Saturday, June 27, 2015

What's on Deck? What I am reading now, June 27, 2015

I saw this idea for a post at Rhodia Drive here. So, I decided to give it a try, and I may make this type of post a semi-regular feature here on the blog. So, as of this week, this is what I am working on reading now or in the queue to read next right away.

I have quite a bit on my nightstand, so to speak. It is a combination of graphic novels, fiction, and nonfiction, which is how I tend to read. Usually my deck is not as filled as it is this week, but the review items arrived at about the same time. Since I could not stagger them a bit, I slowed down on other things to get them read. So, this week, I am working on the following:

  • Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. I am reading this for review, but I am also interested in it because of June being LGBTQIA Pride Month. In addition, I am considering it for purchase for my library. I should have a review for it at the end of next week. 
  • Best Sex Writing of the Year, Volume 1. This is one I am also reading for review. I have not gotten far into it yet, but I did start it. As it is a collection of essays and short pieces, it is one I pick up when I can.
  • Come Again: Sex Toy Erotica. This is for review as well, and it is at the moment my fiction selection as well. At the moment, I am bit behind on it, but you can expect my review soon. It is an anthology edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel, an editor whose works I have enjoyed before, so I expect this will be good too. 
  • Discovering Vintage New York. This is a selection from my local public library. I picked this one up strictly on impulse. The library had a small display of travel books, and this one caught my eye. It is guide book with short entries, so I read an entry or two here or there as I go. This one I will read along as I have time. 
  • Heathentown. This is one of the graphic novel selections I picked up from my local public library. I have not started it yet. It looks like I can mark it for the 2015 Horror Reading Challenge I am doing this  year. It is a pretty short work, so I anticipate a quick read once I do get to it.
  • March: Book Two: I continue to read the story of Congressman John Lewis in the days of the Civil Rights Movement. I read and enjoyed the first book, so I am really looking forward to reading this one. I picked it up from my local public library. As soon as I finish some of the books for reviews I will get to it. 
  • Guardians of the Galaxy, Volume 3: Guardians Disassembled. Another selection from my local public library. I picked this up because I happen to  like Guardians of the Galaxy. Again, as soon as I get through the books I need to get done first, I will get to this.
And then I have three on my e-reader. These are NetGalley selections, so they are not pictured above:

  • Gotham Academy, Volume 1: Welcome to Gotham Academy. This is the story of Olive Silverlock, a young girl at the weird Gotham Academy. Gotham Academy is an exclusive prep school basically. She is there on a scholarship it seems. I just started it. So far, seems one of those Batman without Batman stories. We'll see. I am reading it now to get it done before the file expires. My review should be out soon. 
  •  Bodies. This is another graphic novel, a tale of four detectives across four time periods. This is the one I will be reading as soon as I get done with Gotham Academy.
  • Arms and the Dudes. This is about a very unlikely group of  young men who became gun runners for the Pentagon and the U.S. Army. I started it about couple of weeks ago, and I paused in reading it to get to the books for review. So far, it is very riveting, so I expect my review will be favorable overall. This is a story you have to read to believe. As soon as I get done with the nonfiction above, I will be back into this one. 

Friday, June 26, 2015

Booknote: To The Letter

Simon Garfield, To the Letter: a Celebration of the Lost Art of Letter Writing. New York: Gotham Books, 2013. ISBN: 978-1592408451.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: letter writing
Format: hardcover
Source: My local public library

I really wanted to like this one, but the pace and prose were just too slow for me. In addition, the book had a lot of digression. It tries to weave a story, but then it skips around time periods. Very often this meant that as a reader you lost your thread. Additionally, the book had some distractions. For instance, the soldier letters between chapters were just a flat out distraction that broke the flow of the book, and to be honest other than showing off some old letters I am not sure what the point of those were. You can probably safely skip them.

Naturally, for the librarian in me, the bibliography at the end of the book was interesting, and I may seek out some of the books listed there down the road.

While the topic interests me, this book really did not engage me. It just dragged on and on. Fans of letter writing may find their experience with this book may vary, or they may want to consider other lighter books on the topic.

It was OK, so it gets 2 out of 5 stars.

Reading about the reading life: June 26, 2015

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary.As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason). 

  • Are you looking for some manly reading ideas? The Art of Manliness has a list of "36 Books for Ambitious Men." I must not be terribly ambitious, as I have only read one or two, and I have no interest in the rest. But hey, I am sure others may find the list of interest. If you do read from it, feel free to come back and let me know your thoughts.
  • Now this story about the urban fiction writer Zane caught my eye. It turns out that even though she has been very successful as a writer, well, as a manager of her finances she is not so good. Add to it that she has made some really bad decisions, and apparently surrounded herself with one or two dishonest persons, and you get a recipe for the disaster she is facing now, including being labeled as Maryland's top tax deadbeat. The story comes from The Washingtonian. I admit that I have been curious about her books and the urban fiction (often also known as "ghetto lit") genre, but I have not gotten around to reading any of her books yet. My local public library has some, so I may give one a try down the road.
  • Here is a little tidbit on etiquette and matters. Via 365 Letters, learn a bit on "How to Write a Thank-You Note."
  • Those who know me know that I try to read widely. They also know that I rarely read bestseller stuff. Shane Parrish makes an argument for avoiding best-selling books if you want to read more. Why? Well, in brief, "Avoid most best-selling books. These books are not fertile ground for learning and acquiring knowledge. In fact, most are forgotten within a year or two. Why learn something that expires so quickly?" I can certainly concur with that, especially when it comes to nonfiction books on topics that are pretty ephemeral. This is a topic that I could reflect upon further, so stay tuned. I might write more on it down the road. In the meantime, you can read the full essay via The Week
  • Need some ideas on how you can read more books? Zen Habits published a post that is "The Delightfully Short Guide to Reading More Books." It really is short, so you can absorb the advice then get to reading those books. 
  • Here is an older piece via Rhodia Drive on commonplace books and a suggestion for readers to start one if they do not have one. I do not have a formal commonplace book, but my personal journal at times does serve the function of a commonplace book. The definition of what a commonplace book is from the article is: ". . .essentially handwritten scrapbooks filled with items of every kind: recipes, quotes, letters, poems, tables of weights and measures, proverbs, prayers, legal formulas, etc. These commonplaces were used by readers, writers, students, and scholars as an aid for remembering useful concepts, or facts they had learned and each book would be unique to its owners particular interests." Along with my musings, parts of my journals do contain some of the elements listed in the definition such as quotes, proverbs, and other concepts I want to remember. I also keep a form of an online commonplace book with my blog Alchemical Thoughts.
  • This is an item I have had sitting on my feed reader cue for a while, and I think it is a good reference source for readers' advisers as well as readers who want to learn more on the topic. A while back, The Advocate published "Yaoi: The Art of Japanese Gay Comics." The article provides a bit of a primer on yaoi manga and offers some titles to read. 
  • Another item that has been sitting on my feed reader cue, but an interesting one. Via Global Voices, a look at "Indigenous Libraries as Social Venues." 
  • On a note of interest that should get the attention of more than just librarians and researchers, The New York Times featured an editorial last week calling for the Congressional Research Service (CRS) to make its reports open and fully available to the public. Read the article, then you may want to contact your representatives and legislators to help implement this. Right now, few private nonprofits collect these reports and make them available, such as the Federation of American Scientists, and the only ones who often know about this are librarians. This is material that belongs to the people, and thus the people need to demand free and open access to it.
  • Also via The New York Times, an interesting piece about Malaysians discovering and reading more pulp fiction, usually via alternative sources like "pop-up" book markets since the regular bookstores rarely if not all carry those newer titles. Titles include topics such as "risqué tales of crime, horror and gritty young love that are written in Malay and aimed at young Muslim Malaysians."
  • And this is an oldie, but given today's historic decision given how we like graphic novels here, here are some notes via Lambda Literary on comic books embracing LGBTQIA characters.

Booknote: Jupiter's Legacy, Volume 1

Mark Millar and Frank Quitely, Jupiter's Legacy, Volume 1. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781632153104. 

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes, family stories
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

Sheldon Sampson, known as The Utopian, is the main superhero in this story. He has done many great deeds, and he has earned the respect and admiration of the people. However, time goes by. He gets married, has children, and like any other family man, his children grow up. In this case, the children have quite a legacy to live up to. Neither the son nor the daughter seem to be very interested in carrying on the family "business." The daughter mostly lives off her celebrity status as daughter of a superhero, and the son is mostly a slacker. What none of them is aware of that other family members, who also have superpowers, are plotting a coup against Utopian, who they see as out of touch with the current realities of the world.

This was a pretty good story of family and betrayal. It also has a pretty good pace and a good amount of intrigue. In some ways, it is reminiscent of some classic dramas where the father is frustrated over the seeming lack of care of his children when it comes to the royal legacy. The story has tension as other heroes begin to take sides in the upcoming conflict. When the coup does happen, many of those heroes now become fugitives of the new regime if they refuse to fall in line. The story also asks a question about ethics and who should rule in society. It is a question we have seen in other works ranging from Superman to the Watchmen.

The volume features very good art overall. This is the first volume in a series, and I will look for the next one to see how things unfold. This is a good selection for libraries with graphic novel collections. However, do note that it does have some violence and adult situations, so this is not one for the little kids. I would say more for advanced teens and for adults. At this point in time, I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 19, 2015

Booknote: Adolf, Volume 5: April 1945 and All That

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf, Volume 5: April 1945 and All That. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1996. ISBN: 9781569311622.

Genre: Manga
Subgenre: historical fiction
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

I come to the end of the series. This is where Adolf Kaufman and Adolf Kamil will confront each other. The fate of the Hitler papers will be sealed.

Kaufman returns to Japan, only to find his mom has remarried. Sohei Toge is the new husband, the man that Kaufman has to kill in order to get the Hitler papers back. Kaufman also faces that he is on the losing side of the war; he's displaced, practically a man with no country. And all along the U.S. is bombing Japan. The tension in the story rises right from the beginning, and the story leads to a confrontation to settle all accounts. It is a good ending this excellent series.

Highly recommend, so 5 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: The Right Side of History

Adrian Brooks, The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism. Berkeley, CA: Cleis Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-62778-123-7.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: Essays, history, biography, LGTBQI
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review. 

Find it in a library near you (via WorldCat). 

If you wish to purchase it, you can get it via Amazon, or via Barnes and Noble, or go to the publisher at Cleis Press.

From the book publisher's press release, to help provide a basic description:

"Harvey Milk delivering a version of his impassioned Hope Speech. Bayard Rustin advising Martin Luther King Jr. Long distance swimmer Diana Nyad finishing her incredible swim from Cuba to Florida. The AIDS quilt. Edie Windsor's victory, which overturned the Defense of Marriage Act. In this book, The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQ Activism, author Adrian Brooks tells the history of the nation’s clash over civil rights with amazing stories about some of the most recognizable gay rights heroes and heroines."

Cleis Press is running a virtual book tour for this book during National Pride Month in June, and I was happy when I got the invite to join in for this book. I wanted to read this for a couple of reasons. One, I enjoy reading history books, especially on topics I may need to learn more about. This book certainly fit that bill. Two, June is National LGBT Pride Month, so what better time of the year to read a book on the history of LGBTQI activism? The timing worked out for me. Overall, this was a good book I enjoyed.

The book is a collection of various essays, interviews, and other writings. The author tells in his acknowledgements how he went about approaching various people to contribute selections for the book. One thing I missed was some kind of small introductory paragraph at the start of the selections. I think for folks who may not be as familiar with the queer history presented, a small paragraph about the selection's author, the significance of the selection, and a little context would have made for a better reading and learning experience. This may be a small detail; I would hope if this book is revised and/or updated down the road that they consider this.

The book is not an academic book. I noticed it does lack a formal bibliography or list of cited works at the end. Yet, you do get sources. The essays and selections do contain endnotes, and you can find sources that can serve as suggestions for further reading in those endnotes. You can also learn more about the contributors in the "About" pages at the end; this section often lists additional works by the contributors for those who wish to read further.

Now, I said this is not an academic book, however, I think it would make a very good selection for academic libraries. The book can serve as a reader for students seeking to learn more about LGBTQI history and activism. If they are writing a paper on some topic related to this, the book can serve as a starting point due to its accessibility and ease of reading. I also think this book could make a good textbook selection for any classes on LGBTQI studies and/or other diversity studies courses, especially at the introductory level. I can tell you that I will be ordering a copy for our library here.

