The LJ/School Library Journal members of the “What We’re Reading” team are still adjusting to playing for a new team, that upstart “What We’re Watching” franchise. Some are playing both sides. We have a Better Call Saul fan reading Japanese mystery, a Downton Abbey latecomer learning to ride a bicycle, and a horror film geek dissecting Neil Gaiman. Meanwhile, us one-at-a-timers look into the famous Bette Davis/Joan Crawford Feud, brush up on one-act plays, celebrate the tennis prowess of Roger Federer, cry over postapocalyptic Africa, read Regency romances with a twist, and seek out all the Roxane Gay we can find.
Ellen Abrams, WWR/WWW emerita
I’m in the midst of writing a one-act play and borrowed a copy of An Introduction to Modern One-Act Plays (National Textbook), edited by Marshall Cassady, from my beloved Bloomingdale (NYC) branch library. It has a hilarious offering by Anton Chekov about a marriage proposal that almost goes riotously wrong, a cringe-worthy selection by Dorothy Parker about a couple on their honeymoon that portends nothing but future unhappiness, and a heart-wrenching portrayal of an African American family on a small farm in the 1920s with a terrible decision to make. In addition to these works, there are many more by renowned international playwrights.
Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
After a slew of morose antiheroes and antiheroines (Don Draper, Jessica Jones, the entire cast of Transparent), the immensely charismatic protagonist of Better Call Saul (a spin-off from the immensely popular Breaking Bad) comes as something of a relief. I recently rewatched the first two seasons of Saul in anticipation of the third season, which begins April 10 on AMC. Saul centers on Saul Goodman (known here as Jimmy McGill), the sleazy lawyer who played Tom Hagen to Walter White’s Vito Corleone. Here, Jimmy’s a lawyer who plays by his own rules but hasn’t quite “broken bad” just yet. While lead actor Bob Odenkirk was much-needed comic relief on Breaking Bad, in this series he adds a sense of vulnerability to the character, resulting in truly can’t-miss TV. I’ll be counting down the days until Saul starts up again.
As for the reading! Japanese author Keigo Higashino is one of my favorite writers, but because not all of his novels have been translated into English, I have to take what I can get. His latest to be translated (by Alexander O. Smith and Joseph Reeder) is Under the Midnight Sun (Little, Brown), which starts with the discovery of a corpse. But this is no mere whodunit. Starting in 1973, the book winds its way forward over the next 19 years, juggling a dizzying array of characters, including the son of the dead man and the daughter of the prime suspect. A hard-core mystery fan, I’m always on the lookout for thrillers and works of suspense that manage to do something a little different; Under the Midnight Sun does not disappoint on that front.
Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
Since I’m all about Old Hollywood, I have been watching FX’s Feud, the over-the-top, generally annoying, well-dressed, and well-acted retelling of the filming of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane, the 1962 horrorfest starring dueling divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford. This is a miniseries I was so stoked for and it’s only mildly satisfying, unfortunately. As noted by film critic Farran Smith Nehme in an interview for MTV, the miniseries concentrates so much (too much) on the actresses’ catfighting and the powerlessness of women in Hollywood. I started to find it all too depressing and dispiriting, but so far I’m staying for the sets and costumes and Kiernan Shipka (Mad Men’s Sally Draper). And here’s one thing I do not understand at all: a lot of tweeps are saying Susan Sarandon looks bad. WHAT. She is a fine, fine-looking woman, and she’s in her 70s! You should look so good when and if you get there. Sarandon resembles Davis a lot more than Lange resembles Crawford, but for my money, Lange is on it in her performance. And then there’s the inestimable Judy Davis as Hedda Hopper; I’m in heaven whenever she appears onscreen.
