Reading Room: Emma Straub’s top Substack reads
Reading Room is a series where writers share their favorite publications to read on Substack. Any Substack writer can endorse their peers using our recommendations feature.
Great writers are great readers first, as the maxim goes. In this series, we explore what Substack writers are reading by asking them for a tour of their reading list.
We spoke to, the New York Times bestselling author of six books for adults, a short story collection, and three picture books—one of which, Very Good Hats, was published in January. Emma describes her daily reading habit as being like an “open-mouthed fish trawling the bottom of the ocean.” She and her husband own Books Are Magic, an independent bookstore with two locations in Brooklyn. She describes books as “my stalwart companions, my escape hatches, my private joys” and offers book recommendations and updates on her Substack, . Today she shares her favorite reads on Substack and beyond.
For more of Emma’s finds, check out the full list of Substack publications she subscribes to in her profile.
Hi Emma! Can you start by describing your reading diet?
I don’t know if this is healthy or not, but I really don’t designate any of my reading as personal or professional—it all gets mulched together. Whether that mulch then gets used in my novels or at my bookstore, or both, who’s to say? I am always taking things in for use at a later date. I read novels daily, I read my Substacks daily, I read Twitter, I read the news, I read my booksellers’ hilarious Slack commentary on the world. My first novel was a historical novel about old Hollywood, and so I did a lot of proper research for that, and for my most recent novel, which involves time travel, I read a lot of time travel books. But yes, in general I am one of those open-mouthed fish trawling the bottom of the ocean.
Describe your ideal or actual reading room. What does it look like?
I mostly read in bed, which is fine, but I suppose my ideal situation would probably be some hideous but comfortable chair, like a La-Z-Boy, with cupholders and attached trays for snacks. I read in my office too, which contains a couch but no desk. Really I am always trying to be as horizontal as possible.
My ideal situation would probably be some hideous but comfortable chair, like a La-Z-Boy, with cupholders and attached trays for snacks. I read in my office too, which contains a couch but no desk. Really I am always trying to be as horizontal as possible.
Do you remember the first writer or book that really captured your attention?
My love for books arrived pre-memory. There is no before. Books were always my stalwart companions, my escape hatches, my private joys. There are certain books that were pivotal at different moments, certainly—The Secret Garden, Miss Piggy’s Guide to Life, every Christopher Pike novel—but there is no first book. The love was baked in from the very start.
Emma’s recommended reads:
Substack I’m most excited to open ASAP:, , every time. She is the funniest person in my inbox, and I know several comedians. Cultural commentary, gossip, television—whatever she’s writing about it, I’m reading it (and cackling to myself about Leonardo DiCaprio).
Substack I recommend to friends most often:, by . Hoo boy, if you are a person with a body, or are a parent to a child with a body, this newsletter is for you. I trust Virginia more than most any of the chipper dieticians in my Instagram feed, that’s for sure. I’ve learned so much from her, about fat bodies and parenting and food culture and just not being an asshole.
Substack that’s best for aspiring authors:’s or ’s These were probably the first newsletters that I signed up for—two smart women writers who I’ve followed (in print and in person, in a non-creepy way, one hopes) for many years. I love watching my contemporaries grow and evolve, and both Jami and Roxane have beautifully modeled what a writer’s life can and should look like. They uplift other writers regularly, they talk about serious things and frivolous things and just do it right.
Substack that’s most likely to make me laugh:, . I have always enjoyed gossip magazines, and then gossip websites, and now gossip podcasts and newsletters. This is probably my most recent subscription—I found him on Twitter and he made me laugh every day, and his Substack is equally delightful. Why I love gossip so much is something for me to unpack at a later date.
Substacks “by amazing people who are married to each other”:and are my favorite married couple, and the fact that they are both generous enough to share their artistic processes and thoughts and feelings with the outside world is just incredible. Like, Carson showing us all how she paints a flower? Colin singing a cover of “Bring on the Dancing Horses”? Come on! It’s too good.
Author/writer not on Substack who I’d like to see join Substack: I would read the hell out of a Jane Austen Substack. Or perhaps you mean a living person. I was going to say, whose recipes I adore, but I just looked and she has one! So I just signed up. Hooray!
Inspired by Emma and the other writers here to get going on your Substack? Sending your first post is just a few taps away: