Reading with . . . The New Press’s Publisher

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

New Press publisher Ellen Adler recently spoke with Shelf Awareness about her favorite books, authors she admires (even if their books are out of print) and “fake-reading” Ulysses.

Read the full interview below:

Reading with... Ellen Adler

Ellen Adler is the publisher of the New Press, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary in 2017. She was the editor of Strangers in Their Own Land: Anger and Mourning on the American Right by Arlie Hochschild, published just before the 2016 election. The New Press is the publisher of The New Jim Crow, which has just reached a million copies in print.


On your nightstand now:

SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard--for my book group. I love that I read books I wouldnt otherwise, thanks to my 20-year-old book group.

Richard Nixon: The Life by John Farrell--its hard not to think about Nixon these days.

Al Franken, Giant of the Senate--I could use a good laugh right now, and I hope Franken delivers!

Who Thought This Was a Good Idea? by Alyssa Mastromonaco--sounds like a great read by a smart and witty Obama administration veteran.

Normally there would be fiction in the mix. But these are not normal times.


Favorite book when you were a child:

Charlottes Web and Stuart Little by E.B. White. Unparalleled. I still remember the very moment I read the last page of Charlottes Web for the first time. And I still think of Charlotte whenever I see a spider web.

Your top five authors:

There are way more than five. But top of the list is Toni Morrison. The best is to listen to her reading. Once youve done that its hard to return to the page.


Book youve faked reading:

Ulysses. Pathetic, I know. A seditious professor in college told me to try reading only the left-hand pages, or the right-hand pages, but even that didn't help. It may be time to try again. I do love Joyces stories--no problem getting through them and I have returned to them many times.


Book youre an evangelist for:

Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women by Susan Burton and Cari Lynn. We dont usually publish memoirs, but when I read the proposal, I knew we had to take it on. It changed the way I see the world. Weve described it as telling the human story behind mass incarceration. Women like Susan are usually dead, or in prison, or otherwise silenced, so its a great gift to hear her voice and know her story. Were working on creating a special paperback edition that will be distributed free in prisons to incarcerated men and women across the country.


Book youve bought for the cover:

Multiple books published by Europa! They are so beautiful.


Book you hid from your parents:

I remember two. My parents were friends with Paul Eriksson, whose small publishing company in Vermont brought out Christine Jorgensens autobiography in 1967. Jorgensen was the first American to announce publicly that shed undergone surgery to change her sexual identityto correct,” as she put it, a misjudgment of nature. I didnt know it at the time, but her book was my introduction to the brave world of independent publishingand also to issues of gender identity, which was decidedly not something I wished to discuss with my parents at the time! The second was Down These Mean Streets by Piri Thomas, published the same year, which must have been my year of sneaking away with books as I was trying to make sense of the world. Thomas introduced me not only to life in the Puerto Rican community in Spanish Harlem but also to the art of memoira form I still read voraciously.


Book that changed your life:

My Home, My Land by Abu Iyad and Eric Rouleau. Reading this now long out-of-print book was a political awakening for me. Much fell into place for me in terms of my understanding not only of the Middle East, but also of the world.


Favorite line from a book:

You were positutely right! . . . Philadelphia is the capital of Belgium. From William Steig's Spinky Sulks. No home is complete without a collection of William Steigs so-called picture books.


Five books youll never part with:

Ive gotten less attached to books than I once was. Living in New York City helps and when I get rid of books I always tell myself that they will be waiting for me at the Strand if I ever need them. Nevertheless, there are a few books that have stayed with me over the years:

A battered used paperback copy of the edited collection of Sisterhood Is Powerful edited by Robin Morganevery page was a revelation when I was a teenager.

Personal Politics by Sara Evansthe first time I was acknowledged for my editorial contributions, however small, by an author.

Economics for the Rest of Us by Moshe Adler. Economics for non-economists like me by an author who happens to be my husband.

Umbrella by Taro Yashimaa marvelous bittersweet picture book that I loved reading with my daughter.

The five-volume Collected Papers of Sigmund Freud that belonged to my father. The beautiful spinesgold lettering on dark green leather--were always in sight on the bookcase when I was a child.


Books you most want to read again for the first time:

The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down by Anne Fadimandazzling in every way.

Poets in Their Youth by Eileen Simpsona heartbreaker, achingly sad and beautifully written.

A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian by Marina Lewyckalaugh out loud funny.

Of course, there are dozens more. That's the thing about books.