Beatles, Bennets, Buddies and Brats | What We’re Reading

This week, the Library Journal staffers are shoplifting harmonicas with a Beatle, scrutinizing the Bennet family from below stairs, making new friends in Iowa, reading a friend’s novel on a smartphone, and pondering interpersonal dynamics. It’s what we do!

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ
I’m still on John Lennon: The Life (Ecco) by Philip Norman. At this point, the Beatles have officially been formed (though with Pete Best as drummer, not Ringo Starr), and they’ve scored a gig. The Beatles are going to Germany! But first, a detour to the Netherlands finds John engaging in some unscrupulous behavior:

He also took time for some shoplifting, finding the unsuspicious Netherland store owners absurdly easy victims after Woolton and Liverpool 8. The haul he later showed to Pete Best included jewelry, handkerchiefs, guitar strings, and a harmonica. Years later, when every detail of his early life was pored over by millions, that harmonica thoughtlessly pocketed in a Dutch music shop would cause many of his admirers pangs of vicarious guilt. Finally, a group of them resolved to set the matter right. Traveling to the Arnhem area, they found the same shop still in business and, to its owner’s bewilderment, solemnly repaid the cost of the stolen instrument.

Kate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
After Jo Baker’s Longbourn (Knopf) sat on my shelves for far too long, sad and neglected, I’ve finally begun reading the downstairs companion piece to the upstairs Pride and Prejudice. Baker brilliantly illuminates the behind the scenes of the charmed and easy life of Jane Austen’s Bennet family portrayed through the tireless work of their staff. And if these early chapters are any indication, I suspect I will find as much drama with housemaid Sarah and her colleagues as I did with Elizabeth and her sisters. It’s quite exciting to read bits of Austen’s plot bleed through Longbourn, but seeing the action through Sarah’s eyes raises criticisms (and rightly so) of the beloved Bennets that I hadn’t really considered before. For example, when Elizabeth rushes off on foot after a storm to Netherfield to aid the ailing Jane:

Such self-sufficiency was to be valued in a person, but seeing [Elizabeth] set off down the track, and then climb the stile, Sarah could not help but think that those stockings would be perfectly ruined, and that petticoat would never be the same again, no matter how long she soaked it.

Even without the draw of its classic tie-in I wager that this novel can hold its own as a stark and honest portrait of servant life, and the unique relationship between the classes.

The young ladies might behave like they were smooth and sealed as alabaster statues underneath their clothes, but then they would drop their soiled shifts on the bedchamber floor, to be whisked away and cleansed, and would thus reveal themselves to be the frail, leaking, forked bodily creatures that they really were. Perhaps that was why they spoke instructions at her from behind an embroidery hoop or over the top of a book: she had scrubbed away their sweat, their stains, their monthly blood; she knew they weren’t as rarefied as angels, and so they just couldn’t look her in the eye.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
Now that I work for Library Journal, I love finding and sharing references to libraries and librarians in books. There are so many! Joe Hill, horror writer on the rise and ahem, well you know his backstory, has a kickass librarian character in his latest doorstopper/chiller, N0s4A2 (Morrow). The lead character, 12-year-old Vic, aka the Brat, is able to transport herself using a Raleigh bike and an imaginary bridge (long story, don’t want to spoil it for you). She lands in a place called Here, Iowa, which leads to a “who’s on first” exchange with Margaret, an elfy-looking punkette with powers of her own who’s been expecting Vic. Vic asks:

“Did you say this is Iowa?”
“Sure did!”

“Where in Iowa?”
“Here,” said the girl in the hat.
“Well,” Vic started with a flash of annoyance, “I mean yeah, I know, but like—here, where?”
“Here, Iowa. That’s the name of the town. You’re right down the road from beautiful Cedar Rapids, at the Here Public Library. And I know all about why you came. You’re confused about your bridge, and you’re trying to figure things out. Boy is this your lucky day!” She clapped her hands. “You found yourself a librarian! I can help with the figuring-out thing and point you toward some good poetry while I’m at it. It’s what I do.”

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
As is true of many of my colleagues, I’m up to my eyeballs in reading best books contenders, but when I’m on a crowded train and don’t have room to hold up one of those weighty tomes, I’ve been reading Rachael Herron’s Cora’s Heart (Rachael Herron) on my phone. It’s the fourth in her “Cypress Hollow” series and was originally published by Random House Australia. In the spirit of full disclosure, I should mention that Rachael is a friend of mine, but I’d read her funny, heartwarming novels even if we’d never met. She has a gift for people, knowing what will make characters careen into each other’s paths and screw things up and work to make their lives better, which makes it easy and rewarding to invest in her characters.

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just started The Broken Universe (Tor) by Paul Melko. I don’t know anything about it yet since I literally just started, but I picked it up because it is about a group of close friends with benign intentions trying to do something ambitious in the world, which is usually my favorite interpersonal dynamic (see also Buffy, West Wing, Torchwood, all the way back to the Bloodhound Gang and The Tomorrow People TV series, the original version).


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:, Twitter: @lizefrench