For Brodesser-Akner, 44, a child of divorce who grew up in Orthodox Brooklyn, the very act of reading popular novels was subversive. Now Brodesser-Akner, a staff writer for The New York Times Magazine, has penned a gloriously racy literary one filled with New York Jewish characters surely based on those in her actual life. Yet there were her mother and sisters, sheitls and all, celebrating its debut with the bare-shouldered Brodesser-Akner and the glitterati of Manhattan’s magazine stratosphere at a book party featuring deli and Dr. Browns.
The book, “Fleishman is in Trouble,” was a must-read at beach- and pool-clubs all summer, won raves and awards, and now Brodesser-Akner is turning it into a series for FX and ABC. Meanwhile, Brodesser-Akner’s Times Magazine profile of Tom Hanks (Mister Rogers) and Real Simple meditation on how she manages stress were read by, well, pretty much everybody. She’s everywhere, and every young writer wants to be her.
What do you have for breakfast? Breakfast is for fools. I always hated breakfast, but briefly bought into it as an important way to start the day. Now I eat nothing in the morning and feel focused and alive all day. That is the last time I trust the Breakfast Council of America with my diet.
What’s the last thing you listened to on your phone? I can’t remember if I most recently listened to Drake or to The Daily or to the audiobook for “City of Girls,” but all were today.
Earliest Jewish memory: My older sister and I used to put extended paperclips into our mouths to try to convince people at our synagogue that we had braces. This was some kind of clout but I cannot figure out why. We were dropped off at the Hebrew school-age childcare at our grandmother’s shul, Temple Israel of Great Neck, but we didn’t know any of the service because my mother wasn’t religious yet and we didn’t go to Hebrew school. It was pretty excruciating.
Heroes: My husband, Claude, and my older sister, Tracy, share the same quality that keeps me in awe of them both: A lack of self-consciousness and refusal to care what other people think, which leads to such a strong uniqueness and impermeable individuality. I feel like I work all day to strip away all my self-consciousness and find out what’s beneath it. They present with their beneaths immediately. Usually I say I’m jealous of it, but hero is a good word, too.
2019 memory: I had a really beautiful 2019. In the summer, my book came out and when it did, I went on a promotion tour in which I met so many people, eager to engage with me about my book. I was truly blown away by this; I never expected it. But amid all of that there was one moment that happened early on in that summer: My older son, who was in fifth grade, had his moving up ceremony to head into the Upper School. It was an hourlong delight of singing and watching these children have this moment that was unique and hilarious and beautiful and totally ephemeral. For the first time in their lives, they seemed to truly understand what ephemeral means, and they all cried.
I sobbed throughout the whole thing, and right after it, I had to go do an NPR interview with my favorite, Scott Simon. All I could think, though, was that I would have liked to stay in that moment — the one with my son and his friends singing a song about their six years at the school to the tune of “Joseph,” followed by a collage show where they sang “Lean On Me” — forever. That night I was in a hotel room somewhere, just watching it over and over on my phone. All I could think is that you could grasp ephemerality all you want, but you never get used to it.
What is your favorite thing about being Jewish? How much people love us!
What app can you not live without? The New York Times app. It allows me to remember how news is actually supposed to come to you (through stories, sometimes tedious and boring, and not just what rises to the top on Twitter). Also, it allows me to play Spelling Bee, which I have taken to only doing at night since I get nuts if I run out of road and still have a day left to go.
Weekend ritual: We don’t use screens on Friday night or Saturday morning, and that leads to games of Clue and Rummikub that screentime no longer abides.
Read Forward’s review of her book.
Listen to Brodesser-Akner talk about her first novel on The Times’ Book Review podcast
Read an “elevator interview” with her about interviewing celebrities in The Times’ “In Her Words” newsletter
Follow Taffy Brodesser-Akner on Twitter @taffyakner