Friday, September 27, 2013

Booknote: From Melancholia to Prozac

Clark Lawlor, From Melancholia to Prozac: A History of Depression. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012. ISBN: 9780199585793.

Genre: History
Subgenre: Medical history, microhistory.

If I have to rate it on stars, I would give it a 2.5 out of 5 mainly because it is not a terribly engaging book. It can be a bit dense at times, which slowed down the reading pace for me. Also, the book could get a bit repetitive now and then. Now, these are the issues that I found as a reader. I still think a good number of readers may find this book of interest, so let me tell you why you might want to read it. The book does provide a pretty good overview of how depression as a mental health condition evolved from classical times and balancing humors to today's medical condition including the debate on using medications and/or talk therapies.

The book is divided into seven chapters covering broad historical periods. The book begins with a prologue about Samuel Johnson, who did suffer from what we now know as depression. I did find this prologue interesting, and I am curious now to read a bit more about Dr. Johnson down the road. In that regard, Lawlor's book is a good book; I enjoy books that make me curious about other topics. From the prologue, we go on a historical tour. We see humors, then melancholia. Then it is a matter of debating if melancholia is something that just afflicts geniuses or if it is something darker? By the way, women suffer quite a bit along the way. Was it their wombs? Were they getting enough sex? There were all sorts of ideas about women and depression that today we may find wacky, to put it mildly, but back in their day those ideas were the serious thinking of the time. We go from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance then onward to the Enlightenment and then Victorians and eventually the modern era.

For such a compact book, Lawlor covers a lot of terrain, and he strives to provide a balanced presentation. This is specially evident in the last chapters where he discusses the role and influence of big pharmaceutical industries in the treatment of depression along with other options. It is easy to go negative when talking about the pharma industy (there are plenty of documented reasons to do so), but the author here tries to stay balanced. In the end, this is a pretty good historical overview on the topic. The book also includes a small glossary, a list for further reading, and a bibliography plus some illustrations.

Note: I borrowed this book from my own library, Hutchins Library at Berea College.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Booknote: G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, Vol. 1

Mike Costa, G.I. Joe: The Cobra Files, Vol. 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013. ISBN: 9781613777312. 

To be honest, this story was a bit rushed and offered minimal context. Part of the problem, for the casual reader, is that there are layers upon layers and what I can only call a bit of organizational inbreeding between G.I. Joe and Cobra. Chameleon is a former Cobra spy who has defected to the Joes. That seems fine. However, the plot with Clockspring and Tomax is not as clear unless you have been reading every single issue of the latest runs of G.I. Joe. I take it that Tomax (one of the twins who works, or rather worked I guess, for Cobra) came to the Joes at some point (or was taken), but he is running a game of his own. Is Clockspring acting as a double-agent? Such questions are not really clear since the comic does not even offer a "so far in the story" kind of note to help us catch up. Then the Joes are split with Duke leading and Flint in charge of a smaller team that seems to be taking a few rogue risks. At times, one is not sure where one layer ends and the other begins, which does not make it easy to keep track of the story at times. So, if you have not been following the newer incarnations of G.I. Joe, this comic may not be the place to start or catch up.

The main plot of capturing the mercenary tiger team seemed ok, but even that was a little convoluted. I thought the Joes took a hell of a gamble for a very small payoff. The action sequence was alright once we got to the action; there is also a lot of behind the scenes talking, which one would think would add exposition, but it does not do much for readers. In large measure, what saves this volume for me from "it's just ok" to liking it was the art. In particular, there is a very nice gallery at the end of this volume.

Overall, I like G.I. Joe enough that I might consider seeking out the next volume in the series. But there lies the rub: this is for the more hardcore fans. If you have kept up, you will probably be o.k. If you pick up issues now and then, this will feel a bit convoluted, rushed, and a bit too complex. It may make you wonder if you really want to get prior issues to catch up or not.

I am giving it a 3 out of 5 stars, and with some reservations.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy

Friday, September 20, 2013

Booknote: Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters, Vol. 1

Mairghread Scott,, Transformers Prime: Beast Hunters, Vol. 1., San Diego, California: IDW, 2013. ISBN: 9781613777435 (Scheduled for publication October 2013; I did try to get a link from the publisher, and I was unable to find it). 

I've always liked Transformers (except for the movies. Those are just atrocities not worth the time of day that we should agree never to speak of again). This comic features the Dinobots. If you have only seen the Dinobots in the old 1980s cartoons, these bots are very different. They are smarter for one, which I think is nice. Their characters get a little better development here. However, the story was not so great. It was just ok.

The setting is Cybertron, the Transformers' homeworld, after their big war. The planet is in ruins, and the few survivors try to scrape a life while seeking out any remains of energon, the energy source they need to survive. The few remaining Transformers live in isolated underground settlements. Grimlock leads a small group of Dinobots. When a Transformer from another town comes asking for help in solving some suspicious deaths, two of the Dinobots agree to help.

The story offers some potential of depth as it alludes to secret experiments done by Shockwave, a Decepticon, and to the Dinobots' origins. However, the story seems a bit rushed at times, thus remaining at a superficial level. The art at times seemed a little cluttered or busy, so some action sequences I may have missed a detail here or there. In the end, it's light entertainment but no big deal.

I'd give it a 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Booknote: Classic Space: 1999: To Everything That Was

Andrew E.C. Gaska,, Space: 1999: To Everything That Was: Remastered Works from the Comics Archive 1975-1979. Los Angeles, CA: Archaia Entertainment, 2013. ISBN: 9781936393954. (link to publisher)

For fans of the television show Space: 1999, this will be a trip down nostalgia lane. This volume collects and remasters the comics series from the 1970s based on the television series; it picks issues from 1975 to 1979 published by Charlton Comics and the British Look-In magazine. From what I gather, Look-In did a lot of comic strips based on television shows of its time (the Wikipedia article has quite a list). For me, this was a treat. As a child, I did grow up watching the Space: 1999 television program along with other series such as Doctor Who (I caught mostly the Tom Baker era). I did not know that Space: 1999 had comics, let alone that there were comics on both sides of the pond, so to speak. Archaia brings a selection of these comics into one volume and blends them in quite well. For folks keeping track, this collection would fall between the first and second seasons of the television program.

I have to say that this is truly a labor of love. As I mentioned, nostalgia readers will certainly like this. The comics really do capture the feel of the television program down to the opening sequence of each episode where we are reminded about the nuclear explosion that tore the Moon from Earth's orbit and send the Moon, along with Moonbase Alpha, on its journey through space. Back when I was a kid, 1999 seemed so far away. I can say that even though we are in 2013, much of the appeal of this series holds well. The comics present different stories of the Moonbase Alpha crew as they seek out a new planet to call home and meet various obstacles and adventures. Some stories are light; others have a bit of depth. Like many anthologies, the stories do vary in quality and some are more interesting than others. Howeer, this is a good package overall. It is also a good way to introduce new readers to the series.

The color on this is very good. If you read some of these in black and white before, this is definitely much better. However, the lettering at times is a bit small, so that may be an issue for some readers. The volume also includes some very good art in the chapter breaks; this was a feature that I definitely enjoyed. In addition, the volume features a chronology of Alpha's journey and a comic book covers gallery.

Overall, I would give it 4 out of 5 stars if you ask me. It has good color and art, but the stories do vary in terms of the quality. However, I think you get some good value here overall in terms of the collection. Public libraries may want to add it to their collections. The comic is rated for teens, and I think it is a pretty good read for young readers.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy.

Booknote: On Dissent

Ronald K.L. Collins and David M. Skover, On Dissent: Its Meaning in America. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2013. ISBN: 9780521767194. 

This book will serve well as a textbook in various political science and civics classes. The concept of dissent is crucial to American history and political thought, and this book is a good way to understand how this concept has evolved and developed over time in the United States. In the U.S., people love to give lip service to the idea of dissent. Many say it is something to be valued and cherished, but they often deride or condemn it when it does not agree with their views. Also dissent is something that many people just do not know how to define. Jurists, lawyers, politicians, pundits, so on have written here and there about dissent. However, this book aims to really look at the foundations of the concept, explain its roots, its development, and the forms it can take as well as its limitations and borders. The authors aim to address what is dissent, who is a dissenter, and what are the boundaries of dissent. They do this on the basis of three attributes: dissent is intentional; it entails criticism, and it is public.

After the prologue, the book is organized into five chapters. We begin with the idea of judicial dissent and peaceful protests. From there, we go with civil and uncivil disobedience. This is followed by vagaries of violence where the question is raised of whether violence can be an expression of dissent or not. Next, we have Dissent, Inc. where we find out if a corporation can ever express dissent or not. In light of things like the recent Citizens United decision, it is a good question to ask and explore. Finally, we look at dissent and the parameters of the law. The authors do something interesting in this book. They have a series of experts and scholars from various fields, their informationis personae, to speak upon dissent and the various issues related to it. Some of their experts include Noam Chomsky, Phil Donahue, Ralph Nader, Martha C. Nussbaum, Nadine Strossen, and Cornel West among others. The book also features a solid annotated bibliography for readers who wish to learn more on this.

As I mentioned, I think this book can be used as a textbook in various political science and civics classes. It is well organized, and it is pretty accessible for readers. The use of the experts serves to almost make the book like a conversation and debate. In a time when Americans still struggle to defend and preserve their rights of free expression, of voting, of civil liberties and freedoms, this is a book that needs to be read. Dissent has often been a tool of change, and it has taken many forms. It is time we stop just talking about it or speculating what dissent is. This book goes towards defining and educating its readers on what it is and what forms it takes. Those who seek to be well-informed and thoughtful in their understanding of politics and civil rights should add this to their reading lists. This book reminds us that in a democratic culture, all views are at least given a chance in the market of ideas, even if they are objectionable to some.

Academic libraries will certainly wish to add this to their collections, especially if they are strong in American history and politics. I know I am ordering it for our library given the college's strong history of dissent. Some public libraries may wish to consider it depending on their patrons.

Overall, I'd give it 4.5 stars out of 5.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you I read this as an e-book via NetGalley provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, that should keep The Man happy.

# # # # 

I jotted some passages and quotes from the book that I wish to remember. These are not part of the review. They are simply some concepts I wish to remember.

From the prologue:

"Dissent might moreover cultivate a democratic culture of tolerance, where all views are suffered no matter how objectionable they may be. Democracy is diversity and diversity of views is often born out of dissent. One measure of a thriving democracy is the extent to which it fosters vibrant dissent" (xii).

Why we need some clarity in what is dissent:

"For not every disagreement or disbelief, purposeful protest or unintentional transgression, symbolic or aesthetic expression, corporate or commercial contestation, criminal wrong or politically violent conduct, or religious action taken in God's name ought to be tagged dissent. We trust most would agree" (xx).

Dissent entails risk. This does make me think why many librarians self-censor when it comes to expressing a dissenting view, or even just a differing opinion, publicly, regarding something in the profession, something usually seen as conventional or accepted wisdom. The risk of getting silenced, blacklisted, so on is relatively great in our small profession (it's not small, but it feels small. At any rate, others have discussed the silencing in the profession better than I ever could. Go look them up. The keywords "silencing and librarianship" should yield some results on Google).  Then again, compared to getting killed for dissent, self-censoring in the profession does not seem too bad. Personally, especially after my experience at the end of the summer of 2013, I think there are more important things than professional dramas and spats. In fact, for future reference, maybe reading segments of this book as part of the Civil Rights Tour experience might be a good idea. Anyhow, here is the quote I wanted to remember on this:

"Second, dissent, at least in its more vibrant forms, entails some degree of risk of adverse consequences. That risk might run the gamut from public condemnation and social ostracism to personal injury and imprisonment. Speaking truth to power, after all, can have its price. But such dissent is valued precisely because one steps up and assumes the risk. If expression or action is entirely immune from any public scrutiny, there is little, if any risk incurred. Speaking privately to friends or ideological cohorts, then, lacks both the edge and the peril of dissent" (21).

The public element of dissent includes personal integrity:

"Third,  implicit in the idea of speaking truth to power is the notion of personal integrity-- that is, assuming ownership of one's views" (22).

However, there is allowance for anonymous dissent. After all, there is a tradition of anonymous criticism and literature of dissent. (This even applies for many librarians who dislike being criticized by "anonymous" blogging critics.)

Finally, for now, what the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution does. This is something that a lot more of Americans in the United States need to remember and actually understand:

"It safeguards the speech of those who refute our creeds, reject our values, renounce our government, and even repudiate our very way of life. This uniquely American principle of free speech provides a haven for irritating ranters and irksome rogues who feel  the need to spoil our parade. In short, it protects the voice of the other. And whose voice is that? It is the voice of the dissenter" (103). 

Friday, September 13, 2013

Booknote: Green Hornet: Year One Omnibus

Matt Wagner and Aaron Campbell, Green Hornet: Year One Omnibus. Mt. Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2013. ISBN: 9781606904213 (Link to publisher).

This is one that I truly enjoy. When I think of a good action comic that is not overly complicated and just fun reading, this will come to mind. Matt Wagner brings the origin of the Green Hornet to life with a good story, and Aaron Campbell's art is great as well capturing the 1930s era well in terms of color and ambiance.

Britt Reid is the son of a newspaper publisher and owner. However, he does not necessarily want to follow in his father's footsteps. So he goes on a trip around the world to find his path. Along the way, he makes it to China, only to get caught up in the Japanese invasion of China and what would later be known as the Nanking Massacre. Kato is a young Japanese man, son of an honorable samurai and ninja. Despite his father's disappointment, Kato joins the army because he feels it is his duty to serve. However, when he finds himself in Nanking, he is horrified at the atrocities the Japanese are committing. Kato deserts the army and even tries to counter some of the atrocities. He gets caught by the army, and in a nick of time, Britt saves him. Together, they become friends and allies, manage to get out of China, and come back to the U.S. Tragedy strikes as Britt's father has passed on, so Britt must now take over the newspaper. However, Britt also has a thirst for justice, and with Kato at his side and some help, he becomes the vigilante hero known as the Green Hornet and strives to take down the mob.

As the title states, this volume covers the first year of the Green Hornet and his assistant Kato. The story is set up as a combination of present day events, in which the Green Hornet is already fighting crime and engaged in a crusade against mobster Vincent "Skid" Caruso, and flashbacks to the early 1920s and 1930s where we see Britt and Kato growing up in their respective homes. The narrative moves well, and the transitions from one element to another are well-handled. The characters are well developed with good depth. The action sequences are fast paced and good, and the art brings them to life with attention to detail and color. I did enjoy not only reading this but also looking at it. One thing I like about the Green Hornet is his use of non-lethal weapons and tactics. This is something that is made clear in the story. I also find interesting that the mob thinks he is just another mobster trying to muscle in, something he uses to his advantage.

This collection includes issues 1-12 of the Green Hornet: Year One comic series from Dynamite. If you enjoy period stories, and perhaps a little noir, you will probably enjoy this. I think fans of the Green Hornet will enjoy this comic as well. To be honest, I think this is a much better work than Dynamite's other Green Hornet work done by Kevin Smith (you can find my review of one of those volumes here). Year One has depth, a good story that readers can get into, a hero they can root for, and the art let's you visualize it all. For me, this is one to pick up, and I do highly recommend it. The volume also features a cover gallery.

I am giving this one a 5 out of 5 stars. Though I read it via NetGalley, this is one that I would buy the print volume for my personal collection. Public libraries will want to add this one to their collections. Academic libraries with pop culture and/or recreational reading collections may want to add it as well. I will likely order it for our library at the college.

Works with similar appeal:

  • The Shadow comics series.
  • Some of Marvel's Noir series (although Green Hornet is a lot less gritty than say, Wolverine Noir, but I think there are common appeal elements).

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy, I get to tell you that I read this via NetGalley as an e-book provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Friday, September 06, 2013

Booknote: A History of Food in 100 Recipes

 William Sitwell, A History of Food in 100 Recipes. New York: Little, Brown, 2012. ISBN: 9780316229975.

This is the kind of book I enjoy reading; it teaches you a little bit of everything. You get some history of civilization and some curious and interesting recipes along the way. The book opens with the author's introduction, which I did find helpful in setting the tone and structure of the book. It was a good way to draw readers in. The structure and pacing of the book are consistent: you get a food source, recipe, or food description from a historical source, followed by the author's commentary and writing on the history of the item and/or what may have been happening culturally and historically at the time. This goes on for the 100 food items that the author has selected. Recipes and items go from ancient Egyptian bread to modernist cuisine today. The author presents a lot of detail and interesting little stories for each recipe. A neat thing is that you get to learn about food items that you may take for granted today. Who was first to cook an item? Who was first to put together an actual recipe book? Who went on to plagiarize some of those recipes later on? Questions like that and more are answered in this book. There are some recipes you may feel up to trying out, and there are others that you can just admire and wonder how did they eat that.

Readers who enjoy trivia, historical anecdotes, and just a little bit of everything will probably enjoy this book. Foodie readers may enjoy it as well. While the book is a bit lengthy, I think it is worth reading. It certainly is a good browsing book. This will probably make a good book for public libraries, especially if they have foodie readers who enjoy reading about food and its history. Microhistory readers (and I count myself in this category) will probably enjoy this book as well.

Overall, I am giving it four out of five stars, if you ask. 

# # # #

On a side note, and this is not part of my opinion of the book. It applies to the platform I read it in (plus it covers the disclosure note I have to make to keep The Man happy). I read this as an e-galley via NetGalley, which was provided in exchange for an honest review. This draft did have some issues that affected readability, and I honestly hope the powers that be fix them in any future e-book edition. Photos, and the book does feature some nice photos, were often cut in half from one page to the next. Also, photo caption placement and fonts were extremely poor; the captions at times blended right into the main text of the book, making for a confusing reading experience. While I understand this is a galley (i.e. an unfinished proof), making it harder to read can be a little frustrating to a reviewer.

Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Booknote: Kenobi

John Jackson Miller, Kenobi: Star Wars. New York: Del Rey/Lucas Books, 2013. ISBN: 9780345546838.

This novel has a great premise: what did Obi-Wan Kenobi do right after he went into exile at the end of Revenge of the Sith.  The Republic has fallen, and the Empire is rising. The Jedi, what few remain, are now fugitives on the run, and Obi-Wan has to protect a young Luke Skywalker. With the Empire consolidating power, out of the way Tattooine is a perfect place to hide, or so one would think. On Tattooine, Obi-Wan becomes Ben Kenobi, and after he leaves Luke with the Lars family, he tries to fall into the role of hermit and of keeping an eye on Luke. Too bad for him that the local settlements and the Tusken Raiders have a conflict going, and it is a conflict that will draw Ben in. Ben gradually befriends the lady who owns the Claim, a trading post for moisture farmers. The Tusken Raiders attack the farms and the Claim, but that may be the least of Ben's problems, who is doing his best to stay out of the conflict. The local leader of the farmers' defense fun, Orrin, may be more than he seems. In the end, whether he wants to or not, Ben, a Jedi, cannot stand idly by while injustice happens.

This novel was a bit slow in terms of pacing and development. Much like Tattooine, not much really happens initially. I would say not much really happens for about two-thirds of the book or so. As a result, I did find it a bit hard to get into the book. However, once the pace picked up, the novel improved. Without revealing too much, let's say that Orrin, who seems more like a con man used car salesman reveals his true colors, and Ben may have to deal with the one group no one wants to deal with: the Tusken Raiders. A plus in this novel is that you get the point of view of the Tusken Raiders, something you do not see very often in the Star Wars universe. Overall, this could have been a better novel, maybe because it could be a bit shorter. Star Wars fans will likely enjoy the novel, especially if they want to learn how Kenobi goes from Obi-Wan to crazy old Ben. The book does add some depth to this Star Wars legend. It is not a perfect book, but it does make for a light and entertaining read that expands the events after Episode III.

If you ask me, I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars.

The disclosure note to keep The Man happy: I get to tell you here that I read this as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The book is scheduled to go on sale August 27th, 2013, so it should be out by the time this review is posted.