Welcome to Farsighted, a place to read about talking about reading. Article One and [reads] got together to interview people about their favorite books and photograph them in the spaces where they love to read. AO sat down with Rachael Yaeger and Emma Stevenson, the founders of [reads] to talk about their new project, a book subscription and curation service where members receive monthly package of beautiful, thoughtfully-selected books delivered to their door.
AO: First, tell us a little bit about [reads]
Emma: We were both in Marfa, TX on a yoga retreat and staying above the Marfa Book Co. Rachael and I both spent numerous moments inside that bookstore telling ourselves and each other to not go crazy and only buy the books we needed, but of course we couldn’t help ourselves we bought all the books we wanted. We both started really crystallizing what [reads] could be and how it could be an online subscription service that could host a community of people who want to discover new books. [Reads] evolved over time as we started hosting events and meeting new people. We realized that books are a hot topic right now and there are a lot of people out there kind of reinventing the book world and talking about books. What makes [reads] so special is that it’s our curation, people are inherently who they are — they only pick up books that they think they would enjoy, we’re trying to get people to embrace discovery and we’re giving people books they probably wouldn’t pick up on their own but will enjoy.
Rachael: When people sign up for [reads] they will get two books a month, one more visual and artful and the other more of a readable novel. Think “Plein Air” by Sam Falls and “Sapiens: The Brief History of Humankind” by Yuval Noah Harar paired together and delivered to you. We want people to discover new books that they may not normally pick up for themselves. We’re also curating a kids’ box! Imagine being a parent and wanting to have different, new, global, fun kids books but not having the time to go curate your shelf. [reads] would be ideal.
Emma and I share books all of the time. We read differently, so I am always curious about what Emma is reading and where she has picked up a new book from. We each buy a lot of old and new books and swap them so that’s how [reads] was born.
No one has the time it takes to wander into bookstores, to browse online catalogs and talk to publishers about new and interesting reads. We love doing that and have built meaningful relationships with people in the publishing industry to allow us to curate two special books and ship them each month.
What do you take into consideration when choosing books for your packages?
R: Our number one rule is: “Are we super excited about these books?”
We have to want to pick up these books, have them in our homes and read them. It’s actually a little diffcult to narrow down to two each month. And then, size! We actually ordered our [reads] boxes before we curated the Kickstarter [reads] package so we went with “Once” by Wen Wenders and “Word By Word” by Kory Stamper which are each under 8 by 6.
E: We take in mind that we want books people don’t already have, and if they do, something that people would feel excited to pass to a friend. We dig into new releases, under the radar new upcoming authors, but also take care to resurface older books that cover relevant and conversational topics.
I have seen some of the books you guys are considering and many of them have at least one thing in common, they have great cover design. How much does design matter to you when choosing these books?
E: Books are more than just objects you read, they are accessories to your life, they line our shelves and stack on our nightstands, I wouldn’t want books that don’t have something visually beautiful and enticing on the cover. Even if it’s a simple white cover with simple text it can still be beautiful. When I’m at the Strand in New York or a local bookstore I’m always trying to find books I have but with different covers, I color coordinate my bookshelf sometimes, I’m not an organized person at all except for my book collection.
We both really care about book covers and are working with local artists and illustrators to design a [reads] book jacket for each of our books to make them kind of like a special collector's edition.
Do you feel ok writing in books is ok or do you feel like it's a sacred thing?
R: I do, I underline, cross things out, star places, writenotes, I’ll sometimes write where I am when I am reading or what I’m doing lately, I also dog ear the corners. I tell people they should be excited when I give them a book I read because it has all my personal notes in it. I would love to get books like that from friends; Emma’s are like that too.
E: I can’t pay attention to what I am reading if I’m not making notes in the margins or underlining things. I feel like books should be a well loved object and should be creased and wrinkled and written in.
Have you ever felt like someone was trying to tell you something by passing on a certain book?
E: My Mom once gave me a book on boundaries and I hid it at the back of my bookshelf because it made me feel uncomfortable. She meant really well but I took it as her telling me I didn’t have good boundaries, which was true at the time.
R: My brother hounded me for years about reading "Rich Dad Poor Dad." I think he was trying to tell me to go out and make some money!
Have you ever tried to communicate something to someone by giving them a book?
R: I tried to give my mom Maggie Nelson’s Bluets book, to just say it’s okay if you feel blue, but she didn’t like it at all, I think she thought it was too emotional haha.
Do you feel like you feel like you've gone through phases of reading similar to how you would in music or style?
R: During my early New York creative agency days I did hit a moment where I was like, "I need to read for work." I thought to myself, I need to read and I need to be speaking the same language as everyone else, and I was like, buying a Matisse art book and buying "Creativity Inc." and reading Danny Myers’ "Setting the Table" and all of a sudden I was reading for productivity and to help my career. I ended up creating reads.nyc with Sasha Kluchnik to make a list of those books and we add to the site. I still “read for work” today. Reading in general makes you feel like you're not alone, everyone else is going through all of this stuff, and there's no right way to do things. But that was like the biggest shift for me it was almost like homework again. Also with moving to New York came reading "The Bell Jar" again, so yes, I can remember books associated with specific milestones in my life.
E: I guess I liked reading poetry in school because I could interpret it however I wanted to and I would always feel stuck with fiction and unable to relate to made up stories and characters. After college I started reading a lot of psychology books. I was really interested in the way that people’s brains work — what’s different and unique about them. Now I read mostly memoirs and biographies.
A lot of your job requires you to feel passionate about a book and then confident enough to share that passion. Have you ever recommended a book that you felt protective of? And maybe you didn't get the response you wanted?
E: I recommended Anne Lamott's “Bird by Bird” to a friend and told her it was a book that changed the way I thought about myself and learned to detach myself from my writing. I read it four times and each time I got something different out of it. My friend didn’t like it because she felt like it had too many religious references in it and I took it personally because I’m a deeply spiritual person so it sort of felt like she was not liking me by not liking this book.
Do you feel intimidated by any books? Intimidated by any genres or intimidated by any authors?
R: Yes. A Hundred Years of Solitude. I've had it forever and I have not opened it. It sits in a pile in my apartment looming in the corner. I hear it takes a long time to read and the length is intimidating.
E: I’m always intimidated by David Foster Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut. I moved to Paris and fell into the trap of reading books that I was "supposed" to be reading rather than books I enjoyed reading. I started with “Infinite Jest” by David Foster Wallace which didn’t resonate and wasn’t interesting to me but I pretended to like it. I think that you can only be influenced by what you remember and enjoy and I don’t want to waste time reading books I don’t enjoy.
What's the book that you feel proud to have read?
R: Super proud? "IQ84" by Haruki Marakami was maybe the biggest book I've ever read, and I did feel like a champ finishing it.
E: I think I am really proud of my children's collection of books, I feel the most happy when I am reading children’s picture books out loud to my adult friends.
What draws you so much to children's books?
E: I think as a teacher I really enjoyed reading out loud to kids as much as I enjoyed being read to as a child. I also write my own children's books and so I’m drawn to the way they teach us simple lessons and try to uncomplicate messy parts of our lives. I’ve always thought everyone should read picture books, they're phenomenal at making you laugh and be silly.
Will the packages be themed?
R: We actually both picked two yellow covers this month and it’s amazing because [reads]' branding is yellow which is convenient and fun. I think there could very well be a theme in the future. We’re working on curating books with Getaway right now and those cabins will have a themed section. For [reads] I wouldn’t want us to feel like we necessarily have to be boxed in when we’re choosing books or go in a certain direction because we’re trying to pull off a theme notion. We don’t really like rules or being put in a box.
E: I think the [reads] boxes won’t be themed on purpose but we definitely think about our boxes as a whole experience and so the books we package together have been carefully curated and selected for their combination and way that they compliment each other.