Friday, May 27, 2016

Recalling books I was required to read in school

My prompt for this is this blog post at Que Leer on "Lecturas obligatorias en el mundo" (post in Spanish). The post presents a selective list of required school readings around the world (mostly in the West). As I look over the list, I realize that back in Puerto Rico my required reading in high school was very diverse as I can say I have read at least one book from every country listed in that post. Allow me to list the books from the list that I had to read with some commentary; one or two I have actually read on my own. I will list them by country as the post did. For some works that may be a bit lesser known to my English language readers, I am adding some informational links to help out.

  • Books read in Spain: 
    • Antonio Machado. Though I did not recall reading his full Antología Poética, I did read some of his poetry when studying Spanish Peninsular literature in high school. 
    • Don Quijote. This was my high school senior year required reading. In fact, I wrote my high school senior thesis paper on Don Quijote.
    • Pío Baroja. I did not read his El árbol de la ciencia, but again, I had to read short selections of his for that same Spanish Peninsular literature class. 
    • El Lazarillo de Tormes. Yep, same class as those others. 
    • I was not required to read Lord of the Flies (which apparently some Spaniards had to read, in translation) in my English classes nor in translation. 
    • El sí de las niñas. Read this play by Leandro Fernández de Moratín in that same Spanish Peninsular literature class. I remember hating it. 
    • La casa de Bernarda Alba. Ditto on which class I read this for. Also hated this play by
      Federico García Lorca.
    • Fuenteovejuna by Lope de Vega.  Lope is basically revered as English readers revere Shakespeare. I had to read this and some of his other plays throughout high school. In fact, if any of his plays were being performed in Puerto Rico at the time, schools taking field trips to see one was a common experience. 
    • I do not recall reading La Familia de Pascual Duarte by Camilo José Cela. However, it was a common required reading in some grades, so I may have just caught a lucky break. 
    • Pretty much every young student in Puerto Rican schools reads Platero y yo sooner or later. 
  • Books read in France. I have read Molière, a little Voltaire and Rimbaud, but it was not until I got to college. Have not read the others listed. 
  • Books read in the United States. I did not read any of the ones listed in high school. I did read a series of U.S. classics in English from the United States as part of my English classes. Heck, I was reading Mark Twain in 6th grade. 
  • Books read in Italy. I did not read any of the ones listed in school. However, I have read The Decameron; The Divine Comedy I did read in my high school years.  
  • Books from Germany. I did not read any of the ones listed in high school, but I read Goethe later on in college. 
  • Books read in Mexico.
    • I have not read Aura, but I have read other works by Carlos Fuentes. I probably had a short selection or two by him as required reading back then. 
    • Cien años de soledad. I read this on my own, and it is my all time favorite novel, which I make a point of rereading every few years or so. This novel is often seen as too complex to read in high school. So usually shorter works by Gabriel García Márquez are favored including La hojarasca (Leaf Storm. I had to read this one), Relato de un náufrago (not his best work if you ask me. I remember hating it in high school), and some other short fiction selections. Teachers back then had some leeway in choosing, but this author was pretty much mandatory.  
    • The Odyssey. I read this on my own back in high school. I am guessing they read it in translation in Mexico at some point or another.  I initially read it in Spanish translation. Since then, I have read it in English, the latest time it was the Robert Fagles translation. 
  • Books  read in Venezuela: 
    • Pedro Páramo by Juan Rulfo I was required to read in high school. I did not quite get it back then, in part due to the whole deal of narrative between the town in the time of
      Páramo and the later time when the town is a ghost town, and the protagonist talks to dead townspeople. I think if I gave it a try today I might have a bit more success. 
    • María by Jorge Isaacs was required reading. Some romantic novel I remember hating. Actually, a lot of that literature I read in Spanish happened to be romantic literature, which I did not particularly enjoy. Add to it the habit of teachers of dissecting books instead of actually letting us read them, and it is a miracle I managed to become an active reader in my life. Good thing free reading was encouraged at home. If it had depended on most of my school teachers back then, I would have probably become a non-reader. 
    • Rayuela by Julio Cortázar. I was not required to read this one, but reading some of his short fiction was required. I have Rayuela on my list of books to read someday. 
    • El Aleph by Jorge Luis Borges I did not read in high school. I read it on my own later. I did have to read some of his other shorter pieces in high school. 
    • Apparently Venezuelans were required to read The Diary of Anne  Frank. I was not then, and though I have read parts of it, I have not read the full book nor have any interest to do so. 

So, there you have it. Some things I was required to read when I was back in high school.

Signs the Economy is Bad: May 27, 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.  

We made it to Memorial Day weekend. For many in the U.S., this holiday meant to remember the dead soldiers and service people in wars, is just the time for a three-day weekend (four if you took off yesterday), barbecues and parties, and the marker of the beginning of the summer season. For Hollywood, Memorial Day also marks the start of the summer blockbuster season when they put out all their macho blow shit up stuff out and all the stuff for the kids in hopes of making money. So the last thing people will do is think about the bad economy, but it does not mean that the bad economy vanishes. Oh nay nay nay. The signs are still out there, and given this is also an election season, paying attention to things like this might be important. Just a suggestion. I would not want folks to choke on a hot dog or anything.

  • Public schools in the United States continue to literally fall apart. Story via AlterNet. When people wonder why the American educational system is so bad, maybe they need to consider that you get what you pay for. After all, Americans are notorious for whining about paying their taxes to support public services, including education. 
  • Then again, the U.S. is the nation where the poor keep getting poorer, and the rest make it a hobby to screw them even more. For instance, a new study reveals that the poor pay more for everyday purchases. Story via The Rural Blog. If you want to learn more, there is a new book out, $2.00 a Day: Living on Almost Nothing in America, that goes into why the poor keep becoming poorer in the U.S. The book is discussed at  The New York Review of Books. And if you cannot buy the book to read it, don't worry, I have you covered there. You can use WorldCat as I do to find a library near me so I can borrow it. Because in the bad economy, thank goodness we still have public libraries. 
  • Also, in rural areas, there is a serious lack of doctors and insurers, and hospitals keep closing down. Story via The Rural Blog
  • Meanwhile, more Millennials are going back to living at home with mommy and daddy. Story via The Christian Science Monitor. So odds are good that if you are older and your kids went to college but are unemployed or underemployed, that your nest is not empty yet as you had hoped. The source tries to spin some of it as the kids are just not getting married as soon as they used to, but in the end, it's the economics. Living on your own can get expensive if you do not have a job after college that pays the bills or just any job. So, you are likely celebrating Memorial Day with your kids who meandered on back after college. 
  • As a nation, the U.S. may be missing a step or two. If you think cattle ranchers raising tons of cattle to feed the nation and export is the picture, try again. Turns out the U.S. now imports more beef than it exports. Story via The Rural Blog
  • But at least not everybody is doing lousy in the bad economy. One key sector of American industry is very much alive and well. It turns out the Obama years have been very good to U.S. weapons makers. This has been going on since before Obama, but his presidency years have just been a very good time for that business. Story via Mother Jones

Booknote: Reading and Understanding the Mysteries of Tarot

Staci Mendoza and David Bourne, Reading and Understanding the Mysteries of Tarot. London, UK: Lorenz, 2011. ISBN: 9780754819622.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: Tarot, art books, divination, photography
Format: small hardback
Source: I bought this one at Half Price Books.

The book has a lofty title, but it is not much really. At 96 pages, this small book has just enough to cover the bare essentials. It is not very substantive, but thing going for it is that it has some nice photography.

The book starts with a short introduction that gives you some opening basics such as describing a Tarot deck's basic structure. The authors write in the introduction that the book is "designed to be a practical reference guide" (6). After the introduction, you get some background on topics such as choosing a Tarot deck, origins of Tarot, and a bit on Tarot and astrology; the astrology section has two charts, one for planetary links and an astrological (zodiac) chart. These charts and the astrology content are just enough to give the reader a small glimpse of integrating astrology with Tarot, something many Tarot readers do to gain additional insights when reading the cards. You then get sections for the Major Arcana and the Minor Arcana, with meanings for each card. Finally, you get some advice on reading the Tarot for yourself and for others, and you get three Tarot spreads explained: the popular Celtic Cross, the Romany spread, and the Tree of Life.

Having recently read Lyle's The Illustrated Guide to Tarot as well as consulting some reputable online Tarot sources, I found this book a little underwhelming in terms of content, especially the card meanings. The meanings were very minimal, and at times I get there was not much to work from. The book does include reversals, but often these are boiled down to telling you that a reversal was similar to the upright card but more extreme. In other words, you don't get much to work from. While the idea long term in reading Tarot is to develop your intuition, knowing the basic meanings is a fundamental skill as part of the process. You get the very bare basics here if at all. Also for me, compared to other sources, some meanings just did not seem right.

The other sections of the book history and advice are alright. They are very short but they have some good information for beginners. The spreads are illustrated and explained adequately; they also include a full sample reading, an element I found useful in exploring these.

A strength of the book is the photography. It does have some nice photographs. For card illustrations, it draws on some classic decks. However, the decks are not identified in the text. In the meanings section, the authors draw on two decks. One is the classic Marseilles Tarot; the other is one that I did not know which it was. A small caption on at least one card would have been helpful. Still, it is a nice book to look at.

In the end, it is a nice book to look over, a bit more art or photo book than reference book. As a reference book, you will get the bare minimal basics. If you really want to learn, you will need to seek out more substantial sources. The book is barely enough to whet  your appetite. It is nice to look at, but then you move on to something better and stronger. In the end, this was an OK book. If you must, this is a book to borrow. I got it at Half Price Books for $4.99, which is not bad for a small basic illustrated book. I searched for it on Amazon, and the retail price there was $19.99 at the time I checked. That is definitely way too much for this little book.

2 out of 5 stars.

A side note on the edition: the Hermes House edition I have is a reprint of an older edition. When I searched for the ISBN it provides, it turned out to be either incorrect or inaccurate; I was unable to find it in WorldCat or anyplace else. What I did find was the 2011 Lorenz edition, which I did find in WorldCat. I am using that ISBN as the reference point.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Booknote: When Did Ignorance Become a Point of View?

Scott Adams, When Did Ignorance Become a Point of View? Kansas City, MO: Andrews McMeel, 2001. ISBN: 0-7407-1839-8.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor, workplace
Format: Trade paperback
Source: I bought this one, on clearance, at my local Hastings. 

I do enjoy the Dilbert comic strip, but this volume was underwhelming, and I was not impressed. Many of the strips just felt flat. Allow me to post a bit from the book's description:

"In his eighteenth collection, Scott Adams still has the corporate world guffawing about the adventures of Dilbert. . . " .

Guffawing is way too much wishful thinking for this volume. Yes, the Dilbert comic strip can be funny and make you laugh at times. Heck, there have been strips I've related to and strips I've shared with coworkers to ease the pain of work a bit. Unfortunately, none of those strips were included in this volume. Even the strip that provides the title of the book was not funny. It was relevant, especially in today's social climate, but it felt a bit flat and depressing rather than amusing.

Overall, I've read better volumes of this series, and you should seek those instead, especially some of the earlier ones. This volume pretty much felt like Adams was just phoning in the work. The snappy humor and situations that you often shared with colleagues are just not there. It feels more like something the author put out just to grind something out (and probably make a few more bucks in the process).

At least I do not feel too bad having paid for it. It was on the clearance shelves at my local Hastings for a buck or so. Given the quality, I am starting to see why. If you must, just borrow it.

2 out of 5 stars, barely.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Monday, May 23, 2016

Booknote: Uncle John's Factastic Bathroom Reader

Bathroom Readers' Institute, Uncle John's Factastic Bathroom Reader. Ashland, OR: Portable Press, 2015. ISBN: 9781626864269.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: humor, trivia, bathroom reading
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley.

This is the 28th entry in the series, which remains a solid entertainment for trivia fans in and out of the bathroom. As other books in the series, it is a light and amusing book with lots of facts, strange and odd stories, and trivia. Passages cover various topics and can range from very short to a few pages long. This is part of the Uncle John's tradition of providing reading material based on how long you estimate your bathroom visit will last. Sometimes you need something quick, and sometimes you are going to be there for a while. There is no need to worry about running out of reading material in one visit or two. The book is a bit over 500 pages, so you get a lot of reading material. Though this is a great volume to keep handy in the bathroom, it is certainly a good book for trivia fans or anyone seeking a quick read now and then while learning something. It is definitely a good book to browse.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 20, 2016

The One Word (Sort of) Meme

I saw this quite a while back at Flexnib blog. I saved it in my feed reader's list to do later, and well, now is later. I have not done one of these easy and amusing things in a while, so here goes.

One word:

1. Where is your mobile phone? Holster
2. Your hair? Short
3. Your mother? Dead
4. Your father? Moving
5. Your favourite food? Pizza
6. Your dream last night? Weird
7. Your favourite drink? Wine
8. Your dream/goal? Striving
9. What room are you in? Office
10. Your hobby? Reading
11. Your fear? Stupidity
12. Where do you want to be in 6 years? Somewhere
13. Where were you last night? Home
14. Something that you aren’t? Impatient
15. Muffins? OK
16. Wish list item? Money
17. Where did you grow up? Puerto Rico (Yea, I know, that was two words).
18. Last thing you did? Lunch
19. What are you wearing? Jeans
20. Your TV? Old
21. Your pet? Cats
22. Friends? Some
23. Your life? Good
24. Your mood? Mellow
25. Missing someone? Wife
26. Vehicle? Nice
27. Something you’re not wearing? Scarf
28. Your favorite store? This
29. Your favorite color? Blue
30. When was the last time you laughed? Today
31. Last time you cried? Unsure
32. Your best friend? Wife
33. One place that I go to over and over? Work
34. One person who emails me regularly? Boss
35. Favorite place to eat? Any

And there you have it. If you feel moved to do it, feel free to comment below and link your response. Or you can leave a long comment in the response. We are easy going here.

Signs the Economy is Bad: May 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.  

A few bad signs this week, so let's just get on with it. There is a lot of fuckery going on in the bad economy.

  • The Christian Science Monitor asks "are auto title loans predatory?" On the one hand, I will save you the click and tell you the answer: yes. On the other hand, go read the article anyhow. 
  • In the U.S., 48 million Americans suffer from food insecurity. Not that the privileged of the nation give a hoot. And by the way, this is despite an actual increase in food production. Story via AlterNet.
  • Then again, the criminalization of poverty in the U.S. continues. According to the article, "As a new report from the Prison Policy Initiative demonstrates, over one-third of people who go through the booking process end up staying in jail simply because they can't raise enough cash to post bail. For millions of Americans in 2016, poverty is effectively a crime." Story via The Week.
  • Speaking of crimes, the exploitation of college students and making them actually pay to do unpaid internships, because, "job experience, man!" is definitely a crime. It is a sign of shameless exploitation by colleges and employers in the bad economy. Story via Inside Higher Ed
  • And Puerto Rico is in the headlines this week as Congress tries to provide some "help," if by help you mean lowering the minimum wage among other ways to further screw over Puerto Ricans. That story via the War Against All Puerto Ricans blog. Now, the economic picture in Puerto Rico is bleak, and we are talking at this point possible massive humanitarian crisis. For instance, at least ten hospitals have been in and out of bankruptcy for years. Story via El Nuevo Dia (this source is in Spanish).
  • And finally for this week, do you pay rent? Do you feel like you are not paying enough? Well, woo hoo, we got you covered as a new startup (read group of greedy assholes) now want you to bid on rent for rental properties. That's right, help jack up local rent prices, which are already astronomically obscene in some places, to line up landlords' and the start up' guys greed. And by the way, if you do get your rental, they also charge you a fee for the bidding. That is some serious fuckery right there.  I would hope this is a scam, though it looks pretty serious. Then again, this is the U.S. where finding new ways to screw the poor and vulnerable are the business of America. Story via The Grist

Booknote: Batman: Europa

Matteo Casali and Brian Azzarello, Batman: Europa. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2016. ISBN: 9781401259709. 

From the description:

"The impossible has happened and Batman is on the verge of being taken down by an enemy he cannot defeat: a virus for which there is no cure! And the only hope for his salvation is the Joker! Who infected Batman, what does the Clown Prince of Crime know, and how will The Dark Knight get that information? Together, the enemies crisscross Europe, desperate to find answers before time runs out." 

Batman returns to the Batcave to discover his computer has been hacked. However, it turns out to be a very minor hack, no big deal. However, something else got hacked, or in this case, someone else: him. He has an incurable virus that he has no idea how he got, but the Joker, who is also infected with a virus of his own, may or not have something to do with it. The clues take them all over Europe, and both hero and villain are forced to work together to find a cure and solve the mystery.

The story grips you right away. Not much build up. Once Batman gets to the cave, the plot kicks in, and we are off to Europe. The story is full of turns and twists, but the truth is not revealed until the very end, and to many it will be quite the surprise. The ending was good, but it did feel a bit rushed towards the end. Still, this is a solid Batman tale that keeps you reading to the very end as you wonder how did Batman get infected, and if it was not the Joker, then who was it? In addition, the art was great. I found that some of the art reminded of me a bit of Arkham Asylum, and I do mean that in a good way. The art was dark, and it could be jarring at times.

This was a title that I really liked overall. I picked it up in large part because Brian Azzarello was one of the writers, and I have enjoyed his works before. Fans of that author will likely enjoy this as will Batman fans in general. For libraries, if you already collect Batman titles, this would make a good addition to your collection.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: The Complete Love Hurts

Kim Andersson, The Complete Love Hurts. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2015.  ISBN: 978-1-61655-859-8.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: horror, dark humor, romance, others
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I have to say this was excellent. The book is an anthology series, much like The Twilight Zone or Tales from the Crypt, featuring stories of love and romance with a horror element or twist. Peter Snejbjerg in the introduction describes the book as follows:

". . . a collection of short stories that would let him tackle any genre, any style, any subject, almost: Love Hurts, a blend of romance comics with horror and, well, basically anything Kim cared to throw in the pot" (6). 

Indeed, Andersson tackles pretty much any genre: romance, westerns, pirates, reality shows, pulp, science fiction, fantasy, etc. His comics are often short, often no  more than two or three pages, but he manages to pack a serious punch in each one. Some stories are truly horrifying, and others are more dark humor. And while a few may have a happy ending, as romance stories usually do, that happy ending comes with a dark twist. Often there may not be a happy ending as a horrifying ending or a sudden twist is revealed. In the end, we do see that love hurts.

The book contains 32 issues (each a story) ranging from two to four pages, and it also includes two longer titled stories. As I mentioned, the stories tackle just about any genre. Some of my favorites include:

  • Issue 8 about a jealous girlfriend who catches another woman cooking for her man. The other woman turns out to be his mom, but that is not the twist. 
  • Issue 14 about the seance featuring a woman trying to contact a dead lover. I was not expecting the twist in this one. 
  • Issue 17 is a wordless story where the art tells the tale of a girl and her teddy bear. 
  • Issue 21 offers a great solution for people who won't shut up during the movie in a theater. As someone who hates those inconsiderate selfish assholes, this story really resonated with me. 
  • Issue 29 is the reality show comic. Again, this kind of reality show competition is definitely the kind I would gladly watch. 
And there are many more stories. I really enjoyed the stories in this volume. Though you can read it year round, this would make a great selection for Valentine's Day, especially if you have a dark sense of humor about the day. It is a great selection for libraries, but keep in mind it is an adult title. This can be a shocking but also fun series. The art is also very good, adding a bit of campy horror element at times. This is one I will definitely be adding to my personal collection.

5 out 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Booknote: Robin Son of Batman, Volume 1

Patrick Gleason, Robin Son of Batman, Volume 1: Year of Blood. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2016. ISBN: 9781401261559. 

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

From the description:

"Before he was Robin, Batman's son Damian Wayne was raised by his mother, Talia al Ghul, to lead the vicious League of Assassins--a clandestine army obssessed with world domination. Now, the son of Batman has fully freed himself from that destiny and is about to embark on a globe-spanning quest to atone for the horrible acts he commited during the most brutal portion of his old life--THE YEAR OF BLOOD!" 

Robin is back from the dead, and he is now seeking to put his dark past behind and atone for his sins. During the Year of Blood, he had to do a series of quests and deeds for the League of Assassins. He may have thought this was all part of his training to prepare him for the day to lead the league, but as things go on, it seems the quests were more than mere exercises for him. As we read, it is revealed that the league has enemies, and those enemies seek world domination in a way much worse than the league. So as Robin goes about undoing some of the things he did, the question rises: is he really doing good, or enabling an enemy to rise? It is now a Year of Atonement for Robin.

The book has plenty of action and intrigue. The story moves back and forth between scenes from Damian's Year of Blood and the modern day when he is atoning and undoing things he did during that year. The book has a good pace, and I found myself drawn into the story right away, curious to see where it led. As the story got deeper, I got more curious. Another reason to pick this comic up is for the art. The artists do make Robin look great, and the overall art of the comic is very good as well. I enjoyed this volume overall, and I will likely pick the next one up to see where things go.

For libraries that already collect Batman titles, they will want to add this one as well. If you already got titles like Batman and Son and/or Batman and Robin: Requiem for Damian, you need to have this one as well.

4 out of 5 stars

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: The Hobo Handbook

Josh Mack, The Hobo Handbook: a Field Guide to Living by your Own Rules. Avon, MA: Adams Media, 2011. ISBN: 978-1-4405-1227-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: travel, reference, hobos
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

Think you can just take off, live on the road, and make your own rules? This may be the book to help you decide if you can put the effort to live on the road with some hard work, ingenuity, and grit. Being a hobo on the open road today is a far cry from the romanticized image of writers like Jack Kerouac. So before you hit the rails or rads, you may want to read this book first.

The book starts by giving you a Hobo Aptitude Test to help you gauge your potential and assess  your resilience or lack thereof. After the test, you get an introduction. This is followed by seven chapters covering various important topics for a hobo such as how to start, how to get going, and getting out of a jam. The book also features three appendices with tips for the modern hobo, a hobo cookbook, and essential MacGyver skills. The book wraps up with a set of notes and a list of additional resources that features some books for further reading.

I saw this at the library, and I picked it up out of curiosity. While I do find the idea of a wandering life appealing, being a hobo is not something I want to do. So I learned a few things reading this book. Josh Mack brings the mystique and the gritty realities of bring a hobo and what it takes to be a hobo into the 21st century. Mack goes over hobo history, defines basic terms, and outlines and explains thing you really need to know if you decide to attempt making a go at it. If something is right out dangerous or illegal, he will tell you and warn you as well.

What I found interesting was the history and the trivia. Being a hobo, whether by necessity or because of having a wandering spirit, has a good tradition in the United States, and Mack captures this. In between chapters, he also includes segments on some famous hobos such as James Michener, Merle Haggard, and Jack Dempsey. However, in modern times, you don't have to jump the rails to be a hobo. In fact, many hobos now couch surf, take buses, and even carry their electronic devices. For many today, being a hobo is not an economic necessity, although there are still some who do it out of necessity. Either way, the author gives plenty of information and advice so you can use your wits and ingenuity to make a go at it.

The rest of the book is pretty much a handbook.You could see it as the "Boy Scout Handbook" for hobos. The author talks about life on the road, how to pack, skills you need, and as much as possible, staying ahead of dangers like gangs or the law. As a handbook, it can be more a book to consult as needed if you go on the road. For curious folks like me, it's a good look at a life I've read about but have no intention of experiencing. Since it is a handbook, it can be a bit dry reading at times; some parts may be more interesting than others. Overall, it was a good read, and I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * 

Additional reading notes:

Today's hobo blends traditional hobo skills with more modern methods.

What the book is:

"This guide offers a crash course for taking your life on the road and funding it as you go. You'll learn how to set up camp, find a job, catch some food, find yourself some transport, and when the time comes, how to sleep in a ditch" (xxi). 

And by the way, what exactly is a hobo, and no, they are not tramps or bums:

 "hobo: A migratory worker; originated from hoe boys, the name given to the men taking work in the fields while riding the rails as they were often associated with a tool of the trade. Hobos distinguished themselves from tramps, who traveled but didn't work, and bums, who did neither" (4).

* * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Monday, May 16, 2016

Booknote: Hell House

Richard Matheson, Hell House. New York: Tor Books, 1999.  ISBN: 978-0-312-86885-7.

Genre: horror fiction
Subgenre: haunted houses
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked this up to read for the Horror Reading Challenge I am doing this year, but I was just not really impressed by the book.

Belasco House is considered the Mount Everest of haunted houses. It has sat empty for 20 years. The last investigative team that went into it lost all members but one. Now years later, that survivor along with another team made up of a psychic, a scientist, and the scientist's assistant and wife, return to Hell House to attempt to solve its mysteries.

The novel had some frights, but for all the build up, the horror felt relatively tame. The novel read more like a slow mystery with a few happenings here and there to keep the horror label. I just did not find it that horrifying. In addition, the characters were not exactly sympathetic, so as they start dying, I really did not care that much over them or the ones who survive in the end. Some of the lore and history of the house was interesting, but it was not enough to carry the book neither.

In the end, it was just a slightly slow and barely scary horror novel. There is a movie based on the book, The Legend of Hell House, which I may or not try to find mostly out of curiosity.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Update note (6/20/16). I managed to watch the 1973 film made based on the book. Here are some brief thoughts on the film:

The movie opens with an epigraph:

"Although the story of this film is fictitious, the events depicted involving psychic phenomena are not only very much within the bounds of possibility, but could well be true." -- Tom Corbett, Clairvoyant and Psychic Consultant to European Royalty.

I thought that was a cute touch to try to add some "authenticity" to the film. . . as if. From what little I could find, Tom Corbett was a fairly well known British psychic, in his time at least. I could find very little about him online. He passed away in 1999 according to this obituary.
  • The film starts right away. You get just enough exposition. The premise is the same as in the book. 
  • The female psychic is a bit  younger than I envisioned from reading the book. 
  • The physicist is not as frail of health initially as he is portrayed in the book. 
  • Overall, the film is very atmospheric. It is also very monotonous, much like the book. It seems more tame than the book, which is already quite tame.

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 13, 2016

Booknote: ZIts Unzipped

Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, Zits Unzipped. Kansas City, MO: Andrew McMeel Publishers, 2002.  ISBN: 978-0-7407-2322-3.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: humor, teens, family life
Format: paperback
Source: The Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

This is a comic strip that I often read in newspapers, so when I saw my local public library had some of the book, I checked them out. The strips are drawn in black and white, so in a way it feels like I am reading them in the newspaper.

Jeremy is a 15-year old boy in high school dealing with the travails of being a teenager: parents, friends, school, family life, etc. The strength of the comic strip is that it captures daily life so well. Very often the comic strip reminds me of something in my own family, and I am sure that is the case for many readers out there. The comic is very amusing overall, and I found myself laughing often as I read through it. This was a nice relaxing read that I really liked for its good humor.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Batman, Volume 8

Scott Snyder, Batman, Volume 8: Superheavy. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2016.  ISBN: 9781401259693.

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

This is the awaited follow up to Batman, Volume 7: Endgame, and to be honest I found it a bit ridiculous, a bit of a stretch. After his great battle with the Joker, both villain and hero are presumed dead. Joke is gone, but it seems Batman paid the ultimate price. However, this is Gotham City, so peace does not last long. There is new villain handing out a new drug to thugs, a drug that gives them superpowers. A new Batman emerges wearing an 8-feet tall battle armor to fight the new crime wave.

This story had potential, but it just seemed to be stretching things past the point of credulity, even for a comic book. The new Batman that the new corporate owners of the suit get to wear it turns out to be a reluctant James Gordon. As I said, Batman is now owned by a corporation working with the city, so Batman now has some police legitimacy. However, not all is at it seems given various behind the scenes machinations. Sure, the story has plenty of action, though it also has a big flashback sequence that breaks up that action flow and really drags down the story's pacing; that felt more like filler for the volume. And will the real Batman return ever? We'll have to wait and see. Speaking of Batman, or rather Bruce Wayne, that is another bit of ridiculous that I can't mention without spoiling things. Overall, the comic just seemed ludicrous at times.

If you have been following Snyder's run so far on Batman, you'll probably want to pick this up for the sake of continuity and completion. However, I would keep my expectations low. After the last volume's intense ending, this was quite a letdown. I am not sure I'll pick up the next one based on this. Casual Batman readers may want to just stick to older, classic titles.

2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Monday, May 09, 2016

Booknote: My Bad: a Zits Treasury

Jerry Scott and Jim Borgman, My Bad: a Zits Treasury. Kansas City, MO: Andrew McMeel, 2009.  ISBN: 978-0-7407-8090-5.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: humor
Format: oversized paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This book is an oversized collection of the Zits comic strip. Among the highlights: Jeremy breaks up with Sara in favor of another girl, and he finally gets his learner's permit. The comic strip capturing the travails and humor of a family with a teenager is quite amusing. You don't have to be a parent to enjoy this, but if you are, odds are good you will relate to some thing in this comics. What I enjoy about this comic strip are the very humane quality and slice of life depiction the authors managed to convey. The oversize volume is a bit difficult to read due to its size; it's a bit unwieldy. However, the strips are a bit bigger in size, so they are more legible. Overall, this is a very good book that I really liked. Fans of the comic strip will enjoy it as well.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Friday, May 06, 2016

Booknote: Nichiren

Masahiko Murakami, Nichiren. Santa Monica, CA: Middleway Press, 2015.  ISBN: 9780977924578.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: biography, Buddhism, feudal Japan
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

This graphic novel is a fictionalized account of the real life of 13th century Japanese Buddhist monk Nichiren. 13th century Japan was a time of hard times, violence, natural disasters, and famine. The samurai pretty much shirk their duty to protect the people, and religious leaders are only interested in power and padding their pockets. Nichiren finds this unacceptable. After extensive research on the basics of Buddhism and doing much reflection, he begins to preach a way of service and compassion. In the process, he also criticizes civil and religious leaders for their neglect of the people and their hypocrisy. The result for Nichiren are threats, attempts on his life, and exile. But even in exile he perseveres.

This is a very captivating and inspiring story. Nichiren refuses to accept the corrupt status quo and teaches people to empower themselves and find happiness in this life. For me, another neat element is that Nichiren is a knowledgeable scholar. Before setting off on his preaching, he studies Buddhist texts extensively to learn the essence of Buddhism. He is then able to debate other Buddhist priests and do so with solid reasoning and evidence; he is able then to expose those other priests as hypocrites who barely read nor barely understand their own religion's texts.

The book offers a compelling story that draws you in. The author presents a strong and inspiring figure facing great challenges for what is right. In addition, you do learn a thing or two about Buddhism along the way. The art is also very good in this volume, bringing the characters to life. It is a book that may inspire readers to seek out further reading on Nichiren and Buddhism. This was an excellent read, and it is one I highly recommend. I would definitely buy this for my personal collection as well as order it for my library. This is definitely a good addition for libraries with graphic novels collections.

5 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: