Library Journal staffers had some time to read and re-read a few good books over the long weekend. Here’s what was on our post-holiday platters.
Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Library Journal Reviews
As a young impressionable college student, I read Donna Tartt’s The Secret History and, of course, hungered for more Tartt. As she only had one other book apart from that at the time, my hunger went unsated…until now! I’m currently devouring her latest, The Goldfinch (Little, Brown). While it’s no Secret History (really, what is?), it’s an immersive read about a boy whose life is changed forever when he and his mother experience a terrorist bombing. I’m looking forward to seeing how this one turns out!
Francine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, LJ
Thanksgiving-cum-Hannukah dinner and Ayelet Waldman’s Love and Treasure (Knopf), due out in April: a surprisingly appropriate combination, since the book kicks off with the so-called Hungarian Gold Train in World War II, which housed a warehouse full of booty—furniture, bicycles, silver, wedding bands, watches, paintings, etc.—that Jews were forced to turn over to the Royal Hungarian bank before being shipped off to Auschwitz. The story of U.S. Army Lieutenant Jack Wiseman, assigned to catalog the items, has some elements of Joseph Heller’s Catch-22. As morally ambiguous as it is, it is only a prelude to several other stories in this novel reaching back to the early 1900s and forward to the present.
Though Waldman has garnered stellar reviews for books like Love and Other Impossible Pursuits, she’s not particularly well known: when I mention her name to nonstop reader friends, they ask, “Who?” She’s probably remembered more for her New York Times piece (and the book of essays that followed, Bad Mother) in which she wrote that she loved her husband (author Michael Chabon) more than her four children. Oh, the horror!
LJ‘s PrePub editor Barbara Hoffert says that in Love and Treasure, Waldman “breaks out with an affecting and ambitious novel.” I hope it’s her breakout book. For those of you on Edelweiss, here’s a link to the galley.
Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
I cannot quit you, Paris in the Thirties! Last week I talked about the Toto Koopman bio, Jean-Noël Liaut’s The Many Lives of Miss K: Toto Koopman—Model, Muse, Spy (Rizzoli Ex Libris); this week I’m heading back to Paris and Europe during the same timeframe, but with a different companion: Anita Reynolds. Her memoir, American Cocktail: A “Colored Girl” in the World (Harvard Univ.) was written in 1970 but never published until now (it releases in Feb. 2014). It’s like a double time capsule so far, with a Seventies black power/feminist perspective on the African American Thirties expat experience. It’s not really fair to compare a biography (Liaut’s) with a memoir (Reynolds’s), but I can’t help it. So far, I’m immersed in Reynolds’s life and times in a way that I wasn’t with the Koopman bio. But there does appear to be about the same amount of heavy-duty name-dropping in both books. I wonder if these two ladies ever met: now that would be some story.
Margaret Heilbrun, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
Over the Thanksgiving holiday I went with my daughter to see Harold Pinter’s Betrayal on Broadway. This is his 1978 play that works in reverse chronological order as it traces various betrayals, including adultery, between two men and a woman over the course of years from 1968 to the play’s opening scene in 1977. This production, for all its star power with Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz, was pretty much a loss. As the years peel away on stage, the audience should accumulate new layers of insight into the motives and actions of the three protagonists, but somehow, no light bulb ever went off above my head, nor above those around me, near as I could tell. Pinter’s play was called innovative in its reverse time frames. Perhaps he had simply read fellow Londoner Elizabeth Jane Howard’s 1956 novel, The Long View (Washington Square: S.&S.), in which readers grow to understand Antonia Fleming and the choices and impositions that have led to her dismal marriage as they encounter her from 1950 backwards to 1926. I started to re-read it this past weekend. Of course after Pinter it seems very overwritten. And yet its power is subtle. It’s a bleak book, but one to consider reading if you’ve decided to spare yourself the visit to Betrayal but are intrigued with its premise. Speaking of which, next week I will discuss what I read before my last two entries. In a few months you’ll have the pleasure of my thoughts on Betty MacDonald’s Hello, Mrs. Piggle Wiggle!
Meredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I’ve been reading a bunch of paperback mysteries by Rex Stout, so old they’re marked 60¢ on the spine. They’re full of gourmet food references, so they’re a good fit for Thanksgiving.
Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
Over Thanksgiving we faced the problem that when I switch on my Kindle, it switches off the WiFi, disrupting some crucial PlayStation games, but I persevered and am pretty sure my marriage will survive. On my Kindle, I restarted Richard Lloyd Parry’s People Who Eat Darkness: The True Story of a Young Woman Who Vanished from the Streets of Tokyo—and the Evil That Swallowed Her Up (Farrar). I’m not loving it but even though the beginning of the book reveals the woman’s fate, I’ll stick with it to find out how it happened, and along the way I’m learning some details about more hidden aspects of Japanese culture.
In print my three-year-old son and I are reading Jez Albrough’s Nat the Cat’s Sunny Smile (Kane/Miller), about a cat whose cheerfulness persuades some friends who are feeling down to put on their happy faces and go on a picnic. Henry loves the physical activities that come along with the title—he likes to stand up on his bed so he can really thump the book when Nat “knock, knock, knocks” on her friends’ doors, and then it’s my turn to get a vigorous “pat, pat, pat” on the head when Nat comforts her gloomy buddies. If there are rambunctious toddlers in your life, this is the title to get the wiggles out before night-night. The friends’ changing moods also provide the opportunity to talk about feelings.