Friday, July 18, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: July 18, 2014 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.

Work has kept me busy, and life has tossed me a couple of nasty curve balls in the last couple of weeks, which is why I have not been here to blog the series. So, this week we have a few older items combined with some more recent ones. The news cycle may do its best to tell you that things are not so bad. I beg to differ, and here are this week's Signs the Economy is Bad. As always, comments (within reason) are welcome.

  • Let us start with a bit of analysis and discussion about the definitions of poverty, which we know are woefully out of date and inadequate. Stephen Pimpare looks at some U.S. Census data, and he discusses some patterns. Sure, "generational poverty [is] the exception, not the rule," but we still learn that poverty in the United States is a lot worse than people are willing to admit or consider. As Pimpare writes, "so poverty in the U.S. is, in fact, a much larger problem than we think it is, and it’s one that most Americans will face." Aside from the uber rich, odds are good many people out there may face at least a "small" spell of poverty at some point. This is something for certain folks to consider the next time they want to whine about those "deadbeat takers." As that old wise man once told me, "there but for (insert your deity of choice here), go I." Story via Talk Poverty. A hat tip to 
  • We can add to the story above with a report out of the U.S. Census Bureau that the number of people living in "poverty areas" is up. I guess the uber rich and the self-righteous can find more people to hate. 
  • So, how else does the nation punish the poor? Taking their kids away is certainly an option. And since working the poor takes work and costs money, farm out things like child welfare services to other nonprofits that may be less than scrupulous. Story via Truthout.
  • Then again, hating the poor is often a national pastime in the United States. Kim Redigan , writing for Common Dreams, asks, "Why Do We Hate the Poor?" For some reason, often in this nation, as long as someone is not affected it's pretty much who gives a hoot about the less fortunate. Whether it's Detroit and the water shut offs issue, which Redigan is discussing, or the homeless in our cities, or the recent spat of vitriol over unaccompanied children, many of which are refugees, at the southern border, Americans sure love to hate the poor and less fortunate. Heck, this is so popular a pastime that even public officials get in on demonizing the poor on the Internet with sock puppets. 
  • A common story in the bad economy is the Millennial adults having to live with their parents. Jobs are scarce, and finding, let alone, getting a good job can be quite the odyssey. The New Republic reports that "Yes, Millenials Actually Are Living in their Parents' Basements," and they bring in some numbers to prove it. They are not the only ones saying that. Pew Research makes similar findings available as they report on young adults driving a rise in multi-generational dwellings
  • As if new adults and millennials did not have it bad enough living with their elders, the colleges many of them graduated from have the gall to ask those graduates, poor and very likely unemployed, for donations to the college. I don't know about you, but given my alma maters really did not do that much for me, I am not feeling the mood to give them a penny. Not that I have a penny to give them anyhow. One college graduate decided to send a letter back to his alma mater to tell them what he thought of their fundraising. Found at Blue Nation Review.
  • In the bad economy, some folks do end up homeless. There are many reasons why people end up homeless, but very often they all make their way to one place: their local public library. According to the story, "moving beyond their old-fashioned image as book custodians where librarians shush people for talking too loud, libraries have evolved to serve as community centers, staffed with social workers and offering programs from meals to job counseling."Story via Reuters.
  • And speaking of libraries and programs that promote literacy, another good program has bitten the dust in the bad economy. Via Infodocket, a report that World Book Night suspended its U.S. operations due to lack of funding.
  • A place where they would have you believe that everything is fine is the fine state of Texas. The "Texas miracle" is something that people like their governor love to brag about. However, it's more illusion than actual substance. For instance, as detailed by The Texas Tribune, sure they managed to spark more jobs, but they did so at the expense of things like regulations for job safety. They lead in job fatalities, but hey, what's a few dead workers as long as the economy is moving along, right? So a fertilizer plant blows up because no one was inspecting it to make sure it was safe? Big deal. It's Texas; they do it bigger down there, including killing workers.
  • A place that is not doing so well is Latin America. No, the United States is not the only place with a bad economy. Apparently, things are specially bad for young people in Latin America as they face a spiral of unemployment and poverty, according to Truthout. For instance, according to the article, "according to a study by ECLAC and the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), nearly one-third of young people in Latin America and the Caribbean live in poverty. . . . " 
  • Thinking about traveling? Personally, I avoid flying as much as possible. The increasing and constant hassles of the cattle cars in the sky are things to avoid. Apparently a few people think as I do since it seems they are making people decide to avoid commercial flight. According to the U.S. Travel Association, 38 million trips were avoided in 2013 (as in people chose not to fly), which cost the economy $35.7 billion. Since commercial flight is still alive and well, it seems not enough people are avoiding flights just yet. Given the way they treat people, if a few airlines go broke and take a few ancillary services with it, so much the better. Maybe they will get the message then.
And it has been a fairly good couple of weeks or so for the uber rich:

  • For one, according to a new study, the American uber rich are more obscenely rich than previously thought. I would not care less, except for those pesky details of income inequality and even more obscene poverty, often caused by the uber rich's exploitation. Story via AlterNet
  • Now, some people complain this whole income gap and wealth inequality stuff is complicated. That it is hard to understand. So, to help those people I have found an explanation that even the most unsophisticated person can probably understand, courtesy of John Oliver. (Link to YouTube video). 
  • Now, some may say I am being mean calling the uber rich exploitative. Well, don't take my word for it. It turns out that extreme wealth can and does breed narcissism to the point where a they get richer, they feel more entitled to lie, cheat, so on. Story via The Guardian.
  • And to rub salt on the wound, they get more attention on television too. Poverty is barely mentioned in newscasts. Story via AlterNet.
  • Finally, what I am labeling the most ridiculous sign the economy is bad:  you need $60,000 to make a potato salad. Yes, some guy decided he was craving potato salad, but he did not know how to make one. So, instead maybe asking his granny or looking up a recipe on the Internet, he gets one of the Kickstarter things going to raise money for his salad. He got $60K for his potato salad. No shit, really. However, it turns out you can make a potato salad for a lot less, as demonstrated by the author at Poor as Folk. As the author writes I also say that I am not sure who to be irritated at here: the fuckbagel who begged for the money, or the asswaffles with money to burn who actually gave it to him. So many worthy causes, and this is what they give money to? Ridiculous indeed.

Booknote: Corpse on the Imjin

Harvey Kurtzman, Corpse on the Imjin and Other Stories. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books, 2012. ISBN: 9781606995457.

This book collects war stories from EC Comics by Harvey Kurtzman.  The book is part of Fantagraphics EC Comics Library series. The strength of Kurtzman's comics lies in the portrayal of war. Most American (U.S.) war comics depict the big, handsome American soldier being heroic as he mows down a bunch of enemies. Kurtzman instead chose to portray war as it was, without glamour, and often presenting the enemy as humane. For example, in "Dying City," we get the story of a young Korean man who leaves his family to join the North Korean army. He is blinded in combat, but it turns out he was also blind to other truths long before he went off to war.

The book collects 24 stories. All scripts are by Kurtzman, and he also did the art on eleven of the stories. For other stories, he called on greats like Alex Toth and Joe Kubert among others. Kurtzman and his team paid much attention to detail, and they did research to get their military details correct. It shows in the comics. The art is also excellent in depicting the horror and tragedy of war; see the title story, "Corpse on the Imjin" for an example. The comics also depict the routine moments of a war zone. I would say that if more people read these comics they would not be jingoistically celebrating war. The comics collection covers conflicts from the Revolutionary War to the Korean Conflict, from big figures like John Paul Jones to soldiers in trenches and jet pilots.

Like other volumes in this Fantagraphics series, this one has various extras. Various essays discuss Kurtzman's work. There is an interview with Kurtzman, and there is also a very nice full color gallery of Kurtzman covers from Two-Fisted Tales and Frontline Combat, the main EC Comics titles where his work was featured.

Public libraries will definitely want to add this to their collections. Academic libraries with interests in pop culture and/or recreational reading collections may want to add this one as well, especially if they have added others in the series. Fans of vintage comics may want to consider adding this to their collections. Though I borrowed it from my local public library, this is one I would consider adding to my personal library as well as the others.

If you ask me, 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: Nightwing, Volume 4: Second City

Kyle Higgins, Nightwing, Volume 4: Second City. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781401246303.

This is part of DC's The New 52 series, and it comes right after the events of Death of the Family. Dick Grayson, a.k.a. as Nightwing, has a lead on the man who killed his parents, and that lead takes him to Chicago. Chicago now has a very clear and aggressive policy against masked vigilantes, so Dick will need to be extra careful. To complicate matters, a villain known as The Prankster is terrorizing the city. Prankster is also someone that Nightwing may have to work with in order to solve the case.

This was a good story with a fast pace. After the dark intensity of Death of the Family, this makes for a good change of pace. Kyle Higgins gives us a solid story where Nightwing strives to catch the man who killed his parents and get some justice. The hero also has to save a city that is not his own. The tale has some good twists and surprises to keep readers interested.

This was one that I really liked, so I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars. It certainly makes me want to try out the next one.

This is one the public libraries will want to get for their collections, especially if they are already collecting DC titles, specifically ones in The New 52 series. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections and/or recreational reading, this could make a good addition. I am very likely to order it for our library. 

isclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher. 

Friday, July 11, 2014

Booknote: Complete Peanuts: 1959-1960 and Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962

Charles M. Schultz, The Complete Peanuts: 1959-1960. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2006. 

Charles M. Schultz, The Complete Peanuts: 1961-1962. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics, 2006.

I continue reading this series published by Fantagraphics as I manage to get my hands on it. In the 1959-1960 volume contains the now famous strip of "Happiness is a warm puppy." We also see Charlie Brown's sister, Sally. In the 1961-1962 volume, Schultz introduces a new character: the very vain Frieda, along with her cat Falon. Also in this volume, Sally continues to grow, and Snoopy gets a bird family who sort of become tenants in his doghouse. The parts with Snoopy and the birds were kind of cute.

One thing that caught my eye, and it seemed more prominent in the 1959-1960 volume is the amount of verbal bullying Charlie Brown gets. Lucy, who also bullies her brother Linus quite a bit, and the other neighborhood girls are clearly prototypes of the mean girl characters that, for reasons I can't fathom, many people seem to like and make popular. In reading these books, there were moments were I just cringed at the amount of cruelty those girls can dish out. As much as I like Peanuts, this was a very negative and dark element indeed. Ray Bradbury, quoted in the 1959-1960 back book cover, called Peanuts "the finest comic in the world." The negative elements in the strip seem to take a lot of the luster away. Now, I know plenty of folks will say, "it's just kids being kids," to which I will say that's part of the problem: parents who basically enable the bad behavior by abdicating their responsibility. Children's world may not be idea, but abuse is simply not acceptable.

Overall, the series does have some nice, warm, and amusing moments. The second volume in this set was better. It is, as a whole, interesting to see how Schultz's art and characters evolve over time. In terms of book quality and value, Fantagraphics continues to do good work, and I'd say these are good editions for fans. This is series is definitely one public libraries, and academic librarians with pop culture or recreational reading collections, need to have.

I'd give the 1959-1960 volume 3 stars.
4 stars for the 1961-1962 volume.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Booknote: Codename: Action, Volume 1

Chris Roberson and Jonathan Lau, Codename: Action, Volume 1. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781606904763.

This was a fun and easy to read romp of a comic book. Agent 1001 is the latest agent in the American intelligence community. He may also be the last one due to the agency getting consolidated with an international force. But for now, it falls to him, with the aide of his veteran mentor, to save the world during the Cold War era. The book also features some old time masked superheroes, like the Green Hornet and Kato, who will eventually join with our protagonist. However, for now, the other heroes do appear very briefly. This is clearly a volume to set up an ongoing series.

If you enjoy the old school James Bond films with its gadgets, hot women, and villains all out to rule the world, then this is a book for you. It has the super agent. It has the gadgets, including a submersible car. It has the hot women, in this case a group of French intelligence agents (by the way, why is often the "hot" women in these stories have to be French? haha!). And we have the villain trying to start World War III with a pair of nuclear missiles. It has all that old school adventure goodness packed in with some nice art to boot. This is a volume with great action, a fast pace, a great villain, and fun ride. I really liked this quick read.

The volume includes a gallery of cover art, including some alternative covers. It is a fun read that I think many public libraries will probably want to have in their graphic novel collections.

I am giving it 4 out 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Booknote: Thirteen at Dinner

Agatha Christie, Thirteen at Dinner. (WorldCat link. There are various editions of this and other Christie works, so find the one you like)

This one took me a bit longer to read, and I will admit that the path to the solution was a bit complex for me. That did give me an appreciation of Dame Christie's craft. Lord Edgware is murdered. His wife, actress Jane Wilkinson, who was asking Hercule Poirot for help in divorcing him and/or getting rid of him, is naturally a suspect. However, another actress known for her celebrity impersonations is charged with the crime. There is even a witness that identifies her. However, this may not be a simple case, and it falls to Poirot to find the truth.

For me, part of the appeal of reading Agatha Christie is in the setting of the novels. I find small details such as letter writing to be fascinating. There is a charm to Poirot's pre-World War II era that is not there in modern mysteries. In addition, Christie falls in the cozy mystery category, which means no blood or gore. So, the attention to the mystery really falls on the mystery itself and the details. Overall, this was a nice light read, and I'd give it four out of five stars if you ask.

On a side note, I picked this up earlier because of the library's summer reading program. One of the options from the public library for the adult program was to read a mystery. Since I had read Christie before, and I do like Poirot, I picked up this one.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Booknote: A Curious Man

Neal Thompson, A Curious Man: the Strange & Brilliant Life of Robert "Believe It or Not!" Ripley. New York: Crown Archetype, 2013. ISBN: 9780770436209.

This is a book that I definitely enjoyed. It reads like a good yarn. However, this is the true and amazing life of Robert Ripley, the man who created the "Believe It or Not!" cartoon and made a fortune in the process. Almost like a Horatio Alger story, Ripley started from pretty much nothing, and he went on to be a successful cartoonist and entertainer whose legacy lives on today. Ripley lived through great events in his life from the San Francisco Earthquake to World War I to the Great Depression and Prohibition. He had a great sense of adventure and curiosity, and in many ways, he was as odd as the many oddities he documented.

Once he started working as a newspaper cartoonist, he began to grow. He moved from sports to oddities as he sought his niche. He also grew into a world traveler who explored the corners of the Earth. He would write and make cartoons documenting the oddities and wonders he saw. As Thompson writes,

"he started to weave history lessons with cultural analysis, travelogue and random cogitations, weird facts and personal opinion, the type of wide-ranging commentary that would decades later be called blogging" (92, emphasis in original).

I have to say I found that passage, as a blogger myself, a bit inspiring. Ripley, the awkward buck-toothed kid would grow up to be an entertainment innovator and a man who kept his sense of wonder.

Now, let's not just idealize Ripley. As an artist, he could be temperamental. He was a bit of a womanizer and quite a drinker, but he was also a man who brought entertainment to many during the dark days of the Great Depression. As a traveler, he could be a sharp observer, but he could also be prejudiced. Yet he was also a very generous man.

Thompson does a great job in showing Ripley the artist, entertainer, and human being passionate about the strange, the odd, and curious things of the world. Ripley also had a good way with people, especially the disfigured or handicapped and those from foreign lands. Thompson goes on to write on this,

"as one who had suffered humiliation and loss in his own life, he seems to understand the discomfort of others. As one who had mingled with all classes, he seems to possess some reserve of compassion, coming across gentle and nonjudgmental" (258).

The book shows that Thompson has done great research to bring Robert Ripley to life. Ripley's legacy lives on today in his books and Odditoriums around the world. If you have ever visited a Ripley museum (which I have, the one for Dallas/Fort Worth, which is actually in Grand Prairie; it's  still in the Metroplex), or if you enjoyed his cartoons, you will certainly enjoy reading about Ripley's life. In the end, Max Schuster said of Ripley, ". . . I am more convinced than ever that the greatest Believe It or Not of them all is the story of Bob Ripley" (308). Thompson gives us this interesting story and certainly confirms Schuster's words. As an added feature, the book does include a very good set of photos and illustrations inside. This is a book that I definitely recommend. An excellent biography.

If you ask me, 5 out of 5 stars.

Reading about the reading life: June 27, 2014.

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary.As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason). 


  • Let's open this week with some quotes about books and reading. I am sure you can find some inspiration with these "33 Reasons Why You're Addicted to Books."Link from BuzzFeed. The list features that favorite Groucho Marx quote: "I find television very educating. Every time someone turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book." It is something  I have been doing more lately, turning off the television in favor of reading a book.
  • Those of who live with books know that they can take up space. Organizing your books is always a bit of a challenge. Via Web Urbanist, here are some creative ideas for organizing your reading spaces. See their list of "Reading Room (Dividers): 13 Creative Bookshelf Designs.
  • This is a bit old by now, but interesting nonetheless if you like book trade trivia. From ABE Books, a list of "the top 100 most searched for out-of-print books in 2013." As in previous years, Madonna's Sex is still number one.  Richard Bachman's Rage is second on the list. Bachman is Stephen King's pseudonym; he allowed the book to go out of print after some school shooting events. Curiously enough, I still have a copy of Rage, which is part of the anthology The Bachman Books, which I own. I have not reread The Bachman Books in a while, which also contain The Running Man, basis for the film, which to me was more memorable than Rage. At any rate, there are a few other interesting titles on the list.
  • Those who know me know that I probably read a bit more nonfiction than fiction. When it comes to literary fiction, for the most part (there are notable exceptions), I could not care less. And if a piece of fiction is one of those that preaches something, I am gone. However, I still manage to read some fiction, and this includes some of the old crime fiction, writers like Hammett, Chandler, and even Spillane. They just have something that modern writers more focused on thrillers, conspiracies, and shady governmental agents just do not have. So, I found this piece on AlterNet interesting. It gives you "5 Reasons People Wanting to Change the World Should Read Crime Fiction." I think the article makes an interesting case, especially about good crime fiction often depicting the plight of the small guy, corruption by the wealthy, and the hero trying to make things right. I think for me those are appeal factors as well.
  • 2014 saw the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. There are many reasons that we do need to never forget the Holocaust. Stephen Marche, writing for Esquire magazine, argues for one way to remember: everyone should read Hitler's book Mein Kampf. Here is one reason, the book "also points out something that we should recognize in the new hate groups rising in Europe, such as the Golden Dawn in Greece, and Jobbik in Hungary. It's not just pantomime. They mean what they say. We should take them at their word." I would say it also points out something we need to be recognizing in hate groups that emerge and exist in the United States. I will admit that I have not read the book yet, but it is on my TBR list. 
  • Personally, I am not a big fan of book clubs. Shocker, I know. I just do not like being told what to read and then having to listen to people with various degrees of "informed" or "not so informed" opinion try to tell me why they liked the book. I am too much of a free spirit for that kind of structure, but if it gets people to read, then hey, have at it. Well, apparently, book clubs have gotten serious, and they are also a serious business, one that authors cannot really afford to ignore.  From the article, "What is new, however, is that book clubs’ appetite for reading — and the power of their consumption — is becoming a publishing influencer. Clubs are in fact spawning a business niche that is driving marketing decisions of authors and publishers." Story via The Millions.
  • And finally for this week, a look at politicians' books. It seems these days that any politician wanting to move up, get elected, or stay in office needs to write a book. Calling these books "bestsellers" is being charitable if not outright lying. Politico recently had a piece asking "Why are Politicians' Books So Terrible?" Now, this is a genre I usually do not read, although I have read one or two books in the genre (just enough to maintain some cred on this topic for readers' advisory). From what I have seen, most of the stuff is indeed terrible, and a lot of it deserves to be forgotten pretty much right after it comes out. Why publishers give politician book deals to pen (or most likely hire a ghost writer to do it for them) crappy books that will end up in recycling bins and landfills is beyond me.

Booknote: Coffin Hill, Volume 1

Caitlin Kittredge and Inaki Miranda, Coffin Hill, Volume 1: Forest of the Night.  New York: Vertigo, 2014. ISBN: 9781401248871.

This series is the story of Eve Coffin. Eve is a daughter of the Coffin family in a small New England town. The Coffin women are witches who fled Salem and the witch hunts, eventually settling in their current town. Eve goes to Boston, seeking to leave her past behind. She becomes a city cop but gets wounded on duty, so she gets a medical retirement. She then returns to the town she left behind where years ago one of her friends went missing and another ended up in a mental ward. Some folks, including the local police chief, seek to blame here, but there is a darker power involved. Will Eve be able to solve the mystery? 

Right away I will say that this is a volume with some good art. For some readers, this may be a good reason to pick it up. This is a horror/mystery story, more mystery than full horror. Fans of witches' stories will probably enjoy this one. The Coffin witches are traditional witches; you can forget the ideas of modern pop urban fantasy here. This work is the story of witches confronting a dark power in a small town while concerned about staying below the radar so to speak. The narrative jumps back and forth a bit between the modern time and flashbacks. Eve is not always a sympathetic character; as a teen, she was working to steal her best friend's boyfriend for instance.

In the end, if you like some suspense, a little drama, and some supernatural tales with witches, this may be for you. This is more in line with works like Lovecraft and Poe. I did not score it higher because some of the family and soap opera elements are just not appealing to me, but the supernatural suspense was pretty good. In terms of appeal, readers of works like the Locke and Key series may enjoy this one. I liked it, but that is about as far as I go. Volume collects issues 1-7 of the Coffin Hill comics.

Giving it 3.5 out 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher.