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:

Booknote: The Names

Peter Milligan,, The Names. New York: Vertigo, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4012-5243-4.

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

The Names is, on the surface, a cabal of financiers, politicians, and other powerful figures. It turns out they are more sinister and use various means to control finance around the world. Kevin Walker is a member of this capitalist-criminal conspiracy. When he is found dead, Katya, his young wife refuses to believe it was a suicide. Joining Philip, his son who is also a high level math genius, she decides to find the truth no matter where it leads. The thing is The Names is experiencing infighting, and both sides want Philip, who they see as a key to countering the algorithms they use to control the markets, algorithms that have now gained a life of their own.

This is an excellent noir style thriller. If you like mysteries and thrillers, this is for you. If you enjoy stories about conspiracies, this is for you as well. Katya will have to keep her wits and use her martial arts skills to stay alive as she digs deeper. The story draws you in right away. I could not put this down once I started. As more layers are revealed, you just keep reading to see where it all leads. The comic blends suspense, thrills, action, and conspiracy seamlessly.

This volume collects the 9 issues series. It is great for libraries, but keep in mind it is an adult title. It is suggested for mature readers. This is a title I would add to my personal collection.

5 out of 5 stars.

Titles with similar appeal:

  • The 100 Bullets series. 
  • The X-Files, due to some of the conspiracy elements. 
  • Wanted, the comic, not so much the film. 

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

A few treats for Thanksgiving 2015

Well, the holiday season is once again here. I will be celebrating Thanksgiving at home in peace with the Better Half and our daughter home from college. Yes, I do mean at home. We do not go shopping on Thanksgiving; we will be happily and quietly spending time together and being grateful for being together and able to share a meal. For my four readers, here are some links of various pieces of information and trivia for Thanksgiving with some brief thoughts and comments on my part. May you all have a safe and happy holiday, and if you choose to drink, please do so in moderation.
As always, comments are always welcome. In fact, I will be asking a few questions this time around, so if you feel moved, please comment.

  • Turkey is the main event in a traditional Thanksgiving dinner. But say you do not want to or cannot cook a turkey for whatever reason. Well, here are 5 turkey alternatives you could try. Story via Wise Bread.  In our family, the last few years we have gone off the beaten path with things like enchiladas. This year we are taking it a bit Italian with a nice lasagna. Part of the reason is for variety, and another reason is because we like those leftovers better. How about you folks, do you folks always have turkey? If not, what do you have?
  • If you are cooking the "traditional" Thanksgiving meal, I know that timing can be a challenge. How many hours do you have to thaw the turkey? Then stuff, then cook it in the oven, so on.  Via NPR, here is a "Day by Day to What To Cook Ahead and When." Some stuff you could have done last Saturday and Sunday, but otherwise, you still have time. 
  • And speaking of timing, here is a handy chart to know how long you need to cook that bird. Via Incredible Things
  • You need some sides to go with that meal. Have you considered a salad? Here are 27 salad choices you could consider. Via BuzzFeed.
  • Ever wonder why the heck we eat sweet potatoes with marshmallows on Thanksgiving? USA Today has a nice piece explaining the origin of that and the deal with the can of cranberry sauce. Hint: it was not the Pilgrims.
  • Are you one of those folks who deep fries the turkey? One of my brothers used to do that. If you do, here are some safety tips to keep in mind from the U.S. Fire Administration. 
  • Perhaps you like to cook your turkey and a few of the sides by taking a walk on the wild side. I just found a series of videos on how to cook your turkey, your green bean casserole, and a couple of other things using weed (yes, that weed). The videos are actually quite visual and easy to follow. If you live in one those states where marijuana is legal, this is an option. Story via COED
  • Here is a feel good to make you feel a little warm and fussy. This restaurant offers anyone who walks in, no questions asked, a free meal on Thanksgiving. So whether it's a homeless person, some poor folks, or just someone who may be alone, you can get some good food and fellowship here. Story via The Washington Post.
  • A common problem with the "traditional" Thanksgiving meal, and other meals at times, is the issue of food waste. This tradition can and does generate a lot of waste. So, to help with that a bit here are some apps to help with things like education on waste, tracking waste, and even tips for storing food. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • And finally, a reminder that however you celebrate, the main reason is really to be grateful for what we have and for those in our lives. It does not matter whether you express your gratitude in religious terms or heathen terms, just take some time to be grateful. And if need yet another reason to express gratitude, well, it may also help your health. Story via NPR.

Monday, November 23, 2015

Booknote: New Suicide Squad, Vol.1

Sean Ryan, New Suicide Squad, Volume 1: Pure Insanity. New York: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401252380. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

In case you are not familiar with the premise, the U.S. government creates a team of supervillains to do missions the government nor the heroes want nothing to do with. You could say they are a sort of very dysfunctional Dirty Dozen. Being villains, they are not exactly team players, but that's the least of the concerns.

The volume, which collects issues 1-8 of the series, contains two stories. The first story is a mission to Russia that soon goes awry. For one, Amanda Waller, their handler, gets a new power hungry boss who has no clue what is going on or how things really work. Two, the Russians were prepared. The squad will have to really rally on this one. The second story is a mission to China to destroy a meta-human production facility.

The government officials, mainly Waller, explain that though the squad rarely completes a mission as planned, the higher ups like it that way because it adds realism. Some may say this is a silly or bad concept. I would ask those folks if they have seen how the U.S. government works (or not) today. Just imagine our real U.S. government handling something like the Suicide Squad; hell, they can't even handle things like supplying weapons to their allies (for a real life instance of serious U.S. government incompetence, see the book Arms and the Dudes, which I recently reviewed). Sage is your typical right wing macho asshole, who in the end gets his ass handed to him by Waller. The Secretary, Sage's boss in charge of the project, is your typical bureaucrat. Waller is the one competent employee trying to make the program work, a program she knows can work but boy is it challenging. In this regard, the story is nothing terribly new.

As for characters, I hear some complain that Harley Quinn goes from very insane to somewhat lucid. I'd say that works here; insanity can go from very crazy to moments of clarity and lucidity. The rivalry between her and Joker's Daughter, while expected, does turn into a bit of slapstick at times with Black Manta as their reluctant referee. 

I read this in one sitting during bedtime. It has a fast pace from the beginning, and the pace remains fast throughout. There is plenty of action as well. I will admit that Sage's character was fairly obnoxious, but in spite of that the comic is pretty entertaining. It also has good colorful art, and in addition, there is a variant covers gallery included.

I am sure with the upcoming film there will be interest in these comics. Thus this series would make a good selection for libraries with graphic novel and comics collections. In the end, I liked it, but it was  just another comic, not terribly memorable. However, it does have some potential, so I may seek out the rest of the series to see if it improves or not.

3 out 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Batman, Volume 7: Endgame

Scott Snyder, Batman, Volume 7: Endgame. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401256890.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"For years, the Joker has regarded Batman with a sick, twisted love, thinking that one could never exist without the other. But that's all changed. Now the Clown Prince of Crime is done playing.

He's going to kill Batman. And he's going to do it using those who Batman loves the most: the Justice League

The Joker returns to Gotham City with a deadlier agenda than ever before, using every tool at his disposal to finally kill the Dark Knight. That includes turning Batman's allies against him in the bloodiest brawl that he's ever had to survive."

This is a series that I can say little without spoiling it for other readers because that ending is just. . . wow, but it is also an ending that leaves you with a bit of emptiness. If you have been following Scott Snyder's run on this title, recently collected in Joker: Death of the Family, then you are reaching the end here in Endgame.

The story starts a bit convoluted as the Justice League is attacking Batman. We gradually find out there is a toxin involved, so we may think initially this is the work of The Scarecrow, but soon we realize it is not. In addition to dealing with Justice League, there are other serious challenges Batman faces as the clues lead back to the old Arkham Asylum, where he will discover Joker is back, and he means business now to kill Batman. This is a complex comic with a lot of twists and turns that gets more tense as you get deeper into it. Then it explodes in that ending, and it leaves you there.

In the end, I really liked it, but given the ending, I have mixed feelings about it as I wonder now what the author and publisher will do next. We'll just have to wait and see I suppose. If you have been collecting this series for your library, you will want to have this title.

The volume collects single issues 35-40 of the Batman title. It is part of DC's The New 52. 

4 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, November 20, 2015

Signs the Economy is Bad: November 20, 2016 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.  

The big even this week were the Paris attacks. Naturally, when bad things happen, some people decide it's time to make some money. So, in a special segment, let's see how the attacks mean some folks will actually do well in the bad economy:

Now, as sad as the events in Paris are, the news keep rolling on, and the bad economy is still going strong. Here are some more signs that the economy is bad:

Booknote: Pawn Shop

Joey Esposito, Pawn Shop. Z2 Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781940878041.

(Citation note: publisher location unknown. Even checking their website yields no result, and if you go on their Facebook page, you actually have to request their address. Apparently, it is easier to find Al Qaeda. Joke aside, they do put out good stuff).

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: slice of life, urban tales, New York City
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

From the book's description:

"Pawn Shop is an original graphic novel about the intertwining lives of four strangers in the ecosystem of New York City, connected by the streets they walk on and the people they touch. Following a lonely widower, a struggling Long Island Railroad employee, a timid hospice nurse, and a drug-addled punk, Pawn Shop explores the big things that separate us and the little moments that inexplicably unite us."

This was a sweet and moving story of four people in New York City. Though they may seem to be as distant and separate as four people can be, Esposito shows us how their lives are connected and intertwined in ways they themselves do not realize. The result is the picture we see of our common humanity, and how often, small acts of compassion can have a large impact on others, whether we realize it or not.

This is a simple comic with simple but very nice art. However, the comic packs quite a bit of emotion, and it has a bittersweet element to it that stays with you after you read it. This is one I definitely recommend. It is a title for older teens and adults, so keep that in mind. I do recommend it for libraries with graphic novel collections. For folks who like reading contemporary stories and slice of life tales and may want to try out a graphic novel, this can be a good option. In the end, it is one I really liked.

4 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: Lobo, Volume 1

Cullen Bunn, Lobo, Volume 1: Targets. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2015. ISBN: 9781401254834. 

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: superheroes
Format: e-book galley
Source" NetGalley

This is part of DC's New 52 series, and it is a reboot of the Lobo series. First thing the author does in this new series is have the "new" Lobo kill off the "old" Lobo. This is explained as the "real" guy killing the impostor who had been making his fortune with the famous name. It's a bit of a stretch to put it mildly; if you search other reviews online, you find many readers were not pleased by this ploy. However, the scene passes quickly. From there, the real story begins.

Lobo is sprung out of prison and hired to kill a series of targets; the element the targets share in common is they all want to destroy Earth. Now the last Czarnian has no love for Earth, but as a bounty hunter, he honors his contract. Between scenes of him hunting the targets, we get glimpses of Lobo's past. Thus, the story's structure goes back and forth between the past and the present.

Putting aside the somewhat ridiculous opening, this is a pretty good actioneer. I will grant that, as other more purist readers have pointed out, this new Lobo is a bit of a pretty boy. Yet he still carries out his missions efficiently and ruthlessly. Another small annoyance was the team from Earth he is forced to work with. This felt like another contrived plot element; it did not work as well. Overall, the art is pretty good, so there is that.

In the end, I liked it, but at times the story felt contrived, a bit forced. I may or not pick up the next one. For fans of the old character, this is really a complete overhaul. Your mileage may vary in how you like the new one or not. I would say this is a very optional title for libraries to purchase.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Booknote: Battle Pope, Volume 2

Robert Kirkman, Battle Pope, Volume 2: Mayhem. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2010. ISBN: 978-1-58240-652-7.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor, heroes
Format: paperback
Source: I bought this (along with the next two volumes) at Half Price Books

The art is still good overall in this series. The story is fun with plenty of action and jokes. However, I did not find it as good as the first volume. The momentum from volume 1 seems to have gone down a bit.

Pope now is settling down as a local hero. He is also adapting to having Jesus H. Christ as a roommate. The problem is that Jesus can be quite an annoying roommate that keeps Pope from getting tail and does not keep up his half of the chores. In fact, for readers, at times Jesus can be a bit of annoying character as well. Meanwhile, Hellcorp may be in shambles, but they are not totally out. They want revenge against Pope, but it will not be easy.

Overall, this was a light and quick read, with emphasis on light. The plot is fun, but it is fairly thin. Still, it was fun enough to keep me reading the series. In the end, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Spinglish

Henry Beard and Christopher Cerf, Spinglish: the Definitive Dictionary of Deliberately Deceptive Language. New York: Blue Rider Press, 2015. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor, reference, dictionaries
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

As the book's cover states, this book helps you "succeed in business (and politics and everything else) without really lying." This dictionary is basically your guide to deceptive language and spin for when you need to lie, but you technically can't be caught lying. This is a book where you will laugh at times at the creativity of the spin, and other times you will just be amazed by how those in power shamelessly use language to deceive and still technically not really lie; we are talking some serious stretching of the truth at times.

The book is set up in two parts. It is a bilingual dictionary if you will. One part has the deceptive words with a translation into regular English. The other part is from regular English to spin language. So when you hear business men and politicians use terms like downsizing (i.e. people are getting laid off), you will know what they really mean. The authors do provide sourcing for the definitions as much as possible telling you where a word was first used or who spun that particular phrase. So, even though this is meant to be a humorous work, it actually serves a very serious work on modern spin language.

This is one I strongly liked, and one I will add to my reference shelf as soon as I get a chance. I highly recommend it for all libraries; this should be on libraries' reference shelves, and I am sure it will make a good resource for discussions in politics, business, communications, and other areas.

5 out 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Monday, November 16, 2015

Booknote: C.O.W.L., Volume 1

Kyle Higgins, C.O.W.L., Volume 1: Principles of Power. Berkeley, CA: Image Comics, 2014. ISBN: 9781632151117.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: heroes, detectives and mystery, noir
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

This has been a pleasant discovery. After World War II, heroes in Chicago unionize and set up a contract with the city. It is now 1962. The last of the supervillains is defeated. The city, as it often happens in these stories, gets complacent and figures heroes are not needed anymore. So the contract negotiations between the city and the union get tense, and new threats are emerging.

This volume was a great read and a good start for this series. Readers of works like Watchmen will likely enjoy the combination of crime thriller, noir, and action this comic offers. C.O.W.L. faces threats from outside and conspiracies from within. There is a lot of intrigue for the mystery readers. As the layers of depth are revealed, the plot thickens. I was drawn in right away. Characters have various motives, and they are well developed by the author. The question arises: how far will Geoffry Warner, the founder of the Chicago Organized Workers League, go to preserve the organization?

Add excellent art to this great story, and you've got a must read work. The art really suits the grittiness of a city like Chicago. I think it also reinforces that this is a story taking place in an older time, the 1960s, an era when the Cold War and the Red Scare were happening.

This is definitely a volume to pick up, and it is one I will add to my personal collection.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Punk Rock and Trailer Parks

Derf, Punk Rock and Trailer Parks. San Jose, CA: SLG, 2008. ISBN: 1593621353. 

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor, punk rock, memoir (fictionalized)
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

In the late 1970s, punk rock was making a scene, but by the end of the decade, the scene was declining. This counterculture music gives the soundtrack for Otto "The Baron" Pizcok, a senior at Richford High School. Richford is a small town near Akron, Ohio where Otto and his friends live and can't wait to leave. Otto, being a senior with a car, offers to drive a couple of friends to a punk concert, and from there, he joins the scene as well.

The story of a small town and the residents of a trailer park is one of many stories that a lot of folks can relate to. Derf really evokes the time period and the teen angst of being caught with few options as the local manufacturing is on decline and there is very little else to do. We also get to see the various punk rock acts that make it to the area, acts like The Ramones who are in high demand in England and Europe but are barely known in the U.S. Derf also captures the angst and experience of being a nerdy kid in high school, but Otto, even quoting Tolkien, embraces his personal of "The Baron" and goes from outcast to hero.

This is a very evocative comic. I caught the tail end of this musical era as a teen, but still the high school scene presented here was one I could relate to. Derf's comic combines humor with some moving moments, all brought together with a punk soundtrack. Derf even offers a suggested soundtrack to listen to as you read. The soundtrack is listed in the book's introduction. If you lived in a small town, especially in a trailer park, odds are good you will see a bit of yourself as well. That strong evocation is a strength of the comic that, as Derf says, "this is fiction. But it COULD have happened. . . ".

Also, Otto in many ways is prophetic, and he has a line that bears remembering, especially in light of how events and history have turned out by now:

"The bitter truth is we'll be downwind of the great cultural fart of the baby boom our whole lives." 

In addition, if you do not know about punk much, this comic will inspire you to seek it out. Derk does list the performers as well as critic Lester Bangs, in the back of the book. A sad detail for me is that all the performers listed are dead by now, and The Bank, the Akron, OH building that was the club, is no more. But thanks to Derf we can remember.

This is a volume I would definitely add to my personal collection. Derf's art is in top shape, and it brings the story to life. It is highly recommended for libraries. However, for public libraries, this is an older teen to adult title as it does contain some nudity and sexual situations.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Friday, November 13, 2015

Booknote: Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure

Matthew Algeo, Harry Truman's Excellent Adventure: the True Story of a Great American Road Trip. Chicago: Chicago Review Press, 2009. ISBN: 9781556527777. 

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: travel narratives, biographies, US history, pop culture
Format: hardcover
Source: My local public library

This was a sweet and warm book. Though the book is mainly about a road trip Truman took from Independence, MO to the East Coast and back, you get a lot more in terms of history and trivia. The book's narrative alternates between Harry's story and the author modern day journey tracing Harry's route and, as much as possible, staying in and visiting the same places Mr. and Mrs. Truman visited. The result is a pretty good picture of the 1950s United States and how it has changed over time, sometimes for the better, other times not so much.

Today we have a certain vision of what former U.S. Presidents are supposed to do. But it was very different in Truman's day: he did not even get a presidential pension (that would eventually change, but for a while he was barely making it). He was also the last president to travel as a common citizen after being president (no, no Secret Service protection neither. That change would come later too for other presidents). Though he did his best to travel incognito, people often recognized him, and he remained gracious through it all. His journey was not easy; the interstate highways did not exist yet. So it was a long journey with some hazards, but it was also a great way to see the country as it was.

This is an interesting and entertaining read that also teaches a few things about U.S. history. Keep in mind, the Cold War was getting started at this time. As Algeo visits locations today, sometimes you get a sad feeling of something good now gone, such as certain restaurants, of days gone by. But at times, you also see that progress was made.

Fans of presidential histories and biographies will probably enjoy this book. Fans of road trips and travel narratives will enjoy it as well. It's a good selection for public libraries. Some academic libraries may find it of interest as well, especially if they collect works in popular culture. This was one I really liked.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * 

Additional reading notes:

On Harry Truman returning to civilian life:

"Harry Truman was the last president to leave the White House and return to something resembling a normal life. And in the summer of 1953 he did something millions of ordinary Americans do all the time, but something no former president had ever done before-- and none has done since. He took a road trip, unaccompanied by Secret Service agents, bodyguards, or attendants of any kind" (2). 

On Harry not having a presidential pension:

"But by 1932, just 15 percent of American workers were eligible for private pensions. Not until the Social Security Act was signed by FDR in 1935 were most workers guaranteed at least some income after retirement.

As a government employee, however, Harry Truman did not qualify for Social Security. And he'd left the Senate too soon to qualify for a congressional pension.

His only income was that army pension" (18). 

He had served in World War I; that is where the army pension came from. Today we take things like presidential pensions and social security for granted. And today some people grouse about presidents having pensions, but back in the day the idea was to assure former presidents did not end up destitute after their service to the United States. Further, while had a rented office, he paid for it as well as two staff members. It would be much later when former presidents would get an allowance for things like an office. Also, "making a living" out of being a former president was not common. Some former presidents back then took jobs in boards, etc., but being a "celebrity" as they are now was not really set yet.

Keep also in mind that outside big cities, hotels were uncommon. Motels were just starting to rise; the first one was opened in 1925 in California. Even then, quality varied greatly. Roads were not that much better. It was not until after World War I that the federal government started financing state road building. Here is a little trivia:

"In 1926 federal and state transportation officials organized this patchwork as numbered U.S. Highways, with east-west roads given even numbers from north to south, and north-south roads given odd numbers east to west (hence Highway 1 runs from Fort Kent, Maine, to Key West Florida)" (89). 

By the way, even presidential book signings were not established in full back then:

"The ex-presidential book signing is a ritual begun by Harry Truman. In a hotel ballroom in Kansas City on November 2, 1955, Harry autographed four thousand copies of his memoirs. According to his publisher, it was the first time an ex-president had 'agreed to sit down and sign copies of his book'" (123). 

By the way, Harry's book signing pace was a bit more friendly and relaxed than ex-presidential book signings today with all sorts of rules and restrictions.

Truman hated how television could turn politicians into actors, but he saw early on television's significance. In 1943, at a time when few people even knew what a television was, he had this to say:

"It is true that there are many technical and commercial difficulties that must be overcome. But the day cannot be far off when our homes, schools, offices, and automobiles will be equipped with television sets. We will see news and sporting events while they are actually happening" (157). 

Given we have cars with Internet capabilities and screens, I'd say Harry's idea of TVs in cars is here.

* * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Tie Me Up

 F. Leonora Solomon, ed., Tie Me Up: a Binding Collection of Erotic Tales. Riverdale, NY: Riverdale Avenue Books, 2015. ISBN: 9781626011748.

Genre: erotica
Subgenre: short fiction, BDSM, bondage
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

The book's introduction is short, and it sets up this collection of 19 stories. The stories are written by seasoned veterans as well as new authors, making for a nice mix. The collection then opens with the story "Knock Three Times." In this story, the female protagonist decides to find a perfect lover from two finalists. She will meet the two men in a hotel room, at separate times, have a bondage session with them, and then keep the one that pleases her the most. It is a deliciously enticing story with an interesting twist at the end. The story is a good opening to the anthology that sets up the mood nicely.

Another story with a nice twist was "Three Knots." This one took a while to build up, but once it got to it, it was nice. For April, "trying  something kinky and out of her comfort zone was just what April needed to feel like a new woman" (57). That also summarizes some of the stories in the collection where characters take a chance on something new and find pleasant rewards.

Overall, this was a nice anthology with a good selection of stories. Taking chances and new experiences are common themes in the collection. The stories have nice, slow build ups, and the focus is on couples in various situations from the familiar with kink to those starting out. The tales are steamy to various degrees, some more than others. The book strives to show kink and bondage as good parts of romance, often as a loving element of a couple's passion. It succeeds in that regard. This is a volume that in the end I really liked. I have to say it does have some stories I would be happy to share with The Better Half, and that is a good thing. This is a new publisher for me, and so far, so good.

4 out of 5 stars.

The book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenge:

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Booknote: The Evangelicals You Don't Know

Tom Krattenmaker,  The Evangelicals You Don't Know: Introducing the Next Generation of Christians. Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2013. ISBN: 9781442215443.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: politics, religion, United States, evangelicals
Format: hardback
Source: My college library

I started reading this at a time when evangelicals have not been looking good in the U.S., if they ever did. The Kim Davis soap opera in Kentucky was just breaking out when I started reading the book. That same weekend I started, one of those preachers going door to door decided to make a stop at our apartment, and he got a bit more pushy than I am willing to tolerate over wanting me to go attend his church (I am very happy in my heathenism, thank you). And to top it off this month, electoral results in Houston defeating their fairness ordinance and the Republican right wing victory in Kentucky where the new governor is promising to dismantle Kynect and his defense of Kim Davis. So the last thing I wanted to be reading was an apology for evangelicals, which is what this book is at the end of the day. When I picked up the book, it seemed a timely selection. After all, Right Wing Christians in the US, including evangelicals, are getting more loud and obnoxious in the United States (this is not brand new, but the Obama presidency really has them and the tea baggers riled up). Part of their problem is that they are no longer enjoying a monopoly in the United States. As the author writes,

". . .American evangelicals increasingly find themselves and their faith movement in the new millennium: sharing space, influence, power, and prerogatives with people of other religions, and of no religion" (3). 

In other words, those of us of heathen conviction or other religions want our space and rights as well, and we are not taking any crap from evangelicals or any other right wing Christians, or at least we are not willing to just roll over. Naturally, this ticks off the evangelicals and fundamentalists.

What the book argues, or tries to argue, is that modern, mostly likely young and hip evangelicals are not marching in lockstep with their elders, showing more charity and compassion. I remain skeptical on that claim, and after reading the book, I am less convinced. For instance, calling outsiders "unsavory" is not going to win you allies:

"You'll find Jesus lovers refusing to march in the lockstep formation of the culture wars and, while lessening their devotion to Jesus by not a single jot or tittle, forming partnerships and friendships with unsavory types like liberals, atheists, and gays-- people whom their evangelical elders, like the Pharisees of Jesus' time, would only shun" (4). 

To be honest, those evangelicals seem pretty "unsavory" to me, not the kind of folk I would want to associate with. As for getting shunned by them, I won't lose any sleep over it.

In the end, the book is a series of highlights of "new evangelicals." To sum it up, these are often younger evangelicals who are basically finally figuring out that "being an arrogant right-wing nut job" (8) is not exactly nice, and it alienates other people. So there are a few evangelicals who defy the (well earned to be honest) stereotype. Big whoop dee doo! The author, attempting to deflect some very well deserved criticism of those people, asks,

"Why should the emerging subculture of evangelicals get all this positive attention--all this ink-- for something many other religious people figured out long ago?" (13). 

That is the crucial question, and it is one that summarizes why this book really does not work. So they are not being assholes. That's nice. They now deserve a cookie for finally figuring it out? What I want to know is what took them so long to figure it out. And to be honest, hoisting Rick Warren, who is not exactly friendly to some of those "unsavory" people, as one of the new evangelical examples does not exactly further the case.

As the author states, it can be good to be acquainted with the new evangelicals as "they could be your next best friends for the fight-- for the environment, for the poverty-stricken, for the enslaved and abused" (14). In the end, this is a book basically to help you get to know your enemy. Given the damage evangelicals overall have done and continue to do in this country, I am not ready to just smile and act as if nothing happened.

Despite my reservations, the book is a must have for religious school libraries. Also, public libraries with strong evangelical communities may want to consider it (however, this depends on the type of evangelical, do you have more of the new ones or more of the old guard in your community?). Otherwise, this book is an optional selection. For secular progressives, the author seeks to, as he states it, to respectfully challenge their assumptions. I do not see too much convincing happening in that regard given all other evidence evangelicals offer daily for their bad reputation.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: The Readers' Advisory Guide to Historical Fiction

Jennifer S. Baker, The Readers' Advisory Guide to Historical Fiction. Chicago: ALA Editions, 2015. ISBN: 9780838911655. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: readers' advisory, library science
Format: trade paperback
Source: My local public library

I read this in the interest of keeping up with my skills as librarian and readers' adviser. This is an ALA book, so it is fairly similar to other RA books that ALA publishes. I will admit that historical fiction is not a genre that I usually read. For the most part, if I want to read history, I go read a real nonfiction history book. However, I get that some readers find historical fiction appealing, so I read this in order to learn more about the genre and to have some knowledge in case someone comes asking me about it. In addition, I discovered a book or two I have enjoyed in the past such as The Name of the Rose and The Killer Angels that could fall in this genre. From reading this book, I learned that historical fiction can be a diverse and very flexible genre.

Still, the book's text is a bit on the dry side compared to other guides like this I have read. It reads a bit much like a textbook. So while I appreciated the learning, it's basically a book to consult now and then. For librarians with little knowledge of the genre, it does provide a good start.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Some additional reading notes:

From the RA series introduction, what a book in this series is designed to do:

"They help advisors become familiar with fiction genres and nonfiction subjects, especially those they don't personally read. They provide ready-made lists of 'need to know' elements such as key authors and read-alikes, as well as tips on how to keep up with trends and important new books and titles" (ix). 

At its most basic, this book accomplishes just that.

How "historical fiction" is defined in the book:

"For our purposes, historical fiction is defined as novels (and sometimes short stories) with settings from a historical period at least fifty years  prior to the work's publication or occurring before the author's memory" (1).

A resource to check out mentioned in the book:

What can you do if you can't "figure it out on the spot"?

"I try very hard to find something on the shelf for readers to take home and then offer to send them a personalized reading list. This buys me more time, perhaps a day or two, to come up with more suggestions. To create a reading list for a specific reader, I make a list of about five suitable titles; write short annotations, including reasons I think he or she will like each one; then send the reader that document. Personalized reading lists are time consuming but can be a good option to fall back on when you're flummoxed. A good strategy to prevent going blank is training yourself to be more a more versatile readers' advisor. Read several benchmark books in your least familiar genres and know which reference tools can help you in each (24-25). 

Those last two sentences above are why I read books like this one, to build up a bit of my RA knowledge in areas I am not as strong in.

Something to keep in mind:

"Subjects usually touched on in historical fiction don't always match Library of Congress subject headings, and it can be tricky to find good topical historical fiction quickly" (117).

A pro tip:

"Consider making your own subject book lists for those topics you are repeatedly asked about as part of your historical fiction readers' advisory preparedness training!" (117).

On the question of "can you really learn history from historical fiction?" The author says yes, but up to a point. People who read in this genre often say,

". . .that they can learn history painlessly by reading historical fiction" (137). 

However, even if those books are historically accurate,  you can miss details and elements of cultural experience and a historical time. Personally, this is a big reason I prefer to just read history, but I can see how for many folks this genre can be a start.

The author then argues that for RA in this genre, it is important to engage readers with works that have accurate historicity. In addition,

"Readers' advisors should, however, point out the advantages of reading nonfiction material to augment the readers' learning in areas that fiction doesn't pursue" (137). 

Keep in mind that you offer, suggest, and let the reader take it from there.

Some pro tips on how to build your RA reputation as a resource for others to get reading suggestions:

  • "Host author readings and events at your library.
  • Run several book discussion groups at your library and/or in the community.
  • Write regular book reviews for your local paper and library newsletter.
  • Post your own staff picks on your website and put your picture by it" (223). 
Using Twitter for on-the-spot RA also works.

"Readers' advisors must take advantage of social media as a way to reach readers and increase community awareness of our libraries' relevance" (223).

The author also suggests for readers' advisors to keep track of what they read and even have reading plans. For me, this is why I write about what I read in my journal and write a few reviews online to share. I do enjoy sharing books with others. On making a reading plan:

"To create a personal reading plan for historical fiction, identify your genre weaknesses, and make a plan to familiarize yourself with the best titles in each area of interest. Your personal reading plan can be as simple or complex as you like" (237). 

That's applicable to any genre by the way. It also means you may read outside your comfort zone, and that is OK.

* * * *

This book qualifies for the following 2015 Reading Challenges:

Short booknotes on graphic novels 23

For this compilation, I found some volumes of Garfield in my local public library, so I went on a bit of a reading binge. I also have a couple of small Star Wars titles, which also come from my local public library. The TMNT title came from my college library.

Jim Davis, Garfield Takes His Licks. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. ISBN: 9780345525871.

This is a re-issue edition of the 24th collection; the original was published in 1993. Like other collections, it is entertaining and witty. We get Garfield being funny as he kicks Odie off the table or "does" lunch with Jon's goldfish.  Though by now these strips are older, they still hold  up very well. 4 out of 5 stars.

Jim Davis, Garfield Will Eat for Food. New York: Ballantine Books, 2009. ISBN: 9780345491763.

Moving a bit further ahead, this is the 48th collection. Jon continues on his dating misadventures, but the breakthrough finally happens. Jon gets kissed by Liz the veterinarian, who as it turns out, well Jon has grown on her. The whole scene in the restaurant is quite amusing. As for Garfield, he is just as surprised. 4 out of 5 stars.

Jim Davis, Garfield Souped Up. New York: Ballantine Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780345545633.

The fun continues in the 57th collection of the series. For me, these books are a comfort read. When I need a few smiles, a laugh or two, and just to be amused, these books are a good option. In this volume, among other things, Garfield has to put up with Mrs. Feeny, who is not too keen of him messing in her yard. Also, he keeps making friends with the mice, and while this is not new, it certainly is amusing. Mouse catching is for other less lazy cats. 4 out of 5 stars.

Jim Davis, Garfield Goes to His Happy Place. New York: Ballantine Books, 2014. ISBN: 9780345526021.

For the most part, the happy place is any place with food in it. Jon continues dating Liz, which is a nice touch, and I hope the author keeps it down the road. This volume had a lot of Christmas season comic strips, so it was a nice read to get me warmed up for the holidays. This is the 58th collection in the series. 4 out of 5 stars.

Jim Davis, Garfield Left Speechless: Comics without Words. New York: Ballantine Books, 2012. ISBN: 9780345530585.

This one is a little different. It is basically the comic strip without words. It is a selection of Garfield comic strips that have a lot of visual elements. Basically, you get strips that are good without words because the visual gags and jokes are perfectly clear. According to the book description, this is a great book for kids who cannot read yet, and I have to agree. For those younger kids, this is a nice alternative to many of those other books for children who can't read yet that are not very substantial. Those kids can feel they are reading a "big people" book. Plus, us "big people" can still have some fun as well. In the end, it's fun for all ages. 4 out of 5 stars.

Jeremy Barlow,, Star Wars, The Clone Wars: The Colossus of Destiny. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2010. ISBN: 9781595824165.

This is part of their series for young readers. The art is much more simple and basic, sometimes lacking in detail. Overall, the art works. The story is that Mace Windu travels to Simocadia to prevent the planet from falling into the hands of the Separatists. He has a long friendship with the people there, a friendship that will be severely tested as the rulers resist getting help from the Republic, and instead move to awaken the Ardana Shadex, an ancient mechanized giant that could make things worse. This was a light and quick read. Definitely a good one for children who are fans of Star Wars. 3 out of 5 stars.

Mike W. Barr,, Star Wars, The Clone Wars: The Starcrusher Trap. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse, 2011. ISBN: 9781595828316.

From the book description: "In The Starcrusher Trap, the Separatists unleash a terrifying new weapon on Republic-held systems - an enormous starship, the Starcrusher, is destroying every ship sent against it! Yoda agrees to a risky plan to stop the Starcrusher, and assembles a Jedi strike force that includes Obi-Wan Kenobi, Mace Windu, and Ki-Adi-Mundi. Too late, the Jedi realize that the Starcrusher mission has become a trap - one specifically designed to kill Jedi!" I found this one a bit better than the previous book reviewed above. I think it caught the feel of the animated series it draws from a bit better in terms of story and art. Again, a very good selection for young readers. 4 out of 5 stars.

Kevin B. Eastman and Peter Laird, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Ultimate Collection, Volume 2. San Diego, CA; IDW, 2011. ISBN: 9781613770887.

Some of what I said about the first volume of this series in terms of overall series quality applies here.This volume collects more of the early work by Eastman and Laird. It is black and white with some color covers. As before, the oversized format makes for a great reading experience. This volume collects issues 8-11 of the Mirage Studios run plus three micro-series one-shots (one each for Michelangelo, Donatello, and Leonardo; Raphael's one-shot was featured in volume 1). It also has excellent annotations from the authors after each issue, which make for a great bonus. If you enjoy learning how the comics were crafted, the annotations are a great read. A must have for fans. 5 out 5 stars.

These books qualify for the following 2015 Reading Challenges: