Traveling Booklandia | What We’re Reading

We’re inspired by maps and Travellers, music and muses, Italian wives, everymen in danger, and magical realism vs. scientific worldbuilding this week.

Wonderful TonightMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, School Library Journal
I’m reading Wonderful Tonight: George Harrison, Eric Clapton, and Me (Three Rivers) by Pattie Boyd (with Penny Junor), a memoir of the woman who married George Harrison and later Eric Clapton and who inspired three of the greatest rock and roll love songs of all time: “Something,” “Layla,” and “Wonderful Tonight.”








SuspicionLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
Latecomer Liz here: I was all set to write about my newest obsession, Downton Abbey—anybody hear of this obscure show they’ve got on the telly?—and how I’m reading the World War I parts of Jon Savage’s Teenage (Penguin) as counterpoint. But then Joseph Finder got me, boy did he get me! I meant to just dip in to his May 2014 release, Suspicion (Dutton), for the subway ride to work. But he snared me good with the story about Danny Goodman, a hapless and impoverished writer who borrows money from The. Wrong. Guy. to keep his daughter in a very expensive school. Then, quicker than you can say “rabbithole,” our boy is in the soup. Once the money is in his account Danny’s tracked down by DEA agents who force him to spy on Mr. Wrong Guy, who just happens to be the money man for a very, very bad drug cartel. We’re talking “cut up your snitches with a chainsaw” bad.
Finder writes very convincingly from an everyman’s (or Goodman’s) point of view. He also knows how to twist and turn a plot and keep you guessing. I haven’t finished reading Suspicion yet but I suspect I’ll be twisted and turned a few more times before the conclusion—and that I’ll love every minute of it.

An Italian WifeBarbara A. Genco, Special Projects Manager, LJ
I’m reading a fascinating, sensual, and almost hypnotic multigenerational immigrant historical with a literary intent: Ann Hood’s An Italian Wife, coming out in September from Norton. It’s not as ham-handed as Howard Fast’s “Lavette Family” series, which began with The Immigrants; or Mario Puzo’s brutal Godfather books. The early sections of An Italian Wife reminded me of Puzo’s early, deeply affecting The Fortunate Pilgrim (1965). I have long enjoyed Hood’s writing and this one does not disappoint!





Meredith Schwartz, Senior Editor, News & Features, LJ
I just finished Messenger (Laurel Leaf) by Lois Lowry and am about to begin Son, the conclusion of the series that started with The Giver. I’ve enjoyed the books but I haven’t found them as moving as I think I would have if I’d read them as a young adult, the age they are intended for, before I’d read so many other dystopias and sf and fantasy novels that I start picking at the mechanics of the worldbuilding instead of just going with it. In a way, Lowry’s style is more like magical realism. These strange things happen, generations of memories that are physically transmissible, gifts that can foretell and change the future, markets in which you can trade your empathy away. The characters know they’re strange—it is not that everyone in their world takes these things for granted—but they just accept them. They’re not passive—they risk and sacrifice to change problematic political or social implications—but they’re not scientific. So far, at least, they never dig into why the phenomena work the way they do or why they don’t work in other ways.

Henrietta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
Africa mapI’m officially on a cartography kick. I’m reading Michael Blanding’s The Map Thief (Gotham), which investigates the story behind the arrest of E. Forbes Smiley III for stealing rare maps from institutions such as Yale’s Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library. The details on old, mostly early American maps and the connection to librarianship both have me hooked. At the same time I’m dipping into Hans Ulrich Obrist’s Mapping It Out (Thames & Hudson), an upcoming collection of images by artists who all have plenty to say, most of it using maps. Check out the creation at left, which shows the enormity of Africa, a vastness that’s hidden from popular knowledge by the vagaries of the Mercator projection—China, India, the United States fit into the continent with room to spare! Lastly on maps: over the weekend I also read Robinson Meyer’s “How To Make a Map Go Viral,” an Atlantic article about my new favorite cartographer, Nik Freeman.

Irish TravellersCartography unrelated: I’m also reading Sharon Bohn Gmelch and George Gmelch’s excellent Irish Travellers: The Unsettled Life (Indiana Univ. Pr.), which covers the couple’s experiences as husband-and-wife anthropologists who lived with and studied the same group of nomadic families in the 1970s and again in 2011. The book is rich with photographs that depict a life that’s largely hidden from Irish society; I was saddened to see a photo of a Traveller family and realize that (the first 22 years of my life in Ireland notwithstanding) it was the first time I had seen a Traveller smiling.


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