For many young and hip Brooklyn residents eager to ditch the city for greener grass, the Hudson Valley is often their calling card. But Cobble Hill resident, author, and book store owner Emma Straub got out the city the way she knows best — through story.
The author’s latest novel, “All Adults Here,” is set outside of Rhinebeck, in the idyllic upstate town of Clapham. She was inspired by the family dynamics and small-town charm of Stars Hollow, the setting in “Gilmore Girls.” Clapham comes complete with a central gazebo and active sidewalk culture.
“I needed it to feel beautiful,” says Straub. “I wanted green grass and rolling roads, all that stuff.”
Straub started off writing about cheese — one of the book’s characters runs a goat cheese farm — and the story morphed into a multigenerational exploration of what it means to be an adult and part of a family. “Families expose your best and worst selves, and we are all trying our best but everyone makes mistakes,” says Straub. “The point I came to is that being an adult is not synonymous with having it all figured out.” The story follows the Strick family matriarch, Astrid, her three middle-aged children and their respective families, and the aftermath of their differing life choices.
“I’m the center of the family sandwich: I have small children whose care I fret over, and I have parents who are getting older whose care I fret over. I’m smack dab in the middle,” adds Straub, who turned 40 late last month. “I used to think that when I was 40 that I would have everything totally figured out — I have a spouse and children and a house and a career, but I still every day am like, what am I doing? How do I solve this problem?”
Straub remains Brooklyn-based. While her book tour looks drastically different due to COVID-19, she’s planning digital events with the bookstores she was originally slated to visit in person. She kicked things off with a Zoom meeting launch event, through the bookstore she owns with her husband, Books Are Magic, complete with a full slate of special guests.
“A straight reading is never the most fun thing, unless you’re one of very few people, and probably a poet,” she says. “I like my events to err on the goofy side, and now I think we could all use a little goof.” Sharon Van Etten and Stephin Merritt from the Magnetic Fields both performed live — lyrics from their songs are featured as epigraphs at the start of the book, and Straub also invited “Gilmore Girls” star Lauren Graham to join her, as well as three debut book authors.
And while Straub’s Brooklyn bookstore remains closed to the public, it continues to ship books to customers and host other digital readings.
“Unlike a restaurant, books don’t go bad, so our inventory won’t spoil,” says Straub, who runs the store with her husband. Although they’re grateful to still be busy, running an online bookstore just isn’t the same as the in-person community of a neighborhood place.
With her two young children now at home during the day and with evenings dedicated to book promotion, Straub has paused work on her next book for the moment; she was 40 pages in before New York shut down.
“I think we are all forced to sit on our life choices at the moment, whatever they are — whether it’s having children or not having children, or being single or living with a roommate who you don’t really like very much,” she says.
Like many, she’s prone to nostalgia. The flip side to nostalgia, though, is the opportunity for change. It’s an idea at the core of “All Adults Here,” that no matter their life choices, people’s paths always offer new opportunities.
“I see this with myself and with my parents — we are all still evolving,” she adds. As a self-described Taurus, Straub finds comfort in steadiness and routine. “But that’s just not how life goes,” she adds.
The grass isn’t always greener, but it doesn’t mean you have to stay put on your own plot.
Straub’s Recent Reading Recommendations:
Lily King’s “Writers and Lovers”
Andrea Bartz’s “The Herd” (“In my normal life I work at The Wing, and “The Herd” is very much about a place like The Wing… where there’s a murder.”)
Janelle Brown’s “Pretty Things”
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