While all of us at Parnassus are sorry that the magnificent Emma Straub won’t be in the store to celebrate the publication of her new novel All Adults Here, we’re glad she’s safe at home in Brooklyn with her family. The fact that she is both a novelist and a bookseller makes her my double-sister, and the fact that I love her new novel All Adults Here to the point of distraction just makes me happy. When we picked it as our May First Editions Club selection back in January, we had no idea just how much we’d be needing a comforting book right about now.
Ann Patchett: I want to give All Adults Here to everyone I know. I felt completely taken over by it. This is a book that makes me want to say to people, Get out of here! Leave me alone. I’m reading. I felt like I was cuddling with your novel. It enveloped me. I felt that way about Writers & Lovers by Lily King, too. It’s not that hard things don’t happen, but you set life out in a way that feels very recognizable to me. Was it your goal to write a warm and welcoming novel, or is it just an extension of who you are as a person? (Because now that I think about it, that is the way you are.)
Emma Straub: Oh, Ann, you flatter me. I am warm, and want to be warm, but I’m also a human person who loves to sit around and gossip with my friends. Like, when I had a sleepover at your house, we had a glorious private morning and talked about all the books we didn’t like, and man, the room could have caught fire with my joy! I know that some writers also love to write reviews and otherwise publicly criticize other writers, but that ain’t me. I would rather die than write a bad review. There are professionals for that. I’m a bookseller. I want to tell people the books I loved, not the books I hated.
I do want my books to be warm and welcoming — especially now. The world is so dark and uncertain and terrifying. My books don’t need to be. I think that there are people — like my dad, Peter Straub — whose books do need to be all of those things, because that’s what makes him happy as a writer, but I like a sense of completion, and yes, even, as a hokey as it sounds, happiness. I don’t want to leave my characters on the brink — maybe one or two, if they deserve it, but for at least some of them, I want church bells, or trumpets, or the Rocky theme song.
AP: Going on the theory that people in families divide up responsibilities — one child is angry so the other child doesn’t need to be — is it possible that growing up with a famous horror writer made you feel like, OK, horror is covered. I can work on something else. I wonder if it gave you the freedom to be really loving and warm. (I’m not sure that’s actually a question.)
ES: First of all, Ann, do you have a camera in my house? Can you see my children taking turns attacking each other? And me? Whew. But to answer your question, no — I don’t think so. It was never my thing, scary stuff. When I was in high school, one of my friends and I tried to write a screenplay for a horror movie, but even then, I was more interested in rom-coms. The heart wants what it wants. And (very) luckily for me, when I got old enough to understand what I wanted, and what I was good at, someone paid me money to do it.
AP: So what books, recent or semi-recent, have given you the kind of comfort you give other people? I just finished the new Anne Tyler, Redhead by the Side of the Road. It’s small book, both in length and scope, and even though it wasn’t my favorite Anne Tyler, I felt so enormously comforted by it. You couldn’t have pried it out of my hands. (And yes, for the record, I do have a camera planted in your house. It makes me feel close to you and your family.)
ES: I loved Lily King’s Writers & Lovers — that book felt, to me, like taking a drug. A glorious drug. I loved the story, but I really just loved the characters and the sentences — man, I would have followed those sentences anywhere. I know we’ve talked about this before, but the last book I read totally blind, without knowing anything about it, was Kevin Wilson’s most recent masterpiece, Nothing to See Here, which just made me weep with recognition — about what? About bursting into flame? About being the sudden guardian of two weird kids? All of it, every second, felt real to me. If I awarded a big fancy prize, I would give it to Kevin.
AP: I agree on both counts. What about kids books? I’ve been preaching the comforts of Kate DiCamillo’s novels lately, and right now I’m reading Peter Pan for the first time which is mesmerizing and scary and funny and depressingly astute, but it’s also this beautifully constructed world that takes me out of my world.
ES: Oh, now we’re talking. I read to myself every day, but the number of pages and books I read to myself is absolutely dwarfed by the number of pages I read to my kids every day. There are such incredible picture books out. now — I absolutely love Colin Meloy’s Everyone’s Awake, which has the chaotic energy to match my children and subdue them into silence, I love Mac Barnett’s book The Important Thing About Margaret Wise Brown, which is one of my favorite biographies, full stop — I love his Mac B Kid Spy chapter books, too. For a while there, River and I were reading Harry Potter together, but we got to the fifth book and got a bit stuck, so we put it aside for now. Miles will read anything about unicorns. I could do this all day.
AP: All day works for me. I want to hit the comforting classics for a minute, like all of Jane Austen and a chunk of Charles Dickens. There is nothing more comforting than David Copperfield. The Nancy Mitford novels Love in a Cold Climate and In Pursuit of Love are so comforting that I feel like once you’ve finished them nothing is ever really the same. I also keep thinking I want to reread The Thornbirds. The last time I read it I was 13 and home from school with a bad cold. I remember those as being some of the happiest days of my life.
ES: Oh, the Mitfords. I could spend all day thinking about the Mitfords. But you know, I haven’t done that yet, returned to a beloved book in this moment. I think I should — it feels like such a time out of time that I could be forgiven for putting aside all the galleys and the blurb requests and just turning back to something that feels like a sweater you’ve borrowed from someone you love. Have you been selling tons of Middlemarch and War and Peace? People are really going for those classics they never read, but I don’t think I could do that right now — but Jane Austen, yes. Maybe a little Emma would be just the ticket.
AP: I was going to ask you a question about baking but now I’m not. You’ve given me the perfect ending to our interview. Maybe a little Emma would be just the ticket indeed.