Rumaan Alam on his reading list, go-to bookstore and writing process

New York Times special projects editor Rumaan Alam’s novel, “That Kind of Mother,” comes out on May 8. We caught up with the Crown Heights author, 40, on what he’s reading and writing right now.

What are you reading now?

“The Mars Room,” which is Rachel Kushner’s most recent novel. I was persuaded to read it by [Dwight Garner’s] rave review in The New York Times. I’m also reading “The Saturdays,” an old children’s book, with both of my kids. It’s charming and lovely: It’s about a family with four kids who live uptown in 1930s New York and they have these amazing adventures. We’re all really enjoying it.

Where do you like to buy, or borrow, your books?

I am the worst, I buy so many books. My kids patronize the Brooklyn Public Library, but I do have a rule that books are the one thing I let them buy whenever they ask. But I am not a library user because I am someone who loves to own my books. I have a local bookstore, a branch of Greenlight Bookstore, I’ve spent a fortune there. I also spend a lot of time and money at Books Are Magic, my friend Emma Straub’s store in Cobble Hill. They do amazing events. I go at least once a month and I feel like I always leave with a couple of books.

Rumaan Alam spends
Rumaan Alam spends “a lot of time and money” at his friend Emma Straub’s bookstore, Books Are Magic. Photo Credit: Yeong-Ung Yang

Where do you like to write?

Until I started my new job, I was writing mostly at home. There’s a coffee shop in my neighborhood, Starliner, where I’d work on revisions for the novel that’s about to come out. It always turned into a very expensive proposition though because I feel a moral obligation to buy something every hour or so. Another one of my favorite things to do is going to an unpopular restaurant — I like kind of bad restaurants — and sitting down and having a really early dinner and a drink and just work. It’s a great way to get away from my desk and my house, because then I can’t distract myself with doing the dishes or making the bed or whatever.

What do you bring with you when you go out to write?

A lot of my process, which is not very environmentally friendly, is to print draft after draft after draft and scribble all over it and read it aloud. Sometimes I just read out loud like a crazy person. That’s one of the great things about living in New York; no one is fazed when you behave that way.

What are you writing now?

I am working on what will be my third book, someday. It’s still very early. I feel like I’m in a holding pattern and I’m doing a lot more reading. I go through these periods when I get really interested in binge reading. I tend to do that when I’m gearing up to write, like a bear eating a lot before hibernating.


Rumaan Alam is in conversation with Emma Straub on May 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Books Are Magic | 225 Smith St., Cobble Hill, 718-246-2665, booksaremagic.net | FREE