Sun, Moon, Stars | What We’re Reading & Watching

Today’s the day of the solar eclipse, and everybody’s talking about it. We’ve been anticipating this for weeks, and several LJ/School Library Journal colleagues began discussing an eclipse “playlist”—Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon,” of course Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart,” “The Sun Is a Mass” by They Might Be Giants, Cat Stevens’s “Moonshadow,” the Velvet Underground’s “Who Loves the Sun.” That prompted me to ask the “What We’re Reading & Watching” crew to recommend eclipse-themed books and/or movies. I don’t have any specific books in mind myself, but I recall watching a lot of late-late-show movies in which a very timely eclipse saves the hero or heroine from a gruesome death at the hand of the aggrieved natives whose land or riches they’re trying to exploit, er, explore.  Come see our eclipse and noneclipse recommendations, but be sure to don those safety glasses!

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
Though I wasn’t thinking of the eclipse when I picked up Erin Kelly’s He Said, She Said (Minotaur: St. Martin’s), I realize now that this suspense novel that centers on “eclipse chasers” was the perfect way to prepare for today. In 1999, Kit and Laura, twentysomethings in a relationship, are in Cornwall, England, to watch the solar eclipse when Laura sees a woman being raped. Laura is asked to testify as a witness in the trial and eventually befriends the woman, Beth. In 2015, Kit and Laura, still together, are expecting twins. Both are deeply in love, still devoted to eclipses—and utterly terrified of Beth, whose ominous presence has cast a shadow over their lives. Slowly, alternating between Kit’s and Laura’s perspectives and two different time periods, Kelly immerses readers in a taut, gripping thriller. While I had some issues with the ending (I found myself repeating, “Really?” for a good five minutes after the big revelation), the journey was delightful, and I’m very excited at the prospect of the eclipse.

This summer, I took a trip back in time—to the mean streets of New York City a few decades ago. The Film Forum, a small, independent cinema in downtown Manhattan, recently presented “Ford to City: Drop Dead—New York in the 70s,” a series of about 40 movies from the “me decade.” The films varied—some were absolutely stellar, while others were a bit lacking. My favorite selections utterly exemplified 1970s-era New York: garbage-strewn streets, a Times Square crammed not with costumed characters but with pornographic theaters galore, grimy apartments, and graffiti-festooned subways. Among the highlights were John Schlesinger’s Midnight Cowboy, which peeks beyond the city’s filthy veneer at a surprisingly tender bond between a wannabe hustler and a homeless scam artist; Taxi Driver, Martin Scorsese’s haunting look at loneliness through the eyes of the increasingly alienated Travis Bickle; and Sidney Lumet’s Dog Day Afternoon, which centers on a standoff between two bank robbers and the police on a swelteringly hot Brooklyn day.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I’ve been on a memoir jag lately. I read and reviewed  Heather Harpham’s harrowing (sorry, couldn’t resist the apt alliteration) Happiness: The Crooked Little Road to Semi-Ever After (Holt). Equally harrowing was Cree LeFavour’s Lights On Rats Out (Grove: Atlantic), a retelling of her treatment for self-mutilation and depression, her psychiatrist-mandated stay in a mental institution, and her eventual “recovery,” though I’m pretty certain LeFavour has another book’s worth of stories of the aftermath. I say this: I’d read the follow-up, though Rats Out was a real drainer. In between harrowing memoirs, I blasted through Suzanne Gates’s debut, The Glamorous Dead (Kensington), a sort of uneasy mix of cozy and noir starring a Hollywood extra who befriends Barbara Stanwyck and other 1940s Hollywood personages while trying to find her friend’s killer.

The book dovetailed nicely with Turner Classic Movies’ annual “Summer Under the Stars” festival, which showcases a classic star for every day in August. Stanwyck was the featured star on August 13, and I got to take in a lot of old favorites and a few flicks I hadn’t seen before.

Tyler Hixson, WWR/WWW emeritus (Brooklyn Public Library)
I’m on a B-list movie bender right now, having recently watched The Room, the hilarious, awful, perfect mess of a movie directed, written, produced, and executive produced by and starring Tommy Wiseau. The latest film that I gave a go was The Giant Claw (1957), which is about a civilian electrical engineer named Mitch (Jeff Morrow) working with the Canadian government for some undefined reason when he spots an unidentified flying object! Nobody believes him, though, until Canadian Air Force planes mysteriously go missing. Mitch and his attractive, vaguely titled government liaison Sally (Mara Corday) manage to capture photos of this flying menace.