The book is not a sequential history. The main structure is a division between activism before Stonewall and activism after Stonewall. Other that, the events are mostly chronological, but the path still snakes around a bit. This reflects how the history of LGBTQI activism in the United States is often one that takes various paths and loops, moves forward but may backtrack and regroup, and even leaps around. As the author writers in the foreword:

"The Right Side of History abandons the grand, synthetic master narrative for a sequential series of revealing close-ups: snapshots of some of the countless personalities that shaped America, even as America did her level best not to acknowledge them or their queerness" (xii). 

The book covers a time frame from the 1920s through the 50s, 60s, 70s and on to today. Though the chapters are short, you do get some very substantial lessons. There is a lot of learning going on here. For me, for example, I learned for the first time about Henry Gerber, an activist in 1920s Chicago, and his Society for Human Rights, which is a precursor to LGBTQI advocacy groups that exist today. I found tragic how in the end his own people essentially denied him, but he did lay the foundation for much of the movement as it exists today. That is just one example. Another example for me was learning about Bayard Rustin. I had no this black gay man played such a great role at the right hand of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Heck, I don't recall his name being mentioned at all when I participated in the college's Civil Rights Tour last summer, and that experience was a serious immersion into the history of the Civil Rights Movement. I am not sure if that omission intentional or not. Goes to show why books like this are necessary. The chapter on Rustin presents him as a complex man who did have his flaws. This is a strength of the book: presenting these heroes not as larger than life but as common folks who rose to fight injustice and make things right. Sadly, Rustin was mostly forgotten and dismissed here; it may explain a bit why I did not hear about him during the tour. On a side note, much of the movement was made up of Christians, and many Christians (not all, but a lot of them) aggressively disapprove or outright hate LGBTQI people. In fact, as the chapter on Rustin details, many simply did not want him there with Dr. King. Rustin may have been dismissed after King died, but he went on to be active in other causes. He is, deservedly so, being rediscovered once more. In fact, a big reason this book is so important is precisely because it allows us to rediscover history that may have been dismissed or forgotten.

This book presents an American history that is often forgotten, denied, buried, and erased. It is a history that should be read, understood, and studied if we are going to get to the day when we all get judged by the content of our character. This book should be required reading along books like Howard Zinn's The People's History of the United States, books that give you the view of the people and groups who have been marginalized or made invisible and yet had such a strong role in building the great nation that is the United States.

Additionally, the book is definitely an easy way to learn this part of American history, and it can also serve as validation and inspiration for the LGBTQI community. The short chapters may inspire you to seek out more information about the books and events presented. I know there are some things I want to learn about, Bayard Rustin being one of those topics. The book is a popular reader to make this important and yet often forgotten history accessible. It succeeds in that regard. I will add that for public libraries, this is certainly a very good selection. For academic libraries, I would add to my statement above that academic libraries who get this title may want to complement with related titles like more scholarly LGBTQI history or biography books.

Overall, this was a book that I really liked, and it is one that I can recommend to people who wish to learn more on this topic. I would add that if you ever get teens at your library looking for LGBTQI information for inspiration, so on, that this would be a good book to put in their hands. The book has some small issues, which I have mentioned, but in the end, I do recommend it enthusiastically.

I am rating it a strong 4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Some additional reading notes from the book I wanted to remember:

The advocacy for free love and acceptance is not a new idea. Victoria Hull, the first woman to run for President of the United States, in 1872, said,

"I have an unalienable, constitutional and natural right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period as I can; to change that love every day if I please, and with that right neither you nor any law you can frame have any right to interfere. And I have the further right to demand a free and unrestricted exercise of that right, and it is your duty not only to accord it, but as a community, to see I am protected in it. I trust that I am fully understood, for I mean just that" (xvi). 

Those remain so relevant today.

Rustin's biographer, John D'Emilio, said this of Bayard Rustin:

"Rustin displayed courage under circumstances that are terrifying to contemplate. His life reminds us that the most important stories from the past are often those that have been forgotten and that from obscure origins can emerge individuals with the power to change the world" (36). 

I think that quote also summarizes much of what this book does and does so well.

 * * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, June 12, 2015

Reading about the Reading Life: June 12, 2015

Welcome to another edition of "Reading about the reading life" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is where I collect stories about reading and the reading life. Basically, these are items related to reading, maybe writing and literacy, that I find interesting and think my four readers might find interesting as well with a little commentary.As with other features I do on this blog, I do it when I have time or feel like it. Comments are always welcome (within reason). 

I have not done one of these in a while, and I would rather do this now then look at the bad economy. This week we have a combination of older things I have been saving and some more recent things. So, let's get on with it.

  • A first edition of The Hobbit got auctioned off for a lot of money a week ago. Story via BBC. 
  • Independent bookstores seems to be making a comeback. Story via The Christian Science Monitor. Now, you have to admit there is a touch of irony here. Borders and Barnes & Noble did their best to wipe out the independents. Then those two behemoths were mostly wiped out by Amazon (Borders is gone, and Barnes and Noble is often seen as gasping for air). And now, in spite of Amazon, independents are still surviving and in some cases thriving. Personally I prefer to shop at bookstores. I like seeing and browsing what I want to buy before I buy it among other reasons for my preference.
  • On the somewhat ridiculous front, Salon gets it on with the Book Riot bloggers regarding literary pissing matches and fancy book lists. It's one of those debates that get a lot of people, including some librarians, to clutch their pearls and get the vapors. For me, as a book blogger, it's not something I give two hoots about, but the story made the rounds and so I am posting it here as is. 
  • In other news, recently revealed documents give us a look at Osama Bin Laden's book shelf, the books he (likely) read in his compound. Among the books listed are books on how to hack elections electronically. Article via TruthOut, which includes links to the full book list. By the way, the book mentioned, Black Box Voting, can (as of this posting) be downloaded to read for free. Link for that is also in the article.
  • Bill Gates also recently revealed his summer reading list for this year.
  • Ever thought how books get shelved in bookstores? Yes, there are rules for that, and more. Learn about that in this piece out of The Atlantic.
  • I do not collect antiquarian books or such, but I do find reading about that trade interesting. But if you want to get into that endeavor, The Art of Manliness has a guide to help you start and get inspired.

Booknote: Adolf, Volume 4: Days of Infamy

Osamu Tezuka, Adolf, Volume 4: Days of Infamy. San Francisco, CA: Cadence Books, 1996. ISBN: 1-56931-124-2.

Genre: manga
Subgenre: historical fiction, World War II
Format: trade paperback.
Source: My local public library

The story continues as Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, and Germany invades the Soviet Union. Sohei Toge, the journalist, falls in love, and Adolf Kamil will attempt to get the documents about Hitler to a spy. The story opens with the story of Ramsey, a spy working for the Soviets and a man of many names with a solid spy network. However, his old friend and now Nazi, Adolf Kaufman, will attempt to stop him. Kaufman is now ordered to sneak into Japan to find and destroy the documents by any means necessary. Yet his terrible deeds working for the Nazis now haunt his conscience. In addition, we also get the perspective of Japan's invasion of Manchuria.

The intrigue gets deeper now. The manga continues to be a very compelling read. We may know the history, yet the story's tension and suspense just keeps me reading. We come to care for the characters. Once you pick this up, you just have to keep on reading, and by now, we can see that the end is near. We just want to keep on going. The work overall is well written and researched (and yes, this takes into account the author did take a liberty or two along the way); this is a big reason why I have enjoyed this series so much. I am learning a bit as I read along, and it makes me want to read more about this historical time period. I am continuing on to the last volume.

5 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 05, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: June 5, 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 have a lot of things that happened in recent days, so let's see how many of them we get through on this Friday. And for some reason, this week old people are getting hit hard by the bad economy.

