Gender Struggles | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staffer reads involve struggling with gender stereotypes in fantasy books, computer games, and 19th-century England. In other news, LJ Executive Editor Josh Hadro is reading Vonnegut’s last book of essays, and I have yet not kicked my audiobook habit.

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ

I’ve started The Thinking Woman’s Guide to Real Magic by Emily Croy Barker (Pamela Dorman Bks., Aug.), which I was particularly excited to read as it was announced at LJ’s Day of Dialog and hailed as being “Lev Grossman for girls.” As a Grossman fan I can’t say that I understand his writing as being “for boys,” but I am a sucker for fantasy and thus happily grabbed this book at the event. So far there’s been a bad break up, much lamentation at wedding over the aforementioned break up, makeovers, consistent remarks on beauty, and the disturbing mental manipulation of our lead heroine, Nora. My hope is that I will soon get to the “thinking” part of this book, as promised in the title, and move beyond the stereotypical plot points that creep into books marketed toward women. A few things are keeping me reading. For instance, Nora’s literary references completely speak to my bibliophile soul, so if Barker moves past the creepy, emotionally abusive, supernatural boyfriend and gets started on Nora taking names and casting spells, I will be a happy reader!

Josh Hadro, Executive Editor, LJ

During a recent long weekend with friends in Boston, I borrowed a copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s svelte final essay collection, A Man Without a Country (Random). It’s been years since I read any Vonnegut, but his wit and humanist understanding remain as striking as when I first discovered Welcome to the Monkey House in 7th grade.

I was also pleased to note that Vonnegut identifies with librarians alone in his particular brand of unbelonging, from which he derived the title of the book: “So I am a man without a country, except for the librarians and a Chicago paper called In These Times.”

Just as the return bus pulled into Penn Station terminal, after a fabulous weekend filled with old friends and baseball at Fenway (a great place to watch a ballgame, even if they do embarrass themselves by adhering to the American League’s designated-hitter rule), I read some of the final words Vonnegut published, surely meant to stick in his readers’ minds for a good long time: “I urge you to please notice when you are happy, and exclaim or murmur or think at some point, ‘If this isn’t nice, I don’t know what is.'”

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ

I am close to finishing George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss (Naxos Audiobooks), the third audiobook I’ve listened to in three weeks. I admit it: I’m in the middle of an audio glut. My listening habits have always been marked by times of feast and famine: I will go months without listening to a book, then there are months when they command all of my spare time. (It feels very efficient, too, to be “reading” a book on the walk to and from the subway.) I love George Eliot, and am so glad to hear this early novel read in thick, vowel-stretching Northern English tones. Siblings Tom and Maggie Tulliver both strain against society’s expectations for them. Thirteen-year-old Tom is sent to a nearby curate to learn Latin and geometry and struggles to complete an education that isn’t of interest to him, but that his father insists upon; precocious nine-year-old Maggie, on the other hand, is ever at odds with the business of girlhood—neat curls, clean clothes, and a quiet temper—and prefers always to be at a book. Eliot is dropping doom-laden hints right and left, so I am already worried for both characters.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior News Editor, LJ

I’m almost done with From Barbie to Mortal Kombat: Gender and Computer Games (MIT), edited by Justine Cassell and Henry Jenkins. I knew Jenkins from his work on fanfiction, so I picked up this collection of scholarly articles and interviews with gamers and game designers years ago at the MIT book sale, and just finally got around to reading it. What’s notable (and depressing) is how totally dated the tech side is—CD-ROMS are the hot new thing—compared to how ripped from the headlines the attitude remains toward gender.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ

Last week, I attended an event at which Hachette editors revealed their titles for next year. There I met the editor of Twelve, a Hachette imprint, who sold me on Greg Baxter’s The Apartment, about a returning, disillusioned Iraq war veteran. Also added to my to-read list after the event were The Witness Wore Red (Grand Central, Sept.), by Rebecca Musser, who was the 19th of 65 wives of the prophet of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and Jeffrey Deaver’s The October List (Grand Central, Oct.), which is told backward—the twist is at the beginning, and page numbers even run in reverse. What I picked up on the day and am reading now is Jeanne Murray Walker’s The Geography of Memory: A Pilgrimage Through Alzheimer’s, which is informative but mostly strikes me as one of the most touching books I’ve read in a long time. While Walker says,”I wrote this book because I believe the news about Alzheimer’s is more hopeful than what we hear on the street,” rather than developments on the condition, I’m enjoying the flashbacks that portray an infuriating yet lovable mother, and the present-day moments that illustrate the relationship between sisters and grief in all its exhausting manifestations.

Molly McArdle About Molly McArdle

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