NYU Portfolio, q&a

Q&A: Michael Fusco-Straub

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In some ways Michael Fusco-Straub and his wife, Emma, are the ideal couple to open a bookstore. He’s a graphic designer and she’s a novelist. So when their beloved BookCourt closed down, they decided to create a new hub for Brooklyn bookworms. They opened Books are Magic on May 1 in Cobble Hill, hoping to be the new pulse of the reading public. Emma curated the shelves and Michael designed the modern and unique space to fit the name, with wooden bookshelves and exposed brick.

On a recent Friday morning, Michael was restocking books in the back of the shop and he took time to chat.

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What interested you in opening a bookshop in Cobble Hill?

We were at BookCourt almost every day. Actually Emma worked there for four years, and so we had a relationship with the owners. When we found out that it was closing, we instantly felt like it was our job to take this on and to make this happen, and we did.

Why the name, Books are Magic?

We both felt like the kind of energy and vibe that we want to be transmitted is that books are fun. Everyone should have them in their lives, and it’s not some kind of technology that’s going out of style. The term ‘books are magic’ is something that we truly believe.

What inspired the design of the store?

Right when we were deciding to open this bookstore, Emma and I took a trip to Portland, Oregon, and we went to this restaurant called “Tusk,” and I walked in I was like ‘This is how I want our bookstore to feel.’ Mainly, I was responding to the color palette, and the sort of airiness of the place and so that’s what I wanted to capture here; sort of light, white, soft pinks, and lots of air. A lot of bookstores feel claustrophobic. I wanted it to feel clean and modern, but also warm and inviting.

What about competition with online booksellers like Amazon?

I think we’re in a unique situation where we live in a neighborhood where people really care about local businesses and make an effort to come out here and support us. That alone is part of the reason why I feel like this is working. Also, we can get any book for anybody in a day, more or less. Most of the time—90 percent of the time—you come in looking for a book, we don’t have it, you get it tomorrow. That’s a good thing, I mean, that competes with whatever is going on online.

What is the process in curating the books?

Because Emma is a fiction writer, when we first opened the store, the fiction shelves were stacked and it was awesome. Then the nonfiction stuff had all these gaps, and we’re still trying to fill them. It’s just because it reflected what Emma knew, but now you know we’re listening to our customers’ special requests. People have been asking for a sci-fi shelf and we’re working on that.

Where do you see Books are Magic in five years?

It’s funny because that is something I haven’t thought about, because you know before we opened all I could think about was opening, and now that we’re open all I’m thinking about is what’s right in front of me. In five years, what I hope is that we’re right here doing what we’re doing and things are running in a slightly more efficient method. I mean things are pretty efficient now, but I think we’ll just get better at doing this.

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**edited for length and content

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notes

Why did I ever stop reading?

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Written at 2 a.m. after calling pest control on a large, unidentified spider in my dorm room, which left me restless and afraid

I have to take a moment of pause from my NYU posts to brag on a read that has taken me too long to get around to. (If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been using this blog as my portfolio for the work I have done in my journalism course)

After being in New York for three weeks knowing nobody, I finally decided to head to the bookstore and pick up some light reads for my free time. I was drawn to the familiar cover of Maria Semple’s “Where’d You Go, Bernadette,” which reminded me a lot of the illustrations from author Emma Straub’s collection, and also Kevin Kwan’s “Crazy Rich Asians” series. I purchased the paperback along with two other books, “How to Ruin Everything” by George Watsky and “Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures” by Emma Straub. I immediately began reading while sitting on a bench in Madison Square Park, Shake Shack burger in hand. I spent the rest of my day completely invested in the lives of Bee Branch and her mother, Bernadette Fox. I finished it about 12 hours later.

My point in noting this—other than to applaud and brag on Maria Semple—is to reintroduce myself, and possibly you, to reading something so valuable and brilliant that I cannot put it down for fear of facing a reality unlike the one on the pages. It saddens me to think that every year the short span from May to August is really the only time I have until life gets busy again, reality checks in, and this crazy-dramatic fantasy that has been occupying my afternoons and sleep schedule must be paused. We all know how that is.

But alas, I have a plan, a goal, and a rough beginner’s list as a start to a project I am doing with myself to get more in the habit of reading (and not just reading, but experiencing). I’m not even here to sponsor my own creative genius; I’m just letting you know that I have a plan, and if you want to copy me you totally can.

So maybe we can do this together? Maybe you can pitch me some authors, books, short stories, or your mom’s instagram caption from April fool’s day? I really don’t care. The point is that this is something I’ve wanted to dedicate more time to for a while, and I’m excited to finally do the damn thing.

Here’s the list. Beware it’s a short one, but I fully intend on adding on to it as I expand my opinions of authors and genres (other than Emma Straub, who is an obvious yes for me, always).

  1. Where’d You Go, Bernadette (check)
  2. Laura Lamont’s Life in Pictures (check)
  3. How to Ruin Everything
  4. Fan Girl
  5. Eleanor & Park (check)
  6. The Stars in Our Eyes
  7. Americanah (check)
  8. The Versions of Us
  9. This One’s Mine (check)

So if you’ve been wondering what I’ve been up to other than summer school and getting lost on the subway, voila!

RR

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