If you imagine a book-lover’s dream life, you might picture being the owner of a small bookstore in a big city, or perhaps being a bestselling a critically admired novelist. Emma Straub is both.
The American author runs Books Are Magic in Brooklyn, New York and has published four celebrated books to date: Other People We Married, The Vacationers, Modern Lovers and, most recently, All Adults Here – a book touted not just by the New York Times and the Sunday Times but by her peers, as well: among the book’s fans are Ann Patchett and Elizabeth Strout.
The novel tells the story of 68-year-old widow Astrid Strick who, lamenting the way she raised her three children, resolves to make amends with them. It’s a warm, compelling read that feels like a hug – and this week, the 2020 novel is being released in paperback.
To celebrate, we reached out to Straub to ask her our 21 Questions on life and literature. Below, she speaks on the importance of parenting, rereading The Gruffalo, and hiding from Zadie Smith.
Which writer do you most admire and why?
This is, of course, an impossible question, but at the moment, the writers I most admire are the ones who’ve been writing smart things (novels, essays, newsletters, even tweets) over the last year, things that have given me hope that my own brain and focus will someday return: Zadie Smith, Roxane Gay, Min Jin Lee.
What was the first book you remember loving as a child?
As a New York City girl, I always saw myself in Eloise. I would still very much like to move into a hotel and eat nothing but room service.
What was your favourite book when you were a teenager?
When I was a teenager, or just shortly before, I found poetry. Frank O’Hara’s Lunch Poems was – and is – my favourite.
Tell us about a book that changed your life’s path
I went to grad school at the University of Wisconsin because Lorrie Moore taught there, and Lorrie’s short stories – hilarious, sad, surprising – showed me what was possible. So I’ll say Lorrie Moore, Like Life and Self-Help and Birds of America.
What’s the strangest job you’ve had outside being an author?
Obviously authors need strange jobs! Authors should have as many strange jobs as possible! I haven’t any particularly strange jobs, but I did observe a lot of human behaviour working in a small clothing boutique for teenage girls.
What’s the best piece of writing advice you’ve ever been given?
Tell us about a book you’ve reread many times (and why)
Some people are big rereaders – I aspire to be a big rereader someday. Right now, though, with my bookstore, I am constantly under a mountain of new books to read, and so the only books I reread and reread are picture books. When I read this question aloud at the kitchen table just now, my seven-year-old said “The Gruffalo”.
What’s the one book you feel guiltiest for not reading?
I do not believe in this question.
If I didn’t become an author, I would be ______
A less scattered bookstore owner.
What makes you happiest?
Curling up with my children, and/or total silence. The two do not go together, alas.
What’s your most surprising passion or hobby?
What is your ideal writing scenario?
Silence. Hours. That’s all.
What was your strangest or most embarrassing author encounter?
Oh, I have a million of these. I hid from Zadie Smith, I hid from Jennifer Egan. I’ve embarrassed myself in front of hundreds of authors, and that’s just fine with me.
If you could have any writer, living or dead, over for dinner, who would it be, and what would you serve them?
Right now, I’d say a table full of romance novelists, because they’re the most fun. I don’t even need to know them! I just have never met a romance writer who wasn’t an absolute delight.
What’s your biggest fear?
This is a very serious question tucked in here toward the end! Being a bad parent. Is that too dark?
If you could have a superpower, what would it be?
What’s the best book you’ve read in the past 12 months?
Cathy Park Hong’s Minor Feelings is the last book I finished, and knocked my socks off.
Reading in the bath: yes or no?
Which do you prefer: coffee or tea?
Tea, very strong and all day long.
What is the best book you’ve ever read?
My eldest child wrote a collection of poems. That one.
What inspired you to write your book?
Being a parent and a child at the same time.
All Adults Here by Emma Straub is out now.