Books of Oz, Movies, Marketing, & More | What We're Reading

The intrepid WWR team circles the globe and/or adjusts the armchair this week.
This week the "What We're Reading" crew from LJ/School Library Journal took some trips to Australia—armchair and real—as well as to a science lab, Anne Shirley's Island, the Jim Crow South, behind the scenes at a museum, Indiana, the wilds of New York City and Jersey City, a postnationalist future, and to the movies. Come fly with us, or at least sit with us as we share what we've found in our TBR piles and in those of our colleagues to read. AnneIslandKate DiGirolomo, SELF-e Community Coordinator Netflix recently announced it was picking up a new Anne of Green Gables miniseries, about which I am cautiously excited. Of course, the news means that it's time for my annual reread! I know I've talked about the beloved Anne Shirley on many occasions for WWR, but there are truly not enough kind words to be said about the dreamy redhead or the joy she's given me through the years. Whenever I pick up L.M. Montgomery's series I'm most excited to get to Anne of the Island, which sees our heroine starting her academic life at Redmond College and ends with her beautiful words to my first literary crush, the ever-reliable Gilbert Blythe: "I don't want sunbursts and marble halls. I just want you. You see I'm quite as shameless as Phil about it. Sunbursts and marble halls may be all very well, but there is more 'scope for imagination' without them. And as for the waiting, that doesn't matter. We'll just be happy, waiting and working for each other—and dreaming. Oh, dreams will be very sweet now." labgirlLiz French, Senior Editor, LJ Reviews I was in Indiana most of last week and took Hope Jahren’s Lab Girl (Knopf) with me. Scientist (geobiologist) Jahren's first book is a witty, well-written memoir, recommended for her  prose, sense of humor, candidness, and sidekick Bill. Bill comes on the scene pretty early. He follows Jahren everywhere, helping her set up labs on campuses across the country. He’s her second banana, her Sancho Panza (or Cisco Kid, or Robin to her Batman). She finds him on a field trip/project, where he’s the only one besides her who seems to give a damn. The two outsiders bond. She quotes Jean Genet; he smokes cigarettes and cracks wise (and profane). Here’s a bit of their “getting to know you” banter. “Assembly lines depress the shit out of me. The town where I grew up had miles of them,” I said, rubbing my hands and shuddering at the secondhand memory of my brother’s gory third-grade field trip through the slaughterhouse. “Actually, they were more like disassembly lines.” “Did you ever work in the factory?” Bill asked. “I was lucky, I went to college instead. I moved out of my parents’ house when I turned seventeen.” I spoke cautiously, modulating my urge to trust him. “I moved out of my parents’ house when I was twelve,” Bill replied. “But not far, just into the yard.” I nodded, as if this was the most perfectly normal thing in the world. “Was that when you lived in a hole?” “It was more of an underground fort. I put carpet and electricity in it and everything.” He spoke offhandedly, but not without shy pride. “Sounds cool,” I said, “but I don’t think I could sleep in a fort like that.” Bill shrugged. “I’m Armenian,” he said. “We’re most comfortable underground.” I didn’t realize it at the time, but he was making a dark joke about his father, who as a child had been hidden in a well during the massacre that had killed the rest of his family. Later, I came to know that Bill lived pursued by the ghosts of his macabre ancestors, and it was they who continuously pressed him to build, plan, hoard, and—above all—survive. “Where is Armenia? I don’t even know,” I asked. “Most of it isn’t anywhere,” he answered. “That’s kind of the problem.” dressmakerBarbara Genco, Collection Management Editor, LJ I was going through my collection of but-I-still-really-really-want-to-read-these ARCs over the weekend, seeking something both delicious and diverting and was thrilled to discover that I still had The Dressmaker (Penguin) by Rosalie Ham. Originally published in 2000, this Australian import is the novel behind the new Kate Winslet/Judy Davis romantic revenge/comedy set in the 1950s fictional town of Dungatar, Australia. After 20 years abroad Tilly (aka Myrtle Dunnage), the bastard daughter of Mad Molly Dunnage, determines that she must return to the suffocating little town and both take her declining Mum's health care in hand and get a little of her own back. A much-bullied ugly duckling child, Tilly is now a ravishing New Look­–inflected swan (complete with an exquisite fashion sense honed in French couture workrooms) and the social skills required to lay out a generous banquet of revenge for more townsfolk than I can begin to enumerate here. I am loving it so far! The movie trailer for the film (opening in the United States in September) holds out the hope of hot sex with a dishy local football hero. outsideinmarketingGuy LeCharles Gonzalez, WWR emeritus Before heading off for vacation a couple of weeks ago, I devoured and dog-eared Outside-In Marketing: Using Big Data To Guide Your Content Marketing (IBM) by James Mathewson & Mike Moran, an insightful, pragmatic guide that delivers on its subtitle and is a must-read for anyone involved in marketing in any capacity. Content marketing is all the rage right now—representing everything from the future of advertising to the death of journalism—but Mathewson and Moran move beyond the hype and offer practical solutions to take advantage, effectively and sustainably, of the deluge of data that businesses can benefit from (including *cough* publishers and *cough* libraries). It's an excellent complement to Kristina Halvorson's foundational Content Strategy for the Web (New Riders, 2012) and sits very comfortably next to my personal marketing bible, The Cluetrain Manifesto by Rick Levine and others (Basic, 2000). Atkinson.behindmuseumDaryl Grabarek, Senior Editor, SLJ I recently discovered­ I hadn’t read all of Kate Atkinson’s books, including her first, Behind the Scenes at the Museum (Picador), which made a splash back in 1996. Lots of our DNA is pretty obvious—in our height, our eye color—but this book had me thinking long about emotional DNA and how the residue of events in our families’ past—events we are often largely ignorant of—trickles down through the generations. The book follows a matriarchal line, that, I think it’s fair to say, you wouldn’t have wanted to be born into. Ruby Lennox's story is front and center, from her conception (detailed) and birth in 1951 through the 1990s—with the lives of her family's earlier generations woven in. After reading Museum I picked up Atkinson’s When Will There Be Good News? in the SLJ/LJ giveaway pile. I’m not sure who to thank for that book, but with a 2008 pub date, I suspect it was sitting on someone’s TBR shelf for a while. It’s the third in Atkinson’s “Jackson Brody” (sort of) mystery series about an empathetic, flawed ex-cop who’s smart though not particularly self-aware—basically someone who is always getting in his own way. Atkinson is a marvelous writer no matter which genre she chooses to work in and allows us into characters’ heads in a way that only she can. Good News was just the book to ease me into my vacation reading pile. lovecraftcountryTyler Hixson, Editorial Assistant, SLJ I just finished Matt Ruff’s Lovecraft Country (Harper), a chilling look at Jim Crow America with some Lovecraftian monsters thrown in, which is exactly as interesting as it sounds. The story takes place in the 1950s and follows Atticus Turner, an African American, twentysomething army veteran, who learns his father has gone missing. He, his Uncle George—the editor of The Safe Negro Travel Guide—and his childhood friend Letitia, set out on a road trip to New England to find him. Clues lead them to the mansion of Samuel Braithwhite, who, it turns out, is grand sorcerer of the Order of the Ancient Dawn and is holding Atticus’s father hostage as bait. Atticus is a shocking part of a complicated ritual, and even though they all escape, the Order of the Ancient Dawn keeps after them, unleashing all sorts of ghosts, voodoo, and monsters. In stark contrast to the beasts and ghouls are the actual villains of the story: white people. Ruff describes at length how racism is the real monster of the story. At the beginning of the novel, Atticus is pulled over by a policeman, handcuffed to his car while it’s searched, and has his property stolen, all because he is black. Lovecraft Country offers an uneasy look at racism; even though we like to think that it isn't as bad today as it was back then, many of the incidents that happen to Atticus and his family still occur today. It's a wicked interesting read for someone who likes the campy, pulpy horror that the book is based on, but it also has a dead-serious undertone that grabs you by the back of the neck, shoves your face in it and says, “Look at this. Ghosts and magic and time travel don’t exist, but monsters definitely do.” undergroundrr.whiteheadRebecca Miller, Editorial Director, LJS Just back from my family trip to Australia, complete with visits to several libraries, I am now deep into