May. 19 2020
Books are magic… or so says Emma Straub, who named her cult-favorite bookstore in Brooklyn, New York after the mantra. Emma’s also the author of The Vacationers, Modern Lovers, and most recently, All Adults Here—which is The Newsette’s May book club pick, but you already knew that… right? 🙂
Whether or not you’ve started reading it, we think you’ll be kind of obsessed with Emma’s notes on her novel, tips for writing through a blank brain, and the tantalizing possibilities of “a book about cheese.”
Your book follows a big family as they uncover and rediscover their relationships with each other. Do you come from a big family?
I do not. I have one older brother. But you know, that’s plenty.
What inspired the big family, and all their dynamics, in All Adults Here?
People always ask me about my characters: “So like, which one are you?” And I’m like, “That’s really easy because I’m all of them. Every single one.” So aspects of how characters feel, that comes from me. But in terms of plot, it’s much more fun to make things up. If I wanted to write about myself, I would write a memoir.
Is that also why you’re a lifetime New Yorker who rarely writes books set in the city?
My feeling about writing books that actually take place in New York City is that there are so many of them, and people have a lot of feelings about New York. Whether they love it and are a diehard New Yorker, and are therefore very possessive of it, or whether they have never been to New York, and as a writer it’s hard to avoid that pressure.
This is the first book you’ve written while also owning a bookstore. How has owning Books Are Magic informed your writing?
I was publishing books every two years, and this book took me four years, so twice as long. The bookstore has enriched my life—my reading life and my writing life, one thousand percent. It has made my life as a writer better, for sure, but it has also made my life as a writer much, much, much harder because it cuts into my writing time.
How did you make time for writing while owning a business, on top of being a mother and probably a million other things on your plate?
Deadlines. I’ve been really lucky to sell my books in advance. Not for all of them, but for this book, I had a deadline, and when it’s something I have to turn in otherwise they won’t pay me… That’s real. I have a family and a mortgage.
Do you have any writing rituals or tricks for forcing yourself to write when you’re not inspired?
Yes. It’s called being without my children for more than ten minutes.
Just ten minutes?
No, I need an hour. I used to be very precious [about my writing]. I needed everything to be just so, sitting in a certain way… whatever. But now I just need quiet. And I need no one climbing on top of my body and calling my name.
Even with the success of your other books behind you, how does it feel to release a book during a pandemic?
I know from owning the bookstore just how many books come out every week, and what an uphill battle it is for those books to get into people’s hands normally. So honestly, I feel so lucky, and recognize that I am in a privileged position for so many reasons: I’m healthy, I have my family, I’m not in danger, and like you said, I have a track record. My publisher is really behind me, and I got chosen for many book clubs, and that makes a big difference, too. I feel as lucky as a person can possibly feel at this moment.
Why do you think All Adults Here has been such a popular book club selection?
There are a lot of things to talk about. Everyone has feelings about their relationship with their mother. Everyone has an opinion on being a parent, or wanting to be a parent, or not wanting to be a parent. Or if you’re a sibling, you have feelings about those humans who used to beat you up and now are adults and don’t beat you up anymore. There’s just a lot to talk about.
When you put so much of yourself into your books, do you learn something more about yourself when you’re done writing?
Oh god. Yeah. When I started working on this book, I thought it was writing a book about cheese. Then I thought it was a romance, like a sort of off-kilter non-romance… But as it turns out, the book wasn’t about that either. What the book was really about was making mistakes and having it be okay.
What books from newer authors would you recommend?
One book that I read recently and would recommend is Emily Gould’s book Perfect Tunes. It’s a sexy and sad book about New York in the early aughts. Lily King’s Writers and Lovers. There’s a book called Days of Distraction by Alexandra Chang that I’m just starting that is on the line between comedy and tragedy, which I find so appealing.