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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12/07/16 2:38pm
Emma Straub was one of the first Brooklyn residents we including in our "Five Questions, One Drawing" series a few years ago. Illustration: Steven Weinberg

Emma Straub was one of the first Brooklyn residents we including in our “Five Questions, One Drawing” series a few years ago. Illustration: Steven Weinberg

Well Brooklyn, what are your plans for the week? Oh right, I guess that’s actually our job, to help you figure out the best way to spend the next seven days. This time of year is always tough–it’s dark when you get out of work, the holidays require a good amount of organization, energy and cash, and it just seems so appealing to cozy up to a book and forget the outside world exists.

Maybe I’m just feeling that way because of the news that Brooklyn author Emma Straub is planning on opening a bookstore somewhere in the Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Columbia Heights area, to keep independent book selling alive in the wake of BookCourt’s closing at the end of the year. Straub herself, not to mention her juicy novels, is a delight and I can’t wait to do next year’s holiday shopping at her sure-to-be bright and cheerful store. Somewhat related, The New York Times asked writers around the world to name their favorite bookstores and the list is like a nerd’s dream vacation planner.

Not that you asked, but the two books that have been keeping me on the couch lately are Zadie Smith’s wonderful new novel Swing Time and Eight Flavors, The Untold Story of American Cuisine by Sarah Lohman, filled with the fascinating history of ingredients that you wouldn’t expect to make the cut. (Curry powder? What?) Like every other white, liberal American, I also have Hillbilly Elegy by J.D. Vance on hold at the library, but that’s a whole other story.

Truly though, there are a lot of ways to enjoy the week ahead that are not in your apartment and we’ve compiled our top picks here. Get out there and have some fun.  (more…)

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07/07/16 12:54pm

27209486If this were the one of the last summers you had with your kid before he left for college, it would be natural to begin reminiscing about your own not-quite-adult self, and reflect on how little time it took for your child to reach the same exact moment of uncertainty and promise. But let’s say you happened to be married to one of your college boyfriends, and living across the street from your best friend from college–the situation in which we find the we find the characters in Emma Straub’s new novel, Modern Lovers. The nostalgia would be inescapable, then. Your past, present and future would co-exist in every room, every glance, every moment.

Why these close-knit, well-drawn characters settled so close to each other, and did not drift apart, at least to different neighborhoods, like most of us do from the friends we met in our 20s, requires a tiny leap of believability, but it is an establishing shot that tells us that we will not be traveling very far with this coterie. Their relationships have barely strayed from their college years, and that, in large part, is the source of their mid-life crises. (more…)

09/18/14 11:00am

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The Brooklyn Book Festival is this Sunday, and it has us thinking about what to read as the weather grows cooler. Who better to recommend a great book than one of Brooklyn’s many writers? We talked to a distinguished group of local authors about what they’re looking forward to curling up with–or baking from–this fall.

Mark Chiusano: author of Marine Park, part of Brooklyn Bound: Writing Kings County tonight, Sept. 18, a Brooklyn Book Festival Bookends event
Recommendation: Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, out now
“In the interest of full disclosure I work for the company that publishes this book, but Station Eleven, by Emily St. John Mandel, is worth the conflict of interest. Station Eleven is the warmest, most haunting, most lyrical post-apocalyptic story I’ve ever read, featuring a travelling Shakespearean theater troupe, an otherworldly art project, a strange airplane and a harrowing escape from Toronto. Jumping back and forth before and after the fall, Mandel uses the pressure of the apocalypse to evoke the exquisiteness of the present.”

Emma Straub: author of The Vacationers, part of Join the Conversation with Leonard Lopate and Mary Gordon at the Brooklyn Book Festival
Scandals of Classic Hollywood by Anne Helen Peterson, out Sept. 30
“Right now I am breathlessly anticipating Anne Helen Peterson’s Scandals of Classic Hollywood, based on her popular column for The Hairpin. For the past year, I’ve been blaming my baby for not having enough time to read, and I’m hoping that these bite-sized pieces of salaciousness will quickly convert me back into being a Reader of Books. Anne Helen, take me away!” (more…)

08/14/14 9:05am
Author Callum McCann conversation with Phil Klay at Greenlight Bookstore became the basis for the premier episode of the indie shop's new podcast series. Photo: Greenlight

Author Colum McCann’s conversation with fellow writer Phil Klay at Greenlight Bookstore became the basis for the premier episode of the indie shop’s new podcast series. Photo: Greenlight

It’s been 10 years since podcasting first entered our pop-culture lexicon; Ben Hammersley introduced the term during this 2004 article in The Guardian. The democratization of digital platforms over the past decade has had a lot to do with the podcast’s rise in popularity–essentially anyone with a computer and a recording device can create one.

There are of course podcast pioneers like Radiolab and This American Life, which made popular public radio programs available in podcast form, as well as  Neil deGrasse Tyson’s StarTalk and shows from comedians like Marc Maron and Todd Barry who have cornered the enormous comedic podcast market over the past couple years.

Two years ago we put together a list of 10 podcasts every writer should know about, but now, in an effort to breathe new life into our current listening roster, we started looking for new series to add to our iPads. Turns out we didn’t have to look far. Brooklyn has birthed a number of exceptional new podcasts as of late that run the gamut in terms of topic but all have one thing in common—they were created right here in Kings County.