  • Poverty is still bad in the United States. What? You expected somehow to hear different from the last time I posted about this? The reality is that at least 52 million Americans still need public assistance. Story via Equal Voice.
  • The economy continues to be bad for college students and those graduating from college: Another story recently on the student loan crisis. Story via Dollars & Sense. I have said it before and said it again, this is the next bomb that will explode. It will take a while longer, since unlike owners with underwater houses who bad comes to worse can just walk away from the house or declare bankruptcy, student borrowers do not get that option. In addition, lenders do things like wage garnishments, tax refund garnishments, social security and retirement seizures, and other oppressive forms of exploitation to get their money even if it means trying to squeeze blood from a stone. For them, bankruptcy or just returning their degrees are not really an option. A lot of students will have to die (the only real freedom from an underwater college loan, so to speak, they can get) perhaps before these sharks realize there is a problem. 
  • In the end, for college graduates, whether my generation or those who are now in college, it may well all be one big ponzi scheme. This piece is seriously depressing, but hey, it's the way it is. Via AlterNet
  • As if that was not bad enough for college kids, turns out that many college plain do not give a shit about needy students. According to a recent study, public colleges are less responsive to needy, local students.  Story via USA Today. Let's be honest: those poor local deadbeats do not bring in revenue. So they are chasing after out of state kids (they can charge them out of state fees too) and internationals (who usually come in with their own financial resources) and the wealthy (oh wait, they are actually giving the wealthy more aid if you can believe that shit because we all know how much more money those children of privilege and silver spoons need). According to the article, "Public colleges and universities are increasingly awarding those groups [the local, needy poor] less financial aid funneling it to high-achieving, wealthy, out-of-state students instead, according to a new report by the New America Foundation."
  • In addition, school kids often have difficulty affording basic things like their lunch. Sure, there is this thing called reduced lunches where poor kids can qualify for reduced price (or free at times, but rare) in their school lunch. But even with that bit of help, some still have a hard time paying that. So, you know, now and then some compassionate soul shows up and slips a poor kid some lunch or let's him or her slide on paying. Well, in some other country, most people might look the other way. Not here. In the good old U, S, of A, dang nab it, we catch anyone feeding a poor kid, and we fire that bitch or bastard. Because dang nab it, let them starve. Story via AlterNet. Now in this case, the school lunch manager who was fired, who does admit she broke the rules, even states that at times she bought the kids lunch, but you know, one good Samaritan's money only goes so far, but instead of looking for some reasonable solution, hey, fuck her and let the kids starve and cry. It's America, fuck yea!
  • Things are not much better for kids in schools as poverty continues to affect more of those kids too. Story via Equal Voices.
  • And to cite that one guy, "The Rent is Too Damn High!" 
  •  In other news, an era comes to an end as New York's esteemed toy store F.A.O. Schwartz finally kicks the bucket. The horror! Where else can you go buy your overpriced teddy bears? Story via The New York Times.
  • And now to our seniors are having it bad spotlight this week: 
    • More older Americans are having to fight off foreclosures. Story via Equal Voices. Why? Well, "after a home-price collapse, the worst recession since the 1930s and some calamitous decisions to turn homes into cash machines, millions of them are straining to make house payments." Yea, apparently many of those old goats thought they could just keeping getting money out of their house, wee wee, and now, the fun is over. 
    • American seniors often faced with the choice: eat or get your meds. Via AlterNet. Things are not good for seniors. For all their stuff of the Greatest Generation, blah blah, and all those opportunities they afforded themselves (G.I. Bill, Social Security, Medicare, pensions, so on), they have sure managed to screw themselves. Granted, that is not all the picture, but it is a lot of it. In addition, seniors tend to vote GOP, and the GOP is notorious for hating the poor and hating safety nets, you know, the stuff those seniors rely on. Oh well. Don't get me wrong, I do not like the elderly to suffer, but my sympathy only goes so far when more often than not they vote against themselves, or if they vote for themselves, it often means screwing the rest of us. 
    • In fact, this retiring generation may not be the brightest. Though they are very confident that they will be able to afford retirement, the reality is very few of them have actually taken the steps to be able to have the money to afford said retirement. This according to the 2015 Retirement Confidence Survey from the Employment Benefit Research Institute.  According to the report, "American workers and retirees are expressing higher confidence about their ability to afford retirement this year, even though there is little sign they are taking the necessary steps to achieve that goal, according to the 25th annual Retirement Confidence Survey—the longest-running survey of its kind." 
    • By the way, also from the EBRI, apparently said seniors are not doing that much better at end of life planning and finances neither. See their report "A Look at the End-of-Life Financial Situation in America." A small highlight: "Significant findings include that among all those who died at ages 85 or above, 20.6 percent had no non-housing assets and 12.2 percent had no assets left." By the way, I mentioned some of this when I reviewed Smoke Gets In Your Eyes. The author, who works in the mortuary industry, discusses it. One of the things that author wrote was: "In bad economies, major cities see a drastic increase in unclaimed bodies, not all of them homeless or even without a family. A son may have loved his mother, but if his house is in foreclosure and his car repossessed, his mother's body might shift from relic to burden very quickly" (204). Serious shit to ponder. 

However, not all is bad. As usual, the uber rich and a few others have been doing well in the bad economy:

  • Some big ball of old cheese got sold for $209 a pound. Damn, I thought some of the prices at the local farm store could be high.  By the way, it did sell out. Story via USA Today
  • Some police big honcho in New York City spent $60,000 on a zumba studio for his cops. To be honest, I am a bit meh on this one. I mean, given how cranky those NYPD cops are, maybe working out the aggressions with some zumba is not a bad idea. Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • As some of you may know, there is this new fangled gizmo out now, the Apple Watch. It's the new must have if you have money to burn. And some guys apparently have a bit too much money to burn. This guy bought two of them, in gold, for his dog. Story via Daily Intelligencer.
  • Now not all is totally honky dory in the world of the uber rich. Apparently they are now willing to share their private jets with some of the hoi polloi. Remember when it was that flying a private jet was an exclusive thing? That was the whole reason of having one, so you would not have to mingle with "la chusma." Well, now there is a service where you can book a single seat on a private jet, kind of like AirBnB I guess, but for private jet seats. According to the article, "JetGet is perfect, Mr. Joseph [founder and CEO of JetGet] said, for the person looking for something more luxurious than first class, but isn’t necessarily ready to charter an entire $70,000 private jet." You just want something nicer than first class, but  you don't want the whole damn plane. Story via The Observer.
  • And finally, if you are looking for a new home, well, Neverland Ranch is on sale, and it's only $100 million asking price at the moment. Story via VICE.

Booknote: Save the Deli

David Sax, Save the Deli: in Search of Perfect Pastrami, Crusty Rye, and the Heart of Jewish Delicatessen. Boston, MA: Houghton-Mifflin, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-15-10384-5.

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: food, travel, history.
Format: hardcover
Source: My local public library

This book is a bit of history and a bit of travel writing. The future of the Jewish delicatessen is an uncertain one. I found this book to be a bittersweet reading experience; it was also a book that me hungry at times as Mr. Sax is able to bring the food to life with good descriptive detail. Those passages were certainly among the best parts of the book. However, there are also some lengthy passages about places and travel that seemed a bit too long. Such passages left me wishing at times that the author would get to the point. Maybe a little editorial trimming of the fat was in order.

For me, the history of the Jewish deli, how it made it to the United States, how it rose and fell in New York City, rose and fell and rose again in other cities--there was the neat part. We get stories of the entrepreneurs and deli men who took a chance. Some stories are more interesting than others. They are all human interest stories. Some folks do well by sticking with tradition. Others innovated, and yet a few sell out only to find failure. A lesson does come through: hard work and high standards do thrive, even if a bit at a time.

The book is divided into three parts: New York, the rest of the United States, and the Deli Diaspora from Canada to Europe. In addition, there is an appendix of food and yiddish terms (useful for gentiles like me) and a list of the delis mentioned in the book (if you read the book, you will know which delis to visit and which to avoid).

The book was overall a bit of a slow read at times, but it did have some interesting parts. I feel I learned quite a bit, which is always a plus for me.

Given I liked it, I am giving it 3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Additional reading notes and comments:

The definition of schmaltz, which is a common ingredient in a good Jewish deli:

 ". . . or rendered fat, most often made by boiling the fat of geese, duck, or chickens" (23). 

Did New York invent the Jewish deli?

"So no, New York didn't invent Jewish deli. But New York provided the perfect incubator for the Jewish delicatessen to blossom into a vibrant symbol of Ashkenazi cookery and an outlet for the melding of Jewish food and American culture" (23). 

A small point of contention I found as I read. While it can be true that delis can be places to find comfort and even passionate love, the example of Meg Ryan the author mentions, from the film When Harry Met Sally, is not accurate. In the film (you can find the scene in YouTube if you must), Sally (Meg Ryan's character) is faking an orgasm in a deli to make a point to Harry (Billy Crystal's character). It really has little to do with food. It's a small detail, but it took away from the narrative. However, I am sure the author had to mention this infamous scene because it does take place in a deli (Katz's in New York City, where people to this day do sit at the same table and recreate the scene, not always with amusing results).

Again, when it comes to deli, New York City is not the "be-all:"

"Because while New York is the undisputed spiritual and historical center of the delicatessen world, only a fool believes that great Jewish deli is limited to its five boroughs" (74). 

Here is a question that came up as the author visited Detroit, but it is applicable to other places in the United States.

"As I drove past the chain restaurants that would become an everyday sight over the following two months, I wondered whether there was a place in America's suburban sprawl for something that wasn't new or shiny or different" (84).

I found interesting that in places like Detroit and Kansas City, Missouri, deli survives because black people like it, and they really like it a lot. It can be described as "Black/Jewish fusion" (112). However, keep in mind that to many people, deli is not exactly health food, and blacks do often like very rich foods. As the owner of New York Bakery and Delicatessen in Kansas City says,

"'Blacks don't have problems with eating cholesterol,' Holzmark said, as one of his regular clients ordered a towering Reuben sandwich at eleven in the morning. 'If you've grown up eating barbecue, pastrami is a drop in the bucket. They'll come up to the counter and say 'Man, lay that fat on my corned beef sandwich!'" (112). 

Oh, here is another detail folks do not often talk about: who really makes the food in those delis (hint: it is not Jews):

"In New York, deli workers were a mixture of Dominicans, Puerto Ricans, Arabs, and Chinese. In Florida, they hired Cubans, Haitians, and Central Americans. But overall, Mexicans were the predominant nationality" (159-160). 

A little more on how Mexican a "Jewish deli" can be:

"Mexican workers are picking the cucumbers in Mexico that are then shipped to Los Angeles, where they are pickled by Mexicans, shipped to a deli by a Mexican driver, unloaded by a Mexican stock boy, then paired with a sandwich full of pastrami that was smoked by Mexican workers in New York, from cattle that was slaughtered in Iowa, on bread that was kneaded and baked by Mexican workers in Detroit. Even the soda was stirred, canned, packed, and shipped by Mexicans" (160). 

And so we get the common American hypocrisy, exemplified in Goldman's Deli in Scottsdale, Arizona (though this happens pretty much anywhere, especially in places full of Republican teabaggers):

"Watching the golfers in Goldman's watching a Mexican invasion on Fox News, chowing down on crisp sweet cherry blintzes prepared by the deli's Mexican cook, it all struck me as incredibly hypocritical" (160, emphasis in original). 


"Mexican and Latin American workers had silently become the new Jewish mothers. Delicatessen fans nationwide owe them an overdue gracias" (160, emphasis in original).

The death of delis due to corporations and the fickle nature of Americans reflect more about them and their values:

"Exit off the freeway and pull into any town or small city.  You'll soon be assaulted by the bright signs of food service outlets found off highways everywhere; Applebee's, Friendly's, TGI Friday's, Cracker Barrel, Cheesecake Factory, Ruby Tuesdays, etc. . . .  But go a little father, as I always do, past the Wal-Mart and the Home Depot, and drive into the historic center of town. There, you'll likely find archeological traces of what was once the American Main Street: empty gas stations, graffiti-covered town halls, and the dusty facade of a forgotten family diner. No one walks the streets here. The people are all back where the lights are brighter, drawn like moths, while Main Street quietly perishes. In this way, the death of America's Jewish delicatessens isn't unique. The problems that affect Jewish institutions continue to be harbingers of what will eventually happen to everyone else. When it comes to where Americans eat, corporations have leveraged your appetite into stock options" (185). 

And that is truly tragic.

Finally, let me wrap up with a little something from around the world. Around the world we find deli in places like Hong Kong and in Havana; well, at least until Fidel Castro forced them out of business. Curiously, you won't find deli in Israel.

"You could not find a pastrami sandwich in Jerusalem if you had Mossad looking for you. Yes, matzo ball soup and other Ashkenazi dishes exist in the Holy Land, but they're pretty much cooked exclusively by grandmothers in private homes. The Israeli culinary landscape is dominated by Arabs. Hummus is everywhere, as is falafel. . . " (192).