ILLUSTRATION BY YOUSRA ATTIA
Welcome to Shelf Life, ELLE.com’s books column, in which authors share their most memorable reads. Whether you’re on the hunt for a book to console you, move you profoundly, or make you laugh, consider a recommendation from the writers in our series, who, like you (since you’re here), love books. Perhaps one of their favorite titles will become one of yours, too.
Emma Straub not only had to contend with releasing a book during the pandemic but keeping an indie bookstore afloat. She did both, along with writing her fifth novel, This Time Tomorrow (Riverhead; here’s the playlist), co-writing the television script for 2020’s NYT bestseller All Adults Here with Madison Wells Media, and helping two young sons with remote learning.
The New York-born and -raised, Brooklyn-based author got her MFA from the University of Wisconsin-Madison (where, like Shelf Lifer Lauren Groff, she studied with Lorrie Moore); is our third bookseller (she owns Books are Magic with her husband, which was nominated for Publishers Weekly Bookstore of the Year), has cats named Honeybutter and Dip Dip; filmed a cameo in the Reese Witherspoon Netflix movie Your Place or Mine and was an extra in The Squid and the Whale; and has hidden from authors Jennifer Egan and Zadie Smith but did approach Liev Schreiber as a high schooler.
Likes: Who? Weekly podcast, Birks; Dune Dog fish sandwiches; vintage shopping; Tony’s Chocolonely chocolate, romance novelists (check out her romance novel photo shoot). Bad at: writing bad reviews, getting presents, taking breaks. Good at: writing thank-you notes (paper not email), listening to weather forecasters, recommending books (see below. If you want to recommend books to her, you can on her Substack.)
The book that…
… Kept me up way too late:
Ashley Poston’s The Dead Romantics, out this summer — I did not mean to finish it, but I just could not stop reading! That is one of the top five feelings books can provide, that desire to keep reading past your bedtime, and I loved every minute of it.
… Made me weep uncontrollably:
The books that make me cry the most often are picture books. Mac Barnett and Carson Ellis’s What Is LoveMac Barnett and Sarah Jacoby’s The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown. I guess Mac Barnett makes me weep. Truly, as reliable as an ASPCA commercial.
… I recommend over and over again:
Marcy Dermansky’s Bad Marie, a novel about an unrepentantly wicked woman, freshly out of prison, who seduces her friend’s husband and steals her child and runs off to Paris. It’s delicious.
… I swear I’ll finish one day:
Well, I suppose if I want to someday finish Proust I have to start Proust.
… I’d pass on to my kids:
My children read a lot of books from my childhood — not just the titles but the actual copies — because my parents are hoarders just like I am. Miss Nelson is Missing!, George and Martha, all of James Marshall, really. If I can make sure my kids love everything he ever wrote, I’ll be happy.
… I’d gift to a new graduate:
… I’d like turned into a Netflix show:
Samantha Irby‘s books! All of them! The show would need to also be written by Sam. Is this actually happening? I think it probably is. Just a matter of time!
… has the best opening line:
The one that comes to mind first is Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca. “Last night I dreamed I went to Manderly again.” Which goes to show you that the conventional wisdom that one should not write about dreams is not always true.
… Should be on every college syllabus:
Nikole Hannah-Jones’s 1619 Project. It should be on every high school syllabus, too. I am so grateful to Hannah-Jones for compiling such a world-changing opus.
… I brought on my honeymoon:
I read so many books on my honeymoon! A Sookie Stackhouse book, a Steven Millhauser book, a Kelly Link book. My very favorite vacations are the ones where you read so many books, all the books you packed, and then have to find a local shop to replenish your stash.
… I’d want signed by the author:
Oh, how about the impossible ones — Jane Austen, Agatha Christie.
… that holds the recipe to a favorite dish:
Nora Ephron’s Heartburn has all the recipes one could ever need.
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