King Arthur, a History of English, and Rabies | What We’re Reading

It’s National Library Week, and here’s what some of the Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers are reading. A lot of books come across our desks, of course, but we also find time to visit libraries and bookstores, too.

Mike Kelley, Editor in Chief, LJ
I’m reading Sword at Sunset by Rosemary Sutcliff. This book retells the King Arthur tale but strips it of all myth. I have found it slow going at times, but the story gains cohesion and the writing takes hold. It likely would appeal to the more patient George Martin fans:

Open ground littered with dead and wounded had appeared between Briton and Barbarian, and it was as though both sides paused to draw breath. I remember now, the quietness that rushed in to fill the place of the tumult as it died away, an acute and shining quietness, wind-haunted and filigreed with the churring of grasshoppers among the seeding grasses and the blue cranesbill flowers. The dust cloud had begun to sink, and through it I saw Aelle of the South Seax, the War King, with his house carls about him and his white horsetail standards, come forward with his reserves. The pause was over and with a roar and a bellowing of war horns, the two hosts sprang again for each other’s throats.

Wilda Willams, Fiction Editor, LJ
I tend to be a bit of a multitasker when it comes to reading. I usually am reading four or five titles at once along with a towering pile of to-be read books. Some are on my Nook, some are ARCs, some are volumes picked up in a used bookstore right around the corner from the Angelika movie theater. My reads this week: Caitlin Moran’s How To Be a Woman (Nook), Julia Alvarez’s In the Time of the Butterflies (Nook), James Wood’s How Fiction Works (I actually paid full price for this in an indie bookstore!), Peter Lovesey’s The Tooth Tattoo (ARC), and New Orleans’ Favorite Shotguns—about the houses, not firearms!—by Mary Fitzpatrick and Alex Lemann (picked up at a used bookstore).

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’m reading Rick Yancey’s The 5th Wave. It’s The Road meets Battlestar Galactica with a kickass teenage heroine.

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I’m reading Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, a book I’ve been meaning to get to forever and am very belatedly getting around to now. (I confess: I even lied about reading it on GoodReads.) I read some of Hurston’s letters and essays in high school, and her puzzling novel Seraph on the Suwanee in college, but this is her masterpiece. I love the poetry of this novel—it’s also got an emotional truth you can feel in your bones. Here, Janie’s grandmother pleads with her to take a husband, even if it’s a man she doesn’t love:

“Ah wanted you to look upon yo’self. Ah don’t want yo’ feathers always crumpled by folks throwin’ up things in yo’face. And Ah can’t die easy think’ maybe de menfolks white or black is makin’ a spit cup outa you: Have some sympathy fuh me. Put me down easy, Janie, Ah’m a cracked plate.”

Meredith Schwartz, News Editor, LJ
I just started River of Stars by Guy Gavriel Kay. There was a good interview with Kay on Shelfari, where he talks about how turning history into fantasy helps him avoid smugness—he makes the world appear the way the characters believe it to be. To me, that is one of the key things that makes historical fantasy different from other historical fiction, which I had never been able to articulate till he did.

Matt Enis, Associate Editor, Technology, LJ
I’m reading The Devil in Silver by Victor LaValle, a novel about a man who ends up in a mental hospital due to lazy police work. It’s had several suspenseful moments, interesting commentary on failed institutions. I’ve enjoyed it.

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
Right now I’m reading The Story of English in 100 Words by David Crystal. I’m only on word two out of 100, but a good word is my catnip. I can’t wait to get to the histories of dilly-dally (word 56) and dinkum (word 68)!

Josh Hadro, Executive Editor, LJ
I’m closing in on The Sisters Brothers by Patrick deWitt, a black comedy about a fascinating period of economy and society (California Gold Rush, c. 1851). It reads like a screenplay (something that’s both good and bad in my book), but I’ll follow this murder-for-hire brother duo anywhere, just to see where they end up.

Shelley Diaz, Assistant Book Review Editor, SLJ
I just finished Greg Takoudes’s When We Wuz Famous. It was inspired by a guerrilla film that the author created with the help of a group of young adults from Spanish Harlem. The novel’s frenetic pacing and visceral dialogue gives it a cinematic quality. Though not as elegantly told as Paul Griffin’s Ten Mile River or Ernesto Quiñonez’s Bodega Dreams, it has a lot of heart.

Mahnaz Dar, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
I’m currently reading—and loving— Rabid: A Cultural History of the World’s Most Diabolical Virus by Bill Wasik and Monica Murphy, an often grotesque but always gripping overview of one of the most all-time frightening diseases.

How awesome is this passage?

Now the vet is stuck with the problem of the spine, the very conduit through which the rabies virus may—or may not—have passed; like Schrodinger’s cat, the animal must be dead for this question to unravel. If the vet is lucky, her hospital has seen enough suspected rabies cases that it has thought to keep a hacksaw handy. In that case, she can take a brute-force path through bone, sawing straight through the tightly interlocked top vertebrae, the axis and the atlas. If she is not so lucky, she will have only her scalpel to work with. A five-minute job can thereby stretch out to twenty, as she is forced to disarticulate those two to backbones, severing the tendons that bind them and separating one from the other: a decidedly grisly brainteaser.

To be honest, our tour through the four-thousand-year history of rabies has felt a little like that. Sometimes whole weeks got lost in a blur of blood and fur. Our exploration into the cultural meaning of rabies took us deep into the gruesome medical case reports, from ancient and modern times. Then it flung us out again, into the murky realm of myth, to dog-headed men and zombie mobs and the mass butchering of Cairo’s pigs. We’ve made pilgrimages to the Ardennes, to see the site of the holy rabies cure; to the rue d’Ulm in Paris, to behold the humble building where Pasteur performed his heroics; and to the island of Bali, where we finally came to stare the devil in the face ourselves.”

It’s a far cry from my usual fare of picture books.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
At the moment my husband is enduring endless read-alouds of passages from David Foster Wallace: The Last Interview and Other Conversations. The last interview of the title is a conversation with Christopher Farley of The Wall Street Journal, and the other five pieces include a piece by Dave Eggers. I love David Foster Wallace. I even recently devoured notes from a tax accounting class he took as part of his research for The Pale King as part of my plan to mete out his writing to myself so that for as long as possible I still have something of his left. Part of my non-Wallace diet this week was All You Could Ask For by Mike Greenberg (of sports-radio show Mike and Mike in the Morning fame). It was a fun and easy story of three women’s lives, one that, to quote David Foster Wallace, was “essentially television on the page.”

Kathleen Quinlan, Events Coordinator, LJ
I’m currently reading The Sixteenth Rail: The Evidence, the Scientist, and the Lindbergh Kidnapping by Adam J. Schrager, which I’m going to review for LJ. It looks into the science behind the infamous kidnapping of Charles Lindbergh’s son, analyzing the forensics of the case and focusing on the handmade wooden ladder that took the kidnappers into the child’s room and eventually tied Bruno Hauptman to the case.

Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

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


  1. Ian Singer says:

    The literary set at LJ/SLJ/Horn Book is not limited to our illustrious editorial staff! I’m just the publisher but like Willy I’m a bit all over: I’m finishing The Plateau Effect, an easy to read self-improvement “process” to follow . . . the lessons, based in calculus, serve work and life-balance equally well. The Effect followed my reading of Adapt: Why Success Always Starts with Failure . . . lessons from nature . . . adapt or die! Sprinkled with Keith Richards’ Life . . . amazing tale . . . and a Ketchum Biography of James Madison, the “father of our constitution” and the original American conservative. Thanks to all you great authors and publishers!!

    • Mahnaz Dar Mahnaz Dar says:

      Good call on Keith Richards! He’s a surprisingly fluid storyteller with a great voice. And of course, he’s quite devoted to libraries himself!