Friday, June 16, 2017

Reading about the reading life: June 16, 2017 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).

I was going to do one of these last week, but life happened. This week then we have a few extra stories I saved up for last week plus the new ones for this week, so let's get on with it.

  • This is not so much about books, but apparently typewriters are making a comeback, at least for hipsters and people who do retro. Story via I can certainly remember typewriters. I went to college as an undergraduate with  a Smith Corona typewriter. It was a big deal it had correcting tape. We've come a long way.
  • One more not quite about books, but I think a bit more about literacy and evaluating sources. That whole image we often see in places like the "History Channel" (the place for Nazis, aliens, and ice truckers) of Nazis as hardcore occultists? It is not quite true nor accurate. It does, however, make for great fiction and films. One example is Raiders of the Lost Ark. Story via Aeon. Actually, story is written by author of a book on the topic, so I guess there is your book angle.
  • Glad Day, the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the world, has a new exhibit inspired by glory holes. Worth taking a look. Story via OUT Magazine
  • In Croatia, the government is providing grants for bookstores to help with things like starting up the business, renting a location, so on. They are trying to address the closure of a major bookstore chain that left many parts of the country without a bookstore and to increase access to books. Just the type of cool thing you'd never see in the U.S. Story via Total Croatia News.
  • File under libraries I would like to visit some day: the Conjuring Arts Research Center in New York City. It was highlighted in Atlas Obscura.
  • I admit that I often complain when bookstores seem to become more of a gift and toy shop than an actual bookstore (I am looking at you Barnes and Noble). Having said that, I get the notion of doing what you must to survive another day. This bookstore in Kansas has been doing it for a while selling things over the years such as: "Fountain pens, carbon copying paper, specialty envelopes, small lots of resume paper, letter jacket patches, train puzzles, sports clothing, vintage textbooks, Melissa and Doug toys, Kansas flags and books."  They are celebrating 125 years in business, and the family's fifth generation now runs it. How cool is that? Another place to add to my road trip list. Story via The Wichita Eagle.
  • In France, they are building tiny houses to serve as small traveling bookstores. Story via New Atlas.
  • You may have heard Amazon, the online book retailer who has also become a seller of just about anything, has opened retail physical locations. They are not getting good reviews, especially from readers. The New Yorker argues they are just not built for readers, which then begs the question: who the hell are they built for? Besides Bezos and corporate vanity. 
  • A story now about a bookstore in India with a history that goes back to the country's independence.  Politicians, diplomats, and writers have all visited at one point or another. Story via Gulf News.
  • Meanwhile, in China, their largest bookstore chain turned 80 recently. It is a nice little tale. Story via 
  • In some cute and good news, Mafalda comics are now being translated into Guarani language. Guarani, a native language, is one of the official languages of  Paraguay. Story via Telesur.
  • Dangerous Minds has a recent piece on the Tijuana Bibles. (Illustrations in this story are NSFW).
  • Via Literary Hub, a look at why One Hundred Years of Solitude remains so popular
  • In Argentina, Alberto Manguel has become the head of their national library, a post previously  held by Jorge Luis Borges. Perhaps more interesting is the fact that Manguel is Canadian. Story via The Globe and Mail (Canada). Manguel is author of The Library at Night, which I have read and reviewed.

Booknote: Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods

Cullen Bunn, Battlestar Galactica: Folly of the Gods. Mount Laurel, NJ: Dynamite Entertainment, 2017. ISBN: 9781524103149.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: science fiction, adaptations
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley

If you enjoyed the original film, or the original television series, you will probably enjoy this series as well. It captures the feel of those works quite well.

In this story, the fleet is caught in a black hole that sends them to another part of the galaxy. To make matters more difficult, the Cylons pursuing them get caught in the same black hole and end up in the same place right behind the fleet. Then, because things cannot get worse, except they do, there is a different group of Cylons, and the humans and the original Cylons need to get into an uneasy alliance in order to survive. What caused them to travel this unexpected path? Without spoiling much, I will say it was an enemy from the  Galactica's past.

