Checking In, Going Out, Reading All Night | What We’re Reading

Since spring has almost sprung, a lot of the LJ/SLJ staffers have been going out more—to documentary screenings, films, museum shows, and the like. Some of us are enjoying the stories behind our multimedia experiences; some of us are reading with family members; others are worrying about the robot uprising; one editor is happy to savor an age-appropriate book for a change.

SagaIan Chant, Associate Editor, News, LJ
I just finished the latest volume of Saga (Image), the serial sf epic from writer Brian K. Vaughan and artist Fiona Staples, and am thoroughly blown away. Vaughan, the multiple Eisner Award–winning scribe behind comic classics like Y, The Last Man, and Pride of Baghdad, uses the backdrop of a millennia-old, galaxy-spanning conflict to ask a simple question: How do we make a family? Saga is funny, sweet, exciting, occasionally brutal, and often poignant as it pokes and prods the edges of the family unit, offering glimpses into the lives of an expectant robot father, new parents on the run from two armies, and a bounty hunter looking for a new lease on life. In illustrating a world where technology and magic are at war with each other and characters range from a smart-aleck ghost babysitter to an anthropomorphized seahorse in middle management, Staples and Vaughan, like L. Frank Baum or J.R.R. Tolkien, have brought to life a fantasy world so fully realized that nothing, no matter how incredible, seems out of place for a second. Three volumes in, Saga is living up to its title—a story of cosmic scope told at a human scale, peopled by fantastic creatures that never once ask you to suspend your disbelief.

Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, School Library Journal
This week, inspired by several fascinating documentaries, I’ve been reading some excellent long-form journalism! After finally seeing Salinger, I sought out Joyce Maynard’s Vanity Fair piece from 1998 in which she reflects on her time with the reclusive author of The Catcher in the Rye, J.D. Salinger. Here’s one of my favorite excerpts, “Jerry” on food:

“I want to teach you about this diet of mine,” he says. Cooking food robs it of all the natural nutrients, he explains. Not only that: refined foods like sugar and white flour—even whole-wheat flour, honey, and maple syrup—take a very heavy toll on the body. Although he has served me cheese, dairy products are also a bad idea, especially if they’re made from pasteurized milk, which has, after all, been heated above 150 degrees, the temperature at which crucial nutrients are destroyed, he says.
Jerry has developed a particular technique for preparing meat. First he takes the special, organic ground lamb he buys at the health-food store and forms it into patties, which he freezes. He believes this will kill whatever bacteria might be there. Then he cooks them, but only at a temperature of 150.*

Similarly, after watching A Fragile Trust, a documentary on notorious former journalist Jayson Blair, who plagiarized and made up facts entirely during his tenure at the New York Times, I came across a fascinating Atlantic Monthly piece** by former Times executive editor Howell Raines, who left the publication in the wake of the Blair scandal. This is Raines on the concept of termination at the paper:

At the Times, as at Harvard, it is hard to get in and almost impossible to flunk out. All this was certainly a surprise to me, coming as I did from highly competitive, strictly supervised papers in Atlanta and St. Petersburg, as was the fact that the motivation and energy of the staff were so low. Hiring mistakes are rarely shown the door at the Times, and the paper can be stuck with them for years. After a probationary period of fourteen weeks would-be staff members get tenure for life. In one famous case a supervising editor missed the fourteen-week deadline for dismissing an unproductive newsroom staffer. The supervisor told the staffer that surely he did not want to stay, on account of a technicality, where he was unwanted. The employee disagreed, said he could live with that, and is still there a quarter century later.

* Read the entire Joyce Maynard Vanity Fair piece here.

** The Atlantic Monthly Howell Raines article is here.

Life at the MarmontLiz French, Associate Editor, Reviews, LJ
My latest guilt-free pleasure—I don’t have no truck with this “guilty” stuff—is the dishy Life at the Marmont: The Inside Story of Hollywood’s Legendary Hotel of the Stars—Chateau Marmont (Penguin), by former Chateau Marmont co-owner Raymond Sarlot and Fred E. Basten. This is a 2013 rerelease of the 1987 book, complete with updates and more photos. This book doesn’t whitewash, but it definitely does play favorites. One thing I really like about it is the reminiscences and backstories of staffers, some of whom were big stars in the hotel’s orbit and considered friends and confidantes by Hollywood’s brightest. The chapters are loosely compiled—there is a chronology, but there are also themed chapters. Here’s a bit from the Oscars-themed chapter about frequent guests at the hotel who did not win the treasured gold statuette:

Margaret Herrick never won an Oscar either, but she reportedly named it her first day on the job at the Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences, when she saw the statuette and quipped, “Why, it looks like my uncle Oscar!”* Herrick, who founded the Academy’s world-famous research library (later named after her), and subsequently became a powerful Academy figure, checked into Chateau Marmont on August 22, 1951, to wage a scorching alimony battle against her husband of five years, baby-food executive Philip A. Herrick. At the time, she vowed that she would never return to their once-happy home—and she never did.

