Friday, September 30, 2016

Reading about the reading life: September 30, 2016 edition

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

It has been a while since I have done one of these compilations from the world of books and reading. I got plenty of interesting things to share, so let's get right to it.

  • In some small towns in Japan, bookstores are scarce. I can certainly relate as bookstores are very scarce where I live it (small town  in the United States). Story via The Asahi Shimbun.
  • In New York City, a Spanish language bookstore still survives even as others have closed down. Story via The New York Times.
  • Speaking of bookstores, The World Bank is closing down their bookstore in New York City. Story via The Washington  Post.
  • Here is a profile of independent L.A. bookstore The Last Bookstore. Story and video via Boing Boing. 
  • There is a  new study out from Yale University that claims book readers live longer. Do note it is book readers; magazines and newspapers not so much. You can read about it at Open Culture. Looks like the odds in that regard are in my favor. 
  • In Argentina, and in a  few other cities around the world, bars with literary themes are growing  in popularity. Story via Que Leer (this one is in Spanish).
  • The horror. In London, a few bookstores figured that what should matter is the experience of browsing and enjoying the bookstore, not constantly surfing the web. So they have turned off their public wifi. And they are doing quite well. Sounds like I need to take a trip to London to check out their bookstores sometime. Story via The New York Times.
  • One of those things I find to be a small annoyance is forcing incoming freshmen to read a book for the sake of diversity, cohesion, or some other so-called lofty goal. This usually means you get a fairly predictable list of books on various social justice topics. At any rate, if you are curious, here is  a small sampling of what some incoming freshmen this fall were reading. Via USA Today.
  • Like drinking? Do you like books? Do you maybe drink a bit much  and need to hide your flask? Well, this woman does some great book art hollowing out books so you can hide your flask. Story via Boing Boing.
  • Here is an interview with a gentleman who helps run an Arabic book club in Chicago. Story via Arabic Literature (in English)
  • In some good news, Max Macias, the Lowrider Librarian, has announced that HINCHAS Press will publish his anthology on radical librarianship. This is a big deal. If I manage to get a copy, you can count on a review featured on this blog. This is just the kind of project our profession needs. So head on over, check it out. 
  • Via the BBC, an article on the history of secret libraries
  • The comics news blog The Beat highlights a report on  the status of graphic novels in schools. The news are good. The full report is  from Publishers Weekly.
  • In Chile, La Biblioteca Libre (that translates to The Free Library) is a traveling library striving to get more people to read. You can  read the story about it here from Bustle. I was a bit surprised that the land of Isabel Allende and Pablo Neruda suffers from low readership, which according to the article is "a sad reality bookstore owners blame on the Internet and the 19% value-added tax that increases the price of most products, including books."
  • This past week was Banned Books Week, so of course we need to have at least one story on it. Texas rises once more to the occasion with some censorship fuckery, this time in its prison system. In fact, their prison system book censorship is so bad it is a national disgrace. Story via Slate.   
  • Via Catapult, a story of a common issue for writers, do you start writing on that beautiful blank journal notebook you bought or not? For the record, I do not have that issue much. I do collect nice notebooks, but believe me, they will get used. In fact, now that I also do Tarot journaling, they are getting used a bit faster. 
  • Via BlogTo, a profile of Toronto's bookstore The Monkey's Paw. 
  • In Peshawar, their last bookstore just closed due to islamic extremism but also just general lack of interest thanks to things like iPhones. Story via The Washington Post.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Double Booknote: Having Coffee with Jesus

David J. Wilkie, Coffee With Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2013. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3662-8.

David J. Wilkie, A Second Shot of Coffee with Jesus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-8308-3693-2.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: religion, treatises, humor, Christianity, spirituality
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library.

I found the title of the first volume to be intriguing, which is why I picked it up when I saw my public library has this title. I noticed they had the second volume as well, so I put that one on hold while I read the first one. This series is basically a Christian treatise comic trying to make Jesus look hip. The premise is Jesus, who is dressed in a suit and tie and looks like a marketing executive, meets for coffee with a few of his followers. These followers seem to be mostly conservative evangelical types, the kind of judgmental people the rest of us in polite company do our best to avoid. The idea is they come to Jesus with concerns, issues, questions, etc., and Jesus offers some advice.

