Covers, Awards, Agents, and More | What We’re Reading!

The Library Journal/School Library Journal bibliophiles are gobbling up books before the holiday and happy to share their picks of the week with fellow book devourers!

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
I’ve always had it drummed into me that judging a book by its cover is a cardinal error for a bibliophile. With that in mind, I’m reading Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl–Vladimir Nabokov’s Novel in Art and Design (Print Books, ed. by John Bertram & Yuri Leving ), a work that analyzes the way that Nabokov’s masterpiece has been represented in cover form, through both a series of essays and covers that were commissioned by artists who given free rein (with none of the marketing-type constraints that an actual graphic designer creating an actual cover would encounter). As Lolita is a novel that has–perhaps inadvertently–spawned myriad iconic images (think lollipops and heart-shaped sunglasses), this melding of art and analysis is incredibly rich and nuanced. Below is a playful passage on the concept from Barbara Bloom’s essay “Cover Story”:

Why do people reading in libraries look so sexy? It could be the allure of catching someone in the midst of an intimate moment of thought. Or perhaps it is that having the right book in hand suggests the possession of extensive (to borrow from Nabokov) unreal estate.
In his films, Jean-Luc Godard has repeatedly used images of his characters reading to tell us who they are, and images of people reading together to tell us where the relationship is heading. In this case, a couple carries on an argument by showing each other titles of books. It is a kind of objective shorthand. If you cannot judge a book by its cover, you can at least draw some conclusion about the person holding it….
I love covers, and tend to judge by them.

Francine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, LJ
I couldn’t wait to get my hands on the galley for Chris Pavone’s forthcoming thriller, The Accident (Crown): I was a huge fan of The Expats, which won an Edgar for best first novel. This time around, Pavone’s in-over-her-head agent is a literary agent—Isabel Reed—who’s received a top-secret manuscript that at least one CIA type doesn’t want published. Pavone, a former editor himself (and husband of Random House COO and president Madeline McIntosh), knows the ins and outs of the publishing world intimately, and he’s not afraid to brutally expose them. But while the novel’s backdrop is publishing, the story is really about duplicity—not just in spydom, but in publishing, relationships, life. Its breakneck pace, unpredictability, and collateral damage all definitively establish Pavone’s thriller cred. Those who have access to egalleys via edelweiss should be able to score one here.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
It’s funny—like the essayists and artists in my colleague Mahnaz’s pick, Lolita: The Story of a Cover Girl, I *did* judge and choose a book by its cover. There on the front of Jean-Noël Liaut’s The Many Lives of Miss K.: Toto Koopman, Model, Muse, Spy (Rizzoli ex Libris) is Miss K herself, looking stupendously cool in a flawless Thirties ensemble. I was hooked immediately, especially after reading the blurb, which hailed her as another iconoclastic woman of yore, along the lines of Lee Miller or Vita Sackville-West: biracial, born in Dutch colonial Java; a spy during World War II; survivor of the Ravensbruck concentration camp; model for Chanel and other famous designers; openly bisexual; liaisons with many powerful and famous people, including a longtime association with gallery owner Erica Brausen, who launched the career of Francis Bacon; etc., etc., etc. It all sounded so amazing and tantalizing on the back cover, but unfortunately what’s between the covers is flat and disappointing. Perhaps it’s the translation from the French (by Denise Raab Jacobs), but I think not. What could have been a thrilling real-life tale of an adventuress and a survivor is all tell and no show, with the author relying on third-party hearsay for most of the stories and curiously eliding over what should be the most exciting events. Perhaps Toto would fare better as a fictionalized heroine; in this book she remains inscrutable as ever.

Margaret Heilbrun, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I can now report that I have finished Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries (Little, Brown). I dove into it expecting it to be another of those wonderful recent books that takes the subjects and conventions of 19th-century British popular fiction and expertly tweaks them. My favorites in this genre: Michel Faber’s The Crimson Petal and the White, D.J. Taylor’s Kept, Sarah Waters’s Fingersmith, and Jane Harris’s Gillespie and I (see my review of the latter, a best book of 2012, if you scroll down here. But it turns out that Catton is more in the Georges Perec/Oulipo line of writers who set themselves a specific mechanical challenge and then craft fiction to fit within it. Perec wrote an entire novel that never used the letter e. Catton created her characters to align with movement of the zodiac and set her chapter lengths accordingly, though what zodiac movements have to do with chapters diminishing from 350-plus pages to less than two is beyond me. But don’t waste your time trying to study this astrological matter because as Catton herself stated in an interview in the New York Times (11/19/13), she just wanted to “play with the idea.” It bears no relation to the actual plot of her book. Well, I dove into her novel and I nearly drowned. I’m now treading water, regaining my strength, and am on the lookout for my next novel to read. I’ll report back!

Kiera Parrott, Editor, SLJ Reviews
This week I’m loving Sheila Turnage’s The Ghosts of Tupelo Landing (Kathy Dawson), the sequel to the Newbery-honored book, Three Times Lucky. Mo LoBeau and her fellow Desperado Detective, Dale Earnhart Johnson III, are back in business. This time they are on the trail of a ghost who haunts the old Inn. Colorful characters, laugh-out-loud dialog, and one of the quirkiest small towns in children’s literature make this companion book just as distinguished as the first. I think Turnage has another Newbery contender on her hands.

Etta Thornton-Verma, Editor, LJ Reviews
This weekend I started Lisa Jackson’s You Don’t Want to Know (Zebra), which features Ava, a despairing woman whose marriage is falling apart following the disappearance of her toddler son. She’s trying to move on, with the help—some of it that comes with a side of scorn—of extended family, none of them too accepting when she claims to see her son on the property. What happened to little Noah, and are her hallucinations real? This kind of family-centered mystery is usually just my cup of tea, and on this freezing weekend I was only too happy to curl up with a book. However, this one is dragging a bit for me, with the main character’s thoughts becoming too repetitive and drawn out. I’m still interested to find out what happens, though, so might stick with it through another few cuppas.

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