Lemon Cake, Zombies, and “a Semi-Magical London” | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers are reading about lots of different places: London, Edinburgh, Iowa, and western China. There are few things as transporting as a book!

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
Poetry, a venerable and established tradition, has seemed, well, not super relevant to my life. Words in Your Face: A Guided Tour Through Twenty Years of the New York City Poetry Slam has shattered that perception. It’s a fascinating look at the poetry-slam scene over the past two decades, and even though I’m only a couple of chapters in, it’s changed how I see poetry. Author and poet Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz, who was big on the scene herself, frames it as a vibrant (and even debauched), living thing: full of colorful characters and laced with an edgy, in-your-face tone. Basically, Aptowicz’s work does for poetry what Please Kill Me did for punk rock.

And, because I can’t stray too far from my YA roots, I’m rereading Francesca Lia Block’s I Was a Teenage Fairy. This is Block at her best, bringing a fairy-tale sensibility to the harsh, gritty world of LA.

Shelley Diaz, Associate Editor, SLJ
I’m starting The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake by Aimee Bender for my “Book Bites” Book Club. I’ve heard it compared to Laura Esquivel’s Like Water for Chocolate, so I’m hoping for great things. Our book club tries to match a restaurant to each month’s pick, so if anyone has suggestions in the New York area, speak up!

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
The character R from Warm Bodies still has my utter devotion as I end another week of loyally toting Isaac Marion’s novel around wherever I go (as a bibliophile’s security blanket, if you will). Perhaps devotees of the zombie genre will balk at the clichéd “monster falls in love with girl” trope, but I’ve not read anything else that so thoroughly examines the nuances of humanity (and what better a lens than a character who laments the loss of his?). With its dark humor and an unexpected emphasis on the value of writing, I will be truly sad to get to the last page. It’s quickly become a book that I wish I had thought to write. Here’s an excerpt to whet your appetite.

[The Epic of Gilgamesh] was written over four thousand years ago on clay tablets by people who tilled the mud and rarely lived past forty. It’s survived countless wars, disasters, plagues, and continues to fascinate to this day, because here I am, in the midst of modern ruin, reading it.

Josh Hadro, Executive Editor, LJ
I’m reading Kraken by China Miéville. An RA librarian suggested the book after I raved about Nick Harkaway’s Angelmaker (my favorite read of 2013 so far). Apparently, what I’m drawn to these days is “a semi-magical London featuring an underground criminal society trying to save an unsuspecting city from an imminent existential threat.” I wonder how many more titles there are that hit those same notes. Suggestions welcome!

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’ve been holding on to a copy of Catriona McPherson’s Dandy Gilver and the Proper Treatment of Bloodstains since it came out in the summer of 2011, but only started it this morning on the train. Set in Edinburgh in 1926, the book follows the aristocratic titular character as she takes a job as a lady’s maid (and secret detective) to a woman who claims her husband is trying kill her. My only consolation for having denied myself the pleasure of this Dorothy L. Sayers–meets–The Diviners delight for so long is that there are already two more books in the series ready and waiting for when I knock this one out.

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I just started reading Home, Marilynne Robinson’s follow up to her novel GileadGilead was the first of Robinson’s novels I ever read; it came out my freshman year of college in Grinnell, Iowa. Robinson lives in Iowa City, and when Gilead came out she made the drive east to my school to do a reading. She has a measured, calming way of speaking, neither precisely loud nor quiet; and as she read, her prose seemed to me as clear as a glass of cold water. I bought the book and inhaled it. Both Gilead and Home are set in the same a small Iowa town, and that first year at Grinnell, as kid from the middle of DC, the Midwest was a mystery I couldn’t parse. Robinson’s novel was one of the first things that reconciled me to Iowa, that forced me to recognize and (at least try) to understand the place. It is wonderful, now, to go back there with Home, especially from the safe cocoon of a subway car.

Chelsey Philpot, Associate Book Review Editor, SLJ
This weekend, I’ll be camping out in the park and reading F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Flappers and Philosophers in preparation for the premiere of Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby as well as A LOT of new June and July YA novels.

Meredith Schwartz, News Editor, LJ
I just started reading James Boyle’s The Public Domain: Enclosing the Commons of the Mind, available for free under a Creative Commons license, because I heard him give a very funny—and true—speech at the recent Association of College and Research Libraries meeting. He spoke about the importance of openness in light of how bad people are at predicting the consequences of new developments.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
Did you like The Poisonwood Bible? Then try Suzanne Joinson’s somewhat similarly themed but more literary A Lady Cyclist’s Guide to Kashgar, which I’m reading now. One of our Best Historical Fiction picks of last year, the tale alternates between present-day London, where a young woman has inherited the contents of a stranger’s flat, and 1923 Kashgar, where two English sisters are braving the deprivations of western China—one to write the guide of the book’s title and the other to convert the heathens. No plot spoilers here, but the ladies on the Silk Road come into an inheritance that provides one of the most startling openings to a novel I’ve read in a while.

I’m also reviewing Pól Ó Murchú’s A Grammar of Modern Irish for LJ (I’m from Ireland and am an Irish speaker). The book is mainly for language students—it’s far too much for, say, tourists to Ireland who just want to learn a few phrases, as the grammar details are extremely thorough. At $24.95 it is relatively cheap and could find a market in public libraries and genealogy classes for its chapter “Irish surnames and their Bearlóirizations” (Anglicizations). There I learned, for example, that Ní Dhroighneán, the Irish version of my last name, is one of a few that were translated by Saxon tribes.

Wilda Willams, Fiction Editor, LJ
I’m reading Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane.

Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

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


  1. Sean Fitzgerald says:

    Cool! Just what the Irish language needed: another obtuse grammar! That will really help the general populace’s enthusiasm to use Irish in their everyday life!

  2. Joy Kim says:

    Josh – Try Kate Griffin’s Matthew Swift series for another take on magical London.

  3. Claire Casey says:

    WOw Molly, great review – I suppose being that I love Zombies, Lemon Cake and London (go there every few years) – I should probably read this book now! :-)