Solstice Stocking Stuffers | What We’re Reading

This week Library Journal/School Library Journal staffers’ stockings are hung by the bookshelf with care—and they’re filled with memoirs, bookstore vacation reveries, Hollywood rebels, not-so-private parts, babies both evil and not, and a double Rainbow!

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, LJ Reviews
It may be the holiday season outside, but in my mind, things are usually stuck on Halloween mode. Case in point: I’m currently rereading Ira Levin’s classic horror story, Rosemary’s Baby (Random). It’s a tale of witchcraft, satanic rituals, paranoia, and, of course, the lengths to which New Yorkers would go, even in the mid-1960s, for prime real estate.

Shelley M. Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
Having finally completed all of my reading for my MLIS thesis, I can treat myself to fun over the holiday with Rainbow Rowell’s 2011 debut novel Attachments (Dutton). Can’t wait!

fangirlKate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
I’ve finally procured the office copy of Rainbow Rowell’s Fangirl (Griffin: St. Martin’s) and believe me when I say it is deserving of all the hype! Give it all of the awards until there is no more room on the cover for medals, because Rowell has basically typed out my soul into a perfectly crafted piece of genius (not that I’m being hyperbolic about it or anything). Did I also mention that I’m only about halfway through this book? I just have a lot of feelings, okay?
Cath is stumbling through her first year of college. Even worse, her twin sister Wren seems to be leaving her behind for parties and drinking and her awesome new roommate. Well, at least Cath still has her fan fiction. Except somehow obsessively writing Simon Snow fic isn’t considered to be part of the “real” college experience, and Cath flounders as she tries to reconcile her life in fandom with reality. As someone who lived for (and still does, who am I kidding?) Harry Potter, I wish I could give this book to my younger self as a reminder that it’s okay to be a bit fanatic, and there’s no need to lose those parts of yourself just because you’re inching closer to adulthood. But I think Rowell also makes the important point that it doesn’t do you any good to get stuck in those obsessions either. As Albus Dumbledore so wisely said, “It does not do to dwell on dreams and forget to live.”

dvorakLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
In between last-minute shopping and frenzied gift wrapping, I have been reading about a rebel in Hollywood—no, not James Dean. I’m talking about Ann Dvorak, who lit up the screen in the 1932 film Scarface (she played Cesca, sister of gangster Paul Muni), Three on a Match, and Heat Lightning. In the early days of talkies, Dvorak seemed destined for stardom, but her defiance of the studio system cost her dearly. When she walked out on her contract and took her employer to court, Warner Bros. retaliated, casting her in smaller parts and lesser pictures. This story and many more about life in Hollywood in the so-called Golden Age fill Christina Rice’s Ann Dvorak: Hollywood’s Forgotten Rebel (University Pr. of Kentucky). Rice is a librarian at the Los Angeles (natch!) Central Library. Needless to say, the notes, research, and index all come correct, but the book is also an entertaining, well-written read and fascinating look at a Tinseltown “almost-was.”

middlemarchBarbara Genco, Director, Special Projects, LJ
I just picked up an ARC of Rebecca Mead’s January 2014 title, My Life in Middlemarch (Crown). I think I originally captured it at BEA. LJ’s Barbara Hoffert also highlighted it in her PrePub picks.
As for me, ages ago I determined that I would not devote one more hour to reading dense, door-stopper Victorians. But then I did make that decision right after I spent what seemed like months reading and dissecting George Eliot’s Silas Marner in my high school sophomore English class. I thought the book tedious and dated then. But who knows? I could have been wrong. I also hated Henry James when I first read him waaay back then.
But Mead hooked me with this paragraph on page 2, which describes her first encounter with Eliot’s Middlemarch:

I had the Penguin English Library edition, a brick of a paperback nine hundred pages long. On the front cover was a detail from a painting of a young woman in a full white skirt and a long black tunic, climbing a couple of stone steps to scale a fence, and heading into a wooded thicket that abuts a golden hillside. The painting dates from 1839, but it looks exactly like a stretch of countryside that lay within five minutes’ walk of my parents’ house.”

Bingo. This is a memoir! I am in. And if, afterwards, I feel the need to engage with the Victorians but not actually read them, I can always kick back with the “lite” 1994 BBC version of Middlemarch!

Meredith Schwartz, Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just started The Bookman’s Tale: A Novel of Obsession (Viking) by Charlie Lovett. But I literally have not got beyond the first scene. It is set in Hay-on-Wye, a town famous for bookshops, and I am distracted by planning an imaginary Wales vacation that goes from there to Gladstone’s Library.

babiesEtta Thornton-Verma, Reviews Editor, LJ
I’m almost finished with Anne Enright’s Making Babies: Stumbling into Motherhood (Norton). As a fan of the Booker Prize-winning author’s fiction, I was interested in what she had to say about deciding to have children, giving birth, and all the crazy aftermath. The not-too-graphic descriptions of pregnancy and birth were spot-on, and many of her observations made me recognize (and remember for the first time in years) aspects of my own experiences. On the studies revealing everything supposedly careless women do to endanger their babies, she asks, “Why isn’t there a study done about the harm housework does to your unborn child”? YES! And on her first time nursing, “What fun! To be granted a new bodily function so late in life.”

vaginaAshleigh Williams, Book Room Assistant, LJ
I’m currently reading Naomi Wolf’s Vagina: A New Biography (Ecco). Initially drawn to its bold title and the author’s reputation (Wolf wrote the eye-opening book, The Beauty Myth, just one of her many works exploring the concept of femininity in media and popular culture), I have thoroughly enjoyed what I’ve read so far. Wolf’s personal backstory is a tad indulgent at times, but the wealth of information provided about the female reproductive system, from its complex neural layout to its key role in female creativity and empowerment, is absolutely fascinating. The cover has been garnering more than a few curious glances on the train, but it’s definitely worth the double takes!


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