Turns out North America is being menaced by a giant vulturkey. The Giant Claw wouldn’t be one of those “so-bad-its-good” movies without this hot mess of a monster. It’s so poorly designed, even by 1950s monster movie standards, that the first time it squawks and flumps on-screen, you laugh…and laugh and laugh as you watch people run in terror. Without the bird, the movie would simply be awful. Fun fact: the actors in the movie never saw the monster until the film’s premiere, and when audiences started laughing uproariously when the bird made its appearance, Morrow snuck out of the theater in embarrassment so no one would recognize him.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I haven’t read anything recently that had anything to do with eclipses or Bonnie Tyler, but the last book I finished had “Moon” very prominently in the title. David Grann’s Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI (Doubleday). It’s an interesting telling of a really terrible episode, a string of murders of Osage folks in the early 1920s for their oil rights, and how the difficulty of working within the small-town racist corruption helped establish the FBI. Solid storytelling, easy read. But it’s also tangentially about research, the choices you make to tell a story when you have a big pile of source material but no personal accounts and when there’s no convenient narrative arc on which to hang it. I think Grann did a good job.  He structures the book in three parts: the story of the murders leading into the story of how J. Edgar Hoover put together the FBI leading into a shorter last section about Grann doing some of the legwork that led up to the book. It is an interesting concept and makes a lot of sense for the scope of what he was trying to cover, though I have to admit I might not have been quite as on board with the structure if I hadn’t first listened to Grann on the Longform podcast talking about why he did it. I’m a huge Longform fan and rarely listen to one that doesn’t give me big ideas about something or other.

I have also read Margaret Wise Brown’s Goodnight Moon approximately 80,000 times, although not in the last 25 years or so. Does that count?

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
Okay, I’m going super old school here, but for eclipse-based science fiction you just can’t beat Isaac Asimov’s “Nightfall,” a short story that magazine editor John W. Campbell asked him to write after discussing with him a quotation from Ralph Waldo Emerson: “If the stars should appear one night in a thousand years, how would men believe and adore, and preserve for many generations the remembrance of the city of God!”

Campbell’s opinion was: “I think men would go mad.” “Nightfall” is set in a world with multiple suns so that only a very rare eclipse creates the condition described in the Emerson quote. It was later expanded into a novel by Robert Silverberg, but if you haven’t read it yet, you want the original—adding more exposition, IMO, only dilutes its punch. It’s been anthologized in many places, so it’s not hard to find.

Henrietta Verma, WWR/WWW emerita (National Information Standards Organization)
In terms of eclipse-related reads, I’m coming up empty. How about an eclipse memory? As children in Ireland, my twin sister and I were best friends with sisters Niamh and Amy Moynihan. Mr. Moynihan (I still can’t bring myself to use his first name decades on), their dad, had been a NASA scientist, and I realized only later what a big deal that was. We were at their house for a total solar eclipse, which Google tells me was either October 3, 1986, or March 29, 1987. I remember it being interesting but not as interesting as the chemical powders Mr. Moynihan would bring home from his science professor job. He would throw them on the fire and they made fabulous colors. It’s OK that my body is probably still detoxing from the poisonous fumes because the memories are worth it.

I’m not doing too much reading on my own, but six-year-old Henry is whiling away the time waiting for Dav Pilkey’s Dog Man 3 by reading Aaron Blabey’s The Bad Guys (Scholastic). This hilarious book, part of a series, stars storied nasties such as the Big Bad Wolf, Mr. Snake, and Mr. Shark. They’re tired of their intimidating images and want to be heroes. My favorite parts are the bad guys’ rap sheets. Here are excerpts from two of them.

Mr. Wolf
Criminal Activity

  • Breaking into the homes of old women
  • Impersonating old women
  • Attempting to eat old women
  • Theft of nightgown and slippers

Mr. Snake
Criminal Activity

  • Broke into Mr. Ho’s Pet store
  • Ate all the mice at Mr. Ho’s Pet Store
  • Ate all the canaries at Mr. Ho’s Pet Store
  • Ate all the guinea pigs at Mr. Ho’s Pet Store
  • Tried to eat Mr. Ho at Mr. Ho’s Pet Store
  • Tried to eat the doctor who tried to save Mr. Ho
  • Tried to eat the policemen who tried to save the doctor who tried to save Mr. Ho

…and so on.

Ashleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
I’m not exactly abiding by the eclipse theme, but a major plot point in my book takes place during the equinox, and it publishes on Halloween. A couple of weeks ago at the beach, I breezed through an advance reading copy of Molly Knox Ostertag’s The Witch Boy (Scholastic). In Aster’s magical community, girls are brought up as witches while boys are trained as protectors and shapeshifters. Aster, however, is enamored with the spells, runes, and lore of witchcraft; he’s constantly spying on his sisters’ lessons because he is forbidden to participate. At his age, his lack of interest or ability to shapeshift are becoming noticeable. When a mysterious demon begins kidnapping the boys his age, Aster’s perplexing gift for witchcraft may be the only thing that can save them. The only complaint I had about this book is that it feels short; I want more! Ostertag has created such a sweet, intriguing world in about 200 pages and has skillfully woven an allegory for gender fluidity into a fun, exciting middle grade graphic novel. I’m crossing my fingers for a sequel; I’m especially eager to see more of Charlie, Aster’s adventurous nonmagic friend who has her own bone to pick with gender stereotypes.

 

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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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