Friday, November 27, 2015

Booknote: Part of Our Lives

Wayne A. Wiegand, Part of Our Lives: a People's History of the American Public Library. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780190248000. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: library science, history, Americana
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

I will be honest and say that I had much higher expectations for this book. If you are a halfway well-informed librarian with some knowledge of library history, you probably know a lot of what this book presents already. The book can be very repetitive at times. At times, it does show some clear biases, and at other times I can't help but wonder what sources the author missed or chose not to include. I found myself making a lot of notes as I read, commenting and responding to much of what the author wrote, so for this booknote, I will focus on those notes instead of writing a more formal review.

For those of you who need a bottom line: The book was mostly OK. I would consider it an optional purchase for libraries. I do not see this book as one for general readers. It's the kind of book that library schools would buy for their libraries; some public libraries may wan it, but as I said, I see this as optional. I can tell you that I do not plan to purchase for my library unless some patron requests it.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Reading notes:

What the author claims the book does:

"This book is an attempt to bolster this soft data by tracing the American public library's history--not so much by analyzing the words of its founders and managers, but mostly by listening to the voices of its users" (11). 

On reading the next passage, I can't help but wonder what the author did not uncover, or did he really miss the many trolls and whiny right wingers that do protest libraries and its contents? I mean, just the various book challenges alone provide some proof. However, later on, the author does reveal some apparent bias against ALA (American Library Association to my non-librarian readers), which while I am no fan of ALA, it does have an Office for Intellectual Freedom that keeps track of that kind of thing (and they are not the only ones to do so):

"But another fact struck me as I mined these databases--there is a relative lack of complaints about and protests against these libraries. By its eloquent silence, that absence strongly supports the conviction Americans have always loved their public libraries" (12).

Why Americans love their public libraries (when they are not bitching about books they dislike or engaging in Internet porn hysterics):

"History shows that the reasons Americans have loved their public libraries fit into three broad categories-- for the useful information they made accessible; for the public spaces they provided; and for the power of reading stories they circulated that helped users make sense of phenomena in the world around them" (12).

I find that also interesting in the sense that today library space (especially ways to reshape that space) seems to be a hot topic in the profession, and yet, even back when libraries were starting out, there were various discussions and arguments on space and its use.

We like to think this is no longer the case, but there are still libraries that are very much reflective of their racist and prejudiced communities. I can recall a certain public library in a town I used to live in that had a very prominent and permanent shrine of Right Wing authors like Limbaugh, Coulter, and Hannity and with no opposing view anywhere in sight. Let's just say that one local public library was not exactly doing very well in "educating their patrons through collections and services" unless it was indoctrinate and promote a certain political viewpoint.

"Public libraries can certainly take credit for educating their patrons through collections and services, but because these collections and services largely reflected values of locally powerful groups, on many occasions, public libraries functioned as obstacles to cultural democracy by perpetuating the racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia their collections supported. At the same time, however, users heavily influenced the choices librarians made" (14). 

To show some things never really change, nor are they new, even in the early days we had the debate of give them what they want versus what is good for them:

"Where social libraries avoided stories depicting romance, murders, hangings, and scandals of popular interest that papers like the Boston Gazette regularly reported, circulating libraries embraced them" (18). 

And speaking of those social libraries in the late 1700s:

"Social libraries needed several conditions to prosper. They had to be in areas transitioning from frontier to populated settlements, gain a footing in the community during good times with adequate per capita income, build upon existing legislation, and offer lecture series and support lyceums" (22). 

Not unlike today where a library does better in an area that has better funding, funding often due to a good area with people making a good income.

On the power of reading, and reading fiction. Though this refers to the 1800s, it can certainly apply today:

"Readers used novels for multiple purposes: as filters for their experiences, to jointly experience similar emotions, to make sense of their daily lives, to develop and strengthen social networks, to form and maintain a sense of identity, to provide a subject of conversation that connected people face-to-face and in written correspondence, and to effect a sociability that the act of reading nurtured" (23). 

Yet all of the above sounds so genteel. I cannot help but wonder how much television, and specially today the Internet and social media have ruined so much of that.

A nice label given to critics to circulating libraries because they circulated fiction and novels:

"slop shops in literature" (24). 

If I ever make a new blog, or I get around to writing that pseudomemoir/novel of my experiences in librarianship, the title will be The Literary Slop Shop.

Could this be a formal start of study and reading rooms in libraries? What I find interesting about the early parts of the book is how many of today's library issues so many "rock star librarians" and "thought leaders" in our profession think are new or revolutionary, and they are nothing of the sort. Social spaces in libraries? Got that. Balancing quiet spaces? Debates over content? Got those as well.

"In 1810 the Boston Athenaeum not only allowed evening 'conversation' in the Reading Room, trustees even ordered that 'rooms be made convenient for that purpose'" (25).

This may be the real reason authority figures disliked and were even outright hostile to fiction and novels:

"By empowering white women, people of color, and the lower classes to rethink societal roles others assigned them, the implicit democratic messages carried by the early nineteenth century novel threatened traditional authorities, including white male church and state leaders" (26).

However, that does not mean libraries were always bastions of equality and democracy, if they ever were given how they often reflect local values, which as we know, are not always positive nor democratic. Point is that while libraries are a positive overall, they certainly are not always paragons of virtue contrary to what happy journalists and celebrity "rock star" librarians and library members may convey.

"Although these libraries nurtured the democratizing tendencies that reading cultivated, none were democratic; most were controlled by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and generally middle-class, adult males who preferred the society of their own kind" (28).

However, others did form their own libraries and literary societies:

"In the North, however, free blacks organized literary societies that sponsored reading rooms and debates and used them to challenge slavery and racism" (31). 

Now, on this, maybe we need to encourage this more in our campus convocations (thinking a bit locally here). I mean, besides the often contrived attempts to somehow relate a class to convocation speakers or performers, which in some cases it's outright forced:

"'To derive the greatest advantage' from a lecture, any listener 'must also read'" (32).

On parents in libraries:

"Just as parents do today, many late nineteenth century parents carefully monitored their children's reading; like today, many children protested. . .in their own ways" (51). 

I was amused by that passage. Really? Parents today are often notorious for one of two things; not monitoring at all, or monitoring to an extreme what their kids, and other kids not theirs, read like biddies.

After a while, the book does get repetitive. I mean, how many ways are there to say fiction was seen as inferior?

I think the next passage says a lot about today, and it's not all good:

"While the new information priesthood tended to look past library service priorities that patrons still used in convincing numbers, many librarian working the desks recognized that users benefitted in their own ways from the reading and the spaces the institutions provided" (237). 

More on what the book does according to the author:

"Part of Our Lives shows that over time American public libraries multiplied, survived and regularly prospered, in large part because they perpetuated practices or eventually embraced changes upon which their users insisted" (270). 

The next passage is where the author seems to flake a bit, seeing the Library Bill of Rights as sort of optional for the sake of compromise and survival. Yet, in real life, it is a Catch-22, but often it is also an indication in the profession of lacking a spine. Again, we also see the bias against ALA. As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of ALA, but I am certainly not a fan of intellectual censorship for the sake of appeasing locals.

"Do public librarians toe the party line and risk alienating large parts of the their community by insisting on LBR compliance, or do they mediate public culture disputes for the community's greater benefit?" (271). 

* * * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: The Names

Peter Milligan,, The Names. New York: Vertigo, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4012-5243-4.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: noir, mystery, crime, conspiracies
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

The Names is, on the surface, a cabal of financiers, politicians, and other powerful figures. It turns out they are more sinister and use various means to control finance around the world. Kevin Walker is a member of this capitalist-criminal conspiracy. When he is found dead, Katya, his young wife refuses to believe it was a suicide. Joining Philip, his son who is also a high level math genius, she decides to find the truth no matter where it leads. The thing is The Names is experiencing infighting, and both sides want Philip, who they see as a key to countering the algorithms they use to control the markets, algorithms that have now gained a life of their own.

This is an excellent noir style thriller. If you like mysteries and thrillers, this is for you. If you enjoy stories about conspiracies, this is for you as well. Katya will have to keep her wits and use her martial arts skills to stay alive as she digs deeper. The story draws you in right away. I could not put this down once I started. As more layers are revealed, you just keep reading to see where it all leads. The comic blends suspense, thrills, action, and conspiracy seamlessly.

