The reading materials on display at BookExpo America (BEA)—including a former colleague’s debut YA*—and the LJ and School Library Journal Day of Dialog (DofD) pre-BEA events revved up the readers and the ruminators in the office.
Ian Chant, Associate Editor, News, LJ
I just finished reading Dr. Tatiana’s Sex Advice to All Creation (Holt), a funny, whip-smart read that gives a guided tour through the most sordid sex acts that nature has to offer. From stick insect copulations that can last for months on end to the dating games of bower birds that build and decorate intricate nests to woo a mate, evolutionary biologist Olivia Judson (in the guise of her alter ego, animal sex advice columnist Dr. Tatiana) lifts the curtain on the sex lives of the animal kingdom, offering insight on the kinks of incestuous ear mites, phallus-bearing female hyenas, and hermaphrodite slugs that fence with their genitals during mating to decide which will be the male in the equation. And then there are microscopic organisms that don’t need males as part of the equation at all. Judson combines impeccable research and breezy prose to enlighten readers on how many ways Mother Nature offers to get horizontal. Or vertical. Or “hanging from a meter-long slime rope.” After leafing through this volume, sex, dating, and relationships in the human world will seem downright simple by comparison.
Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
This week I’m reading the news again (oh boy). Santa Barbara shooter Elliot Rodger has sparked a conversation, and I’ve read a bevy of interesting pieces analyzing his motives, which touch on issues of misogyny, rape culture, and masculinity.
Ross Douthat’s New York Times op-ed “Prisoners of Sex” discusses our culture’s attitude toward sex and intimacy, while over at the Guardian, Jessica Valenti weighs in on how the shooting is a symptom of a culture steeped in misogyny. Meanwhile, New York magazine’s blog, the Cut, features a Q&A with Harris O’Malley, a “reformed” pickup artist, and the Daily Beast‘s Arthur Chu speaks about misogyny within nerd culture.
From the New York Times piece “Prisoner of Sex”:
Often you step into the mental landscape of a mass murderer and find nothing but paranoia, nightmare logic, snakes eating their own tails. But compared with the mysteries of Tucson, Newtown, and Aurora, this case has an internal psychodrama that is much more recognizable, a murderous logic that’s a little more familiar. The Santa Barbara killer’s pulsing antipathy toward women, his shame and fury over sexual inexperience—these were amplified horribly by mental illness, yes, but visit the angrier corners of the Internet, wander in comment threads and chat rooms, and you’ll recognize them as extreme versions of an all-too-commonplace misogyny.
Shelley M. Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
Now, I know I’m biased because she’s my friend and former colleague, but Chelsey Philpot’s debut YA novel* Even in Paradise (HarperCollins, coming out in October) is GOOD. A modern retelling of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, the book focuses on budding artist Charlotte “Charlie” Ryder’s fascination with the rich and enigmatic Buchanans, especially siblings Julia and Sebastian. Having met and been enchanted by Julia at their fancy New England prep school, scholarship student Charlie becomes embroiled in the family’s drama and heartbreak. I’m only halfway through, but there are so many sentence-level gems* thus far, and I’ve quite fallen in love with these characters.
*And even though I hadn’t had lemonade since I was a kid when my dad would make giant pitchers of it with tap water and a powder mix, I took the bottle from him and sipped from where his lips had been. It was too sweet, too warm, and the bottle was too moist and dirty from rolling around on the car floor. It was delicious. I handed it back just to touch his fingers one more time, but I kept the cap, shoving it into my pocket.
Before Chelsey’s book, I read Mary Pearson’s Kiss of Deception (Holt), a fantasy novel with tinges of dystopian, and I’m still thinking about it. Princess Lia’s duty as first daughter is to marry a powerful man who will help assuage her kingdom’s problems with a neighboring kingdom. Refusing to marry without love, the princess runs away with her maidservant to escape her fate. Taking up a life as a barmaid, she doesn’t realize that the jilted prince and a paid assassin have followed her. The points of view alternate among Lia, the assassin, and the prince, so readers are never quite sure which young man is which, and as they both start to fall in love with her, they’ll wonder if she’s escaped her destiny as a princess only to end up as a murderer’s quarry. Lia is no wilting lily, though. Trained in swordplay by her many brothers, she brings to mind Denarys from Game of Thrones. Pearson’s intricate plotting and worldbuilding are amazing. The novel’s mythology accentuates the fast-paced plot, and the big reveal will have fans anxiously awaiting the next Remnant Chronicles entry.
