Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Holiday Post 2014: Books and Reading

Continuing my series of holiday posts, today I am doing a small one on books and reading. This is the time of year when reading lists come out. It is also the time of year folks start reflecting on what they read the previous year as well as setting new reading goals and challenges. So, if you need some ideas of what to read, maybe these links can help.

"Group of women reading in library normal school, Washington D.C." Found at

  • Esquire offers what they claim are the five most important books of 2014. These are selected by their writers and editors, which may explain why I have not really heard of any of them. On a serious note, the one book that interests me and may add to my TBR list is Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America (link to WorldCat record). The book started out as an essay that made the rounds online, one that I have read and can certainly relate to. If you read and liked works like Nickel and Dimed (link to my review) you will likely want to read this.
  • Mother Jones has their own list of best books of 2014. Most of the books are, as often for me, a bit on the high brow stuff. However I was impressed they chose the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughn and Fiona Staples. The graphic novel recently got the first three volumes compiled in a deluxe edition, and it is still ongoing. As I have mentioned before in my reviews, the series was a pleasant discovery and one I will continue reading. It has been picked out in other lists, and with good reason. Right now, it is one of the best graphic novel series going on.
  • I read a business book here or there, but it is not a genre I think highly of since it often boils down to either statements of the obvious, common sense, or CEOs with inflated egos telling you what to do (even if it cannot be replicated). However, if you want to explore this genre, the folks of GOOD magazine have a small set of suggestions. They claim their list is worth looking over. I will leave it to my readers to decide.
  • GOOD also has a list of cookbooks for non-foodies. The books here combine stories and recipes, and there is even one in graphic novel form.
  • I also found some lists with graphic novels and comics, so naturally had to share those:
    • Mental Floss has their list of 25 most interesting comics for 2014. From this list, I have read the Andre the Giant graphic novel biography (link to my review, and it is one I recommend), the Saga series, which I have mentioned already as excellent, and The Shadow Hero (link to my review). The list features one or two titles more I would be interested in reading. I think you are bound to find something you like here.
    • The Advocate has a list for the LGBT graphic novel lover. From this list, I have Secret Agent Moscow on my TBR loading in my e-reader.
    • Graphic Policy has a massive list of the best comics of 2014 where they look at other lists, do some math, and make a massive master list. Worth a look. They also include links to their lists from previous years.
    • Finally for this time, GOOD has a nice small list of gateway graphic novels. If you are not reading comics and graphic novels, but you've thought about it, some of these may be a nice way to enter the genre. Again, Andre the Giant and Saga make this list. In addition, The Best American Comics 2014 made the list. This was a volume I was not too enthusiastic about; I liked it, but not more than that. However, I can see for folks wanting a sampling, the volume would be good.

Monday, December 29, 2014

Booknote: Best American Comics 2014

Scott McCloud (volume editor) and Bill Kartalopoulus (series editor), Best American Comics 2014. New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-544-10600-0.

Best American Comics is a series I have wanted to explore for a while, so I was glad to get a review copy for this one. According to description, the series seeks to represent the best work in American comics for a given year. The focus for the series is a bit more on independent and experimental comics. You really won't see stuff from big houses like DC or Marvel here. However, the series editor this year points out that as corporate book publishers concentrate on just proven artists and genres, in other words what sells for them and makes them the most money, they are "largely eschewing the wide-open experimentation that fundamentally created this category fourteen short years ago" (ix). It seems a sad irony, but for now at least we can find some good reading here. For instance, they are featuring an excerpt from the Saga series in this volume.

The volume covers "a selection of North American comics first published between September 1, 2012 and August 31, 2013" (x). The work is meant to be a diverse snapshot in time of this field. This volume features a foreword by the series editor, which provides a year in review and a look at the health of American comics. The editor does claim that any comic can make it into the volume "from major publishing houses and newspaper pages to boutique specialty presses, self-published 'zines, and online media" (x). This year some of the works do include self-published comics, which by the way shows because one thing you notice is inconsistent quality in stories.

Though usually volumes like this are meant to be browsed, volume editor Scott McCloud opens the volume with a note urging readers to read not browse. This is because, in his words, "the following comic selections and text explanations are meant to be read in the same order in which they are presented here." Seems a bit too prescriptive to me, but I leave it to readers to decide if they wish to comply or not. The volume is organized into ten sections with a text introduction followed then by the comics selections.

The book does feature a pretty broad selection with a balance between excerpts and small self-contained comics. Though the volume claims to be the "best," the quality of comics does vary. Some are just better than others. This feeling may also depend on themes and readers' taste. While I do appreciate the broad variety, I will say that for many readers, in terms of quality, your mileage may vary. Some are just not that good. By the way, we do need to note these are not comics for children; some material is explicit.

Overall, I liked the book, but given that quality was inconsistent, whether in art or in stories, I did not really like it. Still, its diversity is a strength; it features authors such as Charles Burns, R. Crumb, Chris Ware, Adrian Tomini, and many others. Plus, it does give you a sense of what is out there; it may also give you a sense of what to avoid out there. Still, I would consider reading others in the series, but this is one I would borrow rather than buy.

I would recommend to public libraries, but it is not a strong recommendation. If you feel a need to be comprehensive and/or give a sense of what is out there in this genre annually, this may be an option. However, if your collecting is a bit more selective, this could be one to skip.

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Where I tell you, in order to keep The Man off my back, that I read this as a review copy from the publisher via NetGalley, and that I did so in exchange for an honest review.

Booknote: Batman/Superman, Volume 2: Game Over

From the book's description:

"The Dark Knight and the Man of Steel uncover a plot by the Toymaster to use a secret, potentially deadly element in his new video game, the characters created by players manifest in real life. The ultimate fighting game results--and a world-wide network of players must team up to create the most powerful, skilled Super Heroes imaginable with one goal: To kill Batman." 

That description sounds pretty good, but the book just falls short. One reason for me may be that I recently finished reading the Injustice: Gods Among Us series (link to my review of the first volume), which also features the whole premise of superheroes fighting each other. So by the time I got to this volume, it was a bit of more of the same: Superman versus Batman and their respective allies thing. As I read this one, I just got the sense of "again? really?" This whole pitting the heroes against each other is pretty much a meme in comics, especially the Big Two (yea, Marvel does it too), and by now it's not exactly fresh. Heck, in this comic they even do a self-reference to it (calling it a trope), so you know the thing is running its course. Another reason I was less than thrilled with this volume is that it seems to be stretching. It starts out with the Toymaster, and that idea seemed intriguing enough. Then we get Mongul, and it turns out that he was the one really running things. OK, I think I can still get into that. However, the story feels like it keeps stretching on and on and on. It feels like the writers started writing, and then they could not stop. This book just keeps stretching the story, and after a while, I just got tired of the thing. It's a pity since I have read and enjoyed Greg Pak's work before, and this just does not seem to measure up to his good stuff.

On a positive, there is a nice style to the art that is a pleasure to look at.  It is not necessarily the best reason to pick this comic up but at least it makes reading the story a bit more bearable. In other words, the art is good, but since you just get tired of the seemingly never-ending story, the art is not enough to save it.

If you bought the previous volume in this series (link to my review), this volume has some references to the previous volume. However,  you do not need to have read the previous volume in order to read this one. As a librarian, I would not buy this volume unless a patron requested it. I may talk about it in reader's advisory, but I probably would not be too enthusiastic about it. There are just too many other comics doing better things out there at this time I could recommend instead. So for public libraries, I would say it is an optional purchase. For academic libraries with graphic novel collections, like ours, this is one I would skip unless I get a few patron requests to add it.

In the end, I am giving it one star out of five stars as it is one I did not like overall.

Disclosure note is where I tell you that I read this review copy as provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. That way, we keep The Man happy.

Friday, December 26, 2014

Booknote: The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide

Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor, The Word Made Flesh: Literary Tattoos from Bookworms Worldwide. New York; Harper Perennial, 2010. ISBN: 9780061997402.

This is the book that inked librarians and inked bibliophiles will want to read. Also, if you just like tattoo art and appreciate literary themes, this is the book for you. The authors have put together a collection of more than 150 full color photographs of tattoos that everything from symbols to literary characters to various book quotes to realistic author portraits. Statements of varying length, from the tattoo bearers, are included as well. Unlike other tattoo books I've read, the fact that the photos are in full color does add value and helps you better appreciate the art.

There is also a website:

I'd give this one 5 out of five stars.

Booknote: Harley Quinn, Vol. 1: Hot in the City

Jimmy Palmiotti and Amanda Conner, Harley Quinn, Volume 1: Hot in the City. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781401248925.

Harley Quinn is one of my favorite DC Comics characters. Maybe it's the touch of madness and whimsy she has, but I do find the character interesting, a bit more so depending on who is drawing her. So I was looking forward to reading this new volume, part of the New 52 series. Harley gets her own volume and adventures as she tries to move on without her Mr. J in her life and a new inheritance.

Harley gets a chance to start over. She gets an inheritance of a building, so gets a place to live. She is out looking for work, and finds some work, and she tries to stay ahead of people after her head. It seems someone has put a very high bounty on her head, and plenty of bounty hunters are trying to collect. She deals with them with her combination of ruthlessness and humor. As for work, she gets a gig as a therapist in an old folks home and a part time job in a roller derby. Somewhere in there she tries to avoid Valentine's Day and gets into other hijinks such as helping out an old fogey at the old folks home who turns out to be a retired dark ops agent who still has unfinished business. There is a lot here in this volume.

Harley gets in all sorts of hijinks, and I was very entertained as a reader. I laughed at times. I was amused. If you read DC Comics for the serious, dark stuff, this may give you a nice break from that. The art is very colorful, which naturally suits the character. The first story is a bit of a meta-story where she dreams about who would draw her own comic book, and we get glimpses of different artists drawing her, artists that in real life have written and drawn her. That for me was a neat part of the book. If you have read Harley Quinn in other works before, you will probably appreciate this segment.

In the end, it's nice, light reading, and it was a volume that I really enjoyed and had fun with it. I am hoping it continues to get better over time. If you have read other comics, such as Batman or Suicide Squad, you may appreciate this in a different or better light. However, it stands alone, which I appreciated since I have not read Suicide Squad (yet). You can certainly enjoy it as it stands just fine and watch her bring her brand of mayhem to the city.

This is one I am giving 5 out of 5 stars because it really was a fun little book, and I am willing to keep reading further.

For libraries, if you already collect Batman titles, you want to add this one as well. If you have collected other Harley Quinn titles, whether solo titles or titles that feature her, then this is one to add as well. I will be getting it for our library's graphic novel collection.

Disclosure: The usual note where I tell you I read this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. That way, we appease The Man

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Holiday Post 2014: Gifts and strange items

I continue my series of holiday posts this year. Today we look at gifts and other strange items. As of this post, most of you probably have your gifts bought, made, and/or wrapped and ready to go. If you still need to shop, time is ticking, and I think most online stores are open, but getting that last minute item delivered on time may be an issue. For our household, that is the nice thing of celebrating Three Kings Day. Whatever does not get delivered on Christmas morning, we still have a leisurely week to get it for the 6th of January. 

Shopping tips and deals

Washington, D.C. Christmas shopping in Woolworth's five and ten cent store.
From Library of Congress,

  •  Via Mental Floss, here are some tricks to help you get a good deal. Some are better than others, so make sure you do read the details. 
  • When you shop for children, you want to make sure you buy safe toys. The U.S. Public Interest Research Group has released its 2014 "Trouble in Toyland" report. It is an annual survey of toy safety. 

Gifts and more

Washington, D.C. [Men] shopping in Woolworth's five and ten store
From Library of Congress

There are gifts and gift ideas out there for just about anyone and any need. Let's have a look at a few.

  • Art of Manliness updated their list of DIY gifts for men for 2014. If you prefer someone else make the gift for the man in your life, they also have a guide for subscription services for men.  A subscription service is one of those services where you can get a box of something every month (or at other regular intervals).
  • Need something for that manly dude? Incredible Things has a guide with some gift ideas.  I would love a copy of the Suicide Girls: Geekology book listed.
  • Want to shop for the kids and not just settle for "the usual"? Here is a gift guide for curious kids, via Incredible Things
  • Want something for the family? Games, especially table games, can be a good option. These days, many of the classics, like Monopoly, have electronic versions you can play on apps. Here is a list of "11 Gifts that will Innovate Family Game Night."  From tables to apps, you can find something here. Link via Mental Floss.
  • Want more board and card games you can actually play on a table? The Morning News has a "2014 Good Gift Games." These are not necessarily "classics," but there are some interesting options on the list.
  • Did you get stuck with one of those Secret Santa events? I have mixed feelings over those, and mercifully, have not gotten roped into one in recent years. Anyhow, if you did, here are some gift ideas. Link via BuzzFeed.
  • Have a cheese fan in your life? Actually, that would be me. Anyhow, if you do, maybe this list of gifts for cheese enthusiasts may interest you. Link via BuzzFeed.
  • A reader or book enthusiast in your life? Got you covered for that too with a list of stuff beyond a bookmark. Link via The Millions.
  • Have family who travel a lot? Got one of those friends who goes around the world and posts every single itty bitty detail of the trip on social media? Well, if you have not blocked or "unfriended" them by now, maybe you want to get them something. Here are some gift ideas for the world traveler. Link via Mental Floss.
  • For the television lover, a DVD or Blue Ray collection of a favorite show or series is always welcomed. The Advocate has a list with some ideas. Personally, I would fall in this category. These days I prefer to watch my TV either recorded (via DVR) or on DVDs (that I borrow from my local library or own).
  • Have a college student or recent college graduate you need to shop for? Very often, they need practical things that can help them appear professional or help them in their new careers. GradHacker has some ideas just for that. I know I could have used some of these things when I graduated from college, many moons ago. 
  • For some folks, calendars are a good gift option. I happen to like a good calendar, and I try to keep something nice in my office at work as well as in my work station at home. If you need some ideas in this regard, here are "10 Artsy and Attractive Calendars for 2015." C'mon, I am sure the lady in your life might melt over the Kittendales calendar (yes, it is what you think: a bunch of hunky hot guys with kittens. It's made by an animal rescue group, so if you buy it, hey, you can say it was for charity).  Link via Mental Floss.
  • Got cats in  your family? We do. Two of them. Now, I am not saying all librarians have cats or anything like that. At any rate, here are ideas for gifts for kitty. Links via BuzzFeed and Wired.
  • Finally for this section, is there a bitch in your life? Well, if you were moved to get her something, this list may help. Link via BuzzFeed (and yes, this is a bit darker humor). The one for the bitch who keeps showing off the big rock of an engagement ring and won't shut up about it seems very appropriate. And for the bitch who is an illiterate anti-vaccine advocate, yea, they got that covered too.


18th century engraving. Erich Lessing / Art Resource, NY. Found at

 I would be remiss if we did not add a little something for our friends who like to get frisky. So, if you are looking for one or two ideas in the adult and sexy area, this may be for you.

  • The Advocate has a list of 14 Sexy Gifts for Your Slutty Friends
  • Mr. Will's House of Thrills has a list of 5 holiday gifts for the penis in your life (yours or someone else in your life).
  • And I do not work for them, but if you are looking for erotica to read (by yourself or with your partner or folks close to you), I have found that titles from Cleis Press do quite nicely. They do have quite a selection, so odds are good you can find a topic you like. I have reviewed one or two of their titles here on the blog, including Best Bondage Erotica 2014 (link to my review).

Booknote: Teen Titans: Earth One, Volume 1

Jeff Lemire, Teen Titans: Earth One, Volume 1. New York: DC Comics, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4012-4556-6.

Like other first volumes in this series, we get an origin story. It starts out promising. The angle of Raven as Native American leaving the reservation to meet the others was an interesting twist. We'll have to see how the others come together. Our Teen Titans, before they become heroes, start in high school. They all seem disparate with nothing in common. What they share is that they are not normal, and they each reluctantly discover their new abilities. We also find a much deeper conspiracy.

