New York Times best-selling author Emma Straub is calling me from Brooklyn, and the line is eerily quiet, especially considering that she’s homeschooling her two children while in quarantine. On top of that, she and her husband are also shipping titles from Books Are Magic, their indie Brooklyn bookstore where the cleanly-designed millennial pink merch is as covetable as the titles on their shelves.
In an industry that isn’t exactly known for its glamour, Straub, thanks to her cool attitude and signature red lip, is a verified book world celebrity. When she’s not drawing around-the-block crowds at her store, she’s getting blurbs from Ann Patchett and Elizbeth Strout. So when asked how she’s doing at home with her family right now, she answers, “You know, it’s funny. It’s been five weeks so far that we’ve been home, and for the first week or two I was like, ‘Oh my god, how am I going to do this? This is a total nightmare!’
But now I’ve actually come all the way around. I’m so glad that I’m at home with my kids and have all of these things for them to do all day, because it means that I don’t have time to read the newspaper for six hours a day or to focus on anything other than trying to get my six-year-old to learn how to tell time—or trying to get my four-year-old not to like destroy what the six-year-old has built out of Legos.”
On May 4th, she’ll add another focus, releasing her fifth book, All Adults Here. The novel follows a matriarch who, after witnessing a bus accident, starts to reexamine the way she raised her three now-adult children. It’s a funny, bright, sibling story that further solidifies Straub’s role as a must-read author. Here, she talks to Shondaland about her lack of fear, and what books are giving her joy right now.
Why did you want to write a book about motherhood?
At its core, it’s about more than just motherhood. It’s about being in the center of the Venn diagram between being a parent and being a child. Because as long as you have parents who are alive, you are also a child. I turn 40 next week, but when I go to my parents’ apartment, which is a few blocks away from mine [Editor’s note: Straub is referring to pre-quarantine time], I just open the refrigerator immediately and take whatever I want. I throw my clothing on the floor. I immediately revert to myself as a child, even as I’m simultaneously chasing my own children around. And I think that’s true for a lot of people. If you’re lucky, there’s a big sort of swath of time in the middle of life when you’re performing these two extreme sides of yourself at the same time. That double role is interesting to me.
All Adults Here talks about some of the misconceptions people have about becoming a parent. What were some of yours?
Parenthood is exactly like marriage—or getting a tattoo or a really extreme haircut. You’re like, “This is gonna be crazy, but I don’t know how crazy it’s gonna be, so I might as well just do it before I think too much about it.” Because it’s the kind of thing that if you think about it too much, there’s no way you ever would do it. One of my qualities as a person—I don’t know if it’s a good quality or a bad quality, it’s probably both—is that I tend to do things first and process them later. It’s sort of a lack of fear. I’m confident in my own decisions. And even if they end up being bad ones, I’m confident that I can do something and then fix it later.
How much did your relationship with your parents inform the book?
Slightly. I have one older brother, and I always thought that birth order stuff was completely made up. Like, oh, the oldest is like this, and so on. I thought it was like a joke. And then I had children and realized how much parents really are totally different with each of their children just because they have to be. When parents are easier on younger children, it’s not because that kid is just easier. It’s because their hands are full and they’re like, “Oh, you’re not licking a socket? Okay, great. Then it’s fine. Do whatever.”
How is Books Are Magic holding up?
It’s totally exhausting. I’m home with my kids and my husband is at the store pretty much five days a week shipping things out with two of our staff members. Obviously, we’re trying to be as safe as possible and to protect everyone. Right now, I want to keep giving people things that will bring them either like solace or joy, you know? I also feel like it’s my job as a writer, too.
What are you reading right now that’s giving you joy?
I’ve been reading a lot of rom-coms just because that’s what my brain wants right now. There’s this one called One to Watch by Kate Stayman-London that’s out in July. It’s about a plus size fashion blogger who gets chosen to be The Bachelorette. Another is Something to Talk About by Meryl Wilsner. It’s about a powerful Hollywood woman and her assistant. They get photographed together at an event, and then there’s paparazzi and like everyone thinks that they’re dating.
How will you be celebrating Mother’s Day this year?
Oh god, when is Mother’s Day? I have no idea.
It’s May 10th! What’s your ideal way to celebrate?
A few hours in a dark quiet room with my eye mask on, under the covers, by myself. I’m about to turn 40, too, and I’m kind of excited that there’s no outside world because truly all I ever want is kid art, and that’s like sort of the only option. So I know that’s what I’m going to get. And I’m like, “All right, portraits by my beautiful children!”
Julie Vadnal’s work has appeared in Cosmopolitan, ELLE, Esquire, Glamour, and Real Simple.
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