Thursday, December 31, 2015

Booknote: The 12 Bottle Bar

David Solmonson and Lesley Jacobs Solmonson, The 12 Bottle Bar: a Dozen Bottles, Hundreds of Cocktails, a New Way to Drink. New York: Workman Publishing, 2014. ISBN:  9780761174943.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: recipe books, alcoholic spirits, cocktails
Format: paperback
Source: My local public library

This was a book I requested through NetGalley at first, but they actually declined my request; that happens once in a while, though less often now. Anyhow, I went on and read other stuff, then I saw my public library got it, so I decided to give it a try. After reading it, I had some mixed feelings about it. On the one hand, the idea is intriguing, and you do get a lot of recipes to try out. On the other hand, the book suffers from what many bartender books often suffer: a bit of a preachy, snooty attitude and a little snobbishness when it comes to ingredients. Sure, acquiring the 12 bottles they suggest is not insurmountable, but you do need to account for mixers, juices, and other ingredients. And once the default to get stuff is Amazon, you realize things may not be as accessible as they make it sound. In other words, many things they mention are not things you would get locally. If buying local is a thing for you, this book will not further that aim. This may not be a big deal if you have a credit card handy with a number you are willing to share with Amazon, but otherwise, you may just have to make do.

In case you are wondering, here are the 12 bottles. No, I am not spoiling anything. In fact, the authors even have a website where they mention them:

  • Brandy
  • Dry gin
  • Genever
  • Amber Rum
  • White Rum
  • Rye Whiskey
  • Vodka
  • Orange Liqueur
  • Dry and Sweet Vermouth
  • Aromatic and Orange Bitters
I know. Tequila is missing. The authors knew you would notice that too, and they explain their choice to leave it out:

"Where's the tequila? Well, aside from the Margarita, the Paloma, and the Tequila Sunrise, tequila just isn't called for in that many old-school cocktails" (7). 

The authors acknowledge that many bartenders today are getting more creative with tequila and mezcal, but their goal is efficiency, so no tequila for them. In my case, I am hanging on to my bottles of tequila and mezcal.

The book is arranged into four initial chapters dealing with bar tools (including an almost masters thesis on ice quality that I found a bit much) followed by chapters for a 1 bottle bar, a 3 bottle bar, and a 4 bottle bar. These chapters are to show that you can make quite a few cocktails with a few bottles (as long as you have the other things you will need to mix in with the liquor). This is then followed by a chapter for each featured bottle, and finally four more chapters on hosting, beer, wine, and cider drinks, virgin drinks, and garnishes, syrups, and liqueurs. In addition, there are appendices/sections for resources, conversion tables, and drinks by theme.

A nice feature of the book is the trivia. The authors include various inserts with trivia on liquors, famous bars, and other bar and drinking lore. That adds to the book in terms of entertainment value. Also, for each bottle, they make recommendations that include price points. Of course, feel free to use  your preferred brands if you already have preferences. Each recipe has an introductory paragraph or two so you can learn the about recipe history and other details. Some recipes are more accessible than others, so your mileage may vary. Much of the emphasis is in old school recipes; if you are a fan of the show Mad Men, for example, this book may be for you.

As I said, I had a mixed experience reading it. I wanted to like this more, but some issues in tone and structure of recipes, costs (additional ingredients, accessibility of said ingredients, viability) keep me from rating it higher. If I were to find a copy in a second hand shop down the road, I might consider adding it to my small collection of cocktail recipe books as a novelty. Otherwise, I see this more as a book to borrow and browse.

And I end this note with a memorable quote from the book:

"The desire to improve oneself is the essential quality to learning how to make better drinks" --Chris McMillan, bartender (39). 

3 out of 5 stars.

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote:Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, Volume 1

Various authors, Star Trek: Alien Spotlight, Volume 1. San Diego, CA: IDW, 2008. ISBN: 9781600101793.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: science fiction, aliens, Star Trek
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Bought at Half Price Books. 

This is another volume I bought from the clearance section at Half Price Books, and it was a pretty good find. I am not a huge fan of Star Trek, but I do enjoy it, so I figured reading the comics would be fun.

This volume is a compilation of comics that highlights the alien species in Star Trek. Some aliens are allies; others are enemies, and others are just enigmatic. But they are all interesting, and in this collection, we get their point of view. This volume features the following aliens:

  • Gorn
  • Vulcans
  • Andorians
  • Orions
  • Borg
  • Romulans
The volume also features characters we may not have seen often in the series or were featured in the films. For instance, there are at least two stories featuring Captain Pike, the guy who commanded the Enterprise before Kirk took over. Another example is Captain Terrell making an appearance in a story before the events of Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Though overall the main characters are not the usual series characters, the stories are firmly connected to the series with various references to other tales and events.

The Andorian story, though it ends in a cliffhanger, was a favorite for me. It has a nice blend of action and political intrigue. In the Vulcan story, we see Spock in the early days when Vulcans were still new to Starfleet.

The art in the volume does vary in quality for each comic as we see the work of different artists. Some comics are better than others in terms of art. The covers are very well done though.

In the end, this is one I liked.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One

Zeb Well, Spider-Man/Doctor Octopus: Year One. New York: Marvel, 2005.  ISBN: 0-7851-1532-3.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes and villains
Format: trade paperback
Source: Bought at Half Price Books. 

I found this on a discount cart at Half Price Books. Though I am not a huge fan of Spider-Man, the fact that this was a Year One type of story drew me in. The book was an interesting discovery; the volume really focuses on Otto Octavius, the genius who will become the villain Doctor Octopus. This is his origin story.

The story takes us from Otto's childhood. He was brilliant even then, but he was constantly bullied at home by his father and by other students in school. His mother was his fierce protector, which does create some mommy issues down the road. Some of this is a little reminiscent of Norman Bates, just a tad. Otto makes it college, graduate school, finishes  doctorate early, and gets a lucrative defense research job. But that is not enough as he is obsessed with his vision of exploring his mind's passions freely. Then comes the lab accident that graft the tentacles to his body and also alters his mind.

The comic fully focuses on Otto; we get the story from his point of view. We do see Spider-Man, initially in brief moments then later when he has to confront Doctor Octopus. Otherwise, it is Otto's story. It is a deep and dark story, which is reinforced in large measure by a good amount of shadows and darkness in the art. The art is excellent in this volume by the way as the artist is able to use those shadows to great advantage and there is also great use of small details such as some symbolism in Otto's glasses. The story does move along at a good pace, and in the end, it was a story I really liked.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Garfield Tips the Scales

Jim Davis, Garfield Tips the Scales. New York: Ballantine Books, 2004. ISBN: 0-345-46909-7.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor, felines
Format: Hardback (reprint edition)
Source: Got it free from my local public library's "Know it all" event.

I continue enjoying the Garfield books. This is the 8th entry in the series, and it is a trip back in time. The book was first published in 1984. I read a reprint edition that was published in 2004. The strips may not be new, but they really keep their humor. It is amusing to me to see all the references to the 1980s as I read the book. The humor remains light and comforting as ever, which is a big reason I enjoy this series. When I need to read something to relax and get a smile, I can count on a Garfield comic to deliver. In this volume, Garfield visits the grocery store, and he has to compete with cute Nermal for attention.

Overall, there is a nice selection of strips here.

 4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Booknote: Vamps

Elaine Lee, Vamps. New York: Vertigo Comics, 1994. ISBN: 1-56389-220-0.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: horror, vampires, road trips, motorcycles
Format: trade paperback
Source: I bought this one at Half Price Books 

This is the story of five Harley riding female vampires on a road trip from North Carolina to New York. As the story opens, they have killed their sire, a big sin for any vampire, and they are now discovering their new life of freedom. Or so they think. Led by Howler, Screech, Whipsnake, Skeeter, and Mink, are hot and alluring, feeding on the men they find along the way. However, Howler still has a part of the past tugging at her, a child that the courts took away unjustly, and she wants her revenge. Will her quest for vengeance ruin their new found freedom?

The volume collects the six issues of this comic book series. The volume also includes a small cover gallery, and an afterword by the author where she puts the comic in context. In the afterword, she writes how she got all kinds of mail and e-mail from readers. Some of it was positive; others were negative. Some folks loved the empowered, strong female vampires who took life in their hands. Some saw them as feminist heroes. Some hated them as feminist man haters. I will let readers decide how to label the comic if they must. While the comic does have the potential to turn into a feminist preaching piece, almost like a Thelma and Louise stereotype without the tragic ending of that film, in the end, I think it is a pretty good vampire tale from the point of view of newly liberated vampire brides. You do not get to see that point of view everyday, so the author is certainly exploring new ground, and she does so in a comic that combines good elements of traditional vampire lore with horror. These ladies are not cuddly or emo vampires; they are blood thirsty women hitting the road and feeding along the way leaving a trail of destruction.

Therein lie some of the issues I had with the comic, which is why I do not rate it higher. The ladies are very sloppy as vampires. In killing their sire, they do not fully kill him. Let's be honest, a good bonfire would have taken care of the bastard for good. The guy gets buried instead, albeit with his body parts spread in different graves, but you know he will come back somehow, and he does. Then they leave just enough clues for cops and a very dogged P.I. to come after them. Now this issue could be a good thing in conveying that the ladies are relatively new vampires and still learning the ropes, but even that, well, over time, their common sense does not get any better other than they figure out they maybe should not feed on other bikers and mechanics because those guys can be helpful. And then there was the plot where the P.I.'s assistant was the twin sister of Howler, and they sisters share some bond, and sister will be the one who will eventually care for the child when they find it, dumping the P.I. she allegedly loved before Howler showed up. It had a touch of contrivance and soap opera. Like the author needed something to make the somewhat happy ending for the child work and still allow Howler to go free as someone else could care for her child. In the end, until Howler is able to let go of her human past, the vamps are not truly free. It is when she finally settles her affairs that they are able to ride on once and for all.

Overall, this is a pretty decent vampire tale and comic. It draws on some traditional elements of vampire myth, and it makes for a good horror piece. The comic has a good pace, and the art is done very well for its time. This is a comic of the 1990s, and it shows a bit of age in the art, but it is still good overall. If you are looking for a decent vampire tale, and you want something different from the usual, this is one to pick up. I have noted my issues with it, but I still think it is worth reading

For libraries, this would be a comic for adults. The comic does feature violence, which is a given in the genre, but it also features various sexual situations. If a library already has a good selection of horror comics, this would fit in nicely.

In the end, I liked it, but the issues I outlined kept me from liking it more. I am still glad I bought it as it was a good read overall.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Booknote: Vinyl Hayride

Paul Kingsbury, Vinyl Hayride: Country Music Album Covers, 1947-1989. San Francisco: Chronicle Books, 2003. ISBN: 0811835723.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: music, photography, vintage, country music
Format: trade paperback
Source: my local public library

This is a big fun book with a lot of rhinestones and occasional cheesiness. This is a historical compilation of country music album covers from 1947 to 1989. The book covers go from the late 1940s (around the time record companies really took off as a marketing form) to 1989 (seen as the year when CDs supplanted LPs). The book provides a brief introduction to put things in context. After that, you just get five chapters full of glorious and ridiculous at times, funny and serious, simple or extravagant album covers. The book's five chapters are:

  • Hillbilly Heaven
  • Cool Cowboy
  • Wheels and Tears
  • Nashville Zodiac
  • Big City Turn Me Loose
I enjoyed this book because there are moments when you outright have to laugh. But you also see how social  mores and sensibilities have changed over time. Don't get me wrong. Compared to other genres, country music is and has always remained a very conservative genre. Sure, it may have had a few outlaws, but overall, it is still very conservative, and the covers do reflect this. There is nothing risque here as there could be in other genres. Still, it is a fun book to look over. Country music fans, especially old school fans, will probably enjoy this nice trip down memory lane where you see both artists who went on to become starts and artists who pretty much never made it and fizzled out. You get all sorts of things here from cartoon illustrations to glamour shots to things that, well, you just have to read the book to see.

This is definitely a good selection for public libraries, especially if they have some country music fans as patrons. 

4 out of 5 stars.

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Holiday Post 2015: Taking a cocktail break

I continue this week with my traditional series of holiday posts. This time, let's just take a small pause for a cocktail or two. Yes, enjoying a cocktail and some spirits is often a nice way to enjoy the holidays. If you drink, please do safely and in moderation. If you have had a bit much, please do not drive. I do not want to hear you became part of the holiday tragic statistics. If not, that is cool too. There are plenty of non-alcoholic alternatives out there.

Photo from Flickr user Lemon168, used by terms of Creative Commons License

Want to give the gift of booze?

  • Via The Advocate, "18 Edible, Drinkable Gift Ideas." OK, so I tossed some edible stuff too. You have to eat something while you are drinking, or you should. Naturally, since it is The Advocate, you also get some puns and humor on tops and bottoms. The fancy salt is a bit much in my opinion.
  • Need a gift for the wine lover in your life? Want to give them something other than wine? Here are some "brilliant" gifts and a few other weird ones. I think I will be skipping the $110 wine and spirits aerator. My spirits can just breathe fine in a glass. Or you can do what we used to do back in the day: open the bottle early, and let it breathe while  you wait for the guests to arrive. As for the wine sippy cup, that is just wrong.Stories via Mental Floss and BuzzFeed.
  • Ordinary booze not good enough? Here is a list of some bizarre brands of booze you can buy. Get them some scorpion vodka or some monkey balls. Story via BuzzFeed.
  • Drinkhacker once again has a holiday gift guide for what they consider the best alcohol and spirits. Here is their 2015 edition.  Their criteria is "focused on products that are 1) actually available, 2) worthwhile as gifts, and 3) not entirely out of the realm of affordability." However, given a few spirits at $100 mark or above, I guess the definition of affordability is pretty loose.
  • Now, if you have money to burn, you know a tequila love in your life, and really want to impress, you can always get them this limited edition $7500 bottle of Patron tequila. It's bottled in some fancy decanter, and hell, it even has its own cabinet. Story via Mental Floss, which includes a short video on the bottle. Hey, just get me some Hornitos or Tres Generaciones, or some other decent tequila, and I am happy. Reposado or older is nicer. Just make sure it is 100% agave (none of that mixto stuff).
 Recipes and suggestions

  • Need a cocktail to cheer up? Want to sip on something nice while you read a good book or watch that Christmas movie for the upteenth time? Need something to help you tune out crazy Right Wing Uncle Bob? Here are "15 Powerful Cocktails Guaranteed to Get You Through the Holidays" via BuzzFeed. Snark aside, the mint chocolate Kahlua milkshake is just the type of drink the Better Half would love.
  • Drinkhacker also has a list of recipes. Why? Because "no holiday season is complete without the insufferable relatives and the libations that go along with numbing the rage you may feel at the family dinner table."

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Holiday Post 2015: Gifts, Strange Items, and other Shopping Stuff

Welcome to the second of my series of posts for the holiday season. Today we look at gifts and other strange items. Whether we like it or not, the holidays are a massive consumer season. Gifts and presents can go from simple to seriously extravagant. So, in this post, I will be sharing some curious and interesting things I found while looking around the Internet. Who knows, you may find a last minute gift here. I mean, you should have gotten your Christmas shopping done by now, but if you need a last minute thing, and you are willing to pay premium for shipping, hey, go wild.

General Gifts and More

We all know what the big gift selections will probably be this season.

Mr. and Mrs. Perkins go Gift Shopping 2015. Found at TruthOut.

However, there are many other gift options this holiday season. Let's have a look.

  • If you have to buy Star Wars stuff anyhow because you got a fan in your life, here are some gift ideas via Mental Floss.  My favorite is the Lego Millennium Falcon.
  • Perhaps you like shopping local or shopping with some degree of conscience. Whatever the reason, you may want to shop from a co-op, and if you do, where are some ideas via Yes Magazine.
  • Got an office worker or other office supply fetishist in your life? Here are some ideas from Office Supply Geek. And yes, he has at least one Star Wars item because you cannot get away from the stuff this season.
  • College student in your life? Mental Floss has some quirky ideas for presents. Personally, I would suggest get them something practical they can use for college, or better yet, pay attention to what they may need. For example, our daughter is an art major, so art supplies are always welcomed.
  • BuzzFeed calls this a list for the clean freak in your life. I think some of these are seriously ridiculous. Really? A robot to clean your iPad and smartphones screen? Just grab a rag and wipe it off yourself. You won't sprain anything.
  • I had no idea there was such a thing as glamping. Apparently, camping is not much about roughing it anymore. You have to do it as cool and glamorous as possible. So, for people who do that stuff, here are some gift ideas via Wired magazine. Because apparently some people are too dainty to take a shit in the woods in a hole they dug, so they need a portable $70 toilet. Oh, and an accent rug.
  • Want some more glamping stuff? Here is a list from Mental Floss. Really? Yes, you know you need that $130 camp stove that also charges your smartphones. Because even though you claim you want to get away, you feel the need to make sure the office can get a hold of you. 
  • Know people who like making their own beer? their own terrariums? fancy pants artisan cheese? other stuff with yarn? Here is a list of gifts for DIY folks from Mental Floss
  • Feeling like making something crafty? Here are some gifts you can make with Mason jars, via Wise Bread.  No, it is not just canning stuff.
  • Need some small things to stuff the stockings? Incredible Things has a few ideas on that. And if you are interested in stationery, the Goulet Pens Blog has an idea or two also.
  • It is a an election season in the U.S., so some of you may be interested in some swag from your favorite politicians or political party. Now, some gifts may be better than others, I will leave it up to you to decide which is which. Via Mother Jones.
  • I had no idea Paltrow the actress peddled high end airplane catalog style expensive gifts, but she does so on her blog. So, if you have nothing better to do and some serious money to burn, check out this list of WTF items on Gwyneth Paltrow's gift guide. Via BuzzFeed. Hey, I collect playing card decks, but I am not paying $2300 for a deck just because it has a leather case. Ooh, they are gilded. Still not buying them. 
  • And more from BuzzFeed, this time some plain ridiculous stuff that you wonder who the heck would buy this stuff? The better question is who the hell approved the production of this stuff? Yes, reindeer poo is a thing. No, I do not mean just that reindeer poo. That is a given. I mean you can buy a box with some reindeer poo in it to grow a Christmas tree, among other things.

Gifts for Men

Have a guy in your life? Maybe one of these gift ideas will be good for him. In this selection you will find some of the usual "macho" stuff, but there are also a few curious items he (or maybe some lady) may like. 

  • The Art of Manliness has updated their list of DIY gift ideas for men this year. Some projects are more complicated than others. They also have a list of stocking stuffers. Who knew that rubber band guns were still a thing. I guess the classics indeed never go out of style.
  • Incredible Things has a gift guide for guys. It is very manly because apparently we like stuff related to booze, cast iron manly cooking, pizza, and, once again, Star Wars.  
  • Wise Bread has 50 ideas for men. There are some practical things here I like. For one, the tip of upgrading his essentials.  Things as simple as a new wallet, new watch, and I would personally add a nice set of handkerchiefs. Yea, I am old school that way, and I do carry a handkerchief. There are a lot of ideas here.

Gifts for Women

No, I am not forgetting the ladies. If you have a lady in your life, maybe one of these may do the trick. Or you may amused at some of the ridiculous stuff companies think are "oh for the ladies."
  • Art of Manliness has a guide of gifts for women. I guess guys need to be told what their ladies like. Wine, chocolate, jewelry, and of course, since she is the lady of a manly guy, she needs a pocket knife too. And a cooking class? They make it sound like "ooh, it's something to do together." I am not so sure how your ladies will take it if you tell them they need to learn how to cook. Dudes, learn how to cook. Bonus if you cook for her.
  • Incredible Things had a gift guide for guys, so of course they have one for women too. Apparently, as long as you get her gin, wine, planting stuff, some tights, and jewelry, you are good. 
  • Here is something that may actually be inspiring to young ladies, a gift guide for women in STEM. It features things like dolls that show women in STEM fields (and no, not just Barbie) and of course, Legos. Via Scientific American.
  • And for the feminist, Ms magazine has some ideas for gifts.