a particularly devastating era of U.S. history as I read Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad (Doubleday), which follows the flight of Cora as she seeks freedom—“Sixteen or seventeen. That’s where Cora put her age.” Interestingly, my son (nine) has been borrowing the book from me for moments, drawn to know what I am reading and by his interest in this history made vivid to him so far in the many series available to him—but most especially Nathan Hale’s “Hazardous Tales” books, which he asks me to read in tandem with him. Among them: The Underground Abductor: An Abolitionist Tale About Harriet Tubman (Amulet). Important conversations follow. More levity comes in the form of The 78-Storey Treehouse by Andy Griffiths, illustrated by Terry Denton (Pan Macmillan Australia), given to the kids by an aunt as we departed Australia. Hailed by The Sydney Morning Herald as having “beaten records to become the fastest ever-selling Australian book, according to Australia's two biggest book retailers,” it was amusing us for the long flight and beyond—thank you, Aunty Vic! NightfilmKiera Parrott, Reviews Director, LJS One of the editors must have been housecleaning a few weeks ago because I found an ARC from 2013 on the office give-away shelves. I usually restrict my weekend reading exclusively to prepublication titles, but this one looked too intriguing to pass on. Marisha Pessl’s Night Film (Random) is the dark and twisty tale of an investigative journalist trying to uncover the mystery behind the death of a 25-year-old former music prodigy who also happened to be the daughter of a reclusive and controversial horror filmmaker. Set in New York, the story takes readers from the cozy West Village to Chinatown to posh Upper East Side pied-à-terres to a sprawling—and goosebump-inducing—country estate. The closer the protagonists get to answers, the murkier and more surreal becomes the journey. Pessl (Special Topics in Calamity Physics) alternates chapters with found photographs, documents, website images, and other multimedia elements, lending the narrative an appropriately fragmented feeling. It’s a whopper of a book at almost 700 pages, but I sped through it in two days. A great read if you like quirky thrillers—just read it with the lights on. ghostsbergenctyLisa Peet, Associate Editor, News & Features, LJ Last week, I read a great under-the-radar book—well, under my radar, anyway, until a friend with similarly eclectic taste recommended it. Dana Cann's Ghosts of Bergen County (Tin House) is a tale of loss, grief, dysfunction, addiction, and the paranormal, which is, if you can believe it, quite charming. The setup at first is deceptively one kind of book: it's pre-recession 2007, and the late-thirtysomething cast of characters, most of whom grew up in the same suburban New Jersey town, cross paths in New York. Everyone's in finance and everyone's got secrets, including some well-portrayed drug habits. Then there are ghosts, both the metaphorical and literal types—the latter handled with enough dignity not to aggravate any of my woo-woo allergies, which was a good thing. Then it becomes something else entirely. The story line had enough surprises to keep me absorbed, scoring extra points for that there-but-for-the-grace-of-the-higher-power-of-your-choice feeling of having narrowly avoided being someone who still lives in an East Village walk-up with a garbage bag taped over the bathroom window. Enjoyable and recommended. If you happen to be movie-going, I highly recommend Hell or High Water, though it's not getting a superwide release—maybe just by virtue of not being a summer blockbuster, because it's terrific. Imagine Cormac McCarthy and Alice Munro collaborating on a short story—all the muscular little plot twists are internal and character driven, and it's nicely pared down: four characters, one story. Jeff Bridges is fabulous. palmer.toolightningMeredith Schwartz, Executive Editor, LJ I'm close to 100 pages from the end of Ada Palmer’s Too Like the Lightning (Tor)—my library ebook ran out and I’m back on the holds list again (sung to the tune of Steve Winwood’s “Back in the High Life”). So far, I’m intrigued by the postnationalist governmental structure and a most unlikely antihero (I think—can’t say more without spoilers), though I wish that South America and Africa had more of a role in the otherwise global culture. While I’m impatiently waiting to find out how it ends—hopefully before the sequel, Seven Surrenders, comes out in February—I'm about to start V.E. Schwab’s A Gathering of Shadows (Tor).      

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