Friday, April 25, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 25, 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 missed last week. Not for a lack of stories. It was a busy week for me, so we have a bit more this week to make up for it. Among the big stories this week is the fact that the U.S. middle class is falling way behind not only domestically but when compared to other industrialized nations. In addition, the recurring theme of how the poor are exploited constantly continues. All that and more this week.

  • You know there is a bad economy when people can't catch a break. A large number of Americans in the U.S. suffer chronic diseases. As if that was not bad enough, it turns out that a third of those chronic condition sufferers also face food insecurity (link to TruthDig). What is food insecurity you ask? According to this piece, "Food insecurity is a term being used to describe the fact that, according to studies, many Americans can’t afford to pay for the good food or medications they require to stay healthy in the face of diseases such as 'diabetes, asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure, stroke, a mental health problem, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.' What’s worse is that food insecurity itself causes plenty of conditions such as anemia, obesity and depression, among others" But what the hell, right? They probably got sick due to scarfing up all those Ho-Ho's, right? They deserve what they got? I am sure right now there is some Right Wing conservative arguing just that, and that's just sad. On the positive, at least some doctors are trying to help out (link to The Atlantic, with the full story).
  • Children also suffer food insecurity. Across the pond, they are reporting that a quarter of teachers have to bring in food (or at least a snack) to feed their own students because the students lack good food. And it gets worse. That problem is not exclusive to the British. Here in the U.S. lack of food security, and often lack of a home, can be an issue for many students in public schools. And if you want more, ask the average public school teacher how much they spend on school supplies for their classrooms because their school districts lack funds to supply said supplies (the usual translation: stingy, whiny parents and community members, usually Right Wingers who love things like "austerity," who bitch and moan about school taxes and thus refuse to fund schools properly, and a few of them then hypocritically send their kids to private schools while they badmouth and want to deprive the public schools of funds). Story via The Independent (UK). 
  • Now when it comes to children suffering food insecurity, the U.S. is notorious for pretty much not giving a shit. Did you know that 1 out of 5 children in the U.S. go hungry?  So what do the elected officials in this nation do? Why, they cut food stamps, and if they are Republicans (which most of these "austerity," a.k.a. heartless wealthy asshats, are), they celebrate it. So, where are all these hungry children? And why are not these people, who often claim to be very Christian, not helping feed the children? I think that guy Jesus had a few things to say about that. Well, according to the story from Addicting Info, "of the top 8 states where children not not adequately receive food, six are Republican states. That comes as no surprise, given the Republicans malice towards feeding hungry children in the last few years. Even less surprising, the report found that the hungriest counties are largely concentrated in the deep south and southeastern United States, with just a little less than 12 percent of the group coming from outside those regions. That means 88% of children that go hungry in this country come from the southern Bible Belt. Just like Jesus would have wanted." Yes. In heavily Christian areas (they do call it the Bible Belt for a reason), letting children starve is what Jesus would have wanted. And they do take their Jesus seriously down there. 
  • And speaking of Jesus, it turns out he needs money. Apparently the economy has been bad even for him. Well, it's more a case that his followers need money (we are talking the Jesus brand ones). It's so bad that they can't even afford tickets to a Duck Dynasty appearance show in Springfield, Missouri, and the show was cancelled due to low ticket sales. Story via Juanita Jean's.
  • Meanwhile, the cost of living continues to go up. This includes the ability to pay for a place to live. Now not everyone can afford a house, so they have to rent. Now, as this guy said, "the rent is too damn high!" Now, Jimmy McMillan was mostly referring to New York City, but it turns out other major cities also have obscenely high rents, and if you have to live in a city (oh I don't know, maybe because you work in one?), this can a problem. It's really bad: "In December, Housing Secretary Shaun Donovan declared 'the worst rental affordability crisis that this country has ever known.'” Story via The New York Times.
  • If you want more on cities having too high rental rates, AlterNet highlighted five particularly bad ones. The list is made mostly of the usual suspects. The one that stands out is Williston, North Dakota? Why? Oil boom (plus a few other issues that come along with the boom).
  • So, what options do you have when you can't afford a house, and the rent is too damn high?
  • Now, if you don't have a car, in some places you might take advantage of one of those car sharing programs. Many people say these are wonderful because they help the environment or any other number of noble reasons. The reality is not quite so idea. In reality, a lot of the sharing economy, be it cars, apartments, or other forms of labor, is really driven by desperation. Yes, the sharing economy is a sign that the economy overall is bad. As the author of the New York Magazine article writes, "the sharing economy has succeeded in large part because the real economy has been struggling."  
  • Now let's say by some miracle you still have a couple of bucks to get some Ramen noodles and maybe a can of very generic beef stew (if you are really lucky). You decide to hit the dollar store. However, that could be a bit more difficult. Family Dollar is reporting that it is closing a good number of locations. Story via Equal Voice. You know that the shit has really hit the fan when it comes to the economy when dollar stores are closing due to low demand. What? Was poverty solved? Does everyone now have a decent paying job and can afford to shop in a place like a grocery store? No, not quite. It turns out that things are so bad the poor can't even afford to shop at a dollar store, any dollar store. This is a contrast to a couple of years ago when I highlighted here reports that dollar stores were booming in the bad economy. My, how the mighty have fallen. 
  • Now, let's say you are really up shit's creek. You are in so bad form you feel that the only option is to get one of those payday loans (please don't do it). We have mentioned previously on this blog how those loans are basically a raw deal for borrowers. Well, the Supreme Court of the United States, which has been busy recently doing nice things like dismantling affirmative action (link to The Washington Post) has been also busy finding other ways to screw the poor in order to appease the rich owners of society. How? They are making it easier now for payday lenders to prey on the poor. This story via AlterNet. This was decided in their usual 5 (the white wealthy clueless folk plus the privileged black guy sellout) versus 4 (the women, and the one guy with some empathy) way of decision making.
  • The SCOTUS is not the only one screwing over the common person. Amazon is doing it to their workers as well. Now, the exploitation of their warehouse workers is well-documented. Well it turns out they are also exploiting their delivery drivers. Those are the folks who bring you the stuff you love to order cheaply online from Amazon because, hey, it's nice and convenient and "saves" you money. (Yes, I get the deal about some people who live in the sticks, still, there are other online retailers who have better scruples). What they are doing is hiring "independent contractors" to do the delivery (story from The Huffington Post). Why is this a big deal? "These particular drivers work under a system that shifts the costs associated with employment away from the company and onto the worker. In this arrangement, a busted transmission can be the difference between putting food on the table and being out of a job. That's partly why the service is so cheap for retailers, and, ultimately, for customers as well." So when you get all excited about ordering from Amazon because you got it cheap, you may want to consider just exactly you got it "so cheap." On whose back did you get that package so cheap?
  • And the big story this week: the Middle Class in the U.S. is no longer #1. So, who is doing better? Well, quite a few nations, but the highlight of the story was Canada. Now some whiny Right Wingers who can't stand the idea of something not being "Murrkah #1 Fuck Yea!" will complain that Canadians have "their pockets looted" and keep less of their money because of those big, bad taxes. Let's be honest for a minute. Sure, they pay more in taxes, but look at what they get. They get cool things like universal health care, subsidized child care, better leave options, and a nice social safety net. They also have strong unions to make sure their labor gets taken care of. So, yea, they get value for their money so to speak. Here? Not so much, but I guess for some people as long as they can yell they are #1 (even if they are not) is fine. Story via AlterNet.

However, it has not been all bad. The uber rich have continued their upper climbing, and they have caught some pretty good breaks in the bad economy. For example:

  • Remember the Texan "affluenza" kid?  The spoiled brat got probation and was ordered to get rehab, paid by the parents. Well, it turns out the parents won't even have to pay the full cost of the treatment after all. So even though the little mofo's parents can pay, due to some sliding scale (one has to wonder), they are basically paying "less than two days' worth of treatment." Must be nice to be able to get away with killing four people and not even having to pay fully for the court-ordered rehabilitation therapy that he got in lieu of the tough jail sentence he should have gotten had he not been afflicted with affluenza. Story via The Week.
  • In other news, we know that one of the things the uber rich often like to do is buy valuable and expensive pieces of art. Hey, if you got it, flaunt it, right? However, sometimes they do have to pay some taxes on the purchase if you are shipping it from one state to your state of residence. So, what's a wealthy person who wants to be "fiscally responsible" to do? Why, find a loophole, of course. The loophole of choice? Just lend your art piece to a museum for a while, and then you can ship it back home tax free. That way, you look magnanimous and generous, you get a little plaque saying "this item on loan from the Le Hot Shot Family" to go with the piece while on exhibit, and you can skip on your fair share of taxes unlike the rest of us. Story via The New York Times.
  • And finally, with the weather warming up, a nice cool treat like ice cream sounds like a good idea. Now you and me common folk might go out and get a small cone. We might splurge and go for a sundae if we have a few extra coins we found under the couch (that's a good day right there). However, the uber rich don't get just any sundae. Oh no. Now they can get a $1,000 sundae with champagne sorbet, gold brownies, and a side of "a black steel, white gold, and diamond ring from the jeweler Mauboussin." Story via The Week.

Booknote: Realm Knights

Pat Shand,,  Realm Knights. Fort Washington, PA: Zenescope, 2014. ISBN:  9781939683274.

This is a compilation of issues 1-4 of the Grimm Fairy Tales Presents: Realm Knights series. The volume also includes Realm Knights One Shot, which is a prequel to the series. You do not have to read the one-shot first to read the series. However, the series does make some very small references to the events from the one-shot, so some readers might consider skipping ahead, reading the prequel, then reading the series. I will let my four readers decide. Finally, in terms of content, there is also a cover gallery; in these Zenescope volumes, the art of the cover galleries is excellent and it certainly adds some value to the volume.

The premise here, for our friends who may be new to this series, is that characters from various fairy tales have certain superpowers. They now work for a secret U.S. government agency, albeit not always willingly. Their mission is to stop various threats from other powerful beings ranging from folks like them to mythological deities. Our cast includes Red Riding Hood, Captain Hook, Robyn Hood (who in this universe is cast as a misfit female, which I think is a nice twist), and Snow White. By the way, they all have "cool" secret agent names, but I will leave it to the readers to check them out.

In the series, the heroes need to stop Chronos the Titan from regaining two scythes of power that will allow him to take over the world and become a tyrant. Two sons of Chronos, Neptune and Hades come to assist, though Hades may have an agenda of his own. The action pace is good; this is a basic action hero plot to stop the evil villain, but it is in good fun. As always for Zenescope titles, the visuals and art are great. The dialogue can seriously use some work though; it can be either a little cheesy (and I do not mean the good cheesy kind), or it falls flat a bit in trying to be smart. Overall, this is a quick adventure read and a nice twist on classic fairy tales. There is not much depth, but it is pure light entertainment.

The one-shot mostly looks at Robyn Hood before events from Robyn Hood: Wanted (link to my review of that). We do get to meet the agent that was the Realm Knights' handler prior to the main series, and we get a bit more insight into the government's darker motivations in terms of the team.

Overall, I liked it well enough, so I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Booknote: The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights

Uslan, Michael, The Shadow/Green Hornet Volume 1: Dark Nights. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2014. ISBN: 9781606904701.

I read this, and I have to say it is excellent. It has a lot to offer for readers, especially for those who love historical references. In this volume, the crime lord Shiwan Khan is preparing to unleash his plan to plunge the world into darkness at the eve of World War II. Though the United States remains neutral, it is secretly ramping up its production capabilities in preparation for war. Khan knows this and plans to attack U.S. manufacturing. It falls to The Shadow, joining forces with Green Hornet and Kato, to stop him.

This is much more than an adventure tale. It is a very good piece of alternate history that is carefully researched for accuracy and authenticity. History buffs will be delighted with the many references, trivia pieces, and historical figures making appearances. People like FDR, J. Edgar Hoover, and Nikola Tesla are featured among others. In addition, the author provides a section with good notes that highlight and explain the history framing of the tale. For those of us who enjoy trivia, this was a very interesting part of the book.

The tale itself builds up well to a fast paced adventure full of action and suspense. The author gives good attention to detail, and he works to make sure the interactions between The Shadow and the Green Hornet and Kato work well. Unlike other comics that bring heroes together, this one does not seems forced or artificially rushed. It's a good, solid story that works well and is a very entertaining ride.

I do have to mention Keith Burns' art, which along with colors by Tony AviƱa, really bring this comic to life. They capture the feel of the historical time well, and the colors do stand out nicely. This is just another reason to pick up this volume. On a final note, this volume compiles issues 1-5 of the series. As an added bonus, the volume includes a cover gallery highlight the cover work of artist Alex Ross and other artists.

I read this via NetGalley (provided by the publisher in exchange for the honest review you are reading now. There is your disclosure), but this is one I would happily acquire for my personal collection. This is one I highly recommend for public libraries. Academic libraries with recreational reading collections would do well to add this as well. I will be ordering it for our library.

A solid 5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Booknote: Mass Effect: Foundation, Vol. 1

Mac Walters, Mass Effect: Foundation, Vol. 1. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Comics, 2014. ISBN:9781616552701.

This is based on the video game, and I have to say that if you have not played the game in order to know the characters, you could be a bit lost here. If you are like me, who has not played the game, this series compilation barely gives you enough to figure out what is going on.  Thus, since the story may be a bit complex for some readers, I am including the book description:

"Brilliant, ruthless, and secretive, the Illusive Man holds the galaxy within his grasp, yet with all his vaunted resources, one objective eludes him-- an elite soldier, an  unstoppable Spectre, and an inspirational symbol: Commander Shepard. Enter Agent Rasa, the Illusive man's most resourceful and cunning operative. Targeting Urdnot Wrex, Ashley Williams, and Kaidan Alenko, she will use the crew of the SSV Normandy to further her mission-- bending the commander to her master's will" (from the book's back cover).

The comic is not as good as it sounds in the description. We get an initial scene that gives us the origin story of Agent Rasa, showing her ruthlessness early on. After that, years later, Rasa is sent on a mission to get some information and bring in a man. However, she is not the only one after the target; another bounty hunter is out for him as well, and Rasa needs the target alive. This is where not knowing all the backstory can make a difference for some readers. You see things happening, but you are not sure why they are happening. In spite of that, this is a pretty good espionage and adventure scifi tale. It does have a good pace; it does draw you in. I may seek out more in the series.

Overall, I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure: The mandatory stuff I have to type to tell you that I read this as an e-book review copy via NetGalley in exchange for a fair review. You know, so The Man is satisfied everything is kosher.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Booknote: The Readers' Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd Edition)

Becky Siegel Spratford, The Reader's Advisory Guide to Horror (2nd edition). Chicago: ALA, 2012. ISBN: 9780838911129. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Library science, readers' advisory, horror

This book was a serendipity find for me at the public library. I picked it up to get a refresher on the genre and help keep up my RA (readers' advisory for my non-librarian friends) skill set. I did take the coursework for RA in library school, but I am also an avid reader and strive to keep up with various genres. After all, if this academic librarian gig does not pan out, I think I can still get employed at a public library. Plus, for me, reading is fun. As for the horror genre, I would not consider myself a "horror reader," but I do read in the genre, which I enjoy now and then. This book is part of ALA's RA series, and it was pretty good in providing an overview of the genre. It is a good aide for librarians who may not know much about horror.

The book focuses on horror; it does address what could be labeled as "related" genres such as dark fantasy or paranormal, but the bottom line here is true horror. However, in this day and age where paranormal fiction (often romance with paranormal elements) is such a big hit with readers, it needs to be acknowledged in any discussion of horror, and the book does that, providing some small guidance on those given the crossover appeal. This is to address, for instance, the nice lady who reads, for example, Laurell K. Hamilton's Anita Blake series and wants to read more "horror." What that reader probably wants is more paranormal fiction, possibly with romance elements, but it has vampires and werewolves, so it has to be horror, right? The librarian does not have to "correct" the lady. Just know the distinctions so you can provide the best advice possible and help your reader get to their next great read. Yet at the end of the day, the core of the book is horror.

For the purposes of the book, the author defines horror as:

 "a story in which the author manipulates the reader's emotions by introducing situations in which unexplainable phenomena and unearthly creatures threaten the protagonist and provoke terror in the reader" (13). 

That definition is the starting point.

The book's first three chapters provide a history and genre overview. The next set of chapters provide annotated lists with some readalike suggestions in these horror topics:

  • classics, 
  • ghosts and haunted houses
  • vampires
  • zombies
  • shape-shifters
  • monsters and ancient evil
  • witches and occult
  • Satan and demonic possession
  • comic horror.
The last two chapters deal with using your collection and marketing. The chapter on whole collection RA was good as it reassures librarians they may already have many horror titles in the collection they can start promoting right away. This chapter also looks at other genres such as supernatural, paranormal, nonfiction, and graphic novels that horror readers may like as well.

The book is mainly designed for librarians, especially public librarians. However, I think the chapters with book lists could help some advanced horror readers as well as readers new to the genre. As I mentioned, I do read some horror; I have read some of the basics, including some mentioned in the book, but I also found some new reading suggestions that I jotted down.

Overall, this is an accessible, concise book that provides a lot of reading ideas and suggestions. As a reader and librarian, I really liked this one. It does make me willing to go look for other books in the RA series too.

I am giving it 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

This is the list of titles I jotted down from the book to add to my TBR list. In parenthesis, I am putting the label the book used and any comments I may have. I am also including WorldCat links to help my four readers and me find them later.

Books I jotted down from the opening chapters (i.e. caught my eye right away):

  • Joe Hill, Heart-Shaped Box (I have been told this is pretty much classic. Only Joe Hill I have read, which I enjoyed, is his Locke & Key graphic novel series.) 
  • Brian Keene, Castaways (the author mentioned this book a few times, deals with one of those "Survivor" type of reality shows.)
  • Ray Bradbury, Something Wicked This Way Comes (I have read Bradbury, and I can't believe I have not read this. We need to fix that gap.)
  • Arthur Conan Doyle, Tales of Terror and Mystery. (1906)
  • H.P. Lovecraft (I have actually read some of his works, but would love to read more)
Other books I jotted down as I read the book:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Signs the Economy is Bad: April 11, 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. 

Today we are highlighting an image of Lyndon B. Johnson as there were remembrances this week of his legacy with the Civil Rights Act. He also declared the War on Poverty. That fight is a long way from over. This week we once again feature the woes of college students and recent graduates. Wages are another big topic this week. Let's have a look.

  • The serfdom that is the modern student loan system continues to wreak devastation. Now this week we feature the parents of college students. According to this piece from AlterNet, "parents are increasingly struggling to repay federal loans they've taken out to help cover their children's college costs, according to newly released federal data."This article looks at another infamous part of the student loan serfdom that is not often mentioned, but it can be just as devastating: the PLUS loan program. Article includes link to a report from ProPublica and The Chronicle of Higher Education relevant to the discussion.
  • Meanwhile, it gets harder to afford college. Hell, it is getting harder to pretty much afford anything if you are not born with a silver spoon in your mouth or you sold your little app to Facebook or Amazon. Wage stagnation is another driving force of poverty. Story via IVN. 
  • Now, here is one that less than bright conservatives and RWNJ's might cheer about: more moms are staying at home. However, the reason is not what they might think.A reason? They cannot find work. Add to that the fact that if they do find work, it is often low-paying work that eats up any daycare they need to have to go to work. The fact is that "opt-out" moms, defined as "educated women of means who do not have to work out of economic necessity," are actually a very small group contrary to what certain pundits might try to make you believe. So less moms working, that qualifies as a sign the economy is bad. Story via AlterNet.
  • Moms are not the only ones having difficulties in the job market and the bad economy. The plight of food workers is well known. The fact that their employers actively lobby to keep their workers in poverty wages certainly does not help. Story via Food Politics blog. Do read on to find additional links including lists of which trade groups are actively lobbying and making political contributions to keep their workers in poverty. It's immoral to say the least. It is basically exploitation. 
  • Now, since those food workers get paid poverty wages, usually with no benefits such as sick days, the workers have to show up to work no matter what happens. You don't work, and you do not get paid. Don't get paid? You do not eat. It's that simple. So, the result? A large amount of the people preparing your food are going to be sick, and likely spreading their germs on food. Recall the last time you might have gotten a little food poisoning (at least you called it that) after eating out. Odds are the person fixing your food could have been sick and not able to afford staying home, let alone afford a medical check up because the health insurance is either poor or non-existent. Story via 
  • Hell, the economy is so bad even the moguls of the National Football League (NFL) are suffering. Apparently the high ticket prices and obscenely expensive concessions plus the merchandising are not doing the trick. Our story is about merchandising. Fans will now have to fork out more money for their favorite NFL jerseys, and in the arms race to have the latest jersey, if you don't put down some serious money, you may fall behind. Story via COED. By the way, I had no idea there was a hierarchy of football jerseys. 

Booknote: Sheltered, Vol. 1

Brisson, Ed and Johnnie Christmas, Sheltered: A Pre-Apocalyptic Tale, Vol. 1. Berkeley: CA: Image Comics, 2014. ISBN: 978-1-60706-841-9.

This series is brought to you by Image Comics, the folks who also publish The Walking Dead. This volume compiles the first five issues of the series. This is the start of the series, if you like post-apocalyptic fiction, you might like the author's twist on the concept. However, it feels a bit too much like a Lord of the Flies for this generation. The premise is as follows: a group of prepper/survivalists are all gathered in their compound to await the apocalypse/collapse of society. They fail to realize that the worst danger they face is not some impending disaster or a government coming to oppress them. It's their own children who proceed to kill all of the adults on the orders of one teen who believes the end is near (and without the adults, there are less mouths to feed). From that point onward, the comic strives to be a psychological thriller. It does blend some action and drama as one of the children, not wanting to go along with the plan, is trying to escape the compound and get some help. As the foretold apocalypse fails to arrive on time, the rest of the children in the camp start getting restless, and they are all well-armed.

As I mentioned, this reads way too much like Lord of the Flies, so depending on whether you read that novel and what memories you may have of it, especially if you were forced to read it in school, it may color how you like or not Sheltered. I personally did not like that novel, and so seeing that scenario play out here was not great for me. Yet the author does add some twists and shocking elements, just enough to keep me reading. The opening scenes to set up the rest of the story are well made. Afterwards, it does become predictable as the teen leader pretty much becomes yet another paranoid cult leader.

Will I read on in the series? It's a maybe at this point. I'd be willing to give it a chance at least for a few issues more. I do get the challenge: coming up with something new in the post apocalyptic genre, a genre that has had a good number of entries, good and bad, in recent years. For me, after the initial shock of the children killing the parents, it just seems like a trip back to the island.

I am giving it 3.5 out of 5 stars.

I liked it, and I wanted to really like it, but I did not quite get there. It was good, and a nice twist on the genre by making it "pre-apocalyptic," but it just reminds me too much of that other novel. Your mileage may vary. I do think fans of The Walking Dead might like this, although if this series starts emphasizing more drama (read "soap opera") like The Walking Dead has done in big parts of the series, it could be an issue for some readers. Where Sheltered goes, we'll have to see. If you liked The Lord of the Flies, as I mentioned, you may like this one as well, but if you hated it, you may like this less. Fans of the genre who have read other works in the genre may want to take a chance.

Disclosure note: Once again, I get to tell you that I read this as an e-book copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley for an honest review. There has been no compensation. There, we have appeased The Man.

Wednesday, April 09, 2014

Booknote: How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying

 Leifer, Carol, How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying: Lessons from a Life in Comedy. Philadelphia, PA: Quirk Books, 2014. ISBN: 9781594746772.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Humor, biography, career advice

Carol Leifer has been in the comedy and show business for a long time, working her way up, and paying her dues along the way. Now she takes time to reflect on her life and career, distilling the key lessons from her journey in her new book. How to Succeed in Business Without Really Crying is an easy to read and fun book that many readers will enjoy.

A strength of Leifer's book is in the lessons for work and life that she presents. She may be writing from her perspective as a comedian, but her advice applies to any career path. There is a lot here for young people who need advice and lessons as they enter the workforce. To bring this advice to life, the author uses a lot of stories from her experience with a generous helping of good humor. I found myself often nodding and smiling as I read this book. Now the book is not all upbeat and feel good vibe. Leifer also made a lot of mistakes along her journey. For example, read her story about the soda can in Aaron Spellings' office.Yet, she went on to learn from her mistakes, and she shares the lessons with us. Hopefully readers can avoid the mistakes and learn not to take anything for granted.

In addition, I found there are things in the book that librarians can relate to. For example, we are in very competitive times when it comes to career; Leifer's career path in comedy is also very competitive and very cutthroat. It does not matter if you are a comedian or a librarian;  you need to put your best foot forward. Odds are good you will interview for jobs, and when you get there, you may want to read the part of the book she calls "crimes against hirability." Again, do not take anything for granted.

Overall, I really liked this book of essays. True, some of the lessons are common sense, but they are delivered with humor and grace, and let's be honest, some people do need to hear it. The book combines memoir and guide to career and life in a smooth, accessible way. Leifer has a warm style that you don't see in other celebrity memoirs, She is entertaining and amusing. So, here is a takeaway from the book: persevere, find your path even if it takes a bit of work, and keep your humor. It can also help if you read this book to keep on smiling.

This book makes a good, solid choice for public libraries. Folks who enjoy shows like Seinfeld and Modern Family may enjoy reading this book by Leifer who wrote for those shows and more. This is certainly a good appeal point. It is an easy, light, and entertaining read. 

This was a book I really liked, so I am giving it 4.5. out of 5 stars.

The disclosure note is where, to keep The Man happy, I tell you that I received a review copy of the book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

# # #

Additional reading notes: this segment of the post is for quotes from the book I wanted to remember with some observations. I found myself marking some passages that I wanted to remember. For me, that is always a good sign of an engaging book.

Ms. Leifer writes:

"So heed this advice: Find your true passion, even if it takes a little digging. Find the thing that's inside you, burning to get out" (25). 

However, she does temper that with some basic realism:

"So I would caution you about pursuing a dream if you find that, along the way, you're the only one clapping. Anything is worth a shot, but comes a time when you need to realistically evaluate your abilities" (25). 

A lot of feel-good self-help books will emphasize the part about passion and (conveniently) forget to remind you to be realistic in assessing your abilities when the time comes. And that time will come. 

On not taking things for granted and avoiding problems, Leifer writes,

"Something I often tell myself-- and anyone else who needs to hear it-- is 'control what you can and forget about the rest.' Avoid a potential problem that is in your power to avoid, no matter how insignificant it may seem. You never know which iceberg-- or ice-cold soda-- will be the one that capsizes you" (48). 

There are many other pieces of wisdom and humor throughout the book. Like a good teacher or advisor, she does summarize at the end. One piece of advice in the last chapter resonated with me: diversify. I think this is applicable in librarianship, and it has served me well in my career so far, even now. Don't put all your eggs in one basket. Don't turn down opportunities to broaden your mind and skills. On this, Leifer writes,

"So keep an eye out for chances to learn the ropes and gain new skills, even in matters that aren't your primary area of interest (yet)" (221). 

Monday, April 07, 2014

Campus Event: Enrique Morones on "Giving Voice to the Voiceless."

This event was part of the Campus Convocation Series here at Berea College. This event took place on November 21, 2013. A reason I am posting my notes, in addition to the usual sharing, is that I will be reading Mr. Morones' book soon, and I want to have these notes handy for when I read it. As usual in this kind of post, my comments will be in parenthesis. Otherwise, these are notes on what the speaker said.

Enrique Morones is the Executive Director of Border Angels.

  • A society is judged on how we treat our children, and as a society, we have not done a good job. This year children is the theme for Border Angels.
  • What led Morones to establish Border Angels? He saw migrant workers and families in the San Diego area living in canyons; they were field workers. 
    • The organization practices non-violence. 
    • People do need to know about activist work. How can they (others) help you if they do not know what is going on? 
    • Another product of NAFTA: screwed Mexican farmers as the U.S.-subsidized farm products were cheaper and flooded Mexico. This is another reason for Mexican migrations north.
    • Operation Gatekeeper, a wall between San Diego and Tijuana. 10,000 lives lost.
  • Why do people migrate? A search for food is a universal reason. 
    • Another reason: family reunification. Family reunification is a universal right. 
    • For those who whine, "let them get in line," there is NO line. Low income workers do NOT qualify for visas. 
  • Morones and his organization and other activists ask for humane immigration policies. 
  • We can be silent. Speak up peacefully. Know the issues and vote. 
  • There are immoral laws, and those laws need to be changed. 
  • Overcome hate with love. Even pray for your enemies and perpetrators because they were not born that way. Something went wrong with those who hate. 
  •  For our students, a reminder that a lot of people are counting on them. 
  • Urging folks to find a local organization to be involved in social justice. 
His book:

Enrique Morones, with Richard Griswold del Castillo, The Power of One: The Story of the Border Angels. San Diego, CA: San Diego State University Press, 2012. ISBN: 978-1-879691-99-5.

Friday, April 04, 2014

Booknote: The New Naked

Harry Fisch, with Karen Moline, The New Naked: The Ultimate Sex Education for Grown-Ups. Naperville, IL: Sourcebooks, 2014. ISBN: 9781402293375 (link to publisher. Book is due out on April 1, 2014). 

I finished reading this, and I will say directly: do not bother. This book basically felt like reading a combination of pop psychology and a few cobbled together articles from Cosmopolitan magazine. The premise of the book is a good one: adults often do need some good adult education to have a happy and healthy sex life and overall good health. This is not the book for that; the book is often judgmental, filled with overgeneralizations, and a frequent moralistic tone.

The book seems to start innocently enough as the author writes in his introduction that "this book will show you that sexual satisfaction and emotional satisfaction are not mutually exclusive in a relationship" (9). That seems reasonable enough as a goal for a book on this topic, but it soon falls apart. Many of the initial statements the author makes seem to be common sense. Yet, the author soon reveals his biases, and the tone of the book degrades.

By the way, though the book is billed as sex education for adults, this is not a book for men. When I stated earlier that much of the book reads like cobbled pieces of Cosmo magazine, it is because it is written with the same stereotypes of men as barely literate stoic cavemen as Cosmo articles often depict them. In addition, the author does state that is is a book "written about men but for women" (13), and it shows in the condescension and reliance of male cliches. It is a pity really. The points he makes on men's health-- exercise, eat well, get your medical check-ups-- are all good, but they get lost in the "men don't listen; they growl" cliches he often employs. I would ask if women honestly believe those stereotypes.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • Part One: "Let's Talk About Sex: What's Right and What Can Go Wrong." This contains four lessons on topics of satisfaction, turn-offs, erectile dysfunction and other male physiological issues (there is actually some useful information here regarding male health, which you can find in other sources but is all in one place here), risks of porn (for the men. Porn is bad for men pretty much no matter what according to the author), affairs (clearly bad), and sexual addiction (this is questionable in light of more recent findings). 
  • Part Two is his LSD method. LSD stands for listen, security, and desire. This boils down to: guys, shut the fuck up and listen (by the way, he does use those words. Ladies, you don't have to listen as much, just enough); guys, provide security for your woman, including financial security (yes, your woman wants a nest and money to spend. If your ass is broke, you are pretty much not getting laid. The tone here can come across as a bit crass), and guy, show your woman she is desired. Though the author does discuss the importance of communication from both sides, a good point, it is overall biased towards telling guys to shut the fuck up, do as told, and go from there (and no, this is not consensual D/s or femdom. Actually, the author has a bias against femdom too as we shall discuss shortly). 
There are a lot of issues with this book, but I am only going to highlight a few for the review:

  •  The author displays a bias against sex toys. A common refrain of his is for women to "put the vibrator away" (20). Now, I am willing to grant toys in the bedroom may have mixed results for some, but they are great for other couples and individuals. However, the author pretty much does a blanket condemnation. Other reputable experts and educators will likely argue that some play and toys in the bedroom are fine. 
  • The book displays a strong moralistic and preachy tone that the author tries to cover by flashing his credentials, a form of appeal to authority that readers who are well-read and informed will likely see through.
  • I would hate to be his patient. In the author's world, there are a ton of unhappy women married to husbands who are lousy in bed, gruff, and incompetent. One wonders how or why they got married. Yes, we acknowledge that not all marriages are perfect utopias, but there seems a bit of hype here, likely to drum up some business given the first part of the book reads like an infomercial, i.e. if you stay tuned, I'll give you the answers you seek in part two. As for his consults, men often do end up humiliated. If you wonder why men resist things like couples' therapy, here is one answer: getting bashed over the head hurts, especially when your partner is pretty much absolved from the get go. As the old saying goes, it takes two to tango, but not in the author's world. There is a lot of emphasis in the book on the guy doing such and such. But what happens if it is the woman not putting effort in the relationship, making a gesture, so on? Could that be the author's next book? Let's be honest, a good relationship should be a two-way street, but the street here seems to go in only one direction. 
  • Another bad example from the book: the topic of masturbation. He writes that "masturbation can only be a solitary pursuit" (42). Really? I guess the author never heard of mutual masturbation; he may need to get out a bit more. The preachiness on this and other topics does get grating for readers. By the way, women masturbating is fine, so they can know their bodies better (49). For guys? It's pretty much bad. For the author, a guy masturbating is a problem. We can recognize a serious double-standard here. 
  • Then we have the quizzes. For instance, if the man in your life wants to try pegging, he may be a closeted gay man (79). Granted, this could be true for some men, but I am sure a good number of men who identify as straight enjoy it as well just fine and would beg to differ. 
  • Another quiz question. Apparently, I am a porn fiend if my spouse does not know every single password of mine. This is how you know if your man is addicted to porn. I am guessing the concepts of physical space and boundaries are non-existent for the author. In our case, the Better Half has her e-mail password, and I have mine. We are both fine. Then again, we trust each other and have done so for close to 18 years now (married. 25 or so if you count our long dating and courtship period). In the end, these quizzes are not better than those quickie online personality quizzes some people use for amusement. 
  • On the sexual addiction issue. The author claims that "sexual addiction, or sexual 'dependency,' is a valid psychological disorder" (182). This is debatable at best. In fact, it is not listed in the DSM-V,(I did look) and there are peer reviewed articles that question the validity of that diagnosis. The health and psychology community are not in agreement; it does not make it valid. This could change in the future, but at the moment, the question is open at best. 
  • And finally, we get to this. The author writes, "being a dominatrix doesn't involve having actual sex with her client, but it's not a healthy profession. . . " (276). I honestly wonder how many dominatrixes, whether professional practitioners or amateurs who practice privately with a lover would balk at being told their practice is not healthy. If any dominatrix out there reads this, they are welcome to comment. Sex educators also welcomed to comment and add to the dialogue.
Overall, I am not recommending this book. While the author is a urologist and an expert in male body and health, that is about it. There is no real sex education here as the book is full of stereotypes, unfounded generalizations, bias, and other flaws that overshadow the parts of good health advice.

I am (barely) giving it 1 out of 5 stars as I did not like it.

Disclosure note: This is where I tell you that I read this book as an e-galley from the publisher via NetGalley. I have not been compensated for providing an honest review. There, we have fulfilled the requirements set by The Man.

Signs The Economy is Bad: April 4, 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 quite a few things this week, so let's get on with it.  For openers, there were some "good" news, if you consider the following: "The U.S. added 192K jobs in March and the unemployment rate is 6.7%!" Unfortunately, the bad news is: "The U.S. added only 192K jobs in March and the unemployment rate is still 6.7%." I added the emphasis. Sure, some jobs were added, but a lot of them are crappy McJobs that do not pay much. So yea, we can still say the economy is bad, no matter what some pundits in the Department of Labor may report. This story via Marketplace. Want proof? Read on.

  • Once again, predatory exploitation of college students by lenders is back in the news. I have said it once, and I will say it again: this is the next giant bubble waiting to explode, and when it does, it is going to be ugly. Sure, now they got college graduates gripped nice and tight (can't discharge on bankruptcy, wage garnishments, other forms of harassment that may or not be legal, so on), but the day those people finally say enough is enough, let's just say I would not want to be a banker or lender. The situation really has the makings of a bubble waiting to burst. This may well be what you need to remember: "'Many of these financial and educational institutions do not have student outcomes at the heart of their mission,' says [Rachel] Fishman [policy analyst at the New America Foundation]." Story via AlterNet.
  • The big story this week has to be Walmart finally admitting what we all knew: that their profits depend on poverty. Walmart recently filed their annual report to the SEC as publicly traded companies are required to do. They admit that "changes in taxpayer-funded public assistance programs are also a major threat to their bottom line." There you have it. Not only does Walmart spread poverty wherever it goes by pretty much forcing all competitors out, paying poverty wages, and encouraging its workers to go on welfare programs like SNAP, it also depends on people other than their workers staying poor and getting assistance. This is the first time that the company makes that admission public. The story comes from Common Dreams, and it includes a link to the SEC report if you are interested. In addition, Marion Nestle at Food Politics blog provides more coverage as she asks "Is Walmart the biggest SNAP beneficiary?"
  • By the way, you know what else does not help the U.S. economy? The constant drive to outsource and privatize in the interest of saving a buck, which by the way, really does not save that much and decreases jobs available. No jobs, no money. No money, and people cannot afford to buy things, no matter where they are made. You would think business would grasp that simple idea. Story via AlterNet.
  • Meanwhile, homelessness remains a major problem. And it gets worse when cities are not ready to handle a major explosion in the homeless population, as is the case of Washington D.C. It gets more complicated when it is whole families suffering homelessness. Story via  
  • Of course, in this nation, if the homeless try to help themselves and get a job, what does society do? Why, they put them in jail of course. We recently heard the case of a woman who had a bad dilemma: go to your job interview and leave your kids in the car while you do so, or just not go and stay unemployed. She chose door number one, and The Man decided to toss her in jail in another fine example of criminalizing poverty. The article writer is one of those more than happy to toss her in jail. Was leaving the kids unsupervised a serious issue? Yes. Does it really deserve jail time given the circumstances? No. Cut the woman a break; people like that writer love to say "there are always options," which is debatable at best. You may have options. She may not have had the same options. If you need to punish her, give her a citation, a warning, a fine. Her children are certainly not going to be better off with her in jail. This woman does not need condemnation or judgment from the privileged. She and her children need help. Story via The Root. For me, this falls under, "there but for the grace of [insert your deity of choice here] go I."
  • Going right along with poverty, this nation makes it a hobby to demonize the poor. So, let's do a little debunking of Right Wing nutjob bullshit. Today I want to highlight the following: "Debunkifying the Meme: The Welfare Fridge." Story via Poor as Folk.
  • Then again, many politicians, elected by Right Wing selfish nutjobs, have made it a past time to cut back on safety nets in the interest of "austerity." Because when their guy spends like a drunken sailor on things like unnecessary wars and tax breaks to his rich cronies, that is OK. But when it comes to a little spending to make sure people don't starve, have a roof over their heads, and maybe a job to keep their dignity and make a living, all of a sudden, austerity is the rallying cry. This year historians remember the War on Poverty. Well, the war did not fail; the economy is bad, and those politicos and the idiots who keep electing them (many of them clearly dumb AND poor) have kept making it worse. Story via Equal Voice
  • So why do we need safety nets? Well, don't take my word for it. The mayor of Ithaca, New York speaks on this. He has some experience on the matter seeing as he grew up homeless for a time and poor. He tells how food pantries helped his family and him during their darkest hour.  Story via Poor as Folk.
  • And speaking of bad policies, they are another reason that the U.S. is running low on some basic medicines, including things as basic as IV fluids. How the hell do you run out of something as basic and common as IV fluid? Simple. Basic stuff like that is made by one or two companies, and when one or two stop making it (whether voluntarily or something happened to delay production), stuff runs out. It's what happens with a pharma industry more interested in profits than in the health of the people. After all, stuff like IV fluid is not exactly a money maker. Story via Marketplace.
  • One industry that is still working and making money? Phone sex operators. This did amaze me a bit. I would have thought that with the Internet and more recently the popularity of webcam girls that phone operators would be phasing out I guess that is not the case. According to the article from, "the average earnings of a full-time Phone Sex Operator (PSO) earns around $40,000 per year. However, that amount would be considered pocket change in comparison to the incalculable billions sex-related professions earn each year as a whole." Granted, more money can be made in other parts of sex work, but hey, $40K is not bad if your cost of living is not high. Hell, I made less than that in previous library jobs. Just saying. Do keep in mind many PSO's are part-timers, and they often do have other "more respectable" (to some folks) jobs. 
  • Hell, even celebrities cannot catch a break. Lindsey Lohan apparently is not doing well since in a recent shopping trip she had her credit cards declined. It's tough out there. Story via Radar Online.

Booknote: The Killer Omnibus, Vol. 1

Matz, The Killer Omnibus, Vol. 1. Los Angeles, CA: Archaia, 2013. ISBN: 9781936393756.

I am listing this one as one of the best reading experiences I have recently enjoyed. This volume is a translation from the original French work. In this volume, our protagonist is a hitman who is the first to admit that he is in for the money. He is also a very practical man who strives to survive in very turbulent times. And he needs a sharp, keen instinct and an ability to adapt, for no matter how well one plans, things can take bad turns in the blink of an eye.

The author presents an excellent character study of a killer who strives to keep things together. We get a glimpse into his mind as we see his jobs, his clients, and his targets. This is a narrative to read and savor with action as well as reflection. Some reviewers say this could make a good film, and I will agree. However I would rather not see it as a film for fear of how badly Hollywood would fuck it up, probably turn it into some stupid "shoot them up," which this is clearly not.

Matz takes us deep into the mind and life of the Killer; it's like we are there with him through the ups and downs. Jacamon's art brings it all to life with good attention to detail as well as great panels and layout. Jacamon has the ability to make us feel that we are there.

This is one I definitely would love to own; I borrowed it from my local public library. It is one I definitely recommend for public libraries with graphic novel and comics collections. Academic libraries with graphic novel and comics collections definitely want to consider adding this one to their collections as it is a good quality work.

I am definitely giving this one the full 5 out of 5 stars.

For those in readers' advisory, some similar works that I have read:

  • The 100 Bullets series.
  • A History of Violence
  • The Road to Perdition. This one seems very appropriate for me as both protagonists in this and in Matz's work are "every man" kind of characters. However, Matz's character does not have a family (as far as we know at this point). 

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

Booknote: FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 1

Simon Oliver, FBP: Federal Bureau of Physics, Vol. 1: The Paradigm Shift.  New York: Vertigo Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781401245108.

Adam Hardy is fascinated by the father he never met, a physicist who died making his greatest discovery. Years later, it's a brave new world now where "the impossible is always possible." We find ourselves in a world where the laws of physics are suddenly no longer set in stone: gravity fails in places, wormholes appear out of nowhere, and so on. By now, these events are so common that the federal government has an agency to deal with them: the Federal Bureau of Physics (FBP). Hardy is now an FBP agent, and he is pretty much a slacker. However, his past is about to come back to haunt him.

If you like Ghostbusters and The X-Files, this is definitely a book for you that also tosses in some science along the way. This was a very well-executed story with layers of depth and conspiracy from the government the corporate world. It keep getting deeper and deeper, and I definitely want to keep reading the series. There is even some commentary, so to speak, on the current mode of trying to privatize everything, including government agencies. It says something about often unappreciated and underpaid government workers who do essential work while greedy corporations try to privatize their work and put them out of job (and often botching things up in the process). Sound familiar? But I will not say more. You need to read this. The art on it is very good as well, well worth reading. This volume is a compilation of the first seven issues in the series.

This is one that public libraries must get for their graphic novel collections. Academic libraries with graphic novel collections and/or recreational reading collections will likely want to acquire it. I know I will be ordering it for our library.

I am definitely giving it 5 out of 5 stars.

Disclosure note: The place where I tell you that I read this an e-book review copy provided by the publisher via NetGalley. And now that you have been told that, and that it was in exchange for an honest review, I think The Man will be happy for now.