Adult and Risque

And as always, I always feature a gift or two for folks who like to get a bit frisky over the holidays or just like some sexy stuff. This is where I get to tell you some of this stuff is definitely NSFW. So if that is not your thing, that's cool. You can stop reading here. If that is your cup of tea (it certainly is mine), then check some of these out. 

  • I certainly like a good calendar with sexy women in it. If you need ideas on what is out there for these, COED has a list of some swimsuit and sexy calendars. Revealing, but nothing nude or hardcore, just some nice women to keep you company all year long. Sure, you will find the usual Sports Illustrated, but there are some other options as well.
  • If you are looking for some good sex toys, Good Vibes blog announces their 2015 guide.
  • And Slutty Girl Problems offers an end of year review of the best and worst sex toys of 2015. She even breaks things down by categories, so you can get some good information before you go shopping for yourself or the special someone in your life.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Holiday Post 2015: Traditions, Manners and Other Miscellany

The holidays are finally here. As I write this, we are four days away from Christmas Day. Whether you celebrate Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, Festivus, the Winter Solstice, some other celebration, or none at all, I hope this is a time for peace and rest for you out there. This year, we ran a bit late putting up our Christmas tree, which we did last night. The coquito did get made a bit earlier this week, so we are enjoying that just fine.

By the way, coquito, the traditional Puerto Rican holiday drink, is fairly easy to make, and there are many recipes out there. We choose a version without eggs, but the basics are rum, condensed milk, coconut cream or coconut milk (depends how much coconut flavor you like and how thick you want it to turn out), and some cinnamon to garnish. From there, it can vary. Some folks like adding nutmeg or some other holiday spices when they blend it. Other recipes ask for condensed and evaporated milk. For rum, naturally Puerto Rican rum is preferable, especially white rum, but hey if what you got is dark rum from some other island, hey, rock on. My best advice is to run a search on Google and find a recipe you like, try it out. If you are really curious, leave me a comment, and I will tell you mine. By the way, this is something you drink out of a shot glass; you don't chug it.

Celebrating the Holidays

As I have mentioned before, in our household we are very easy going about the holidays. We are not church goers. For us, resting and spending time at home with family after a long year of work is what matters. Our daughter is home for college, so she gets to rest after an arduous semester. We open presents, snack, have some coquito, then later a nice meal. Since I will be spending time with the family, this week I will be featuring some posts with links and interesting things I have found to amuse you while I am gone. As always, comments are welcome.

  • Now for many folks, I understand that the holidays can be a time of stress. Putting up the tree and dealing with some details around the house can be hard. So here are 15 tips and tricks to help out from better ways to put up the tree if you use a natural tree to using a piece of bread to sweep up glass from the floor. The last tip about wrapping the whole tree, if you have a fake tree, does not work as well for us since we have limited space. We store ours in a large tub. Story via Mental Floss.
  • Money can also be a source of stress during the holiday season. Many people consider the usual: gifts, food for the feast, so on. But they often fail to consider other additional costs of the holiday that may not appear so evident. So via Wise Bread, here are "13 Holiday Season Costs Everyone Always Forgets About.
  • And speaking of costs, it seems the items on the traditional 12 Days of Christmas song are a bit more pricier this year, according to PNC's Christmas Price Index. A hat tip to The Week.
  • Our pets, for those of us who have pets, are part of our families, and we do our best to include them in our celebrations. However, you want to make sure your pets remain safe and happy, and this is a time of year where it is very likely they might eat something or mess with something that could be bad for them. To help out with that, here are some tips on holiday pet dangers to avoid, via Wise Bread. For example, those nice poinsettias a lot of people like can be toxic to pets if they gnaw on them.
  • This is the time of year when many people feel generous. One way to express that generosity is giving to charity. But do you know how to vet a charity or nonprofit to make sure your money goes to where it does the most good? Via ProPublica, here is "How to Vet Nonprofits Before You Give."
  • Apps are popular these days for folks who use their smartphones. If you are one of those folks, you may be interested in one or more of these apps to help you get things done over the holidays. Via Mental Floss.
  • If you are traveling and you are staying at someone else's house, here are few reminders on do's and don'ts of being a house guest from The Art of Manliness.
  • Now, you may do your best to mind your manners when you go visit your relatives for the holiday, but chances are you got a cranky right winger Uncle Bob who worships Trump and Rush. You may be tempted to tell him to go eff himself, but instead, Robert Reich gives you some ideas so you can at least have a conversation armed with facts.

Christmas cards, not so ordinary decor, and other odds and ends

Let's have a look at some quirky stuff.

Stay tuned for other holiday posts this week where I will look at gifts, what the hell happened in 2015, and of course, books and reading. Enjoy your week and holidays.

Friday, December 18, 2015

Signs the economy is bad: December 18, 2015 edition

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

We made it to the Friday before Christmas, and I hear there some big movie or other opening today, which I am sure will make oodles of money for the House of Mouse even if the movie itself is not that great (aside from the visuals and carefully choreographed nostalgia; link to early review via P.Z. Myers). At any rate, while Hollywood may be raking in money this weekend, the rest of the economy remains bad. So perhaps escaping to a movie theater for some is not a bad way to forget the woes for a while. So, let's see what's going on these days:

Booknote: Garfield: 30 Years of Laughs and Lasagna

Jim Davis, Garfield: 30 years of Laughs and Lasagna: the Life and Times of a Fat, Furry Legend. New York: Ballantine Books, 2008. ISBN: 9780345503794. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor, cats
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

I continue my reading splurge with Garfield. This one I really liked because it shows how the comic strip evolved over time. I always find interesting how an artist develops his art and his work evolves. Davis did put Garfield through quite a few changes. Yet Garfield's wit and personality remain strong and funny. The book contains a healthy selection of strips from 1978 to 2008.

In addition, the book includes a foreword by Dan Young, Blondie cartoonist, and a section of Jim Davis' 30 favorite Garfield strips. The book is divided into sections of strips for each decade. Each decade section has a brief introduction where Davis offers some commentary. Furthermore, the book offers some additional material like author photographs and some inserts with more cartoons, graphics, or trivia. It was a fun and light book to read that let us see how the comic evolved and why it remains so popular.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 11, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: December 11, 2015 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 are in the midst of the holidays season; yes, you know that pretty much starts on Black Friday (or the Thursday of Thanksgiving for the greedy folks). Stay tuned in the coming days for my annual holidays posts. In the meantime, let's see what's been happening.

  • A new report finds that 50 percent of community college students risk hunger and homelessness. Story via Crooks and Liars. That whole thing about go to college, get a degree and a well-paying job? Not always as easy as those folks spouting that line claim it is. The report comes from Wisconsin HOPE Lab. You can read it (in PDF form) here.
  • Many Americans face a future of not being able to retire. The line of "I plan to work until I die" (a line that most likely applies to myself. Sure, I may get a little educator's retirement and social security, if I am lucky) is extremely common in the United States. Story via TruthDig.
  • In the bad economy, predatory lenders often thrive. Those rent-to-own places are definite examples of predatory and exploitative lending. If you really need to get a big screen tv or furniture, pretty much every other option is cheaper than going to one of those stores. Read a bit about how much a "rent-to-own" television really costs via Wise Bread.
  • However, not all is negative in the bad economy. Recently, a series of mass shootings have made the news in the United States. Aside from the fact that gun sales often go up as a result of mass shootings, mass shootings and gun violence have spawned a series of ancillary businesses if you will. Via AlterNet, here are ten products in you can buy as a result of mass shootings and concern for risk in the United States. From bulletproof blankets in schools to bedside gun holders, concern and hysteria over getting shot by some "responsible gun owner" or some wacko is very good for business in the bad economy.
  • And in further news in the bad economy, our friend over at Poor as Folk has a roundup of SNAP News. Some good news, others, well not so good. 

Booknote: The Rude Pundit's Almanack

Lee Papa, The Rude Pundit's Almanack. New York: OR Books, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-935928423.

If you want to find it in a library (not many have it), you can do so via WorldCat
If you wish to purchase, you can go to the publisher. Note that he did do an update for 2012, available now. Or I guess you can try your favorite online bookseller.

Genre; Nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, humor, personal essay, current events, US history
Format: paperback
Source: I borrowed it via Interlibrary Loan at my work library. The book came from King County Library System in Issaquah, Washington.

The book really packs a lot from memoir to humor to political forecasts and even some wisdom. Though the book was published in 2011, much of it remains very relevant today. In addition, his writing on the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina is very moving, and it is a serious indictment of how the U.S. abandoned an entire city to die under G.W. Bush's watch. Rude Pundit's writing on Katrina should be required reading in courses on contemporary U.S. History.

The book is arranged into sections, and each section features a series of short pieces on various topics. As the book's description states, the book features charming anecdotes, twisted poems, gonzo reportage, tragic photographs, meaningless charts, founding fathers in compromising positions, and much more. This is definitely a must-read, and it remains very relevant now, especially for me in light of this year's regressive electoral results in Kentucky. The only thing I would wish for is for the author to do an updated edition in light of the upcoming 2016 elections. Yes, the book has profanity, but if you let that stop you from reading it, then you are just not paying attention.

I definitely recommend this.

5 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

In his introduction, he right away establishes some non-negotiable ground rules. These should be common sense and are fact-based, but as I have often said, you could never go broke underestimating the stupidity and short memory of the U.S. voter:

  • "Abortion should be safe and legal. The only regulations should be those that keep it safe and legal, like other legal medical procedures. 
  • Global warming is real and happening because of human beings.
  • Gay people should be allowed to get married because, really, nothing is going to stop it from happening. In fact, whatever the country deems legal for straight people to do, that's gotta be legal for the GLBT community. 
  • Barack Obama was born in the United States. 
  • The Presidency of George W. Bush (with the aid of Congress) is the reason why the nation is in its current dire straits. The greatest success of the right has been to pin the failures of the Bush administration on Barack Obama.
  • Fox 'news' is biased in a way that the New York Times or CNN or even MSNBC could never hope to be" (3). 
On that last point, as librarian and educator who knows how to vet sources, if your source is Fox "News" (or Hannity, Rush, or deity of choice help you InfoWars), I know you are pretty hopeless at that point. I may try to point you to better sources (it's my job and duty as librarian), but if you still persist, well, that is where I dust my feet and keep on walking.

The Rude Pundit is a man of the people who moves among the people armed with his PhD, a fierce wit, and an ability to read the world around him. As he notes, his doctorate is in English (not Political Science or History, for instance), and he does give a shout out to English majors because:

"Majoring in English in the late 20th century meant you learned how to interpret a text and how to 'read' the world around, say a poem or novel. When you apply those skills to the speeches of Sarah Palin, the cognitive dissonance would make a robot go on a city-burning rampage" (2).

As a disclosure, I should say that I am also an English major; my other masters degree is in English (and my undergrad was in English Education; yes, I am a teacher). I am also an academic librarian now, which means not only do I know how to 'read' the world around me, I am pretty good at finding, using, and evaluating all kinds of sources and information, and I am also very good at detecting bullshit. There are times I wish I could get hired as a fact checker for some reputable place, but hey, a librarian can dream. In the meantime, I am thankful for guys like the Rude Pundit calling out the bullshit and showing no compassion in doing so.

The Rude Pundit certainly has no use for religion, and when he speaks on "Among the Christians," he is using some stories to illustrate some important ideas. The fourth story out of the five in that section caught my eye. He writes,

"Let's just say that when you're fourteen and a friend's cousin tells you how he was molested by a priest at his house in Abbeville, Louisiana, you pretty much write off the entire Catholic Church as a worthless force of destruction" (42). 

I can certainly concur with that feeling as I've pretty much written off the Roman Catholic Church as well and went the heathen way. I should disclose that I was raised as a "craddle" Catholic, with all that implies, so making the break was not clean nor easy. After years, I am finally feeling free. There were early signs even back then that not all was perfect in paradise, hushed talk here or there of "stuff going on," but what did it for me was the pedophile scandals breaking out and the bishops protecting those monsters. That arrogance of being against prosecuting their own criminals was the final straw that brought the whole house of cards down. Then again, reading the expose from The Boston Globe, the book Betrayal: Crisis in the Catholic Church (link goes to my review of the book) did not help their cause neither. That I now work for a Christian college, albeit a very liberal one and nondenominational with a strong social justice history, may well be a conundrum to those who know me.

As for the Hell House, which he tells about, I would certainly prefer to do as he did and take off "into the graveyard, laughing among the dead" (44).

Sticking with religion a bit more, his story that takes place in a small two-lane county road in Tennessee certainly has more insight on the few true Christians in the U.S. than books I've recently read such as The Evangelicals You Don't Know (link to my review). Pilgrim George is a simple man who. . .

". . .can put on tire-tread-bottomed sandals and wander the earth in order to ask us to be better people" (46). 

Honestly, what is more humble and simple than that?

Rude Pundit's story of attending an Oliver North speech reminded me of my experience attending a John Bolton lecture at my previous workplace where Bolton was basically hailed as a hero. Like Rude Pundit with North, I bit my tongue at the tie to not "tell everyone around me that they were tools of empire" (63). As Rude Pundit writes,

"Free speech man, it ain't pretty. But it's all we got" (63). 

And I can sympathize, for like the Rude Pundit,

"My inability to clap for criminals has really stymied my ability to make friends" (63).

That ability has been stymied for me as well, especially in recent times when I am just not willing to tolerate stupidity, bigotry, and other ills that should not be tolerated. Now I am not as vocal about my politics as the author is, but I also do not hide them. It has cost me a friend or two, but in the end, if they think criminals like North, Bolton, and so many others are heroes, they are not friends (or family members) I need in my life. Life is too short for bullshit.

On a side note, he wrote about a pitch he had for a book about Ann Coulter. It is a true pity he decided against it.

On his writings about New Orleans and Katrina, I already mentioned they should be required readings. He also urges us to go see for ourselves:

"If you ever doubted the ability of this nation to do anything great anymore, walk the Lower Ninth. As I said before, it was an awful place, rank with poverty and crime. It was an exemplar of social neglect. Now, it stands (barely) as a demonstration of our American paralysis, of our failure to even take care of ourselves" (156).

And at times I wonder why expose myself to evil. Why listen to the likes of Bolton or rabid evangelicals, or other assorted right wing bigots/ I've always said that to fight an enemy you have to know that enemy. You have to know evil and the tools it uses in order to fight it and offer better tools and sources. For decent librarians, that means that in order to offer a counter to Ann Coulter, for example, I have to read some of her stuff now (or listen to her) and then. See the things I do so you do not have to? The Rude Pundit expands on that:

"You see, you have to go to where evil is to know what it's truly like. You have to be willing to put your ass on the line and not just stay tucked away in your little liberal lives, only seeing the people you love and admire, getting patted on the head and told your beliefs are right and good. I've done that, too, and it's like going to church. But it's when you hang out with the devil worshipers, the places where people are throwing themselves on the ground and sacrificing puppies to mad gods, that you really learn to confront the faithful" (168). 

To be honest, these days I would rather take my chances with the devil worshipers than most church folk.

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, December 07, 2015

Booknote: Young Terrorists, Volume 1

Matt Pizzolo, Young Terrorists, Volume 1: Pierce the Veil. Los Angeles, CA: Black Mask Studios, 2015.  ISBN: 9781628751161. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: mystery, conspiracies, thrillers
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"What if 'The Smoking Man' from X-Files was a real person, and his daughter found out what he did for a living? The daughter of an assassinated globalist kingpin breaks out of an internment camp and leads her fellow escaped prisoners in a battle against an elitist conspiracy of shadow governments, megabanks, and military juntas in this edgy and subversive thriller that channels Fight Club by way of Girl With The Dragon Tattoo."

A young woman gets kidnapped and tossed into a prison in the middle of nowhere. There she has to learn to fight for her life, gets tortured, and in the process becomes a fighter against the shadowy conspiracies and organizations. Out of jail, she joins up with an underground organization seeking to bring those elitist conspiracies, while they themselves (at least for now) remain in shadows as well. So starts this mystery and conspiracy thriller. The volume is the first in a series, and it hooks you right in. The action begins right from the start, and the narrative keeps you hooked as you wonder just how deep things go. By the end of the volume, you will be wondering what may happen next. Add to it some solid and gritty art, and this is one to follow. 

This is a good selection for libraries that collect graphic novels. However, keep in mind it does deal with adult situations in terms of violence and sexuality, so this is not a title for kids. I would say adults and maybe upper teens. I will certainly be looking for the next volume in the series given there are still many unanswered questions at the end of this one.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Trashed

Derf Backderf, Trashed. New York: Abrams ComicArts, 2015. ISBN: 9781419714535. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor, jobs, garbage men, waste management
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This is another great selection by Derf, author of of My Friend Dahmer and Punk Rock and Trailer Parks (link to my review). In this volume, Derf does two things. One, this is a book inspired by his real life experiences as a garbage man back in the early 1980s. Turns out the garbage industry has not changed as much from his days. Two, he does some deep research to teach us various facts, trivia, and other information about how much trash we throw out and how the waste management industry works. The combination of those two elements makes for a very interesting, entertaining, and accessible book.

Derf shows us that trash does not just disappear like magic when you put it out on the curb. A lot of people work hard to pick it up, and then there is a whole industry concerned with dealing with it. He also shows us the high costs of all that waste financially and environmentally.  The nonfiction parts are well researched, and he also provides notes on the sources he used if you want to learn more. I found those parts very interesting, and if anyone is interested in the topic, the book makes an excellent starting point.

Then, you have Derf telling stories about garbage men. As he mentions in the introduction, this is not autobiographical (or so he claims). The events depicted are inspired by experiences he had during his days as a garbageman. And boy, can they be funny. Derf follows three 20-something guys who join a small town garbage crew, and they encounter all sorts of crazy people. Some of those crazy people actually work for the town too. Rain or shine, blazing hot or snowy and cold, the garbage men go out to do the routes and collect the trash. Some of the things they find may amaze you, or they may amuse you. Also, now and then, some of the things they find can be sad or poignant, such as clearing out foreclosure piles (the stuff people leave behind when their house got foreclosed in the bad economy). The book can be hilarious at times, but it can also be moving at times. Derf combines passion, humor, and sincerity in a great story about the men who pick up our junk and trash and barely even get thanks for it.

This book is a solid selection for libraries. I know I will make sure my library gets a copy. In addition, this is definitely one I would add to my personal collection, so I highly recommend it. If you have read his others, you will enjoy this one as well. Readers will laugh and learn something at the same time. Given that we are in Christmas season now, I would say this would make a good gift to any graphic novels fan on your gift list.

5 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 04, 2015

Campus Event: Theda Skocpol on "Obama's Presidency, Tea Party Republicans, and the Future of American Politics"

This lecture was part of Berea College's Convocation series. The lecture took place on November 5, 2015, which by the way was right after the disastrous Election Day 2015 in Kentucky. At any rate, part of the reason I am posting my notes on the lecture is to prepare for the review of her book (the one on the Tea Party) that I will post soon. These are my notes from the lecture; most of this is what she said. I will keep any personal comments in parenthesis.

Speaker: Dr. Theda Skocpol
Topic: "Obama's Presidency, Tea Party Republicans, and the Future of American Politics"

She opens with three questions: 
  • What happened to so many observer expectations, re: Obama's election in 2008? 
  • What has happened to the Republican Party, especially in light of Obama's election? (Given what is currently happening, do we really need to ask?)
  • What does it all mean? 
Observers initially saw Obama as comparable to FDR, both elected in times of crisis in the United States. This was in 2008. In 2010, Democrats saw a debacle at the ballot box.

Possible lesson: it is better for a president to come into office in the midst of an economic crisis, as FDR did, than in the beginning of one, as Obama did.

Obama pretty much faced Republican opposition from the beginning. (I think she is putting this mildly). Cynically, they did not want to be seen as collaborating with Obama. A bad economy to Republicans meant they would do better in the 2010 elections. Basically, Obama's enemies mobilized. (Some of) Obama's measures, though they had benefit, many of those benefiting saw  little of it initially or right away. Meanwhile, the wealthy including bankers who were asked to accept less subsidies or such knew their loses right away; they mobilized the GOP right away to block Obama and the Democrats.

Remember: the American electorate is not a single entity. Those in presidential elections are very different than those in mid-term and state elections.
  • A big impulse for Republicans: the angry white guys of the Tea Party. 
    • The Tea Party started out of various factions from grassroots to astroturf. 
    • It was mostly to express themselves as angry and scared Obama  was taking their country away (also known as whining over loss of privilege). However, to researchers, they express their racism and anti-intellectualism in coded, barely veiled language. 
    • Half of Tea Party members are Christian fundamentalists; the other half are libertarians. And they got a lot of funding from various wealthy right wing interests. 
    • While low lever Tea Party members are scared of immigration, elite Tea Partiers are more interested in cutting any public spending for the needy and keeping the tax breaks for the rich. 
    • (So far, she has not said anything most of us do not know already. OK, I will grant many of the students caught in their academic bubble may not know a lot of this, but anyone paying attention does). 
This means a continued period of conflict and confrontation (in other words, teabaggers will continue throwing tantrums and making life impossible for the rest of us as they keep pressuring the GOP to keep the gridlocks going).
  • Those angry old white Tea Party members are not dying off any time soon.  (But die off they will). 
  • But they are pushing very unpopular policy among the young and diverse. (Problem is since a lot of those young and diverse are too damn lazy to vote, you can expect the conflicts to continue). A danger here is disillusion by the young and diverse. 

From the Q&A:

  • There is an issue with the media and how it performs. The media often does the "he said/she said" even when sides are NOT equal (they play false equivalency regularly for the sake of their precious rating without regard for actually presenting facts). 
  • Activists need to have a presence where political discussions happen, close to the ground. Democrats have basically ceded ground to the GOP and the Tea Party. 
  • Policy is not just something you implement. It has to be explained to the people so they will be engaged. (Again, this is where the Democrats and the Left in general have failed miserably). 
  • Tea Party members are very cynical about the GOP even if they vote for it. They figure if they do not vote (for the GOP), things could get worse (for them). Contrast this, to say, the Occupy Movement who often see political involvement as dirty or not worth it. 
  • Skocpol sees Bernie Sanders' candidacy as shifting the debate and conversations nationally and for the Democratic Party. Still, it is pretty likely that Hillary Clinton will be their nominee. (This is all nice, but it is more of business as usual for pundits. Sure, Clinton is competent, but at the end of the day, pundits and the party are pretty much doing a coronation for her.)
  • On the use of the word "fascism." In the 1930s, fascism did rise in democracies. What makes more sense in the U.S. is the concept of nativism, a concept that is very present in the Tea Party. (Western Europe has seen a rise in nativism too, but in Europe, those movements are often found in 3rd, 4th, 5th parties). In the U.S., Donald Trump is a distilled nativist.
  • On a side note, in her words, it is almost impossible for a third party to make any headway in the  United States. Skocpol advocates picking one or the other of the major parties. (Talk about depressing and fatalist.) 

Booknote: Thug Notes

Sparky Sweets, Thug Notes: a Street Smart Guide to Classic Literature. New York: Vintage, 2015. ISBN: 9781101873045. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Literary criticism, humor
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

If you are familiar with the Internet series, then you know what you are getting.  You'll get the great blend of literary commentary and criticism with fun thug sensibility. Forget Cliff's Notes. When you need solid literary analysis and plot summary of great literary works, let Dr. Sparky Sweets take care of it.

For me, the only thing I missed in this book were the other works. This book emphasizes "the classics," the kinds of works you likely had to read in school such as Moby-Dick, Hamlet, Pride and Prejudice, and The Scarlet Letter. Those are OK, but in his online series, the author has done so much more with works like The Lord of the Rings, Ender's Game, and Watchmen. Now those are works I find more appealing, and they are missing in this book. So I did my best not to hold it against the author or the publishers for leaving the good stuff out, so to speak. Putting that aside, this book is a good work, and if you need to learn about the classic, it is a good tool for that.

In his introduction, the author does give a nice shout out to libraries, which naturally warms this librarian's heart:

"There's a reason libraries are public. All dem words and stories are for evrybody to enjoy" (12). 

The book is organized into chapters, one chapter for each literary work. The book covers 17 works. It also includes an introduction and a bibliography for readers who want to learn more. The book chapters are arranged as follows:

  • So what's the deal? 
  • Homies (the characters)
  • What went down
  • Themes 'n' Shit
  • Images 'n' Symbols
  • Shout-Outs!
  • Say What? (quotes, plus a remix of quotes)
His thesis for the book is a noble one, and I think it is one many of us can relate to:

"Learnin' 'bout literature is mo' than jus' memorizin' names, dates, faces, and book summaries-- it ca broaden our minds and open our hearts by remindin' us not to judge a book by its cover-- an ain't nothin' mo' important" (14). 

Overall, this is a book I really liked. It is definitely a great selection for public and academic libraries. I will certainly be ordering a copy for my library.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, November 27, 2015

Booknote: Part of Our Lives

Wayne A. Wiegand, Part of Our Lives: a People's History of the American Public Library. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN: 9780190248000. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: library science, history, Americana
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

I will be honest and say that I had much higher expectations for this book. If you are a halfway well-informed librarian with some knowledge of library history, you probably know a lot of what this book presents already. The book can be very repetitive at times. At times, it does show some clear biases, and at other times I can't help but wonder what sources the author missed or chose not to include. I found myself making a lot of notes as I read, commenting and responding to much of what the author wrote, so for this booknote, I will focus on those notes instead of writing a more formal review.

For those of you who need a bottom line: The book was mostly OK. I would consider it an optional purchase for libraries. I do not see this book as one for general readers. It's the kind of book that library schools would buy for their libraries; some public libraries may wan it, but as I said, I see this as optional. I can tell you that I do not plan to purchase for my library unless some patron requests it.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Reading notes:

What the author claims the book does:

"This book is an attempt to bolster this soft data by tracing the American public library's history--not so much by analyzing the words of its founders and managers, but mostly by listening to the voices of its users" (11). 

On reading the next passage, I can't help but wonder what the author did not uncover, or did he really miss the many trolls and whiny right wingers that do protest libraries and its contents? I mean, just the various book challenges alone provide some proof. However, later on, the author does reveal some apparent bias against ALA (American Library Association to my non-librarian readers), which while I am no fan of ALA, it does have an Office for Intellectual Freedom that keeps track of that kind of thing (and they are not the only ones to do so):

"But another fact struck me as I mined these databases--there is a relative lack of complaints about and protests against these libraries. By its eloquent silence, that absence strongly supports the conviction Americans have always loved their public libraries" (12).

Why Americans love their public libraries (when they are not bitching about books they dislike or engaging in Internet porn hysterics):

"History shows that the reasons Americans have loved their public libraries fit into three broad categories-- for the useful information they made accessible; for the public spaces they provided; and for the power of reading stories they circulated that helped users make sense of phenomena in the world around them" (12).

I find that also interesting in the sense that today library space (especially ways to reshape that space) seems to be a hot topic in the profession, and yet, even back when libraries were starting out, there were various discussions and arguments on space and its use.

We like to think this is no longer the case, but there are still libraries that are very much reflective of their racist and prejudiced communities. I can recall a certain public library in a town I used to live in that had a very prominent and permanent shrine of Right Wing authors like Limbaugh, Coulter, and Hannity and with no opposing view anywhere in sight. Let's just say that one local public library was not exactly doing very well in "educating their patrons through collections and services" unless it was indoctrinate and promote a certain political viewpoint.

"Public libraries can certainly take credit for educating their patrons through collections and services, but because these collections and services largely reflected values of locally powerful groups, on many occasions, public libraries functioned as obstacles to cultural democracy by perpetuating the racism, sexism, classism, and homophobia their collections supported. At the same time, however, users heavily influenced the choices librarians made" (14). 

To show some things never really change, nor are they new, even in the early days we had the debate of give them what they want versus what is good for them:

"Where social libraries avoided stories depicting romance, murders, hangings, and scandals of popular interest that papers like the Boston Gazette regularly reported, circulating libraries embraced them" (18). 

And speaking of those social libraries in the late 1700s:

"Social libraries needed several conditions to prosper. They had to be in areas transitioning from frontier to populated settlements, gain a footing in the community during good times with adequate per capita income, build upon existing legislation, and offer lecture series and support lyceums" (22). 

Not unlike today where a library does better in an area that has better funding, funding often due to a good area with people making a good income.

On the power of reading, and reading fiction. Though this refers to the 1800s, it can certainly apply today:

"Readers used novels for multiple purposes: as filters for their experiences, to jointly experience similar emotions, to make sense of their daily lives, to develop and strengthen social networks, to form and maintain a sense of identity, to provide a subject of conversation that connected people face-to-face and in written correspondence, and to effect a sociability that the act of reading nurtured" (23). 

Yet all of the above sounds so genteel. I cannot help but wonder how much television, and specially today the Internet and social media have ruined so much of that.

A nice label given to critics to circulating libraries because they circulated fiction and novels:

"slop shops in literature" (24). 

If I ever make a new blog, or I get around to writing that pseudomemoir/novel of my experiences in librarianship, the title will be The Literary Slop Shop.

Could this be a formal start of study and reading rooms in libraries? What I find interesting about the early parts of the book is how many of today's library issues so many "rock star librarians" and "thought leaders" in our profession think are new or revolutionary, and they are nothing of the sort. Social spaces in libraries? Got that. Balancing quiet spaces? Debates over content? Got those as well.

"In 1810 the Boston Athenaeum not only allowed evening 'conversation' in the Reading Room, trustees even ordered that 'rooms be made convenient for that purpose'" (25).

This may be the real reason authority figures disliked and were even outright hostile to fiction and novels:

"By empowering white women, people of color, and the lower classes to rethink societal roles others assigned them, the implicit democratic messages carried by the early nineteenth century novel threatened traditional authorities, including white male church and state leaders" (26).

However, that does not mean libraries were always bastions of equality and democracy, if they ever were given how they often reflect local values, which as we know, are not always positive nor democratic. Point is that while libraries are a positive overall, they certainly are not always paragons of virtue contrary to what happy journalists and celebrity "rock star" librarians and library members may convey.

"Although these libraries nurtured the democratizing tendencies that reading cultivated, none were democratic; most were controlled by white Anglo-Saxon Protestant, and generally middle-class, adult males who preferred the society of their own kind" (28).

However, others did form their own libraries and literary societies:

"In the North, however, free blacks organized literary societies that sponsored reading rooms and debates and used them to challenge slavery and racism" (31). 

Now, on this, maybe we need to encourage this more in our campus convocations (thinking a bit locally here). I mean, besides the often contrived attempts to somehow relate a class to convocation speakers or performers, which in some cases it's outright forced:

"'To derive the greatest advantage' from a lecture, any listener 'must also read'" (32).

On parents in libraries:

"Just as parents do today, many late nineteenth century parents carefully monitored their children's reading; like today, many children protested. . .in their own ways" (51). 

I was amused by that passage. Really? Parents today are often notorious for one of two things; not monitoring at all, or monitoring to an extreme what their kids, and other kids not theirs, read like biddies.

After a while, the book does get repetitive. I mean, how many ways are there to say fiction was seen as inferior?

I think the next passage says a lot about today, and it's not all good:

"While the new information priesthood tended to look past library service priorities that patrons still used in convincing numbers, many librarian working the desks recognized that users benefitted in their own ways from the reading and the spaces the institutions provided" (237). 

More on what the book does according to the author:

"Part of Our Lives shows that over time American public libraries multiplied, survived and regularly prospered, in large part because they perpetuated practices or eventually embraced changes upon which their users insisted" (270). 

The next passage is where the author seems to flake a bit, seeing the Library Bill of Rights as sort of optional for the sake of compromise and survival. Yet, in real life, it is a Catch-22, but often it is also an indication in the profession of lacking a spine. Again, we also see the bias against ALA. As I have mentioned, I am not a fan of ALA, but I am certainly not a fan of intellectual censorship for the sake of appeasing locals.

"Do public librarians toe the party line and risk alienating large parts of the their community by insisting on LBR compliance, or do they mediate public culture disputes for the community's greater benefit?" (271). 

* * * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: