Friday, February 27, 2015

80 Books Every Man Should Read

 I came across this list of "The 80 Books Every Man Should Read" (I guess they are optional reading for women?) in Esquire magazine. Naturally, I had to take a look and see how I rate. In the interest of making things easier for my four readers to read, I am copying the list here without the usual commercial website bullshit. I will mark in bold books I have read. I will mark in bold also authors I have read (in other words, as often happens for me, I may not have read the book on the list, but I have read something else by that author). I will then add my usual commentary and snark.By the way, as often happens with high fallutin' lists like this, they are often mostly "classics" or literary stuff others think you ought to read, but that I could not care less about.

  1. Raymond Carver, What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
  2. John Cheever, Collected Stories of John Cheever. (I read something here or there in college, but I barely remember it.)
  3. James Dickey, Deliverance. 
  4. John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath. (I have read Steinbeck, just not this).
  5. Cormac McCarthy, Blood Meridian
  6. Fyodor Dostoevsky, The Brothers Karamazov
  7. Edward P. Jones, The Known World
  8. Studs Terkel, The Good War
  9. Philip Roth, American Pastoral. (This is one of those I honestly could not care less.) 
  10. Flannery O'Connor, A Good Man is Hard to Find. (Earlier in life I might have joked she is not looking hard enough. These days, I definitely concur. Then again, a good woman can also be hard to find, which makes one wonder how hard can it be for the good ones to find each other.)
  11. Tim O'Brien, The Things They Carried.
  12. James Salter, A Sport and a Pastime. (To be honest, never heard of this one  until this list.)
  13. Jack London, The Call of the Wild. (Read this as a young lad.) 
  14. Martin Amis, Time's Arrow.
  15. John McPhee, A Sense of Where You Are
  16. Hunter S. Thompson, Hell's Angels
  17. Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man.
  18. James Joyce, Dubliners
  19. John Updike, Rabbit, Run
  20. James M. Cain, The Postman Always Rings Twice
  21. Robert Stone, Dog Soldiers
  22. Daniel Woodrell, Winter's Bone. (Another one I never heard of until this list.)
  23. Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall
  24. Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano. (These days, there are quite a few folks I would love to toss into a volcano.)
  25. Norman Mailer, The Naked and the Dead
  26. W.C. Heinz, The Professional
  27. Ernest Hemingway, For Whom the Bells Toll
  28. Michael Herr, Dispatches
  29. Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer
  30. Richard Yates, Revolutionary Road
  31. William Faulkner, As I Lay Dying.
  32. Michael Shaara, The Killer Angels.
  33. Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse-Five. (I read his Breakfast of Champions.)
  34. Robert Penn Warren, All the King's Men
  35. Ken Kesey, One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest
  36. William Styron, Sophie's Choice
  37. Frederick Exley, A Fan's Note. (Another I never heard of, or as we say back in Puerto Rico, "en su casa lo conocen y le guardan comida.")
  38. Kingsley Amis, Lucky Jim
  39. Haruki Murakami, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle
  40. Patrick O'Brian, Master and Commander
  41. Kent Haruf, Plainsong
  42. John Kennedy Toole, A Confederacy of Dunces.
  43. Russell Banks, Affliction
  44. Tobias Wolff, This Boy's Life
  45. Mark Helprin, Winter's Tale
  46. Saul Bellow, The Adventures of Augie March. (Curiously enough, I did know a boy named Augie back in middle school. Thought it was the strangest name ever. No idea if he was named after the titular character here or not.)
  47. Charles Bukowski, Women.
  48. Stephen Wright, Going Native
  49. Joseph Conrad, Heart of Darkness.
  50. John LeCarré, The Spy Who Came from the Cold.
  51. F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Crack-Up. (I read what most everyone reads by this guy, namely, The Great Gatsby, which personally I did not think was so great.)
  52. George Sanders, Civilwarland in Bad Decline
  53. Leo Tolstoy, War and Peace
  54. Stephen King, The Shining. (I have read quite a bit of King, but this is one of the ones I have not read.)
  55. Sherwood Anderson, Winesburg, Ohio. (Read it somewhere in graduate school. Don't really remember it.)
  56. Herman Melville, Moby Dick.
  57. Salman Rushdie, Midnight's Children
  58. Jorge Luis Borges, Labyrinths (and by the way, I read it in the original Spanish. As the writers in Esquire write about this book: "Packs more into three pages than most writers pack into a career." I think that gives me a pass on the rest of the pretentious tripe and the unheard of items in this list.) 
  59. Tom Wolfe, The Right Stuff
  60. Richard Ford, The Sportswriter
  61. James Ellroy, American Tabloid
  62.  Alex Haley, The Autobiography of Malcolm X. (This has been on my TBR list for a long time. I need to get to it sometime soon.)
  63. Richard Ben Cramer, What It Takes
  64. Dashiell Hammett, The Continental Op. (I have read some of his other stuff, but not this.)
  65. Graham Greene, The Power and the Glory (again, a case of I have read his other stuff. However, unlike Hammett, whom I liked, I could not care less about Greene.)
  66. William Maxwell, So Long, See You Tomorrow
  67. Richard Wright, Native Son
  68. James Agee and Walker Evans, Let Us Know Praise Famous Men
  69. Wallace Stegner, Angle of Repose
  70. David McCullough, The Great Bridge. (I have not read any of his books yet. Another bunch of stuff in the TBR list). 
  71. Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums (I read his On the Road. I did not care for it, so I have no intention to pick up the other book.)
  72. Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove
  73. Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita
  74. Don DeLillo, Underworld. (I did have to read some DeLillo in graduate school, but I do not recall what the hell it was, which tells you how little an impression he left. Another case of something I was forced to read.)
  75. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. (I read it in sixth grade, along with Tom Sawyer.)
  76. Don Winslow, Savages
  77. Adam Johnson, The Orphan Master's Son
  78. Ben Fountain, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk.
  79. Colum McCann, Let the Great World Spin
  80. Cormac McCarthy, The Road

