Steve Jobs, Harry Houdini, and Beyoncé | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers are dipping into some classics (both new and old) of the horror genre, going behind-the-scenes of today’s technology, and looking at historical figures with new eyes.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
This week finds me returning to an old favorite—Stephen King’s first novel, Carrie. Though gruesome and deliciously pulpy in places, the story provides an unflinchingly honest glimpse at the bullying and ostracism that is so common among adolescents. While King’s narrative is fairly simple, this tale of bloody revenge has remained culturally relevant for over 25 years.

Shelley Diaz, Associate Editor, SLJ
Newbery Honor-winner Margarita Engle reimagines the coming of age and artistic awakening of Latin American poet, abolitionist, and women’s rights pioneer Gertrudis Gómez de Avellaneda (Tula) in her novel in verse, The Lightning Dreamer. Best known for Sab (1841), which predated Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, Tula’s work emphasized racial, religious, and social equality. Engle’s lyrical, short novel captures a young woman’s yearning to be accepted as a writer—without regard to her sex—bringing to mind Virginia Woolf’s A Room of One’s Own.

In the following passage, Tula tries to appease her matchmaking mother, but struggles to be true to herself:

Now, when she calls me profesora,
I smile and claim that I am not smart
and plain, like a female professor.
If she calls me masculine, I wear
my best lace, flutter a flowery silk fan,
and keep myself silent, wishing
that I could openly state my truth:
I don’t want to be a man,
just a woman
with a voice.

Reading The Lightning Dreamermakes me want to revisit Sab in Spanish.

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
I’ve been reading Warm Bodies by Isaac Marion in my every spare moment. That said, I fully admit to being one of those “this movie was a book first?!” people, in this particular case. I wouldn’t say I’m fond of the zombie genre (I typically prefer my entertainment without devoured brains), but Marion is proving far too witty and compelling to resist. You have to respect a book that makes you wish that men could wax prolific about the complexities of life and love as well as does R., a slowly rotting corpse with a penchant for listening to Frank Sinatra (but only on vinyl).

Guy L. Gonzalez, Director of Content Strategy and Audience Development, LJ & SLJ
I’m reading Fish, an anthology of short stories ed. by Carrie Cuinn & K.V. Taylor, published by Dagan Books. I rarely discover books via social media, but Cuinn followed me on Twitter and I was intrigued by her bio and tweets, checked out Dagan Books website, and was hooked by the simple description of Fish: “What secrets belong only to a fish? Dive in and find out.” If the rest of the anthology is as clever and confounding as Polenth Blake’s opener, “Thwarting the Fiends,” I may have found a new favorite publisher.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’m reading Harry Houdini’s The Right Way To Do Wrong: A Unique Selection of Writings by History’s Greatest Escape Artist, originally published in 1906. It is, essentially, a how-to guide for crime and deception (including the sorts of illusions for which Houdini was famous). He is surprisingly—and delightfully—free with trade secrets, explaining how to accomplish feats from sword swallowing to card games to jewel heists carried out via sofa delivery. Bold, brash, self-absorbed, and aggressively, astonishingly clever, Houdini is now my number one fantasy dinner party seatmate—I’m wracked with despair that no one is ever going to tell me a story starting thus: “About 22 years ago, during one of my many engagements at Kohl and Middleton’s, Chicago, there appeared at the same house a marvelous ‘rattle-snake poison defier’ named Thardo.”

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I just finished Billy Lynn’s Halftime Walk, which was as funny and earnest as I remembered. The book takes place over the course of Thanksgiving Day during which Billy Lynn, a member of an Army infantry squad made famous by footage of a particularly bloody Iraq War skirmish, and his squadmates are honored guests at a Dallas Cowboys game. Billy thinks a lot about God, prayer, and religion throughout the book, but his closest glimpse of the divine is his brush with—guess who—Beyoncé. Behind the halftime show stage where Destiny’s Child is performing, he sees “a magnificent female creature” appear and realizes it is the pop star herself. As her costume is changed

her eyes meet Billy’s. Excuse me, he wants to say, go on, go on, she’s so focused and fierce in the in the moment that he’s sorry to impinge even to this small extent. Carrying the show in front of forty million people makes her one of the top human beings on the planet, and what strength of nerve that must take, what freakish concentrations of soul end energy. She’s not even winded! A yogic mastery of the mind-body balance. She inhabits some distant astral plane, yet her eyes do something when they meet his, for an instant he seems to register there. In that split second Billy searches for something in her look—not mercy, exactly, nothing so grand as compassion, maybe just a bare acknowledgement of their shared humanity, but she’s already turning…and disappears.

Up next is John Jeremiah Sullivan’s 2004 memoir of his father, Blood Horses. I loved his more recent essay collection Pulphead, which was the second book I reviewed for LJ and one of my picks for our 2011 More of the Best list.

Meredith Schwartz, News Editor, LJ
I am reading Rebecca MacKinnon’s Consent of the Networked. It is a fascinating look at how the structure and policies of Internet companies shape public discourse. MacKinnon highlights how, for all the much vaunted (and often real) democratizing effects of social media, at bottom there really isn’t a digital commons. There are, instead, privately owned spaces governed by terms of service, not laws, which are set by people who are not accountable to their constituencies and who are themselves governed by a patchwork of incompatible legal frameworks whose boundaries their services cross.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
At the moment I’m finishing Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. It’s an eye-opening look at not only a remarkable man (in some ways admirable and others shockingly bad), but at the life cycle of products we take for granted. It’s common knowledge by now that Jobs was fanatically perfectionist, but the levels he went to (and the time and money he was willing to waste) to get, for example, curved corners on his designs, is astonishing. Fascinating, too, are the details of the many products rejected by Apple and Jobs’s many failures along the way. My big take away from the book, though, is that if a woman in business cried as much as Isaacson says Jobs did—he dissolved into tears at, it seems, the slightest provocation—she’d still be making computers in her garage.
Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

Molly McArdle (, @mollitudo on Twitter) is Assistant Editor, Library Journal Book Review. She also manages the Library Journal tumblr.