The book features a nice contemporary art style. The story, once it picks up the pace (it does start slow), does not let go. As in other volumes in the Earth One series, the characters are familiar yet new. I will note that compared to previous volumes I have read--the Superman (link to my review) and the Batman volumes-- this one just did not have the same degree of depth. While the story is good, it is fairly superficial in terms of character development. Part of it may be because they are focusing on multiple characters versus a single character in other volumes. However, the story did feel light in comparison to other volumes. This volume is only the beginning, so readers will have to seek out the rest of the series to see how things turn out. Still, it was a nice opener.

I really liked it overall, and I am willing to take a chance on the next volume, for now, so I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

For libraries, if you have already been collecting the Earth One series, then you will likely want this one. Also, fans of Teen Titans may want to read this.

Booknote: Musashi

Sean Michael Wilson, Musashi. Boston, MA: Shambala, 2014. ISBN: 9781611801354.

This graphic novel is about real life samurai Miyamoto Musashi. Musashi was not just a warrior; he was also a writer, author of Book of the Five Rings. As I start reading, the art reminds me a lot of works like Lone Wolf and Cub. The art in this one is certainly a pleasure to look at, not only the comic, but also some of the illustrations and calligraphy, which add to the beauty of the work.

The book starts with a nice opening frame: Musashi's son looks on the grave of his father. An old sensei (who could be the grave keeper?) asks to hear about Musashi's life, and thus the adopted son begins the story. We learn that Musashi was a skilled fighter, but he was also a smart man, a good tactician, and a wily individual. The narrative with the son works very well. The comic does not just elevate Musashi; it brings him to life and gives him humanity. It is not just the legend, but it is also the man. The work was very accessible, and it was a joy to read. The art also adds a bit of a zen to the reading experience. I learned a bit about the man, and it makes me want to read more. In the end, this is one of the best books I have read this year.

5 out of 5 stars.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Holiday Post 2014: Traditions and manners

The holiday season is finally upon us. Whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Festivus, Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, any other holiday, or none at all, I wish you a safe and peaceful time. This year has sure gone by fast. As we get closer to the end of the year, let's take some time and amuse ourselves with a series of holiday posts. These are posts where I share links and bits of holiday things I have found here or there. I hope you enjoy reading them as I enjoy putting the posts together. Plus, I will soon be relaxing at home with family, and the blogging may decrease a bit, so allow me to give you some entertainment while I am gone. Today we look at holiday traditions and trivia.

Celebrating the holidays

Our household is a blend of traditional and very easy going. For instance, we are not religious, but we put up a Nativity scene. This is mostly an acknowledgement of Puerto Rican tradition. We set up the stable. Joseph and Mary, earlier in the month, start their way to Bethlehem, so they "move" around the house. The Baby Jesus does not appear on the Nativity until Christmas morning, and since we celebrate Three Kings Day in our household as well, another Puerto Rican tradition, the wise men will appear on the morning of January 6. Aside from that, we do put up a Christmas tree and stockings, but otherwise our home celebration is fairly low key. We don't do church or such. For us, getting a little rest and spending time with family is what really matters. But that is us. Many people have different ways to celebrate the holidays, or maybe not at all.

Image from Equality House, found on Facebook

  • Now, for most people in the U.S., the holidays have a religious element be it Christmas or Hanukkah (well, odds are good they do). What about atheists, agnostics, and heathens like me? Yea, we celebrate too. We do our best to find some meaning in this time that often invites not just celebration but also reflection. For some, it may be "Um for the holidays." Read how some non-believers celebrate the holidays, and they do just fine. Link via The Morning News. By the way, I liked some of the questions they asked, which I might use to do a little reflective writing of my own later. 
  • Now, sadly, for many people, the holidays can be a stressful time of the year. A lot of the stress comes from dysfunctional family members, and this can range from that uncle or aunt who, once they get a few drinks on them, share the worst of their politics or that one mother-in-law or mother who knows just what guilt trip to torment you with most effectively. Barbara Pachter offers us a little help with "Avoiding Conflict: 10 Suggestions for the Holidays." Whether you are at home and hosting family, visiting other family, or at a work/office party, these tips should help you make it out with your sanity and peace of mind.
  • In some cases, the holiday gathering, be it at home or at work, can feel like you are entering a war zone. To help with this, the folks at Esquire magazine offer "a tactical guide for getting through the holidays." Yes, this is actually written with input from military professionals. Because when someone is about to drop a political bomb, for example, "mom mentions 'gun nuts' near one's red-state in-laws," you will need some preemptive action.
  • At work, the holidays may not be much better. The holiday office party (people still do those?) can be a cheerful moment, or if can become "the hell of holidays at work." Link via Library Lost & Found. As that author writes, "if you really want to reward employees, consider the only gift that is beloved by all – cash and or paid time off." That is a feeling I can definitely agree with. 
  • Now, you are all together in the house? What to do? Maybe you can gather and watch a Christmas special. Christmas movies and special episodes are all over. With luck, you could have one of the "weirdest holiday specials." Link via Esquire magazine.
  • Maybe instead of watching TV, you want to sing some Christmas songs or just listen to some music. For some, the old classics are great. Others may want some new songs. For those folks, here are some "Christmas songs for your 2014 holiday playlist." Link via Esquire magazine.
  • In the end, you may want to consider simplifying your life a bit. Lower the stress levels, ask what is truly important, and let go of anything that is not. To help with that, Zen Habits offers "5 Questions to Simplify Your Life During the Holidays."
  • Oh, and don't take yourself too seriously, because in the end, "everyone poops--even Santa." This is a little humor piece, an advertisement jolly old Nick. Just click and watch. Link to video via Incredible Things.

Christmas cards and messages

From Mallard Fillmore comic strip

In our house, we still do send out some Christmas cards. It seems the number does get smaller year by year as people move and addresses do not get updated, or some people simply choose not to send cards. We continue to maintain the tradition, and this year we did pretty well as we managed to send them out nice and early. 

  • Some folks may struggle with sending out Christmas cards or holiday greetings because they do not know what to say or how to say it. As Dolly Garland of Kaizen Journaling tells us, "Christmas messages don’t have to be works of art, hallmark poetry, or long letters. They don’t have to be hard-work, or something you do out of duty or obligation. Christmas messages should be for people that you really want to say something to." In the end it all boils down to, "Writing Christmas Messages: Simple Words, Big Emotions.
  • Now, I enjoy a nice, simple holiday card or greeting. I do, however, have mixed feelings about those folks who send holiday letters or newsletters. You know the ones. The folks who send those massive letters with every achievement their kids did for the year (translation: they showed up and got medals for "effort") and the trips they took around the world while you were home eating Spam so as not to starve. You are not fooling anyone; "we know your life isn't all mindfulness and Sunday family cycling trips." So, you may want to consider just ditching the whole holiday letter altogether. Here are "five reasons why you should just consider shred that holiday letter" via The Week.  

Decorating the Christmas/Holiday Tree

Then again, there is more than one way to put up a tree. Image from Vintage Gal tumblr,

Because not everyone puts ordinary ornaments on the tree. . .

Then we have the stuff under the tree (aka gifts and presents). 

Today we have a few items related to gifts. Stay tuned for my holiday post just on gifts and strange things coming up soon.

  • For starters, you have to wrap the presents. Well, you don't have to, but it would be nice if you did. Some people hire someone to do it for them. Others make do with their limited wrapping skills. And some may get lazy, or as I like to say, use alternative wrapping options. Here are "27 Clever Gift Wrapping Tricks for Lazy People." Joking aside, there are some very good tips here for anyone wrapping gifts. Link via BuzzFeed.
  • If you do not want to wrap anything, maybe consider giving one of those gift subscriptions where the recipient gets some kind of box or bundle monthly or at other interval. Here are 31 ideas from the folks at BuzzFeed. In fact, there are a couple here I would not mind getting myself (hint, hint!). However, there are also one or two that make me wonder, "do people really give that as a gift?"
  • Or you could opt out of gifts and try giving other things. Zen Habits has some suggestions in their holiday gift guide.

Food and drink

 All that celebrating, opening presents, and spending time with people as well caroling, writing and sending cards, decorating the tree and the house, so on can make folks hungry and thirsty. 

  • I always say that if you are going to consume alcoholic spirits, that you should do so safely and in moderation. Please, if you feel you had a bit much, don't drive. Do not be part of the tragic holiday statistics. To help you stay safe, here are "7 Ways to Drink More Safely This Holiday Season." Link via AlterNet. In the end, do remember it is your choice. If you choose not to drink alcohol, that is a cool and valid choice as well. Don't let anyone pressure you, but don't get all preachy on those who do drink neither. It goes both ways.
  • Eggnog, and nogs in general, are a popular staple during the holidays. There are many versions, and I am sure you can search around and find one to your taste. To help you out, here is a recipe for an "all-purpose eggnog." Basically, you make this basic eggnog, and you can add any alcoholic spirit you like to make it your own. Heck, go all out and make a full eggnog bar. Links via
  • For our friends who celebrate Hanukkah, a potato punch with some treats may be nice. Link via
  • In our home, we do make the traditional coquito. There are many variations on this Puerto Rican classic . Feel free to look around, or ask me. It is a recipe I am willing to share.
  • Maybe you feel generous and you want to give spirits as a gift. And for this list, you really have to feel generous. We are talking some high end spirits here. Here is "Drinkhacker's 2014 Holiday Gift Guide--Best Alcohol/Spirits for Christmas."
  • And if you need some entertainment while you are drinking, here are some Christmas Drinking Games. Link via COED.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Booknote: V-Wars, Volume 1

Jonathan Maberry, V-Wars, Volume 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2014. ISBN: 9781631400636.

This is about a vampire virus outbreak (a virus that turns humans into vampires), and the war that ensues between humans and vampires. At the beginning, some moderate humans offer peace, but vampire terrorists start the war again as they assassinate the moderate Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. But, is it a straight out war, or is there a conspiracy under all this? As the story settles in, we begin to see some depth and suspense. Dr. Swann, the vampire expert, gets caught in the middle. There is a lot of intrigue, and what will happen when the Crimson Queen calls Dr. Swann?  You will have to read to find out.

These are not the evil scary vampires of usual stories. If anything, as often the case, humans are the monsters hunting and oppressing anything different. In this case, the vampires are the different ones. The book has some very interesting vampire characters. For instance, we find a Quaker vampire; this person does not believe in violence like other vampires might, and that has some interesting implications. Another example: we may find a gay, interracial vampire couple. The comic does well in exploring character and society with vampires as a new ethnic or different minority. It looks at how their beliefs can vary based on background, so on. Add to this that there is not just on vampire type; there are various species of vampire. The vampire virus reacts on people based on their race and ethnicity.

This is certainly a very good book. It has good action and suspense. It is a story that could be right out of today's headlines, and it is a serious commentary on the paranoid homeland state in the U.S. This is also definitely a new vampire story for this time, revealing layer upon layer on the narrative as you read. How much deeper can it go? That will certainly have me coming back. I will certainly be looking for the next volume. The work has good character development so far, and it brings a vampire story to life going away from the usual cliches. It was pretty engrossing to read, but I want to see if the series gets better or loses steam. So far it looks promising.

On a side note, I recently made a comment on Facebook that I pretty much gave up on reading The Walking Dead (I gave up on the series way before this). Part of it is what I mentioned here on humans being the monsters, but also the constant depressing no hope grinding gruesome nature of that comic. If the topic of humans as monsters interests you, this comic may be a good alternative. If it keeps up the good work, this may become a favorite for me.

Overall, it was really good, so I am giving it 4 out 5 stars and hoping it continues getting better.

Disclosure: Where I tell you I got this book from the publisher via NetGalley in order to appease The Man. I got it in exchange for an honest review. What? You did not think I made money on this, did you?

Booknote: The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances

Matthew Inman, The Terrible and Wonderful Reasons Why I Run Long Distances. Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-4494-5995-6.

This book seems more autobiographical than his usual fare. People who run or jog may appreciate it more. The book is a serious personal narrative. It is mostly a series of cartoon sets on the theme of running.The art is his usual style, amusing at times, but if you are just seeking humor, this book really is not it. For some folks, likely runners, it may be inspiring at times. This quote for example:

"Running is not about building strength and wearing it like a fashion statement. It's about finding strength and measuring yourself every single day" (36). 

Further on, Inman reflects on running. Being introspective myself, thinking too much about my job and life, and having an army of pointless, bantering demons reminding me of worries, anxieties, etc. are things I can relate to that Inman mentions.

The second part of the book is a do's and don't's of marathon running. The third part is some gym humor on who does what and who looks at who. After a while, I can't help but feel much of the book is filler. The running part is inspirational, but it's a few comics worth. I am not sure this merits a whole book. The book often feels like there is a need to fill up just enough to get a full book. By page 100 or so, it gets tiring for readers. Given that comics take up space, the book is a quick read. The art is in color, so if you are familiar with The Oatmeal, you know what to expect.

The tips on what worked for him are sincere, and they seem something that ordinary people can do, once you get past some of the common preachy tone enthusiasts of running can have. Still, there is some uplifting quality to it overall which is why I ended up liking it rather than thinking it was just an OK book.

I am giving it 3 out 5 stars.

Disclosure note: Where I tell you I got this from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review so The Man does not come bitching later.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Booknote: Shelf Life

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

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

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

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

Booknote: Ciudad

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Booknote: Zaya

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

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

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

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

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

I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

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

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

Booknote: Adolf: a Tale of the Twentieth Century

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

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

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

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

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

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Booknote: Star Trek: The Manga Ultimate Edition

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

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

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

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

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

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Booknote: Creepy Presents: Bernie Wrightson

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

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

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

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

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

Signs the Economy is Bad: December 12, 2014 edition

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

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

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

Booknote: Batman '66, Volume 1

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

Now on with the review:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am giving it 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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

Booknote: Cuba: Portrait of an Island

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 08, 2014

Booknote: Drift

Rachel Maddow, Drift: the Unmooring of American Military Power.  New York: Crown, 2012. ISBN: 9780307460981 (ISBN for print edition).

I read this one as an audiobook. Rachel Maddow reads it, and she maintains that voice and ability to explain things so well that she displays on television. In terms of the listening experience, it was a good one. I do not do audiobooks very often, but I was glad to have taken a chance on this one. As I listened to the book, I took notes of things I found interesting or that made me think. As I write now, I may add comments and thoughts here or there. Bottom line: should you read the book? I think if you are interested in current U.S. policy, U.S. history, politics, and international affairs, and/or the military, you should read this. For me, this is a book that should get more attention, and unlike so many books out there on current affairs, that are mostly fly by night books soon to be forgotten in a remainders table, this book is substantial, interesting, and accessible. Maddow has a good way of telling it like it is in a plain tone. This was an excellent read, and it is one I highly recommend.

Giving it the full 5 out of 5 stars.

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

# # # 

Reading notes and comments:

The book's topic is American military power. Early on, we hear how after 9/11, there has been a boom for military and intelligence contractors; it has basically been a contractor gravy train. In her prologue, Maddow notes that the drift of U.S. military power was not inevitable, and it can be fixed. But will the nation choose to do a self-correction?

On LBJ and the Vietnam War. The Vietnam War was the conflict that disconnected the U.S. military from the people and the people from the military. Instead of calling up reserves and national guard, President Johnson extended the draft, allowed for a variety of loopholes in said draft, and went after the poor, minorities, and anyone not able to get out of the draft. And while the military forces were at war, the American people lived as if nothing was going on. Post-Vietnam, Congress tightened the laws to prevent a president from just going to war. Note that this seems to have change after 9/11 as Congress simply bent to the will of George W. Bush and his desire to go to war.

In Chapter 3, Maddow describes how the U.S. Army, and the rest of the armed forces, sold itself to get recruits using the enticements of travel and experience. They were selling the idea of the armed forces in peacetime. That was until Ronald Reagan came along, and politics served to ramp up the military machine. Maddow later discusses how many Americans believe the Soviet Union collapsed due to economic pressures from the Cold War. However, the reality was that the Soviet Union was already collapsing when Reagan came to power. In the end, the real damage to the U.S. were Reagan's deficits due to military spending. The U.S. went from the largest creditor nation to the largest debtor nation in the world, and it was all just foster a war footing with another nation that was already collapsing on its own.

Chapter 6 goes on about the corruption of military contractors and how they damage the perception of the American military abroad.Then again, this is a problem made by the American people and its leadership. As Maddow writes later on, they "handed the privateers the keys to what should be a public kingdom." In addition, Maddow convincingly presents the fact is that military contractors never improved the costs. This was the fleecing of the U.S. military pure and simple. No one can really tell how effective let alone what value, if any, the contractors added. In the end, what outsourcing did do was make it easier to go to war, without the public even noticing, and far from what the founders of the nation like Jefferson envisioned. Men like Jefferson advocated and set the idea of making going to war difficult and an act accountable to the people.

Then we have the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). The CIA operates drones in places like Pakistan. It is now a "de facto branch of the military with its own troops and its own robotic air force." In essence, the CIA is now a secret military force with no visible chain of command nor rules of engagement in places the U.S. is not supposed to be. The American people have basically voted in people who not only gutted the military but then created private and secret armies waging the business of war with little to no oversight.

Overall, in the United States, war no longer really affects American society. Americans barely know war is going on as less Americans actually serve in the military. There is national culpability of settling into a way of waging war that ensures minimal political pushback all without thought or debate. This should be disturbing, or it would be if the American people actually paid attention to what their elected leaders are doing. Civilian life now rolls on uninterrupted. Aside from military families, which are relatively few, families and people do not really feel war and can easily tune out.

Further in the book, Maddow points out that General Petraeus' book on counterinsurgency is often praised. However, as Maddow goes on to elaborate, historically there has never been a successful counterinsurgency against a foreign power. As Maddow writes, you have to go all the way back to the Roman Empire. How did they succeed in their counterinsurgency operations? Well, they did things like killed all able-bodied males of their enemies and enslaving the women and children. This is not exactly what Petraeus suggests today in terms of winning hearts and minds. Americans arrogantly think that if you "stick with it" and keep an open checkbook, you can win anything. So far, this has failed. But hey, keep writing those checks.

And there is more. This is one of the best quotes from the book, which I think encompasses much of the issue:

"We have built ourselves to the exclusion of all other priorities a military superstructure that we can't use for anything other than war and that we can no longer afford, and it's going to be really hard to take this thing apart." 

Want to know why this country neglects its schools, the poor, its infrastructure, and other domestic essentials for its people? There is your answer. By the way, if you feel deja vu, it may be you read George Orwell's 1984. If you have read the book, recall the passages about the need for perpetual war. By the way, this also explains why suddenly police departments started getting tons of "surplus" military vehicles and equipment. Hey, you have to use it for something.

Here is another good quote from the book:

"Institutions have inertia. When the original justification for a huge investment goes away, the huge investment finds another reason to live. It's not just the military; it's true of all organizations. The more money and work and time it takes to build something, the more power it accrues and the more effort it takes to make it go away." 

At the end of the book, Maddow presents various solid solutions in policy and better transparency. She also appeals to reason, asking for people to see and consider the evidence, and then take some responsibility. None of this is impossible when it comes to solving the issue, but the American people have to decide to do it. Sadly, from what I often see, the American people more often than not choose not to pay attention let alone do the right thing.

Booknote: Family Ties

Eric Hobbs (author) and Noel Tuazon (artist), Family Ties: an Alaskan Crime Drama. New York: NBM Comics, 2014. ISBN:  9781561637294.

This is a tale inspired by Shakespeare's King Lear. You do not need to have read Shakespeare's play beforehand, but if you have read it, you may appreciate the direction that Hobbs takes. Much like Shakespeare, this is a moving and solid tragedy. I also found fascinating that the story takes place in Alaska. We usually think of mobsters in places like New York, Chicago, or Las Vegas, so this was a good departure from the usual.

The story is simple. The aging crime boss wishes to retire and divide his empire among his children: two daughters and a son. The son is the prodigal kid, not involved in the family business. The daughters are both in the business, and they both want it all. When the son rejects his father's offer, the crime boss becomes angry and disowns him. Meanwhile, the daughters now turn against the old man in their grab for power. To complicate things for the old man, he is starting to show signs of dementia. From there, the story spirals deeper into intrigues and increasing violence. One the violence starts, it is pretty relentless. Some readers may want to keep that in mind if they choose to read this title. For me, the violence worked well with the story. The story engages you, and it draws you in as you get to know the characters. It's a tragic tale with great pace and energy.

A big issue for me, however, was the sketch style art. On the one hand, it can be very evocative of the setting. On the other hand, it meant some characters were not well defined nor distinctive enough. I had some difficulty telling some characters apart, especially some of the secondary characters. This was also an issue in the script. Primary characters-- the old man, his children-- were defined clearly. Some of the others not so much. This lack of better character development in the art did prevent me from enjoying this work more.

In the end, I did like it overall, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

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

Friday, December 05, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: December 5, 2014 edition

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

And we made it through Thanksgiving and that holy of holies day in the United States, also known as Black Friday. So, a week after Black Friday, we get to riff on it a bit. It is already known that this year's Black Friday was a bit more subdued. In our household, we did go take a peek around, although we did so after the rushes were done as we like to sleep in. Yet things seemed a lot more subdued. Sure, a bit of traffic on the roads, but not too bad. More like a normal Sunday. Then again, we just went to bookstores because, let's be honest, we just don't give a hoot about that other stuff people get obsessed over. So, in the end, the news kind of confirmed what we suspected: this year's Black Friday was a lot more subdued. Part of it may have been retailers having "extended" Black Friday sales ranging from a week before to even a month before, and part of it may be that the economy is still bad, so people had less money to shop.

So, let's have a look at our stories this week:

First, the Black Friday stuff: 

  • Now, sure, Black Friday may have been more mellow this year, but we still got an insane person or two, like these ladies who camped out in front a Best Buy 22 days before Black Friday. Because it would not be Black Friday without a couple of crazy people pitching camp in front of a big box store. Story via Addicting Info.
  • The New York Times, along with other outlets, reported that Black Friday sales fell by 11% this year. However, sales were still in the billions, so maybe things are not as bad. Sure, the bad economy may still be pinching a lot of people, but I get the feeling that a good number of people seeking a little escape from their daily misery busted up another credit card or two to appease the gods of consumerism. 
  • New York Magazine blames the lower performance of Black Friday on the bad economy, retail cannibalism, and the Internet. They write that "the depth of the recession and the sluggishness of the early recovery also might be lingering in families’ minds, leading them to hold back on spending even when they have the money to spend." I had a small chuckle over that, the idea that people may actually have money to spend. Sure, gasoline may be cheaper now, adding a little bit of money to people's pockets. However, gas prices may well go up soon enough, and Americans don't quite learn their lessons or put their pennies away if given a chance. I mean, they are buying up SUVs and pickup trucks again. Remember the days of people stuck with a gas guzzling SUV not being able to get rid of it?
  • In the end, Black Friday is a sign the economy is bad, seriously bad. (Story via Truth Out). According to Alan Pyke, quoted in the article, ""for millions of low-income and middle-class families, the day's deals are a necessity not a luxury." Think about that for a moment. How deep into the hole do you have to be that you pray for Black Friday to get deal? You want to know what is really pathetic? In many cases, retailers were repeating their "deals" (via CNN) from last year, not that the so-called deals are really that good overall.  
Other signs the economy is bad:

  •  Walmart is still suffering. I previously commented on a story about how Walmart had it bad, and they decided to cut some health benefits for workers. Well, things are not getting better for the giant behemoth. They are not getting better for their workers neither. So, Walmart was having yet another food drive for its workers (story via Bill Moyers). Meanwhile, according to the report, the Waltons don't really do much in terms of charity when it comes to their charitable foundation. In fact, "according to the report, the Waltons use their family’s foundation primarily to avoid paying their fair share of taxes." Because what is a few starving workers as long as you can keep adding to your obscene wealth at the expense of said workers? 
  • A moment of silence. We remember with nostalgia when shopping at JC Penney's and Sears was a special experience. Now, they are just dead men walking (story via The Stranger). Any of you out there old enough to remember the Sears Wish Book that came out every Christmas season? I bet a few of you as kids went through it and circled or marked what you wanted so your parents could tell Santa and/or the Three Kings (this applicable mostly in Latin America). I do. Heck, a lot of the Star Wars collection I had back in the day was selected from a Wish Book. Well, those days are gone. 
  • How else do we know the economy is bad? We can start asking "How Many Homeless People Will Freeze This Winter?" (Story via Think Progress). Not much more I can say here. The fact we can ask that question, and if you think about it, make it sound like we are gambling, is comment enough on how bad things are.  Last year's polar vortex is bad, and if current conditions are any indication, weather will be bad too this year. 
  • Now you may think if you somehow manage to get into college, maybe you can make things better for yourself. Well, yes and no. In fact, going to college is not what it used to be. Robert Reich explains why college is necessary but gets you nowhere. This is a seriously depressing reading, but it has a lot of insight. Because college may be necessary, but not for the reasons you may think. 

However, not all is bad news. There are some places where things are better, and as usual, the uber rich have it good:

  • OK, I fibbed a little. The uber rich are not doing as well. Turns out they also face a serious inequality gap. There is now a tragic gap between the very uber rich and the seriously obscenely uber rich (Story via The New York Times, with a hat tip to Pharyngula, who gives a great comment on the story).  It's terrible how some of them can no longer afford the high end private jets and yachts. Won't someone think of the uber rich?
  • College football coaches are doing well. At least 27 of them are making more than $3 million a year (Story via Inside Higher Ed). Must be nice. Meanwhile academic programs starve or even need to shut down while tuition keeps rising and becoming less affordable. 
  • Turns out the markets for "murderabilia, the disturbing hobby of collecting artifacts related to murders and those who commit them. . . ", are doing very well.  Story via AlterNet
  • The sex doll market is getting better as well. So, if you are not having good luck finding a good sexual companion, but you still have some needs, good sex doll tech is getting better, so hang in there. This assumes you do have some deep pockets, at least for now. Story via AlterNet.
  • And finally, I previously commented on a story that the uber rich now have a new app to facilitate dating among those with oodles of money. As I wrote previously, "After all, if you are part of the 1%, there are not many others like you out there. So trying to find a suitable and well-off financially mate is kind of a hardship." However, some rich folks, say bankers, may want to enhance that date with a little sex play. Now for people like this, not just any old sex toy would do. Uber rich males are rich, and dang nab it, they demand the very best, even when it comes to cock rings for their manhoods. So, for them, a sex toy company now offers a cock ring exclusively for bankers. And it even comes with matching cuff links. Check out the story via Epiphora (warning, some content there may be NSFW). The question to ask here is, how about the lady bankers? Do they get their own exclusive high end sex toy?