Tyler Hixson, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
Entering my last semester as a grad student, I am faced with the seemingly monstrous task of writing my thesis. Without boring anyone with all the details, it’s essentially about horror in middle grade literature, and Neil Gaiman’s Coraline (HarperCollins) immediately popped into my head as a title that needed to be dissected. What a deliciously creepy story! There are moments of real terror in this book, even for an adult reader, which I wasn’t expecting. I wish I had picked this up as a kid, because I would have devoured it, and then not slept for a few nights. The Other Mother is one of the best villains I’ve ever read, and Gaiman writes her so well.
I also read Gaiman’s The Graveyard Book, John Bellairs’s The House with a Clock in Its Walls and The Spell of the Sorcerer’s Skull, and Stephen King’s Carrie, Christine, and It over the past few weeks…horror-bingeing, if you will.
Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, LJ Reviews
This week I’m rereading tennis journalist Mark Hodgkinson’s Fedegraphica: A Graphic Biography of the Genius of Roger Federer (Aurum: Quarto), which is exactly what the subtitle says—a graphic biography of Roger Federer, who is a genius (tbt to that 2009 U.S. Open tweener, for just one example of his mind-boggling skills). He’s also my favorite tennis player, so it’s no surprise that this book is one I’d want to read. I first read it late last year, which was a rough one for Federer—an injury following the Australian Open required surgery on his knee, and the need for rest and rehab meant he missed most of the 2016 season, including the French Open, Olympics, and U.S. Open. At the time, I found the book to be engaging and enjoyable, albeit slightly bittersweet given the year he had, and I included it on our 2016 Best Books Honorable Mentions list. As I wrote then, it’s full of graphs and photos that nicely complement the biographical text, which is informed and thoughtful. It’s also a joy for the stats fans among us (myself included) who want a bar graph of Federer’s winning percentage in five-set matches against rivals such as Rafael Nadal. In January, Federer won his 18th Grand Slam by beating Nadal in an epic five-setter at the Australian Open. (I’m still so happy he got it; he’s still celebrating.) In my Honorable Mentions blurb, I wrote that while Fedegraphica is current to the end of 2015 “some stats have since changed,” alluding to those such as his record 65 consecutive appearances at majors, which ended when he missed the 2016 French Open. It’s understandable that such changes can occur after a book goes to print, but I am very pleased to write here that the number of slams he’s won has since increased as well. If you like Federer (and who doesn’t?), chances are you’ll like this book.
Kiera Parrott, LJS Reviews Director
I recently picked up a copy of Roxane Gay’s Difficult Women (Grove) on a flight and just inhaled it. It’s a sharp, often dark, collection of short stories about an array of women characters. Gay’s writing is outstanding, and her protagonists get under your skin. I was already a huge fan of Bad Feminist, but I’m now seeking out all of Gay’s fiction as well.
Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I’m devouring same-sex Regency romances by K.J. Charles at the moment; I’ve read two in two days and am now looking for other authors while impatiently waiting for the rest of my holds to come in.
Henrietta Verma, WWR/WWW emerita
I know I’m late to the drawing room, but I just binge-watched PBS’s Downton Abbey and loved it. Other TV will now pale in comparison. If anyone can recommend something equally binge-worthy, I’m all ears. I haven’t skipped books entirely lately, though—as well as titles for review, I recently read “The Wheel, the Woman, and the Human Body,” a chapter in Margaret Guroff’s The Mechanical Horse: How the Bicycle Reshaped American Life (Univ. of Texas). I was fascinated to learn how bikes changed women’s fashions—you can’t cycle in a long, voluminous skirt, after all—giving us a greater freedom, of which I’d never thought to credit bikes.
Ashleigh Williams, WWR/WWW emerita
I’m currently splitting my time between Hair Story (it’s so deliciously interesting that I’m trying to savor each line), and Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death (DAW), a gripping sf tale set in postapocalyptic Africa. I’m about 50 pages in, and have already cried twice at the author’s frank, vivid depiction of very real trauma that manifests itself in supernatural ways. I can’t wait to work through the rest of her award-winning bibliography.