Post–Valentine’s Day Books | What We’re Reading

Library Journal and School Library Journal staffers wear their hearts on their collective sleeves this week with love poems, historical fiction, updated Austen, married millennials, delayed Didion gratification, and boy bands that make us swoon.

betterdidionIan Chant, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ
This week, I’m (finally) reading Joan Didion’s Slouching Towards Bethlehem (Farrar), which is, of course, stupid excellent, as I have been informed by countless people over the course of what is now entirely too many years. No, I don’t know what took me so long to get around to reading this incredible collection of essays, profiles, and meditations. Yes, I feel like kind of a dummy over it. Look, can we just move on, please? I’m embarrassed enough already.

beatlesMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I love you, Beatles! Oh yes, I do. With the 50th anniversary of the Beatles appearing on The Ed Sullivan Show just past us, I’m reading yet another book about the four: Larry Kane’s When They Were Boys (Running Pr.) As a young journalist in 1964, Kane traveled with the boys and now discusses what they were like as teens and how that influenced their eventual fame.

betternerudaShelley Diaz, Senior Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I’m reading a small bilingual edition of Pablo Neruda’s love poems, tr. by Donald D. Walsh (New Directions). I’m writing notes on them before I give it to the hubby. Here’s one of my favs:

Our love was born
outside the walls,
in the wind,
in the night,
in the earth,
and that’s why the clay and the flower,
the mud and the roots
know your name.

rowellKate DiGirolomo, Editorial Assistant, LJ
Have I become obsessed with Rainbow Rowell? Well, yes. Unabashedly, yes. This time I’ve devoured Landline (St. Martin’s), my first foray into her fiction for adults. Neal and Georgie’s marriage is on the rocks–he’s taken the kids to his mother’s for Christmas in Omaha (Alone. Again.) and she’s stayed behind in LA to score the career opportunity of a lifetime. Except Neal isn’t taking any of her calls, which sort of puts a damper on Georgie’s “big break” thing. Well, I should say one present Neal isn’t taking any of her calls, because in 1998 Neal is certainly very chatty. Did I not mention that Georgie discovers that her childhood home phone is actually some sort of magical link to the past? Well, it is, and Georgie is on the line with past Neal, who is one week away from proposing to past Georgie. It’s the ultimate chance to fix her marriage–or stop it before it happens at all.
Rowell is the perfect author for millennials. There’s something to her writing that makes you feel like it’s okay to be an adult who doesn’t want to fully give in to actually being an adult. Everything I’ve read is a sigh of relief and the realization that there are others who are too snarky, too ambitious, too hapless, too lost; and while they are admittedly fictional others, I’ve found my people with Rowell’s characters. Not to mention Landline contains the perfect amount of parenthetical writing (well-used parenthetical writing is my favorite writing)! It truly pains me to know that I only have one more of her books left. Rainbow, write me more!

MccannFrancine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, LJ
I am belatedly reading Colum McCann’s TransAtlantic (Random), another gorgeous book from the author of Let the Great World Spin, et. al. It, too, is episodic—not as smoothly linked as that one—but the stories and language read true. McCann conjures Frederick Douglass on tour in Ireland in 1845–46, condemning slavery and fundraising for the cause at a time when the Irish face famine and endure a lack of freedom under British rule. Much later, in 1998, there is former Senator George Mitchell brokering a peace agreement in Northern Ireland in a conflict whose origins date back well before the 19th century. There are other interconnected stories, too, with spot-on and heartbreakingly real people. I’m a mystery and thriller addict, but McCann draws me away every time.

McDermidLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
What a lovely assignment from LJ pop fiction editor Willy Williams: Val McDermid’s modern take on Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey (Grove). I was a little hesitant: would crime writer Val be able to do justice to Jane’s gothic novel? Well, I needn’t have worried a whit; the book is sprightly, charming, very socially on-target, and hilariously updated. McDermid successfully transports the characters to the era of Facebook, texting, and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, and her depiction of the good-hearted heroine, Catherine “Cat” Morland, is a thing of beauty.
Cat loves to read vampire and werewolf stories—paranormal fiction—and when she goes to stay with the Tilney family in their ancestral manse, her imagination goes into overdrive. It’s the perfect way to introduce a gothic element into a modern story. Here’s Cat, driving to the abbey with Henry Tilney, the dashing, handsome younger son of General Tilney. She’s totally crushed out on Henry and he’s ribbing her a little about the family home and her expectations:

Henry shook his head. “And are you ready for all the horrors that a house like that has to offer? As well as an iron constitution, are you fearless? Are your nerves up to it?” He dropped his voice to a ghoulish pitch. “Can you handle sliding panels, priest holes, secret passageways hidden by ancient tapestries?”
Cat laughed. “What, you think I’d be scared so easily? You don’t know me, Henry Tilney. Besides, there’ll be lots of people in the house. It’s not like it’s been standing empty for years and we’re coming back to face down the old ghosts—which is what it would be if this was really a horror movie.”
“No. We do have electric light nowadays. No more feeling our way down the hall, lit only by the dying embers of a wood fire. And we’ve emerged from that period where we had to sleep on animal skins on the floor in rooms without windows or doors or furniture. But Mrs. Danvers, our elderly crone of a housekeeper, does like to keep to the old ways. She insists on making our attractive young female guests sleep in the west wing all alone while the rest of us retire to the east wing with its flush toilets and hot water and wifi.”
“Mrs. Danvers?” Cat squeaked.

H&AAmanda Mastrull, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
This week I’m rereading William Levitan’s translation of the letters of Abelard and Heloise in The Letters and Other Writings: Abelard & Heloise (Hackett). I first came across the correspondence between the 12th-century monk and nun in an amazing seminar I took in college. For some backstory: Peter Abelard was a philosopher and Heloise his student. The pair had an affair, which led to a pregnancy and marriage. Abelard sent Heloise to live at the convent where she grew up, and her enraged uncle, thinking Abelard abandoned Heloise, castrated him. Both then took religious vows. The letters that they wrote to each other in the time following are an interesting, spirited read. Heloise is fascinating, openly writing about her love of Abelard and inability to commit to a religious life. This is from the Third Letter:

During Holy Mass itself,
when prayer should be its purest,

unholy fantasies of pleasure so enslave my wretched soul
that my devotion is to them and not my prayers.

But in every circumstance throughout my life,
as God knows well,
I have feared an offense against you
more than any offense against him,

and I have sought to please you more than him.
It was your command, not love for him, that brought
me to put on this habit of religion.

Though circumstance separated Abelard and Heloise in life, they’re likely* buried together in France.

*More on that from the always reliable Wikipedia.

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