Isolation Consolation | What We’re Reading, Watching, Doing

The LJ/School Library Journal and Junior Library Guild staffers, joined by special guest author Caroline B. Cooney, talk about their corona comfort reads and watches.

The LJ/School Library Journal and Junior Library Guild staffers, joined by special guest author Caroline B. Cooney, enter another week of homebound life (for most of us) armed with books, videos, online experiences, and digital library cards.

Caroline B. Cooney, author of Before She Was Helen (coming out in September from Sourcebooks)

I’m rereading stuff in my personal library because our local library’s closed, reading mostly series books, such as the "Miss Marple" mysteries by Agatha Christie, Daniel Silver’s series, and P.G. Wodehouse’s "Jeeves & Wooster" books. Plus, I’m going back to Laura Ingalls Wilder’s “Little House” books, because they lived through all sorts of disasters and they came out OK.

Mahnaz Dar, LJ/SLJ

Predictably, I'm continuing to immerse myself in the history of organized crime. What's that? There is no Mafia? Not according to my sources! I'm reading John H. Davis's Mafia Dynasty: The Rise and Fall of the Gambino Family, a detailed look at one of the most famous of the Five Families. There's the good (in scenes straight out of The Godfather II, Carlo Gambino listens patiently to requests from the residents of Little Italy, knowing one day he'll ask them to return the favor), the bad (the ruthless Albert Anastasia, head of the family before Gambino, ruled with an iron fist before meeting a grisly end in his favorite barber shop), and the ugly (do you want to know how Lucky Luciano got that scar?).

When it comes to what I'm watching, it's pure guilty pleasure—I'm enjoying the latest season of Jersey Shore Family Vacation. Although perhaps I shouldn't count that as guilty; cast member Michael Sorrentino is, following a short stint in federal prison for tax evasion, doing good work. He recently partnered with the New Jersey government to create a PSA pushing people to stay home to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

I'm also looking forward to another upcoming reality show; next week, MTV will air the first episode of Families of the Mafia. Set on Staten Island, it centers on family members with ties to organized crime, including Karen Gravano, daughter of Sammy "the Bull" Gravano, the Gambino underboss whose testimony in 1992 got boss John Gotti put away. Looks like I've come full circle!

Liz French, LJ 

Book cover for now and againOne upside to all this blasted coronavirus houseboundness is the chance to cook and get creative when some more exotic ingredients aren’t readily available. I’m usually pretty free-form as a cook anyway, but when I fall into a rut, I turn to cookbooks for inspiration. Oh yes, I also google recipes and follow some food blogs, but I’m lucky to have a hard copy of Julia Turshen’s wonderful, inventive cookbook, Now & Again: Go-To Recipes, Inspired Menus + Endless Ideas for Reinventing Leftovers, the title of which says it all. I’ve already incorporated several recipes into my repertoire, but the other night I made rice pudding following her “What To Make with Leftover Cooked Rice” recipe. I would like to rechristen it “hurry up and use the milk in the fridge before it goes bad.” A rice pudding by any other name is just as sweet, I’m happy to say.

Barbara Hoffert, LJ

Book cover for Dune SongWhat am I reading? Anissa Bouziane’s Dune Song, a forthright, engaging story of a Moroccan American woman who leaves New York after the shattering (and prejudice-inducing) experience of 9/11 and returns home to heal, though ostensibly she is tracking the incidence of human trafficking in her country of origin. The narrative reminds us in these parlous times that Americans tend not to believe that bad things can happen until they do. And on a more personal note, the protagonist’s New York apartment is a block from mine, and she, too, eats at the Hungarian Pastry Shop on Amsterdam Avenue and listened to the bells of St. John the Divine as 9/11 unfolded. That sense of identity as New York closes shop was a comfort.

Susan Marston, JLG

My son Sam and I have been sharing my e-library account since he was a little kid. He meant to connect his own library card before he left for college, but it’s turned out to be a fun reason to be in touch. I had the audiobook of Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston on our “shelf” because I had read 100-plus pages last year but hadn’t had time to finish it. Sam asked about it, and I sold him on the fun premise—the son of a female U.S. president and the prince of England have a secret romance. The day before he came home for “spring break,” he jokingly texted a quote of some colorful language from the book, saying he couldn’t believe his mom recommended it to him. I reminded him of the time we were taking turns reading Fallout by Todd Strasser aloud together while I was considering it for JLG. In that riveting story set in 1962, an American family builds a bomb shelter, where they take refuge after Soviets deploy a nuclear bomb. There is a scene in the book where the main character’s friend recommends that if he wants to see bare boobs, he should walk in on his mom while she is undressed. I faltered reading that aloud to young Sam and instead handed him the page to read to himself—something Sam “definitely remembered, LOL.” And Sam’s final thoughts on Red, White & Royal Blue? “It’s enjoyable...and cool that it examines real issues.” I have the audiobook on hold again, so I can finally finish it.

Lisa Peet, LJ

I’m still reading Wolf Hall. Not a big surprise, I guess—in this new normal everything else (uncompartmentalized work, heightened levels of checking in with friends, a new regimen of daily outdoor time) has extended insidious tentacles into what were my reading hours, and I’m finding I have to actively steal it back wherever I can.

So, no better time to start a second book! This past Sunday, my longtime book friend (and LJ freelance writer) Amy Rea organized a loose reading of Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, the idea being that the story takes place in one day and we’d do it in real time, commenting on social media using the hashtag #SunDalloway. For most folks taking part it was a reread, but I had somehow never read it before, though I had a copy—an ancient Harbrace Modern Classics edition that was my mom’s in the 1940s or 1950s, given her first married name on the flyleaf. Which is probably why I didn’t finish it either—Woolf takes close, close attention, especially the first time with a book. Her sentences are so precisely, complexly structured, and if you miss or misread a word, the whole thing falls apart and you have to go back and piece it all together. But the rewards are large—reading Woolf is like some marvelous ride where you can never see around the corner until you get there—and I loved it, even if I didn’t come close to finishing in a day. For one thing, I can see what Hilary Mantel owes Woolf when it comes to that swooping multiple point of view that darts from one character to another, burrows in incredibly tight, and then soars elsewhere. Mantel uses it so well in Wolf Hall; as a writer I cannot imagine having the balls to even try. And Mrs. Dalloway’s setting resonates, too—not London, but the fact that the characters have just emerged, somewhat shell-shocked, from a World War and a pandemic. The characters have changed from their ordeal, and at the same time the world has changed out from under them. They are working hard to preserve their respective status quos, yet under the surface they’re stunned, appreciative but disoriented, slightly breathless. And there but for the grace of 100 years go we, I think.

Meredith Schwartz, LJ

I’m reading At Amberleaf Fair by Phyllis Ann Karr, a book that author Jo Walton recommended on because nothing bad happens in it! Just about my speed at the moment. Continuing my animation kick from last week, I have been watching Steven Universe Future.

Anja Webb, LJ/SLJ

This week I’ve been obsessing over Sara Berrenson’s Watercolor: The Easy Way. Like I mentioned last time, I’m focusing on honing my skills in watercolor, and this guide seems to be the best I’ve read so far. Its tutorial on jellyfish was peak—I ended up creating a precious little aquatic blob, and I loved every second of it. I’ve also been reading Hirofumi Neda’s My Hero Academia Smash!!, a humorous spin-off of the hit manga and anime My Hero Academia. This manga includes the most adorable chibis of fan favorites and fanciful extra content including gender swaps of main characters. In terms of gaming, I’ve been hunkered down with my copy of Harvest Moon: Light of Hope, because who couldn’t use a little hope these days? Something about planting special crops and raising virtual farm animals just brings a smile to my face. The game is enriched by fantasy elements such as harvest sprites, a harvest goddess, and even a gem sprite. All of this has helped to beat the boredom and provide a little bit of joy these days!

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