Learning from the Past | What We’re Reading

Time to go to prison, read to the kids, rumble with the Socs and Greasers, and pick a family with the School Library Journal/LJ staffers this week.

Orange Is the New BlackMahnaz Dar, Associate Editor, Reviews, SLJ
I just finished reading Orange Is the New Black (Random), Piper Kerman’s memoir, which spawned the Netflix original series of the same name—and which I’m loving! Kerman’s book isn’t quite as good as the TV series (the author’s not quite as self-aware as the TV show’s creator and show runner, Jenji Kohan, who uses the series to gently mock the protagonist’s sense of privilege), but it’s still an interesting read.
As usual, this prompted me to do some binge-reading of the Internet, such as a New Yorker piece about neglect at a prison where parts of season two of OITNB was filmed, New Yorker pop culture critic Emily Nussbaum’s analysis of the show (and Louie!), the New York Times “Modern Love” column that Kerman’s now-husband, Larry Smith, wrote about the situation in 2010, and an interview at Rookie with Laverne Cox, who plays Sophia Burset, a transgender hairstylist. Go, Orange!

Lucky UsFrancine Fialkoff, Library Consultant/Editor, LJ
Amy Bloom’s latest novel, Lucky Us (Random), which I just finished reading, lives up to all its hype, including BookExpo America’s Librarians Shout ‘n’ Share and the August LibraryReads. It’s short, funny, powerful—set in pre– and post–World War II, an era I’m fascinated by, mostly in L.A. and Great Neck, NY, with a smidge of London and Germany. It’s structurally intriguing as well, with longer reminiscences from younger sister Eva interspersed with snippets and letters from other leading characters—older sister actress Iris, smart, tough-minded Gus. I love the description in LibraryReads: “Is a family something you are born to, or the people who you find along the way.” In this case, it’s a fascinating amalgam, with much more of the latter. I totally agree with Janet Maslin (she reviewed it for the New York Times), who said the perfection of its first sentence will become a staple of high school English classes: “My father’s wife died. My mother said we should drive down to his place and see what might be in it for us.”

The OutsidersLiz French, Senior Editor, Reviews, LJ
I’m traveling in the past again, as I often do. This particular past is my coworker Kate’s: I’m reading what she calls her “seventh-grade copy” of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders (Puffin). Can you say “late to the party?” That’s me. Of course I’ve heard lots of good things about The Outsiders, which Hinton wrote when she was 16 (it shows, but charmingly), and Francis Ford Coppola made into a movie in 1983 (panned at the time, it’s become a cult classic, starring a lot of future biggies like Matt Dillon, Tom Cruise, Diane Lane, C. Thomas Howell, Ralph Macchio, Rob Lowe, and Patrick Swayze).

I’m betting most of you who read this column already knew this. I’m trying not to be adult-scrutinizey-critical while reading the book, but sometimes I have to put it down for a bit, take a wee break. Then I start missing it and hop on back into Outsiderland. Next I’m going to check out the movie—Kate mentioned an outdoor screening in a New York park this month. Maybe after that I’ll see if she has an “eighth-grade” copy of Hinton’s other classic, Rumble Fish (also made into a Coppola film, also a big cult fave—but you knew that, didn’t you, rumblers?)

The Hello, Goodbye WindowEtta Verma, Editor, Reviews, LJ
My portion of this column should be called “What We’re Reading, and Rereading, and….” My three-and-a-half-year-old son has latched onto (the luckily wonderful) The Hello, Goodbye Window (Hyperion) with text by Norton Juster (The Phantom Tollbooth) and images by Chris Raschka (a Caldecott medal winner for A Ball for Daisy). The book follows a little girl’s stay at her grandparents’ house, where the kitchen window introduces all kinds of delights—through it, you can say hi to Nanna and Poppy before you even get into the house; you and Poppy can make funny faces at your reflection in the window when it’s dark; and you can see who’s coming to visit. Henry, for some reason, is fascinated by the picture of the queen who’s one of the visitors, and we turn to that page again, and again, and….

As well as enjoying the sweet story, and of course the cuddle time allowed by bedtime reading, working parents will appreciate the subtle but reassuring message that even when Mommy and Daddy go to work (which they do at the beginning of the book), they come back (near the end). This book has more text per page than many picture books, and I’m finding it a good transition work for my son, who up till this obsession was only willing to sit still for shorter titles. And it’s so beloved in our house that my turning-ten-this-week daughter is even enjoying overhearing the rereadings, as it was a favorite of hers when she was the same age (sniffle).

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