Liz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
Get out your handkerchiefs, folks, and sob for me: Thanks to LJ’s DofD and BEA, I have too many books to choose from. It’s pity party time, right? Well, in addition to every author who participated in DofD, I also want to read the next Dennis Lehane title, The Drop, coming out in August from Morrow; James Ellroy’s doorstop, Perfidia (Knopf, Sept.); Megan Abbott’s The Fever (Little, Brown, out any second now!); not to mention the dozens of nonfiction titles I saw and pawed at BEA. But this is all “what I want to read,” not what I’m reading. That’s a little easier to recount. I began The Dogs Were Rescued (and So Was I) by Teresa J. Rhyne, an October 2014 follow-up to her beagle-centric The Dog Lived (and So Will I). I have a feeling this Sourcebooks release will turn into a “crying on the subway” read—one of the beagles is a rescue from a medical testing lab. I’m interspersing that with a book I grabbed at the Consortium/Coach House booth, Geoff Pevere’s Gods of the Hammer: The Teenage Head Story (Coach House), in which Teenage Head, a band some have dubbed the “Canadian Ramones,” almost makes it into the big time during the days of punk possibility.
Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I was pretty excited to get a copy of The Magician’s Land (Viking), Lev Grossman’s third Fillory novel, at LJ’s DofD. As the book begins, Quentin has been exiled from the magical land where he was a king and he’s accepted a job tracking down a suitcase for a talking bird. In the meantime, Eliot, Janet, Josh, and Poppy are still in Fillory and have received some very unpleasant news about the upcoming end of the world.
Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, Reviews, LJ
Of everything I saw/heard about/picked up at BEA and its surrounding events, Joel Dicker’s The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair (Penguin) is one of the books I’m most excited about reading. Dicker spoke at the Association of American Publishers (AAP)/LibraryReads Adult Librarians’ dinner last week, which is where I both got a copy of his novel and decided to read it. From what I’ve gathered (I’m trying to avoid spoilers), a young writer visits the New Hampshire town where his mentor lives just as the man is implicated in the murder of a teenager from more than 30 years earlier. He then begins an investigation, hoping to save his mentor and beat his own writer’s block by penning a book about the crime. Dicker’s novel has gotten great reviews worldwide—he’s Swiss and the book was originally published in French—and I’m really looking forward to starting it.
Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just finished Paolo Bacigalupi’s The Doubt Factory, a Little, Brown October release I picked up at BEA. It is a YA thriller, which I enjoyed both simply as a readable adventure with high yet plausible stakes, and on a metalevel.
As someone who has read too many stories I can sometimes be annoyed by mechanics that make sense in a particular book but I have seen too often/see coming. This novel rings some nice changes on some classic, not to say hoary, coming-of-age-story tropes. The only thing that worries me is that the ending is too pat, and too emotionally satisfying, to be realistic.
Etta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m about halfway through the quick and enjoyable Smoke Gets in Your Eyes: And Other Lessons from the Crematory (Norton) by Caitlin Doughty. This wry author, who is also a mortician, developed obsessive-compulsive disorder as a child after witnessing another little girl fall to her death at a mall. Her reaction as an adult was to contact as many funeral homes as possible, hoping that one would take on an assistant with no experience. She planned to use the skills she learned to open a funeral home with a difference, one where loved ones would be invited to watch embalming, for instance, as a way of making death less foreign. It didn’t quite work out that way (pesky laws), but Doughty still learned lessons aplenty and leaves the reader a bit more knowledgeable about a hidden side of our society, too. After you’re done, follow @calebwilde on Twitter (he’s “the last person to let you down in Parkesburg, PA”).