*[I always heard that movie star Bette Davis “named” Oscar because his derriere supposedly looked like one of her ex-husband’s—lf]

knownTrev Jones, Editor-at-Large, SLJ
After 30 years of reading mainly children’s and YA books as SLJ’s book review editor, I’m having a field day with my freedom to read adult books. I loved Jean Hanff Korelitz’s You Should Have Known (Grand Central). Grace, a marriage counselor, is convinced that women already know the potential problems in a relationship but tend to ignore them because of love—and then are surprised when their husbands behave as they do. Grace is married to the man of her dreams, has a wonderful life—until she is totally shocked by a chilling turn of events. Murder, betrayal, and new beginnings make for a riveting read. I read a review in the Times, got the book immediately, and read it in one sitting. Just couldn’t put it down. I’m also hooked on Christopher Fowler’s “Peculiar Crimes Unit” series and have to pick up the new one at the library tonight.

Robot UprisingsMeredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News, LJ
I am in the middle of two books. First, Jaron Lanier’s Who Owns the Future? (S. & S.), as mentioned in a previous What We’re Reading. Then when my brain is full and I need to go read something completely different while I process, my change of pace is provided by Robot Uprisings, ed. by Daniel H. Wilson and John Joseph Adams (Vintage). Come to think of it, they’re not so thematically unrelated after all: Robot Uprisings is, among other things, about our fear that our mechanical creations will no longer need us, out perform us, and render us obsolete. Lanier is both demonstrating the way that appears to already be happening economically, and then showing the man behind the curtain—that in fact, they are still relying on value created by humans, it’s just that it is being created in such small increments by so many humans that we’ve gotten away with not paying for it.

Llama Llama Red PajamaEtta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m always terrified that my three-year-old son will suddenly stop liking reading, so whenever he enjoys a book, I grab on with both hands. Over the weekend he mentioned that he and his (boy!) friends like Anna Dewdney’s Llama Llama Red Pajama (Viking). I couldn’t find our copy, so we instead read the pales-in-comparison Llama Llama Zippity Zoom (Viking). While Henry loves cars, and he’d normally like a vroom, vroom, zippity-zoom kind of book, it didn’t resonate with him like the beloved story of being worried after you go to bed and Mama is gone…forever? I think at lunchtime I’ll have to go to our local, fab secondhand bookstore, Housing Works, and see if they have a copy of Red Pajama, as well as one of the book my nine-year-old wants to be the inaugural pick in our mother-daughter book club: E.B. White’s The Trumpet of the Swan, which she has read but I have not.

The Little PrinceAshleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
This weekend, I had a chance to visit the fantastic exhibit, The Little Prince: A New York Story at the Morgan Library & Museum. Exploring the puzzling, whimsical world of Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, from his dedication to the war effort to his inherent ambivalence toward adulthood, rekindled my curiosity. I was eager to reread The Little Prince (Houghton Harcourt) for the first time since college French class. As our tour guide said, it’s difficult to determine the purpose and the intended audience of this brief tale. Is it a children’s book? The illustrations and the language are simple and yet some of the concepts presented—the importance of friendship, the pathetic absurdity of “adult” concerns, even the notion of death as a return to one’s origin—are very mature indeed.

Letters from an Unknown Woman and Other StoriesWilda Williams, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
Having just seen Wes Anderson’s The Grand Budapest Hotel, I picked up a copy of Stefan Zweig’s Letters from an Unknown Woman and Other Stories (Pushkin Pr., 2013) because Anderson has acknowledged that the Austrian author had influenced his latest film. I was familiar with Zweig’s name but had never read his work. The title story is a haunting and heartbreaking masterpiece of unrequited love in which a successful novelist receives a letter detailing a love affair with a woman he doesn’t remember. This became the basis for Max Ophuls’s 1948 film starring Joan Fontaine and Louis Jordan, which I have now added to my Netflix queue. The three other tales are equally mesmerizing, so now I am eager to learn more about the man who was once one of the world’s most successful and widely translated writers and who committed suicide with his wife in 1942 in Brazil after fleeing the Nazis. On my to-read list is George Prochnik’s forthcoming biography The Impossible Exile: Stefan Zweig at the End of the World (Other Pr., May).

Pastoralia: Stories and a NovellaKurt Yalcin, Bookroom Assistant, LJ
Nothing beats reading short stories about dystopian societies while on a malfunctioning subway train. George Saunders’s Pastoralia: Stories and a Novella (Riverhead) is a collection of bite-sized tales that makes my life, hiccups and all, seem like a blessed one. In the titular piece, “Pastoralia,” humans are hired to act like cavemen for the amusement of a higher class, while the protagonist in “Winky” attends a motivational self-help seminar to muster all the strength he needs to take control of his life. The characters find themselves in desperate situations made even more miserable by their annoying roommates or caveman companions. I’ll take my closet of an apartment in New York City any day.


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