So I read 9 books and add 13 other authors. Good thing I am fairly secure in my masculinity or I would be worried. If this is what passes for what every man should read, I honestly have to wonder about modern manhood.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Booknote: Teaching to Transgress

bell hooks, Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York: Routledge, 1994. ISBN: 0-415-90808-6.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: education, higher education, teaching, instruction, pedagogy, theory, activism
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Provided by Berea College as part of the Dean's Faculty Book Reading Group (and yes, they did let me keep it).



I will address this book in two parts.  One is this booknote and review that include my reading notes. Two will be my notes on the book discussion I participated in as part of the Dean's Faculty Book Discussion Group (I will post the discussion notes over at The Gypsy Librarian, since that is part of professional development, and I will link here). That discussion took place in two sessions: October 20, 2014 and November 10, 2014. My review here will be brief. The reading notes are a lot longer.

I got a lot out of this book. It was a challenging book at times, but it was also a book with some lengthy passages that I wished could have been trimmed a bit.

I rated it 3 out of 5 stars as I liked it.

It was one that I struggled with, and I say struggled both in a positive way, in the sense if gave me much to think about, and in a negative way, in the sense that it was not always an easy read and there were parts I probably could have skimmed.  It did make me reflect and look at myself, but it also brought to the surface assumptions others may have of me that I would rather not speak about (let's try not to delve too deeply on that). The book certainly got me out of the comfort zone, which in the end can be a good thing. There was a lot in the book that I connected with. Do I recommend it? If you are an educator or librarian, especially in higher education, then yes, should be reading it, but be ready to be challenged in one way or another as bell hooks has plenty to say for all.

* * *

Reading notes:

"We learned early that our devotion to learning, to a life of the mind, was a counter-hegemonic act, a fundamental way to resist every strategy of white racist colonization" (2). 

For some reason, the above quote reminded me of a moment in high school. I was getting a ride home with a classmate. His father handed me a copy of Claridad, Puerto Rico's alternative (and socialist, though that focus has softened since then) newspaper with the entreaty to read and learn young man. He was urging me to read, to learn, to think. Politics was not really something we talked about in the home. I was barely aware of what political leanings, if any, my parents had, and it was not until years later into my adulthood I could see what those leanings were. But I was always very devoted to learning. I still am devoted to learning, and when you talk colonization, Puerto Rico in relation to the United States is very much a classic example. In retrospect, me getting educated and learning to seek out alternative sources of information and education is an act of resistance. I resist every day pretty much in one way or another.

Next, we have a quote on professors. I have to say that I have met quite a few professors who fit the typed described in the next quote. However, and mercifully, I have met some good ones, including a rebel or two like Dr. Lee Papa (who went on to become the Rude Pundit.  I can say I was his student before he hit "the big time."):

"The vast majority of our professors lacked basic communication skills, they were not self-actualized, and they often used the classroom to enact rituals of control that were about domination and the unjust exercise of power. In these settings, I learned a lot about the kind of teacher I did not want to become" (5). 

Very often what I have learned from teachers, and now librarians, is the kind of teacher and librarian I do not want to be.

Here is something I have known for a while as a teacher:

"Teaching is a performative act. And it is that aspect of our work that offers the space for change, invention, spontaneous shifts, that can serve as a catalyst drawing out the unique elements in each classroom" (11). 

By the way, being a librarian very often is a performative act (I have even read a thing or two about it). I am sure you can ask one or two of the big shot librarians; they can probably expound on the topic quite a bit or just watch them be "performative."

An important reminder. It is important for the teacher to care for him/herself in order to help others. I will admit that I have not always been good about that, though I am working on it:

"Thich Nhat Hanh emphasized that 'the practice of a healer, therapist, teacher or any helping professional should be directed toward his or herself first, because if the helper is unhappy, he or she cannot help many people'" (15). 

On the idea, often found in colleges and universities, that academics are social misfits, unstable, other than valued for their minds:

"This meant that whether academic were drug addicts, alcoholics, batterers, or sexual abusers, the only important aspect of our identity was whether or not our minds functioned, whether we were able to do our jobs in the classroom" (16). 

This reminds me of an old joke from my graduate school days when I was doing my other masters degree. In fact, such a notion was often seen as a point of pride. I was told, more than once, that you had made it as a scholar and theorist if you could hold a full, coherent conversation on literary and/or critical theory while being drunk. This was seen as a particularly useful skill at academic conferences.  I can tell you that my opinion of those folks fell that day; it's also why I tend to avoid soirees and social gatherings at conferences. I never cared much for drunks, smart or otherwise. And before anyone says anything, yes, I do drink. There is your disclosure. However, I do so in moderation.

Here is something I can relate to, and goes back to the idea about learning what teacher and librarian I did not want to be from other teachers and librarians:

"I was dismayed by this, most of my professors were not individuals whose teaching styles I wanted to emulate" (17). 

Teachers need to take risks and be vulnerable as well in the classroom (within reason). This was a lesson I started learning early on in my career as a public school teacher when I wrote with my students during composition classes and took part in a faculty writing group. One of the reasons we formed that faculty writing group was so we could experience, to a degree, what students faced when it came to writing:

"Any classroom that employs a holistic model of learning will also be a place where teachers grow, and are empowered by the process. That empowerment cannot happen if we refuse to be vulnerable while encouraging students to take risks. Professors who expect students to share confessional narratives but who are themselves unwilling to share are exercising power in a manner that could be coercive" (21). 

On building community in the classroom:

"It has been my experience that one way to build community in the classroom is to recognize the value of each individual voice" (40).

Moving along, this next quote reflects the reality of some (perhaps many) of our students here at the college. This was an issue I also heard about during the Appalachian Tour:

"White students learning to think more critically about questions of race and racism may go home for the holidays and suddenly see their parents in a different light. They may recognize nonprogressive thinking, racism, and so on, and it may hurt them that new ways of knowing may create estrangement where there was none" (43). 

I don't think that is just white students. Even for me, being (highly) educated separates me from some parts of my family. I know what topics to avoid, what minefields to side step. Some things are worth keeping silent in the interest of family harmony. Does not mean it does not hurt.

A book to check out: Paulo Freire and Antonio Faundez, Learning to Question: a Pedagogy of Liberation.  hooks quotes Faundez:

"It seems to me essential that in our individual lives, we should day to day live out what we affirm" (48). 

I will grant that is easier said than done. Best I hope for is to lead a decent life and lead by example. But I would prefer avoiding any major tussles, at least choosing the battles in order to keep the sanity.

Next, I certainly saw this when I was in graduate school. In fact, it was often considered a badge of honor:

"It is evident that one of the many uses of theory in academic locations is in the production of an intellectual class hierarchy where the only work deemed truly theoretical is work that is highly abstract, jargonistic, difficult to read, and containing obscure references" (64). 

Now to follow along on the above, this can be a challenge to many in academia, but I can certainly see the appeal. It would probably make for a better world:

"Hence any theory that cannot be shared in everyday conversation cannot be used to educate the public" (64). 

Can you imagine how many pretentious academics would be out of work on that basis? And yes, we can certainly count a good number of pompous academic librarians in that group.

I can related to the woman that hooks meets in a black women's gathering who said:

". . . a black woman who had been particularly silent, said that she was not interested in all this theory and rhetoric, all this talk, that she was more interested in action, in doing something, that she was just 'tired' of all the talk" (66). 

Don't get me wrong. I understand critical theory can have its uses. I took quite extensive coursework in theory in graduate school in my previous life as an English major; it was enough to last me a lifetime. So at times, when people bring up theory, I simply want the "so what? What action to do I do with this?" I am glad to have studies theory, but I feel about theory the way a certain cowboy feels about revolvers:

"I said I never had much use for one. Never said I didn't know how to use it." -- Matthew Quigley, from the film Quigley Down  Under


I do concur with bell hooks that it is important to read widely, which I try to do as much as possible. And like her at times, I remain silent to not appear uppity. In my case, it is often more echoing another sage from film:

"That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job" --Peter Gibbons, from the film Office Space

Now here at Berea I do feel a bit more calm (but not too calm), but that has not always been the case. I may have things to say, but let's say sometimes I just pick my battles. And yea, I know the whole silence can be complicity, blah blah blah, but in the end, you can't fight them all, and you do have to eat. Hey, I did not say there was an easy answer. For me, I do what I can with what little I have.

"I have written elsewhere, and shared in numerous public talks and conversations, that my decisions about writing style, about not using conventional academic formats, are political decisions motivated by the desire to be inclusive, to reach as many readers as possible in as many different locations" (71). 

One would wish more scholars made that kind of decision, but academic glory does not lie in that direction. 

bell hooks is citing Henry Giroux on pedagogy and learning experience. I thought this was important to remember:

"Giroux suggests that professors must learn to respect the way students feel about their experiences as well as their need to speak about them in classroom settings: 'You can't deny that students have experiences and you can't deny that these experiences are relevant to the learning process even though you might say these experiences are limited, raw, unfruitful or whatever. Students have memories, families, religions, feelings, languages and cultures that give them a distinctive voice. We can critically engage that experience and we can move beyond it. But we can't deny it'" (88). 

Now here is a question, not just for feminist scholars:

"How many feminist scholars can respond effectively when faced with a racially and ethnically diverse audience who may not share similar class backgrounds, language, levels of understanding, communications skills, and concerns?" (112). 

Insert "any kind of scholar" and any discipline, and the question still applies. I know in the modified form, it is a question I think about now and then.

Here is a good point:

"Confronting one another across differences means that we must change ideas about how we learn; rather than fearing conflict we have to find ways to use it as a catalyst for new thinking, for growth" (113). 

I am willing to admit that for me this is something to keep working on. Not because I am  unwilling to learn, but because I am conflict-averse. Heck, there are things I avoid discussing in the profession at large just to avoid confrontation. Last thing I want is ticking off some celebrity librarian with a blog, for instance.

Anyhow, moving along. In the end, one has to start somewhere, and dialogue is often a way to start:

"To engage in dialogue is one of the simplest ways we can begin as teachers, scholars, and critical thinkers to cross boundaries, the barriers that may or not be erected by race, gender, class, professional standing, and a host of other differences" (130).

A reason bell hooks wrote the book:

". . . I was particularly interested in challenging the assumption that there could be no points of connection and camaraderie between white male scholars (often seen, rightly or wrongly, as representing the embodiment of power and privilege or oppressive hierarchy) and marginalized groups (women of all races or ethnicities, and men of color)" (130-131). 

By the way, you can't just "talk the talk." You have to walk the talk too:

"It's so difficult to change existing structures because the habit of repression is the norm. Education as the practice of freedom is not just about liberatory knowledge, it's about a liberatory practice in the classroom"  (147). 

And there is more, this time hooks quotes Ron Scapp, on faculty and students:

"In the way that they talk to students, call upon students, the control that they try to maintain, the comments they make, they reinforce the status quo.  This confuses students. It reinforces the impression that, despite what we read, despite what the guy says, if we really just look carefully at the way he is saying it, who he rewards, how he approaches people, there is no real difference. These actions undermine liberatory pegagogy" (147-148).

This is crucial:

"In regards to pedagogical practices we must intervene to alter the existing pedagogical structures and to teach students how to listen, how to hear one another" (150, emphasis in original).

This is certainly an important question. I may be all for listening seriously and all, but still:

"At what point does one say what someone else is saying ought not to be pursued in the classroom?"  (150).

On teachers learning from students:

"In my books I try to show how much my work is influenced by what students say in the classroom, what they do, what they express to me. Along with them I grow intellectually, developing sharper understandings of how to share knowledge and what to do in my participatory role with students" (152).

An important reminder:

"We have to learn how to appreciate difficulty too, as a stage in intellectual development" (154). 

And an understatement:

"Universities have to start recognizing that there's more to the education of a student than merely classroom time" (163). 

Compared to other places I have been and worked at, my current workplace we are doing decently in that regard.

Another book to possibly read later: Jake Ryan and Charles Sackrey, Strangers in Paradise: Academics from the Working Class.

A basic truth in academia, and this is one I have experienced myself:

"Students who enter the academy unwilling to accept without question the assumptions and values held by privileged classes tend to be silenced, deemed troublemakers" (179).

On demographics:

"If we can trust the demographics, we must assume that the academy will be full of students from diverse classes, and that more of our students than ever before will be from poor and working-class backgrounds. This change will not be reflected in the class background of professors" (189). 

Ponder that one a moment. I wonder if today, given the aftermath of the Great Recession and the constantly rising cost of college if that would still be the case.  More and more it seems working-class and poor students will be priced out, leaving higher education to those who can afford it (and yes, I am aware that Berea College is a very unique exception). Also keep in mind this book was published in 1994, and yet it remains so relevant today.

And I will wrap up with a quote about the common reality for professors, especially in big universities:

"Professors are expected to publish, but no one really expects or demands of us that we really care about teaching in uniquely passionate and different ways. Teachers who love students and are loved by them are still 'suspect' in the academy" (198). 

Maybe for me in the end this is why I have been a teacher and now an instruction librarian, leaving the path of a tenured professor behind. I do care much about my teaching and my students, and despite some librarians who questioned it, yes, I do develop close relationships with many of my students. In fact, more so where I work now. Curious thing for me is that, officially, I do have the title of professor now (assistant professor to be precise), but no one really remembers that. Anyhow, that can be another story for another time.



Friday, February 20, 2015

Booknote: Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus

Graham McNeill, Ultramarines: The Second Omnibus. Nottingham, UK: Black Library, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-84970-174-7.


This volume collects the second set of three novels in the Ultramarines series in Warhammer 40,000. The novels are The Killing Ground, Courage and Honor, and The Chapter's Due.

For The Killing Ground, the novel started a bit slow in terms of pace, and characters like Governor Barbaten and Colonel Kain were right down odious. However, once the novel picked up the pace, I did end up liking it. In the novel, Uriel and Pasanius manage to make it back from the Eye of Terror (see previous novels to learn how they got there). They arrive, barely alive, on a strange world. They have to prove who they are to the local imperial forces, who are very skeptical. However, that may be the least of the two space marines' problems as the planetary governor and his forces are hiding a dark secret, a terrible crime that comes back to haunt them all. A reckoning is coming, and Uriel and Pasanius are caught right in the middle of it. The novel blends action with some intrigue and supernatural elements. Uriel and Pasanius need to uncover the truth, all in the hopes of making it back home. Overall, a good tale.

Next we get Courage and Honor and The Chapter's Due. Of the two, I enjoyed Courage and Honor better, which is my favorite in the set. In Courage and Honor, Uriel is back in command of the Fourth Company with the Ultramarines, and he has to repel a Tau invasion on a world his Ultramarines saved before. Eyes are still on him to see if his experience in the Eye of Terror tainted him (this in spite of him already having passed the trials the Ultramarines imposed on him previously). He returns to Pavonis, where the Tau are launching an invasion. It is a subtle invasion for they come as negotiators and traders. Are they really? A good element of this novel is that we also get the Tau point of view, and suddenly they do not seem as bad as the Imperium makes them to be. Good intrigue and tension, a solid cast of characters, including some unlikeable ones. Plenty of action and gallant deaths for fans of the series.

In The Chapter's Due, Uriel gets to confront his past as Warlord Honsou comes to attack the worlds of Ultramar. Honsou somehow seems to be a step ahead of the Ultramarines. The novel does give some nice insights into Uriel's past. However, the pace is not always consistent when compared to the other two novels in the collection. Yet The Chapter's Due does offer enough action and suspense to keep us reading.

The volume also includes the novella "Eye of Vengeance" and the short comic "Black Bone Road." The comic features a young sergeant named Uriel Ventris who is still learning his path as a space marine. These two items make a nice bonus.

In the end, this was a volume that I really liked. It had some ups and downs, but I enjoyed it overall. Fans of this series will enjoy it. If you have not read the series before, you should start with the first novel in the series, which is collected with two others in a previous omnibus (I linked to my review of that above). Fans of military science fiction may want to give this one a spin.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

Adding the Manga/Graphic Novels/Video Game (MGV) Challenge 2015

I sort of forgot, or rather did not pay much attention, to notice this challenge was also going on. I did it last year, and I completed it with a comfortable margin. So, will I be able to do it again this year? What I like about this challenge, besides the fact it deals in graphic novels and mangas, is that it also deals in video game novels. You know the ones. The ones no one admits to reading, but you know someone is reading because they sell. I do read one or two of those. In fact, I have a couple of Warhammer 40,000 books in the TBR pile, so if I get to them this year, I can add them to this challenge too. So, I am signing up now to catch up, and I think I will be OK since I can cross items from my other graphic novels challenge I am doing this year. So, without further fuss,

The 2015 Manga/Graphic Novels/Video Game Novels Challenge

Mother Gamer Writer


You can click the link above to get the full details of the rules. Some highlights:

  • This challenge will run from January 1, 2015 to December 31, 2015. You can sign up at any time. (Good thing late sign ups are acceptable). 
  • Any book counts as long as it fits into one of the 3 chosen categories: Manga (all types of comic books are acceptable), Graphic Novels, Video Game Based Novels (Such as books based off of Warhammer, World of Warcraft, HALO, Mass Effect, Dungeons and Dragons, etc).
As I usually do in these challenges, I will be adding titles to the list as I read them. I will add the links to the reviews as I post them. This year I will commit to the following level:

  • Level 4 Call of Duty – Veteran Player
    • Read a total of 35 – 45 books.


I did the highest level last year, but since life has a way of happening, I am giving myself some leeway. Naturally, if I do better, I will upgrade accordingly. 

List of books read and reviewed for this challenge:

  1. Matt Smith and Carl Critchlow, Judge Dredd: Anderson, Psi Division
  2. Chris Metzen, Transformers: Primacy
  3. Vic Malhotra, X-Files: Year Zero.
  4. Scott Snyder, American Vampire, Volume 5
  5. Kennedy Xu, Daomu
  6. Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 2
  7. Juzo Tokoro, Spawn: Shadows of Spawn, Volume 3
  8. Alex Ross, et.al, The Six Million Dollar Man, Season 6
  9. Scott Snyder, American Vampire, Volume 7





Friday, February 13, 2015

Booknote: The Best Shots You've Never Had

Andrew Bohrer, The Best Shots You've Never Tried: 100+ Intoxicating Oddities You'll Never Actually Want to Put Down. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2012. ISBN: 9781440536175.


Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: drinks, alcohol and spirits, recipe books
Format: Print. Softcover.
Source: I bought this cheap (at Ollie's Bargain Outlet). 



After reading this, I can tell you right now that most shots in this book will remain forever untried. What I found is that the recipes call for various exotic or very rare liquors that very few common people are bound to have sitting at home. The author's "comforting" suggestion? Why, use the Internet. I just don't see a lot of people making lists and hopping on the Internet to buy rare booze that may cost a bit in some cases and may not get much use. And that is the other thing: unless you use certain liquors a lot, having a bottle of them in the house is not worth. Maybe this is why some people pay extra and go to the bar, so they can sample stuff they can't make at home.

Even the section of the book entitled "Shots of Last Resort," which reassures us that "most anybody's house has enough fixins to chef up great treats--simply remember that creativity and bravery are a must," is a bit of false advertising. Sure, there are recipes that use items like pickle juice (you all have a pickle jar in the house, right?), some jams (you have to put something on your bread, right?), and even a packet of sweet and sour sauce (left over from that one take out order we guess). But these items are often paired with not so common liquors like Fernet Branca and St. Germain. Overall, there may be a recipe or two that may be viable in this section; others feature stuff that not everyone keeps in the house.

A positive element in the book is the photography. The book features beautiful photos of the shots. They did pick out some very nice glassware to highlight the shots. Also, some of the trivia can be interesting. However, this is a book mostly to look at and move on. If you are a fully-fledged mixologist, you may venture and try to make some of the creations listed, assuming you have a fully stocked bar and a ton of friends to mix drinks for. The average home drinker is just not going to make the vast majority of the shots featured in this book due to just not having the materials or just finding it is not worth the effort to acquire a bottle of something that may be costly and rarely used.

Overall, it is a nice book to look at if you like pretty pictures. I'd say borrow it, except I would not really recommend it to libraries. I just do not see the average public library user borrowing this and attempting to replicate the shots at home. To be honest, the only people I see actually using this book are high end mixologists and trendy bartenders at fancy hipster bars. Oh, and I bet this guy also has a copy of the book:





OK, that was a little snarky but I am being honest. After reading this book, the image of the mixologist who uses tap water from the Library of Congress and went to school in Stockholm to learn how to build a deconstructed martini came to mind.

In the end, the book did have a positive or two, so I am rating it 2 out of 5 stars. It was OK, mostly to look at.

On a side note, if any readers are interested, the author does keep a blog at http://caskstrength.wordpess.com.  It does not seem to be update regularly, and as of this post, it did not have anything new since December of last year. Interestingly, on his section in his blog for other books, which are books he recommends by other folks, he does feature two books that I have read:

If I were you, I'd skip this book and pick out one of the other books this author recommends (written by others) on his list, which does include some basic guides and recipe books that seem a bit more accessible.


This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:











Booknote: The Family Corleone

 Ed Falco, The Family Corleone. New York: Grand Central Publishing, 2012. ISBN: 9780446574624.

As a fan of the film and the book, I am always curious when a new spinoff novel comes out, even though I know that quality can vary dramatically. Thus I found myself reading Ed Falco's The Family Corleone. This is a prequel to the Mario Puzo novel and film.

It is an intense time for the Corleones. Prohibition is about to end, and they need to figure out the future. Though the book deals with Vito Corleone's rise to power, this is clearly more the story of Sonny Corleone. Sonny is a rebellious teen who, in spite of his father's wishes, wants to really, really wants to join the family business. The novel is also very much the story of Luca Brasi, Vito Corleone's feared enforcer. If you really want to know how the the fearsome man came to work for Don Corleone,  you get it here. If memory serves me right, the story is mentioned in Mario Puzo's novel (but not in the film).

The story captures some of the original's feel, but clearly it is not Puzo's work. This one really feels like something is missing. It was an OK read, and like other books in this genre, a fairly light and quick read. The book does have some issues in terms of historical accuracy, so readers who are very aware of history, especially mob history of New York at the time, will notice the issues. I do mention this because the author does pull in a historical figure or two into the fiction. Fans of the original will probably want to look it over, mostly for the sake of curiosity. If nothing else, it will make you go back and reread the original.

In the end, 2 out of 5 stars as it was just OK.