This volume collects the 9 issues series. It is great for libraries, but keep in mind it is an adult title. It is suggested for mature readers. This is a title I would add to my personal collection.

5 out of 5 stars.

Titles with similar appeal:

  • The 100 Bullets series. 
  • The X-Files, due to some of the conspiracy elements. 
  • Wanted, the comic, not so much the film. 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A few treats for Thanksgiving 2015

Well, the holiday season is once again here. I will be celebrating Thanksgiving at home in peace with the Better Half and our daughter home from college. Yes, I do mean at home. We do not go shopping on Thanksgiving; we will be happily and quietly spending time together and being grateful for being together and able to share a meal. For my four readers, here are some links of various pieces of information and trivia for Thanksgiving with some brief thoughts and comments on my part. May you all have a safe and happy holiday, and if you choose to drink, please do so in moderation.
As always, comments are always welcome. In fact, I will be asking a few questions this time around, so if you feel moved, please comment.

  • Turkey is the main event in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But say you do not want to or cannot cook a turkey for whatever reason. Well, here are 5 turkey alternatives you could try. Story via Wise Bread.  In our family, the last few years we have gone off the beaten path with things like enchiladas. This year we are taking it a bit Italian with a nice lasagna. Part of the reason is for variety, and another reason is because we like those leftovers better. How about you folks, do you folks always have turkey? If not, what do you have?
  • If you are cooking the "traditional" Thanksgiving meal, I know that timing can be a challenge. How many hours do you have to thaw the turkey? Then stuff, then cook it in the oven, so on.  Via NPR, here is a "Day by Day to What To Cook Ahead and When." Some stuff you could have done last Saturday and Sunday, but otherwise, you still have time. 
  • And speaking of timing, here is a handy chart to know how long you need to cook that bird. Via Incredible Things
  • You need some sides to go with that meal. Have you considered a salad? Here are 27 salad choices you could consider. Via BuzzFeed.
  • Ever wonder why the heck we eat sweet potatoes with marshmallows on Thanksgiving? USA Today has a nice piece explaining the origin of that and the deal with the can of cranberry sauce. Hint: it was not the Pilgrims.
  • Are you one of those folks who deep fries the turkey? One of my brothers used to do that. If you do, here are some safety tips to keep in mind from the U.S. Fire Administration. 
  • Perhaps you like to cook your turkey and a few of the sides by taking a walk on the wild side. I just found a series of videos on how to cook your turkey, your green bean casserole, and a couple of other things using weed (yes, that weed). The videos are actually quite visual and easy to follow. If you live in one those states where marijuana is legal, this is an option. Story via COED
  • Here is a feel good to make you feel a little warm and fussy. This restaurant offers anyone who walks in, no questions asked, a free meal on Thanksgiving. So whether it's a homeless person, some poor folks, or just someone who may be alone, you can get some good food and fellowship here. Story via The Washington Post.
  • A common problem with the "traditional" Thanksgiving meal, and other meals at times, is the issue of food waste. This tradition can and does generate a lot of waste. So, to help with that a bit here are some apps to help with things like education on waste, tracking waste, and even tips for storing food. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • And finally, a reminder that however you celebrate, the main reason is really to be grateful for what we have and for those in our lives. It does not matter whether you express your gratitude in religious terms or heathen terms, just take some time to be grateful. And if need yet another reason to express gratitude, well, it may also help your health. Story via NPR.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Booknote: New Suicide Squad, Vol.1

Sean Ryan, New Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Pure Insanity. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252380. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

In case you are not familiar with the premise, the U.S. government creates a team of supervillains to do missions the government nor the heroes want nothing to do with. You could say they are a sort of very dysfunctional Dirty Dozen. Being villains, they are not exactly team players, but that's the least of the concerns.

The volume, which collects issues 1-8 of the series, contains two stories. The first story is a mission to Russia that soon goes awry. For one, Amanda Waller, their handler, gets a new power hungry boss who has no clue what is going on or how things really work. Two, the Russians were prepared. The squad will have to really rally on this one. The second story is a mission to China to destroy a meta-human production facility.

The government officials, mainly Waller, explain that though the squad rarely completes a mission as planned, the higher ups like it that way because it adds realism. Some may say this is a silly or bad concept. I would ask those folks if they have seen how the U.S. government works (or not) today. Just imagine our real U.S. government handling something like the Suicide Squad; hell, they can't even handle things like supplying weapons to their allies (for a real life instance of serious U.S. government incompetence, see the book Arms and the Dudes, which I recently reviewed). Sage is your typical right wing macho asshole, who in the end gets his ass handed to him by Waller. The Secretary, Sage's boss in charge of the project, is your typical bureaucrat. Waller is the one competent employee trying to make the program work, a program she knows can work but boy is it challenging. In this regard, the story is nothing terribly new.

As for characters, I hear some complain that Harley Quinn goes from very insane to somewhat lucid. I'd say that works here; insanity can go from very crazy to moments of clarity and lucidity. The rivalry between her and Joker's Daughter, while expected, does turn into a bit of slapstick at times with Black Manta as their reluctant referee. 

I read this in one sitting during bedtime. It has a fast pace from the beginning, and the pace remains fast throughout. There is plenty of action as well. I will admit that Sage's character was fairly obnoxious, but in spite of that the comic is pretty entertaining. It also has good colorful art, and in addition, there is a variant covers gallery included.

I am sure with the upcoming film there will be interest in these comics. Thus this series would make a good selection for libraries with graphic novel and comics collections. In the end, I liked it, but it was  just another comic, not terribly memorable. However, it does have some potential, so I may seek out the rest of the series to see if it improves or not.

3 out 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Batman, Volume 7: Endgame

Scott Snyder, Batman, Volume 7: Endgame. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401256890.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"For years, the Joker has regarded Batman with a sick, twisted love, thinking that one could never exist without the other. But that's all changed. Now the Clown Prince of Crime is done playing.

He's going to kill Batman. And he's going to do it using those who Batman loves the most: the Justice League

The Joker returns to Gotham City with a deadlier agenda than ever before, using every tool at his disposal to finally kill the Dark Knight. That includes turning Batman's allies against him in the bloodiest brawl that he's ever had to survive."

This is a series that I can say little without spoiling it for other readers because that ending is just. . . wow, but it is also an ending that leaves you with a bit of emptiness. If you have been following Scott Snyder's run on this title, recently collected in Joker: Death of the Family, then you are reaching the end here in Endgame.

The story starts a bit convoluted as the Justice League is attacking Batman. We gradually find out there is a toxin involved, so we may think initially this is the work of The Scarecrow, but soon we realize it is not. In addition to dealing with Justice League, there are other serious challenges Batman faces as the clues lead back to the old Arkham Asylum, where he will discover Joker is back, and he means business now to kill Batman. This is a complex comic with a lot of twists and turns that gets more tense as you get deeper into it. Then it explodes in that ending, and it leaves you there.

In the end, I really liked it, but given the ending, I have mixed feelings about it as I wonder now what the author and publisher will do next. We'll just have to wait and see I suppose. If you have been collecting this series for your library, you will want to have this title.

The volume collects single issues 35-40 of the Batman title. It is part of DC's The New 52. 

4 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, November 20, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: November 20, 2016 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

The big even this week were the Paris attacks. Naturally, when bad things happen, some people decide it's time to make some money. So, in a special segment, let's see how the attacks mean some folks will actually do well in the bad economy:

Now, as sad as the events in Paris are, the news keep rolling on, and the bad economy is still going strong. Here are some more signs that the economy is bad:

Booknote: Pawn Shop

Joey Esposito, Pawn Shop. Z2 Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781940878041.

(Citation note: publisher location unknown. Even checking their website yields no result, and if you go on their Facebook page, you actually have to request their address. Apparently, it is easier to find Al Qaeda. Joke aside, they do put out good stuff).

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: slice of life, urban tales, New York City
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"Pawn Shop is an original graphic novel about the intertwining lives of four strangers in the ecosystem of New York City, connected by the streets they walk on and the people they touch. Following a lonely widower, a struggling Long Island Railroad employee, a timid hospice nurse, and a drug-addled punk, Pawn Shop explores the big things that separate us and the little moments that inexplicably unite us."

This was a sweet and moving story of four people in New York City. Though they may seem to be as distant and separate as four people can be, Esposito shows us how their lives are connected and intertwined in ways they themselves do not realize. The result is the picture we see of our common humanity, and how often, small acts of compassion can have a large impact on others, whether we realize it or not.

This is a simple comic with simple but very nice art. However, the comic packs quite a bit of emotion, and it has a bittersweet element to it that stays with you after you read it. This is one I definitely recommend. It is a title for older teens and adults, so keep that in mind. I do recommend it for libraries with graphic novel collections. For folks who like reading contemporary stories and slice of life tales and may want to try out a graphic novel, this can be a good option. In the end, it is one I really liked.

4 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: Lobo, Volume 1

Cullen Bunn, Lobo, Volume 1: Targets. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254834. 

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source" NetGalley

This is part of DC's New 52 series, and it is a reboot of the Lobo series. First thing the author does in this new series is have the "new" Lobo kill off the "old" Lobo. This is explained as the "real" guy killing the impostor who had been making his fortune with the famous name. It's a bit of a stretch to put it mildly; if you search other reviews online, you find many readers were not pleased by this ploy. However, the scene passes quickly. From there, the real story begins.

Lobo is sprung out of prison and hired to kill a series of targets; the element the targets share in common is they all want to destroy Earth. Now the last Czarnian has no love for Earth, but as a bounty hunter, he honors his contract. Between scenes of him hunting the targets, we get glimpses of Lobo's past. Thus, the story's structure goes back and forth between the past and the present.

Putting aside the somewhat ridiculous opening, this is a pretty good actioneer. I will grant that, as other more purist readers have pointed out, this new Lobo is a bit of a pretty boy. Yet he still carries out his missions efficiently and ruthlessly. Another small annoyance was the team from Earth he is forced to work with. This felt like another contrived plot element; it did not work as well. Overall, the art is pretty good, so there is that.

In the end, I liked it, but at times the story felt contrived, a bit forced. I may or not pick up the next one. For fans of the old character, this is really a complete overhaul. Your mileage may vary in how you like the new one or not. I would say this is a very optional title for libraries to purchase.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Booknote: Battle Pope, Volume 2

Robert Kirkman, Battle Pope, Volume 2: Mayhem. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-58240-652-7.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor, heroes
Format: paperback
Source: I bought this (along with the next two volumes) at Half Price Books

The art is still good overall in this series. The story is fun with plenty of action and jokes. However, I did not find it as good as the first volume. The momentum from volume 1 seems to have gone down a bit.

Pope now is settling down as a local hero. He is also adapting to having Jesus H. Christ as a roommate. The problem is that Jesus can be quite an annoying roommate that keeps Pope from getting tail and does not keep up his half of the chores. In fact, for readers, at times Jesus can be a bit of annoying character as well. Meanwhile, Hellcorp may be in shambles, but they are not totally out. They want revenge against Pope, but it will not be easy.

Overall, this was a light and quick read, with emphasis on light. The plot is fun, but it is fairly thin. Still, it was fun enough to keep me reading the series. In the end, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Spinglish

Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, Spinglish: the Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2015. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor, reference, dictionaries
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

As the book's cover states, this book helps you "succeed in business (and politics and everything else) without really lying." This dictionary is basically your guide to deceptive language and spin for when you need to lie, but you technically can't be caught lying. This is a book where you will laugh at times at the creativity of the spin, and other times you will just be amazed by how those in power shamelessly use language to deceive and still technically not really lie; we are talking some serious stretching of the truth at times.

The book is set up in two parts. It is a bilingual dictionary if you will. One part has the deceptive words with a translation into regular English. The other part is from regular English to spin language. So when you hear business men and politicians use terms like downsizing (i.e. people are getting laid off), you will know what they really mean. The authors do provide sourcing for the definitions as much as possible telling you where a word was first used or who spun that particular phrase. So, even though this is meant to be a humorous work, it actually serves a very serious work on modern spin language.

This is one I strongly liked, and one I will add to my reference shelf as soon as I get a chance. I highly recommend it for all libraries; this should be on libraries' reference shelves, and I am sure it will make a good resource for discussions in politics, business, communications, and other areas.

5 out 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: