Books in the Family | What We’re Reading

This week, LJ/School Library Journal staffers are in a family way, reading about acting dynasties, hand puppets, losing a sibling, strained marriages, even a family curse.

RedgravesMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I’m still making my way through The Redgraves: A Family Epic by Donald Spoto (Crown Archetype). Though this is certainly an unconventional family (Michael Redgrave’s male lovers were an accepted part of family life, and his wife, actress Rachel Kempson, had a longtime paramour, actor and director Glen Byam Shaw), it’s also an insanely talented one, and one that’s difficult to write about without an enormous amount of name-dropping. Vanessa Redgrave has just given birth to daughters Natasha and Joely—though her husband, director Tony Richardson, is currently pursuing Jules et Jim actress Jeanne Moreau. Yowzer!

Popular CoverLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
It’s very crowded on my reading table (and Kindle) these days; many in-progress reads scattered hither and yon, including Teenage by Jon Savage (Penguin) and a juicy nonfic about Hollywood’s ultimate no-tell hotel, the Chateau Marmont (more on that next week). Right now,  I’m concentrating on finishing up Popular: A Memoir; Vintage Wisdom for a Modern Geek by Maya Van Wagenen (Dutton). I mentioned the book a few weeks ago—I’m reviewing it for SLJ. The middle-school-age author applied the “wisdom” of an 1950s teen etiquette book to her 21st-century life. She seems very perceptive and sweet and she writes about her family in such a way that you want to meet them all.

Here’s an excerpt from Van Wagenen’s chapter about her history of making new friends in school:

When I started preschool at four years old, I had no friends. In fact, my closest companion was my mother’s hand puppet called “Meep-Meep.” It wasn’t even an actual puppet, it was just Mom’s fingers opening and closing like a mouth. But her hand became so cramped that she enlisted Dad to put an end to it.
“Where’s Meep-Meep, Daddy?” I asked.
“Meep-Meep went to live with her sister, Maude. She’s not coming back. Don’t look for her.”

blackapertureKathy Ishizuka, Executive Editor, SLJ
I’ve been toting around Matt Rasmussen’s slim volume, Black Aperture (Louisiana State Univ.), revisiting these poems. It’s a collection based on a single event, the suicide of the poet’s brother. Rasmussen’s loss is far distant in time—decades, a reader can guess, since the young man shot himself. But the immediacy of the event for the living is felt in detailed observances that are excruciating and beautiful, and both real and imagined.

The subject and treatment resonate with me, given the loss of my own brother though in different circumstances—absent the violence, but no less sudden and troubling, and also many years ago. Shifting the perspective of time, most purposefully in the poem “Reverse Suicide,” Rasmussen conveys the alternate reality of the grief experience, the fantastic reimagining of the unimaginable, the gloom that arises unexpectedly. But in a gifted artist’s hands, the work transcends mere elegy and beauty resounds.

Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’ve been a fan of Molly Wizenberg’s writing for years—her blog, Orangette; her first book, A Homemade Life (S. & S.); and whenever she’d turn up between the pages of a magazine I was reading. So I was delighted to learn that she had a new book coming out this spring. Delancey: A Man, a Woman, a Restaurant, a Marriage (S. & S.) is about the restaurant (also named Delancey) her husband opened soon after they were married, how it all came together, and her feelings along the way (SPOILER ALERT: they were not always positive).

Dain CurseWilda Williams, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
How can you resist a crime novel that includes mysterious cults, cocaine-addicted young women, and a high body count? Dashiell Hammett’s The Dain Curse makes absolutely no sense, but I’m loving the insanity. It’s as if Hammett wrote it in a drug-induced haze, or a drunken stupor. The book was published in 1928 (Grosset & Dunlap), and it’s good to see the Golden State hasn’t changed much:
They brought their cult to California because everybody does, and picked San Francisco because it held less competition than Los Angeles…They didn’t want a mob of converts: they wanted them few but wealthy.

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