As I mentioned, if you enjoyed the original 1970s series, you will probably enjoy this. The story moves along at a good, steady pace, and the intrigue slowly builds up. The art captures the feel and imagery of the series to an extent. It is not perfect. Some of the characters look better than others, but overall the art works. In the end, it was a light and quick read. It is entertaining, but there is not much more to it. It is a title to borrow rather than buy I'd say. I liked it; I like it enough that I would read others in the series.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Booknote: Kitchen Confidential

Anthony Bourdain, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly. New York: Random House Audio, 2007. ISBN: 9780307933386.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: cookery, food, biography, celebrity chefs
Format: audiobook
Source: Overdrive via my local public library, Madison County (KY) Public Library.

I have read some of Anthony Bourdain's later writings, such as  The Nasty Bits (link to my review). I kept hearing that I needed to read Kitchen Confidential, so when I saw my library's Overdrive system had it on audio, I took the chance. Anthony Bourdain reads the book. Note also that this is an unabridged edition. For me, I tend to prefer when an author reads their own book, assuming they have a good reading voice and their personality comes across in the reading. If you have watched Bourdain on television, then you are familiar with his narrative style, and you find that in this book.

I am going to note that this was written before he became the TV traveler personality he is now that does not really cook anymore. Heck, in a later episode of "No Reservations" when he cooked in some other celebrity chef's kitchen, he admitted how out of shape he was in terms of pulling a full shift. So in a way this is him before he really hit it big. Interesting that he says he hopes to be cooking and working after the book. He is working now well after the book, but I am betting he is not cooking as much these days.

He starts by saying he will tell you of the life as he has seen it, and while he has no intention to skewer the more famous, he will if he gets the chance. And yes, horror stories will be included too. Just remember not to order the fish on a Monday and learn not to order well done steak.

His first job was as dishwasher, because, like many young people, he needed some spending money. Plus, like many young men, he needed money for the girlfriend; yes, women can be expensive at times. On a side note, his childhood description of privation of good food as the moment of epiphany is well written and very evocative. He gets to work, acts like a jerk, gets humbled, then strives to do better and makes right, and in the process learns all the secrets, some of which he tells us in this book.

Bourdain does have a good evocative voice, and his story of youth does  have some very moving moments. That is a strength of the book. In addition, there are some horror stories and revelations, such that for some readers they may seriously reconsider if they want to eat out or not again. However, Bourdain would argue that you need some common sense, and in some cases, especially when you travel, taking the risk on some hole in the wall place that does not look "too sanitary" may be well worth a little food sickness the next day. Your mileage may vary.

Overall, I really liked the book, and I did enjoy having him read it to me.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * *

Additional reading notes:

  • CIA (Culinary Institute of America) in the 70s was very different than the elite institution it is  now.  
  • Who actually cooks the food?  Not the chef. Most likely young, ambitious, mercenary, and very likely not American (migrants). The cooks may still be foreign, but not as exploited (or as illegal). It is a competitive field, and now (at least in the quality places), they do get paid well for their work. Many are still Ecuadorian. 
  • As many misfits and outlaws and prima donnas cooking can attract, character still counts. You can teach someone to cook; you cannot teach them character. This is applicable to many other career paths. 
  • Here is why you don't order fish on Mondays. It is likely to be at least four days old. They got it the previous week, and if they still have fish on Monday, it means that fish has sat around all weekend. 
  • Not only is Monday fish bad, mussels can be worse unless you know exactly where and when they got them, their freshness. Otherwise, food poisoning is likely.
  • Cooks also hate brunch. Often, the food is made by whoever is available; the best cooks were on Friday and Saturday night; they are not getting up on Sunday, so it is the second string, or where they let the dishwasher start to learn his cooking chops. Not reassuring if you add the leftovers they use to make the brunch.
  • I just thought this was a really good line from the book: Vegetarians and their Hezbollah branch the Vegans. (Bourdain's disdain of vegetarians and vegans is well known).
  • Rotation of food is key. If the place is busy, and a particular food item flies out constantly, it is probably OK to eat since they sell a lot, they rotate a lot. If it is a slow place with a big overdone menu, forget ordering that fancy item; it has sat there for ages before you order it. Also, keep an eye on the waiter, he knows. More reason to be polite to the waiter. A waiter that likes you may be helpful and warn you of a bad fish. However, if he is under orders, well, his body language can still be a tell. 
  • Best times to eat then: Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays, when the cooks have had fresh delivery and time to be creative versus weekends when they rush, know it is just tourists they will never see again, and to be honest, could not care less about more than to turn those tables. This is why on rare times the Better Half and I go out to a nice place, we often do it in the middle of the week. Besides, the place is often glad to see you (since it is slow), so the service also tends to be attentive and more relaxed.
  • As for germs, a bit of germs won't kill you, but still avoid places of absolute filth. Much of his point is have some common sense, and be attentive. 
  • An interesting lesson. Sometimes it is  good to have enemies, even if you do not know who they are. It is  a sign you are important.  
* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading  Challenges:

Friday, June 09, 2017

Booknote: Live Girls

Ray Garton, Live Girls. New York: Dorchester, 2006. ISBN: 9780843956740.

Genre: horror fiction
Subgenre: vampires
Format: paperback
Source: Interlibrary Loan via Hutchins Library, Berea College. This loan came from the St. Joseph Public Library in Missouri.

I picked this up for a couple of reasons. One, a couple of reader's advisory resources on horror had it as a suggestion for vampire fiction readers. Two, I did it to have something for the Pick Your Poison challenge I am doing this year, which includes horror fiction. The premise looked great: a vampire stripper club set up in 1980s New York City before the city decided to "clean itself up" and get all Disney-fied. By the way, you may find some spoilers here, so tread accordingly.

This novel is your classic 1980s horror novel with graphic elements and full of explicit sex. If you like your vampires adult, mean and terrifying, and more mature theme and story, this may be for you. In the end, it has its good things and not so good things.

On the positive side, as I mentioned, this  is a vampire story where the vampires are mature adults, and they are terrifying creatures. Davey Owens gets pulled into their world when a stripper at Live Girls lures him and then eventually turns him into a vampire. Being vampires, sex is given, and there is a lot of it, and it is graphic. Personally, this did not bother me as much. I think it may be in part because I read erotica regularly, so a few graphic scenes do not bother me (and I have read much more graphic to be honest). Yet for other reviewers I read, the explicit sex tended to bother them, which honestly made me wonder what were they expecting. Personally, I also found the Midnight Club dance performance fascinating, but then again, performance art is fine by me in all its forms; this seemed to bother a few reviewers too, again, maybe they should go read something a bit more tame. Anyhow, there is that. In addition, the novel does capture the ambience of the city rather well, a time when the city was much  more gritty and sleazy than it is now (the good old times for some folks). Furthermore, the vampire world building and dynamic are actually pretty good. These are old vampires, like Anya who  keeps a scrapbook of  reviews of her dance performances going back to the 1920s. It  was small details like that which I found fascinating.

On the negative side, the pacing of the story is extremely slow. It picks up in bits and pieces, and gets a bit quicker in the latter part of the book once Davey is turned. However, it is slow reading for a bit more than half of the book. In addition, there are some irritating characters, such as Chad, Davey's nemesis at the third rate publishing house they work in, and their boss, an obnoxious woman who is not above sexually harassing her male subordinates. Then we have Benedek the reporter, who has the potential to be interesting, but it only goes so far. He is seeking revenge from the vampire that killed members of his family. In addition, the book can be scary, but for all the fuss, I honestly did not find it that scary. What I found was a vampires tale that works OK, and that is a good refreshment from all the tween vampires and emo vampires we find today. My main problem is that it dragged, and after you take the good elements, it really is not that great of a book. I had a hard staying with it because it was not that exciting. It is pretty much one of those you read once, and then you go looking for something better.

The edition I read is a 2006 reprint; the book first came out in 1987, so it does remain popular for some folks. I understand there is a sequel to this book, but based on this book I will be skipping it.

In the end, it was just OK, so I am giving it 2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Book qualifies  for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: 

Friday, June 02, 2017

Booknote: People I Want To Punch In The Throat

Jen Mann, People I Want to Punch in the Throat. Old Saybrook, CT: Tantor Audio, 2014. ISBN: 9781494557430.

Genre: humor (though that is questionable)
Subgenre: memoirs, suburbanites (I would add first world problems, white whines)
Format: Audiobook
Source: Overdrive system via the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This was another book I picked up from my public library's Overdrive system to meet the audiobooks reading challenge I am working on this year. Don't bother with  it; it was pretty much a waste of time. This was worse than Worick's Things I Want To Punch in the Face (link to my review of that). This book is basically the author whining and griping about her travails in married life in a suburb where  her husband goes from being the greatest guy to being the greatest asshole depending on her mood. How they remain together is truly puzzling. The book is not amusing at all.

The book description offers the following: "From noted blogger Jen Mann comes a collection of hilarious essays about suburban life and motherhood." That is probably one of the most highly inaccurate descriptions for a book I have read as a reviewer, and I have read some bad stuff in my time. I have no idea how or where she is a noted blogger, and this book is definitely not hilarious at all. It is more like cringeworthy and embarrassing. I had her other book, the holiday edition checked out too on Overdrive, and I returned it without bothering to read it because one dose of this is more than enough.

I am giving the book one of out of five stars, and I am doing it under protest. 

* * * * *

A few reading notes, which are mostly me responding some of the things I read as I was listening to the book:

Book written by Jen Mann. Renee Chambliss is narrator. Chambliss must have either  been paid very well or was desperate given the material she was stuck with reading. Still, for those audiobook readers out there who pay attention, she did a decent job narrating.

Author starts out with the amusing nature and yet boring and mundane traits of chat in the AOL days. There are not many pseudonymous chat places left online, which in a way is a pity really, but I digress. This AOL segment started amusing, but it pretty much gets annoying fast. She is describing a man she met via AOL chat in those early days. They both make all sorts of assumptions based on little to no real evidence, get mad at each other, and it amazes me they still kept on chatting. This is a segment that the author is stretching way too long, and she should have just moved on after a while.

She actually ended up marrying the guy?? Good grief, the woman must have been desperate or a masochist. This whole exchange is insane in an annoying hipster yuppie way.

She is right. I wonder how that man puts up with her brand of crazy. She either got lucky, or he has really low standards, was desperate too. He seems dorky, but not nuts to the scale she is. Sheesh, can we move on already?

This is related to the story of the pillow for the ring bearer at her wedding. Her mom does have a point:  you should have grabbed the damn pillow before you left. But yea, the guy is an asshole too. Again, how the hell they got married is beyond me, and hearing this is just getting painful at this point. I will be  blunt: the Better Half did not make that mistake. She made sure all the bases were covered, and no one lost their cool. What can I say? Some of us manage things better, but we do not need to write books about it.

I did not think this would be some crappy first world problems memoir. The subtitle of the book is seriously misleading as I have not heard anything about crafters, despots, or other suburban scourges. This is just the  author pretty much whining about every other little white whine first world problem imaginable. How anyone thinks this  is humor is beyond me. The more I read, the less I give a shit.

Her whole uptight thing about the swinger friend is even more ridiculous. Lady, can't handle it? Just leave. And "best part" is  everyone else knew but her. Not very attentive I guess. So the neighbor swings. It is not the end of the world nor a scandal.

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: