Living, Dying, Surviving, and Striving | What We’re Reading

This week Library Journal staffers are booking travel to far-flung locales: Florida, Iwo Jima, China, England, even Omaha, NE.

flagsFrancine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, LJ
I’m finally reading one of the books that has been sitting on the humongous pile by my bed: Flags of Our Fathers (Bantam) by James Bradley with Ron Powers. I’m not a military history reader, but this book, about the Battle of Iwo Jima (World War II) and the story of the U.S. Marines behind the iconic Pulitzer Prize–winning photo of the flag raising there, has me hooked. Bradley’s father, John Bradley, was a medic, but he never talked to his children about the war, and only after he died did James find out his father had been a “hero.” But heroes to John Bradley were those left behind: the battle number of dead (and wounded) surpassed all other Pacific battles. Here’s a couple of quotes, the second from a message chiseled outside the cemetery on Iwo Jima:

The Marines fought in World War II for forty-three months. Yet in one month on Iwo Jima, one third [6,800] of their total deaths occurred.

When you go home
Tell them for us and say
For your tomorrow
We gave our today.

My thanks to the Library Cottage, run by the Friends of the Southold Public Library, NY, for this book.

floridaLiz French, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
It’s cold here in New York City, and we just got a pile of snow and slush and rain. I’m already dreaming of warmer climes, and it’s not even Christmas yet! Luckily, a lovely picture book, David Watts’s Florida Then and Now: People and Places (Pavilion) crossed my desk. It is warming the cockles of my heart. Not only does the postcard-sized book contain pictures of palms, pink houses, flamingos, Spanish-influenced architecture, and beaches, beaches, beaches, the photos are a mix of historic and contemporary. It’s good to see that landmarks such as the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach and the Tampa Theatre (three guesses where that building is located) are still standing. It’s not all gorgeous architecture shots, though. Watts included photos of fruit cannery workers in 1937 Lakeland, cigar rollers in turn-of-the-century Tampa, even of Mary McLeod Bethune at Bethune-Cookman College in Daytona Beach, circa 1943. So yes, there’s some realism thrown in, but I’m using this title as an escape valve to get through the frigid days of December.

cleverBarbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
My subway reading this week has been an ARC of Tessa Hadley’s forthcoming novel Clever Girl (Harper), due in March 2014. This heady and often intense first-person narrative follows an Englishwoman from childhood (in the 1960s) through middle age. The title’s ironically eponymous Stella makes more than a few life choices that on surface seem anything but clever. No matter. Fans and newcomers to the fiction of this British literary star will want to know how it all works out. Or doesn’t.
An early chapter, “Valentine,” has already appeared in The New Yorker. Read it here.

eleanorStephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
Rainbow Rowell’s Eleanor & Park (Griffin: St. Martin’s) has turned up on many a best-of-2013 list (including the one from LJ’s sister publication, School Library Journal). I finally picked up a copy this week to see what all the fuss is about, and, reader, I fell head over heels for the titular characters. Both outsiders in their own ways (Eleanor’s home life includes four siblings and an abusive stepfather, but not a bathroom door; Park is half-Korean in “the Flats,” a part of Omaha where everyone is, as Eleanor says, “…seriously white. Like, white by choice.”), they meet on the school bus, form an uneasy alliance based on a shared love of comics and music, and gradually fall into a complicated, charming, heartbreaking, perfect first love. I can’t say enough good things about this book. Eleanor & Park not only lives up to its hype, it surpasses it.

boxersMeredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just started Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers (First Second), which was given to me by LJ Associate Editor Mahnaz Dar. Next up, its companion volume, Saints. (This two-volume title was one of LJ’s Best Books 2013: YA Lit for Adults.—Ed.)


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