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Books Are Magic
Photograph: Courtesy Books Are Magic

Author Emma Straub on her favorite books about New York City

Plus, where she likes to read and what it’s like to own Books Are Magic.

Anna Rahmanan
Written by
Anna Rahmanan

Emma Straub is the very embodiment of New York's literary scene.

In addition to being an accomplished published author (The Vacationers, Modern Lovers, All Adults Here), Straub owns the uber-popular bookstore Books Are Magic, a beloved destination boasting two Brooklyn locations that has come to define New Yorkers' relationship with books. 

Earlier this year, Straub doubled down on her love for the written word during a talk that was part of the very first annual Books That Changed My Life Festival, which will run at the JCC in Manhattan through February 28.

Despite being busy managing her business, working on her next literary project and attending festivals, Straub was able to carve out some time to talk to Time Out New York about the books that changed her life, New York's affinity for the literary and the most beautiful aspects of owning a bookstore in this great city of ours.

Her Favorite Books About New York

"My personal favorite books about New York are Colson Whitehead's The Colossus of New York, which is a slim, dazzling meditation that makes me feel proud to be a New Yorker. I love it. 

Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters is another one of my favorites in part because I think it’s funny and in part because it captures the feeling of walking around New York at night, Brooklyn specifically, in a way that feels very familiar to me. 

N.K. Jemisin's fantasy books, The City We Became, in particular, are also incredible because they are fantasy novels but they are about New York and they represent a brand-new way to write about the city. I love them."

Her Favorite Places to Read in New York

"Literally anywhere, of course! At home? On the subway? I like to read on the subway!"

What Writers Can't Seem to Get Right About New York

"Sometimes, someone who is not from New York gets the subway all wrong and I find that to be notable. But everybody is trying their best, I'm not judgmental." 

The Book That Changed Her Life

"There are a lot. Let's go with Miss Piggy's Guide to Life for now."

What People Should Know About Owning a Bookstore in New York

“I would say that people don’t know most things about owning a bookstore in New York—unless they own a bookstore in New York. I think people who run small businesses probably understand a lot about it. It’s by far the most challenging thing I’ve ever done and also one of the most joyous and fun. 

The most fun aspect of owning a bookstore in New York is that because it is New York, writers are always there. Some writers like Hernan Diaz and Sarah Ruhl live in the area so they're often at the store but then there are also writers like Michael Chabon and Ayelet Waldman who live elsewhere but wander in when they are visiting. That is my favorite part about owning Books Are Magic!"

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