As part of the run-up to our 20th Anniversary Benefit and Gala, June 5 at the Loeb Boathouse in Central Park, we are profiling local bookstores making a difference to young readers in their communities.
Writer and bookstore owner, Emma Straub, and her husband, designer Michael Fusco-Straub, opened Books Are Magic in May of 2017 in the Cobble Hill neighborhood of Brooklyn. Emma and Michael lived near the longstanding beloved bookstore, Book Court, and when the owners decided to close their doors citing retirement, Emma and Michael were spurred into action. “It’s surprising how quickly we made such an enormous decision,” says Straub over the phone. “We talked to the owners of Book Court over the months about how we could carry on their legacy.” As Books Are Magic celebrates a year of bringing cultural conversations, events, and the love of reading to the Cobble Hill community, we asked Straub what she has learned over the year, and found out which are her favorite childhood books.
ROR GNY: After being in operation for nearly a year, what have you learned as a bookstore/business owner?
ES: Pretty quickly, I learned the importance of delegating. My husband and I could not do everything. We have come to depend on our staff — our staff is fabulous! They take pride because they have real agency. It’s not just me and Michael telling them what to do.
ROR GNY: What books did you love to read when you were a child?
ES: My first favorite book that I remember was The Story of Ferdinand by Munro Leaf. I loved this book so much that I tried to convince my husband to name our second child Ferdinand. I like its message: It’s okay if you like to sit in the shade and sniff the flowers. Not everyone has to be the biggest and toughest bull. Just be you. I also revisited Roald Dahl’s The BFG with my son. It’s so fun to read out loud. It’s all about farting. I was also into scary books — maybe because my dad [Peter Straub] wrote scary books — authors like Christopher Pike and Lois Duncan.
ROR GNY: What books are you reading now that you’re enjoying?
ES: I’m reading Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It. The stories are so good. They are full of surprises and they keep taking left turns, which makes reading them so pleasurable.
ROR GNY: You are a writer, writing the novels Modern Lovers, The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures and the short story collection Other People We Married. Where do you start when sitting down to write a story?
ES: It depends. I think it’s different with every book. With my first novel, I had this idea about a woman’s whole life. I wanted something epic. With my next book it was particular characters. For my third book, the idea started with a situation. The book I’m working on now is generational; it’s a story about women and how they interact with one another.
ROR GNY: Our benefit theme this year is Every Child Deserves a Story… how do you interpret that phrase?
ES: Every child deserves to see themselves represented in the pages of a book. I think the publishing industry has been rightly interrogated in recent years. It also seems to me — I don’t know if this is correct — that children’s books seem to have a faster publishing time. Now when I sit down with a sales rep, there are so many more children’s books that have children of color as the main characters and their experiences. One book I love is called Harriet Gets Carried Away. Harriet is a child of color, she’s adventurous, she loves costumes, and has two dads. It’s just a nice story.
ROR GNY: You seem very good at pursuing your interests. For anyone pursuing a dream, what advice would you give them?
ES: This may sound a little cliché, but keep doing it, have confidence, and believe that you can. With practice things become more possible. Rejection and failure are a part of it and it doesn’t matter how many times you fail. Only you know that.