to us in the store. It really helps.
AB: That’s the best! Well, speaking of love notes, one of the best details about the store is the poetry gumball machine. What are you guys doing for poetry month? I saw that there is one poetry reading at least, right?
ES: So yeah, we’re having some poetry readings. But what we’re doing is – I wrote to lots of people and asked them if they knew any poems by heart, and lots of people responded. And so we’re posting those videos throughout the month, starting with my six-year-old who I forced to memorize a very short Margaret Atwood poem. Most of our staff picks, if not all, I think all of our staff picks are poetry this month.
Books have always been the language with which I have communicated with my family.
ES: Story time is one of those things that we’ve done from the beginning. The whole reason we opened the store in the first place was because we had just moved back to Cobble Hill. I wanted to be by Book Court because I needed a place to bring my children at nine o’clock in the morning because they wake up at six or earlier. I just, I don’t know, I’m not into sports and neither are my children. So we just needed a place to go. That’s why we opened the store because suddenly there was no place to go [once Book Court closed]. So we were like, oh, better open a bookstore. And part of that is story time, giving parents and caregivers a thing to do with their kids that doesn’t cost money, and they don’t have to buy anything. It’s just fun and entertaining and art. It’s actual art for children, truly up close and personal.
AB: The Books are Magic Instagram has been so great at adapting during shelter-in-place. You can see the April staff picks on the stories, and you just did a virtual story time. Can you tell me about that?
The way I’m thinking about it right now is like – I’m a terrible businesswoman, but it is not about selling books. I mean, I want us to sell enough books that we can keep paying our staff and that we can stay open. But my main focus is bringing people the things that they enjoy about the bookstore. You know, as easily as I can. Even if that’s just me in my pajamas with dirty hair, reading a book.
AB: Many authors have books coming out right now, the worst possible time. You among them, unfortunately. Do you have plans for your own launch?
ES: Oh I have lots of crazy plans. I mean, yeah, no one wants this. This book was the hardest book for me to write and it is totally heartbreaking that it’s going to come out in this moment. But of course there are much bigger heartbreaks. I am worried about, more than my own book, all the books published by debut writers. And not just debuts but writers who maybe published a book or two before but haven’t ever had one that really caught on. And so part of my plan for my book launch has to do with highlighting some of those writers. I just feel like that’s my mission right now for the rest of the month: to just shine a light on as many other writers as I can. I mean, that’s always my job at the store, but especially right now.
AB: That’s something that’s on our minds as well, as you can imagine. Well, let’s shine a little bit of light on your new book because we can and it deserves to be talked about a little bit. It’s called All Adults Here and it’s coming out May 4th. This is my favorite of yours.
ES: Thank you.
AB: It’s fantastic, and I truly have put it down several times feeling like, too seen. This is a book about three adult siblings and their mother who is looking back on life. They’re all learning how their actions and comments have affected the others. It’s so precise in a way that I found very impressive because all of these types of feelings are so nebulous – you feel weird baggage and resentments from 15 years ago. And you’re like, I don’t even know where to start. So, how did you start?
ES: Well, it sounds to me like you, Amy, have a family. And I think that I think that’s how it is, you know? I mean, I can tell you without having to reach back very hard, without having to try. I can tell you so many moments where I, like, pressed on a bruise of my brother’s or moments where I sold him out to my parents or moments where I really wanted my parents to say something, and they said something different. And I have a really good relationship with my family. I think that it’s really just part of the deal with people who know you the best and love you the most. Those people are the ones who know how to hurt you and who hurt you without meaning to. Both.
I think that when I started writing this book – I don’t know what I thought it was about. I didn’t really know. I thought it was about cheese. I had this whole fantasy. But then, of course, what happens when you write a book is that you discover that it’s actually about other things. And one of the things is definitely how it feels to be an adult with parents and how it feels to be an adult with both parents and children.
So there are three siblings in the book, two boys with a girl in the middle. And I always thought that birth order was a joke. It was a ridiculous joke, sort of like astrology where like, do you believe it? Sure, a little, but only the parts that really sound like you. But now I understand that it’s not that second children or middle children are inherently one way or the other. It’s that parents who already have a child are completely different parents the second time and certainly the third time. That is the variable that changes, which I never understood before, just how different it is.
AB: Right now our department is taking solace in the idea that books always bring us together, even from afar. I was wondering if you could pinpoint in what way books are connecting you to your community and to your friends right now.
ES: Books have always been the language with which I have communicated with my family. My father is a writer and my mom has been an early childhood literacy specialist for the last like 35 years. And, you know, when I think about my childhood, I think about books and connecting differently with each of my parents about books. And that’s still true, like when I FaceTime with my parents now, we talk about books.
And the thing that I love to do with my kids right now is just read books. Obviously, we are very lucky because we have the whole bookstore as our playground. I’ve always had a lot of books but now it’s just verging on like hoarding territory and there are books just everywhere, in every room, every single room in my house has a mountain of books in it. And I think that it helps all of us be calm and be connected.
I think books feel safe. And that’s a really nice feeling right now. I’ve been reading a lot of rom coms because that’s where my head is. One that I really liked is called One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London. It’s about a plus-size fashion blogger who becomes The Bachelorette. A+. Then there’s one called Something to Talk About by a woman named Meryl Wilsner, these are both debut novels, I’m pretty positive.
AB: Amazing! Well, thank you so much for taking the time, Emma. I really appreciate you doing this tonight.
ES: Of course, my pleasure.
Check out Emma’s other books below:
Listen to the full conversation here: