Running, Listening, Versing, Rhapsodizing, + Celebrating Sophie Hannah | What We’re Reading

This week, the LJ/School Library Journal and Junior Library Guild staffers are revving up their engines for a poetry-infused “What We’re Reading” column—look for that next week. In the meantime, we are immersed in free-verse YA, listening to audiobooks, sliding through doors, judging a book by its cover, and getting inspired to both run and write. Plus we query author Sophie Hannah, her publicity team, and a few other lunch guests about the books they’re into.

lionelshriverpostbdayMahnaz Dar, Assistant Managing Editor, LJS
I recently picked up Lionel Shriver’s The Post-Birthday World (HarperCollins). Shriver has been one of my favorite authors ever since I read the devastating and gripping We Need To Talk About Kevin. Though The Post-Birthday World is far less disturbing in subject matter, it’s no less trenchant. This time, Shriver weaves a tale of infidelity and its repercussions. A sort of literary Sliding Doors, the novel presents two alternative realities. In one, Irina, a children’s book illustrator in a long-term relationship, gives in to her passions and has an affair with Ramsey, a famous snooker player and longtime friend. In the other, cooler heads prevail. It’s a fascinating work, made even more enjoyable by Shriver’s sharp observations:

Still, there had been certain evenings like this one, when she would be ushered into a young man’s car. The feeling was not of being attractive precisely, but rather of not having to entertain. It was breathtaking: to be ensconced in another person’s company, yet to be relieved of the relentless minute-by-minute obligation to redeem one’s existence—for there is some sense in which socially we are all on the Late Show, grinning, throwing off nervous witticisms, and crossing our legs, as a big hook behind the curtains lurks in the wings.

RothPierpont.AmericanRhapLiz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
I’m not sure what I think about Claudia Roth Pierpont’s American Rhapsody: Writers, Musicians, Movie Stars, and One Great Building (Farrar), which I’m reviewing for LJ Reviews lit editor Amanda Mastrull. It sure has a glittering cast of characters. I first imagined it was going to be a collection of pieces by such performers and writers as Nina Simone, George Gershwin, Dashiell Hammett, and Marlon Brando, all discussing that “one great building,” the Chrysler spire in midtown Manhattan. Silly me! I saw the cover, a crisp black-and-white photo of the Chrysler Building, and jumped to the wrong conclusion. It’s actually essays by New Yorker staff writer Pierpont about those people (and others) and that glorious structure. The lesson here? Don’t judge a book….

girlontrain102114Molly Hone, Editorial Assistant, JLG
I may be the last person on earth to join the audiobooks-are-great club, but better late than never! My new obsession is listening to digital audiobooks offered through my library, and right now I’m engrossed in The Girl on the Train (Books on Tape) by Paula Hawkins—another club I’m late to. The story is as intriguing, mysterious, and thrilling as I heard it was, and I am starting to love the immersive experience of hearing a book, especially this one—the three readers, Clare Corbett, Louise Breally, and India Fisher, do an excellent job. I also have to wonder, after being taken through so many of the eponymous girl’s train rides, if there’s a narrative somewhere in my own commute by bus.

WhenWeWasFierceKiera Parrott, Reviews Director, LJS
I just finished reading the ARC of When We Was Fierce by e. E. Charlton-Trujillo [yes, that capitalization is correct]. A YA novel in verse, it tells of 15-year-old Theo, who lives in a rough inner-city neighborhood where gang warfare is ever looming. Theo’s a bighearted kid who cares deeply about his friends, family, and community. But choosing a nonviolent path in the wake of such devastating violence wears on him. What struck me about this book is the language—the lyrical prose reminded me of Shakespeare, with its pulse and rhythm that’s also reminiscent of slam poetry. There’s a raw energy and honesty in Charlton-Trujillo’s writing that got me right in the gut. The novel has been likened to S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, and I think that’s a fair comparison—though this is special in its own way. Charlton-Trujillo recently returned from a year on the road meeting with teens and conducting workshops around the country, field-testing the book on the youth with whom she met along the way. I cannot wait for more readers to get their hands on this work.

HarukiMurakami.RunningHenrietta Verma, WWR emerita
I recently read Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (Knopf). Before I comment on the book, I must give a shout-out to the Astoria Bookshop, in Queens. I asked one of the assistants in my new favorite haunt to order this title, and her colleague shouted “Oh!” dropped her lunch, and ran to the shelf to get the book. She also told me about other Murakami nonfiction that I didn’t know about and that’s on my list for next (Underground: The Tokyo Gas Attack and the Japanese Psyche).

What I Talk About is about Murakami’s life as a runner and a writer (but more as a runner). The two endeavors satisfy similar urges for him: competitiveness and perfectionism. The quirky author’s thoughts on completing marathons, triathlons, and one ultramarathon, as well as the creation of hefty novels are beautifully and honestly expressed and will leave readers wanting to both exercise and write.

What Sophie and friends are reading











Recently, my colleagues Barbara Genco, Barbara Hoffert, Rebecca Miller, and I attended a lovely luncheon (please say that in your best English accent) for British author Sophie Hannah at a restaurant so close to LJ headquarters we almost could’ve rappelled in. Sophie (it feels weird to call her “Hannah” after chatting with her so much) was in New York to promote her May 2016 release, A Game for All the Family (Morrow), a stand-alone psychological thriller. She told us how an unusual incident involving her 13-year-old daughter’s school chum (and the chum’s “deeply sinister” mother) gave her the initial idea for the novel. She also talked about her dog, a Welsh terrier named Brewster, British telly vs. American TV, politics and politicians, and which movie adaptations of books she liked. So naturally I had to ask her and the other guests my favorite question. Here’s what they’re reading.

Sophie Hannah, author, A Game for All the Family; the Agatha Christie “Hercule Poirot” reboot, The Monogram Murders
Thanks to the popular docudrama Netflix series Making a Murderer, Hannah is now obsessed with true crime. She particularly enjoys the legal technicalities and “geeky” aspects of courtroom narratives such as Arizona prosecutor Juan Martinez’s Conviction: The Untold Story of Putting Jodi Arias Behind Bars (Morrow) and Florida prosecutor Jeff Ashton with Lisa Pulitzer’s Imperfect Justice: Prosecuting Casey Anthony (Morrow).

Danielle Bartlett, publicity director, William Morrow
She’s already read the galleys for Hannah’s upcoming “Hercule Poirot” mystery, Closed Casket, which Morrow will publish in September. Bartlett does read other publishers’ title; she recently enjoyed Paul Kalanithi’s posthumous memoir, When Breath Becomes Air (Random) and Elizabeth Little’s twisty thriller, Dear Daughter (Viking).

Jennifer Dayton, collection development manager, Darien Library, CT
Dayton’s keeping it local, reading the Connecticut-set thriller All Is Not Forgotten (St. Martin’s) by Connecticut-based author Wendy Walker. Another recent read is Curtis Sittenfeld’s Eligible: A Modern Retelling of Pride and Prejudice (Random). Dayton was surprised at how much she enjoyed the novel, since, as she put it, “I don’t like Austen and I don’t like Sittenfeld.”

Melissa DeWild, director, BookOps, Brooklyn Public Library & New York Public Library
Longtime treasured LJ fiction reviewer DeWild shared her enthusiasm for nonfiction with Nathalia Holt’s Rise of the Rocket Girls: The Women Who Propelled Us, from Missiles to the Moon to Mars (Little, Brown).

Kathy Gordon, director of brand development, HarperCollins
Early reader Gordon also raved about Hannah’s Closed Casket, adding that she also likes the newest Dorothea Benton Frank novel, All Summer Long (Morrow), which releases in May, and Paulette Jiles’s News of the World, historical fiction due out from Morrow in October 2016.

Kaitlin Harri, director of marketing, William Morrow
Another early reader heard from! Harri is excited about the untitled winter 2017 release from suspense author Peter Swanson, and Bond Girl author Erin Duffy’s women’s fiction Lost Along the Way (Morrow, July).

Beth Ives, senior marketing manager, HarperAudio
Ives is relishing the new Joe Hill title, The Fireman, as narrated by Kate Mulgrew (HarperAudio). She also thought comedian/actor David Spade “killed it” when he read his own memoir, David Spade Is Almost Interesting (HarperAudio).

Nora Rawlinson, cofounder & editor,
Rawlinson is married to an Italian, so she’s been thoroughly immersed in Katherine Wilson’s Only in Naples: Lessons in Food and Famiglia from My Italian Mother-in-Law (Penguin Random), even though her hubby is Sicilian, not Neapolitan.

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