Friday, December 19, 2014

Booknote: Shelf Life

George Grant and Karen B. Grant, eds., Shelf Life: How Books Have Changed the Destinies and Desires of Men and Nations. Nashville, TN: Cumberland House, 1999. ISBN:  9781581820430.

I thought this would be a nice book of quotations about readers and books. I happen to enjoy quotation books, especially if they are about books and readers. Well, apparently the editors of this collection also happen to be moralistic puritans because as soon as I started reading the introduction I was bombarded with jeremiads against pop culture and television, the evils of mass media, and television as "a kind of electronic valiume" (14). Once they starting citing Robert Bork, I knew this book was not just going to be a nice book of quotations.

Then, as if that was not bad enough, we also get the pretentious claptrap that to be a serious or real reader, you have to read the classics. So my suggestion is to skip the parts and commentary written by the editors and just read the quotes. Better yet, just skip this book altogether and find a better quotes book that truly celebrates reading culture instead of sticking to old and outdated stereotypes.

I did not like this one, so I am giving it 1 out of 5 stars (and I do it under protest). And by the way, I am not even commenting on that pompous full title, which is not really applicable.

Booknote: Ciudad

Ande Parks,, Ciudad. Portland, OR: Oni Press, 2014. ISBN:  9781620101469. 

This story takes place in a somewhat dystopian Paraguayan city, Ciudad del Este. This is a border city where crime and business are king, and they are often one and the same. The action starts with a man rescuing a girl held for ransom. This rescue sequence sets up the rest of the story.

This was a story that I wanted to like, but the art kept getting in the way. It is a very basic black and white with a certain grittiness to it that often became fuzzy. It was hard to make out certain features at times. Some panels were so poorly designed that it was hard to know what exactly happened in a particular panel. This really is a pity because I did like the action and the story overall, but the art just took away any enjoyment I may have had otherwise.

I liked this story, but this work overall could have been so much better. This is the kind of story that Hollywood could take and very easily make an action movie. In the end, it was just OK, so I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Once again, this is where I tell you that I read this via NetGalley; it was provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. And thus we appease The Man once more.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Booknote: Zaya

Jean-David Moran,, Zaya. Burbank, CA: Magnetic Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780991332496.

WARNING: This review does contain some spoilers, which I find necessary in order to make sense of what is a very convoluted book. 

I have to say I had a bit of a hard time with this one. The art is interesting, to say the least. I would call it a little surrealistic at times. The plot is not totally clear as it starts in an art exhibit and moves to a man getting pursued and shot. Is it some espionage thing we may ask as the comic starts? At the exhibit, the artist stops an obnoxious drunk from beating a waiter; this clearly sets up that she is more than just an artist.

The problem with the story is that it takes a good while to figure out what exactly is going on. Once you do get it, it is an interesting premise. The setting is on another planet. It is futuristic, yet it retains a lot of 20th century features and details. We learn that Zaya is a dark ops agent, brought back from retirement it seems. Spiral is the agency she worked for. Things get interesting as Zaya manages to capture a killer, escape, only to get lost in a mysterious part of space where, while lost, the rest of the universe changes. When she manages to return, she has ceased to exist for others. Zaya then needs to figure out what has happened.

The action in the story is somewhat convoluted. It moves from location to location, and the connections in the plot are not always clear. It is not a bad story, but it can be difficult to follow, and the art does have some cluttered moments. In the end, I did like it.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

For libraries, I would consider this an optional title. Libraries with strong graphic novel collections could consider it. However, if your collection is more casual or light, this may be one to pass on in favor of others. 

Disclosure note: You know, where I tell you I read this as review copy from the publisher via NetGalley in order to appease The Man. 

Booknote: Adolf: a Tale of the Twentieth Century

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf: a Tale of the Twentieth Century. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1995. ISBN: 1-56931-058-0. 

This is the first volume of a series of five. I will be reviewing them as I read them. Osamu Tezuka's series Adolf is the story of three men named Adolf, one of them being the German Fuhrer. The first volume presents the start of the story. The story begins at the eve of the Second World War as Germany and Japan are rising to power. As the story starts, Sohei Toge, a survivor as he tells us, begins to tell us the story of three men linked by a single twist of fate. From there, our story begins. While in Germany, one Adolf is rising to power, seen in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In Japan, two boys, one the son of a German diplomat and Nazi married to a Japanese woman and the other a German Jewish boy whose family lives in Japan, become best friends in spite of the odds.

The story starts with a murder mystery. Sohei Toge is a Japanese reporter for Kyogo News Agency covering the Olympics in Berlin. His brother, an exchange student in Germany, is murdered. Sohei can't let it go as it becomes clear to him the Nazis killed his brother, likely because the brother may have been a communist.  In Japan, a geisha is murdered, and local police suspect a member of the German embassy. From there, Tezuka begins to weave a complex and very interesting story that pulls you in.

Though this is fiction, Tezuka incorporates history as well as his own experience (he was a young man in World War II, studying medicine). In addition to the very solid story, you get a very unique perspective on the war and its history. For instance, I learned that though Japan and Germany were allies, Japan did not embrace the anti-Semitism of the Germans. So Jews could go and be (relatively) safe in Japan, at least in the early years. They had thriving communities there. This is not a part of history you hear very often in most history books and documentaries, and I found it interesting. Tezuka is also strong in characterization. Every character here has complexity, and they can have their good and bad moments, both villains and heroes.

This series came out in the late 1980s, but it is new to me. The books won the Kodansha Manga Award in 1986. It was also one of the first mangas published as a deluxe hardcover and sold as literature, not just in manga stores. The edition I read of this first volume is a paperback edition, which came out in 1995. I am glad I discovered the series, and I will continue reading it. So far, it is very good.

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Booknote: Star Trek: The Manga Ultimate Edition

Various authors, Star Trek: the Manga Ultimate Edition. Los Angeles, CA: Tokyopop,  2009. ISBN: 978-1-4278-1352-7

This was another ride down nostalgia lane for me. Back in the manga heyday when companies like TokyoPop were going strong, once in a while they would give a well-known property, like Star Trek or McFarlane's Spawn (I recently came across some volumes of this, and I will have a review down the road), the manga treatment. The result here captures the essence of the show and characters.

The volume contains eight stories by various writers, including a story written by Wil Wheaton and another by David Gerrold, who is know for also writing "Trouble with Tribbles". The art is also done by various artists. In anthologies like this, I always find it interesting how each artist adds his or her own style, varying things slightly. It is manga, so we do find some of those cute (kawaii) frames characteristic of the genre. Seeing Kirk and Spock go a bit kawaii does add some charm to the book. The stories are of good quality, what you would find in a good episode of the classic series ranging from light humor to serious and reflective.

This particular volume came out in 2009, and it is a compilation of stories from the first three volumes of the Star Trek manga series. It states that the stories were selected by fans. They chose well as this is a good, light, and entertaining anthology. My only wish is that it was in color. The volume does include some prologue pages in color, and they looked great. I wish they had done the whole volume that way. Still, overall, this was one I really liked.

The volume is definitely a good one for public libraries. It is rated for teens, but I am sure many adults will enjoy it as well.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Booknote: Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson

Bernie Wrightson,, Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2011. ISBN: 9781595828095.

This is an anthology that collects the artist's stories and artwork. Wrightson does all the art, some of it with collaborators, and he wrote most of the stories collected here. The volume covers Wrightson's works from the 1970s featured in Creepy and Eerie! comic magazines. This is definitely a great reading for the Halloween season, but if you enjoy horror and suspense, you can enjoy it at any time.

Wrightson has a classic art style that makes great use of detail and shadows. His style may have been considered "old fashioned" at the time. Keep in mind he was working the era of artists like Jack Kirby. Wrightson's stories really flourish  with the fine detail printing and the black and white. The art just draws you into the stories. As for the stories, we get some good tales of horror and suspense, often with ironic and/or twisted endings. The volume also features a story adapted from Edgar Allan Poe and another one from H.P. Lovecraft. Personally, I always enjoy a good adaptation.

Finally, the volume includes a gallery of Creepy and Eerie! illustrations and frontispieces. A few of these are in color, which makes them "pop" nicely, but even in black and white, they are a pleasure to look through. I borrowed this from my local public library, but it is one I would add to my collection. I certainly recommend it.

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Signs the Economy is Bad: December 12, 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.  

We have a bit of a mixed bag this week from big honchos to cats. We also find out this week that some degrees may not be as useless as we first thought.

  • Things are so bad that parents can't even take their kids to the movies anymore. Now, those who know me know that I pretty much do not give a shit about movie theaters. I just watch my movies at home and avoid the rude people and the hassle. But for a good number of other people willing to brave the rudeness and hassle, going to the movies is a ritual. Well, not so much anymore. Why you ask? Well, as AlterNet reports, "if you’re an ordinary middle-class employee, your income hasn’t budged since the financial crisis." And you are also paying more for things that, to be honest, have a higher priority, like your health care. 
  • McDonald's is not doing well. Their sales are down. You know shit has hit the fan when even the broke people can't go to McDonald's. Their solution? Well, maybe a fancier gourmet menu (via Newser). 
  • However, McDonald's may be doing bad, but they still manage to pump billions into federal lobbying and campaign contributions. They are not the only ones doing it by the way, and it turns out that money does get you some influence and favor. For every dollar spent, those lobbyists get back $760 dollars from the federal government. Story via Sunlight Foundation, with a hat tip to ProPublica. 
  • By the way, who else is doing well? The global surveillance industry. And it is not so much the government directly. It's contractors and private party surveillance companies doing the spying for the government or other shady reasons. Story via The Kernel.
  • Also doing well are cat owners. Rather, we should say cat owners who have a cat with an odd or rare deformity or trait and turn it into a meme gimmick. Now, reports say that the owner of Grumpy Cat is raking at least $100 million. The owner has disputed the figure, but regardless of dispute, she cannot dispute that she probably won't have to work a day in her life again thanks to the cat if she so desires. Now, if I could get one of our two cats to do some meme gimmick. . . . Oh well, life goes on. Stories via The Week and BuzzFeed.
  • Now, at the end of the day, I would not begrudge the owner of Grumpy Cat her wealth. If anything, that cat's frown makes a lot of people happy in a world where we can use more happiness. On the other hand, sadly, there is another sign the economy, though bad, does pay well if you are willing to make deals with the devil and forget your morality (assuming you have any to start with). If you are ever asked again, "what can you do with a psychology degree?" you can now say, "how about designing torture programs?" A recently released government report states the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) did just that, and they paid two guys about $180 million to do it.  Story via Addicting Info, but you can find it in a variety of sources by now. This is usually where I would make the joke that I am in the wrong line of work. Not in this case. I would much rather be poor than sell my soul and sense of human decency for money. Some of us do know things like torture are wrong. Period. It really is as simple as that. 

Booknote: Batman '66, Volume 1

Naturally, in reviewing this new presentation of the 1960s Batman, let us set the mood. Yes, I did find the later theme intro with Batgirl in it:

Now on with the review:

Jeff Parker, Batman '66, Volume 1. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4012-4721-8. 

This was quite the nostalgia trip for me, and if you watched the 1960s show as a kid (or you watched it as a kid at heart), it will be quite the trip for you as well. Something that always amuses me about the 1960s television show is Batman's extreme politeness, like he must be the lost child of Emily Post. Also, the show had light humor, and it was relatively safe to watch. Overall, the show has a campy charm to it, and Jeff Parker's stories along with the various artists in this collection capture that charm. They took me right back to my childhood.

The volume contains nine stories, and they feature a good selection of Batman's villains. As in the show, we get more than one Catwoman (as we know, different actresses portrayed the villainess). Personally while Julie Newmar was nice, as a young lad Earth Kitt was the Catwoman for me. They are both featured here in different stories. The stories do vary in length. Some are quick adventures, and others are a bit more lengthy and developed, taking over a couple of chapters. They are quick reads and good clean reading fun.

The art is very colorful, and though we get different artists, the style and feel does remain consistent. The only thing that bothered me a bit was some of the colors. Apparently, a story or two were meant to be read with 3D glasses; either that, or they wanted to emulate that style. No 3D glasses came with the book. I honestly wish they had not done that as it took a bit away from the reading experience. Aside from that, the stories overall were well drawn and colored.

Overall, this was a volume that I enjoyed and that brought back some happy memories. It was nice and clean fun. Though it is the 1960s show Batman, do note you will find a few small nods to our present time. Have fun finding them. This is a volume I recommend for all ages, and it is definitely a good addition to any library.

I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Booknote: The Great American Documents, Volume 1: 1620-1830

Ruth Ashby and Ernie Colón, The Great American Documents, Volume 1: 1620-1830. New York; Hill and Wang, 2014. ISBN: 9780809094608.

This book caught my eye initially because it is illustrated by Ernie Colón, who also illustrated The 9/11 Report: A Graphic Adaptation, which I have read. Ruth Ashby is a new author to me. This was a neat book. Though I see it mainly for young people, this is a book that anyone can read. If the last time you learned about things like the Mayflower Compact, the Federalist Papers, or Marbury v. Madison was in school, then this book can be a good review of those works and more.

The book covers 20 documents ranging from legal documents to political speeches to court cases and even songs. It covers the historical period of 1620 (the arrival of the first immigrants) to 1830 (ending with the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears). The book does not present the documents in full. What it does is give you the history and context at a document's time; it also includes brief excerpts of the documents. We learn why a particular document was significant and what it did to help shape what would become the United States of America. Other documents are moments of shame, not exactly the best moments in U.S. history. The documents presented cover a certain time period, and in addition, the book presents scenes up to the present day to show how some documents, such as the Bill of Rights, still have effects on society today. Though the book does simplify things a bit, and at times can be a little too optimistic and "feel good," it at least does not gloss over the bad parts completely. Even Uncle Sam, the book's narrator, facepalms a time or two.

Speaking of narrators, Ashby chooses Uncle Sam to narrate this story. As written in the note at the end of the book, "as a universally recognized spokesman for the United States, Uncle Sam is a natural as a narrator of the country's history" (150). That narrative frame does work to bring the story together.

Colón's artwork is very good and colorful. He has a good ability to blend in soft humor here and there as well as maintain the solemn moments. The art gives us a colorful and reflective journey through American history.

I wanted the journey to continue, but this is only volume 1. Volume 2 is announced to cover 1831 to 1900, and I will be looking for it. While not perfect, if this series maintains a sense of balance (i.e. not just make it into some triumphalist monument, but instead keep a balance of positive and negative), this should be an excellent project overall, maybe even one I would add to my personal collection. For public libraries, this is a definite must-have. For academic libraries with a graphic novels collection, a recreational reading collection, and/or a children's/YA collection, this would make a good addition.

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

I borrowed this one from my local public library, Madison County (KY) Public Library, Berea branch.

Booknote: Cuba: Portrait of an Island

Donald Nausbaum, Cuba: Portrait of an Island. New York: Interlink Books, 2005. ISBN: 1566565790. 

This was a beautiful and evocative photography book. The colorful and bright photographs of beautiful beaches and idyllic countryside just makes you wish that you could travel to Cuba. The photos of people are mostly positive, but you still get some sense of daily life.

The book is organized in ten short chapters. The first five chapters explore Cuban cities. The remaining five chapters explore themes such as "Tobacco and Cigars" and "Politics." Ron Base's text provides a nice overview and balance for the photos. For folks who may know little of the island's history, the text gives some basic background. Do keep in mind that the book came out in 2005, and there have been some changes in Cuba since then, such as Fidel Castro's retirement. Aside from that, this is a good book overall. The strength of the book is in the photographs, which are definitely a delight to look over. Armchair travelers will likely enjoy this book very much. I definitely enjoyed reading it, sitting back, and letting Nausbaum's photos take me there. You can almost hear the son and the mambo.

On account of the photos, I am giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

I borrowed this one from my local public library, Madison County Public Library (Berea branch).