Dog-Eared Pages & Hot Stages | What We’re Reading & Watching

Last week, when I wrote to the staffers at LJ and School Library Journal (and to our illustrious alumni), it was too darn hot. It felt like the dog days had finally hit (after a cool and pleasant summer, which suited me just fine). So I asked the “What We’re Reading & Watching” contributors what they were reading in air-conditioned comfort, or by the pool, or on the beach. I also asked if they were slipping into frigid cinemas to while away the dog days with a summer blockbuster or art-house film. They lit up my inbox with hot-hot-hot replies, including my favorite from LJ Prepub Alert Editor (and doting mama) Barbara Hoffert, who sent along a fantastic YouTube video of her darling daughter Michael Anne belting out “Too Darn Hot” in a cabaret setting.

Other respondents latched onto the dog days theme, with an unusual dog memoir and the adventures of Dog Man. YA tales abound, with a teen librarian, a graphic novelization of A Wrinkle in Time, and a murder mystery marrying The Breakfast Club. We have a sf title that cuts a little too close to the truth, too, and the true stories of the suffering of innocents, both in the 21st century and in colonial Connecticut. Not to mention a tip of the horror hat to film director George Romero from newly minted “film historian” Tyler Hixson. It seems a pity to point out that the weather in New York has cooled off, but the heat index in the “WWR/WWW” sector is off the charts this week.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
For the next LJ memoir column, I’m covering Heather Harpham’s Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After (Holt). The book is sometimes harrowing, sometimes lyrical, and often funny despite its themes (sick baby, single motherhood, ambivalent father, family weirdness). Here’s Harpham discussing Hollywood happiness with her mom, who also seems like an interesting person (maybe she should write a memoir, too):

I didn’t say any of this to my mom. Instead, I held up People magazine and pointed at a picture of Halle Berry wearing ripped jeans, flip flops, and a white men’s shirt as she pumped gas not as a mere mortal but as a demigod whose body inspired an unwavering allegiance from any object it touched. On her, the button-down shirt was impossibly sexy.

“Look how buoyant she is,” I said. “Her body practically floats. How is that possible?”

“Untold hours of yoga,” my mom said. “Or, an all-raw, mostly nothing diet combined with salt scrubs and Finnish saunas. Whatever it is, regular people don’t have time to be buoyant. Anyway, not everything is the way it appears; I’m sure there are unseen things weighing her down.”

We routinely discussed celebrities as if they were extended family members. In fact, my mom believed celebrity culture had replaced tribal affiliations.

Daryl Grabarek, Senior Editor, SLJ
During a visit to one of my favorite bookshops (R.J. Julia’s in Madison, CT), I saw a copy of Jon C. Blue’s The Case of the Piglet’s Paternity: Tales from the New Haven Colony, 1639–1663. I was intrigued. I grew up on the Connecticut shore, within the perimeters of that colony, albeit some 400-plus years later. Sure enough, there are a few family names mentioned that are still local to the area. Cases of poaching, arson, and thievery, involving men, women, and children—those, too, are there—recorded in incredible detail. Even a suspected witch makes an appearance, one that the court was remarkably lenient with, given how strict the law was (biblical law, with a penchant for extracting confessions). I was surprised by the number of cases—beyond the “frisky couples” caught in the act—that were sexual in nature. Most were ones in which boys, girls, and women in service were the victims. Blame the victim? Nothing new. An adult woman, who was harassed or molested, was whipped along with the perpetrator—in public. In one case a woman’s husband was also whipped because he didn’t report the crime. When asked why he didn’t report the crime he said because he was afraid his wife would be whipped. Don’t even ask what the piglet’s paternity was about….

Tyler Hixson, WWR/WWW emeritus & film historian
I just finished the incredible novel Strange the Dreamer (Little, Brown for Young Readers) by Laini Taylor. It’s so beautifully written and thrilling. The story follows teenage librarian Lazlo Strange, who is chosen to go on an expedition to the lost city of Weep, which hasn’t been heard from in more than 200 years. When the party arrives, led by the hero of Weep, the legendary Godslayer, Lazlo and Co. are confronted with a mysterious problem, and Lazlo has so many more questions than answers—especially questions about the strange blue-skinned girl who begins showing up in his dreams.

This one-of-a-kind story is filled with characters who are personable, real, and incredible. The prose is gorgeous, it’s one of the most beautiful books I’ve ever read. The second book in this duology can’t come soon enough.

In response to being named the speaker at this year’s FEARnyc horror film festival honoring the late, great George A. Romero, I refamiliarized myself with Night of the Living Dead and Dawn of the Dead, arguably his two best zombie movies. If you’ve seen these iconic films, then you know what I’m talking about. If you haven’t, then you need to experience them for yourself. Approach them with an unblemished mind, because part of their staying power is the many ways they can be interpreted.

Amanda Mastrull, Assistant Editor, LJ Reviews
I’m currently reading Karen M. McManus’s One of Us Is Lying (Delacorte), a YA novel I’d heard a lot about before finally picking it up myself. I follow a librarian on Twitter who tweeted about a review that calls the book “Breakfast Club meets murder mystery” and thought, “I love both of these things, why haven’t I read this book?” I then immediately placed a library hold. I’m glad I did. Five students—the brain, the beauty, the criminal, the athlete, and the outcast—go into detention and only four come out alive. Simon, the outcast, suffers a fatal allergic reaction after drinking a glass of water in detention. How did peanut oil get in the cup? Why were both his and the school’s emergency backup EpiPen missing? Simon, the creator and curator of a gossip app that shared the embarrassing (but always true) exploits of his classmates, definitely had his share of people who weren’t pleased with him, so suspects abound. The book is told from the alternating points of view of the surviving students in that detention, which also has me hooked—What did Bronwyn do to raise her chem grade last year? What’s Addy’s problem with some guy called TJ? Does Nate know more than he’s letting on? Who is texting Cooper “Hey handsome” while he’s standing in front of his girlfriend? And, of course, who wrote the Tumblr post claiming responsibility for Simon’s death? I’m only about 60 pages in and clearly have more questions than answers right now, but I’m looking forward to finding out what happened in that classroom.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just finished a galley of poet Eileen Myles’s Afterglow: A Dog Memoir (Grove: Atlantic). A lot of the time I find that the prose of poets can be so packed with meaning that it’s by nature uneven—though I guess the same could be true for poetry as a whole. That’s definitely the case with this book, but I get the feeling that Myles would be just fine with the idea of readers taking what they want and leaving the rest—she’s managed to sandwich an entire worldview into an elegy for her late pit bull. Some of the writing is simply gorgeous, lyrical, madly associative, and evocative. And some of it I found to be too dense or esoteric. I was perfectly happy to just read along and let the words settle to the bottom in order for the stuff that resonated for me to rise. Although Myles definitely stretches the definition of “a dog memoir,” there is some marvelous writing on dogs here, dog ownership in particular—both in descriptions of the intense scrutiny that’s borne out of love and also the dilemma of that tenderness and adoration weighed against the wrongness of leading another living being around by the neck. I love the author’s directness, often bordering on crudeness, and the adoration that shines through for her departed Rosie—”the physiognomy of dearness unsurpassed.” This one takes a little suspension of the need to absorb every sentence, but the rewards are great.

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I’m reading Charles Stross’s The Delirium Brief (Tor.com), the latest in his “Laundry Files” series—think Bond-esque spies plus vaguely Lovecraftian mythos (minus the racism) plus office/government bureaucracy humor. This is the book the author had to stop and rewrite after recent current events made it clear he’d under- (or over-) estimated the way the UK government handles crises. And it shows—there’s much more involvement from the rest of the government in this book, not only the Ministry of Magic, and its eccentricities and shortcomings are no longer funny.

Henrietta Verma, WWR emerita
I just started what everyone and their mother is reading, A.J. Finn’s The Woman in the Window (Morrow). I’ve heard great things about this book and am looking forward to diving in further. I’m also listening to nightly doses of Dog Man Unleashed (GRAPHIX), the Wimpy Kid of whatever this decade is called. The main character is literally a dog-man. According to my six-year-old superfan, a police officer and a dog were both on the brink of death. Only the dog’s head and the cop’s body could be saved, so “the hospital lady” sewed the dog’s head onto the man’s body, and voilà, he hasn’t looked back. Other plot points are that the bad guy is a cat called Petey and “they solve crimes.” My son has read this book over and over and is dying for the third installment, Dog Man: A Tale of Two Kitties, which comes out next month. The series is by Dav Pilkey, author of Captain Underpants, and happily it is very Underpants-esque in its slapstick and potty humor.

Ashleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
After the trailer for Ava DuVernay’s film adaptation of A Wrinkle in Time dropped (and made me cry deliriously happy tears), I raced to the library in hopes of picking up the Madeleine L’Engle novel that owned my heart before Harry Potter. They were out, so I decided to give the graphic novel adaptation by Hope Larson, A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel (Farrar) a try. While the cover looks pretty bold and exciting, not to mention colorful, the interior art is colored entirely in black, white, and a sort of pastel periwinkle. You’d think that scheme would be great for a space story, but everything just seems kinda…twilight-ish (absolutely no pun intended), and those tones really don’t capture the glorious creepiness of “dark planet” Camazotz or the collective majesty of Mrs. Who, Mrs. Whatsit, and Mrs. Which. Again, DuVernay does an awesome job of highlighting Camazotz’s sinister synthetic uniformity in the film trailer. Readers are also robbed of a substantial amount of Meg’s internal monolog, rendering some of her outbursts and comments a little disjointed. The lack of context also makes the religious overtones and good (light) vs. evil (shadow) trope feel heavyhanded. Overall, I’m hoping to get my hands on the original version, to see if it’s nostalgia or justified admiration that had me crying over Oprah (!!!!) in a sf movie.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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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 also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench

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