Friday, May 29, 2020

Booknote: Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness

Peter Kuper, Joseph Conrad's Heart of Darkness. New York: W.W. Norton, 2020. ISBN: 9780393635645.

Genre: fiction
Subgenre: graphic novels, adaptation
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library 

This is a graphic novel adaptation of Conrad's short novel. The volume includes a foreword by Maya Jasanoff that provides a bit of context on Conrad's novel and why the novel remains significant. The volume also includes an artist statement by Peter Kuper, who did this adaptation, where he discusses how he created the art and provides some insights on his craft.

The adaptation itself is very good. The art captures the spirit and setting well. It balances text and image well to tell the story. I read Conrad's novel years ago, and I admit I had parts I did not get. Reading this adaptation helped me understand the story and narrative better. It may be an easier read due to the graphic novel format, but the adaptation captures the complexities of the source material. For me, this adaptation does make the novel more accessible. For reluctant readers, this graphic novel can be a good option.

Overall, I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, May 22, 2020

Booknote: The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book

Joy Perrine and Susan Reigler, The Kentucky Bourbon Cocktail Book. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2009.  ISBN: 978-0-8131-9246-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: cookbooks, recipes, cocktails, Kentuckiana, bourbon whiskey
Format: small hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a small book of cocktail recipes featuring Kentucky bourbon whiskey by Joy Perrine. Perrine is an award winning bar manager out of Louisville, Kentucky. Her coauthor, Susan Reigler, is a restaurant critic and drinks writer. According to the book's description, this book is to "showcase the world of bourbon in  reader-friendly, highlighting techniques, ingredients, food selection, and glassware for the professional or home bartender."

I would say this book is more for the professional bartender or the very sophisticated, probably with a bit more disposable money, home bartender. The average person with a small to modest cabinet at home may find this book not too accessible. It has the usual issue many of these cocktail recipe books (and other cookbooks) have which is recipes with often complex and/or rarely used and/or not easy to find ingredients. So the book can be nice to read, but it is not practical for the average person.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • A preface by Susan Reigler.
  • 8 chapters with topics such as Getting Started, Infusions, cocktail recipes such as classics and seasonal, and nibbles (light food recipes).
  • A small glossary.
  • A small suggested further reading list. 

Though you can use any bourbon you prefer, the author does have her list of 12 bourbons; these range in price from low price (under $20) to expensive stuff the average person will never find (i.e. that Pappy Van Winkle 15 years old). If you are curious, here is the list. For fun, I am putting an asterisk (*) next to brands I have personally tasted and tried:

  • Basil Hayden *
  • Blanton
  • Buffalo Trace *
  • Evan Williams Single Barrel
  • Four Roses Single Barrel *
  • Jefferson Reserve
  • Jim Beam White Label *
  • Maker's Mark *
  • Old Fitzgerald Prime
  • Old Forester 86 proof
  • Pappy Van Winkle 15-year-old (LOL on me ever even seeing this). 
  • Wild Turkey 80 proof *
  • Woodford Reserve *

 I've tasted seven from the list. Let me add a bit of additional comment. For Four Roses, we tend to prefer and keep a bottle of their Four Roses Small Batch at home. For Evan Williams, I've recently had and liked their Evan Williams Bottled in Bond; I've got the single barrel to try out sometime soon. A favorite of mine not on the list is Elijah Craig Small Batch (at 94 proof). As for Wild Turkey, I tend to prefer Wild Turkey 101.

Let's get back to the book. Getting the bourbon is not the challenge (except for that one or two brands, unless you live in some retrograde hick place with dry laws, then it can get harder to get the bourbon). Getting other ingredients for some recipes can be the real challenge, especially for things like liqueurs, cordials, so on that the average person may not use often outside of a specific recipe. This issue is not unique to this book by the way.

Otherwise, the book is pretty reader-friendly with an easy and encouraging tone. Instructions are fairly easy to follow too.

On a final note, though the book's description says the book is "accompanied by stunning color photographs." I'd take that with a grain of salt. Photos in the book are nice but small and far between. This is not really a book that stands out of the photos.

In the end, I liked it. It's a book to borrow, browse, maybe find one of the easier recipes to try out, and move on. Nice but optional.

3 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

Booknote: Five Families

Selwyn Raab; read by Paul Constanzo, Five Families: the rise, decline, and resurgence of America's most powerful Mafia empires. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media, 2015.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: True crime, mobsters, Mafia, NYC
Format: Audiobook
Source: Via Hoopla from the Madison County (KY) Public Library

It took me a while but I got done reading this. Raab's book attempts to provide a comprehensive history of the five mob families of New York City: Genovese, Gambino, Bonnano, Colombo, and Lucchese. I picked up this book mainly because Raab was interviewed in a couple of mob documentaries I watched. The book really packs a lot, maybe too much.

The main issue with the book is that it tries to cover everything. The result is that some stories are covered better than others. In addition, since much of this takes place in New York City, stories can and do overlap, so you can get a bit of repetition. Additionally, the text can be a bit dense. Even if you are listening to a reader, it is still pretty dense text. The topic overall is interesting, but the book itself not as much. To be honest, you may be better off finding smaller, better focused books on specific topics; you might retain what you learn better than trying to slog through this door stopper.

Overall, not bad but it just tries to do it all, and the result is just too long and dense. I'd consider this as optional for libraries. Hard fans of Mafia stories may want to read it, but casual readers may want to find shorter single topic books. In the end, it was OK.

2 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2020 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 15, 2020

Signs the economy is bad: May 15, 2020 Special COVID-19 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.

Here we are with a COVID-19 special edition of our "signs the economy is bad" series. Yes, we know the virus has wreaked havoc on the economy. The signs are everywhere, so the challenge for me is to find the more subtle signs that things are bad, the ones many of the pundits may not be as attentive about. So let's what is going on.

Education News

 Some items via The Hechinger Report:

  • Now, as I am sure many know, a lot of people are working from home. This includes parents, especially women, who not only have to try to work from home, but they also have to home school the kids that they used to send to school, or if very young, send to a child care center (plus, if the husband is home, and he is kind of a useless tool, she has to deal with that too, but I digress). Now as things gradually open, mom may want to try to go back to work, except she might not find child care since recent reports are saying that at least half of all child care centers could close. . .permanently.
  • A lot of the coverage you see about higher education is the loss of  undergraduate students. However, colleges and universities are also worrying about losing graduate students, which for many campuses with graduate programs, those grad students are the real cash cows. 
  • This is an item I found interesting: college towns are suddenly realizing that yes, those college students do contribute and often keep a college town's economy afloat. Now many of those towns may be struggling as the sheep they often fleece the college students are now gone. In my college town, the local yokels were pretty much rejoicing when the students got sent back home (and I mean really rejoicing within minutes of the announcement), and while our student demographic may be different than other colleges (i.e. more poor, spend less in town as a result), our students still make a contribution to the town.

Rural News

  •  The USDA recently announced they will start buying up farm products so they can distribute them to food banks. Via The Rural Blog. That sounds great, except, well, keep reading and see the stories below about certain food shortages. 
  • However, not all is terribly bad. The gun trade often does rather well in disaster times, and COVID-19 is no exception. In Appalachia, gun sales are going up, which I am sure makes the gun sellers happy. Via Yes! magazine.

Health and Medical News

  •  Meanwhile, a recent study showed that 27 million Americans lost their health insurance when they lost their jobs due to the pandemic. Via Boing Boing, which includes links to the Kaiser report. You would think that would make a good argument for universal health care in the United States, but since most Americans would rather watch their brethren die than pool resources to make it happen, well, there you have it.

The Bad Economy Around the World

  • Overseas in Europe there is concern that football clubs (as in soccer, clarifying for the gringos) may start going bankrupt as a result of the pandemic. Story via Al Jazeera. FTA: "Clubs across Europe have been denied commercial revenue with no games in most countries for at least two months and empty stadiums look likely for months ahead." I have not checked but I wonder if some of this situation could be applicable to big sports in the U.S.
  • Venezuelans in the diaspora are unable to send money home to relatives. Story via Latino Rebels.
  • The virus has disrupted the mining industries around the world as well. Story via Salon. Now some of you might not think about this until you need certain metals or minerals to make something complex like, oh, I don't say, say your newest iPhone. Shortage of certain minerals and suddenly either the price of said iPhone becomes even more obscene that it is now, or worse, there would be a shortage of iPhones. If you thought the toilet paper shortages were bad, imagine if there is a major shortage of iPhones, as well as cell phones and mobile devices in general.

In Other News of the Bad Economy

  • A big piece of news, but not quite big enough to make it into my "Big News of the Week" heading is the rising shortage of meats be they beef, pork, or poultry. It has been in the news, but aside from some grousing about prices going up at the grocery stores and some grocery stores placing limits on how much you can buy, this has mostly been a quiet topic. Sure the workers are seriously exploited and underpaid, often undocumented, but as long as ground beef and other meats make it to market, who cares, right?
    • This article on Vox gives a pretty good overview of why this issue is a big deal. It is way more than you just not being able to get some hamburger at the grocery store or not being able to get a burger at Wendy's.
    • Naturally, in the U.S., land of the stupid and the greedy, there may be a domestic meat shortage, but meat companies are actually ramping up meat exports to China. Story via Reuters. Part of the issue: "Meat buyers in China ramped up imports from around the world as a pig disease decimated its herd, the world’s largest, and pushed Chinese pork prices to record highs. The supply shock drove China to pay more for U.S. meat than other countries, and even U.S. consumers, since late 2019." Yes, the Chinese are willing to pay way more for the meat than even Americans do, so you know, money talks, shit walks, and meat gets exported even if people starve in the U.S. Mother Jones looks at the issue a bit further, drawing in part from the Reuters investigation.
    • However, not sure how long the meat companies keep exporting as plants close down and farmers start slaughtering animals they can't get to market. Yea, there is the other big issue. For instance, millions of pigs will be slaughtered, and not at the meat plant, because farmers, unable to send them to said meat plants, are starting to get a surplus and have nowhere to send those hogs to. Story via NPR. In an ideal world, I don't know, it would be nice if you could process that meat for people in need rather than destroy it, but I am not the guy in charge. 
    • Via the Food Politics blog, an interesting twist on the meat shortage. It could actually be a boon for pet food makers. Yes, you read that right: pet food. Down the road, your pet might end up eating better than you do. That is because if meat packers close, well, one option is to send the surplus meat animals to a rendering plant. 
  • Casinos are also really feeling the effects of the pandemic. 
    •  New rules are coming to casinos in Las Vegas. Story via Hollywood Reporter (with a hat tip to Boing Boing). Those fancy legendary buffets? Gone. How bad? FTA: "The bottom line: The days of gambling like James Bond in a heated game while people crowd the card table to admire your winnings are a thing of a past." Kind of makes you wonder what's the point of even going to a Vegas casino anymore. 
    • And no, it is not going to be better if you go to your local Native American casino. The pandemic means their casinos have shut down, and they are suffering the impact of losing that revenue. Story via Indian Country Today.

Uber Rich

  •  Even the Uber Rich are suffering as investment bankers are getting laid off. Story via Dealbreaker. Because like every capitalist endeavor, you exploit your workers all you can til you figure out how to dump them because you can do the job with less bodies. In this case, well turns out you do not need that many investment bankers to do whatever it is investment bankers do to make money. How bad is it? "Even some non-troubled investment banks have gotten into the fun, just to be safe." Oh well. This is a group that I cannot say I am terribly sympathetic about.

Booknote: Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Empire, Volume 2

Various authors, Star Wars Legends Epic Collection: The Empire, Volume 2. New York: Marvel, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-7851-9724-9.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: science fiction, Star Wars
Format: trade paperback
Source: Interlibrary Loan from Hutchins Library, Berea College. Book came from Ada Community Library, Boise, Idaho.

In this part of the series, we continue to follow some characters from the first volume such as Bomo Greenbark and Jedi Master Dass Jennir. We also follow Darth Vader as he continues with some of his own plans, including trying to get a rare ancient Sith artifact.

Overall, I continue to enjoy this series, and I am finding it entertaining. This volume contains stories I have not read before. I liked the "Vector" story, the one about the ancient artifact. I also enjoyed the "Out of the Wilderness" arc, which does have an ending setting up for the next installment. The stories in this volume are good, and most of the art is good as well. To be honest, some of these stories could make better films than Disney's new sequels. Stories here keep your attention and are fast paced. I found myself reading this volume pretty quickly. In the end, I really liked it, and I'll be looking for the next volume.

As I said for volume 1, these collections make a good selection for libraries as they collect full story arcs in one place.

4 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Booknote: I Heard You Paint Houses

Charles Brandt, I Heard You Paint Houses: Frank "the Irishman" Sheeran and Closing the Case on Jimmy Hoffa. Hanover, NH: Steerforth Press, 2018. ISBN: 9781586422387.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, biography, true crime, mobsters
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked this up out of curiosity, in part because it is the basis of the recent Netflix film The Irishman. The book's title comes from the first phrase Jimmy Hoffa told Frank "The Irishman" Sheeran upon their first meeting. To "paint a house" is to kill a man. Sheeran was, among other things, a mob hitman connected to Russell Bufalino. This book is a series of confessional interviews Sheeran did towards the end of his life with the book's author. The big highlight is that the book provides a solution to Jimmy Hoffa's disappearance. Note that some people still contend the book's claims. I leave that for readers to keep reading and decide on their own.

The 2016 edition of the book that I read is meant to go with the film; the book itself came out back in 2004. So this is an "expanded" edition. In addition to the 31 chapters of Sheeran's book, we get an afterword where the author mostly wraps the story after Sheeran ends his story. We then get an epilogue to the 2005 first paperback edition of the book that offers some additional follow ups and details. Then, as if that is not enough, we get a conclusion that collects "stories that could not be told before." To be honest, some of the stories in the conclusion we could have done without, a lot of that conclusion segment felt like filler. Sheeran's story runs to about 278 pages. The rest of the book brings it up to 366 pages.

Sheeran's story is actually pretty interesting. He served in World War II and then lived through the 50s, 60s, and into the 70s. A lot of history, including the rise of the Teamsters Union, happened during his life. Some of it you may recall if you are old enough, or you may recall from reading other books. The story as Sheeran tells it is interesting and engaging. This part of the book goes back and forth between Sheeran's narrative and Brandt's writing. Brandt mainly adds additional elements of clarification, expands on things Frank said, and fills in the gaps in Frank's narrative that readers may miss. Overall, a good story that captures its times.

The book pretty much ends after the afterword. The epilogue serves to update the book in 2005. However, the conclusion does seem way too long, and feels like a lot of filler. Some stories were interesting, and others could have stayed buried. To be honest, reading the supplementary material felt like a drag at times, and I think many readers may either skim or skip it with no great loss.

In the end, I did like the book, mostly, but I did feel the supplements were just stretching things. On a side note, I have not seen the film as of this blog post, but having read the book I would like to see it sometime down the road.

3 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for this 2020 Reading Challenge: