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
Recommendation: 
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…)

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.