Heaven, Hell, and Growing Up | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal and School Library Journal staff are reading books that harken back to childhood, whether picking up a much loved favorite or a new book about growing up. Stephanie has reported a lot of laughing on the subway with her villainous book, and I’m reading about about future heavens and hells. Meredith, meanwhile, is still reading The Atlas of New Librarianship.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
I’m currently rereading an old favorite, Laurie Halse Anderson’s Wintergirls (Speak). The story of Lia, an anorexic teen who relapses into disordered eating after the death of her best friend, this novel is gritty, poignant, and achingly real. In one of my favorite passages, Lia attempts an explanation for her self-destructive behavior.

Why? You want to know why?

Step into a tanning booth and fry yourself for two or three days. After your skin bubbles and peels off, roll in coarse salt, then pull on long underwear woven from spun glass and razor wire. Over that goes your regular clothes, as long as they are tight.

Smoke gunpowder and go to school to jump through hoops, sit up and beg, and roll over on command. Listen to ugly and fat and stupid and bitch and whore and worst of all “a disappointment.” Puke and starve and eat and cut and drink because you don’t want to feel any of this. Puke and starve and cut and drink because you need an anesthetic and it works. For a while. But then the anesthetic turns into poison and by then it’s too late because you are mainlining it now, straight into your soul. It is rotting you and you can’t stop.

Look in a mirror and find a ghost. Hear every heartbeat scream that everysinglething is wrong with you.

“Why?” is the wrong question.

Ask “Why not?”

Shelley Diaz, Associate Editor, SLJ
I’m almost done with Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. Every few days I return to my favorite passages, because if I could, I would like to imprint them on my brain. I think every aspiring writer has to read “Write Like a Motherfucker,” and anyone with daddy-issues, should highlight “No Is Golden.” But the correspondence that so far has resonated so much with me has been Sugar’s response to Beast with a Limp, in the “Beauty and the Beast” chapter: “Inhabit the beauty that lives in your beastly body and strive to see the beauty in all the other beasts. Walk without a stick into the darkest woods. Believe that the fairy tale is true.”

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
I’ve just finished Neil Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (William Morrow) and am sad to see the book already back on my shelf. I doubt that I’m alone in considering Gaiman among our best writers. He is an expert at introducing the fantastical into a world and ideas that we understand with effortless whimsy and wit. I may not have ever stood up to morally ambiguous monsters from another dimension, but I know how it feels to not understand one’s parents or to feel a twinge of nostalgia for a childhood long gone. Gaiman captures those feelings perfectly through his nameless narrator, who reflects on the odd happenings of his youth.

And then there are the Hempstocks: formidable women who span three generations living on the farm down the lane. While the mysteries of their origins are blurred, they are a remarkable family unit, who love and hurt and fight with admirable resilience. I love them dearly.

In short, when I grow up I want to be Neil Gaiman.

Grown-ups don’t look like grown-ups on the inside either. Outside, they’re big and thoughtless and they always know what they’re doing. Inside, they look just like they always have. Like they did when they were your age. Truth is, there aren’t any grown-ups. Not one, in the whole wide world.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’m reading Chuck Klosterman’s I Wear the Black Hat: Grappling with Villains (Real and Imagined) (Scribner). It’s a sprawling look at villains in culture both pop (Andrew Dice Clay, Morris Day in Purple Rain, Snidely Whiplash) and not (Bernhard Goetz, Raiders’ owner Al Davis, hacker Kim Dotcom). The book poses some questions about bad behavior (is the fact that he’s fictional really enough to excuse Batman’s vigilantism? How did hijacker D.B. Cooper become a folk hero?) and pokes fun at the pursuit for villainy for villainy’s sake:

If you lowered the seat and tilted your body toward the vehicle’s passenger side, the posture was referred to as the “gangsta lean.” Spawned in 1972 by forgotten R&B wunderkind William DeVaughn, “gangsta lean” is an amazingly evocative term, particularly to those who did not know what it meant. But once you unpacked the definition, it merely outlined a villainous way to drive your vehicle to White Castle, operating from the position that appearing villainous was an important way to appear at all times. This was very, very important to the members of N.W.A. It was the only thing they seemed to worry about. Everything they did had to possess criminal undertones. I can only assume they spent hours trying to deduce villainous ways to microwave popcorn (and it they’d succeeded, there would absolutely be a song about it, assumedly titled “Pop Goes the Corn Killa” or “45 Seconds to Bitch Snack.”

Molly McArdle, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
This week I am still reading Aye, and Gomorrah and Other Stories (Vintage), Sam Delany’s starry, smart collection of short science fiction. This week I’m on “We, In Some Strange Power’s Employ,” about a future where rebelling against society means rejecting its electricity. The main character is a “section devil,” or manager of an energy installation team, looking to install some power outlets in a community of anti-electric bikers who look a lot like Hell’s Angels. A lot of heaven/hell imagery here, but I’m loving it.

Annalisa Pesek, Assistant Book Review Editor, LJ
I am continuing Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph (Anchor: Random) by T.E. Lawrence and William Inge’s Four Plays: Come Back, Little Sheba, Picnic, Bus Stop, the Dark at the Top of the Stairs (Grove). Both Inge and Lawrence are deft observers of human behavior, their writing exposes a world within a world, and readers get the best of two worlds here.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News and Features, LJ
I’m still slowly wending my way through The Atlas of New Librarianship, out of conversation theory now and into shared ownership, with breaks for Fourth Planet from the Sun: Tales of Mars from the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction (Thunder’s Mouth Press).

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
This week I’ve been thinking and reading about Trayvon Martin. I found the not-guilty verdict stunning, and I wanted to know more about what the jury heard that made them come to that conclusion. For me, nothing explained it, but during my reading two pieces struck me particularly. The first is by Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates. If Coates published his grocery list I’d read it, but his writings on race I find especially nuanced and thought provoking. Here he is on the verdict in George Zimmerman’s trial. The other is by Amy Davidson at The New Yorker, who asks, “What Should Trayvon Martin Have Done?” If you enjoy opinion pieces and long-form journalism, by the way, try the @longreads account on Twitter.

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.