Summer Begins | What We’re Reading

It’s the first week of summer, and the LJ/School Library Journal crew meets new and old friends, explores diverse voices in nonfiction and fiction, and waits gleefully for horrible things to happen.

Let's Just Say It Wasn't Pretty Mahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
This weekend I took a break from reading about my favorite guy, Woody Allen, to read about one of his leading ladies: Diane Keaton! Her new memoir, Let’s Just Say It Wasn’t Pretty (Random), which tackles her uneasy relationship with her looks, is fun going so far. (And so easy to relate to—who among us can say we don’t hate our noses?)
I also reread a classic work of suspense, Ira Levin’s A Kiss Before Dying (S.& S.). It’s not Rosemary’s Baby, but it is captivating: a far more intense and speedily paced An American Tragedy by Theodore Dreiser. (Or, to bring it back to Woody, very much in the vein of Match Point.)

So We Read OnLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
I haven’t enjoyed being schooled so much since I took that bartending class. This course is So We Read On: How The Great Gatsby Came To Be and Why It Endures (Little, Brown, Sept.) by Maureen Corrigan. She’s the book critic for NPR’s Fresh Air, a big-cheese prof at Georgetown University (literature and “resident critic,” sounds like a great gig!), author of Leave Me Alone, I’m Reading, and now, this superb, erudite guide to all things “Gatz.” Her enthusiasm for the novel is so infectious and the writing is nimble and amusing but also academic and wide-ranging, it’s galvanized me to pick up F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Gatsby again to see if I’m ready for it this time (high school was a long time ago and let’s face it, Mr. Ahern was no Maureen Corrigan!).

The Birth of Korean CoolBarbara Genco, Manager, Special Projects, LJ
I am really having lots of fun with Euny Hong’s The Birth of Korean Cool: How One Nation Is Conquering the World Through Pop Culture (Picador, Aug.). I had hoped to have had an ARC before BEA—for the sixth annual Shout ’n  Share—but this was surely worth the wait!
If you weren’t at LJ’s 2014 Day of Dialog, you missed Stephen Morrison’s (VP, Publisher, Picador: Macmillan) observation that “What is really special is Hong’s voice—bright and funny like Sarah Vowell or Margaret Cho.” I could not agree more! (Here’s more coverage of the editors’ panel as blogged by LJ editor Wilda Williams). Hong is a funny and uber-snarky observer and is as clever as clever can be. This is essentially a book of linked essays that goes down easy and is often laugh-out-loud funny and as spicy and memorable as the best homemade kimchi.

Long HiddenGuy Gonzalez, Director, Content Strategy & Development, LJ
The year 2014 has been one of the short read for me so far, as I’ve had little time or inclination to dig into any of the books on my ever-growing TBR pile. But with diversity becoming the hot topic du jour recently, a few titles have surfaced that have grabbed my attention and are demanding to be read. One of them is the short story anthology, Long Hidden: Speculative Fiction from the Margins of History (Crossed Genres, 2014), edited by Rose Fox and Daniel José Older, which was birthed via a successful Kickstarter campaign and has sparked some compelling discussions about diversity, and the lack thereof, in genre fiction. As a longtime fan of speculative fiction who has yearned for stories that look beyond the standard Eurocentric stereotypes, this collection scratches a seriously frustrating itch and is introducing me to a number of authors I’d likely not heard of otherwise.

Broken Monsters Stephanie Klose, Media Editor, LJ
I’m about a fifth of the way into Broken Monsters (HarperCollins), Lauren Beukes’s beautifully written follow-up to The Shining Girls. Set in Detroit, this story of strange, brutal murders is told through the point of view of a goodly number of characters—police officer Gabi Versado; her teenage daughter, Layla, whose idea of a good time is trying to entrap online pedophiles with her best friend; homeless man TK; frustrated artist Clayton; and jaded blogger Jonno, who came to Detroit to document the rise of creativity in the midst of picturesque decay but has gotten derailed along the way. There’s a sense of creeping dread at this point in the story; horrible things are going to happen but it’s not clear where or when to whom.

The Children ActEtta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
This weekend I read a book I’ve been dying to get my hands on—Ian McEwan’s The Children Act (Nan A. Talese: Doubleday), whose central character is a judge who must decide whether a 17-year-old observant Jehovah’s Witness can be forced to undergo a blood transfusion against his and his family’s wishes. The book touches on obsession, a theme central to McEwan’s Enduring Love, and the agonies of a difficult marriage so cringingly described in his On Chesil Beach. I enjoyed the story, but given that McEwan is one of my favorite authors, and the clash of science and religion a topic I, as an atheist, follow with zeal, I didn’t fall head over heels for it as I thought I would. It’s still excellent, possibly the best I’ve read this year, though, the two books mentioned above just spoiled me (especially On Chesil Beach).

The Ocean at the End of the LaneAshleigh Williams, Editorial Assistant, SLJ
In preparation for the Gaiman’s highly anticipated multimedia event at Carnegie Hall this Friday, June 27, I’ve put some of my assigned reading on hold to read Gaiman’s The Ocean at the End of the Lane (HarperCollins, Jun.). As usual, I hadn’t the foggiest what was going on for the first 20 pages, and then I was sucked into this eerie, wonderful world. It’s still early days in this cryptic adventure, told by a grown man as he relives a shocking childhood experience involving a dead man, a pond, and a strange girl named Lettie. The novel is cloaked with a sort of dark whimsy—the magic is beautiful, tangible, and real but so is the imminent danger lurking at the sidelines.


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