The newest of these new podcasts comes courtesy of Greenlight Bookstore, which just launched its own radio hour last month. Having gained a reputation for helping put together some of the best literary programming in the city, including the Brooklyn Voices reading series at St. Joseph’s College in Clinton Hill and the Unbound book series at BAM (not to mention their own in-store author events), the indie bookstore’s owners Jessica Stockton Bagnulo and Rebecca Fitting chose to infuse their audio series with the same spirit.


06/18/14 9:00am

Author Emma Straub. Photo: Jennifer BastianEven as someone familiar with Emma Straub’s oeuvre, I came to her new novel The Vacationers not knowing quite what to expect. Straub, you see, is a shape shifter, as apt to write a story about one pampered Brooklynite’s encounter with a pet psychic as she is to dream up a novel about the Technicolor life of a fictional Hollywood screen legend or to reel off a frank personal essay on the tragedy of growing up normal. Like all good writers, Straub has a touch of the telepath about her and the roving intelligence to make good use of her powers. And in her new novel, she has landed on the perfect vehicle for showcasing her talents.

The Vacationers follows a group of well-heeled Manhattanites trying and failing to outrun their problems on vacation in Mallorca. This fertile set up offers Straub everything she needs to shine: an idyllic island replete with jewel-toned Mediterranean beaches, dramatically striated cliffs, and amazing food, and a Pantone color wheel of characters that includes everyone from melancholic old marrieds to surly teenagers to bohunk personal trainers and fading tennis stars. Take these ingredients and add Straub’s warm, incisive wit and you get a concoction that manages to be light and airy without being in any way insubstantial. The book is peppered with acute observations that shine a light while never threatening to set a fire. But the book is probably most memorable for the sheer pleasure it offers—the humor! The food! The backhand and foreplay! In a period when many of us could fret from morning till night without ever coming close to exhausting our backlog of worries, there is something refreshing about encountering a book so firmly rooted in optimism.

I had the opportunity to chat with Straub (who, full disclosure, is a former teacher of mine) about her long history with the book’s main characters, The Post family, her feelings about food and other delightful topics. Her next reading in Brooklyn is at Prospect-Lefferts Gardens’ Inkwell Cafe, June 24. (more…)

06/16/14 5:00pm
Tue June 24, 2014
Emma Straub discusses her new fictional tale of family disfunction, The Vacationers on June 24 the Inkwell Cafe. Straub photo: Jennifer Bastian

Emma Straub discusses her new fictional tale of family disfunction, The Vacationers, on June 24 at Inkwell Cafe. Straub photo: Jennifer Bastian

It’s still early in the season, but Brooklyn author Emma Straub may have already penned this summer’s best beach read with her new novel The Vacationers. Straub’s second novel, about a family dealing with various interpersonal crises and secrets during a two-week stay on the Spanish island of Mallorca, has attracted praise everywhere from The New York Times to NPR, since its release last month. (She talks about it with us here). Part of its popularity stems from the book being such a breezy read, as NPR puts it, with plenty of entertaining plot lines and wit—which is kind of what you want in a book about now. In case you’re curious to hear her take on all the talk, Straub will sit down with Biz Mitchell to discuss The Vacationers as part of the PLG Reading Series at Inkwell Cafe on June 24. Conversation starts at 7:30pm.

11/26/13 11:00am
Sat November 30, 2013
Authors Jennifer Armstrong, Jami Attenberg, Susannah Cahalan, and Emma Straub will work at WORD bookstore on Saturday, Nov. 30 as part of Indies First, a national movement to support indie bookstores. Photo: WORD

Authors Jennifer Armstrong, Jami Attenberg, Susannah Cahalan, Amy Shearn, Tim O’Mara and Emma Straub will work at WORD bookstore on Saturday, Nov. 30 as part of Indies First, a national movement to support indie bookstores. Photo: WORD

Put your literary locavorism into practice and support independent neighborhood bookstores on Nov. 30 at Indies First as part of Small Business Saturday. Started by author Sherman Alexie, Indies First is a bottom-up movement where authors show support for their favorite local bookstores by manning the tills and taking bills as booksellers. This Saturday has some of our favorite authors at some of our favorite stores, including Emma Straub and Sarah McCarry at WORD, Teddy Wayne at powerHouse Arena, and Ayana Mathis and others at Greenlight. Take a page out of their books and support local businesses while you’re at it.

02/26/13 11:00am

Domenica Ruta couldn’t stop writing about her mother. In grad school writing workshops, she haunted her daughter’s works of fiction, even as fellow writers dismissed the character as too unsympathetic and not believable.

From the moment she’s introduced, brandishing a fireplace poker as she attempts to bash in another woman’s windshield, Ruta’s mother Kathi plays an integral role in her new memoir, With or Without You. To kick off the book’s release, Ruta will sit down for a discussion with Emma Straub at 7:30pm on Wednesday, Feb. 27, at Greenlight Bookstore in Fort Greene.

“As my mother and as a character I’ve written about, she is a victim, she is a villain, she is a hero, she is the mother giver of life, she is the demon of death—she’s all of these things in one,” Ruta explains. “And that’s part of why I love her so much. That’s part of why I couldn’t help writing about her, even when I tried not to.”

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