You Say You Want a Resolution | What We’re Reading & Watching

February is nearly upon us, and still we’re talking about New Year’s resolutions and other ways to chase away the winter blahs. After reading SLJ Reviews Manager Shelley Diaz’s fantastic feature “25 Authors for Teens Share Their 2018 Writing Resolutions,” I decided to “borrow” the idea and ask the “What We’re Reading (& Watching)” team if they had any reading resolutions for 2018. Then the library Internet exploded with #shelfieday, and I asked readers to send in a shelfie with their blurbs. We’re extending the day into the next week and beyond, showing off our book collections, turning off our devices, ranging further out of our zones, and reading more. How about you? Got any suggestions for reading resolutions or historical and/or sf titles to help WWR alum Etta Verma bust out of her reading rut? 

Liz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews
As my gym/exercise resolutions, er, dissipate, I look toward reading and watching resolutions for another shot. Watching-wise, I think a little more discernment is in order, or as my mother would say, “Turn that idiot box off and go read a book! ” (I also resolve to watch more “Noir Alley” movies on Turner Classics just for host Eddie Muller’s amazing intros). Reading-wise, I want to expand out of my comfort zone of dark mysteries and suspense and books about or set in the 1930s and 1940s. A step in that direction is a reissue of a mordant speculative fiction novel by critic, satirist, and African American journalist George S. Schuyler, Black No More (Penguin Classics), written in 1931 and set around that time. So it’s partly still in my safety zone but also not.

Schuyler’s big “what if”: What would happen if all the black people in America turned white? His answer is scathing, sometimes humorous, and occasionally horrifying, especially during a lynching scene. Suffice to say that Schuyler, an equal-opportunity hater, thinks humans will still be horrible to one another and find new ways to discriminate. His worldbuilding skills aren’t as polished as his satirical skills—the names of characters alone are hilariously hateful—but the book is a swift and stinging indictment of racism that still rings true more than 80 years later.

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez, WWR/W Emeritus
I weeded my bookshelves at the beginning of the year, partly to get organized, but mainly to surface the way-too-many books that caught my eye over the past few years and then faded into the shelves as video games, podcasts, and TV have dominated my free time. I made one reading resolution this year, to put away my phone on the commute home and read something, whether a book, magazine, or long-form online article. News and social media don’t count.

I’m currently reading Mary Pilon’s The Monopolists (Bloomsbury), the surprisingly fascinating herstory of the board game Monopoly and its unheralded creator, Lizzie Magie, whose vision of the game would become co-opted over time, eventually embracing that which it originally critiqued: “It’s a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all of its usual outcomes and consequences.” One hundred pages in, it’s kind of a low-key thriller introducing all of the chief players, including Quakers, Atlantic City, the Great Depression, and good old-fashioned capitalist greed.

Daryl Grabarek, Senior Editor, SLJ Reviews
While much of my reading is SLJ- and committee-related—fiction and nonfiction by authors of children’s and YA lit—I’m determined to make a dent in the endless piles of adult books and magazines at home. So far so good. I’ve managed to finish significant chunks of the last three issues of The New Yorker, and Sally Rooney’s really smart Conversations with Friends (Hogarth: Crown), breaking a recent avoidance of novels about millennials. Next up is Lisa Ko’s The Leavers (Algonquin). I think it has helped that I’m simultaneously working on taming my TV news addiction, which, no surprise, began in 2016. Ask me how I’m doing in in December.

Tyler Hixson, WWR/W emeritus (Brooklyn P.L.)
I have finally hopped on the Goodreads bandwagon and created a 2018 reading challenge for myself: finish an average of a book a week. I’ve read seven so far (putting myself ahead of schedule) and have only disliked one of them. Most recently I finished a book I never would have picked up if it hadn’t popped up in my Goodreads recommendations: Barry Hughart’s Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was (Del Rey: Ballantine). It tells the story of Number Ten Ox, the tenth son of a farmer, who hires Master Li Kao—who has a slight flaw in his character, as he repeatedly tells Ox—to cure the children of Ox’s village, who have mysteriously been poisoned.

Ox and Li’s travels take them all over medieval China in search of the Great Root of Power—the only known thing that can cure this particular type of poison. They encounter such characters as Henpecked Ho (a brilliant scholar who is in constant fear of his 500-pound wife), Ma the Grub (an odoriferous man who keeps interrupting their travels), and my personal favorite, Cut-Off-Their-Balls-Wang (the head of a ruthless group of thieves). Along the way, they discover that the only way to cure the children is to solve a 1,000-year-old mystery that involves immortals, gods and goddesses, labyrinths, and ghosts. Ox and Li must rely on all sorts of trickery to make it out alive.

In a story so whimsical and funny, Master Li goes to all lengths to keep plowing forward, whether tricking a miserly old man to buy a goat that poops gold to staging the murder of a self-centered, snobby woman to make it look like an accident. The villains (there are many) are so outrageously horrible that when they meet their demise, you cheer. Master Li is my new literary hero. Hughart’s blend of authentic Chinese lore and his own fantastical inventions is wonderful, and will have readers wishing that this ancient China actually existed. Also, the ending is most surprising and beautiful.

For those who are interested, The Exorcist is next!

Lisa Peet, Associate Editor, LJ
My reading resolution for 2018 is simple: read more of what’s on my shelves and in my ereader already, as opposed to buying new books, picking up attractive ARCs, adding to my library holds the moment something catches my attention, or impulsively one-clicking on the ebook deals of the day (and catch up on my New Yorkers). One month into the new year and I have mostly failed at this, including failing twice on the same book. Earlier in January, I had two library holds come in at the same time, one ebook and one print. I read the ebook first. But by the time I finished the first, Lesley Nneka Arimah’s What It Means When a Man Falls from the Sky (Riverhead), a terrific debut story collection ranging from realistic to sf to mythology, the second, Joan Silber’s Improvement (Counterpoint) was due. What to do? Guilt battled with desire for a couple of hours, until Improvement popped up in one of the many ebook bargain e-newsletters I subscribe to, deeply discounted. I told my boss that I had to make an emergency library run and returned the print version. (Other than the serendipity of that, there’s also the joy of working in a place where “emergency library run” is a totally valid reason to duck out of the office for 20 minutes.) So: Improvement was a double fail, but for the record it was really good. Silber uses beautiful declarative sentences to paint a whole mural of a story, and how she does it is entertaining and very sweet. This is a morally decent novel, and God knows we need more of those right now. And now I’m going to go back to reading what I own, at least until one of my five current library holds comes in.

Meredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ
I am not a resolution person, but I’m reading Joshua Palmetier’s Shattering the Ley (Daw), which is so far the winner of the Spoilers in the Title Award of my personal book collection. I’m on page 113 and so far the ley energy network is just fine.

 

Henrietta Verma, WWR/W Emerita
Lots of times when I read a book that I wouldn’t have chosen myself, I’m pleasantly surprised and sometimes blown away by a new voice or different genre. This year, I’ve told myself that I’ll read reviews of books that I don’t normally gravitate toward. For me, that means historical fiction and sf. I’ve failed so far, because I haven’t had any time for personal reading this month yet. But I’m trying to skip the guilt trip. I hope people will chime in in the comments section below on what great historical fiction and sf I should try once I get off the work treadmill. Thanks in advance!

 

 

 

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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

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