Saturday, December 22, 2012

Holiday Post 2012: On books and reading

We continue the series of end of year posts here at The Itinerant Librarian. As my four readers know, I do these to amuse myself and give my four readers something to be entertained at the end of the year. Being a librarian and an avid reader, books are a big part of my life, so I have to make a post on books and reading to share a few things such as suggested reading lists and other items that may be of interest to readers.

On a side note, do stay tuned and come back around the end of the  year for the last holiday post, on what the heck happened in 2012 (my version of the end of year wrap-up) and also come back for my reading summary, where I look at what I read during the past year. So, here we go.

Book Lists

These are some basic book lists to give you ideas and suggestions on what to read. Find out what you may have missed from 2012 and maybe pick something to read in 2013. As always, if you read something good, feel free to let know. I am always looking for new ideas.

Some more book lists

I would say the items below are a little less mainstream. These are lists that I think are a bit more unique, specific, or even quirky.
  • Via the Anime News Network, report that Da Vinci Magazine has listed its top manga picks for 2012
  • BuzzFeed has put together their list of 15 Best Cookbooks for 2012. The list has a small twist to it: it also suggests a cooking ingredient for each book to give as a gift along with the book.
  • Joshua Kim, writing at Inside Higher Ed, gives his list of "the 11 Best Nonfiction Books of 2012." Susan Cain's book about introverts, Quiet, made the list. My review and book notes on Cain's book are posted at The Gypsy Librarian here for anyone interested. I do recommend the book. Kim's list does have a book or two I need to add to my TBR lists.
  • Papeles Perdidos, the literary blog of El Pais, names its best book of 2012 as voted by their online readers. Blog content is in Spanish. The book is Almudena Grandes's El Lector de Julio Verne. Feel free to visit the blog if interested to learn more about the book and other finalists and choices by genre. 
  • The Literary Saloon blog has a list of "Foreign 'Best of Year" Selections." Because the rest of the world reads too, and it produces literature, and they recognize their good stuff. It's not just about the Anglos and Americans.
  • Book Riot has their list of Top 25 books of 2012 as chosen by their readers. To be honest, the list is mostly books that are not in my reading horizon. Other than Susan Cain's Quiet (which is basically making the rounds, and I already read as noted), I did not see anything I would be interested in (i.e. a lot of literary fiction, which is a category I could not care less about), but I am sure a few readers out there will find it useful to look over. They also have a list of best books as chosen by the contributors of the blog.And if you like boxed sets, well, they have a guide to some of those too. If I had a wish list, I would love The Sandman boxed set. On the other hand, this list they offer I am not too impressed. It's basically the "guys are hard to buy; they all read history books" stereotype. I will have you know a lot of guys, at least those of us who read, often read a variety of things. Last thing I would want is yet another war memoir or gross things book (I did those when I was a little kid, thanks. Some of us have grown up by now). If you want to give a guy a history book, give him a good biography of a political or historical figure he may admire. Give him a good microhistory. If it is history, heck, ask me, I may have a suggestion or two that does not involve some war book. I do read some military history, but I don't go all "gaga" over it. Science fiction and fantasy can be good options as well. We are not as complicated as many think we are (either that, or I am just not as manly as some people think I should be, haha!).
  • By the way, guys often like technology stuff. So, maybe get them a tech-related book. BetaBeat offers their lists of "the Best Books to Buy for the Technologist in your Life." And don't worry, if the technologist in your life is a lady, I am sure she would appreciate one of these too. The list features both fiction and nonfiction.
  • Via Entertainment Realm blog, the blogger's favorite nonfiction of 2012. From this list, I did read Agorafabulous, for which I posted my review and note here.
  • Via the blog Band of Thebes, "The Best LGBT Books of 2012: 87 Authors Select Their Favorites." From this list I read Bechdel's Are You My Mother? which I did find a bit disappointing. I posted my review in my GoodReads profile here.
  • The Arabic Literature (in English) blog as a list of "10 Holiday Gift Suggestions: New in 2012"
  • The editor at Bookgasm blog has some recommendations of books that would make good gifts
  • The ladies of Smart Bitches, Trashy Books have put together their holiday gift guides. Sure, they feature books, but also other gifts for the romance reading lady in your life. Find Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, and Part 5 in the links.
  • Want more romance reading? The folks of Book Riot offer a list of "7 Super Weird Holiday Romance Novels." Go ahead, try to tell people you are reading Christmas Rum Balls with a straight face.

Other things about reading

What the subtitle says: Other stuff about reading that has a holiday theme that may be of interest.

Photo credit: From Flickr user retrokatz, used by terms of Creative Commons license.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Holiday Post 2012: Traditions and other seasonal miscelleany

Photo from certain popular cat meme

This is the post where I share links and snark on Christmas traditions. From Christmas trees to the food, you can find a bit of humor. Plus I often learn a thing or two in the process. So, here we go.

Trivia and things to know

Getting into the Christmas spirit

  • It is a tradition in our house to track Santa over Christmas. This year you may have your choice of trackers after NORAD decided to dump Google and sell out to Microsoft and Bing. However, Google just went ahead and created their own tracker. We may try out both and see which works better. Here is the NORAD tracker. And here is Google's Santa Tracker. No matter if you are a child or a child at heart, this never gets old. 
  • Christopher Lee narrates the poem "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (via Boing Boing).
  • Maybe you want to listen to some Christmas music. Here you can sing along with the Muppets (via Mashable).
  • Want some lights with your music? Mashable has you covered there too with some rocking Christmas light shows.
  • Naturally, since "Gangnam Style" was the big hit or trend of this year, someone had to make a light display with it (link to YouTube video).
  • What Christmas is complete without a few guns? Putting aside the recent tragedy in Connecticut, guns and Christmas have been a prominent part of many U.S. holidays. I am sure that stupid kid shooting his eye out in that movie has something to do with it, but there was even a time when guns (as in real guns, not just air guns) were advertised as perfectly fine Christmas presents for children. So, via BuzzFeed, here we have "48 Gun-totin' Christmas Moments." Because these days, even Santa has to pack heat. 
  • Having people over? Here are some small entertaining tips from In essence, it's guacamole and margarita time, baby!  Which, to be honest, sounds a lot better than most boring holiday fare.

The Christmas tree and other decorations

Because some people DO deserve a lump of coal

  • I bet most people have this idyllic vision of children during Christmas: opening the presents, the wonder in their eyes, the innocence, etc. Well, guess what? Not all children are little angels. Here are "28 Reasons Why Kids Ruin Christmas" (via BuzzFeed). Be honest, if you have kids, they have done at least one of these things at one point or another.  Heck, you may have done or two of these as a child yourself.
  • Not everyone is happy about the Christmas season. In fact, some folks do get very grumpy about it. Cats apparently get grumpy too (via BuzzFeed).
  • Others get grumpy about the Christmas music blaring all over the place (via BuzzFeed), and they are not afraid to go on Twitter and let us know about.
  • And speaking of music, why is that many celebrities who have no business doing it decide to make a Christmas album anyhow and thus ruin classics? Or worse, they create atrocities soon forgotten? Here are "12 Christmas Song Fails" (via The Daily Beast). Go on, I dare you to listen to some of these without laughing, groaning, or wincing. 
  • And the reviews are out on bad celebrity Christmas music. (via BuzzFeed).  For example, on the Brady Bunch album, “This album is only 20 minutes long, which is fortunate, because that's about all a sane person can take.” It gets worse from there.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Holiday Post 2012: Shopping, gifts, and other things

Whether we like it or not, the holiday season is one big shopping season. It is a season that retailers, mostly out of desperation or greed, keep pushing back a bit further every year. I will be blunt: Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving. Period. I do not want to see Christmas decorations mixed up with my Halloween. However, it looks like this bad habit is here to stay, so we may as well poke some fun at it and take a look.

Some advice on gift shopping

I thought some of these links might be useful to folks. What kind of librarian would I be if I did not offer you some information as well as snark about gifts?

  • has an infographic on the best days to buy things. Some of the days are gone by now, others are to come. For example, books, music, and movies, you are better off buying after Christmas. For some that is a big deal. For a household that also celebrates Dia de Reyes, it just means we can wait to buy these things until later here in the States.
  • Lifehacker has some ideas on how to buy gifts while avoiding the cliches. I liked the idea of giving experiences. Other nice ideas here. They also offer some tips on buying gift cards, favoring branded store cards over those broader prepaid ones. The comments on the gift card post run the gamut from those who hate them to those who like them. I understand not liking the idea, but some of the haters do sound like seriously ungrateful people. If someone took the time to get you a gift, try to be nice (although I will admit there may be exceptions, usually for gifts from people who clearly did not think. See other parts of this post for examples). Personally, I do like bookstore gift cards, especially to places like Half Price Books; I can get a lot of book for not that much moolah. I think if you know a person shops at a specific place, a card from there may be good. Handing out iTunes cards just because you can't think of something else? Not so good. 
  • What would be the holiday season without a scam or two? I know, that sounds terrible. But this is a season when a lot of less than scrupulous people try to exploit everyone else. One way they do it? Grey charges, which is basically when a business sneaks something into your bill you did not want, say a subscription or trials that become subscriptions automatically (a big reason I never sign up for any trials. Canceling them is a serious pain). This is why when you shop you need to make sure you read fine print, make sure you know what your are buying and how.  Learn more in this small article out of Mashable. Granted, the post is mostly also a promo for a transaction monitoring service, but the advice is good overall: be mindful when you shop.


I always find amusing some of the gift ideas people come up with to give to others. I can appreciate a nice thoughtful gift, but some items I just have to say, "WTF?" So, from the nice and cute to the "WTF," here are some links about holiday presents. The snarky comments are all mine.

Is this for a man or a woman? Gifts that could go either way

Some of the lists I found claim to offer gifts for one gender or the other. Some do stick to the theme fairly well. Others not so much, as this examples will show:

  • GQ is easy; this is guy stuff. GQ has their 2012 Holiday Gift Guide as chosen by their editors. Where else can you find a traditional Turkish bath towel on a holiday list? Or a Starbucks coffee machine so instead of waiting in line at the local Starbucks you can wait for the fancy coffee maker to do it in your house? The rest of the stuff is not particularly impressive, at least to my plebeian palate. 
  • The Art of Manliness has "50 Stocking Stuffer Ideas for Men." Items on this list are very classic and traditional gifts for men, some of them things that you just don't see being given as presents anymore. For instance, drug store cologne, which brings a lot of memories for me as a growing man since it was a gift of choice from my grandmother and other elderly aunts. Another example is shoe polish. Men need to have one or two good pairs of shoes, and they need to be polished once in a while. Yet you don't even see shoe polish in stores much. Now that I think about it, this topic of gifts from my younger days might make a nice blog post down the road. If you prefer to give your man a homemade gift, The Art of Manliness has you covered there too.
  • Need more ideas for the man in your life? Cool Material has a list of holiday gifts for men too. Star Wars cufflinks? Ooh yea. 
  • More gifts for men? Apparently women just don't get much of anything this year (or I just did not look in the right places). Esquire has a list of gifts for dad. However, it is mostly a highlight of various item of the month club. Sure, men may appreciate these, but I don't think they are exclusively for men or dads. They have a Popcorn of the Month Club (they send corn, not popped corn, so you can do the work yourself), and I know The Better Half is a big popcorn fan, and she is happy popping her own. So why be gender exclusive?
  • On the other hand, there is hope for women. Here are some tech gifts for mom (via Mashable). Not just any gifts, but tech gifts. However, I take it the Mashable people have little sense. Everyone knows the way to piss off a woman is to get her a vacuum cleaner as a present, so what did the guys put first on their list? A fancy schmancy vacuum clearner. How comes guys don't get vacuum cleaners as gifts? I am sure they need to clean their man cave once in a while. And before some macho guy says, "I will just have my woman do it," keep in mind part of the rule of having a man cave is that, it is a man cave. Besides, were it my mother, she would have told him to just clean up his room. Overall, the list is not necessarily gender specific to women, making the headline an example of traffic generation. 
  • Now, you may have problems telling, "is this gift for a man or a woman? Will this be OK for him? Or her?" Well, retailers (or writers of quickie online columns) have that solved in this list of "28 Gifts Online Retailers Think Are 'For Him" or 'For Her" (via BuzzFeed). Let us be honest: the sexism expressed in these choices is so predictable it stops being funny and becomes cliche. Yea, get your girlfriend that cute shopaholic wineglass. Even if she really is a shopaholic, don't do it. And by the way, if any of you get me a Bill O' Reilly book because you think it makes a good manly present, you will no longer be my friend (plus I am smacking you with the book. That notion of "it's the thought that counts" will not save you here). C'mon, be serious people. What if your woman goes hunting and fishing right along with you? I am sure she would want her own hunting knife. And if she is the kind of gal who enjoys football, dang it, get her a jersey of her own (plus in some case, she will look oh so sexy when she comes to bed after watching the game...but I digress). You get the idea.

Geeky and/or Writer Gifts

I will highlight book lists in a future post. This would cover more things that geeks, writers, and even librarians may like.

  • Do you have a writer in your life? maybe this small list of "12 Gifts and Goodies for Writers" (via the blog Writing Forward) might inspire some gift giving ideas. I think some of these may appeal to the reader and/or librarian in your life as well. I personally endorse the idea of a nice writing notebook or two. As a writer, I do much of it on notebooks, so nice ones are always welcome. 
  • Need more ideas for that writer? The Office Supply Geek has a "Holiday Guide for the Office Supply Geek." The Star Wars Moleskine is my personal favorite in this bunch.
  • A little gift giving humor. Here are some "Gag gifts for geeks" (via Boing Boing).  
  • Popular Science has a nice gift guide for those aspiring or real rocket scientists in your life, or just anyone who likes science. 
  • It may be a bit of self-promotion, according to him, but Phil Bradley offers some gifts that librarians may like.  
  • Stephen Abram points to some geeky office supply gifts for librarians. I will be perfectly honest in saying I have mixed feelings on the use of the word "geek" and librarians. Although geeks are moving to reclaim the word as their own, the negative connotation baggage is still there. I mean, for instance, I am fairly knowledgeable in graphic novels and comics, but I am not one of those OCD people who camp out in a comic bookstore debating minutiae about Batman or some obscure comic book character three people read during the Golden Age. Actually, that is the old stereotype. The new OCD geek type are those who hang out in Internet forums making those mostly irrelevant to anyone but them comments on minutiae about Batman or some obscure comic book character three people read during the Golden Age. It's people like that why I stay away from commenting on many book and reading blogs that discuss graphic novels and comics even as I have an interest personally and professionally. I honestly do not give a shit what color Aquaman's underoos were in the third comic book incarnation and why that offends your comic geek sensibilities. But my brief digression aside, some of the items on the list are interesting. 
  • Naturally, many librarians gravitate to gadgets and other electronic toys and gizmos. So, Stephen Abram also helpfully points to some of them that librarians may find of interest. This list does look better and have a few practical things.

Gifts for your pets
Because they are family too, that's why: 

Food and Drink Gifts

This is pretty much what the title says. I think giving good food or a good bottle of a spirit is always a good option. It is something that will not just sit on a shelf someplace, but it is often consumed and shared with family and friends. Personally, I think anything you can share with family and friends is a good thing. 

  • Want to give food instead, but you do not have the time or inclination to make it yourself? Here are "31 Best Food Gifts Under $20" (via Buzzfeed). I will admit some of these look interesting, but to be honest, I have not heard of a lot of the brands presented. This is not the stuff you will find at the local Walmart (not that you should be shopping at Walmart anyhow). I had no idea I needed aged garlic. I guess I am just not enough of a gourmet.
  • BuzzFeed also has a list of "38 Best DIY Food Gifts." There are some nice ideas here if you are willing to put in a little effort and time. 
  • Drinkhacker has their 2012 Holiday Gift Guide up.  There is a bit of everything here. 
  • If you prefer more "American made," has an American whiskey guide along with other guides for the spirit you might favor. They do list some interesting things like a bourbon pecan peanut butter. And then there is their high roller list, a.k.a. stuff I would never be able to even get a whiff. Hey, I do live on a librarian salary after all. But a man can dream.
  • And speaking of high end indulgences, The Advocate offers a holiday guide for those who like to indulge. I will say the Crystal Head Vodka looks pretty cool. I may go out and grab a gift set. That is one thing I like about buying liquor in the holidays. Many of them come packed in nice gift sets where you get a mug, or glasses, or some other knick knack, and you pay for just the booze. What we might have called in Puerto Rico a ñapa (a freebie). 
  • Now, let us say you have to (or feel moved) to buy your boss a present. OK, now that you are done laughing, what can you do? Well, if the boss happens to enjoy a good drink now and then, maybe this list of "20 Bottles to Buy the Boss" from Esquire may help. This kind of article always reminds me of my father when I was growing up. My father was an industrial salesman, and he was often on the road. During Christmas season, clients and friends often gave him bottles of liquor, and I remember him at times coming home with a small gift bag or two with a nice bottle of whiskey. It was often whiskey, which my dad did admit he was not a big whiskey drinker. As he always said, it was the thought that counts, and it was clear his friends and clients did think of him well; he always got some good stuff. They have Drambuie on the list, which I remember there being a bottle of it in the house at one point, though I don't remember anyone doing anything with it; the list mentions fans of Mad Men might find it appealing. Then again, much of this list has fiction in it. I mean, you ever met a boss who buys you pints of Guinness? Exactly. 
  • Since I am a wine drinker, I have to include at least one list for wine lovers. Here are "30 Gifts for Winos for $60 or Less" (via BuzzFeed). By the way, we prefer "wine enthusiast," not "wino." Some gifts are very nice. Others not so. The wine sippy cups? Those are just wrong on so many levels. Then the bicycle wine rack is just one sudden steer or move away from breaking that nice fancy bottle all over the road. Oh, and if you get me that stupid wine challenge thingamajig where you put the bottle inside some "puzzle" to make me try to get it out, I will break the wooden thing over your head so I can get my wine bottle out. I may have said this before or not, but I loathe those kind of wood puzzles with ropes and stuff (heck, I loathe most "logic" and "teaser" puzzles overall. If you want to earn my enmity, go ahead and get me one of those).
Other Tchotchkes

This is pretty much other stuff I was not sure where to put. It may also be stuff that made me say, "WTF?"
  • Did you procrastinate? What do you mean you did not rush out the door after almost choking on your turkey to do your shopping? Did not even bother doing it online, and now you are stuck? Here are "32 Awesome Last-Minute Gifts" (via BuzzFeed). I am not so sure how awesome or not some of these items are, but they certainly are unique in some cases. Texting gloves, really? Hey, at least they are made in the U.S.A.
  • Need to put stuff on those stockings? If you have a bit of artistic bent and some ability with your hands, maybe you'd consider making one of these "50 Tiny and Adorable DIY Stocking Stuffers" (via BuzzFeed). 
  • And if you are totally out of ideas on what to give, why not try one of these kitchen gifts, which seem more like gifts from "Seen on TV" hell (via BuzzFeed), Seriously, who really needs a banana baker? These are the things I find amusing: someone actually thought someone else would need these things. However, you know they sell, or else they would not be making them. 
  • Not quite a tchotchke, but I am listing it here. Interested in fair trade products? Here is "Gift Guide: These Fair Trade Gifts Give Back" (via
  • Maybe you like calendars, or you want to give calendars as a gift. Calendars tend to be a popular gift option this time of year. For the book lover in your life, Book Riot has some calendars for book nerds.  And if you like the idea of buying something and some of the proceeds go to charity, maybe one of these "Six Wall Calendars that Benefit Nonprofits" might interest you (via Nonprofit Tech 2.0 blog).
  • You've got to wrap your gifts. Maybe of of these "Rad Wrappings" would look nice on your presents this year. Via Web Urbanist

 Some Gifts for the Adults

 Hey, I enjoy sex and the good that comes with it as much as the next guy. So, naturally, we have a small section of things that may be a bit more risque. As usual, if this is not your thing, if you offend easily, you are religious, have issues, etc., then you can stop reading now. Otherwise, go right along.
  • This falls under gift purchase with proceeds to charity or a "wtf is that thing on the Christmas tree?" Orchid, a British organization for male cancers advocacy, has created some very nice Christmas ball sac tree ornaments; they call them "bauballs." I think it is a cheeky campaign, and I would not mind putting it on my Christmas tree, but here in the States I can predict the reactions. Some will freak out because heaven forbid you show a pair of testicles. And others will see it as some tacky thing like those really tacky truck balls that douchebag males put on their trucks. (hat tip to BuzzFeed). 
  • If you want something sexy to share with your partner, or yourself, Good Vibrations is a good go to source. Compared to other sex shops out there, these folks have a good reputation and they are friendly. As The Better Half would put it, they are not intimidating. They have a simple guide of ideas for the curious shopper in their blog. Also, the blog is pretty informative on various sexual health and fun topics.  
  • Mashable has a list of "20 NSFW Products that Will Make You Blush." I don't think they are that big of a deal, but your mileage may vary.  A few of these are more politically incorrect than anything else, one or two are amusing.
  • On the other hand, you can still offer good sexy things without things. My Sex Professor offers "My Non-Thing Holiday Guide."  Though the blog does have adult content, the post itself is not just for those of us with a bit of a risque inclination. For instance, the professor writes, "So, maybe less generic glassware and more hugs. And fewer gift cards and more lazy lunches with friends and family. In some ways, life is long and there’s much time to do the things we want to do." 
  • My Sex Professor also offers a list, this one has "Eight Holiday Gifts for the Sex Geek in Your Life." If you have friends who work as sex educators, or they are just, well, knowledgeable sex geeks, they may appreciate some of these. 
  • And again, you may need to wrap your presents. If you are giving a bit more adult presents, this may be fun to use. Here is some "Raunchy Wrapping Paper" (via Incredible Things).  Don't worry, just in case, the paper is reversible. 

Photo credit: Flickr user alliecreative (Allie Towers Rice). Used under terms of Creative Commons share and attribution license. 

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Holiday Post 2012: Some reflection as the year is almost here, or just getting some stuff out in case the Mayans were right

I just realized I am running a bit behind in my holiday blogging this year. Usually, I would have posted my traditional holiday posts by now. What can I say? It has been a busy year, and there were some changes.

The big change for my family and I was the new job and move to said job. I started my new job as Coordinator of Information Literacy for the Hutchins Library of Berea College in Berea, Kentucky. This is a bit different for me. My previous workplaces were public, state institutions. I was a state employee. Berea College is a private liberal arts college. It is also a religious school; they are non-sectarian. Some of you who know I am a bit of a heathen are probably wondering what would make me come to a religious school, liberal or not. Well, to be honest, their mission is one I can get behind. In addition, the job is the kind of work I have wanted to do for a long time: to lead an instruction and information literacy program, so when I saw the opening, I applied. While I am geographically flexible, usually what takes me to a place is the job, then the place. For others in the job market, place is probably higher on the list. For me, it is more of where can I go and make some difference, where can I go and use my skills to best serve the students and community I will be working in. Those are the kind of questions I ask when I go out into the librarian job market. Sure, I look at other factors (I am not that naive or idealistic), but mainly I look at the job. As for Berea College being a religious school, it turns out they take inclusiveness and diversity here very seriously, and those are things I take seriously as well. So far then it has been a good match. I am happy here. The family is happy here. I can say that my employers and colleagues are happy I am here.

Berea College is a small school. We have about 1500 hundred students here, so it is much smaller than other places I have worked in. But for me, and I say that I am most fortunate, it is starting to feel like home, both in terms of the campus and in terms of the community. It is not a big city, but if I want "big city" stuff, a drive up I-75 to Lexington fixes that (it is only about 40 minutes away give or take), and other areas are not too far. The people here are very nice, in an honest and sincere way I had not experienced in a while. I am trying not to sound like I am bragging, but I think I may have found my best destiny here. I have made it through my first semester, and I can say that, while ready for the holiday break, I do look forward to the spring semester. We have a few good ideas and projects to work on. On another note, I am feeling like blogging again, including blogging a bit about librarianship again. That may well be a good sign that things are looking up. So, stay tuned here and at The Gypsy Librarian for more. 

The move here was not easy; in fact, it had some very stressful moments. It was not easy to move out of Tyler, Texas. In fact, Texas has given us all sorts of headaches when it came to transferring some paperwork for things like our vehicle registration in KY, and hell, The Better Half had to make a few phone calls back and forth to explain to those hicks that we no longer lived in Smith County, TX, and therefore could not make it to jury duty (true story. And I call them hicks because The Better Half had to deal with quite an asshole, to be blunt, over the phone who just was too attached to his or her script to actually figure things out and use common sense. I think we finally have it sorted out, and they won't be sending the Texas Rangers to bring her back). However, those moments were made easier by people here at Berea who helped me through various steps along the way from the housing (it turns out the campus offers some transitional housing for incoming faculty, and I got lucky to get one) to students from the library who came and helped us move stuff into the house. I cannot thank them and other people who helped along the way enough, so I am writing about it here as another way to thank them for their kindness and generosity.

So, what the heck have I been doing?

  • For one, we are reviewing how we assess our information literacy program. As of this writing, we are working on a new pre- and post- instruction session assessment to use with our General Studies students. We are experimenting with LibAnalytics for the implementation.
  • We are looking at our teaching practices. I am trying to move us to a more reflective practice for our teaching. We are working on and using more active learning techniques. We are lucky to have two Immersion-trained librarians here (one of my team members and me). 
  • We are starting a library blog. It is "live" now, but we are not really launching in full til the spring semester. Feel free to take a small peek here if interested. We hope it will make a good tool to go along with our Facebook page and other social media. One thing that is good here is we tend to feel free to experiment, but we also know not to jump into every bandwagon. We do think it over whether a tool will serve us or not. 
  • We teach. We teach a lot. Our big client here is the General Studies program, but we also provide some instruction for other classes. Down the road (as in soon), we plan on doing some curriculum mapping to see where else we can "deploy" our services to better serve our faculty and students. 
  • We are exploring outreach ideas. We have a small calendar for displays now, and I have some ideas for possible library programs to implement. 
  • Also, looking into solidifying our liaison work with faculty. 
  • I lead a small team of instructional services librarians. It is an interesting experience as one of them is an older (both in age and experience) librarian and the other is a newer, eager, but very knowledgeable in instruction librarian. I think they give me the best of both worlds. I am learning to become a mentor to the younger librarian while I strive to learn all I can from my older fellow. And yes, I am their manager, but I strive for a form of service leadership where I lead more by example. 
  • And I try to participate in campus life as much as possible, both for outreach (to represent the library) and just for personal satisfaction. 
That is just a little bit. I am hoping to also find time to write a bit more professionally, something that is encouraged here. I am faculty, but as library faculty, I am not tenure-line, or do I have to publish or perish. I do have full privileges like the rest of the faculty, including vote in the faculty senate, being able to be drafted for committee work, so on. It's not bad. It's different since I was always a staff member. Now, I am officially an Assistant Professor of Library Science (it does sound cool, huh?). However, if I want to publish and write, it is encouraged. Maybe this will be the year I publish something other than a mere blog that four people read. Don't hold your breath though. I am not one for resolutions, but this is something I want to try. Also, get my bearings on other professional development, something also encouraged here. We'll see.

All in all, the latter half of 2012 was pretty good overall. Well, as long as I did not watch too many news (more on that on other posts of the holiday series), and for that, I am grateful.

Coming up next, the fun posts, so stay tuned. And before I go for now, I want to wish my family, colleagues, friends near and far a safe and happy holiday season in whatever form they celebrate it (or choose not to celebrate). If you drink, please do so in moderation, and whatever you do, do not get into a motor vehicle intoxicated. There are enough tragedies already, please don't add one more.

Happy Holidays!

Friday, November 30, 2012

Booknote: False Gods

I am enjoying the Horus Heresy series so far, so I am sharing my review as posted to my GoodReads profile of the second book in the series, which I finished last night. The ending of the novel, which I will not spill, was just, well, wow. Let me just say it sets up the rest of the series very well. I will note that I am not a hardcore WH40K fan; I am familiar with the tabletop game, but I am not an active player. I have read some of the other books in the Warhammer 40K universe; the Ciaphas Cain series is a favorite of mine. So I come to this series as a casual reader looking for some escapist military scifi fun. If you have read any Warhammer 40,000 books, the Horus Heresy events take place 10,000 years before the "main" or "regular" books. Think of it in terms of Star Wars perhaps: Horus Heresy would be like the time of the Old Republic in the Star Wars universe. At any rate, I am enjoying the tale so far, and I am finding very fascinating how these novels set up the events of the current WH40K universe.

False Gods (The Horus Heresy, #2)False Gods by Graham McNeill
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This was a very good novel. McNeill picks up right where Dan Abnett left off in Horus Rising, and the move from one book to the other is seamless. In a way, you can't tell where one book begins and the other ends if you go by the very good prose in these two novels. I can only hope that as I continue to read the series, which I will, that the feel of consistent quality storytelling and ambiance will be there. So far, so good.

The plot thickens in this novel. Revelations are made, and it seems not all is as it seems. I am fascinated by this series taking place so long before the "regular" events in Warhammer 40,000. I have said before that I often do not like books where you know how things will end beforehand. And in this series, that is the case. You know, if you have read any of the other books in the WH40K universe, how things will end for the most part: the Emperor as a corpse deity, the battle between the forces of the Imperium, the xenos, and other forces of Chaos raging on. And yet, the Horus Heresy series draws you right in. You really want to find out how things happen. What discoveries are made. Why things are the way they are. I think as a reader you get a sense of wonder as you see Horus, the Primarchs, the Astartes as well as other Imperial forces coming face to face for the first time with Chaos. Again, not all is as it seems.

In this novel, Horus is wounded. His men, some of them, rush to try to find a cure in the world of Davin where some mystics (so to speak. You could call them sorcerers, etc.) may or not have a remedy. And if he survives, Horus will be sorely tempted. Will he fall for that great temptation? He learns new things along the way that may tilt the balance of the Great Crusade. And what exactly are Erebus's motivations and machinations? There is a lot of intrigue in this book as well as a lot of action. McNeill chooses to focus much of the novel on the point of view of Captain Loken, and I think this makes a good choice. Loken, though an experienced warrior, does play the part of the new guy, and that view serves us readers well to appreciate the upcoming conflicts, when Astartes will have to decide if they will fight their brothers or not.

But I will not say more. If you are fan of WH40K, you need to be reading this series. If you like military science fiction in general, give this series a try. I know I will be looking for the next volume in the series.

View all my reviews

Friday, October 26, 2012

Campus Event: Professor Heckman on "The Skills Problem"

This event is part of the Convocation Series at Berea College. The event took place on October 25, 2012. The nice thing about the series is that most of them take place in the daytime, so I am able to go during the work day when I can take a moment from my work. In fact, it is approved by the powers that be for me to go to campus events here when I can. I have been to others and taken notes, and I hope to post some of those notes over time on the blog. The topic for Professor Heckman's lecture seems very relevant for this election cycle, so I wanted to get it in a bit sooner. Besides, it is not very often I can say I listened in person to one of the ten most influential economists in the world. I am posting about it here instead of at The Gypsy Librarian because this content does have some political significance. Some of what Dr. Heckman says may go along with the remarks Cheri Honkala delivered on campus recently. As my four readers know, politics is something I leave for this blog here.

As I said, these are just my notes as I listened:

  • The upcoming election is about inequality. The concepts of the 1% and the 99% are very real. The inequality creates instability. 
  • The housing market is not really discussed in the election campaigns. Neither major party has addressed this. 
  • Skills are important to success and to do well in the new economies. This is understood, yet we've seen a pathological phenomenon of society producing less skilled people as demand for skilled people goes up. 
  • A myth: we [in the United States] live in a society of great opportunity and social mobility. The reality is one of income persistence in the disadvantaged across generations. 
  • We need to think broadly. The skills problem is crucial. So is a lack of thinking broadly, not just one remedial tactic to solve social ills, but what we need are strategies to address a larger picture. We need policies of predistribution, prevention, not just remediation. We need skills education at key points in life. 
  • Personality and other so-called "soft skills" are crucial, along with cognitive skills. The gap in the skills opens early, and schools do contribute to enlarging the skills gap. We must note also that family influence is crucial. Policy planners have to recognize the role of family in providing skills to children. 
  • To promote equality, society needs to engage the family from the early life of the child. Economically, this does have a high rate of return, and the strategies are socially fair [sadly, he really did not mention or offer any of those specific strategies]. 
  • Family life is a major determiner of inequality in schools. 
  • Higher levels of cognitive and personality skills, together, predict positive behaviors. 
  • Being smart is not enough. People who get a GED can be as smart as high graduates, yet studies reveal that the earnings of people with a GED are closer to the earnings of school dropouts. They may be missing non-cognitive life skills. Promoting these skills promotes social mobility. 
  • The argument: family life matters. 
  • The skills, cognitive and life skills, interact in dynamic ways. Personality and social skills enhance cognitive skills. 
  • You can address some problems in adolescence. Personality skills are still malleable in youth. However, early life factors determine education outcomes We get higher returns with investing at early ages, so then things get better. It creates a base that pays off later. 
  • Otherwise, skill deficits early on contribute to problems later. 
  • Parenting quality is a measure of advantage, not just income and money. 
Overall, the lecture was interesting. I did wish he would have gone into some specifics on how to do the things he describes to move from the lofty "we ought to do this and here is why" to "and we can do it by doing this, this, and that."

He did write a book a while back that seems to explain some of this better, so I may look it up down the road. The book is  Inequality in America: What Role for Human Capital Policy? (link to WorldCat record).

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Booknote: Broke USA

"Behind every great fortune there is a great crime." --Attributed to Honoré de Balzac

This is my review of the book as I posted it on my GoodReads profile. It is a book that, while a bit exhausting at times, due to the exhaustiveness of coverage in the topic, it is one worth reading. I think it is also a relevant book for this election season. When you think of the "1%," keep in mind they are not all high finance tycoons. Many of them made their fortunes exploiting the poor one small predatory loan at a time. Poverty is a big business in the United States for those with little to no conscience willing to exploit the poor. By the way, the epigraph, which has gained some fame from The Godfather using it as epigraph too, seems appropriate given how the merchants of poverty have made their fortunes. It may not have been illegal, but it was still a crime.

The review: 

Broke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big BusinessBroke, USA: From Pawnshops to Poverty, Inc. - How the Working Poor Became Big Business by Gary Rivlin
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did like this book, but I am not rating it higher because, well, "I liked it" but I did not "really like it." It is not because the book is bad. Far from it. If a list is ever compiled of the books that must be read to understand the 2008 financial meltdown, this book has to be among the top two or three. Also, the book is required reading to understand why the poverty industry-- those who profit from the plight of the poor-- are thriving in the United States. So, why only rate it "three stars"? Because the book is exhaustive, but it is also exhausting.

Rivlin takes us on a gran tour of Poverty Inc. He covers just about every player: payday loans, rent-to-own, those tax refund loans, pawn shops, subprime mortgages and a few others I cannot recall at this moment. He delivers human interest stories, interviewing a lot of victims, but he also sits down with some of the tycoons of these companies. Though Rivlin strives to be fair, in the end, the tycoons pretty much hang themselves. As we read, it is clear that what they do is far from noble, and we are reading a tale of greed gone awry. The damage these companies caused is such that it will be felt for years. And even if you are tempted to feel bad about one of these tycoons, once you learn of their trade conventions, where they trade secrets on how to squeeze the poor even more, their lobbyists, and their underhanded tactics, you won't be left feeling too much sympathy for them.

The thing is that there were very early warning signs, signs that many people either failed to see, or they refused to see them because the money being made was very good. In the end, the companies may be bruised, but they are not totally out yet. We can only hope more education can help the poor find better options. Because in the end, these companies thrive because society and businesses have simply enabled the erosion of a solid middle-class turning it into a working poor class with no other choice than to fall into the trap of the subprime lender or other poverty exploitation merchant. Rivlin, in addition to telling the story, raises some very good ethical and moral questions that we as a society really need to consider if we want to move forward.

The book includes a good set of notes for documentation for those who may be interested in learning more. The only catch, as I said, is that Rivlin strives to cover so much that after a while reading these tragic stories of exploited people just becomes too exhausting. Add to it you may get angry (as a decent human being) when you read about these predatory lenders and their deceptions, and you have to read this book a little at a time. However, it is an important book, and I think it is one more people should read. Plus, in an election season, it may be a relevant one as well.

View all my reviews

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Campus Event: Reception and Conversation with Cheri Honkala 2012 Green Party VP Candidate

The event took place last night at Berea College's Appalachian Center. This was a rare opportunity, so I decided to go and learn a thing or two, and I took the family along as well. I can say my daughter was impressed after the event. The following are some notes I took from the event.

  • Ms. Honkala opens her remarks by acknowledging the efforts of community organizers. 
  • She spent the day touring the mountains and hearing stories from the locals. She notes that Dr. Jill Stein, the Presidential Candidate for the Green Party, and her have made it a point to go to places that the two major parties have neglected. 
  • Things we know: poverty, short life spans, mountaintop removals, coal dust, and other environmental issues (and in the case of the mountains and coal, very significant issues here in Kentucky) as well as human issues. We need to act now and remove the blinders so we can have a future. 
  • The theater of the national debates is similar to the theater (spectacle) in the film The Hunger Games. And we are then told to vote for the lesser of two evils. As voters, we should be looking at the facts. 
  • Ms. Honkala's story is the story of a woman who was homeless, a single mother, and the last person who would ever think of running for any political office. She decided that the basic necessities of life are not negotiable.  Her mother taught her it is more important to do what is right. So, 200-plus arrests later for various acts of civil disobedience, she finds herself on the path of running on a Green Party Ticket. First, she was approached to run for sheriff in Philadelphia. She ran on a no foreclosures campaign. She was the first woman to run for his office. Later, stemming from her work with homeless people and the poor, she was asked by Dr. Jill Stein to be her running mate. Honkala's mentors all told her it was her responsibility to run, to give back.
  • Ms. Honkala says she tried hard to be a Democrat. But no one in that party was concerned about what she thought, the concerns of a poor single mother nor the concerns of people losing their homes and suffering. No one wanted to talk about poverty. 
  • Briefly mentioned the work of the Poor People's Economic Human Rights Campaign.
  • The law of humanity: keep each other alive and take care of each other. 
  • Honkala will be in Danville, KY marching to protest not being included in the National Vice-Presidential Debate. (By the way, as a side note, Danville is only about 40 minutes from Berea. If I was not working the evening shift in reference, I'd be very tempted to go). There is a problem with democracy when third parties, even if they have no mathematical chance of winning the White House, are excluded from any of the national debates and effectively silenced. These voices do need to be a part of the national conversation and debate. In spite of that, the Green Party has worked collecting signatures, and they are now in the ballots of 38 states. 
  • You may want to check out some coverage at Democracy Now! For instance, Jill Stein and Rocky Anderson (the presidential candidate of the Justice Party) were featured answering the same debate questions from the presidential debates. They may be doing it again for the vice-presidential debate. The Green Party has used other media, including international media, to get coverage. For instance, Dr. Stein was featured in Al-Jazeera feature on third party candidates. This is also a tactic to force the American mainstream media to cover third party candidates (which, as we know, the American media treat as a joke, a sideshow, or they just don't cover them at all). 
  • The building of an independent party should be a revolutionary act.
After the candidate delivered her remarks, which were very informal, she had time for photos and questions from the audience.

Lisa Rivera talks politics and American history with Ms. Honkala
Our daughter Lisa got to talk to Ms. Honkala, discussing how some of the candidate's ideas connected to lessons she is just learning in her social studies class (they are covering the Federalists and the Democratic-Republicans). For her mother and I, experiences like this are a way to supplement her school education, plus, Lisa gets to see a good role model of a strong woman in politics and an activist.

Overall, we had a small but enthusiastic gathering of people from in and out of the college. I did wish a few more of our students would have made it for this is the kind of opportunity you do not get very often.

Caprice and Angel Rivera with Cheri Honkala
Ms. Honkala also talked a bit about issues of access to information and a bit on people using their public libraries. But there is still more to be done to bridge that digital divide. Certainly an issue close to this librarian.

You can learn more about the Green Party and its candidates from the links in this post.


Monday, September 24, 2012

Booknote: The Last Policeman

This is the review of the book as I posted it to my GoodReads profile. Even though I gave it 3 stars out of 5 (meaning "I liked it"), I do think that it is a novel that fans of either mystery/police novels or science fiction should try out.

Disclosure note (to appease the FTC, a.k.a. The Man): I did receive this book from the publisher for review purposes. I will note, as I did on GR, that I worked to provide an honest review. For this book, there was a lot I liked, and one or two things I did not, which I note in the review.

Books I think may have similar appeal:

  • P.D. James, The Children of Men
  • To some extent, some of the works of Philip K. Dick. 

The Last PolicemanThe Last Policeman by Ben H. Winters
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I did not give it more than three stars because, while I liked it, it did have some slow moments for me that made me put it aside for a bit. However, the book was still good enough that I did want to finish it. I just took my time with it.

On the negative side, I did find the epilogue somewhat irritating. To be perfectly honest, the whole subplot with Nico, Hank Palace's deadbeat sister, was pretty much an irritation that I could have done without. I think the murder mystery in the novel was good enough on its own without tossing that distraction into the blend. Since I understand there may be more novels in this setting, maybe the author will develop that subplot further, but as it stands now, I think the novel would have been fine without it.

So, let's move on to why you need to read this book if you are a reader of either crime and mystery novels or science fiction novels. The main mystery is good. It kept me guessing who committed the murder until close to the very end. For me, that is a good thing. Now, what makes the book an excellent read is the science fiction element. Due to an incoming asteroid collision that cannot be averted, Earth has only a few months left of life. As a result of the impending doom, rules and laws have changed dramatically as society begins to collapse. Ask yourself what would you do if you knew you only had six months or so left to live. This is the question that drives much of the novel, and it is ever present.

In addition, the author did some very good work with the world building. Small details such as the ability, or inability, to make phone calls, combined with passages describing the big picture work well to create the doomsday setting where Detective Hank Palace works. In a world where a lot of people are committing suicides, no one really cares about one more. Even when that suicide seems to be a homicide, why bother? The world is ending soon, and even if you catch the guy, he is only going to get a "life sentence" (namely, for the duration until the asteroid strikes). The fact that Detective Palace is driven to solve this one murder, a murder others doubt is a murder at all, indeed marks Palace as the last policeman. As he keeps investigating, things do get more complicated, but he perseveres in spite of obstacles and threats.

In the end, the novel brings together the science fiction and the murder mystery to create a pretty unique narrative. If you are a fan of either genre, you should pick this novel up.

Disclosure note (to keep The Man happy): I received my copy of the novel from the publisher for purposes of review. I did strive to give an honest review. YMMV.

View all my reviews

Friday, August 03, 2012

Have I read books that shaped America? Yea, a few

I came across the Library of Congress's list of "Books that Shaped America." I came across the list at Bookshelves of Doom here.The list is part of an LOC exhibit, which you can view online too. My four readers know that I come across a list like this, and I just have to see how many I have read. Follow the link to see the full list. Out of their list, I have read the following:

  • Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776). I have found that, like other works of the U.S. Founders, many people think they know this book, or they think because they have seen a quote from it that they have read it. I actually read it, and I think a lot more people ought to read it.
  • Benjamin Franklin, The Private Life of the Late Benjamin Franklin, LL.D. (1793).This is what most of us know as the Autobiography.
  • Washington Irving, "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow" (1820). 
  • Frederick Douglass, The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass (1845). I've read this a few times, graduate school being the latest. My daughter now has to read it for school this upcoming year. It is one of her summer readings. 
  • Herman Melville, Moby Dick, or The Whale (1851).
  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden, or Life in the Woods (1854).
  • Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass (1855).
  • Mark Twain, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1884). 
  • L. Frank Baum, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz (1900). I remember reading this as a child, but I have not read it recently. It may be time to look at it again. 
  • Jack London, The Call of the Wild (1903). Another one I remember reading as a kid.
  • Zane Grey, Riders of the Purple Sage (1912). I read this for my Adult Readers' Advisory class in library school. It was my Western literature selection.
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby (1925). I read this in graduate school, and I remember hating it. In fact, it is one of those books that I honestly do not understand the infatuation so many people feel for it. The fact that a new film is coming out is not something that appeals to me i.e. I could not care less. 
  • Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God (1937). Read this for my African American Literature course in graduate school. 
  • Margaret Wise Brown, Goodnight Moon (1947). I read this to my daughter a few times when she was a baby.
  • Tennessee Williams, A Streetcar Named Desire (1947). 
  • J.D. Salinger, The Catcher in the Rye (1951). I believe I have expressed my hatred of this book before, so I will not say more on it.
  • Ralph Ellison, Invisible Man (1952).
  • E.B. White, Charlotte's Web (1952).
  • Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (1953). I had to teach it to high school freshman back in my days as a school teacher. 
  • Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged (1957). Yes, for some reason I do not understand to this day, I inflicted this on myself. It is, to put it simply, the paean to selfish assholes everywhere who think they will never need anybody. 
  • Dr. Seuss, The Cat in the Hat (1957).
  • Jack Kerouac, On the Road (1957). Another one I read on my own that I did not like. It is another case of an overrated book.
  • Joseph Heller, Catch-22 (1961). I remember finding this book interesting when I read it, and I did like it. Given current events, it is starting to seem relevant. It may be time to revisit it. 
  • Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are (1963).
  • Toni Morrison, Beloved (1987). 
  • Randy Shilts, And the Band Played On (1987). 
Out of the 88 books on their list, I have read 25. However, I will add some of the authors from the list that I have read some of their other works. I always feel like I have to make this observation because very often I have read some of these canonical or classic authors, but not the specific books listed on a list. For instance:

  • The Federalist (1787). I have read parts of this, but I have not read all of them. 
  • Nathaniel Hawthorne. I have read his short fiction, but I have not read The Scarlet Letter (1850). I have no intention to do so neither. I already know the basic plot, so I don't feel the need to inflict it on myself. 
  • Mark Twain. I have read a few of his other works in addition to Huck Finn. To be honest, I like his later, darker works. 
  • Emily Dickinson. I have read her poetry, just not a collected works book. 
  • W.E.B. Du Bois. I have parts of his work, but I never had to read the whole work. I may need to fix that gap. 
  • William James. I read The Varieties of Religious Experience instead.
  • William Carlos Williams. Have read some of his poetry, but not the whole book listed. 
  • Robert Frost. Same thing. 
  • Langston Hughes. Ditto. 
  • William Faulkner. I read As I Lay Dying instead. I hated it, and to this day, it has turned me off from ever reading Faulkner again. If I want to read some generational tale about some family, I prefer the Buendías. The Bundrens really are just a bunch of very messed up people Southern whites. 
  • Dashiell Hammett. I've read his short fiction. 
  • Eugene O'Neill.I read Long Day's Journey into Night. Oh, and I saw Desire Under the Elms performed.
  • Ray Bradbury. Yes, I did read the book listed. However, The Martian Chronicles is my favorite Bradbury work.
  • Ayn Rand. Yes. I have read more than one book by this woman. I also read The Fountainhead. If you must inflict this author on yourself, read The Fountainhead, which is somewhat more readable plus it is a lot shorter. 
  • Robert A. Heinlein. I have read a good amount of his short fiction. Novels of his I recall reading include Starship Troopers, Time Enough for Love, and Farnham's Freehold. I hated that last one. I did like the other two. I kind of have a love-hate relationship when it comes to Heinlein.
So, there you have it. I am sure they could have added other books. Compared to other lists out there, this one does seem to add a bit of diversity. 

Friday, July 13, 2012

Reading about the reading life, July 13, 2012

A few items of interest on reading and the reading life for this. I do clip a few of these, but I don't always get to read them right away. Maybe I need to work on that, and maybe I could make this kind of post a more regular feature of the blog. Anyhow, here are this week's items.

  • Via NPR, on the topic of who might inherit your books, but what if they are e-books? It is an interesting question to me. While I have a small personal library, it is by no means valuable. It is the library of a reader, not a collector. I think I will be lucky if my kid keeps some and the rest get donated to some library that may want them. However, at least the books have the potential to be passed on and read by someone else when my demise comes. E-books don't really stand a chance in that regard. Between the obsolescence by design of e-readers, passwords (what if your heirs did not get your password), format changes, so on, odds are good your heirs are not getting your e-books any time soon. If you can learn about a person by the books he reads, you won't be learning a whole lot if you can't get into grandma's Kindle she may have left you, or, if you do get in, you may find out granny was one of those hidden romance/erotica readers (the kind who would not be caught dead with a print romance or erotica book but kept plenty of them on the e-reader). 
  • Greg Zimmerman, at Book Riot, asks what is a "summer read"? Personally, I never really understand the whole fuss over "summer reads." Maybe it is because I read throughout the year, so summer is no different than any other time of the year when it comes to reading. Also, I tend to read "serious" books as well as "light" reading any time of the year, so the distinction just does not work for me. Anyhow, feel free to read the piece and see where you stand. 
  • Via The Atlantic, to think there was a time when large stretches of the U.S. did not have a single bookstore. The article mentions that in 1931, there were 500 or so legitimate bookstores in the U.S. In contrast, today bookstores are facing extinction thanks to e-readers and other changes. The article also mentions a book by historian Kenneth C. Davis that I may want to add to my TBR list. The book is Two-Bit Culture: The Paperbacking of America. The book was published in 1984, so it is not terribly new, but The Atlantic author writes that "many of the changes that social media and the Internet are supposed to have wrought on culture are ascribed to the rise of the paperback."

Friday, July 06, 2012

Books I would want NOT taught in school: a small reflection

The headline of the article from Salon says "Reader Responses: Books You Want Banned." It makes it sound like they want the books permanently banned. In reality, it is an article about people expressing which they do not want to see taught in schools. This may be for reasons ranging from the ever infamous dissection that teachers shove down students throats to the fact that, well, the books just plain suck. In some cases, the tragedy is the book might have been appreciated by some kids down the road had they not had it rammed up their keisters by the schools.

Anyhow, in the interest of having some fun, these are the books I would certainly leave out of schools if I had my way. They would be optional readings because I believe to instill love of reading that dissection and the ever popular "let's all read the same book, at the same time, at the same pace, and heaven help you if you read ahead past the rest rest of the class" approaches are not the ways to do it.

On a disclosure note, if my four readers do not know this by now, I was a public school teacher many moons ago, and yes, I was forced to do the dissection, which led not only to a good number of my kids hating certain books. It also led to me hating books and authors to the point I will never read them again. So, I give a big "eff you" to those "curriculum specialists" who forced to get real creative and work around them to minimize the damage.

So, my (partial) list:

  • Anything by Dickens, but specially Great Expectations.
  • From now on, as far as I am concerned, you may NOT introduce Shakespeare with Romeo and Juliet. Shakespeare has a lot of better plays, some actually pretty funny. Use one of those instead if you absolutely have to teach Shakespeare. And for the love of all that is holy, you better be willing and able to teach any and all ribald and bawdy references. Teaching Shakespeare, or Chaucer, or others without going into the puns, innuendos, etc. is like trying to swim with your hands and ankles tied behind your back. If you have to be squeamish, because heaven forbid the kiddies hear about titties or farts, you probably should not be teaching it then. Anyhow, the kids have already heard about the tits and farts anyhow.
  • The Spanish equivalent of the above is Cervantes. If you think Shakespeare's English is difficult (and it can be without some proper training), give Baroque Spanish a try. Cervantes does have various shorter works that may be more accessible. If you must, put Cervantes on a list with similar authors of his time. Don Quixote is good, but it is one hell of a reading odyssey to your average teen.
  • Lord of the Flies. Overdone at this point. 
  • The Scarlet Letter.
  • Moby Dick. If you have to do Melville in school, his short fiction is both more accessible and a bit easier to discuss.
  • Jane Eyre, Portrait of a Lady, Tess of the D’Urbervilles, and similar.
  • Anything by James Joyce. Making any school student read this is just sadistic torture pure and simple. 
  • The Catcher in the Rye. This overrated tripe needs to go from any school. Heck, as far as I am concerned, this outdated teen experience book just needs to go. There is a reason the author pretty much went into seclusion after.
The article quotes a teacher who argues that if you are going to teach some of these books,  you need to do so with context: history, politics, social sciences, and in some cases, yes, this would include sexual information. To teach 1984, to pick an example, it does help to have some of the Cold War history in place, not to mention hooking up with current politics.  Having said that, some of those books taught in schools are just bad; you teachers and administrators are not doing kids any favors by forcing the same texts year after year.

If I had my way, there would still be some curriculum. Let us be honest here. The idealists who claim we can just let kids pick whatever they want fail to take into account human nature. If you let kids literally pick anything, all they would read is Dr. Seuss (no offense) and Curious George because they are easy. So, as teachers and librarians, we can and should set some parameters. Maybe a list, be it thematic, by authors, so on, and let students pick. For instance:

  • Say, you have to read some Shakespeare: here are some choices for your grade level. 
  • You have to read a dystopian novel? Pick from these, and the list does include contemporary as well classics. So both Brave New World and Hunger Games could get in, along with other things. How about V for Vendetta?
  • You have to read something that also deals with American history: so you can have various American classics, but also why not something like Watchmen, which if you look closely, does have quite a bit to say about 20th century United States? Notice I said about American history, not necessarily written by an American. Actually, such an idea could open other ideas such as how foreigners see the U.S. in literature for example. 
  • If you read the Bible in school, probably for some world literature class (I am assuming public school here. Parochial schools have "their way" of teaching the Bible), you have to read other religious texts as well and have contextual lessons to go with it. Again, this opens up history, politics, and other important subjects. 
  • More World Literature. Read something like Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, but make sure you provide a good history of colonialism and post-colonialism for context. In fact, a book like this can help you understand, with proper context, things such as why India and Pakistan pretty much hate each other. Read one of the dictator novels from Latin America, say El Señor Presidente by Miguel Ángel Asturias. With proper historical lessons, you can come to understand not only Latin American history but also U.S.-Latin American relations. Again, provide a list and go from there.
The point is there are many ways to promote reading while getting a good education without having to do the usual sleep inducing, fairly irrelevant, so-called classics that kids will grow to hate. Then again, some of my suggestions would actually take some work and planning, and in the era of teaching to the test and doing just the bare minimum, not likely to happen.

I can probably add a few more to my list, but the above were ones that came to me right away. So, what would you add to your list of books that should not be taught in schools? Maybe you want to defend something you read in school that most other people hate? As always, the comments are open.

Friday, June 29, 2012

Some other reading ideas for incoming college freshmen

This is a post I am doing mostly for fun. I saw Book Riot's post on "A Summer Reading List for College Freshmen," and I figured I could add a few things. I also figured I could take some things out and save incoming freshmen some pain and grief. The basic premise of the post that what's important is the kind of books you read is right on. But maybe some other choices may be in order, at least in my humble opinion. In other words, if someone asked this librarian what to recommend to incoming college freshmen, what would I recommend? Well, glad you asked. I am going to use the same categories that the author over there used. Go read the original post, then you can come back.

  • One of Shakespeare's plays. Yes, you will be reading Shakespeare at some point in college, so do yourself a favor and pick some up. Titus Andronicus is good. I would have suggested Coriolanus. There is a nice new adaptation with Ralph Fiennes, so you still get the whole dynamic of being able to talk about a film adaptation. Other options may include Othello (not that obscure, and if you read it in school, pass on) and Henry V (this is just a favorite of mine. Plus there are various adaptations of this play including one by Laurence Olivier and another by Kenneth Brannagh).
  • The biography of a historical figure. The author goes American on this category. So, I will do the same. I will admit that biography is not a big reading interest for me, but I do read some. I would maybe suggest something like Fordlandia: The Rise and Fall of Henry Ford's Forgotten Jungle City. This book teaches you some American history, you get the story of Henry Ford, and you get some Latin American history in the process. You also get some lessons on American imperialism, nation building, and hubris, topics that are actually pretty relevant today. I will do you one better and add one more. I would also suggest Lost Kingdom: The Last Queen, the Sugar Kings, and America's First Imperial Adventure. This is a biography and history of the last monarch of Hawaii up to the moment when the U.S. annexes the island. It would cover you in terms of it being about a topic that may be somewhat obscure in American history (let's be honest, outside of Hawaii, how many "average" Americans know this story in any detail?). Plus, in a way, it could be history outside the U.S. (the next category) since Hawaii was an independent nation before the U.S. took it over. And again, this book also has lessons for today.
  • One book about a historical event or a period in history. Ok, they went outside the U.S., so shall we. One suggestion that comes to mind is Romeo Dallaire's Shake Hands with the Devil: The Failure of Humanity in Rwanda. However, it is a bit of a heavy book. Or you can pick one of Joe Sacco's graphic novels such as Safe Area Gorazde, about the war in Bosnia. 
  • One "classic" novel (pre-1910). I will admit that after graduate school, I had enough of the classics. But if you must, Ms. Neace's suggestions work. I would have added Stoker's Dracula. I would have skipped Dickens, since odds are good you already had it inflicted to you in school, most likely Great Expectations. That is more than enough to get a feel for Dickens. You may want to try The Picture of Dorian Gray to fill this category. Besides, you may have to read other Oscar Wilde works, so this will give you a start.
  • One "modern" classic (post-1910). Pedro Paramo is a very good suggestion. I had to read it in high school (in Spanish), but I have come to appreciate it a bit better over time. You could also give Gabriel Garcia Marquez a try. One Hundred Years of Solitude is considered his magnum opus. However, you can still get a good taste of this author if you pick up one or two of his short fiction collections, especially earlier ones. Many of these stories take place in Macondo, the fictional setting of the novel, so you can get a small taste that might encourage you to seek out the novel. As for Faulkner, which Ms. Neace suggests, I guess any is good. I personally do not recommend Faulkner (in fact, I hate it), but odds are good you may have to read at least one. So pick one up now and get a head start. For my money, go with the Latin Americans. Heck, here you can add cool people like Borges, Vargas Llosa, Fuentes, so on. Read those folks and skip the usual white guy. Oh, and before anyone says anything, if you want women, Isabel Allende (her earlier works) is a good bet.
  • One dystopian novel. By now, I think this is a genre that is starting to get saturated, especially in YA dystopias, and not in a good way. If you have not read the usual suspects: Bradbury, Huxley, and Orwell, you should, so pick them up. Maybe instead of Rand's Anthem, you might consider Zamyatin's We or Burgess' A Clockwork Orange (if you have not done so already). 
  • One young adult novel. I would suggest The House of the Scorpion for this category. By the way, this could also be your dystopian novel, but we are going YA here.
  • Something political (ideally a book that represents an opposing viewpoint). This is kind of tricky here. I would rather go with something that explains a bit about the current political climate and maybe helps you think instead of just picking a conservative book because you happen to be liberal or viceversa. Having said that, exposing yourself to opposing views once in a while is a good idea, if for no other reason than to know what your enemy/rival thinks. At any rate, for this I would recommend Deer Hunting with Jesus.
  • A graphic novel. Oh dear, where do I start? If you have not read Watchmen, or the only thing you know is the movie, you owe it to yourself to pick up the actual graphic novel. Yes, Maus is sort of a given, so if you have not picked it up, do it now. After those, if we stay "literary" (i.e. no comic books, heroes in tights and such), I would recommend Fun Home and/or American Born Chinese. If you want less "literary," the American Vampire series is one to pick up. I could go on with this, but you just need one for now. 
So those are my suggestions if I had to do this little RA exercise. What would my four readers add or take out? Feel free to comment. For instance, I saw in the comments over there that you could suggest poetry. There are a lot of choices for poetry. Short fiction collections? Other things?