Taming the Terrible Twos, Class Distinctions, Showbiz Sisters | What We’re Reading

Apologies for the delay, friends of Library Journal/School Library Journal! We have been making momentous decisions about the best books of 2013. The decisions have been made, no spoilers from us, but here are three LJ staffers’ notes about what else we’re reading this week.

Liz French, Associate Editor, LJ
I can see the light at the end of the proverbial tunnel: LJ’s Review editors have made their big decisions about the ten best books of 2013 and now we’re free to read what we want to—my reading time is *my* reading time again. I have a towering list of possibilities, mostly pulled from the LJ book room. Top of the tower is a reissue of Henry Farrell’s What Ever Happened to Baby Jane (Grand Central), which I’m hoping measures up (or down?) to the camp classic film starring Bette Davis and Joan Crawford as two of the scariest showbiz sisters you’d ever want to meet. So far, it’s looking promising. There’s more interior stuff and backstory, exactly what you’d expect, even hope for, in a book to movie. Here’s a little slip of a scene from the book, where Jane Hudson—once vaudeville’s famous and terrible “Baby Jane”—is preparing to meet a possible accompanist for the comeback show she’s planning:

Just as she reached the doorway she stopped and looked back at herself in the mirrored wall with an air of vague enquiry. She was wearing a dress of faded red lace, snagged just slightly beneath the right breast. Brilliants glittered at her neck and wrists, her face was feverish with rouge and lipstick. Her eyes showed, though, that she was not feeling well.
Not that the drinking accounted in any way for her present state of indisposition. People didn’t understand about that. You didn’t feel bad because you drank. It was the other way around. The liquor made everything brighter, and when there were bad things on your mind—like these last few days—you could just stop thinking about them. Taking her eyes from the mirror, she turned abruptly away.

Next, I’m going to devour Laura Lippman’s latest, After I’m Gone (Morrow). I cannot wait to go to Lippman-land!

Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just finished Hope Mirrlees’s Lud-in-the-Mist (Wildside), which I found via Collection Reflection. @tuphlos and @helgagrace had linked to a post about obscure F&SF novels recommended by pros, and this 1926 title came recommended by James P. Blaylock, Tim Powers, and Neil Gaiman, so it seemed like a slam dunk. But…I dunno. It has considerable charm, and it is not at all cloying. The worldbuilding is strong, particularly in the sense of how the society fits together. It is a little bit Trollope does fairyland. But I find the attitude toward class troubling, and hard to ignore. It’s not so much subtext when the book tells you in so many words that back when it used to be all dissolute aristocrats and peasants, there was art and pathos and subtlety and appreciation of beauty, even if there was also rape and capricious cruelty, and now that there is a rising middle class and the rule of law, all that’s gone. And it’s pretty clear, if not absolutely as explicit, that we’re meant to think the rape and the cruelty and the poverty was a fair trade. The ending does offer the possibility of a synthesis of the best of both worlds, but it is so late and sketched in that it doesn’t really counterbalance the emotional weight of the rest, to me.

Henrietta Thornton-Verma, Review Editor, LJ
Based on a recommendation from our reviewer Lauren Sergy, last night I bought David Allen’s Getting Things Done (Penguin) for my Kindle. Lauren’s “Sandwich Generation” collection development piece for us will appear in the December issue of LJ and list resources for those living with elderly parents while also raising children or younger adults. I read the introduction to the book last night, and it’s like Allen knows me. After we finish reading for LJ’s best books, I will be devouring this title.
One of the things making my life crazy is the terrible twos. Boy, are they terrible. Today I tried a new tactic: I told my toddler that if he behaves nicely on the way to school, we can read a book together when we get there. It worked like a charm and was a great start to the day for both of us. Our inaugural title was Owen and Mzee: Best Friends, by Isabella Hatkoff, Craig Hatkoff, and Dr. Paula Kahumbu. It’s a true story, with simple gorgeous photos by Peter Greste, of baby hippo Owen who, orphaned by the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, is “adopted” by tortoise Mzee. The spreads in the board book show them doing what pals at preschool do: they eat together, they swim together, and they take naps. Next, though it’s aimed toward a more mature set, I might try Panda Kindergarten (HarperCollins) by Joanne Ryder (text) and Katherine Feng (illus.), which portrays pandas that are abandoned by their mothers and live together in a sanctuary, doing everything that kindergartners do.


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