Emily Gould (pictured right) is 1/2 of Emily Books and the author of an essay collection, And The Heart Says Whatever. She was previously an Associate Editor at Hyperion Books, and an Editor at Gawker.
Tell me a little bit about what Emily Books is, and what your aim is with it.
Emily Books is a new kind of bookstore, a book-club / bookstore hybrid that selects one book each month to sell and discuss, then publish essays about (or inspired by) that book on our website. You can subscribe and get our pick automatically each month – we email the file for you to download to your phone or ereader or computer – or you can buy books a la carte. All the books we’ve selected so far have been independently published and a few of them have not been previously available as ebooks. We pick books that we believe deserve a big readership they didn’t reach on their original publication. It’s a slightly weird thing to do, but it seems to be working. We’re basically saying: "These are going to be cult classics. Please join the cult."
Choosing what to read next can be overwhelming – there’s endless hype about new books, plus everyone has a sense of guilt about all the books that supposedly everyone has read that they personally might have skipped. Any book club provides a way of cutting through that noise, but a book club that automatically sends you a book and then provides a lot of context makes it easier to get excited about reading, and it avoids some of the take-your-vitamins feel that reading the Great Book Du Jour can have. The books we’ve picked so far have been all over the place, in some ways, but they all have in common that they are short enough to read in one sitting, strange enough that you’d have a hard time summing them up in a sentence, and narrated by incredibly compelling and singular voices. Which, uh, just happen to all be female voices. So far.
A lot of avid readers are in a process of either resisting the move from paper to digital books, or they're already in mourning. How do you feel, as a reader, and a publisher, about the so-called death of physical books?
Oh no way are physical books dying. I’m not buying that hysteria at all. What’s dying are publishers’ profits. Publishing will continue to contract enormously as a result of the shift towards ereading, but print books will undoubtedly continue to exist. What will change will be the way they’re published, the way those companies are structured, and the way they’re sold to us. For editors and authors this prospect is incredibly horrifying; having worked in the editorial department of a big-6 publishing house, I know firsthand how much care and skill and hard work goes into the production of a physical book. It’s tragic that many of the people with that expertise will probably lose their livelihoods. But as an ebook-seller and Internet native I feel exhilarated by the prospect of huge changes; I feel like we’re settling a frontier.
As a reader, I just want what most readers want: the incredible convenience and impulse-buyability and portability of ebooks sometimes, and the tactile and neurological experience that nothing but a physical book can provide other times. That doesn’t seem like a lot to ask! But the challenge, as we’re finding, is making it financially feasible for all four concerned parties: the author, the publisher, the bookseller and the reader. And that’s what no one has yet figured out.
All of your various jobs or careers have words at the center of them. Can you imagine, or do you ever wish to do something completely different? What would that be?
Ha! Well, my “day job,” such as it is, is that I teach alignment-based yoga, which in a way is also word-based. My biggest challenge when I’m teaching is giving just the right amount of verbal instruction – not so much that you overwhelm students with information, but not so little that their minds start to wander in between instructions. And actually that is exactly like writing, I’m now realizing! I don’t think it will ever be possible for me to do something completely different. Obviously I have tried. Whatever I do I tend to come up against the same challenges.
Emily Books functions in a more "social," book club format in a way. How do you think the internet facilitates social — in more than the manner that something like Twitter does — for you, and the people who buy and read your books?
"What I love about the Internet, what I can’t ever dismiss even when I’m feeling very anti-Internet, is the kind of partial intimacy it facilitates."
What I love about the Internet, what I can’t ever dismiss even when I’m feeling very anti-Internet, is the kind of partial intimacy it facilitates. The feeling of closeness that you get when you and a semi-stranger have some enthusiasm in common, or someone you don’t know connects the dots between two seemingly unrelated pieces of information, and it’s like a part of you suddenly knows a part of that person really, really well. I love that. There are a lot of well-documented shitty things about the Internet but it’s much too simplistic to mistake those things for the whole picture. I think people who are on the record as deploring social media as basically a huge waste of time aren’t giving enough of themselves to social media in order to get anything meaningful back. It’s not about self-promotion or having a one-sided conversation. For me and for the people who read and buy and write about the Emily Books books, I think it has been freeing and exhilarating to find voices that articulate something we maybe hadn’t quite been able to figure out for ourselves, and to locate our style of self-expression in a literary tradition. These are the books I would assign if I could trick some college into letting me teach a course on “blogginess” as a literary device, is what I’m saying.
You don't sell a huge array of books: your selections are highly curated, which is kind of a relief as opposed to say, Amazon, where pretty much everything is available. Why did a highly curated selection appeal to you, and what do you think your selections have had in common thus far?
With one exception, so far all of the books have been first-person narratives: essays on feminist theory, autobiographical fiction, straightforward memoir, even an edited collection of blog posts. When women write in the first person their work is often called “confessional.” And there’s an accepted template for female narratives that tends to be the only story you read in bestselling books and first-person essays in women’s magazines that goes like: “I was bad – [sordid description of bad behavior] – but then [love, my baby, my husband, AA, etc] saved me. I solved my problem. I am no longer bad.” I have nothing against redemption per se but I am really bored with that story. That story doesn’t reflect anything about what women’s or human beings’ lives are really like. I have always gravitated to books that resist the commercial impulse to make life conform to formulaic narrative conventions. This is how books are marketed, understandably, because it’s an easy story to sum up, and you can also sell it to the reader as instructive: this is how you, too, can get better and start living your best life™! But I prefer to read books like, say, Glory Goes and Gets Some by Emily Carter, where the narrator goes to rehab, gets clean, and then the book is only half over and she still has to figure out life and it’s genuine and very complicated. And I guess I’m not alone in this, because we have been really gratified by people’s response to Emily Books so far. I also think it’s nice to have someone whose taste you can trust and it’s not an algorithm or a mega-corporation telling you what to read next: it’s just me and Ruth. And we are really grateful and happy that people are trusting us to recommend books to them, and we’re insanely excited about the next book we’ve picked for April and we just hope we can keep doing this forever, because there are a lot of books we love that not enough people have read.
What kind of ereader do you use? Do you ever read on your phone (I asked because I am consistently disappointed in my failure to successfully read on my phone).
I *only* read on my phone! We have an iPad and a Kindle that we use to test formatting for the books we sell, but by "we" I mean Ruth and that's who usually has custody of those devices. It's fine though because I LOVE reading on my phone. Especially in bed and on the subway. I still read print books, but lately with books I love I'll often buy an e-edition first and then buy the print book and reread it in print. I hope this is a trend. Wouldn't that be great? It may be that I'm just a spendthrift freak, though.
What are you reading now?
I'm rereading our April pick, Making Scenes by Adrienne Eisen, and I just finished a fantastic Canadian book called Maidenhead over the weekend. With any luck it will be a future EB pick.
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