A Year in Reading: Emma Straub

December 3, 2012 | 1 book mentioned 16 2 min read

covercoverI am very bad at reading books at the right time — if a book is freshly published and sitting face out on a shelf, there is little to no chance that I will read it within the year. I buy it, of course (gotta support the authors and the local bookstores) and then I put it on the stack and make it wait its turn. This year was no exception — most of my favorite reads were either galleys of books that will come out in 2013 or older books that finally made it to the top of the bedside tower. The galleys were books that I blurbed or books that my friends wrote (or both), so perhaps it’s a bit gauche to name them here, but I will anyway. Early 2013 is going to be off the chain: Stuart Nadler’s epic American slam-dunk of a novel, Wise Men; Ariel Djanikian’s scientifically terrifying post-apocalyptic novel The Office of Mercy; Jessica Francis Kane’s crystalline and beautiful new story collection, This Close; Jennifer Gilmore’s achingly sad and moving novel about adoption, The Mothers. And that’s just the first few months of next year.

coverThen there were the books that everyone else had already read and loved: Chad Harbach’s The Art of Fielding, which made me swoon over descriptions of baseball, which I otherwise find excruciatingly boring; Tana French’s In the Woods, which made me want to read her entire catalog in a single sitting; Ann Patchett’s The Magician’s Assistant, which made me want to levitate; Paula Fox’s Desperate Characters, which made me think twice about petting feral cats in Brooklyn.

covercoverI actually like waiting to read books, because then the hoopla has hooped down the street and the buzz has stopped buzzing and it’s just you and the page in front of you, and then the page after that. Still, even I am occasionally immune to my own rules, and accidentally read a book immediately after purchasing it. This year, I gulped down Maria Semple’s Where’d You Go, Bernadette, Maggie Shipstead’s Seating Arrangements, and Jess Walter’s Beautiful Ruins. Each one was precise, skilled, quick-witted, and warm-hearted. Well worth the price of (hardcover) admission and all of the (richly deserved) accolades. Sometimes all that buzz is there for a reason.

More from A Year in Reading 2012
Don’t miss: A Year in Reading 2011, 2010, 2009, 2008, 2007, 2006, 2005

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is the author of the New York Times bestseller The Vacationers, Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures, and Other People We Married. She has 54 books on her To Read pile, and 12 books on her bedside table. More information can be found at www.emmastraub.net.


  1. The Art of Fielding is inexplicably mediocre. How I got snookered into reading it just goes to show how brilliant the people in marketing can be sometimes. Anyone who drops that book as one of their favorites has ensured that I will never ever read a book they have written, because if they think that is the best American literature has to offer, their credibility is close to nil. And looking at the rest of her choices, Emma Straub seems to be a big fan of Comfort Fiction. I assume that’s what she writes too.

  2. @ Hubert: I thought The Art of Fielding was mediocre as well (though I’m not sure about “inexplicably” so), but your comment seems a pretty irrational way to judge someone else’s work. Considering Straub and Harbach both live in Brooklyn, this may just be a bit of back-scratching and nothing more.

  3. to Hubert Hubert:

    or, perhaps, the fact that so many people see something in a book that you don’t suggests there are things you are missing or don’t respond to. To reject a writer’s book because that writer likes a book you didn’t assumes that you are a perfect reader and the writer in question can only appreciate books written like the ones she writes.

    i only bother to post this because i am so tired of this kind of aggressive “My posts are better than your book” posts, especially ones predicated on meaningless self-indicting drivel such as the phrase “inexplicably mediocre.”

    And sure those books by Paula Fox, Ann Patchett and Tana French sit easily together in a single genre called, with a sneer, “Comfort Fiction.” If there is anyone comfortably satisfied with themselves here, it’s . . . .

  4. If this is a case of “back-scratching” it’s all the more worthy of our scorn.

    Capybara – your suggestion that a large group of people seeing something in the book is somehow correlative to the quality of the work is so nonsensical I won’t even bother to mention the obviously ridiculous conclusions to be drawn from that statement.

  5. Hi Emma, I envie you your job reading many books and then writing about them.
    Anyway, how could I get you to do a preview on my new novel coming out next spring, or maybe summer.
    Johanna van Zanten

  6. Emma likes the book she likes. You like the books you like. The end. And Emma ain’t no backscratcher. She is a reader!

  7. Edan – If that’s the case why don’t you guys go ahead and disable the comments function on the site. She likes what she likes, you like what you like, I like what I like, the end. Apparently no need for comments.

  8. Drew,

    That was exactly Edan’s point, no way about it. Edan’s point wasn’t to brush off two people who feel the need to crash in and post unproductive, cynical comments that themselves were denying the openness of taste. It couldn’t have been that, could it?

    Edan pushed back against the baseless accusation that Straub discussed liking a book simply because she was hoping a favor in return, which itself was prompted by the rude accusation that Straub must be a terrible writer if she liked a book that Hubert Sorrentino didn’t like. A lot of wonderful dialouge to preserve there.

  9. Dear Christopher Sorrentino and other sock puppet commenters: Don’t you have better things to do with your time, like write novels or mediocre books about DEATH WISH or something? Oh wait…

    Emma: Thanks for sharing your list.

  10. Man, I’m getting major douche chills from some of these comments, and awesome chills from others. I think we all know who I mean. GO EMMA!!!

  11. Edward, what makes you think that is Christopher Sorrentino posting? Why would he call himself Hubert?

    (Great list, Emma! Beautiful Ruins is on my list, too.)

  12. Yes, Emma likes the books she likes…91% of them just happen to be written by Americans and a disproportionate number are written by white graduates of MFA factories.

    Jack indicated that judging a writer by their taste in literature is “irrational,” and I disagree–I think it’s perfectly reasonable to avoid writers with such narrow interests that are confined to the incestuous MFA community. Why should I expect their work to be any different?

  13. Well, I never knew so many of the books I enjoy were considered ‘comfort fiction.’ There are so many books that appeal to me here, that means i MUST be going to like Emma Straub’s book? And she MUST be going to like mine. Because i write comfort fiction too. Oh, but no, that won’t happen because I’m not American and I don’t have an MFA. Too bad.

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