This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers are reading narratives of risqué histories and the earliest movement toward establishing racial equality in local U.S. public schools, media criticism, and discussions of gender. A few novels are mentioned here and there, too.
Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
I’m reading Behind the Burly Q: The Story of Burlesque in America by Leslie Zemeckis and Blaze Starr, which also marks my debut review assignment for LJ! Having watched Natalie Wood singing “Let Me Entertain You” in the 1962 film Gypsy more times than I care to admit and seen my share of modern-day burlesque, I was excited to see this book on top of my colleague Molly McArdle’s pile of performing arts books that were being assigned for review. The book is a lot of fun so far and is based on a documentary of the same name, chock-full of bawdy stories and funny quotes. The Minskys (as in Minsky’s Burlesque) make an appearance, as does Gypsy Rose Lee, as well as performers I had never heard of, such as Sherry Britton. Behind the Burly Q, while fun, doesn’t overly romanticize the experiences of its stars. And yes, before you ask, photographs are included!
Josh Hadro, Executive Editor, LJ
I have some ambitious plans to finish China Miéville’s Kraken ASAP, and then start Douglas Rushkoff’s new book, Present Shock. I’m generally a fan of Rushkoff’s media criticism, and I’ve been paying attention to his commentary since he managed to link together The Simpsons, graphic novels, and Gary Panter’s Rozz-Tox Manifesto in his remarks at ComicCon in 2008 (the subject of my very first blog post for LJ!). Not a quote from his books (as far as I know), but something Rushkoff said then has stayed with me: “I’d rather live in a world where The Simpsons is mainstream than a world where Father Knows Best is mainstream.” And that’s in a way what Panter’s Rozz-Tox Manifesto is all about.
Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I often, paradoxically, have a hard time getting around to reading books that have received glowing praise (which is why Wolf Hall is still sitting unopened in one of my many teetering TBR piles). Jo Walton’s Nebula– and Hugo–winning Among Others has long been one of those books I’ve heard is great but never read. I’ve had an ARC since late 2010 that I’ve brought on vacations, moved around the apartment from my favorite reading chair to my nightstand to the kitchen table, carried with me on dozens of commutes, and never quite got around to starting until yesterday. Now, of course, I’m kicking myself for all of the wasted time I could have spent immersed in Walton’s splendid prose and beautifully constructed world, featuring fairies who live in industrial ruins and a troubled young woman who loves science fiction novels.
Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I just started a book I’ll be reviewing for LJ‘s education section First Class: The Legacy of Dunbar, America’s First Black Public High School School. I am a DC history nut (yes, we exist) and this book is right up my alley. It starts with antebellum movements for “normal” schools (i.e., schools that prepare students to become teachers) for black DC residents, moves on to the brutal 1856 beating of Senator Charles Sumner
in the Capitol building, to the alley culture of post–Civil War DC. All that and I haven’t even gotten as far as reading about Dunbar, once the country’s premier secondary school for black students and now an exemplar of the problems urban public schools face. I’m fine with journalist Stewart taking her time, though; this history is lively and so full of juicy quotations from letters and newspaper articles that it almost feels gossipy.
Chelsey Philpot, Associate Book Review Editor, SLJ
I am very excited to have finally received a library copy of Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood, & the Prison of Belief by Lawrence Wright. It feels like a brick in my purse when I walk around town, but being able to dive into Wright’s research and words during my commute makes the weight worth it. (Plus, nonfiction is always a nice balance to the YA dystopian novels I’m also reading.)
Meredith Schwartz, News Editor, LJ
I’m reading Gender on Planet Earth by Ann Oakley. I’m not sure what I think of it—her offhand reference to mounting evidence that video games cause violence (which is by no means a foregone conclusion according to the research that I’ve seen) threw me, and now I find myself doubting her assertions without having time to verify them. And sometimes, as when she turns “manslaughter” into “man’s laughter,” I roll my eyes. But if nothing else it gives me a lot to think about. And I don’t know if it’s parody or exemplar that the cover is pink and features a shoe.
Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
Mother’s Day brought out the melancholy in me as usual, and I took out my well-worn copy of Letters from Motherless Daughters: Words of Courage, Grief, and Healing by Hope Edelman. The letters come from bereaved daughters of all ages who each have something to say that touches me. Edelman’s Motherless Mothers: How Mother Loss Shapes the Parents We Become has been perfect over the years too; it’s a heartfelt and often handy guide for mothers whose expected parenting role model is gone.
I also took down from the shelf Hugh Leonard’s Dear Paule. Leonard (1926-2009) was an Irish dramatist and diarist whose weekly musings were published in Ireland’s Sunday Independent newspaper. The book is a series of letters he wrote to his late wife after she died suddenly. They were published in his column, further endearing a man who was thought of as a great, but curmudgeonly, wit, to the Irish people. My parents are mentioned in the book and it is to that passage I turned this weekend. Leonard mentioned that he received many letters from people struggling with grief of their own, one of which was from my Dad.
“Perhaps the most heartfelt is from a man who says he sleeps on his late wife’s side of the bed so he won’t have to look at her empty pillow.”