Baby Drivers, Hippo Farms, Former Manhattans | What We’re Reading & Watching

The LJ/School Library Journal/Junior Library Guild staffers who contribute to this week’s “What We’re Reading & Watching” column have some fun with romanticized cityscapes, superheroes and superheroines, mythical creatures, and reading outside our genre comfort zones. Coast into the Labor Day weekend with us on these movie and book experiences.

Mahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
I always love a good New York book, so I had high hopes for Jeremiah Moss’s Vanishing New York: How a Great City Lost Its Soul  (Dey St.). Like me, Moss looks with a heavy heart at a landscape with fewer diners and mom-and-pop stores and more Duane Reades, Chase Bank branches, and Starbucks. Part memoir, part history, the volume blends a history of gentrification with Moss’s own recollections of moving to Manhattan in the early 1990s, just as the city was beginning to shift. There are aspects of the title I appreciate, but on the whole I find Moss a bit grating. His idealized views of New York in all its gritty glory are more than a little romanticized, and though he takes aim at the corporations and fat-cat landlords who make New York inhospitable for the little guy, he’s got his own particular brand of elitism:

My city is the city of artists, writers, and assorted outcasts. It’s the city of E. B. White’s passionate settlers, the “boy arriving from the Corn Belt with a manuscript in his suitcase and a pain in his heart.” When I say “the city,” I’m not talking about the whole city. I mean mostly Manhattan, but also large parts of Brooklyn. I mean only some of Queens and the Bronx, because my city is a romantic notion, and, let’s face it, it’s not easy (for me anyway) to conjure romance for Flushing or Throgs Neck. I don’t mean Staten Island, because precious few feel romantic about Staten Island (no offense), though the ferry is delightful, especially on a hot and humid summer day. The city that I’m talking about is the one that, throughout history, has been a beacon to dissatisfied and desperate people, whether they were escaping from Peoria or Flatbush or old San Juan.

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I’ve been spending time on fantastical city streets. First I sped through a filmic Atlanta with Baby Driver star Ansel Elgort and his costars Jamie Foxx, Jon Hamm, Kevin Spacey, and Lily James. The movie has a syncopated soundtrack with a lot of old music and some choice new tracks. The violence is superstylized but always to the beat, and it was a lot of fun. If you need an escapist movie with lots of pretty people in it, this is my recommendation.  From Atlanta to San Francisco…longtime SF photographer Fred Lyon’s dreamy San Francisco Noir (Princeton Architectural) is a trip back in fog-shrouded time to when the City by the Bay had a real fisherman’s wharf and Sonny Rollins and other jazz greats performed in basement boîtes. The shots of the Golden Gate Bridge and early morning wharf activities are especially captivating, and the architectural shots are framed magnificently.

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
I put a hold on Jeff VanderMeer’s Borne (MCD) on a total whim (yet another reason why the library is great: because impulse reading is good when impulse spending is not). I don’t read a ton of sf these days, although once upon a time, late teens/early 20s, this kind of gnarly dystopian fiction was totally my thing—it matched up well with the gnarly dystopian lower Manhattan of the early 1980s, and I think a lot of us secretly imagined ourselves to be undercover Mad Maxes (remember when we liked Mel Gibson?). I fell back into it easily, too—VanderMeer’s worldbuilding and general setup are fun and inventive, and so are the biotech-engineered monsters—including a shapeshifting intelligent creature who presents like a vase with tentacles and wonders, persistently, if he is a person, and a giant, malevolent, flying bear. I liked the writing a bit less— it felt somewhat loosely written, or maybe loosely edited. Which didn’t stop me from enjoying it all the way through, but with a few stylistic reservations. I’m not raring to read his “Southern Reach” trilogy anytime soon, but I’m glad I tried this one.

Wendy Xu, Assistant Editor, JLG
I’m reading Sarah Gailey’s River of Teeth (Tor.com),  a novella set in an alternate America where legislation passes that allows for the farming of, get this, hippos! Book 1 in a series, it’s a wild Western with hippo cowboys and a great ensemble cast. I’m a big fan.

I also just finished Velveteen vs. the Seasons (ISFiC) by Seanan McGuire, the third installment in the “Velveteen vs.” series. McGuire has created a refreshing superhero universe that rivals anything that the two big cape powerhouses have put out.

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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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