Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What We’re Reading

This week the School Library Journal/LJ crew gobbles up stories of survival, women of affairs, insurrections, and disappearing architecture.

lost Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What Were ReadingMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, SLJ
I’ve been slowly making my way through Marcia Reiss’s Lost New York (Pavilion, 2011), a gorgeous, photo-studded work that sheds light on various sites throughout New York that have since been abandoned or demolished. Some of my favorite places? The Astor Mansion, the Lunatic Asylum at Roosevelt Island, and the Castle Garden Aquarium (damn you, Robert Moses!).
The book also contains some sizzling salacious details on New York history, such as the 1906 murder of Stanford White (who designed the first Madison Square Garden [MSG]). White was fatally shot by millionaire Henry Thaw at the rooftop theater of MSG. Thaw was jealous that his young wife, Evelyn Nesbit, had had an affair with White when she was a 16-year-old chorus girl five years earlier. Old New York, don’t ever change.

breakfast Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What Were ReadingLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
Like my colleague Etta (see her blurb below), I’m reading about a survivor heroine—of sorts. Courtney Farrell, the lead character in Pamela Moore’s 1956 debut novel, Chocolates for Breakfast (Perennial: Harper, reprinted in 2013) is world-weary at age 15, drinking daiquiris with her Hollywood actress mother, having affairs with actors and Byronic dilettantes, drinking too much, and running out of control with her friend and former boarding school roommate Janet. The novel does have a lot of strong points; though it’s episodic and meandering it’s also an excellent first effort. However, the author’s backstory is more compelling than her novel, and thanks to Harper for all the extra content—excursuses, let’s call them—that tell us Moore was 18 when Chocolates was published and the name “Courtney” for girls became superpopular after the book was published. Moore seems like a sort of combination of Sylvia Plath, J.D. Salinger, and Françoise Sagan—talented, troubled, reckless, rich, dead by her own hand at age 26.  I can picture a movie version of Chocolates, but somehow I think a cinematic treatment of the life and death of its author would be a more watchable, though sadder, film.

writer Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What Were ReadingBarbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
I really enjoyed Ann Hood’s newest, the forthcoming An Italian Wife (Norton, Sept.) and had touted it at the BEA Shout ‘n’ Share (and in the May 6 WWR column). I remembered that I had put aside her 2013 novel, The Obituary Writer (Norton) for a rainy day. Earlier this week I eagerly retrieved it from my towering ARC stash. The book’s parallel stories of two women’s lives and loves, several eras apart, really works, and effectively keeps you involved.
Vivien Lowe, the title character, is well acquainted with grief. She is still seeking her lover, an older, married man who vanished in the Great San Francisco Earthquake of 1906. Vivien’s story is counterpointed by Claire’s. Claire is a restless, Kennedy-era, Jackie-mad, married young mother, who now lives in suburban DC. She is deeply affected by the kidnapping and disappearance of a little boy from the neighborhood and then gets caught up in a passionate affair with a (also married) man she meets at a friend’s dinner party. How will these love affairs end? This is a page-turner with some appealing historical detail.

media Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What Were ReadingAmanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, Reviews, LJ
This week I started Revolution in the Age of Social Media: The Egyptian Popular Insurrection and the Internet (Verso) by Linda Herrera. LJ’s reviewer Jim Hahn starred it earlier this year and I’ve had it on my to-be-read shelf for a few months. Herrera begins by explaining the rise of technology in Egypt and how it’s afforded the rise of a robust, homegrown movement of young men and women, first on blogs and now on social media, who began sharing liberal ideas and mobilizing against oppression. In the section I’m currently reading, Herrera critiques America’s attempts to use “public diplomacy” (reaching out to the public, as opposed to official diplomats) to sway these young Arabs from extremism, writing:

This line of reasoning presumes that the “Muslim mainstream” is not capable of finding its own path to moderation and democracy. It neither recognizes nor gives credence to those indigenous voices and social movements that reject the medley of violent extremism, dictatorship, and militarism. By its very nature, this approach to soft power precludes any genuine dialogue with independent local actors in the region and displays indifference to their positions and aspirations.

I’m only a couple chapters in, but I’m looking forward to seeing where this book goes.

kick Survivors, Rebels, & Ruins | What Were ReadingEtta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
The lesson I learned over my two-day staycation: never let your kids have access to your technology. No Kindle. No phone charger to access the Kindle app on my phone. What’s a girl to do? Oh yes, read print. So I turned to a galley copy of Chelsea Cain’s One Kick (S. & S.), which has been on my teetering to-be-read pile for a while. The upshot: many thriller fans will enjoy this work, but it wasn’t my cup of tea. The mystery concerning the rescue of some abducted children is compelling but the central character is one I just couldn’t grow to like. A survivor of child abduction herself, she’s obsessed with self-defense and lines such as (I’m paraphrasing), “She knew 416 ways to kill him with her left hand alone” made me cringe.

 

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Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and reads both nonfiction and fiction. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

Comments

  1. Robert Nedelkoff says:

    As the author of one of the afterwords in the Harper reissue of Chocolates For Breakfast, I think it worth mentioning that chocolatesforbreakfast.info, a site run by Pamela Moore’s son, is well worth the attention of those who have come to know this book.

    Should add that while PM was certainly talented and troubled and sometimes reckless, she was never rich. Her parents were professional writers – with all the instability of circumstances that implies – who sent her to a prestigious boarding school (Rosemary Hall) and to college (Barnard) where she met young women from the highest social strata and dated young Ivy Leaguers. But she didn’t marry someone with money, and financial worries all through her adult life were probably one factor in her early death.

    Where the movies are concerned, it’s worth noting that a pioneer female film producer, Bernice Block, from 1957 to 1961 unsuccessfully attempted to get a film adaptation of Chocolates For Breakfast off the ground. Jill St. John, Sandra Dee and Bobby Darin were at various times talked about for this project. There were several items about this published in showbiz columns at the time, which can be found by putting Ms Block’s name (or the actors mentioned above) and the book’s title into Google.

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