A Chat With Emily Books

Emily Gould and Ruth Curry just started a neat online bookstore called Emily Books, where the idea is that people buy one hand-selected e-book a month — or subscribe for a yearlong membership — and then come back to join in for a rousing e-discussion. (Or just read the book, hopefully enjoy it, and silently wait for the next one, minus the rousing e-discussion.) Sort of a monthly bookclub/bookstore hybrid, but on the internet. Nicole Cliffe wrote an awesome essay about the first pick — Ellen Willis’s No More Nice Girls — and there are apparently going to be tote bags and fun events. I emailed them to learn more about these bags.

EZ: MOST pressingly, why isn’t it also called Ruth Books?!

RC: Very pressing question! Well, the store was 100% Emily’s idea, and she came to me with the name in place. It just made sense. I’m also a sort of retiring person by nature, and I think life would be a non-stop panic attack for me were my name to be featured prominently like that. Plus, “Emily” is a lot more versatile for making word plays with “e-books.”

EZ: Ahh! OK, that was maybe a bad question to start with! But now going forward I’m going to think of it as Emileee-books, with a long E. Emileeeee-books. What’s the criteria for picking each month’s book, and how far ahead do you pick them?

EG: We pick them, um, I want to say we pick them really far in advance, and have half a year picked out already. And actually we do have a lot of books that we’ve managed to track down the rights for, which has been the hardest part of this project so far, because some publishers, maybe reasonably, have been like, “We don’t understand what you’re doing, who are you, you’re not Amazon, no, you can’t sell our e-book.” But also we’re always coming up with new books we want to sell and then getting obsessed with trying to figure out whether we’ll be allowed to sell them, and then feeling like THAT book is the exact perfect book for RIGHT NOW. Like, we changed our minds about what the first book we’d sell would be a lot of times. We think we have next month’s book picked out, but we’ll probably change our minds about that, too. It will be a big surprise (also for us).

In general, though, we’re aiming to alternate with the picks going one nonfiction, one fiction, and to have our picks be as dissimilar from each other — while still remaining within the general subheading of “Awesome life-altering books by writers with idiosyncratic, unique, and less-heard voices” — as possible.

The ur-book that we’d like to sell — that we actually have not been able to convince its publisher to allow us to sell, so far — is I Love Dick, by Chris Kraus. Have you read this book? This is seriously a book where I think of my life in terms of things that happened pre- and post- my reading it. If you have ever made anything or had a crush on anyone, it’s a book for you. It is as clear-eyed a dissection of the inevitable problems of being a heterosexual woman as any art ever made. Also a gripping yarn!

EZ: WHOA I have never read that book, but now I really want to. That’s a shame you can’t get the rights to it, but then you’d be denying people the possibility of seeing others reading the 3-D copy on the train, and its cover is really good. Also, Chris Kraus will make you jump, jump.

Anyway. Tell me more about the tote bags! And the parties/events. Will you talk about books at the events?

EG: Lol, I was going to say, reading I Love Dick on the subway is really fun and also horrible. You have to just put your steel face on for any conversations, but be ready also to convert possible lovers of the book. Being weakly like, “Um, well, no see it’s about a guy? Named Richard?” is not acceptable.

I’m actually going to let Ruth take over from here, because I have to run (away from the Internet for a few hours) but re: tote bags, we just can’t let that beautiful logo (by Alice Wetterlund) go to totebag-waste. We are having a book club for talking about the book/drinking wine in the basement of WORD bookstore on the 22nd. We are planning a huge party with, like, wild dancing probably in November?! And for people who don’t live in New York, we are scheming to make the experience of hanging out in some dimly lit, book-smelling place with us accessible in some virtual form online … we haven’t really worked out the kinks of that yet, though. All I know is it will be REAL NAMES ONLY.

RC: OMG Chris Kraus. I think our first tote bag should be “I (HEART) (cover image of I Love Dick).” I can picture it so clearly in my mind, though perhaps not explain it in words.

EZ: Your logo IS really nice! Yeah, Alice Wetterlund! E-books, E-mily.

OK, these parties sound enriching and pleasant. But! What if you pick a book, it comes to my Kindle, I read it, and I hate it? Or you pick it, and I’ve already read it, and I’m signed up for a year-long membership? Probably nothing, I’m imagining, but … maybe something crazy?

EG: OK one last one and then I REALLY AM getting off the Internet, for REAL. I thought about the problem of someone getting a book they’ve already read, too, and I think the odds are pretty good that it’ll be A) a book you don’t have in e-format yet, and/or B) a book you want to reread. But if it seems like really bad value for your dollars, we aren’t such a huge corporation that you couldn’t write us and be like, “Hey, I already read this and have it as an e-book, can we work something out?” Maybe we’d extend the subscription an extra month. Or if you hate it, we might evolve a system of alternate picks. Certainly there are some books Ruth hates and I love, and vice versa, so I’m sympathetic to this (potential) problem! Imposing our taste on people is not the point, uniting people with books they will love is.

RC: I can’t imagine not being crazy about our as-yet undesigned tote bag, but if you really hated it, perhaps you could turn it inside out and use it for your especially disgusting tote-ables! Sort of like those kids who used to scribble over the logos of their shoes with a Sharpie.

EZ: I already love your tote bag and I don’t even know anything about it! But since Ruth said it out loud earlier, and word is bond, you heard it here first: The official Emily Books tote bag is going to say “I (HEART) (cover image of I Love Dick).”


Find out more about Emily Books here!

Photo of Ruth and Emily by Lisa Corson