Dark Tales, Crime Stories, Rereads | What We’re Watching, Reading—and Weeding

The WWR gang at LJ/School Library Journal keep expanding our interior spaces figuratively and literally, with book reading, book weeding, and little TV watching.

The lockdown continues, but the “What We’re Reading & Watching” gang at LJ/School Library Journal keep expanding our interior spaces: figuratively, with forays into organized crime, 1950s noir, Houston neighborhoods, German villages, and “difficult conversation” guidebooks; literally, with a big book clear-out by SLJ & Horn Book Production Manager Julie Sheridan, go Julie! Make way for more books!

Mahnaz Dar , LJ/SLJ

Once again, I'm immersed in all things Mafia! I found a copy of Peter Maas's Underboss: Sammy the Bull Gravano's Story of Life in the Mafia in my building lending library. After having read about John Gotti's rise and decline, I figured it was time to learn a little more about the man who helped bring down the Dapper Don. So far, it's had a few surprises—Gravano enjoyed stints in the army and in beauty school (granted, that was mostly a scheme to score unemployment checks) before making his bones and joining the Gambino Family.

braccia Soprano bookI'm also wrapping up my Sopranos rewatch. Sadly, all good things must come to an end. Luckily, when it comes to The Sopranos, there's plenty of ways to extend my passion. I'm immersed in Nick Braccia's Off the Back of a Truck: Unofficial Contraband for the Sopranos Fan , which offers all the listicles, hard-hitting essays, and fun trivia any devotee could desire, and more. Plus, the Talking Sopranos podcast continues; I especially loved a recent episode, in which costume designer Juliet Polcsa did a guest interview. Clothes really do make the man—Polcsa discussed how she gave lead actor James Gandolfini a too-tight outfit to wear for a scene where he has a fight with his unstable mistress, which ramped up his irritation and resulted in an even more passionate scene.

Liz French , LJ

My tastes in reading are going through changes lately. I used to like the dark and gritty crime stories, but nowadays I can’t take too much grimness and despair—at least not in print form. For some reason, it’s easier to endure existential angst when it’s a good (or even bad) 90-minute serving of noir, hosted by the “Czar of Noir,” Eddie Muller, on TCM’s Noir Alley. Eddie—I like to call him Eddie, that’s his name—always provides thoughtful intros and outros. His commentary focuses more on the writers and producers of the films than the usual TCM spots do. Maybe that’s because he’s a writer as well as a film preservationist (and lately, bartender—he’s been hosting his segments from his home bar of noir). Eddie also delves into the politics of the times, and that often causes his fans to squawk on Twitter and Facebook.

Tamirat Parking Lot Attendant coverSince crime fiction doesn’t suit right now, I plan on venturing into more literary regions with Nafkote Tamirat’s 2018 debut , The Parking Lot Attendant, which a fellow book club member sent me in a holiday book exchange last year. Trading the grit for lit am I! But I’ll be back in my front-row seat for the next installment of Noir Alley.

Kiera Parrott , LJ/SLJ

Jonah Berger Catalyst coverI’ve been reading/listening to a variety of books simultaneously. When I go out walking in the morning, I often listen to an audiobook. I just finished James Lindsay and Peter Boghossian’s How To Have Impossible Conversations, which was incredibly practical, eye-opening, and timely. The focus isn’t on debating or changing people’s minds, necessarily, but about establishing habits and strategies for engaging in deep dialog, active listening, and modeling the type of curiosity and respect needed to talk about things that so often shut down communication. Now I’m listening to Jonah Berger’s The Catalyst: How To Change Anyone’s Mind, which might sound diametrically opposed to the philosophy expounded in Impossible Conversations. Still, I’m fascinated with how and why people change their viewpoints and beliefs.

On the fiction front, I’m about halfway through Hilary Mantel’s The Mirror and the Light, her capper to the Tudor trilogy that began with Wolf Hall. I’m savoring every gorgeous turn of phrase and desperately awaiting Mark Rylance and company’s return for the second season of the BBC adaptation. I’ve also started a work of science fiction that’s been on my to-be-read list for a long time: Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem. It’s a work of alternative history set against the backdrop of China’s Cultural Revolution, in which an alien species prepares to invade the Earth. It’s smart and weird and totally mind-bending.

Speaking of totally mind-bending, is anyone else obsessed with the Netflix series Dark? The third and final season just came out, and I inhaled it! It’s a German series about a small town where several families’ lives and histories are inextricably bound together. There are a ton of characters, and the action takes place over multiple timelines and over more than 150 years. The plot is intricate and hard to follow. I’m confused more often than not and have to read recaps and subreddit threads to untangle everything that’s happened each episode. But it’s SO GOOD. If you like the darkness at the heart of Twin Peaks, the heady twists of The OA, the thrilling sci-fi action of Stranger Things, and the epic scope of Game of Thrones, this is for you.

Lisa Peet , LJ

Bryan Washington LOT coverI recently finished up Bryan Washington's short story collection Lot, a 100 percent random pick from my groaning shelves—it was one of the books I had read three-quarters of when I was judging LJ's Best Books last year, and I suddenly remembered that it had been really good, so why not finish it? And then when I started reading I decided I might as well start over from the beginning to get the full effect, since the stories are ever-so-slightly linked—many involve the same narrator and his family, and all take place in different neighborhoods of Houston. And I'm glad I did because it's a great collection, just what I was in the mood for, a vivid and affecting window onto a place and population I wasn't acquainted with before. One of the reasons I read fiction in the first place is to visit lives unlike my own—when it's done well it's like traveling, eye-opening and engaging (travel being something I'm in short supply of these days). Washington's writing swings from rough to smooth, bluff to sweet (but never maudlin, no matter how harsh a picture he's painting), with a great dose of compassion floating beneath the surface at all times. Very good collection—unpredictable, satisfying, kind. (Also: Washington had a piece in the June 8/15 New Yorker, "You Miss It When It's Gone," that might have made me cry a little.)

Julie Sheridan , SLJ

I haven’t really been reading or watching lately; rather, I’ve been weeding!

Motivated by Kiera Parrot’s tips for organizing my home library, I’ve cleared out at least 150 pounds of nonfiction books for donating and recycling!

Like so many other people, I thought that throwing away books was wrong. I mean, I’ve definitely donated books to charities over the years, but to actually throw away books!?!?!? It just seemed wrong! Then again, I had a lot of books that contained out-of-date information (especially that 1990 edition of the Physicians' Desk Reference!). So into the paper recycling bag they went!

I pulled many of those self-help, creativity, exercise, inner peace, and Darwin Awards books I had bought decades ago with good intentions and packed them up for donating to a local church’s yearly book fair. I pulled the “Hunger Games” and “Divergent” series, as well as many other children’s books that are no longer needed, wanted, or useful to my 18-year-old twins, and packed them up for Brooklyn Book Bodega, a charity that gets books into the hands of kids without books. (I am keeping my several Nancy Drew books, though! Never giving those up!)

I felt so much lighter! My scale didn’t agree, of course, but I don’t like that scale much anyway. And that was just the nonfiction bookshelf! I have two more bookshelves waiting for weeding. In addition to almost all fiction books, those shelves hold old DVDs and VHS tapes (I mean, c’mon, am I going to watch anything that is on those tapes?). I’m going to be merciless. Fiction is especially hard. Regarding those Dickens and Austen classics I hadn’t read yet: will I really ever get to them? If one day I decide to finally read anything in particular, there are always libraries.

I’m looking forward to letting go of more things that I felt were supposed to be kept, but in actuality were cluttering up my home and mind. I can’t wait!

Julie's bookshelf newly cleanedNo “before” picture, but my “after” picture. Top shelf: my baseball books as well as memorabilia; second shelf: food topic books; third shelf: cookbooks (yayyyyy!), fourth shelf: homekeeping on the left, music on the right. I still need to organize some other books by topic, which I am deciding on now.)



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