The comic started on the author's blog, and apparently did well enough to get put into a book. According to the introduction in the first volume, the character images are "old advertising clip art for the main characters and Sunday clip art for the person of Jesus" (13). That may partially explain why Jesus seems to look like the "Republican Jesus" stereotype. The idea then was for Jesus to refute the characters' "claims of how he might vote on any particular issue, to convince them that they cannot confuse their flag with their God-- to set them straight as it were" (13). This has very mixed results in the comic.

Jesus in the comic combines some serious sass with some serious authority. Jesus has some humorous moments, but he can still be just as judgmental and authoritarian at times as he has always been. If you were expecting a liberal, hippie Jesus, he ain't here. The comic does have a Biblical grounding, so it has enough for Christians, but it still shows a slight conservative bias. It can be controversial for some readers I suppose, but it should not be if you've read your Bible and actually paid attention. There are a few zingers and humorous moments, but you also get the preaching and occasional Christian heavy handedness. Let me highlight some examples from the first volume:

  • Carl tells Jesus how he appreciates his friendship with Jesus. Jesus naturally has to remind him that he is Lord, the guy in charge, and for Carl not to forget it (29). 
  • At one point in discussing conflict, the author says Jesus would sum up the Old Testament as "Put yourself in the other person's shoes" (49). Given how many people God killed or had killed, tortured, raped, etc. in the Old Testament, being in those shoes is probably not in theirs not ours best interest. Because contrary to what the author may peddle, his religion is often a source of conflict. 
  • At least Jesus and I agree that Fifty Shades of Gray belongs in the trash (55). Where we part company is where I think  you ought to read better erotica. 
  • The author quotes a pastor as saying "the church may stink, but it's the best thing afloat" (81). Actually no. If the best thing floaing is a stinking turd, time to flush and clean out that bowl. Plenty of people, including heathens like me, live happy and healthy lives just fine without the stench. You might not be able to flush, but I have no problem flushing and even getting the plunger if need be. Again, it's the Christian arrogance of our way is best, good or bad. 
As I said, the books has some humorous moments. As a heathen, I do find amusing it takes this kind of effort to try to get Christians to be less assholes in society: to be less judgmental, less pushy, less self-righteous. But hey, if a bit of sassy and slightly sarcastic Jesus does the job, why not? As a heathen who has read "the Good Book," I did appreciate the humor and even got a laugh or two, so the books are not all bad. 

For the second compilation, the content is about the same as the first volume; however, the author did
some improvements. He did not include the lyrics he had in the first volume, which to be honest, after the first set I just skipped them. He also chose not to include any essays written between the strips. As the author admits, the essays were preachy. The comic is already preachy enough without the author laying out more preachy stuff. Yes, I know this is a religious comic, but there is such a thing as laying it too thick. 

In terms of structure then, for the second volume, we get the comics after the introduction. Unlike the first volume, the comics are not divided into thematic sections.  You can just read right through the volume. This may actually be an improvement. In fact, it may be the only improvement. The comic remains the same otherwise, including the judgmental attitude at times and the heavy handedness. For instance, in the comic at this point, one of the characters becomes an agnostic, and though Jesus tries to remain gentle with him, it's made clear Jesus does not really like defectors or people who ask too many questions. That uptight insecurity is just part of their faith. 

As I mentioned before, there are some small moments of self-awareness in the comic. Not many though because the author remains pretty orthodox in his theology, but they are there. For example, Carl asks Jesus why atheists hate Jesus. Jesus replies that what they hate is the atrocities done in his name, and no, not just the Crusades and the Inquisition but also Holy Land Experience in Orlando. To this we could add Ark Encounter in Kentucky and judgmental hypocrites like Kim Davis. And though Jesus prefers the parable of the prodigal son, Satan in the comic does have a point: Christianity does "coerce and cajole using fear and the threat of condemnation to subjugate. . . " (51). All you have to do is read the Bible and listen to a good number of their preachers. 

Overall, the issue with the books is that they try to sugarcoat an orthodox doctrine that is fairly rigid, strict, and it's their way of the highway to hell (and no, I do not mean the AC/DC song). The result is a cutesy comic with a bit of light humor at times where the orthodoxy still slips out, and when you do see it, it's not nice. Christians with a sense of humor will likely appreciate this series. Others might appreciate some of the insights, but if they left Christianity or religion in general, this comic is not exactly an endorsement to get them to reconsider. As a heathen, I read it. I thought it was OK, amusing at times, but nothing new here. In fact, the second volume lays out the preachy tone a bit more thickly at times. In the end, an OK read. 

For the first one, in the end I liked it with reservations, so I am splitting the difference in rating it. 

2.5 out of 5 stars. 

Second volume was not much better. 

2 out of 5 stars

These books qualify for the following 2016 Reading Challenges: 

Signs the Economy is Bad: September 23, 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.  

It was a busy week last week, so the bad economy news and some fuckery have piled up. Let's see how much of the stuff we can get to this week.

  • Once more, we have an item for The Big Fuckery This Week. The Wells Fargo story of them basically screwing over their consumers to the point where Elizabeth Warren told their CEO she hopes he resigns and gets investigated definitely is some serious big fuckery. You can find the story in various places. I first saw it via Crooks and Liars. If you do banking with Wells Fargo, it may be time to move to another bank and double check to make sure they did not make you any other fake accounts in your name.  
  • However, banks are not the only ones screwing over their customers. Here are 10 airlines doing it too, and they do it via their excessive and often abusive fees. Story via Inc.
  • This is more of an advice piece. If you work as a freelancer, anxiety and worry over getting paid can be concerns. Here is then is some advice on how to cope, via Yes! magazine.
  • By the way, did you know that the cop that choked Eric Garner to death is actually making more money now? That is some serious fuckery right there. Yes he is. Read the spin here via New York Magazine.
  • On a positive, you know who else is making good money? According to a recent study, gay dads. You can learn more about it in this story out of The Advocate.
  • American conservatives often love to bitch and moan over their brethren having a lot of credit card debt, whining those people are just irresponsible. Well, it turns out the answer is not as simple as that. Turns out much of it has to do with structural inequalities and the unfairness in the system. Here is what the research shows: “'Instead, we see that, among similarly situated low- and middle-income households of working age, factors like education, value of assets to fall back on, insurance coverage and whether a household member has lost a job are among the foremost predictors of whether a household will accumulate credit card debt,' Traub continued, referencing data from a national survey of 1,997 households." And let us not even go into how credit card companies took advantage of the vulnerable during the recession. As I often say, there but for the deity of choice, go I. Story via AlterNet
  • If you happen to be a small somewhat rinky dink college, and you need some cash to keep the doors open, how do you get it? Well, if you happen to have a football team, you can schedule yourself to have the tar beaten out of you (humiliating massacre might be more accurate but it may sound harsh) by  a larger good school with a superior football team. The superior school gets to impress its fans, usually during their homecoming game, and your rinky dink school gets a decent payout. It's a college football tradition during the fall. Learn more about it out of the Texas Tribune.  
  • Via Boing Boing, link to a report from the Urban Institute that at least 6.8 million teens and tweens are hungry in the United States. It is so bad young girls even trade sexual favors for food, and this in one of the wealthiest nations in the world. But hey, keep worrying about Brangelina or whatever. 
  • The U.S. is also suffering a major teacher shortage, and even though hiring has gone up somewhat, it is not enough to address it. Not to mention many teachers do not make it past their first few years, frustrated teachers quit, the obsession with constant testing, and other issues add to the shortage. Story via NPR, which includes links to the recent reports, here and here, they are looking over from the Learning Policy Institute.  
  • Libraries are facing hard times. At least one library was considering enforcing old harsh laws that include jail to get their overdue books back. That's rough. The Annoyed Librarian has the story.
  • And speaking of libraries, the big broo ha ha going on  the last  two weeks or so has been that college that took a librarian's bequest and used a huge chunk of it to buy itself a fancy scoreboard for their multimillion dollar football stadium. Because priorities, man. Then again, that librarian either was not as smart or maybe he really was a big football fan as the school is desperately trying to spin it. Either way, the lesson here is simple: if you have so much money you can bequeath it to a college or university, make sure you hire a lawyer and make said bequest as specific as possible on exactly where you want the money to go. Otherwise, well, this happens. Story via Inside Higher Ed
  • Want more fuckery? How about this story out of Silicon Valley? Apparently they are evicting the not so wealthy people so the properties they lived in can be renovated and rented out to the better paid and more upper class workers of companies like Google and Facebook. By the way, many of those poor families happen to be Latino. From the AlterNet article, "The marketing materials make clear that the intention is to “rebrand” and “revitalize” the property, raise the rents and attract “young working professionals” employed at “Google, Facebook, and other Fortune 100 tech companies.”
  • TruthDig had this headline last week: "America Treats Most Academic Faculty Like Peons, and the Results Are Not Pretty." Allow me to fix that: "America Treats Its Adjunct Faculty Like Peons, and the Results Are Not Pretty." There you go, because let  us be honest, full time faculty on tenure or the tenure line do fine for the most part with a steady job, income, and other perks and privileges of their position. Adjuncts are basically the exploited not quite slave labor higher education uses without shame to do the teaching that needs doing but the full timers often do not want to do. I bet if slavery came back, higher education would buy up adjuncts as slaves to teach the way ancient Greek slaves tutored the children of the Roman Empire. In case you need an example of how higher education treats adjuncts like disposable tools, let me remind you of Margaret Mary. That other story is via The Pittsburgh Gazette.

Friday, September 16, 2016

Booknote: Casino

Nicholas Pileggi, Casino: Love and Honor in Las Vegas. New York: Simon & Schuster, 1995. ISBN: 0-684-80832-3.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: true crime, mobsters, Mafia, casinos, gambling, Las Vegas
Format: hardcover
Source: Hutchins Library at Berea College

This is the book that is the basis for the film of the same title where Robert De Niro plays Ace Rothstein. Ace Rothstein is the name they used in lieu of the real Lefty Rosenthal. In fact, the film changes the names of the characters from the book, in some cases only slightly. If you already saw the film and then you read the book as I did, you will recognize characters right away. You might even find yourself seeing the book characters as the authors who portrayed them now and then. It can be interesting to see the changes from book to film.

The book itself is pretty good, but you can tell the film makers trimmed a lot of it to make the film. The book is very detailed when it comes to how casinos in Las Vegas operated back in the 1970s and the extensive corruption behind those operations. If you are a reader who likes to learn how the machinery ran, this is a book for you as it goes into a lot of the small details that made the casino run. In addition, unlike the movie, the book goes into Lefty's background and rise. In the film, he is pretty much at the top of his game and ready to run the casino. In the book, we get to see a young Lefty Rosenthal learning his gambling and handicapping craft, including some early mistakes, mistakes that taught him valuable lessons. He was young once, and he had to learn a few things the hard way.

The book's narrative structure is in small segments. It's kind of like those interviews they do in some reality shows between the show segments where contestants look back on the scenes the audience just saw. In the book, points of view shift so one moment we get Lefty, another we may get Tony Spilotro, and another we get one of the FBI agents who had them under surveillance. The narrative moves back and forth between points of view, which allows the reader to get a broader picture of the events.

While the book has interesting moments, it also gives a lot of minutiae at times. The film makes did take a lot of that out to make a relatively tight film. There are some parts in the book that can be fairly slow to read through.

In the end, though the book's subtitle is "Love and Honor in Las Vegas," there is no really much love. Lefty marries Geri out of naive love, but she did it for money and convenience. As for honor, there really is not any honor among thieves, and they were all thieves in one form or another; even some of the members of law enforcement were corrupt, and the Las Vegas Gaming Commission was often a racket of its own. In the end, greed, a lack of discipline, a desire for the spotlight when discretion was essential, and just some really stupid mistakes drove the mobsters of paradise.

Overall I liked this book. If you enjoyed the film, you will likely enjoy the book. Do keep in mind that the films has the essence of the book. You see a lot more in the book, which can be a plus or a minus.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some additional reading notes:

Geri really made her living as a hustler, hustling chips in casinos and partying with high rollers, making $300K to $500K a year. She had a "real job" as a dancer in one of the casinos for $20K a year, but that was to keep her work permit to show she was "gainfully employed." Much of the hustle included "taking care of people," in other words, slip money here, bribe there, to keep the wheels turning:

"Las Vegas is a city of kickbacks. A desert city of greased palms. A place where a $20 bill can buy approval, a $100 bill adulation, and a $1,000 bill canonization" (80). 

Then again, you could think positive in terms that crime can and does create jobs:

"All booming industries create jobs, and the Spilotro operation was no exception. Within a year Spilotro was providing work not just for his own crew but for dozens of law enforcement officers who tailed him, bugged him, and attempted to ensnare him in elaborate stings" (148). 

In the end, just about everybody stole. Carl Thomas, another character in the book, puts it like this:

"He spoke philosophically about how the men you trust to steal for you are bound to steal something for themselves" (265). 

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2016 Reading Challenges:

Sunday, September 11, 2016

Signs the economy is bad: September 11, 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 did quite make it to posting on Friday. It has been a busy week here for me, so this week we have a special late night Sunday post. I know the big thing this weekend is remembering 9/11, but this post is free of that so you can feel you get a little break from the somewhat excessive jingoism. Do I feel for the victims? Absolutely? But I also loathe the jingoistic exploitation of the event and the fact that the powers that be used it to basically rule by fear. In some key ways, the terrorists won, and Americans let them do it by easily giving up many of their rights. But I digress. 

We have quite a few stories this week, including a few out of Texas, a state that so far has zero days without being a fucking national embarrassment. But it is not just Texas. This week there are a lot of signs that the economy is bad, so let's get on with it. 

However, the  economy is not bad for some people. The uber rich and certain people with no ethics or  morals happen to do fine. Also if you work some odd or unusual jobs (and you happen to be decent and ethical), you are probably doing well. Let's see how the other half lives and thrives: 

  •  Learn about those who eat at the most exclusive restaurant in the United States. Story via The New Yorker.
  • If you sell guns, you are very likely doing very well, specially since survivalists, specially in the Pacific Northwest, are keeping you in business by stocking up on more and more guns and ammo. Story  via The Rural Blog
  • If you work in the technical side of the porn industry, you may be doing well. Porn has always been a technology innovator, so if you work in that field, odds are good you are in demand and do well. Plus, odds are good your innovations go on to live in the rest of society and technology down the road. Story via AlterNet.
  • Are you a farmer stuck with some shitty old barn that is too expensive to repair or demolish? Sell it for "reclaimed wood" so hipsters and TV home development shows can use it in their fancy projects that no real people can afford. Story via NPR.  
  • Also via NPR, taco trucks are hot now. After a Republican operative made a racist faux pas, turns out taco trucks are getting more popular. In fact, this one taco truck racked up even more sales at a Detroit event thanks to that dumbass.  
  • Now college students may be homeless, and adjunct professors are living in poverty, but some schools are more than happy to spend money on all sorts of lavish things. For instance, Berkeley recently paid $200,000 to do PR and elevate the image of a chancellor who is on the way out anyhow; he is stepping down. They need to position their celebrity as a "key thought leader." I shit you not. Story via Inside Higher Ed.
  • Here is one of two stories I am highlighting this week where if you lack morals, ethics, and basic decency, you can make a bundle of money and be rich. In this story, one guy ran a fake Trump site, and made thousands from suckers supporters sending donations. Story via Esquire.
  • And finally for this evening, our second story. I always joked that I was in the wrong line of work. I had no ethics, scruples, or morals, I would set up a revival tent, preach something, and get suckers the faithful to give me money to give them some nice platitudes. Well it turns out you can do that sort of thing. Become an end times prophet, scare the crap out of the gullible believers, and make a ton of money in the process. Lose your soul? Pshaw that is only for the gullible who believe. Story via Patheos.