Time Machines, Human Beings, Wimpy Kids, Wives | What We’re Reading

School Library Journal/Library Journal staffers confront scary monsters both real and imagined, wimpy kids, wives by the boatload, preconceptions, and murder this week. Tune in and see what we’re reading! 

cabinSarah Bayliss, Associate Editor, News & Features, SLJ
With my son home sick and rereading the entire “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” series (Amulet), I’ve been revisiting the excellent misadventures of antihero Greg Heffley, sidekick Rowley, and their merry (?) gang. Seasonal incident from Cabin Fever (bk. 6, 2011): Greg is hired to clear snow from a neighbor’s driveway and decides to save himself some time by melting the snow with a sprinkler, resulting in a sheet of ice.
I heard that author Jeff Kinney originally saw an adult audience for these books, and really, it’s unfair for them to be relegated to the kids’ section. Comic relief especially welcome during flu/Arctic vortex season.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
This week finds me reading not books…but the media! Somehow, 1992 is repeating itself, and Woody Allen and Mia Farrow are the hot topics of the day. There have been tons of articles about the allegations that Allen molested his adopted daughter Dylan, now 28, at age seven. Among the pieces of note: Dylan Farrow’s open letter in the New York Times on Nicholas Kristof’s blog, describing the alleged incident; Woody Allen’s recent New York Times op-ed responding to the letter; Robert Weide’s defense of Allen in the Daily Beast; a Salon piece on the nature of abuse allegations in general; and a Slate piece on the issue of trying a case in the court of public opinion. It’s been a busy week.

abcLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
Books are my time machine. I so love reading about fashions and décor of the past, not to mention old movies (film being one of my most treasured nonfiction “beats” as a book review editor at LJ). Right now I’m wallowing in the Seventies, browsing through The ABC Movie of the Week: Big Movies for the Small Screen (Rowman & Littlefield) by Michael McKenna. For those of you who are too young to remember, the ABC Movie of the Week (aka “MOW”) was a genre-changing phenom of the 1970s. Starting with one a week (then progressing to biweekly, then even more frequently), the network aired original 90–minute, made-for-TV movies that often addressed issues of the day. A lot of famous stars and directors were involved in these MOWs, including Steven Spielberg (Duel), Hal Holbrook and Martin Sheen (who played lovers in 1972’s That Certain Summer), William Shatner, Hope Lange, Andy Griffith, Tom Bosley, Ida Lupino, James Caan, Karen Black, Michael Douglas, Lee J. Cobb, and many others.
Many of the MOWs became pilot episodes for series: The Night Stalker and its sequel The Night Strangler morphed into a short-lived but excellent series starring Darren McGavin as a rumpled tabloid reporter hunting down possibly supernatural baddies. Kolchak: The Night Stalker* wasn’t on long, but it became a cult favorite, influencing X-Files creator Chris Carter when he was a youngster. So thank you for that, MOWs! And thanks (I guess) for pilots of The Six Million Dollar Man and Starsky and Hutch as well.

*Oh noes! Just read a Forbes newsbyte saying Johnny Depp bought the rights to Kolchak and is contemplating a big-screen remake. Wasn’t Dark Shadows reboot enough?

nooneAmanda Mastrull, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
This week I finished Kathleen Hale’s No One Else Can Have You (HarperTeen). A colleague here in the LJ/SLJ office told me how much she loved the novel, so I intercepted a spare copy on its way to the general freebie shelf. The story begins just after Kippy Bushman’s best friend Ruth is found gruesomely murdered in the cornfield by Kippy’s house in Friendship, WI. The inept local police immediately pin the crime on a convenient suspect, which prompts Kippy to channel her inner Nancy Drew (though she’d no doubt much prefer a comparison to her idol Diane Sawyer), and she starts searching for answers in this strange, wonderful book. It’s a great read by debut author Hale, who combines a murder plot with dark humor and small-town Midwestern satire. You betcha I recommend it.

rivermanKiera Parrott, Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I’m about halfway through The Riverman (Farrar) by Aaron Starmer and I’m completely enveloped by this world. Imagine some of the kids from Freaks and Geeks and their daily struggles just to make it through junior high. Then throw in a fantastical world called Aquavania where time is funny, kids with true imagination can create anything they want, and a deeply villainous entity called the Riverman is murdering them one by one. This is the story that confronts likable slacker Alistair. He’s trying to determine if the wondrous and terrifying tales that his friend Fiona tells him are real or if they are a cry for help from a truly troubled girl. This young adult novel is more than a mystery/fantasy/coming-of-age story. Interwoven through Starmer’s narrative are deeply philosophical questions about the nature of truth and the veracity of memory. I’m not sure where it’s going, but I can’t put it down.

drunkMeredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I’m reading Drunk Tank Pink and Other Unexpected Forces That Shape How We Think, Feel, and Behave, by Adam Alter (Penguin). It’s an accessible and fascinating summing-up for a lay audience of research on how environmental stimuli and cultural cues we don’t even consciously notice can significantly influence our behavior: from blue lights reducing crime to yin-yang logos leading us to predict more changes in the weather and the stock market, as well as some more disturbing effects of lingering unconscious racism, sometimes with deadly consequences. It also addresses cultural differences and how not everyone reacts the way those raised in WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and Democratic) societies typically do. I’m particularly enjoying those moments when I mentally question the causal reasoning presented, only to find a page or two later that the experimenter had the same caveat and ran another test to check. Yay scientific method!
It’s making me want to design follow up experiments like mad, and I can already feel the specific information slipping out of my brain, to be replaced by a vague general sense that little things would make a big difference if only I could remember which ones and how. But those are problems with me, not the book. So far my only minor quibble is that footnotes or notes at the end of the chapter would be more useful than pages of endnotes ganged up at the back of the book: I hope they’ve added hyperlinks in the text itself to the ebook version.

wivesEtta Thornton-Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
Yesterday I finished Alice LaPlante’s A Circle of Wives (Atlantic Monthly). Like her Turn of Mind, it has a neat ending twist, and is compelling, but I preferred that book. Wives features its own interesting characters—three spouses of the same man, who meet for the first time at his funeral, and the female detective who becomes obsessed with investigating the man’s death. But the main character in Turn of Mind, a woman with Alzheimer’s who doesn’t know whether she committed murder or not, was the best depiction of mental illness from the sufferer’s point of view since Sylvia Nasar’s A Beautiful Mind, and absorbed me that much more. Next up is some nonfiction: I’m reviewing Gillen D’Arcy Wood’s Tambora: The Eruption That Changed the World (Princeton Univ., May) for LJ, so will be reading it with my post-its and pen in hand.

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