Darwin, Rosewater, Hosseini, and More | What We’re Reading

This week, Library Journal/School Library Journal staffers are experiencing beauty, genius, loss, love of mankind, and love of New York and learning how to be good undergraduate researchers. It’s what we’re reading in the last days of September 2013.

Ian Chant, Associate News Editor, LJ
I just finished Kurt Vonnegut’s God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater (Dell), which serves as a convenient reminder that reading Vonnegut remains a universally better decision than not. While the tale of the fabulously wealthy and questionably sane, Eliot Rosewater, and his quest to love the least lovable people in the world—unconditionally—doesn’t rank among the author’s masterworks like Slaughterhouse-Five or The Sirens of Titan, it’s still a beautifully told, laugh-out-loud funny, page-turning fable. Considering it also challenges readers’ assumptions about privilege, poverty, the nature of sanity, and the meaning of love, that’s no mean feat.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
I was reading Khaled Hosseini’s And the Mountains Echoed (Riverhead), and there were so many beautiful passages, I was inspired. Here’s an awesome example of his gorgeous prose:

Now I was free to do as I wished, but I found the freedom illusory, for what I wished for the most had been taken from me. They say, Find a purpose in your life and live it. But, sometimes, it is only after you have lived that you recognize your life had a purpose, and likely one you never had in mind. And now that I had fulfilled mine, I felt aimless and adrift.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
Linda Fairstein helps me remember that I love New York on those days when the city seems dead set on breaking up with me. Her latest “Alexandra Cooper” thriller, Death Angel (Dutton), explores the nooks and crannies of New York’s emerald jewel, Central Park. A body is found there, the police scramble to find a murderer, Manhattan prosecutor Alex and her colleague Mike Chapman spar and spoon, but the best part of the book is the city lore. Fairstein goes deep into the park’s history without sacrificing the story line, and she throws in more romantic sparks between police detective Mike and Alex—they’ve been in a Moonlighting type romantic standoff for many books now (this is the 15th in the series). Let’s just say that the author releases some of that tension. I’ll say no more on that subject, but I will say that Fairstein delivers high-caliber edutainment with this book.

Barbara A. Genco, Special Projects Manager, LJ
Just picked up the paperback edition of Paul Johnson’s Darwin: Portrait of a Genius (Penguin) from the soon-to-be donated-to-Housing Works http://www.housingworks.org/bookstore/ shelves in the book room. I began reading it on my way home from LJ last night. I almost missed my subway stop. I have always been fascinated by Darwin, and Johnson (a particularly prolific and brilliant British biographer) serves up an engaging, literate, and wonderfully informed brief (eight chapters; 154 pages). Reading Johnson’s elegant and vivid prose, I feel as if I am listening to a lecture from a very wise and thoughtful teacher. Johnson clearly wants to communicate the essence of a man and detail the wide-ranging, continuing impact of Darwin’s life and ideas. He succeeds. I am thinking that after this book I will dip into more by Johnson. He has also written brief bios of Socrates, Jesus, Napoleon, and Winston Churchill. Happily, it also seems he has a new book in the pipeline: Mozart: A Life is forthcoming from Viking this November. I wonder if there is an unclaimed ARC on anybody’s desk? See Prepub Alert, 5/20/13.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
My colleagues at School Library Journal were kind enough to lend me a copy of a January 2014 young adult book, Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You (HarperTeen), after a friend recommended it in the strongest terms possible. (Her IM to me about it read, in part, “the cover is AWESOME. and so it piqued my interest and it is so good and weird. it’s like TEEN FARGO. the back cover copy pitch did not lie. all the hearts <3 <3 <3 if you see it you must grab it YOU MUST. I WILL NOT TAKE NO FOR AN ANSWER the protagonist is so awesome and weird.” I defy any feeling person to resist that kind of enthusiasm.)

The protagonist in question is Kippy Bushman, whose best friend, Ruth Fried, has just been murdered in the cornfield behind Kippy’s house. She is, in fact, both awesome and weird, whether explaining life in her small, rural Wisconsin town or giving the world’s most awkward eulogy immediately after reading terrible things about herself in Ruth’s diary:

I take a deep breath and jump in. “What can one say about friendship? That is the question.” I spread my arms like some kind of preacher and look out at the Frieds, who are saving my seat in the front row. They stare back at me. Maybe if I hold this pose long enough, and let the question sit, someone in the crowd will actually answer it—for a moment I even see myself leading a call-and-response thing like on the evangelical channel. But the room stays quiet, and within a few seconds there’s a sour taste in my mouth. I lower my hands, drum my fingers on the podium. Someone in the audience coughs.
“Well, Friendship is our town, for one thing,” I blurt. ‘And everyone knows our town motto is: ‘Do Unto,’ plain and simple—‘Interpret that as you will,’ Principal Hannycack once said. Um.” Mrs. Fried forces a smile at me from the front row, and I feel sick.
“But friendship is also another thing,” I go on. “It’s a thing between friends, and you have it when you’re a friend to someone, and they’re friends to you, and the equation makes it so that you’re friends together, amen.” My face twitches. Did I just say “Amen?”
“Ruth was super-duper,” I announce. Super-duper? I swallow a few more times, fighting off the urge to barf. “In conclusion, friendship, the thing I’m describing, it was, well—Ruth and I had that until she was murdered—I mean. Holy geeze.” Wide eyes blink against black outfits. “Thank you and please make sure to try the sugar cookies I baked for this occasion.” I wave goodbye.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
For an upcoming interview that will appear in LJ‘s November 1 reference supplement, I’m reading Successful Strategies for Teaching Undergraduate Research (Scarecrow) edited by Marta Deyrup and Beth Bloom. The chapters in the book include a polite face-off in Roberta Tipton’s “Toward a ‘Good’ Research Assignment: An Academic Speaks” and Williamjames Hoffer’s “Toward a ‘Good’ Research Assignment: A Librarian Speaks,” which urge, among many suggestions, having students document their work along the way to prevent plagiarism and create better research habits. The interview quotes librarian author Davida Scharf on her successful program at New Jersey Institute of Technology to improve students’ information literacy thinking and habits by having them edit Wikipedia articles. Although the New York Times clearly learned of my plans, as they scooped me this morning (sob), watch out for the November piece for the dos, don’ts, and how-tos of student Wikipedia editing from a librarian’s point of view.


Liz French About Liz French

Library Journal Senior Editor Liz French edits nonfiction and women's fiction reviews at LJ and also compiles the "What We're Reading" and "Classic Returns" columns for LJ online. She's inordinately interested in what you're reading as well. Email: efrench@mediasourceinc.com, Twitter: @lizefrench