White Girls and Dead Dogs | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staff are reading zombie recipes, advice columns, romance novels, essay collections, memoir, and some literary fiction here and there. Who says we aren’t an eclectic bunch?

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ

From The Walking Dead to World War Z, zombies are everywhere. And, according to the book I’m reading this week, Frank Swain’s How To Make a Zombie: The Real Life (and Death) Science of Reanimation and Mind Control (Oneworld), everyday life?! Swain describes real-life reanimation, from Russian scientists who managed to bring severed dog heads to life, to viruses that take over their hosts’ bodies. So far, this title seems deliciously creepy:

Our journey, if you are prepared to come with me, starts in the fetid heat of the Caribbean cane fields, where voodoo witch doctors grind skull bones into poison and shadowy bogeyman snatch children who stay out after dark…From there we fly to the bitter snow-blown streets of Moscow and the gas-lit rooms of London’s surgeries where necromancers build machines that can breathe life into the dead.

Eat your heart out, George Romero!

Shelley Diaz, Associate Editor, SLJ

This week I’m reading two titles that have been on my to-read pile for over a year. I finally caved and picked up Katherine Applegate’s Newbery-winning, One and Only Ivan (HarperCollins). I am not a fan of “animal books,” but as a required text in my Children’s Literature course, it had to be read. And: I loved it. Ivan will live in the same space in your heart that Charlotte’s Web inhabits.

And for my book club, I’m reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar (Vintage) [Ed. note, this was one of LJ‘s 10 Best Books of 2012.] Booktalked to me by this column’s compiler (Molly!), it had me tearing up on my commute this morning. Only a few pages in, and it’s already changed my life. “Hit the iron bell like it’s dinnertime.”

Bette-Lee Fox, Managing Editor, LJ

I am catching up with the second title in Mary Balogh’s “Survivors’ Club” series (see LJ 4/15/12 for the review of Book 1, The Proposal). It involves another member of this group of individuals damaged in the Peninsular Wars with Napoleon’s army. Vincent Hunt was a young scapegrace in his village of Barton Coombs before the war; then he lost his sight during his first battle. Following the deaths of his uncle and his uncle’s son, the heir, Vincent is now Viscount Darleigh, running back to Barton Coombs for respite from his mother and sisters bent on finding his poor, blind self a wife. Reading Balogh is one of life’s great treats. The odd thing for me is the book’s title, The Arrangement (Dell: Random, Sept.). Every time I see it on the cover, it puts me in mind of the Joni Mitchell song of the same name from her Ladies of the Canyon album. Mitchell will turn 70 this year. Is that possible? That album meant a great deal to me when I was a college kid. It still does.

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ

I feel like this book—Hilton Als’s White Girls (McSweeney’s, Nov.)—has reached out and grabbed me by my lapels. (Or by the cardigan, if I’m being honest.) Als has long been on my radar, but I fell hard for his dreamy language when I read his essay on Prince, “I Am Your Conscious, I Am Love,” in Harpers this past December. (It is the finest piece of writing I have ever read about the artist.) The first essay in this collection, “Tristes Tropiques,” the only one not previously published, is full of the kind of observations—surprising, obvious, revelatory, true—that reaffirm your belief in the written word. Sometimes it is hard for me to keep track of who is who (Als refers to many people by nicknames or initials), but this is a kind of confusion I find myself enjoying. What really is the difference between friend, lover, or family when the subject at hand is love? He relentlessly strips away the layers of social meaning in order to reach a kind of emotional truth—one that reminds me at times of Cheryl Strayed in her “Dear Sugar” columns and at other times of Proust. Here is a passage I both circled and underlined:

Sitting on the subway, the lights go by but the people don’t. Standing above me and around me I see how we are all the same, that none of us are white women or black men; rather, we’re a series of mouths, and that every mouth needs filling: with something wet or dry, like love, or unfamiliar and savory, like love.

Rebecca Miller, Editorial Director, LJ & SLJ

I’ve been slowly making my way through two books that explore the complexity of mourning and loss: C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed (HarperOne) and (at last) John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars (Dutton).

Annalisa Pesek, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ

T.E. Lawrence’s The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (Anchor: Random) opens with a poem “To S.A.” and begins with the lines, “I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my hands/ and wrote my will across the sky in stars/ To earn you Freedom, the seven pillared worthy house,/ that your eyes might be shining for me/ When we came.” For years I kept to this first page, and now is a good time to read from beginning to end what Lawrence warns in his preface is “a personal narrative pieced out of memory.” The story is complicated, and there are many versions, but I’m looking forward to reading about war, transformation, and the desert.

Chelsey Philpot, Associate Book Review Editor, SLJ

I am currently making my way through Curtis Sittenfeld’s Sisterland (Random). I am a boarding school survivor, so I truly appreciated Prep. My expectations for her newest novel are pretty high.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ

I’ve started reading my (signed!) copy of Richard Dawkins’s memoir, An Appetite for Wonder: The Making of a Scientist, due out in October from HarperCollins. So far, it covers his illustrious ancestors, who practiced their eccentricity in India and the other colonies, as one did, but also found the time to produce standard works such as Birds of Burma and Birds of Borneo, in the case of Dawkins’s father’s cousin, Bertram Smythies. Learning how a man of science digests his privileged and sometimes cringe-producing background is interesting; even better are the glimpses into a scientific mind at work all the time, such as when looking at family photographs and reminiscing about his grandmother’s Cornish patriotism (she referred to the English as “foreigners”) spur him to ruminate on genetics.

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.