Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Booknote: Figures of Fear

Graham Masterton, Figures of Fear. Surrey, UK: Severn House, 2014. ISBN: 978-0-7278-8446-6.

Genre: fiction
Subgenre: horror, short fiction
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This book is a collection of 11 stories by Graham Masterton. The common theme is that of figures that cause fear and terror somehow. The stories often have a twist. The twists may not always be horrifying, but they do stay with you after you have read them. Some stories are more horrifying. Others I would say feel a bit like a good and unsettling episode of The Twilight Zone or a similar anthology series, and I do mean that in a good way.

In the book, the figures may bring fear, warnings, often twists, and they are always unsettling. These can also include fear of the unknown. For instance, the battered wife story has a twist ending, and it is not quite what one may commonly think. I wish I could say more, but I do not want to spoil the story for other readers.

Overall, I really liked this book. In fact, some of the stories I feel that I will need to reread in order to better appreciate them. The book makes a good selection to read for Halloween.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 27, 2017

Signs the economy is bad: October 27, 2017 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.

There is a lot going on since the last post in this series, so let's get on with it.

  • One of  the big news has to be the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico (a.k.a. the U.S. colony). Latest is that the contract to fix their power grid was awarded to some small unknown and barely qualified company for the only reason they were Pendejo In Chief donors. The story as of this post is still developing as there are calls for audits, investigations, the company threatened to leave the island hanging via a Twitter hissy fit they later had to apologize for, so on. We will see where this goes. Stories via Telesur and BBC. 
  • Speaking of Puerto Rico, it is pretty much a fact that folks  in the US discount Puerto Rico regularly, largely due to the usual US racism. However, part of the reason US folks in mainland US are so ignorant about the US colony is because the government literally DOES NOT count all sorts of important statistics about Puerto Rico that it regularly counts for US states and even other territories (yes, those are colonies too, by the way). Story via The Conversation.
  • Amazon has been up to some fuckery recently: 
    • Filing this under, "what could go wrong," Amazon is proposing a new "key" program where their delivery people can let themselves into your house to leave a package inside when you are not there. Story via The Christian Science Monitor. Because that is what I want: some stranger roaming in my house when I am not there. Their excuse is this addresses package theft when they leave the package if you are not there. Here is fucking radical idea, hearkening back to the days the USPS used to do this: leave a note instead saying when you will come back to attempt delivery  and phone number (or website now I guess) to schedule a delivery when are freaking there, or for you to drag your lazy ass to the post office or delivery office to get it. See, back in the day, I never had a package stolen ever because I knew from the notes when the package was coming and to expect it, or I just went and got it myself. I know, radical, huh? 
    • And speaking of delivery, now that Amazon bought out Whole Foods, one of their plans for "Whole Paycheck" is to use is as a delivery hub. However, mall tenants with  Whole Foods in  them are using fine print non-compete clauses to keep this idea out. It may get  hairy, folks. Story via Reuters.
  •  In the United Kingdom, "one in six families arranging a funeral unable to pay." Story via New Statesman. I get the feeling this is not a UK exclusive situation. This is why, joking aside, I want any funeral arrangements for me to be as cheap as possible. 
  • Minorities and poor people are hurt hard by hospital closures in rural areas. Story via The Daily Yonder
  • In fuckery, McDonald's in Pennsylvania had to settle a lawsuit by workers who got paid with one of those rip-off debit cards full of fees. Story via Lexington Herald Leader. By the way, a lot of fast food companies here in Kentucky do that same fuckery, but this state is more lax in allowing labor exploitation apparently. 
  • In more fuckery, lobbyists from the canned and frozen foods industry are trying to lessen or remove fresh fruit and vegetables from school meals for their stuff. Because creating healthy eating habits for kids does not make them money. These are the same crowd who would claim ketchup is a vegetable. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • Want more fuckery? The United States still has a form of slavery in inmate labor. Maybe it is time to end  it. Story via Truthout.
  • More bad news about crumbling infrastructure in the United States, where the priority is to worry about foreign interventionist wars, giving tax  breaks to millionaires, and bringing back Jim Crow plus working towards a theocratic Christian nation. Meanwhile, Oroville Dam is crumbling, and it would cost about $500 million to repair it, and that is only one example of the many major dams and structures needing repair. Story via The Rural Blog
  • Banks are commonly not held accountable for their accounting mistakes, vicious overcharging of fees they later deny, and other shenanigans. Read about the guy who spent a decade fighting banks for a $482 fee the bank denied they charged despite proof being there that they did. It's plain fuckery. Story via VICE
  • On another bit of fuckery (there is a lot of it this week), did you know that half of all Mexicans paid a bribe in the previous 12 months? Read the story via Big Think.  
  • Here is an interesting piece, a defense of cash  and bringing back big bill denominations like the $500 bill. Now, I am of the theory that given all the hacks and other financial fuckery we will eventually slide back to a cash and barter economy. However, big denominations will not help. No one these days takes any bills higher than $20 other than Walmart, a few other big boxes, and banks. Feel free to comment with your thoughts. Story via The Conversation.
  • Once more, the bullshit of the hordes of librarians retiring and leaving jobs open for new librarians is making the rounds. I put up with  that nonsense when  I went to library school more than a decade ago, and library schools are still peddling that bullshit scam. The Association of Research Libraries  has a new report out warning of the impending doom of retiring librarians (insert laugh track here from librarians who know what is really going on). At this point, even the Annoyed  Librarian took a shot at mocking this  nonsense. Stories via Inside Higher Ed and Annoyed Librarian.
The news are not all bad. The uber rich have a couple of  good news this week:

  • The good movies will soon be available in movie theaters only for the rich who can pay if Regal Cinemas gets their way. They are testing a new popularity of films pricing scale. That means you pay more for the "good" movies, and you probably pay the regular inflated already price for the shitty flops. Or you can  do what reasonable people who are not impatient do anyhow which  is just wait for it to come out on Netflix and avoid the movie theater altogether. Story via The Week.
  • And finally for this week, if you need a home, and you got $410 million to spend on it, the most expensive house in the world could be yours. Story via USA Today.

Booknote: 500 Ceramic Sculptures

Suzanne J E Tourtillott, et.al., 500 Ceramic Sculptures: Contemporary Practice, Singular Works. New York, NY: Lark Books, 2009.  ISBN: 978-1-60059-247-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: art and photography
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison  County (KY) Public Library

This book is a compilation of ceramic sculpture photography. The objects include freestanding objects and installations. 7,500 pieces were submitted for consideration. Glen R. Brown, art historian and critic, served as juror and chose 500 for the book. A wide variety of ceramic styles and materials are represented in this book.

The book includes an introduction, and then we get to the photos. Some pieces get a full page. Others get two per page. In some cases, you may get a full photo and a detail close up photo of a particular piece. The photographer clearly did a good job capturing the images.

Overall, I liked this book. It was a relaxing and pleasant experience to look over these excellent art pieces.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 20, 2017

Reading about the reading life: October 20, 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).

Let's see what has been going on in reading, books, and literacy recently: 

  • According to NPD Bookscan, comics and graphic novels are experiencing growth in the book market. It also indicates there is growth in  women buying comics and graphic novels. 
  • Open Culture has a story on Napoleon's traveling library
  • Gustavo Arellano resigns from OC Weekly. Why is this significant? "Arellano was the rare Latino editor-in-chief among American alt weeklies. In fact, he was the rare Latino leader at any English-language news organization — period." The owners of OC Weekly seem to be claiming bad economy kind of stuff, but this may be questionable. Story via The Los Angeles Times
  • Via The Paris Review, a piece on finding books "by accident." Piece starts out a little stuffy when the author goes over some old literary serious book she found and stakes her claim that "I never go all the way and read real mass-market crap" (which is the kind of somewhat snobbish attitude The Paris Review often offers), but it then warms up when it talks about the experience in general of finding those books by accident in places like used bookstores  or thrift shops. So, literary or "mass-market crap" or anything else, any readers here have any happy book finds, books found by accident? The comments are open.
  • At Cooking With Ideas, the question of whether to use a cookbook or use Google to find your recipes  is the way to go. And what about cooking magazines?
  • Via Signature, a small list of 5 charming southern bookstores
  • I knew it: book clubs are just excuses for schmoozing and boozing it up, even in the 1700s. Via Atlas Obscura
  • This came out a while ago, but I thought it  was of interest. It is an article out of The New York Times on college summer reading books. You know, those books some of us hate that colleges make their incoming students read every year for a "bonding experience" and are more than likely soon forgotten by said students. Here is another similar article on the same topic, this time via Inside Higher Ed.
  • Dangerous Minds featured piece looking at old PAN paperbacks.

Booknote: Grocery

Michael Ruhlman, Grocery: the Buying and Selling of Food in America. New York, NY: Abrams Press, 2017.  ISBN: 978-1-4197-2386-5.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, food, business, history
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This book features some history of grocery stores in the United States, but that is not the main focus. The book looks more at American food buying and how those habits have changed over time, especially since the time of Ruhlman's father, who enjoyed grocery shopping. In addition, in order to look more closely at grocery operations, the author focuses on Heinen's, an Ohio-based Midwestern midsize grocery  chain.

For the most part, it is an interesting book. I found the historical passages interesting, and I wished there were some more of those. The book is more a bit of memoir, social study, and a look at Heinen's. In fact, the author may have spent a bit too much time at Heinen's. After a while, the book feels more like an extended infomercial for the grocery chain, and that takes away from the book's overall narrative and content.

Another interesting element is discussion of some of the "tricks" grocers may do. For instance, having the milk all the way in the back. Folks, including grocery experts, claim it is to make you go through the grocery store, hoping you buy other things you may not need. Grocers like Heinen's claim that the refrigerators and freezers are along the back wall where they can be plugged in and stocked easier. OK, but do note how some stores recently do put some milk in smaller units in the front for customer convenience. Given that grocers like Heinen's claim they are highly responsive to customer desire (that can be debated some other time), it seems enough annoyed people got other stores to stock some milk where you can get it, pay and leave.

Staying with the theme, when grocers like Heinen's and others are asked about why they sell food that may or not be as good for you, they say it is because the customer wants it. It may be their honest answer, but I find it a bit flippant and easy. If customers started asking for arsenic-laced cookies, I am sure they would refuse to sell them (although that is more likely due to a fear of lawsuits than any morals). The point is when an author asks why food retailers get so much more scrutiny than other retailers, the answer is clear: they sell food, something essential that is not really optional. So yes, scrutinizing our food supply is crucial. In fact, we do not do enough of that.

Overall, I liked the book, but I felt it could have been more than what it was. If you are looking for a straight up history of groceries and grocery stores, this is not it. It does work well as a memoir and a look at groceries in the later part of the 20th century into today.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 
Additional reading notes:

Why grocery stores and supermarkets are significant:

"Because they are a reflection, even symbol, of our culture, and thus a gauge of who we are, supermarkets illuminate what we care about, what we fear, what we desire. They offer a view of our demographic makeup, including how  much money we have and how big the country is, not to mention how much it is changing" (2). 

A big event from 1988 mentioned in the book and that I recall: Walmart gets into the food business, and it opens its first Walmart Supercenter.

The book does feature footnotes throughout and a selected bibliography at the end of the book. From that bibliography, the following books are ones I may consider reading down the road. Book links go to WorldCat:

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Booknote: Blitzed

Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.  ISBN: 9781328663795. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

The full title of the book made it sound more interesting than it actually is. The book is arranged broadly in three parts:a period before the Second World War, a close look at German armed forces and also a close look at Adolf Hitler, and the end of the war when it all falls apart. This was a time when pharmaceutical industries  were rising. The book provides a look at the role and influence of drugs, mainly prescribed meth in  the form of  drugs like Pervitin, had on the German armed forces and on Hitler.

In the early half of the 20th century, many drugs like opiates we consider or rate as illegal were commonly available, easily found in drug stores, and casually prescribed if they needed prescription. Companies like Merck were rising on the way to become the big pharma players of today. The book does provide a nice picture of the pharma industry in the early half of the 20th century. There was an  interest then in performance enhancing drugs for workers and the military. That is where drugs like Pervitin came in. Soon military leaders made sure the German armed forces were well supplied with these drugs. Such drugs enabled the soldiers to work longer, fight longer, and be more aggressive and eager about it. Just one detail: not everyone was sure about possible side effects.

The book then spends a significant amount of space with Hitler and Dr. Morrell, his personal physician. Though the Nazis preached ideals of health and clean living, reality was way different. Drug use was rampant; often it was the one thing that kept the soldiers fighting. As for Hitler, his drug use worsened as he needed drugs to keep carrying out his evil agenda.

Overall, it is an interesting book in parts, but it can get repetitive at times. For me, the best parts were the broad looks at society and the pharmaceutical industry. Other parts were a bit of a drag to read. In the end, the book provides a look at the Third Reich from a perspective seldom explored, so there is the value. It was OK for me in the end.

2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 06, 2017

Booknote: Mincemeat

Leonardo Lucarelli, Mincemeat: the Education of an Italian Chef. New York: Other Press, 2016.  ISBN: 978-1590517918.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, chefs, cooking
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I recently finished reading this. . . barely. The author has been compared to Anthony Bourdain, which is part of why I picked up this book. Let me warn you not to be fooled. Apparently, being a drug addict, a womanizer, a thief at times, and often an asshole can all be forgiven if you can cook decently enough.

Bourdain and Lucarelli can both be dicks, but I do not recall Bourdain actively stealing from places he worked at. Also, Bourdain after a while learns some humility, albeit the hard way, and he displays a degree of  humanity that you will not see in Lucarelli's book. Lucarelli makes bad choice after bad choice, barely redeeming himself because he has the ability to cook. Other than that, there just isn't much substance to this book, at least until he settles down a bit to teach and consult, but by then the book is over, and you could not care less about the guy.

This seems to be a trend in chef memoirs: it does not matter how big of an asshole or poor human being you are, as long as you can cook fancy food, you can get away with it if there are people willing to pay for it. Very few can do it well, and Lucarelli is not one of them. You get tired of his antics, and the asshole schtick wears out pretty fast. The book is jut not really compelling. This is a book to skip.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: