Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Reading about the reading life: March 20, 2019 edition

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 see what interesting things I have found for this week:

  • In Niger, a story about a derelict mosque being converted to a library and community center. Yes, they also built a new mosque nearby. Via De Zeen.
  • For your amusement and entertainment, a look at the art of book covers from 1820 to 1914. Via Public Domain Review
  • Maggie Levantovskaya tells us about being a college professor without books. Via Lit Hub.
  • Also via Lit Hub, something closer to home: a look at a radical bookstore in Appalachia. The story is Firestorm Books and Coffee. I am thinking road trip.  So what's the big deal? According to the article, "Since 2008, Firestorm has supported grassroots movements in southern Appalachia while developing a workplace on the basis of cooperation, empowerment and equity."
  • One  more via Lit Hub, a suggestion that every book tour include a public school
  • If you are wondering why so many children's books do not seem original, this may be why. According to a new report one in four children's books in 2018 were based on licensed properties. Via NPD Group. 
  • Another look at the publishing business. From Ethan Hirsch's blog, argument that we can look at publishing as venture capital. He writes, "While cynics or the uninitiated might be prone to roll their eyes at this attempt to draw a connection between the high-flying and innovative world of venture capital investing and the seemingly staid, stagnant, and predominantly print-based publishing industry, the comparison is a lot less farfetched than you’d think."
  • Do you feel like you are not reading enough books in a year? GQ has some suggestions on how to read 80 books a  year give or take. We also get some good advice on what to read and what to not read because not everything you read is good for you. Granted, you can read some fluff once in a while; I  certainly do, but it is also good to read some substantial books. 
  • Houstonia Magazine presents a profile of the downtown Houston Metropolitan Research Center and its rare books collection. The center is part of the Houston Public Library system. When I worked in Houston, my job was not far from this place.
  • On another bit of trivia: no, academic libraries do not buy as many books from Amazon as you might think. Via Forbes. I'd take that with a bit of a grain of salt. Most big academic libraries often have a "jobber"  like Baker and Taylor to purchase books from. For smaller places, like my workplace, a jobber may not be the best option. I will note we do get a few books from Amazon, and yes, often they are used books since budgets are tight. 
  • Brian Keene on his blog announces the 2018 nominees for the Splatterpunk Awards. These awards "recognize superior achievement in the sub-genres of Splatterpunk and Extreme Horror." This is a genre I've been wanting to read and explore more. 
  • Need to relax a bit? You like coloring books? Well, if you want something a bit different, you can download some free coloring books and images from various museums. Via Open Culture
  • Via  The Paris  Review, a look at reading in an age of distraction. Article also looks at the book The Gutenberg Elegies, which turns 25 years this year. 
  • Also via The Paris Review, an "ode to the library museum." 
  • Via The American Conservative, which I admit I do not read often but peek at now and then, a look at "the Hedonism of Reading Good Books." The article looks at William Hazlitt and reading "old"/classic books.  
  • Need some more reading ideas? Are you a revolutionary needing inspiration? Well, via The Paris Review, learn about what  Che Guevara and Fidel Castro read. A bit from the article: “'There are periods of boredom in the life of the guerrilla fighter,' he warns future revolutionaries in his classic handbook, Guerrilla Warfare. The best way to combat the dangers of ennui, he helpfully suggests, is reading. Many of the rebels were college educated—Che was a doctor, Fidel a lawyer, others fine art majors—and visitors to the rebels’ jungle camps were often struck by their literary leanings. Even the most macho fighters, it seems, would be seen hunched over books." 
  • Via The Times Literary Supplement, a look at the Bodleian Library's holdings of "obscene material."  Turns out that "established in 1882, it was dubbed the “Φ” (Phi) collection: this was the shelf mark used by the Bodleian to identify those texts deemed too obscene, libellous or otherwise risqué to be made available to undergraduate readers." This collection includes literary, medical, and erotica materials. Much of it is being displayed now. 
  • In a little trivia, it seems that letter writing is making a comeback, especially among younger people. There is a growth in pen pal clubs. Via Yes! Magazine.
On a side note, a look at the not so nice side of the reading life:

Friday, March 15, 2019

Booknote: Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes

William Lynwood Montell, Tales from Kentucky Funeral Homes. Lexington, KY: University of Kentucky Press, 2009.  ISBN: 978-0-8131-2567-1.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: funerary rites and practices, folklore, traditions, Kentuckiana
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I finally finished reading this. The book jacket's description of this book as collecting stories "both humorous and touching" is not quite accurate. The main issue with this book is that it is outright boring and repetitive. Most of the stories are repeated over and over until the reader finally has to say, "I've got it already. Can we move on?" The author is a folklorist with an interest in recording stories by members of "significant" professional groups; he has other books similar to this one about doctors and lawyers.

At the beginning of the book, the author states why funeral directors' stories are significant:

"I fully realized that funeral directors' accounts also held important historical content, since they are the final persons to care for friends and community members when death occurs. I have collected their stories here to preserve their memories and to document the funeral practices of earlier years and contemporary times" (1).

It is a pity he could not present those stories in a more interesting way. Some serious editing and being more selective would have worked better. I can't help but feel that big parts of this book are just filler. Had better story selection and editing been done, this would have likely been a few articles in a historical society newsletter or maybe  a folklore journal. Overall, there are some interesting stories, one or two amusing ones, but they get lost in the monotonous repetition of the same events over and over.

The book is organized into an introduction, following by six chapters, and ending with biographical notes of the storytellers. Topics include funeral practices over the years, folk customs, humor and mistakes, and memories. The book is pretty much a Kentuckiana artifact. Unless you have a narrow interest in Kentucky funerary practices, the average reader has no reason to pick this up. It's just dry, boring, and repetitive as I mentioned. If you must, borrow it.

Libraries with an interest in Kentuckiana may want to add this to their collections. Otherwise, I'd say libraries in general can skip it. Having read it, I can say I would not purchase it for my library. The local public library has it, and that is plenty.

1 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 08, 2019

Media Notes: Roundup for February 2019

These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during February 2019.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Hercules (1983. Fantasy. Adventure). Lou Ferrigno takes the title role in this film made by Cannon Films and producers Golan-Globus, the company known for a lot of action flicks in the 80s.  In this story, evil King Minos and his daughter Adriana plan to conquer the world, but to achieve their plans they have to sacrifice Cassiopea. Hercules needs to rescue Cassiopea, but he will face various obstacles along the way while receiving some help from the sorcerer Circe. Meanwhile the gods take sides to either help or hinder Hercules. The movie plays a little lose with mythology, but it is cheesy entertainment. Not as much action, and some seriously bad special effects. It is pretty much a product of the 1980s. Not great but amusing. If you like fantasy and sword and sorcery, you could do worse. I vaguely remember watching this as a kid; I did not recall it was so cheesy bad but as I said, still amusing. Part of the charm is just seeing some of the ridiculous elements, and some interesting takes, like Daedalus, who works for Minos, as a woman. Via TubiTv.
  • Halo 4: Forward Unto Dawn (2012. Action. Adventure. Science Fiction. Video Games). In a military academy in a far away planet, Cadet Lasky does not seem to care much about his military career despite having ability and a good pedigree. His squad is upset at him as they view him as a liability in training. However, Lasky and the rest of the cadets soon have to rise to the occasion when their planet is attacked. The attack is not by the insurrectionists they were taught to fight and hate, but a whole new alien species. Now they need to escape with the help of Spartan 117, the Master Chief. Movie overall is fairly slow for the first three quarters of the film or so in the academy and training session. Pace does pick up dramatically once the invasion happens but still overall a pretty slow film. Probably more for hardcore fans of the video game and its universe.  For other casual movie watchers, the movie is pretty much another military academy training sequence with all the cliches and about 25 minutes or so at the end of anything actually happening. Unless you are a fan, this film is pretty forgettable. Via TubiTv.
  • Election (2005. Crime. Drama). A Hong Kong triads film. In this one, the Wo Sing triad elects a new chairman every two years. Lok is elected. Part of the tradition is him receiving a baton, symbol of the chairman's authority. Big D refuses to accept the result of the election and instructs the current holder of the baton to not turn it over. Lok represents tradition, and Big D represents the younger ones wanting to be more modern and leave traditions behind. Now Lok and Big D are locked in conflict to find the baton. In the process, the elders worry a war may break out if the two do not settle their differences. It is a very slow movie, but it is interesting given the back room deals, scheming, and machinations along the way. It does have a bit of a shocking but not surprising ending. In the end, it was a bit slow, but it had some good moments and some interesting details. Via TubiTv. 
  • Rommel (2012. War. Drama. Biography). The movie tells the story of Field Marshall Rommel's last seven months of life. It starts with him getting transferred to Normandy to lead the defense against the Allies. Despite his efforts, the Allied invasion succeeds as Rommel is unable to convince Hitler to give him the necessary troops and materials to defend Normandy. Meanwhile, a plot to kill Hitler is taking form, and Rommel becomes aware of it, which complicates things.  Overall, the film is a somber but solid drama looking at this part of history. The performances were good. An interesting detail is that they had a narrator at times recite Nazi propaganda of how well the war was going while we could see war footage showing how bad the war front was really going for the Germans. Movie is in German, with English subtitles. Via TubiTv.
  • Tekken (2011. Action. Fantasy. Adventure. Martial Arts). The year is 2038. After a global war, governments fall, and corporations take over parts of the world. Tekken Corporation takes over what includes the former United States. In a slum known as The Anvil, Jin makes a small living smuggling small goods. When his mother is killed, Jin, who is a trained martial arts fighter, enters the Iron Fist Tournament that Tekken sponsors every year not for money or glory but to seek revenge. The movie is pretty formulaic in terms of your basic revenge plot and take down the bad tyrant. Fans of the game, movie is based on a video game, will recognize characters from the game. The fight sequences are mostly well made, but the story as I said is pretty formulaic, and let's be honest, the result is pretty predictable. Do stay tuned for the very end of the credits for a small bonus scene. Via TubiTv.
  • Justice League Dark (2017. Action. Fantasy. Animation). One of those DC Comics original animated movies that goes to DVD. In this one, people start behaving in irrational and violent ways. Batman suspects there may be magic and the paranormal involved. So he gets help from John Constantine, and together they put a team together with Zatanna, Jason Blood (who is bonded to the demon Etrigan), and Deadman to fight against Destiny, an old being trying to take over the world and cause of the violence. It is a comics movie but heads up, it does have an R-rating (for some violence, and there is a death or two). Overall, entertaining but nothing major. If nothing else, it is better than a lot of the live action efforts DC actually releases for theaters. It was OK. It does have some good voice talent in the cast including Rosario Dawson (Wonder Woman), Nicholas Turturro (as Boston Brand/Deadman), Alfred Molina (Destiny), and Jason O'Mara (Batman) among others. DVD from Madison County Public Library.
  • The Fall of the Essex Boys (aka Gangster Playboy Legends. 2013. Crime. Mobsters).  A British mobster film, based on true events, about the rise and fall of the Essex Boys, a 1990s drug running gang. The movie can be a bit convoluted at times, but it blends a good amount of intrigue and double crossing with the violence. There is feel that the filmmakers may assume the audience knows the basic details of the real events, so if you know little to none, you may not realize what is real or not. As I said, film is convoluted. Acting is often loud, as in a lot of yelling, and just not that good. Consider this optional to watch. There may be better films on this story out there. Via TubiTv. 
  • The Spirit (2008. Crime. Adventure. Fantasy). Will Eisner's character The Spirit gets the big screen. Sadly this movie was not quite what the hero deserved. The premise is pretty out there, and Samuel L. Jackson as The Octopus, the movie's villain, just hams it up with every other cliche of mad villain you can get including the speech a villain gives before he attempts to kill the hero. The movie has a bit of the noir aesthetic from films like Sin City, also done by Frank Miller, but it does not live up to neither his name nor the quality of Sin City. In the end, it's bad enough to be laughable here and there at how ridiculous it can get, but also a missed opportunity. Overall, you are better off seeking out the comics source material, which I think I will do. Via TubiTv.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • American Horror Story (Season 1. 2011. Drama. Horror. Thriller). The first season of the anthology series. Contains the pilot and 11 episodes. DVD from Madison County (KY) Public Library. Overall, I watched a little bit, but I just did not find this series all that appealing. Since each season is a different theme, I may try the next season, but I am in no rush.
    • Pilot. To be honest, I was lukewarm about this. It has some very creepy moments, but between those creepy moments it's basically soap opera drama. The Harmons move to a house in L.A. coming from the East Coast. Dr. Harmon had an affair, and him and the wife are trying to patch things up. Their daughter is your typical teen full of angst who thinks life stinks (nothing new there). But the house, there is something about the house which they managed to buy very cheap because it turns out a murder happened there. I am intrigued by the house and its potential horrors, but the domestic drama I could not care less for it. Not sure if I will keep watching or not. I just want the horror without the melodrama.  To be honest, I am rooting for the house because the family is pretty unsympathetic. 
    • Episodes 2 and 3 the paranormal elements kick up a notch as we get some revelations of what really happened in the house, and the true nature of their neighbors and the maid. Family still remains pretty unsympathetic, but you start to see the influence of the house on them. 

Booknote: Fallen Angels

Mike Lee, Fallen Angels. Nottingham, UK: Black Library, 2014. 2014 ISBN: 978-1-84970-819-7.

Genre: science fiction
Subgenre: military scifi, Horus Heresy, Book 11
Format: paperback
Source: Interlibrary Loan via Hutchins Library. The book came from the King County Library System, Washington State.

This is the second novel about the Dark Angels legion in the Horus Heresy series. I was a bit apprehensive about this one after the disappointment of Descent of Angels  (book six of the Horus Heresy. Link to my review). With a different author, this novel is an improvement in large part because we have moved past the boring days before the Imperium in Caliban.

As before, we follow much of the story through the eyes of Zahariel, who is now an Astartes Librarian (a psyker warrior) of the Dark Angels Legion. He is in Caliban while Lion El' Johnson and the main forces of legion go to the forge world planet Diamat. The story then goes back and forth between Caliban and Diamat. Eventually, news of Horus' treachery reaches the legion, and the mission to Diamat becomes more urgent as the Dark Angels need to prevent Horus's forces from getting Diamat resources. Meanwhile, back on Caliban, treachery is around as well, a great secret is revealed, and Luther who is now in charge in Caliban has to decide where his loyalties lie.

Fallen Angels offers a good blend of action and intrigue. As we read, loyalties become a bit clearer for some and murkier for others. Things get interesting as betrayals are revealed. You also get a view of a world that only recently was added to the Imperium; naturally not everyone is happy about that, so Luther and Zahariel also have to deal with local rebels in addition to the planet's dark secret. There is a lot going on, and it moves at a good pace. Zahariel is still a light character, but he is better developed in this book.

The book's ending is open ended, since it is part of a larger series. However, the revelation at the end may be a bit surprising to some readers. I will not spoil things, but it feels like after all the efforts that more fuel gets added to the fire. There is plenty of betrayal to go around, and at times you wonder who may be right as Johnson and Luther both believe they act for the right reasons. Fans of the Dark Angels who already know that legion's history may appreciate this part of the tale. For those of us discovering this series, the book leaves us wanting to delve deeper in the fate and coming division of the Dark Angels.

Overall, I really liked this one, and for now, I am willing to give the next Dark Angels novel a chance if there is one down the road.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 01, 2019

Booknote: Gaspipe

Philip Carlo, Gaspipe: Confessions of a Mafia Boss. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Media, 2008. ISBN: 9781400137114.  

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: true crime, memoir, biography, Mafia
Format: audiobook 
Source: Via Overdrive provided by Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked this up mostly out of curiosity and because I had learned about Gaspipe Casso from other books about the Mob I had read or documentaries I had seen. It is not a terribly interesting book. Much of the book basically is Gaspipe Casso, as told to the author, romanticizing much of his deeds and time in the Mob. Casso presents the romanticizing of the Mafia as the community mediator. For Italian Americans in NYC, you went to the Mafia rather than the police. You also see this in fictional works like The Godfather. The poor oppressed immigrants often needed the Mafia to help them out to solve problems, and it may have started out that way, but it degenerated into the criminal enterprises that exploited said immigrants and pretty much anyone else.

The author's family lived in same neighborhood the Casso family did. In fact, the families knew each other. However, the author's family  had no mob affiliation. Later, this "going back" helped  him get access to Anthony Casso who chose him to tell the story.

The book has some descriptive moments, such as the torture scene of one of the men that tried to kill him. However, the book also features some pretty hokey lines like someone having a doctorate in torture and Beethoven's 5th Symphony of pain to describe a stage of the torture as Casso let wounds on his victim get some time to swell and fester. The subject matter may be serious, but it is often presented in what can only be described as a cheesy style.

The book also provides some look at the history of the Mob in the U.S. and also looks at the organization in general. For example, it looks at why the Mafia was successful. Large part of it was The Commission, which made sure everyone followed the rules, and for a while, everyone did follow the rules. It was business, and business was doing well. So much so that regular business people wanted to be involved with the Mafia in order to get more wealth and power, and those business people were fascinated by how the Mafia dealt in every business and endeavor from law enforcement to movie making to rackets, etc. Many were happy to give the Mafia information and intelligence to keep the business going. To be honest, I found the history digressions more interesting than Casso's life story.

At the end of the book, the appendix questions the whole process of the justice system using mob members turned informant or collaborator, rats as they are often labeled, to secure convictions. More often than not the government does not keep their word in agreements, even when the collaborator did everything that was asked. While these criminals are not to be pitied, the government in some ways using its power to break its word for the sake of appearance, expediency, and convenience (to them) does not exactly make the government look any better and if anything they come across as just as bad as the Mafia when using the philosophy both Mob and government often share: the ends justify the means.

Overall, this is a pretty forgettable book. If are really interested in Anthony Casso's life, this may be a book to pick up although there are other more interesting sources that go over  his life in the Mafia and the Lucchese Crime Family. Borrow this one if you must.

2 out of 5 stars.

Friday, February 22, 2019

Booknote: Sisters of Battle

James Swallow, Sisters of Battle: The Omnibus. Nottingham, UK: Black Library, 2017.  ISBN: 978-1-78496-572-3.

Genre: science fiction
Subgenre: military scifi, Warhammer 40,000
Format: paperback omnibus
Source: I own this one.

This omnibus collects two full novels and two short stories written by James Swallow and featuring the Adepta Sororitas, the Sisters of Battle. We do not get many works featuring these warrior women of the 41st Millennium, so naturally I wanted to read this. Let's have a look at the contents.

The novella "Red and Black" had some good pacing, and it presented an ethical dilemma (the sentient clones) for Miriya and the other sisters as they realize all is not as it seems in a newly rediscovered imperial world. In the end, the taint of Chaos cannot prevail, but is the cost worth it? Miriya may be sure, but the readers not so much. It is a tale that offers a small element of horror to it.

The first full novel in this omnibus is Faith and Fire. Miriya and her team head out to Neva. The story starts with her team escorting a prisoner that, for some strange reason her superiors want to keep alive, a psyker witch. The prisoner manages to escape, and it falls to Miriya to capture him again. However, the witch is the least of her concerns as her superiors often make things difficult for her, and if that was not bad enough, the local ecclesiarchy authorities have a whole other agenda of their own, an agenda that involves Vaun the witch. Vaun also has an agenda of his own. Miriya needs to work around all of this to succeed. The novel starts a bit slow, but it does pick up the pace, especially after Sister Verity arrives. As the plot thickens, the story gets more interesting, leading to the inevitable confrontation of opposing forces. To be honest, I was not too happy with the ending for Miriya, but it does set things up for the second novel in the series: Hammer and Anvil. Sister Miriya is a strong, independent woman who does not always see eye to eye with her superiors in the Ecclesiarchy, but she does remain loyal and devoted to the Emperor.

The second novel of the series, Hammer and Anvil, is included in this volume. I had read it previously in paperback from my local public library. It is a work I enjoyed, and it provides a good continuation of Miriya' and Verity's tales. I had read this novel previously, and I reviewed the book previously here on my blog.

The omnibus ends with the short story "Heart and Soul." Sister Miriya and her squad are at the end  of a battle campaign at Meseda Quintus. They are about to launch their final offensive when another squad from another Sororitas order comes in wanting to take their work and glory away. What seems like petty political bickering soon acquires depth as the new squad has ulterior motives for their arrival. Miriya and her team soon find themselves in a fierce battle against Chaos forces, and they are confronted with a secret that could lead to major scandals. Overall, the tale was a nice way to close out this volume.

Overall, I really liked this volume. We do not get a lot of works featuring the Sisters of Battle, so this will give you a good set of tales.

4 out of 5 stars.