Friday, January 05, 2018

My Reading List for 2017

(crossposted from A Simple Scholarly Librarian)

Welcome to my 2017 Reading List and end of year report. You may notice  I did a bit of housecleaning on this blog [at what is now A Simple Scholarly Librarian], including a small title change (as well as the URL); I also edited the "about me" stuff to simplify things. I think the new title in this blog is more plain, reflective of  how I try to be as a librarian. I was also inspired by that one poem (you can see it in my profile). My four readers have likely noticed I blog a lot less here. One of my recent resolutions is to avoid drama as much as possible, and the library field can have a lot of drama. Life is already tough in the "Hard Times" without having to worry over the asshats in my profession too. In addition, I just do not find too many things of interest to blog about here. So I just post here now and then if something comes up, but I am in no rush. One thing I am hoping to do is to go back to posting my notes on library literature I read, and I may shoot to do that once a week. (By the way, just because I am not blogging here much does not mean I am not reading, keeping notes, and doing professional development. I've done some nice presentations, including one at LOEX, but that is another story). We will see how it goes. I am not quite ready to shut down this blog, but the hiatus periods may stay. At the end of the day, I just feel I have more interesting things, and things that make me happier, to blog about elsewhere.I am at peace with that. I keep doing this list  here mostly because I started the tradition here. If the day comes I turn off the lights on this blog, I will move this feature over to The Itinerant Librarian.

On a positive note, I have been happily blogging and posting book reviews at The Itinerant Librarian blog. I have turned that blog into a small  but nice book blog. I am making plans to add some additional reading related content in 2018, so stay tuned for that. A big reason I do it, besides the fact I  enjoy reading and sharing what I read, is to serve in some small way as form of reader's advisory. By the way, if you are an author, editor, or publisher, and you think you have a book I may want to read and review, check out my book review statement, then let me know. I'd be happy to consider it if fits with my review statement and reading interests.

On another positive note, I recently came to my five years anniversary working at Berea College. I even got a small letter from the college president about it. Deity of choice allowing, I hope to stay here for a while longer (let's see if we can make at least another five, you know, start small and work our way up).

Getting to the reading part, even without reviewing my list of books for 2017, I could already feel I read less when compared to last year. The "Hard Times" we are living in the U.S. have wreaked havoc on my reading mood. I often read in the evening before bedtime, and I am often too tired to read, or I just tune out. In November, when I was reading some political/social issues books, I just finally burned out, and I declared a self-imposed moratorium on reading anything related to politics, social issues, activist topics, and/or most current events. In addition, I trimmed my feeds on social media to minimize my exposure to that kind of stuff because in the end it boiled down I need to do some self care and keep some sanity. In fact, I have a politics, social issues, activist, and/or current events moratorium on social media, with the penance that if I slip and post something on those topics, I have to post something about kittens to atone. A few kittens have made my feeds, but the number is dwindling. I am just done with the overall stupidity, selfishness, and bullshit at large. Thus I am doing my best to read more escapist and recreational things. Despite all that, I managed to read some good stuff, and that is always a good thing.

So for 2018 pretty much, this is where I stand:

A small reason I have read less in 2017 is that in my effort to escape the reality of the "Hard Times" I have  been binging on watching DVDs for films and specially for old television series. I have gotten some of those from my local public library. I will probably make a separate post to list some of the things I have enjoyed on video.

Six of Pentacles from the Modern Spellcaster's Tarot deck
The Six of Pentacles, from The Modern Spellcaster's Tarot Deck.

Another positive in 2017 is that I continue with my Tarot and oracle card studies. The main form of engagement with this is my morning ritual of a daily Tarot card draw. If you are interested, you can follow me on Twitter, where I am posting a photo of the daily card with my reading of  it. I do a daily card and the underneath card (i.e. I see what  is lurking under the deck). Based on the Twitter posts, I am considering exploring Instagram for sharing those photos. We will see. I am also working on focusing my commonplace blog, Alchemical Thoughts, into a bit more of a Tarot and divination blog where I can share some readings, some exercises, reviews of decks and books on Tarot, oracles, and other esoterica. The reviews are likely going to be crossposted from The Itinerant Librarian. Speaking of Alchemical Thoughts, for the month  of January I am participating in the "31 Days of Tarot" challenge. I am posting the daily prompts there, and I am crossposting them to my Tumblr, The Alchemical Annex. If interested, feel free to check that out. Here is the link for the first day. I am finding that studying Tarot, along with some esoteric topics, has helped me find some peace and calm in the "Hard Times," so I foresee I will keep at it. By the way, studying Tarot and oracle has also made me into a bit of a deck collector. However, I have at least one tight rule for any deck I add my collection: I have to be able to read with it. A deck may have gorgeous art, but if I am unable to actually use it, it is not going into my collection. This is why I do not add Marseilles-style decks (read here decks with non-illustrated pip cards); I can't really use them as they do not do much for me. However, there is a Marseilles-style deck I'd be willing to make an exception for and add to my collection, and that is Ciro Marchetti's Tarot Decoratif (which is actually a bit of homage to Marseilles with some Rider Waite Smith blended in. Link to Ciro's site). On a side note, I do have two Marseilles decks (reproductions, of course), and those were gifts from special people, which is why I have kept them. For those, I recently got myself a good book on Marseilles Tarot to teach myself how to work with such decks better. I will let you know down the road how that experience goes.
Let's get on with it and look at what and how I read in 2017. After the list, you will find my comments and remarks. Note that books with an asterisk (*) are rereads.

  • Becky Diamond, The Thousand Dollar Dinner.
  • Inazo Nitobe, Bushido: The Soul of the Samurai (graphic novel adaptation). 
  • Scott Jerry, Zits Sketchbook 1
  • The Usual Gang of Idiots, The Mad Bathroom Companion: Gushing Fourth Edition.
  • Mark Kurlansky, Paper: Paging Through History
  • Kaelan Rhywiol, Nera's Need.
  • Mike Barr,, Star Trek Archives Volume 4: The Best of Deep Space Nine.*

  • P.C. Cast and Kristin Cast, Marked (House of Night, Book 1).  
  • Lee Hammock, Halo Graphic Novel
  • Rebecca Hankins and Miguel Suarez, Where are all the Librarians of Color
  • Mario Benedetti, Biografia para encontrarme.  
  • John Lewis, March: Book Three
  • C.S. Goto, Blood Ravens: the Dawn of War Omnibus (Warhammer 40,000).*


  •  Yoav Ben-Dov, The Marseille Tarot Revealed
  • Artisan Press, Why We March
  • John Palfrey, BiblioTech (audiobook edition).
  • Colette Baron-Reid, The Enchanted Map oracle cards (oracle deck kit with book). 
  • Jennifer Worick, Things I Want to Punch in the Face (audiobook edition). 
  • Tommy Dades, Friends of the Family
  • Jay Fonseca, Banquete Total
  • Scott Martin, Bringing the Tarot to Life


  • Jen Mann, People I Want to Punch in the Throat (audiobook edition).
  • Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential (audiobook edition).
  • Leeza Robertson, Tarot Court Cards for Beginners
  • Yankee Magazine, Living Well on a Shoestring
  • Melissa Cynova, Kitchen Table Tarot
  • Josh Katz, Speaking American
  • Jason Aaron, Showdown on the Smugglers' Moon (Star Wars comics).
  • Penelope Bagieu, California Dreamin'
  • Ray Garton, Live Girls


  •  Eileen Kaur Alden, Super Sikh, Issue 1
  • Matt Kindt, Divinity III: Stalinverse.
  • Colin Dickey, Ghostland
  • P.J. O'Rourke, How the Hell Did This Happen?
  • Sideshow Collectibles, Figure Fantasy: The Pop Culture Photography of Daniel Picard
  • Jancis Robinson, The 24-Hour Wine Expert
  • Serafin Mendez Mendez, Puerto Rico Past and Present: an Encyclopedia
  • Michael Eric Dyson, Tears We Cannot Stop
  • Clay Cane, Live Through This


  • Cullen Bunn, Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods
  • Kathryn Petras, The Stupidest Things Ever Said Book of Top Ten Lists
  • Roger Langridge, Betty Boop.
  • Jennifer Adams, Emma: a BabyLit Emotions Book
  • Jennifer Adams, Treasure Island: a BabyLit Shapes Primer
  • Andy Diggle, James Bond: Hammerhead
  • Vincent Terrace, Television Series of the 1960s
  • Michael Ruhlman, Grocery


  •  Andy Schmidt, G.I. Joe: Future Noir, Volume 1
  • Sybille Titieux de la Croix, Muhammad Ali.
  • Alana Fairchild, The Isis Oracle (oracle cards deck with book kit). 
  • Gerard Way, Doom Patrol, Volume 1: Brick by Brick
  • Joanna Powell Colbert, The Gaian Tarot (Tarot cards deck with book kit). 
  • Sarah Vaughn, Deadman: Dark Mansion of Forbidden Love
  • Leonardo Lucarelli, Mincemeat
  • Matt Kindt, X-O Manowar, Volume 1: Soldier
  • David Gonzales, Homies
  • Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich
  • E.K. Johnston, Ahsoka (Star Wars YA novel). 


  • Jimmy Palmiotti, Harley Quinn, Volume 2: Joker Loves Harley
  • Graham Masterton, Figures of Fear.

  • Tracking books this year got a little tricky. I left GoodReads mostly after it got acquired by the online book retail behemoth. I discovered BookLikes, which is a bit of a hybrid between GoodReads and Tumblr, and I was using that to keep track of books as well as another place to post  my reviews. Well, last year BL had some serious clusterfuck where they were down for almost two months with no response whatsoever. A few of us thought the site was gone for good. They hobbled back online, but I have not gone back since. I may in the future; I have not decided yet. So, I reluctantly went back to GoodReads for tracking, where I just record I read something and rate it. I do not post reviews in GR unless requested.

Finally, first of all, thank you for hanging around and stopping by the blogs throughout the year. Also thank you for reading this far on this post. Hope you will come back in 2018. As I have done before, I am ending this post with a sampling of reading reports from other bloggers out there. By the way, if you did an end of year reader summary, and you want to share it, you are welcome to share it in the comments.

Monday, January 01, 2018

Deck Review: Modern Spellcaster's Tarot

Melanie Marquis and Scott Murphy (illustrator), Modern Spellcaster's Tarot. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-7387-4166-6.

WorldCat Record.
Find it at the publisher.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, divination, spirituality, witchcraft, pagan, magic
Format: Box set with book and deck of Tarot cards
Source: I bought and own this one

I picked this deck to work with during the month of December in part to use the book in completing the Color Coded Reading Challenge for 2017 I was doing. I needed a brown color book, and this is it. For this review, I will start looking at the book, The Spellcaster's Handbook, then I will discuss the cards. My set is a box set that includes the companion book and the cards deck. The box is actually a solid box with a magnetic clip closure. The box is definitely an improvement over Llewelly's usual thin, flimsy, and mostly useless cardboard boxes. I hope they keep doing this.

The book is a 242 pages paperback by Melanie Marquis, who is also the deck's creator. The book is arranged as follows into seven chapters and some small extras:

  • "The Cup." An opening poem.
  • A short introduction.
  • Chapter One: "Anatomy of Tarot." I expected this to be the usual chapter on Tarot basics you get with companion books. Instead, this chapter deals mainly with correspondences and numerology. 
  • Chapter Two: "Deck Care and Maintenance." This chapter covers things like caring for your deck, cleansing, and charging it. The chapter describes a variety of ways to charge your deck's energy. 
  • Chapter Three: "How to read the cards." This is the chapter on how to read the cards. 
  • Chapter Four: "Using the Tarot for Magick." This is a deck designed for those who practice magic and use it as part of their divination and rituals. While you do not have to use magic or other crafts to use the deck, if you do, this chapter offers a few suggestions and ideas for using the cards with spells and other rituals. It also offers a couple of Tarot spells you can try out. 
  • Chapter Five: "The Major Arcana." This chapter has card meanings for the Major Arcana. For each card, you get a black and white picture of the card, card title, card description, divinatory meanings, reversed meanings, and magickal uses. 
  • Chapter Six: "The Minor Arcana." This chapter has card meanings for the Minor Arcana including the court cards. The card order is arranged by suits- cups, pentacles, wands, and swords. For each suit, it goes from ace to king. For each card, you get a black and white picture of the card, card title, card description, reversed meaning, and magickal uses. 
  • Chapter Seven: "Easy Tarot Spreads." You get a few basic spreads and a bit of advice for creating your own spreads. 
  • "Next Steps on the Tarot Trail." This is the author's conclusion encouraging readers to continue on their journey. 
  • Recommended reading. This is a very basic and minimal reading list. It includes six items. From the list, I have read the Barbara Moore's Tarot for Beginners (link to my review). 
I find that the companion book for the deck is about average. For me, it is a bit of a mixed bag. Let me just tackle right away the big issue a few other reviewers have mentioned: Marquis' switch of elemental correspondences between swords and wands. In Rider Waite Smith (RWS) system as well as with most authors, sword correspond to air and wands to fire. Marquis reverses that making swords fiery and wands airy. She claims this comes from the witchcraft tradition of the athame knife associated with fire.  I will take her word for it, but this is the first time I have seen this, and I've read a few books on Tarot, none of which mention her matches. While she claims Tarotists disagree on this issue, what I have observed is that reviewers often disagree with her change. In the end, you can take it or leave it. Personally, I just ignore the switch and read the cards as I always do with air for swords and fire for wands. In the book, the meanings are basically switched, especially for the aces. So you can just read the Ace of Swords meaning for the Ace of Wands and vice versa in the book, so no big deal.

That leads me to my next point about the book. Once you put aside the material on magic and witchcraft, which can be interesting, the card meanings are mostly traditional. One or two meanings did not really work for me, and in that case I turned to other books as needed, usually Lyle's The Illustrated Guide to Tarot (link to my review), to double-check my impressions or verify some detail.  Your mileage may vary on this. If you do not care for Marquis' correspondence switch, and you do not use the material on magic and spells, then you can probably skip her book and use your own favorite reference text or standby handbook. You can also read the cards by intuition as they are very well illustrated.

I did find the chapter on magic uses interesting, and I think those who practice a craft may find it of interest and useful. As I mentioned, the recommended reading list is pretty slim. Overall, the book had some interesting things, but for Tarot reference I find there are better books out there.

I found the book to be OK overall, so I would rate it 2 out of 5 stars.

The cards are illustrated by Scott Murphy, and the art is just beautiful. Art in the cards is made of full color paintings very rich in detail. The cards are borderless. While borders or lack of them is not usually an issue for me, these cards look great without borders. Each card is identified with a small scroll on the bottom of the card with the card's name. The cards measure 4 1/2 inches tall by 2 3/4 inches approximately. That falls within common Tarot card sizes. Many images reminiscent of RWS, but not all of them. The images provide enough for you to figure out meanings by intuition, or you an look the cards up in your favorite handbook. Furthermore, many of the cards have additional symbols that can provide more material for readings and personal study. In Chapter One of the book, Marquis provides a short list of symbols. If this section of the book had more depth and provided more symbols and details, the book would be more valuable. As it is, this was a missed opportunity. Again though, if you get a good reference book on symbols it may be useful for further study of this deck.

Additionally, the deck does display some diversity in terms of ethnicities and races. There are also some cards that nod to LGBTQIA people. It is still pretty basic on body types though, i.e. mostly average height and weight. This can be a contrast to, for example, The Gaian Tarot (link to my review), which does show various forms of diversity including body shapes. Anyhow, the Modern Spellcaster's Tarot is pretty diverse overall.

The Modern Spellcaster's Tarot has become a favorite deck for me, and I enjoy using it. I find it helps me look at Tarot in different ways, but it also reinforces what I have learned so far. It is a good deck for daily use. I'd say this is more of a deck for intermediate to advanced users. Overall, the deck is excellent. For collectors, I am sure they will appreciate Murphy's art. For practitioners, it is very readable and useful.

I am rating the deck 5 out of 5 stars.
Rating for the set, averaging the book and deck ratings: 3.5 out of five stars.

* * * * * 
Additional reading notes:

Whether you agree with all Marquis offers or not, she still encourages her audience to be open minded and to study widely and broadly:

"The tarot is organic, and it's meant to be adapted by each practitioner who uses it. Just as different chefs might prepare a different dish from the same selection of ingredients, so too does each tarot reader lend their own unique flavor to the process. Be open to other people's ideas and take time to study traditional tarot interpretation from a variety of sources, but above all, let your own heart and mind be your guide" (2). 

What Tarot is; it's not about absolute destiny:

"I like to explain it by saying that the tarot gives us a snapshot of where we're currently at, revealing to us the underlying patterns and cycles that have brought us to this point right now. Tarot provides us with clues to the future so that we can adapt our current course of action to achieve the outcomes we most desire. Emphasizing that everything is changeable will help put the person you're reading for at ease" (28). 

On how readings can vary, which is normal:

"Whenever I teach a tarot class, I always emphasize the fact that you could have the exact same cards laid out in a reading, and if you asked ten different professional tarot readers to interpret the spread,  you would get ten different interpretations. There would most likely be some similarities in overall theme, but each reader inevitably brings something completely different to the reading" (36). 

There may be elements I dislike or disagree with in the book, but I do appreciate Marquis' positive outlook and flexible attitude towards learning, encouraging readers to find their own path, keeping and discarding things as needed. As I mentioned in my review, I found some meanings to be off or not right for me. Marquis acknowledges this is a possibility, and I appreciate that. She writes:

"Please don't feel restricted to the card interpretations given here These meanings represent an eclectic blend of occult tradition, family tradition, my own experience, and intuition. Challenge  yourself to expand on the meanings you find agreeable, and to question and be willing to possibly discard the meanings with which you do not agree" (56). 

* * * * *
This set qualifies for these 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 29, 2017

Yet another of those pretentious reading lists, big whoop

As my four readers know, once in a while I amuse myself by seeing how much or how little I have read from some pompous and snotty list of "books you need to read to avoid being  a loser" or whatever the title du jour is. Today's amusement comes via Inc., which I am guessing the business magazine must have had a slow day when this came out. They posted a list  of "30 Books You Need to Read to Earn 'Well-Read' Status." Well shit. Being a former English major, English and Literature teacher, adjunct college professor, and now academic librarian, I had to match my wits. The list by the way is not that impressive. It basically picks out three books from each category (or one more or one less) to reach 30. I think it has a lot of books missing in each category.

Here are the books they list with some commentary, snark and all, from me. The categories come from the article. Titles in bold are titles I have read. Authors in bold means I have read some other work by that author:

  • Western Classics (Ancient and Modern): 
    • The Odyssey by Homer. I have also read The Illiad. I read Homer somewhere back in middle school when I was in a mythology reading stage. So to be honest, I do not consider this to be particularly impressive from adults (i.e. you should have read this already.). And yes, I have reread them since. 
    • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Instead, I have read and taught Great Expectations, to the point that I have come to hate Dickens. I honestly to this day have no idea which curriculum "expert" thinks teaching Great Expectations to 9th graders is a good idea, but that "expert" needs to be shot (or at least fired). I have also read "A Christmas Carol" (as in actually read it, not just seen it on TV like most people have). 
    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Read it sometime in graduate school when  I was getting my other masters. I cannot comment much because I do not remember it, and to be honest, I do not really give a shit about Austen. I have also read some of her other  stuff, but again, soon forgot about it. 
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I have read much of his short fiction. 
  • Dystopia:  This is a genre I care little about. I read a thing or two in this once in a while, but I do not actively seek it.
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Another classic I grew to hate from teaching it in high school, this time to seniors. Although I do not hate it in the way I hate Dickens. In addition, I have also read Animal Farm and some of his essays. 
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
    • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Seriously overrated though eerily reflective of where things are headed in some parts of  the world including the United States. I am sure most people now talk about it thanks to the television series, but I get the feeling not many have read it. It is seriously verbose and overall not particularly interesting. But I can say I have actually read it. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy: I enjoy more science fiction than fantasy, but I  have been known to read a little fantasy now and then. 
    • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have read this and The Hobbit. To be honest, this is another one that may be overrated. There is a lot of filler in the series. 
    • The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. I call myself a science fiction reader, and it is amazing I have not read the Foundation Series yet. However I have read quite a bit of his short fiction. 
    • Neuromancer by William Gibson. I have also read his Burning Chrome.
  • Great American Novels. Most of these just make me yawn to be honest. As usual, we get a selection of dead white guys because apparently women and  minorities do not write in this category: 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I thought I managed to make it out of high school without reading it, but I had to read it later in college. 
    • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I could not care less. 
    • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I did read Of Mice and Men, "The Pearl," and a good amount of his short fiction. 
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. LOL. This is basically the door stoppers and pretentious stuff  that no one outside some selected English majors and seriously pretentious readers really reads.  They are pretty heavy books if you need to hit someone: 
    • Ulysses by James Joyce. I have gone happily through life without reading this overrated novel that many call unreadable, and I feel "well-read" just fine. 
    • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Another book and author I could not care less about. 
    • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Again, I have no fucks to give here.
  • Popular Fiction. 
    • A Song of Fire and Ice Series. by George R.R. Martin. Let's be honest. Aside from some hardcore fantasy fans, only people reading this are fans of the series. I never cared for the books, and I do not really care for the show neither. There is plenty of other fantasy I like better.  However, I have read some of his short fiction and some from his edited Wild Cards series. 
    • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I thought this would be up in dystopia, but OK. The article's author comments, "better than Twilight." That is one low bar. Fuck, anything is better than Twilight. And Battle Royale by Koushon Takami (there is a novel, an excellent manga, and a movie of it. I personally recommend the manga but warn it is seriously violent) did it before and a hell of a lot better than Hunger Games
    • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Contrary to what the article's author says, this will not spice up your bedroom. Do yourself, and your partner if you have one, a favor and find yourself some much better erotica. If your partner comes to the bedroom with the shady books, walk out. Don't fuck them. Seriously, have some dignity and self-respect and read any other erotica. The Best Bondage Erotica series edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel may be a good start. Here is my review of the 2014 volume. I can recommend others if you need a little help here. 
  • Immigrant Experience (U.S./UK). 
    • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I will admit that I have not heard of this one.  
    • Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I also read The Bonesetter's Daughter, which did not impress me much. 
    • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. I have to say a bit impressed they included this. Usually Time of the Butterflies is the standard for any list with Julia Alvarez in it. I have also read her Yo!
  • Non-Western Classics (ancient). I guess the article author is not that well read if they could not even scrape three titles: 
    • Ramayana (India). Yep, read this.  
    • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China). 
  • Non-Western Classics (modern). 
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is my all-time favorite novel, which  I reread every few years or so, in Spanish by the way. I have also read most of his other fiction and some of his nonfiction. Think this novel is too long or complex? Consider reading some of his short stories set in Macondo; you can get a taste in small doses. 
    • To Live by Yu Hua. I have not heard of this, but hey, a banned book is of interest.  
    • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read Arrow of God instead.
  • Satire. 
    • Cat's Craddle by Kurt Vonnegut. Read Breakfast of Champions instead. 
    • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
    • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is another I keep meaning to read but can't seem to get around to it. 
The article author leaves with this:

"I hate to break it to you, but if you're truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They're always on the lookout for their next book--that category that they're missing--to add to their impressive list. It's a Sisyphean goal, really.

If you feel well-read, you're probably not." 

Actually, I feel "well-read" just fine, AND I am always on the look out for that next great book. But thanks for the attempt to be a snob. I mean, we could make a whole list of books that could  have easily gone on this list (some of them better than the ones listed), but that would be a whole other post.

Final tally:
  • Books from the list read: 13
  • Authors from the list read: 20.  
Postscript: Since I know someone will ask, here are a few books I would add that I have read in the categories the article's author set up:

  • Western Classics (ancient and modern): 
    • The Histories by Herodotus. The "father of history" also made up a lot of stuff as he went along, making this quite entertaining at times. 
    • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and stories. There is a reason they keep making movies and not so good television shows adapting or  modernizing Sherlock Holmes. Go read the source. If you want a good television adaptation, the Granada series with Jeremy Brett is great. 
  • Dystopia: 
    • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  
    • The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). The Running Man also works here. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy. Oh my goodness. We could add so many here, including some that also qualify as dystopian. Let's go by authors since there are so many, and I am just going to pick a small few for now (we could make lists and lists of science fiction and fantasy): 
    • Jules Verne. One of the daddies of science fiction (and also one of the daddies of steampunk before steampunk became "a thing").  
    • Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, again, because before Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, which I  have read, there was Professor Challenger.
    • Philip K. Dick
    • Robert A. Heinlein. Love him or hate him you cannot deny his place in the science fiction canon. I think some of his early stuff is better. 
    • Frank Herbert, for Dune
    • Ray Bradbury, yes, again, this time for The Martian Chronicles.
    • For a modern classic, try All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. (Read the book, skip the so-so movie "adaptation" with Tom Cruise). 
  • Great American Novels. Again, going by authors, because why limit yourself to just one work for some of these folks? To be honest, I am not a fan of "American" (read United States) novels, but there are some works I like or that have stayed with  me. In no particular order (and understanding there could be others added) : 
    •  Mark Twain
    • Toni Morrison
    • Ralph Ellison
    • Edgar Allan Poe
    • Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (private eye genre daddies). And not necessarily a "great American novelist," but we could toss in Mickey Spillane for his Mike Hammer novels. 
    • I'd toss in Tim O'Brien for The Things They Carried.
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. (Not adding. I do not believe in torturing my readers.)
  • Popular fiction. This is another category you could add so many things. Personally, I would use this to add some good graphic novels. A few I have recently liked and read include: 
    • The March series by John Lewis.
    • 21: the Story of Roberto Clemente
    • Drowned City
    • Ghetto Klown.
  • Immigrant Experience: 
    • When I Was Puerto Rican. OK, cheating on this title a little since I have not read it yet. It was highly recommended to me by my mother as it captures the Puerto Rican immigrant experience. 
    • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos.
  • Non-Western Classics (I do not necessarily consider Latin American to be "non-western" but the author did, so I am tossing it in.):
    • Dhammapada (Buddhist texts).  
    • Mario Vargas Llosa
    • Jorge Luis Borges. You can start with his Ficciones and El Aleph.
    • Salman Rushdie. I am not a huge fan, but Midnight's Children stayed with me.
  • Satire:
    • Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift. 
    • Don Quijote by Miguel De Cervantes.
What I added above is a very small sampling. It is hard to create this kind of list because criteria can vary, and what person feels is a must another may feel is not. In the end, that author can "break it to us all she wants," but I feel well read just fine, and yes, I am always on the lookout for my next good read.

Would you like to see some of  the books I would like to read down the road? Check out my "Items about books I want to read" series over on my commonplace blog Alchemical Thoughts.  Just click on the "books and reading" tag. The "to be read" (TBR) list keeps getting bigger, but that just means I will always have something to read.

So, what would you add to your list of books that you feel would make you a "well-read" person? The comments are open.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Booknote: Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe

Matt Groening, Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe. New York: Harper Collins, 2007. ISBN: 978-006-134037-6.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor (barely)
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library 

This is one of Groening's early "other than the Simpsons" stuff, and to be honest, it is not really that good. The premise of the book is that Groening gets ideas from his sons' conversations, songs, made-up stories, etc. It's sort of his attempt at "Kids say the darnedest things," only that kids are not really that funny. The whole thing just falls flat. There are one or two funny strips, but overall you can safely skip this unless you feel a need to read everything Groening has written. I certainly do not. Borrow this one if you must.

2 out of 5 stars (barely)

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Booknote: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Kabbalah

Michael Laitman with Collin Canright, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Kabbalah. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-59257-542-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: reference, educational, self-help, religion, mysticism
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked up this book from my local public library mainly out of curiosity. I've also seen some Tarot decks, such as The Hermetic Tarot that I recently added to my collection, that feature Kabbalah elements, and that gave me another reason to pick up the book. 

The Complete Idiot's Guide series, along with  the For Dummies series, tends to be a pretty good and basic introduction to whatever topic it presents. However, the books can be hit or miss, and this one was more of a miss. I am not sure if it is because the topic of Kabbalah is too complicated for a book designed to be very basic, or if the author was not able to focus, stay on point, and distill the topic down to basics.

The book is organized into four parts, and each part has various chapters. The book attempts to cover a lot of ground from defining Kabbalah to key concepts to how to study it. It also wants to claim that Kabbalah is scientific and empirical (xv), but the more you read, the more you find it is just another religious belief system that is neither scientific nor necessarily empirical. It may have a system; it may require a lot of study and reading; that does not make it "scientific." By the way, introducing "faith" such as needing it to experience the relationship with a creator means you can't really claim to be "scientific." By definition, faith does not require evidence, which science and the scientific method do.

The book can  also get a bit repetitive, especially in Part One where various concepts are repeated over and over, though not well explained because the explanations come later in the book. The early parts of the book are basically an annoying tease. The letters and numbers symbolism, something I was interested in, does not come until Part Two, Chapter 11. By then, I care little about the book because I had to drag myself through the previous stuff.

Overall, the book is overdone, and it lacks focus. It feels like the author just tossed everything in, but there is no depth. It also plays down Kabbalah's origins in Judaism and Jewish mysticism as well as how it has evolved and adapted outside of Judaism.

In the end, for this book, I feel I could have read the Wikipedia entry for Kabbalah, gotten a better understanding, and not wasted my time. If you want to learn some basics on Kabbalah, skip this book and find other sources.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: