Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Holiday Post 2013: On Books and Reading

We continue our series of holiday posts for 2013. Today we are going over books and things stuff about reading. As a librarian, I am always interested in books and the reading life even at a time when some librarians think it beneath them to actually read. At any rate, today I am sharing some reading lists so my four readers can get some ideas of things to read in 2014.

On a side note, stay tuned for our holiday post on what the heck happened in 2013 coming shortly after the new year. It's been quite a year, so let's go down memory lane. You may also be interested in coming back for my end of year reading summary. In the meantime, let's see what's good to read out there.

Some Big Book Lists

  • Largehearted Boy blog does much of the work in his "Best of 2013" book lists. You can find just about any list for any taste here. Like bird books? There is a list for that. Have a look. You are bound to find something, or you are not trying hard enough. 
  • Amazon has their 2013 Best Books lists here, if you are interested. 

Some more book lists

The lists below are ones that I personally found interesting. Some of them may be a bit less mainstream. Others may be a bit unique in my humble estimation. I hope you can find some good reading ideas here. Maybe you will try out something new in the coming year.

  •  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has a reading list for 2013. They write, "we don't endorse all of their arguments, but we find they've added some valuable insight to the conversation around the areas and issues on which we work." If you are interested in topics like copyright, Internet freedom and neutrality, and freedom of speech, this list may be of interest. 
  • Joshua Kim, at Inside Higher Ed, asks his readers what did they read in 2013 and offers his list of books he read in 2013. From his list I read The Last Policeman (link to my review).  
  • If alcohol and spirits are a subjects of interest, Drinkhacker has their 2013 Best Books guide
  • If you need some food to go with the alcohol and spirits, Powell's has a list of good all-around cookbooks
  • Crooks and Liars has a holiday book gift guide. Given the blog's coverage, I was expecting stuff in current affairs and politics. Instead, they have a small sampling of different things, including some nice science fiction selections. From this list, I have a copy of Princesses Behaving Badly, and The Geek's Guide to Dating, which I will be reviewing soon. The Chuck Norris: Longer and Harder is a compilation of previous books collecting Chuck Norris facts. I have not read this one, but I have read two of the books that make up this larger collection: The Truth About Chuck Norris and Chuck Norris vs. Mr. T. If you like the meme, you will probably like the books, although they are books to borrow rather than buy. 
  • Unfortunately not all books are good. I've read my share of bad books, or at times, attempted to read them before I dropped them and moved on to something better. There are other readers out there who face bad books too. For example, Steve Donoghue at Stevereads presents his "Worst Books of 2013: Fiction!" If you are curious and brave, feel free to have a look. Personally, I try not to write negative reviews, but I will if I think my four readers really need to stay away from something or a particular book simply did not meet high expectations I may have had. 
  • Manga is one of the formats I enjoy reading, so I always try to offer suggestions on this to my four readers. The Manga Report has their 2013 manga gift guide out for those interested. 

Finally, some other book items

  • It seems 2013 was not a good year for book challenges. The Comic Book Legal Defense Fund (CBLDF) reports that book challenges were on the rise this year. 
  • 2013 also continued the "fine tradition" of people whining that print is dead, and e-books will take over, blah blah blah. It is a fine tradition even some librarians love to embrace. Let's leave that aside and admire that there are still some fine print books out there to admire and enjoy and read. Via BuzzFeed, here are "19 Awesomely Designed Books From 2013 That Prove Print Isn't Dead."

Monday, December 30, 2013

Booknote: Batman and Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family

Peter Tomasi, Batman and Robin, Vol. 3: Death of the Family. New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401242688. 

This volume, part of DC's The New 52, was a quick and enjoyable read for me. It was definitely a much better read than the Teen Titans volume in this series (link to my review of the Teen Titans volume). It had a bit more depth for one. For me, it works because I find Damian Wayne to be a fascinating character, and the father-son dynamic between Bruce and Damian works well and is an interesting element in this comic compilation.

This volume covers what happens to Damian at the hands of the Joker during the Death of the Family events. The story starts with a look back at Damian's early outings, where he uses Batman's cowl to patrol the city when Bruce is out of town (a vacation arranged by Damian). This particular story segment has a nice, heartwarming element to it, and it serves to give us insight into the strengthening bond between Bruce and Damian. It serves as a good way to lead into the main story where Joker has captured Damian, who is Robin by now. Joker will make Robin face what may well be his worst fear: that he may have to kill Batman in order to survive. From there, we get to the dinner scene we have seen before in Snyder's Batman volume (you will have to read to find out how Robin gets to the dinner scene).

In the end, there is an epilogue scene where we glimpse the dreams of Bruce, Alfred, and Damian. In some other comic, that epilogue might seem tacked on, but here, after the experience with the Joker, it works and seems proper. This volume goes well with Snyder's main story.

If you ask me, I give 5 out of 5 stars. The story is good, strong, and the art brings it to life. For me, it was a very good read.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. Book is due to be out Decemeber 3, 2013.

Friday, December 27, 2013

Booknote: Teen Titans, Vol. 3; Death of the Family

Scott Lobdell, Teen Titans, Vol. 3: Death of the Family. New York: DC Comics, 2013. ISBN: 9781401243210. 

This volume is part of DC's New 52 series. The volume begins with how Tim Drake became the third Robin, and not just Robin but Red Robin. After this origin tale, the actual story of the "Death of the Family" events begins. Red Robin is kidnapped by the Joker, and the Teen Titans call on Batgirl for help. The volume covers some of what the Teen Titans were doing during the "Death of the Family" storyline. If you read Batman, Vol. 3: Death of the Family (my review of it here) this volume is basically material from behind the scenes, a "what else was happening at the time."

This Teen Titans volume mostly showed the titans team as simply not ready for action in a big city like Gotham. They sure as hell are not ready for a villain like The Joker. Even teaming up with Red Hood's Outlaws (and I note I will be reviewing the Red Hood volume later), we can see the learning curve is still steep for the titans. You could say this volume is supplementary to Batman, Vol. 3. If you really need to know what happened on the side while Red Robin was held by Joker, then you read this. For me, it falls under "nice to know," but it is not essential unless you are a completist reader. In addition, there are some segments with Raven and her demonic father hinting at another plot down the road. If you are a casual reader have not kept up with Teen Titans, this may seem a bit out of balance or stuffed into the story.

The art for this volume was good with some nice two-page panels. However, if you are using an e-reader (like I did), those panels do not read as well. Reading in print may be preferable. Overall, the art is good, but it is not outstanding.

I am guessing from the looks of it that other titles of the Bat Family are basically going to be different takes on the same story. I do have some of those volumes on my reading cue, and I will be reviewing them as I get to them.

As for this volume, I am still willing to give 4 out of 5. 

Disclosure note: I received this volume as an electronic review copy via NetGalley from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. There, we have appeased The Man once more. The book is scheduled for release on December 24, 2013. 

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Holiday Post 2013: Traditions and other seasonal miscellany

We continue our series of holiday posts here at The Itinerant Librarian. Today we look at some traditions, trivia, and other curious and miscellaneous things about Christmas and the holiday season. From some safety tips if you are serving food to a look back at Christmas past, I hope my four readers will find things here to amuse, entertain, and maybe learn a thing or two. Remember to stay tuned as later in the week we'll do our book edition of the holiday posts followed by the end of year "what the heck happened?" edition. So, let's have a look at a few traditions and trivia.

Some trivia and things to know

  • The folks at the U.S. Census Bureau have put a nice list of facts about the 2013 holiday season.  For example, did you know that the U.S. Postal Service expects do deliver nearly 15 billion pieces of mail betwee Thanksgiving and New Year's Day?
  • From Pew Research, learn how Americans celebrate Christmas then and now.  One of the highlights from the survey: "Among the religiously unaffiliated, 87% say they celebrate Christmas, including 68% who view Christmas as more of a cultural holiday."
  • Tracking Santa on Christmas Eve has been a tradition in our home for a while now. No matter our ages, we still enjoy firing up the computer and keep track of Santa as he goes on his journey. Learn how to do so as well with information from Kids.gov, including link to the Norad Santa Tracker.
  • NORAD has a tradition of tracking Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve journey to bring gifts to children around the world. Find out how this tradition got started in this article from Mental Floss
  • Unfortunately, there are always some people doing things to ruin Christmas for others. This includes low lifes who break into houses and steal Christmas presents from the houses. In West Midlands, UK, they made a public service announcement to warn people to make sure houses are locked at night and presents not put out til as close to Christmas as possible. They got creative with it. They made a PSA with Legos. Via COED magazine.
  • Would you like to learn how to be one of Santa's impersonator helpers this holiday? If you think you can wear the red suit and be the jolly old man or be his Mrs. Claus, you could attend one of the "11 Workshops Offered by the International University of Santa Claus." Via Mental Floss blog. Here is also the direct link to the school if you are interested in learning more.
  • The price of the items in the "12 Days of Christmas" has gone up to $114,000. According to the PNC analysts, that is a big increase from a year ago. Story via NPR. 
  • Christmas is not the only holiday this time of year. It came in early this year, but Hanukkah is widely celebrated by our Jewish friends. We usually see decorations in green and red, but learn "why are blue and white the Hanukkah colors." Via Mental Floss blog.
  • Gaining weight during the holidays is a common concern. To help out, here are "12 Ways to Avoid Gaining Weight Over the Holidays." Via Dumb Little Man.

The tree and decorations 

  • The usual Christmas ornaments a bit too boring? Maybe you want to spice up your tree a bit with "12 X-Rated Pornaments." Via Nerve.com.  Here are a few more via Incredible Things.

Christmas cards

  • Sending Christmas cards out is a popular tradition. We do send out cards at home. However, we do try to pick out something nice and simple. However, some people do send out some interesting things, such as these cards that the best you can say about them is "WTF?" Via BuzzFeed
  • I think it's a wonderful thing when people choose to send homemade cards. However, not all efforts result in beautiful and sweet cards. These may be "12 Wonderful Homemade Christmas Cards," but they seem more "WTF" than anything else. You decide. Via Mental Floss
  • Then there are the folks who send cards with sexual innuendos. This may be a bit risque for some readers. Via Nerve.com, here we have "10 Amazingly Raunchy Holiday Cards."
  • Now, some folks go all out and send more than just a card. They send out holiday letters. These are the end of year letters they send out to family with all sorts of details of their family lives during the past year. Some people can write them well. Others we just cringe when we read them. To help you write a good holiday letter, if you feel so moved, here is a piece on "How (and Why) to Write Compelling Holiday Letters." There are some good tips here. Via Writing Through Life blog.

Food, drink, and entertaining

  • Throwing a holiday party? Here are some tips on how to do so via Dumb Little Man
  • Now, whether you are having a party or just a little get together, food is important. You want to make sure that you serve food safely. Here is some information on "how to prepare holiday meals safely" from USA.gov.
  • Ah, Christmas dinner in the old days. Via Mental Floss, we get some highlights of a Christmas menu from 1660. If you thought you had it tough putting a meal together, take a look at this. "The earliest known published Christmas menu includes pork, beef, goose, lark, pheasant, venison, oysters, swan, woodcock, and 'a kid with a pudding in his belly, to name just a few." 
  • Eggnog is always a popular drink. Here is some trivia about eggnog from Mental Floss blog. It may be "Way More Than You Ever Wanted to Know About Eggnog." 
  • Christmas cookies are always a popular treat. At home, our daughter always bakes a batch of cookies for Santa and the rest of us. A warm homemade cookie is certainly one of the nice pleasures of the holidays Some people decorate them and make them in different shapes and forms. For instance, here are "24 Glittery Christmas Cookies That Will Fill You With Joy" via BuzzFeed. Links to recipes are included.
  • Want to enjoy some vodka during the holidays, but plain old vodka is just too boring? Maybe you want to make your own flavor infused vodka. For some ideas, here are "the 12 Vodkas of Christmas." Links to recipes included. Via BuzzFeed. If the alcohol does not do you in, I am sure the added sugar in some of these probably will. 
  • Want to have a more classic holiday drink? The Art of Manliness has "5 Holiday Cocktails to Warm your Spirit." Among the basics here is how to make hot buttered rum. These are drinks that "are traditionally served warm, to warm the body and the spirit during the cold and dark days of the year."
  • Here are a few more contemporary cocktail recipes, via Drinkhacker
  • If you have a lot of people over for the holidays, maybe a punch bowl may be a good option. Here are "28 Huge Bowls of Holiday Booze to Help You Appreciate Your Family." Family can be a stress factor during the holidays. Maybe a little spiked punch will make things go a little easier Via BuzzFeed. Recipe links are included. 

Music and singing

  • I wonder how many people these days still buy a Christmas music CD or album. I still remember LP's, and those could have some very interesting or curious covers. Let's go down memory lane a bit with a gallery of "the 25 Strangest Christmas Album Covers of all Time." I think "of all time" is a bit ambitious, but there are some curious gems here. A few are positively and humorously disturbing. Via COED Magazine.
  • Now, just because you are an atheist, it does not mean you do not like Christmas or carols. Via Greta Christina's blog, here are "10 Christmas Carols Even An Atheist Could Love." Don't be alarmed. They are mostly secular songs that I think most of us can enjoy just fine regardless of creed or lack of it.
  • Now not everyone likes "traditional" Christmas carols. Maybe you'd consider this set of "Alternative Holiday Songs." It includes some YouTube videos so you can sing along. Via Esquire magazine. 
  • Some people like their Christmas songs with a bit of an edge. So, for those folks, you can listen to "Christmas Songs--the 10 Most (Delightfully) Offensive Ones." Via Addicting Info.
Dressing for the holidays

  • For many, wearing an ugly holiday sweater is a tradition and point of pride. So, to inspire those folks, here are "15 Fantastically Ugly Holiday Sweaters." Via Mental Floss blog.  
  • OK, so you got your sweater? Oh, now you want to dress up your dog? How nice. Well, you could try this doggy reindeer sweater. Via Incredible Things
Miscellaneous things

  • It seems Santa likes to take a smoke now and then, or used to before we learned more about the  bad effects of tobacco. I always cigarette advertising interesting, and holiday advertising is no exception. Here are "16 Vintage Tobacco Advertisements featuring Santa Claus." Back then, Santa, among other things, wanted a smoke that would guard against throat scratch. If he only knew back then. The list even includes some pipe tobacco ads. Does anyone even smoke pipes anymore, at least in public anyways? Via BuzzFeed.

Photo credit: Image from "Midweek Moodboard #19" posted at She Hearts the High Street.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Holiday Post 2013: Shopping, gifts, and stuff edition

Deng Coy Miel, Cagle Cartoons, Singapore

We've almost made it to the end of 2013. At The Itinerant Librarian, that means it is time for our series of holiday posts where I scour the web to find all sorts of amusing things (well, a lot amusing just to me) and share them with my four readers. I am starting with the shopping post because it seems we have been on holiday shopping season pretty much since the summer. We can certainly say the merchants were already riling up people for Christmas season shopping before Halloween. That is definitely a sign that the economy is bad when the retailers keep pushing the Christmas season back hoping to get a few more suckers to spend a bit more money on a lot of stuff that they probably do not need. I have said it before, and I will say it again, Christmas season starts the day after Thanksgiving, not before Halloween. Anyhow, I am just one librarian.

For many folks, I am sure they are done with the shopping, but if you are still doing last minute stuff, I suppose if you pay more, you can get quick delivery if you shop online, or you can brave the stores filled with other procrastinators by now. Hey! It does not have to be procrastinators. Given the state of the economy, some of us do have to wait until a paycheck arrives so some shopping can be done, or the shopping is done in s staggered way (you get some things now, wait for the next check, get some more, you get the idea). Anyhow, if you need some ideas, maybe some of these links might help. That, or we can just laugh together and gaze in wonder at the things some people choose to spend money on.

So, without further ado, let's see what kind of interesting and crazy stuff folks out there are suggesting for Christmas presents. As usual, the snark is mine.

But before we get to the gifts. . . .

Some advice and useful information

These links are for some tips, pieces of advice, and other information that I hope gift shoppers will find useful and informative. After all, I would not be a good librarian if I did not provide something constructive in addition to the entertainment.

  • Make sure you do your best to keep your personal information safe as you shop whether you shop in person or online. The linked post from USA.gov also includes a link to a Homeland Security page with more tips for cybersecurity. In light of the recent Target fuck up where they basically let hackers waltz in and steal a lot of personal data from customers, we consumers need to be alert, informed and vigilant. In other words, we have to do the stuff that companies like Target should be doing on a routine basis. By the way, I am not saying we totally trust companies neither, but notice when one of these messes happens, their first advice is to check your bank statements, so on and be alert. Yea, the stuff they neglected to do themselves. Can we say irony?
  • Shopping online? In addition to the above, here are some things you want to know before you hit your favorite online retailer. This post from USA.gov also features a link to the Consumer Action Handbook, which can be downloaded for free, and can give you information on how to "get help with consumer purchases, problems and complaints."
  • And one more from USA.gov: A reminder that there is helpful information available if you are buying toys for children. This post features a link to a document of toy safety tips from the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The U.S. government overall puts a lot of good information out. For me as a librarian, it is always a good source to use and share. Besides, it's your tax dollars at work, so be informed. 
  • Are you one of those people who just loves to use their smartphone for shopping? Via Dumb Little Man, here is a list of "12 Great Holiday Shopping Apps That Can Save You Time and Money." A small issue is there are no links. You get the names of the apps, and it is up to you to look them up on your device whether it is Android or Apple. You may find something of interest here. If you do, feel free to come back, comment, and let us know. 
  • If you are concerned that you would like to buy "Made in the USA," something I can certainly appreciate, then you may want to read Mother Jones. The magazine has a small piece with hints on what to look for in "7 Simple Tips for Guilt-Free Holiday Shopping." 
  • Now, not everyone is able to afford the fine lavish gifts and presents we are about to highlight. Does that mean they are left out of the season of giving? Far from it. There are other ways in which you can give a little something to your fellow human beings as well as our furry friends. Also via Dumb Little Man, here are "10 Great Ways to Share Others Over the Holidays." Because it should not be all about the size of your wallet or how much loot you get or give this holiday. The only tip I might have an issue with is the one about adopting a pet from a shelter. No, I am not say to not adopt from a shelter. Our two cats were adopted from a shelter. But I do have concerns with people who may bring a pet home over the holidays as a gift, only for the pet to be neglected or forgotten once the holiday has passed. Go adopt when you feel ready and able to make the commitment. Sure, it could be during this season, but if you are doing it just to put a cute puppy or other animal under a Christmas tree with a bow, you are probably doing it wrong. Overall, this article has some great suggestions to help you make this holiday season a bit brighter for others, especially others who might not be able to have a good season otherwise.

Gifts, presents, and things

Part of the reason I enjoy making this post is to see some of the crazy stuff people offer up for gifts. Some of them are just funny. Others are just ridiculous, and then  you have some where you need the budget of a couple of small nations to buy them.

Gifts for the manly man in your life

We always get the lists of gifts for men. Thing about these lists is that they can go either way at times. I am sure there are some outdoor enthusiast women out there, but apparently, unless you are so manly that women get pregnant from you just walking by, ladies can forget about some of these gifts. So, let's have a peek at what is suggested for guys.

  • Esquire magazine naturally has something for the man who "spends a lot of time outside. With knives."Actually, the list does feature one of those knife tools that claims to do almost everything. It's so good that it is described as "the nuclear submarine of survival equipment, up to and including the stealth. . . . " But does it make your chest hairs grow? From this list, you can also do things like adopt a sled dog. 
  • Naturally, The Art of Manliness has their holiday guide up. 

Do women get any gifts? 

I did scour for lists for women's gifts, but I did not come across as many this year as last year. I am willing to grant I did not look in the right places, or maybe there weren't as many.

  • I thought this was an interesting list. These are some "Gift Ideas for Your Favorite Feminist," via The (Seattle) Stranger. According to the author, it "includes lots of good, reasonably-priced gifts for the progressive women in your life."There are some practical things here, which I do not think a woman has to label herself as feminist to appreciate, but if she does, odds are good some of these would be welcomed. The list features books, some local interest items, and even suggestions if you prefer to give to charity.
  • Esquire of all places has a gift list for girls, and it is a list of stuff that is NOT pink. Leave it to a thoughtful father to come up with a list of stuff for a girl that "loves science, tech, movies, art, plants, robots, bikes, and Katniss Everdeen (who would never be caught in pink). . . . " Let's be honest, as the author writes, "her mom and her grandparents and aunts and uncles will buy her even more of that shit. And that's fine." You the father can be the thoughtful man in the life of your daughter and buy her something cool. I know. My daughter does not go for pink neither. When it came to Happy Meals, for instance, it was the boys' option because it came with Hot Wheels in it; she could not care less about the pink mini Barbie or whatever other pink thing they forced girls to take. I am sure she too would love a high end bad ass compound bow. 
  • Have a real bad ass, gun loving mama in your life? Maybe you could get her some bullet bracelets. Yea, they are made from real ammunition. She will be the talk of the town at the shooting range.  Via Boing Boing.
  • Ms. Magazine offers a nice article on empowering toys and dolls for girls, and it includes links to some places where to find them.
Geeky and/or gifts for writers and other literary types

This is where I put gifts for geeks, writers, and maybe even librarians. Not books. We will have a post for books later on this week. Some of the things here are the things I would definitely not mind getting. 

  • Via The Advocate, some gift ideas for travelers. I was cool with some of the ideas until they suggested the hovercraft. It is not just any old hovercraft. This puppy "meets United States Coast Guard standards for reliable hovering over water. Comes with a hefty price tag and its own trailer. $58,000." If you buy one of these for one of your friends, please contact us at this blog and let us know how do we get on your Christmas list. We'd like to be your friend.
  • Incredible Things has a list of gifts that are not for noobs. I thought the Star Trek TNG uniform hoodie was very neat. 
  • Got a Doctor Who fan to shop for? Well, here are the "Top 10 Doctor Who Holiday Gifts." Game of Thrones fan? Got you covered too. Both links via Buzzy Mag.
  • Need more ideas for the science fiction or fantasy fan? Kirkus Reviews has some ideas.
  • Need some ideas for a bookish teen or tween? We all know it can be hard to shop for young people, but Book Riot offers some nice suggestions to keep them reading. 
  • If you have a writer, especially a fountain pen enthusiast, in your life, Ink Noveau has "4 Great Gift Ideas for Anyone New to the Fountain Pen Hobby."
  • BuzzFeed has a list of gifts for the book and literature lovers in your life who already have plenty of books. Sure, another book is the easy option. Maybe one of these will do the trick instead this year. 
  • Viva Snail Mail has a small list of suggestions for those who like stationery and/or sending and receiving correspondence. One suggestion is to get them a nice set of stamps. In the U.S., the USPS puts out stamps for just about any topic and interest. These days, they even make Harry Potter stamps.
  • I like journal books, and they certainly make a good gift if you ever want to get me anything. Now, whether for someone else or me, if you feel a bit more brave, you can attempt to make a handmade journal notebook. Via BuzzFeed.
  • The Millions has a list of gifts that they claim writers will actually use. One of the suggestions is a nice bathrobe. Read on to learn why. Item 7 on this list is certainly one I can agree upon: coffee, booze, and other stimulants. As they write, "find out what your friend likes to drink and buy a really nice version of that thing." I'll say it does not have to be alcohol. A nice coffee or tea, especially if you know they themselves might not spring for more than Folgers, would likely be welcomed.
  • Let's not forget the film buffs. BuzzFeed has some ideas for film buffs. One thing is true: "about your averaged film buff: if they want a movie they will buy it for themselves." I am not a big film buff, but I do like some films. I certainly prefer if you give me the cash or gift card and let me go pick out a movie or tv serial I like. So, get them some other nice things instead.
  • And finally for this segment, don't think I forgot librarians. Hack Lib School has a librarian gift guide. Whether for a librarian or a library school students, odds are good you might find something for them here. Personally, I prefer to go with stuff that is not so obvious (for librarians), but many other librarians do like gifts that somehow reflect the profession.

Gifts for the pets

There is always going to be at least one list of suggestions for your pets. Hey, pets are family too, so give them some love too.

Food and Drink

  • The Advocate has a list of gifts for those who indulge that features food and drink items. Among things on the list you can make the Game of Thrones fan in your life happy with some beers inspired by the show (assuming they do drink). Your friend or family member a fan of Sons of Anarchy instead? Someone has made cigars inspired by the show. You are too lazy to bake cookies, or you just don't have the time? As long as you got your credit card handy, you can find a company to send you a tin of cookies.
  • If you have a beer enthusiast or maybe a home brewer, then this list of "10 Crafty Gifts for the Beerologist on Your List" may have something for them. Via Wired.
  • Maybe you would prefer to make food and treats for your family and friends. BuzzFeed has a list, with links to recipes, of food gifts you can make and put in jars
  • Now if you if you want to lay down some serious moolah and get someone some high end booze, Liquor.com has a "High-Roller Gift Guide 2013." You won't find any two-buck chuck here. These bottles are "for that truly special person in your life." I have special people in my life, but they are not getting a $1600 bottle of Japanese whiskey from me.

The stuff I was not sure where to list it

  • Now, there are all sorts of wonderful gifts out there. Then there are those gifts. You know which ones I am talking about. The hideous or totally useless things some people insist on giving that you have to grit your teeth, smile, then hide it in a closet for it to never be seen again. So, with a little humor, here is a list of "25 Things No One Wants for Christmas," via Holy Taco. Consider this a little PSA.  Actually, the bathrobe suggestion on the list could work if you happen to know the person does need one (that may require a bit of intimate knowledge though, so probably not the gift for your boss). Also, apparently writers use bathrobes (see link above).
  • Calendars. I do like nice calendars, and I try to put something nice in my office in the library every year. Need some calendar suggestions? Mental Floss has a list of "9 Odd and Awesome 2014 Calendars." For the inked librarians and people who love them, there is a calendar of tattooed librarians. The post includes links to other calendars too.
  • As I said at the beginning of this post, some gift lists out there assume that you are so rich that you can light cigars with $100 bills. Via New York Magazine, they ask "How Rich Do These Magazine Editors Think We Are?" Some of these lists actually include items that are "price upon request." As J.P. Morgan is attributed to have said, if you have to ask how much it costs, you cannot afford it. Now, if you want to go all out, you can give someone a Virgin Galactic Suborbital Spaceflight priced at a measly $250,000; this was suggested in Vogue magazine.
  • Subscription boxes seem to be gaining popularity. Those are the services where, for a subscription fee, they send you a box of stuff once a month. You can often pick for how long the service goes from a couple of months to a year. These days you can find a box for just about any interest out there. Prices do vary from about 20 bucks or so a month to at least a couple of hundred bucks depending on what you get. Via BuzzFeed, here is a list of 13 subscription boxes. For the article, people in the comments are suggesting other box services not listed, so a peek may be worth a look. For instance, for the geek in your life, a suggestion was Nerdblock. If this topic interests you, there is a whole website devoted to helping you find the right subscription box (www.findsubscriptionboxes.com).
  • If you are just totally out of ideas, some canned air from around the world may be an option. Seriously, people do this? Looks to me like you are paying for a cute can. Via Incredible Things
  • And if you got someone real specific or narrowly focused, Mental Floss has suggestions that are very specific.  
  • Getting back to serious for a moment, GradHacker blog has a nice series of post on gifts for graduate students. If anyone needs good, solid, useful gifts, it is grad students. You can start with the post on personal gifts, then look over gifts in technology and gifts to help your grad be a bit more professional.  What I like about this series is that these are simple, practical gift ideas that not many people think of, yet graduate students can really use. Trust me. I was a graduate student once. I wish someone would have been thoughtful enough to give me some of the things mentioned when I was in grad school.
  • Finally for this segment, maybe you prefer to shop on the basis of values like products being fairly traded or maybe some profits going to help others. If that is the case, here is a list of "29 Online Gift Stores That Benefit Nonprofits." Consider this a little help if you want to shop a bit more ethically. However, if you prefer to make a donation or maybe do something like donate a heifer (via Heifer International), here is a list to "19 Holiday Gift Programs." Both links via Nonprofit Tech for Good blog.

The Adult Section

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.

  • Good Vibrations has put together their staff's picks of best sex toys of 2013. The only issue I tend to have with sex toys (and I say this in general, not specific to any one retailer) is that if they are cheap, they are pretty much crap, and the really good ones tend to require the GNP of a small country. I understand the idea of "you get what you pay for" and making small investments, but often unless you are well heeled, good stuff is out of range for those of us of modest means who like to get freaky now and then. Yea, I know, first world problem I am sure some of you are saying. However, once in a while you do find something in a modest range. That aside, from this list, the magic wand would be the item I think the Better Half would appreciate adding to our small but well selected collection. 
  • Nerve.com has a list of sex toys for couples. I always find it nice when you find things that can be shared. From this list, I admit I was amused by the Clone-A-Willy. This is. . . well, just click the link and read the post. On serious note, there are some nice items here, but let's be honest, part of the fun of sex toys is finding the one that makes you giggle, maybe go, "really? people do that?" You've got to keep life interesting. 
  • Need some advice on how to buy a sex toy for your loved one? Epiphora comes to the rescue with a sex toy gift-giving guide

Thank you for reading. As always, comments (as long as they are well-behaved and civil) are welcome. Stay tuned this week as we continue our series of holiday posts. Plus, remember, if you choose to indulge, especially alcohol, please do so in moderation. Also, if you chose to drink, and you had a bit much, please do not drive. Get a ride. Call a cab (if you plan ahead, program one or two phone numbers of cab companies into your phone so you have them handy for later). Ask to crash on someone's couch. Just do not become part of the holiday tragedy statistics. Let's keep it all fun and safe.

Have a Merry Christmas and/or a Happy Holidays.

Booknote: An Illustrated Outline of Buddhism

William Stoddart, An Illustrated Outline of Buddhism: the Essentials of Buddhist Spirituality. Bloomington, IN: World Wisdom, 2013. ISBN: 9781936597260.

The book is exactly what the title says: it is an outline, and it does work well as a reference book. The book is organized into chapters that cover definitions, concepts, the different schools of Buddhism, and history of the religion among other topics. I did find some topic treatments a bit superficial, and others seemed a little too technical. I kept in mind as a I read that the book is an outline, but the treatment of topics did vary in terms of depth, and at times did not seem totally consistent.

A strength of the book is in the visuals. The charts are good and easy to read. Additionally, the book features very good color photography of Buddhist art that does make the book a pleasure to browse. This is in the end a book to consult and browse rather than read cover to cover. Overall, as a librarian, I think it is a good reference source, and I might consider adding it to our collections. It can provide students a good basic overview of Buddhism.

Overall, I'd give it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Signs the Economy is Bad, December 13, 2013 edition

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

We made it to another Friday here, and we have a lot of stories this week.

  • McDonald's once again makes it into our post this week. This is a follow-up to the stories from last week about the fast food strikes, including strikes against McDonald's. While the strikes were going on, the "thoughtful" corporation was advising "its employees to make sure they tip their pool boy and personal fitness trainer." And that is not all. Read on. This editorial cartoon from Clay Bennet summarizes the McDonald's exploitation of its workers nicely. Both items via TruthDig
  • Bill Moyers and Company, a report on "Record Numbers of Americans Can't Afford Their Rent." Forget the "American Dream" of owning a house, folks are struggling just to find an affordable roof to keep over their head. Factors include lack of affordable housing and unemployment. Naturally, if you folks can find housing, many of them end up homeless. In a nation like the U.S., this kind of situation is wrong. Then again, when people keep pretty much electing politicians that favor the mantra of "I've got mine, Jack...," this is the kind of situation you get. 
  • Via AlterNet, thought the bankruptcy of Detroit was bad? We covered that here last week. However, that is just a preview of the theft and robbery that will come to the rest of the nation unless people wake up. In essence, the newest scam that Right Wingers of the GOP and their corporate overlords are now running is outright stealing the pensions that workers have earned along with their health benefits. This is specially bad for public workers. Your city or state made a deal with you, often meaning lower pay, in favor of good benefits like a pension, and now they are basically reneging on the deal, a.k.a. ripping you off by breaking their contract. From the second story, "In these and other government jurisdictions, the foremost question is not why legions of elected officals have failed to provide for the employees who did their jobs and made the cities function. Instead, the question seems to be how much they can plunder earned and pledged benefits, so they can avoid raising taxes or cutting services." It's plunder pure and simple. It's theft. 
  • And speaking of things being bad in the U.S., you can tell they are bad when often the best journalistic coverage of what is happening in the U.S. actually comes from overseas. Al Jazeera America had a very good piece on service workers and servants in the United States. The title is "Is Service Work Today Worse Than Being a Household Servant." When the Gilded Age was actually a better time for servants in terms of pay and benefits they were offered for the work, say working as a domestic for a rich family, than today, you know shit has hit the fan. 
  • Via Reason Magazine, an interview with Mike Rowe on the high cost of college, college lending, and other topics.  Some good points on the piece, but this caught my attention: "'If we are lending money that ostensibly we don't have to kids who have no hope of making it back in order to train them for jobs that clearly don't exist, I might suggest that we've gone around the bend a little bit,' says TV personality Mike Rowe, best known as the longtime host of Discovery Channel's Dirty Jobs." What higher education and legislatures across the U.S. in collusion with bankers do to  make students take out exploitative college loans knowing full well the students have no hope of making enough money to pay, let alone even finding a job, is simply criminal. They should all be prosecuted under a RICO statute because what they do is basically a racket that dooms students to a life of indentured servitude to the loan company. 
  • By the way, who do the higher education lenders squeeze the most? According to a new study, it's middle class students.  Here is the catch: "'Children from middle-income families make too much money to qualify for student aid packages, but they do not have the financial means to cover the costs of college,' Houle writes in the article." I know I was in that boat back in my day, as are many families in the U.S. today. Via Inside Higher Education.
  • And speaking of exploitative lenders, I often preach to people to stay away from those pay day loan and similar quick cash rackets. How they are not made illegal by usury laws is a credit to their lobbyists and the politicians who help them exploit the poor and vulnerable for profit. Well, it turns out exploitation is not the only thing they do. Basically, these lenders are now using courts to sue people for payment, and they are making serious profit at it. Who says debtors' prisons are a thing of the past? These vultures are working to bring them back with a vengeance. Don't believe it? Read on. Via ProPublica.
  • Meanwhile, homelessness and demands for food aid in the U.S. are on the rise in U.S. cities. A bit from the article: "The cities, located throughout 18 states, saw requests for emergency food aid rise by an average of seven percent compared with the previous period a year earlier, according to the US Conference of Mayors study, published Wednesday." 
  • Now, you may be thinking, as you sit warm and toasty in your home, that the homeless are such a distant problem, an abstract situation you barely hear about. And if you are kind of an asshole, you probably say, so what? Well, via The New York Times, here is a piece that follows a young homeless girl to show us that poverty and homelessness are not just abstractions. The policies of the the GOP, libertarians, and tea baggers and those who vote for them embracing selfishness and dismantling the idea of a common good above all do harm real people. A hat tip to PZ Myers' blog.
  • In other somewhat fluffy news, Martha Stewart is laying 100 workers off or so from her media empire. And right on time for the holidays.
  • Now, you figure, well, things are bad, what kind of job can I get? Well,  you have heard of drones, right? From the Obama administration's use of drones to bomb all sorts of innocent people to Amazon recently announcing that drones to deliver packages could be a possibility, you might ask yourself, who pilots those drones? And more importantly, how do I get that job? Well, ask no further. Before, you probably had to enlist in the military to get such training. Soon, you will be able to go to any regular aviation school and learn how to fly drones. And unlike library school, where job prospects are fairly dismal, for drone piloting and engineering, "for students, it all adds up to strong job prospects after graduation." Via The Christian Science Monitor.

Booknote: Transformers: Monstrosity

 Chris Metzen and Flint Dille, Transformers: Monstrosity. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2013. ISBN: 9781613777503.

Link to WorldCat record.

Link to IDW press release on the series

This volume is a sequel, as I understand it, to Transformers: Autocracy. You do not need to have read the previous volume in order to read this one. Transformers: Monstrosity stands on its own well enough. I can say that I liked this one; it has been better than other Transformer comics I have read recently. The volume contains issues 1-12 of the comics series.

The Autobots have scored a victory; the Decepticons are defeated, and Megatron has been exiled. But the price of victory is high, and now Optimus Prime must work to lead the Bots society and rebuild a Cybertron ravaged by war. The Bots are divided into factions, and many just want to leave the planet. The Dinobots are among those wanting to leave the planet, now reduced to common thieves as they attempt to steal enough funds to afford space on a ship leaving the planet. Add to this that the Decepticons still remain a threat; however, they may not be the greatest threat out there.

The story is pretty strong. It has a good blend of action and story with some intrigues from the past thrown in. Optimus Prime must deal with the consequences of choices from the past and with secrets that can no longer remain buried. What I liked about the story was the blend of action and complexity. The artist's work serves to bring the war torn world of Cybertron to life as well as convey the battle weariness of the Bots.

Overall, I am giving this a 4 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. Book is scheduled for release in December 2013. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Signs the economy is bad, December 6, 2013

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.  

The big story this week seems to be the fast food workers' strikes, which happened yesterday December 5, 2013, and the issue of raising the minimum wage. Here are some stories on it:
  • Via Bill Moyers & Company, "12 Fast Facts About Today's Fast Food Strike." If you need to get some quick evidence why they, and other low paid workers, deserve a better minimum wage, this is a good start. 
  • If you want to go a bit more in-depth, Mother Jones has a pretty good piece entitled "How Those Fast-Food Strikes Got Started."
  • Want to know what it's like for a fast food worker who went on strike? This one answers some questions over at Common Dreams. You could also ask the Better Half, who works in a fast food place. She can certainly testify to the efforts the industry goes to for keeping workers under the 40 hours (in order to avoid decent pay, let alone benefits. And in fast food management world, "overtime" is a dirty, bad word). In the Better Half's case, I am employed as well (though I am not raking in the big bucks neither), and we use my health insurance. We both know we are fortunate when compared to other folks.
And more on poverty and the working poor, who are certainly a sign the economy is bad:
  • Poverty and the working poor? Yea, those are still present. How bad are things? Contrary to what pundits say about the economy getting better, so on, we have "Nearly 9 of 10 Low-Wage Workers Fear They Can't Make Ends Meet." Honestly, if you bust your ass working, you should be able to make a living wage so  you can feed yourself, keep a roof over your head, provide for family, and keep some dignity. Story via TruthDig.
  • Also via TruthDig, learn a bit of "What Life is Like in the Economic Trenches." From the article, "so [Eduardo] Shoy is fully employed, and then some, and still the family is going broke." Again, things like that are just not right. 
  • Amy Goodman discusses "Poverty Wages in the Land of Plenty." Personally, I find it sad and ironic that in the U.S., which loves to tout itself as a land of plenty and opportunity, both those things are often lacking for a vast majority of its population. As she writes, "the dark secret that the retail giants like Wal-Mart don’t want you to know is that many of these workers subsist below the poverty line, and rely on programs like food stamps and Medicaid just to get by." Link from TruthDig.
  • And then we get those with a bit more blaming the poor for their ills. It's not just the rich who do it. Many folks who are barely in the middle class figure that as long as they are "better off," it is perfectly acceptable to bash the poor. As a wise man once told me, "there but for [the deity of choice], go I." Thing is folks like that never have to worry about things the poor worry about You don't know what the poor could possibly worry over? Why, here is a list of "20 Things the Poor Do Everyday that the Rich Never Have to Worry About." Story via AlterNet.
  • Then again, if you do not care about individuals, how about a whole city going bankrupt? Another big news item this week is that Detroit was finally allowed to declare bankruptcy. Now, think so what? Think again: "As Jordan Marks, executive director of the National Public Pension Coalition notes, 'In the bankruptcy, the modest pensions of Detroit’s firefighters, police officers, and other city employees could be all but wiped out, even as Wall Street banks continue to extract hundreds millions of dollars from the city’s economy. This is a dark day for people of Detroit who worked hard, played by the rules, and are now at risk of losing everything.'” Story via Common Dreams.
  • Oh, and who else falls under the working poor? Here is one I admit was unexpected: bank tellers. It turns out they have a lot about as bad as Walmart workers. According to this story from The Washington Post, "researchers say taxpayers are doling out nearly $900 million a year to supplement the wages of bank tellers, which amounts to a public subsidy for multibillion-dollar banks." P.Z. Myers picked up on the story and commented further, which is worth a look too.  
  • So, think holiday deals and buying cheap at Amazon is great? Well, it comes with a price, and Robert Reich explains it in "The True Price of Great Holiday Deals."  In brief, "Get it? Technology and globalization are driving the good deals American consumers are getting this holiday season. But the same forces are keeping wages down, and are even on the verge of eliminating many of the low-wage retail and related service jobs many Americans now need to make ends meet."

And because the economy does move on, here are some odd and curious news to see that, at least for some people, not everything is bad: 

  • Pig semen trade may be doing well. Great Britain just struck a deal with China to send them some pig spunk. China has a large production of pork, but they need a little genetic diversity. That is where the Brits (or rather their pigs) come in, and thus a deal worth 45 million pounds. Story via The Guardian.
  • In Japan, independent tofu makers are on the verge of extinction. This is due to "a hike in the cost of soy beans. Supermarkets and grocery stores are demanding lower prices from tofu makers, and independent tofu makers that sell tofu have to compete with the price of cheap mass‐produced tofu, amid Japan's economic stagflation." Story via Global Voices
  • In higher education, things are not much better. The University of Pennsylvania System is having financial woes due to budget cuts and decreased enrollment. Also, "University Research Spending Flat in 2012." Both stories out of Inside Higher Education.
  • On the other hand, some books are selling very well thanks to people willing to plunk down a lot of moolah for a rare one. Via the Fine Books & Collections blog, "Bay Psalm Book: New World Record for Any Printed Book."
  • I need to know what kind of parties the Fed throws (and how come I am not getting invited). It seems that during the recent government shutdown, anticipating not being able to buy liquor, the U.S. State Department bought $180,00 worth of liquor to stock up, "and racked up a total of more than $400,000 for the whole year, three times the entire liquor tab for all of 2008." Story via The Washington Times. Don't get me wrong, if having a glass of wine or bourbon with some foreign officer helps to ease some tensions diplomatically, I am all for that, but still, that seems a lot of money. Maybe they need to switch to lower shelf brands?
  • And to go under the "if there is way to make a buck, someone will find it," there is a business to help ladies buy a new hymen so they can "prove" they are virgins. Yes, you can buy an artificial hymen. Story via Dangerous Minds.

Booknote: Clipped

Devon McCormack, Clipped. 2013. (Link to author's book page).

WARNING (to my non-erotica readers): This is an LGBT adult title (M/M erotica). It is a very explicit in some passages, including some scenes with some very well endowed males.

"Satan and his army of demons are man's only hope...

This short novel (it comes in at 133 pages or so on the e-reader) has an interesting premise that turns conventional myths of God and Satan around. What if God is the bad guy seeking to bring about the Armageddon, and Satan and his fallen angels are the only ones standing in His way? And why? Well, in part because God is pretty much a jealous SOB who does not take rejection well (we could argue the jealousy part is very much true. Just read the Bible, especially the Old Testament). God and Satan were lovers, and the world (Earth) was God's gift to his lover. However, when the lovers break up, God gets pissed and decides to destroy the world. The catch is that God plays a good con game, and he has humanity convinced that He is the good guy.

From the book's description: 

"The demon Kinzer and his lover, Janka, have been sent by Satan to spy on The Raze, a gang of rogue demons who are working with God to bring about Armageddon. When someone exposes their true allegiances, The Raze clips Kinzer's wings and murders Janka. Kinzer manages to escape. He tracks down Satan's allies to warn them about a mole in their midst when he learns that they've located the Antichrist—a powerful weapon that could prevent the apocalypse. Now, he's on a mission to protect the Antichrist and avenge his lover’s death."

This novel is classified as an M/M dark erotica; I suppose for some readers, it would fall under the paranormal umbrella given the presence of angels and demons. As an erotic work, it does have explicit sexual content. So, with the warning out of the way, let's look at the book. 

This  was a novel that I enjoyed, and I found myself zipping right through it. In addition to the action of the story, it turns out that angels and demons are very sexual creatures. They are hot, as in basically male ideals of beauty (they are semi-divine creatures after all), and very well endowed who are not shy about getting it on. By the way, their swords (yea, that's it) are pretty impressive. There are some very hot sex scenes in this novel in between the action scenes (yes, there really is quite a bit of swordplay). If hot M/M sex is your thing, this book will have you well covered. Even though it is not classified as romance, there is also budding romance and doomed romance; in addition, there is also love and betrayal. You find some elements of romance for those readers who seek that. 

Will Kinzer be able to find others and warn them in time? You will have to read the book to find out. The book is clearly the first in a series; I see in NetGalley it is labeled as part of "The Punished Saga." For me, the story did seem a bit short, but what you get so far was pretty good. The author drops you into the action right away; there is not a lot of build up, but you are able to catch on to what is going on right away by way of some exposition and flashback scenes. The mystery becomes who was the traitor who betrayed Kinzer. For me, I had suspicions only to find it was not who I expected, so it was a bit of a surprise to find out the culprit. In that regard, the author kept the suspense well. However, if you pay attention to the small details, you might be able to pick up who it is a bit sooner than I did. Once I went back and reread, I saw it. Then again, if you are paying more attention to the sex, you may not find out who it is until the end.  Plus, if you do like it steamy with dreamy, muscled guys, then this may be for you. 

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars mostly because it was so short. Just as it was getting interesting and deep, it ends. And there were a couple of flashbacks that were a little distracting, to me as a reader, in terms of breaking the narrative flow. However, that is a minor thing, and I think other readers may have a different experience. In terms of the sex, if size is your thing, this is a book for you. If on the other hand, big "swords" make you cringe, well, keep that in mind. I do think the sex worked fine (for me it did). Overall, this was a novel I enjoyed and had fun with, and when the author gets to it, I am going to seek out the next installment.  This was certainly a nice discovery of a new author for me.

Disclosure note: In order to keep The Man happy this is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-book galley from the publisher via NetGalley. It was provided in exchange for an honest review. The author has recently announced that the novel has been acquired by Wilde City Press, and that publication date, as of this note, is TBD.