05/11/17 11:16am

All photos by Regina Mogilevskaya

Getting a word in with Emma Straub, author and one part of the duo behind Books Are Magic, is nearly impossible while there are customers streaming through the door. And although the Cobble Hill bookstore just opened its doors a few weeks ago, throngs of overjoyed well-wishers are already filling the store in a steady flow. “We’re definitely busy from the moment we open our doors in the morning to the moment we close them at night,” she says.

When BookCourt, the neighborhood’s beloved indie bookstore, announced they were closing, Straub and her husband Michael Fusco-Straub jumped to action immediately. They acquired the Books Are Magic space in October, but Straub says it was the election that really cemented their efforts. “We realized it was so much bigger than just a bookstore,” Straub says. “We needed an open space where people could gather, where families can feel welcome, can get informed.” Thanks to Straub’s established connections with local bookstores (she worked at both BookCourt and at Word in Greenpoint), publishers, and sales reps, the couple pulled off an impressive feat in record time.

The Fusco-Straubs obviously love books and design, and their lovely welcoming space is our new favorite word lair. From the books on the shelves to the sunlit kids room in the back, every swift detail of Books Are Magic takes inspiration from the community in which it blooms. Tulips from neighborhood florists decorate the store’s nooks, while the works of local authors are displayed proudly on recycled BookCourt shelves.

“I’m starting to explore collaborations with other places in the neighborhood, too,” Straub says. “Warby Parker reached out and we’re planning a reading series in their backyard.” In addition to being full of local goodness, the shop is wonderfully spacious, with exposed beams and brick and plenty of sunlight. It’s the kind of place that makes you feel good the second you step through the arched doorway.

Books Are Magic joins an impressive collection of indie bookstores around Brooklyn. Here are a few of our favorites for reading, listening, lounging and browsing. (more…)

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10/05/16 2:15pm

The only thing that might be more radical than the plot of Nicotine, is author Nell Zink’s imagination. Publisher Ecco.

The epic myth around novelist Nell Zink precedes her books. For instance, before I picked up her new novel, Nicotine, I knew that Zink got her start as Jonathan Franzen’s pen pal talking about birding, about which they both are passionate. Franzen, possibly America’s most famous living novelist, implored Zink to publish. Her first book, The Wallcreeper, came out in 2014, and her second Mislaid, was published in 2015. I also knew that Zink churns out her books complete (including revisions) in three weeks total. The excitement around the author offers up the impression of a recent college grad, instead of a 50ish expat who spent the 90’s editing a punk zine. Forging her own path, Zink has created a buzz by being the publishing world’s L’Enfant terrible, but at 50 rather than 20.  (more…)

07/13/16 3:12pm

TheFireLineThe Fire Line begins at the end, with the death of 19 firefighters who were killed in the Yarnell Hill Fire in Arizona on June 30, 2013. It’s a difficult way to start, to commit to spending 200 pages with 19 men who you know will be dead by the time you’re done reading. Fernanda Santos, Phoenix bureau chief for The New York Times, makes it worth the heartbreak with a heartfelt and fascinating look into the world of wildland firefighting.

At the time of their deaths, the Granite Mountain Hotshots, who were based in Prescott, Arizona, was the only municipal crew of its kind in the country. As Santos explains, “Hotshot crews are cohesive units of twenty firefighters, extensively trained, hugely fit, and routinely courageous… They use the weapons of construction workers and landscapers: rakes, axes, shovels, pounders. They go where few other firefighters go, closer than any of them to a burning wildfire.” (Brendan McDonough, the twentieth Granite Mountain Hotshot, survived, having been assigned lookout duty far enough away from the flashing blaze that killed his compatriots.) (more…)

07/07/16 1:14pm

books collageWhether you’re playing hooky and enjoying the beach on a non-crowded weekday, curled up in a hammock on a proper vacation, or holed up in your bedroom because it’s the only air conditioned spot in your apartment, summer is full of moments to lose yourself in a book. Here are five novels that embody the escapism of the season. They’re fluffy, they’re fun and they’re all page turners in different ways, a crucial element for a summer book that has to compete for your attention with outdoor movies, rooftop drinks and free concerts. We’ve created a beach read rating system that is a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being as compulsively, pulpily page turning as Gone Girl and 1 being as vacation not-ready as As I Lay Dying, the tale of the worst road trip in history.

And, if fiction just isn’t your bag, check back next week for our round-up of memoirs and non-fiction. (more…)

07/05/16 4:43pm

sweetbitter-book-cover-danler-2-1024x894The waitress-protagonist of Stephanie Danler’s roman a clef by way of restaurant (a thinly veiled version of the Union Square Cafe), arrives nearly contextless. Her name, Tess, doesn’t even appear until halfway through the book when she wins an award at a Christmas party. We know only that her mother left early, that her town was founded on “the twin pillars of football and church,” and that she believes she was born not in that unnamed place, but “in late June of 2006, when I came over the George Washington Bridge at seven a.m. with the sun circulating and dawning, the sky full of sharp corners of light.” This blankness, which initially felt insubstantial, turned out to be a virtue, as the narrative describes how her job, her co-workers, and New York City itself molds Tess. (more…)

07/05/16 1:40pm

27209487Fern and Edgar Keating, the young, wealthy couple at the center of Ramona Ausubel’s novel Sons and Daughters of Ease and Plenty, come from the kind of homes where, as Ausubel writes of their money, “there had been so much for so long, the kind of sums that seemed immune to depletion.”

Well, the money is gone, and a cold shower of a phone call from Fern’s family lawyer following the death of Fern’s parents sets the young couple and their three children into a tailspin that begins at their idyllic Martha’s Vineyard summer house over Labor Day weekend in 1976. Edgar must decide whether to go work for his father’s steel company to support his family and abandon his dreams of being a novelist (the novel was about a son who walks away from his father’s steel money) or whether either Fern or Edgar can find a way to support their family and give up the lifestyle they’ve become accustomed to. Maybe they’d both have to find other jobs.

If your reserves of sympathy and interest are suddenly as depleted as Fern’s family fortune, take heart. The Keatings may be selfish, but they are also fascinating in how they react to the news. (more…)

11/12/15 11:39am


29BOOKBROWNSTEIN-facebookJumboCarrie Brownstein’s new book, Hunger Makes Me a Modern Girl, is an intimate, unapologetic welcome into the inner orbit of Sleater-Kinney, one of the most formidable rock bands of our time. Part bildungsroman, part self-portrait, Carrie (we’re on a first name basis, now, at least in my head) leads us along the winding, and often difficult path of her career to date–or should I say, careers. She is no singular talent, and her memoir makes it clear that no one creative outlet could satisfy her desire to explore.

A sense of longing or, perhaps more to the point, hunger, is the thread that successfully unifies this tale, starting with Carrie’s complicated childhood in Redmond, WA to her 42-year-old self living and working in Portland, OR. She longs to belong, to be heard, to understand, to be understood. It’s often heartbreaking to read her narration of struggling with this need, through depression, isolation and anxiety, reminding us that even when you are seemingly on top of the world, that world can feel like a garbage heap. (more…)

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02/19/15 12:00pm

GIRLBOSS#GIRLBOSS by Sophia Amoruso (Portfolio; published 5/6/14)

It takes a lot of balls to be a boss. Sophia Amoruso should know. As founder and former-CEO of Nasty Gal Vintage, she made an empire out of selling what she calls “anti-fashion,” first on eBay and then on her own e-commerce site.

How did she grow from an eBay seller into a $100 million company? Marketing savvy. She would actively seek out friends of friends that seemed like they might like her clothing, and then then she would produce good content–photos, blog posts and bulletins–on a regular basis for each auction she had on her eBay site.

Other keys to her success included being a thief once or twice, not finishing college and being rebellious. I won’t go into too much detail, but I’m glad she shared the less-than-ideal parts of her story in her new book, #GIRLBOSS, because honestly, being an entrepreneur isn’t about being perfect or living life a certain way. It’s about being in control of your life and giving it 100 percent.

One of the greatest takeaways for me was how goal-focused Amoruso is, in all ways. She goes as far as setting her online passwords up to be a word or phrase that is a promise to herself or a financial goal for the company.

“Every time I go to log in anywhere, I’m subtly reminding myself of what I’m working for. This ensures that when I’m bogged down with day-to-day bureaucracy and details, I don’t lose sight of what I really want,” she writes.

This is the book you read if you want more than a typical nine-to-five work life. It’s full of catchy and inspiring business how-to nuggets.

11/06/14 9:45am

BoozebooksWhile cocktail culture has become a cartoon version of itself–all 20-ingredient drinks made by mustachioed mixologists working behind the bar at modern speakeasies, the harder to find, the better–all that easily mocked theater stands in the way of a larger truth. Alcohol, how we make it and how we drink it, has a rich history, and stirring up or shaking together delicious cocktails at home is a pleasure. Whether they’re carefully outlining the social history of a specific drink, or delving deep into the way a spirit is produced, these four boozy new books, and their excellent recipes, will add a much needed dash of fun back into your glass.  (more…)

09/18/14 9:00am

marine parkThere’s something I’ve always found vaguely unsatisfying about short story collections, even by authors I adore. The luxury of a novel, for me, is to sink into a fictional world for an extended period of time and to fall in love with the characters I meet there. Short stories don’t allow enough time for that, and as an editor with a constant backlog of articles to read and assign and a million other publications to keep up with, their format makes me feel like I’m working, not escaping.

None of those things are true about Marine Park, the astonishingly good collection of short stories from Brooklyn native, Mark Chiusano.

Rather than a group of disconnected narratives, Marine Park feels like you’re reading an experimental version of the Great American Novel–like the slim volume was once an 800-page behemoth that has been cut down to its elemental moments. The stories are largely set in the southern reaches of the borough, in and around Marine Park, a neighborhood that was supposed to be the next great middle class pleasure playground, but then development, of two train lines, a beach resort and more, were halted just before WWII. The bulk of the action takes place in the 19070s through present day, though one standout follows a Brooklyn College graduate to the Manhattan Project at Los Alamos National Laboratory.  (more…)