Friday, December 29, 2017

Yet another of those pretentious reading lists, big whoop

As my four readers know, once in a while I amuse myself by seeing how much or how little I have read from some pompous and snotty list of "books you need to read to avoid being  a loser" or whatever the title du jour is. Today's amusement comes via Inc., which I am guessing the business magazine must have had a slow day when this came out. They posted a list  of "30 Books You Need to Read to Earn 'Well-Read' Status." Well shit. Being a former English major, English and Literature teacher, adjunct college professor, and now academic librarian, I had to match my wits. The list by the way is not that impressive. It basically picks out three books from each category (or one more or one less) to reach 30. I think it has a lot of books missing in each category.

Here are the books they list with some commentary, snark and all, from me. The categories come from the article. Titles in bold are titles I have read. Authors in bold means I have read some other work by that author:

  • Western Classics (Ancient and Modern): 
    • The Odyssey by Homer. I have also read The Illiad. I read Homer somewhere back in middle school when I was in a mythology reading stage. So to be honest, I do not consider this to be particularly impressive from adults (i.e. you should have read this already.). And yes, I have reread them since. 
    • A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. Instead, I have read and taught Great Expectations, to the point that I have come to hate Dickens. I honestly to this day have no idea which curriculum "expert" thinks teaching Great Expectations to 9th graders is a good idea, but that "expert" needs to be shot (or at least fired). I have also read "A Christmas Carol" (as in actually read it, not just seen it on TV like most people have). 
    • Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Read it sometime in graduate school when  I was getting my other masters. I cannot comment much because I do not remember it, and to be honest, I do not really give a shit about Austen. I have also read some of her other  stuff, but again, soon forgot about it. 
    • Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. I have read much of his short fiction. 
  • Dystopia:  This is a genre I care little about. I read a thing or two in this once in a while, but I do not actively seek it.
    • Nineteen Eighty-Four by George Orwell. Another classic I grew to hate from teaching it in high school, this time to seniors. Although I do not hate it in the way I hate Dickens. In addition, I have also read Animal Farm and some of his essays. 
    • Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.
    • The Handmaid's Tale by Margaret Atwood. Seriously overrated though eerily reflective of where things are headed in some parts of  the world including the United States. I am sure most people now talk about it thanks to the television series, but I get the feeling not many have read it. It is seriously verbose and overall not particularly interesting. But I can say I have actually read it. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy: I enjoy more science fiction than fantasy, but I  have been known to read a little fantasy now and then. 
    • The Lord of the Rings series by J.R.R. Tolkien. I have read this and The Hobbit. To be honest, this is another one that may be overrated. There is a lot of filler in the series. 
    • The Foundation Series by Isaac Asimov. I call myself a science fiction reader, and it is amazing I have not read the Foundation Series yet. However I have read quite a bit of his short fiction. 
    • Neuromancer by William Gibson. I have also read his Burning Chrome.
  • Great American Novels. Most of these just make me yawn to be honest. As usual, we get a selection of dead white guys because apparently women and  minorities do not write in this category: 
    • The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald.  I thought I managed to make it out of high school without reading it, but I had to read it later in college. 
    • Bonfire of the Vanities by Tom Wolfe. I could not care less. 
    • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck. I did read Of Mice and Men, "The Pearl," and a good amount of his short fiction. 
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. LOL. This is basically the door stoppers and pretentious stuff  that no one outside some selected English majors and seriously pretentious readers really reads.  They are pretty heavy books if you need to hit someone: 
    • Ulysses by James Joyce. I have gone happily through life without reading this overrated novel that many call unreadable, and I feel "well-read" just fine. 
    • Infinite Jest by David Foster Wallace. Another book and author I could not care less about. 
    • Gravity's Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon. Again, I have no fucks to give here.
  • Popular Fiction. 
    • A Song of Fire and Ice Series. by George R.R. Martin. Let's be honest. Aside from some hardcore fantasy fans, only people reading this are fans of the series. I never cared for the books, and I do not really care for the show neither. There is plenty of other fantasy I like better.  However, I have read some of his short fiction and some from his edited Wild Cards series. 
    • The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins. I thought this would be up in dystopia, but OK. The article's author comments, "better than Twilight." That is one low bar. Fuck, anything is better than Twilight. And Battle Royale by Koushon Takami (there is a novel, an excellent manga, and a movie of it. I personally recommend the manga but warn it is seriously violent) did it before and a hell of a lot better than Hunger Games
    • Fifty Shades of Grey by E.L. James. Contrary to what the article's author says, this will not spice up your bedroom. Do yourself, and your partner if you have one, a favor and find yourself some much better erotica. If your partner comes to the bedroom with the shady books, walk out. Don't fuck them. Seriously, have some dignity and self-respect and read any other erotica. The Best Bondage Erotica series edited by Rachel Kramer Bussel may be a good start. Here is my review of the 2014 volume. I can recommend others if you need a little help here. 
  • Immigrant Experience (U.S./UK). 
    • Interpreter of Maladies by Jhumpa Lahiri. I will admit that I have not heard of this one.  
    • Joy Luck Club by Amy Tan. I also read The Bonesetter's Daughter, which did not impress me much. 
    • How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Accents by Julia Alvarez. I have to say a bit impressed they included this. Usually Time of the Butterflies is the standard for any list with Julia Alvarez in it. I have also read her Yo!
  • Non-Western Classics (ancient). I guess the article author is not that well read if they could not even scrape three titles: 
    • Ramayana (India). Yep, read this.  
    • Romance of the Three Kingdoms (China). 
  • Non-Western Classics (modern). 
    • One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. This is my all-time favorite novel, which  I reread every few years or so, in Spanish by the way. I have also read most of his other fiction and some of his nonfiction. Think this novel is too long or complex? Consider reading some of his short stories set in Macondo; you can get a taste in small doses. 
    • To Live by Yu Hua. I have not heard of this, but hey, a banned book is of interest.  
    • Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. I read Arrow of God instead.
  • Satire. 
    • Cat's Craddle by Kurt Vonnegut. Read Breakfast of Champions instead. 
    • Catch-22 by Joseph Heller.
    • The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams. This is another I keep meaning to read but can't seem to get around to it. 
The article author leaves with this:

"I hate to break it to you, but if you're truly a well-read person, you will never feel well-read. They're always on the lookout for their next book--that category that they're missing--to add to their impressive list. It's a Sisyphean goal, really.

If you feel well-read, you're probably not." 

Actually, I feel "well-read" just fine, AND I am always on the look out for that next great book. But thanks for the attempt to be a snob. I mean, we could make a whole list of books that could  have easily gone on this list (some of them better than the ones listed), but that would be a whole other post.

Final tally:
  • Books from the list read: 13
  • Authors from the list read: 20.  
Postscript: Since I know someone will ask, here are a few books I would add that I have read in the categories the article's author set up:

  • Western Classics (ancient and modern): 
    • The Histories by Herodotus. The "father of history" also made up a lot of stuff as he went along, making this quite entertaining at times. 
    • Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes novels and stories. There is a reason they keep making movies and not so good television shows adapting or  modernizing Sherlock Holmes. Go read the source. If you want a good television adaptation, the Granada series with Jeremy Brett is great. 
  • Dystopia: 
    • Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury.  
    • The Long Walk by Stephen King (writing as Richard Bachman). The Running Man also works here. 
  • Science Fiction and Fantasy. Oh my goodness. We could add so many here, including some that also qualify as dystopian. Let's go by authors since there are so many, and I am just going to pick a small few for now (we could make lists and lists of science fiction and fantasy): 
    • Jules Verne. One of the daddies of science fiction (and also one of the daddies of steampunk before steampunk became "a thing").  
    • Arthur Conan Doyle. Yes, again, because before Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park, which I  have read, there was Professor Challenger.
    • Philip K. Dick
    • Robert A. Heinlein. Love him or hate him you cannot deny his place in the science fiction canon. I think some of his early stuff is better. 
    • Frank Herbert, for Dune
    • Ray Bradbury, yes, again, this time for The Martian Chronicles.
    • For a modern classic, try All You Need Is Kill by Hiroshi Sakurazaka. (Read the book, skip the so-so movie "adaptation" with Tom Cruise). 
  • Great American Novels. Again, going by authors, because why limit yourself to just one work for some of these folks? To be honest, I am not a fan of "American" (read United States) novels, but there are some works I like or that have stayed with  me. In no particular order (and understanding there could be others added) : 
    •  Mark Twain
    • Toni Morrison
    • Ralph Ellison
    • Edgar Allan Poe
    • Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett (private eye genre daddies). And not necessarily a "great American novelist," but we could toss in Mickey Spillane for his Mike Hammer novels. 
    • I'd toss in Tim O'Brien for The Things They Carried.
  • Literary Heavy Hitters. (Not adding. I do not believe in torturing my readers.)
  • Popular fiction. This is another category you could add so many things. Personally, I would use this to add some good graphic novels. A few I have recently liked and read include: 
    • The March series by John Lewis.
    • 21: the Story of Roberto Clemente
    • Drowned City
    • Ghetto Klown.
  • Immigrant Experience: 
    • When I Was Puerto Rican. OK, cheating on this title a little since I have not read it yet. It was highly recommended to me by my mother as it captures the Puerto Rican immigrant experience. 
    • The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love by Oscar Hijuelos.
  • Non-Western Classics (I do not necessarily consider Latin American to be "non-western" but the author did, so I am tossing it in.):
    • Dhammapada (Buddhist texts).  
    • Mario Vargas Llosa
    • Jorge Luis Borges. You can start with his Ficciones and El Aleph.
    • Salman Rushdie. I am not a huge fan, but Midnight's Children stayed with me.
  • Satire:
    • Gulliver's Travels by Johnathan Swift. 
    • Don Quijote by Miguel De Cervantes.
What I added above is a very small sampling. It is hard to create this kind of list because criteria can vary, and what person feels is a must another may feel is not. In the end, that author can "break it to us all she wants," but I feel well read just fine, and yes, I am always on the lookout for my next good read.

Would you like to see some of  the books I would like to read down the road? Check out my "Items about books I want to read" series over on my commonplace blog Alchemical Thoughts.  Just click on the "books and reading" tag. The "to be read" (TBR) list keeps getting bigger, but that just means I will always have something to read.

So, what would you add to your list of books that you feel would make you a "well-read" person? The comments are open.

Sunday, December 24, 2017

Booknote: Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe

Matt Groening, Will and Abe's Guide to the Universe. New York: Harper Collins, 2007. ISBN: 978-006-134037-6.

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

This is one of Groening's early "other than the Simpsons" stuff, and to be honest, it is not really that good. The premise of the book is that Groening gets ideas from his sons' conversations, songs, made-up stories, etc. It's sort of his attempt at "Kids say the darnedest things," only that kids are not really that funny. The whole thing just falls flat. There are one or two funny strips, but overall you can safely skip this unless you feel a need to read everything Groening has written. I certainly do not. Borrow this one if you must.

2 out of 5 stars (barely)

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 22, 2017

Booknote: The Complete Idiot's Guide to Kabbalah

Michael Laitman with Collin Canright, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Kabbalah. Indianapolis, IN: Alpha Books, 2007. ISBN: 978-1-59257-542-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: reference, educational, self-help, religion, mysticism
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked up this book from my local public library mainly out of curiosity. I've also seen some Tarot decks, such as The Hermetic Tarot that I recently added to my collection, that feature Kabbalah elements, and that gave me another reason to pick up the book. 

The Complete Idiot's Guide series, along with  the For Dummies series, tends to be a pretty good and basic introduction to whatever topic it presents. However, the books can be hit or miss, and this one was more of a miss. I am not sure if it is because the topic of Kabbalah is too complicated for a book designed to be very basic, or if the author was not able to focus, stay on point, and distill the topic down to basics.

The book is organized into four parts, and each part has various chapters. The book attempts to cover a lot of ground from defining Kabbalah to key concepts to how to study it. It also wants to claim that Kabbalah is scientific and empirical (xv), but the more you read, the more you find it is just another religious belief system that is neither scientific nor necessarily empirical. It may have a system; it may require a lot of study and reading; that does not make it "scientific." By the way, introducing "faith" such as needing it to experience the relationship with a creator means you can't really claim to be "scientific." By definition, faith does not require evidence, which science and the scientific method do.

The book can  also get a bit repetitive, especially in Part One where various concepts are repeated over and over, though not well explained because the explanations come later in the book. The early parts of the book are basically an annoying tease. The letters and numbers symbolism, something I was interested in, does not come until Part Two, Chapter 11. By then, I care little about the book because I had to drag myself through the previous stuff.

Overall, the book is overdone, and it lacks focus. It feels like the author just tossed everything in, but there is no depth. It also plays down Kabbalah's origins in Judaism and Jewish mysticism as well as how it has evolved and adapted outside of Judaism.

In the end, for this book, I feel I could have read the Wikipedia entry for Kabbalah, gotten a better understanding, and not wasted my time. If you want to learn some basics on Kabbalah, skip this book and find other sources.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

Booknote: X-O Manowar, Volume 2: General

Matt Kindt,, X-O Manowar, Volume 2: General. New York: Valiant Entertainment, 2017. ISBN: 9781682152171.

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

A quick note on this comic. This is a series that I continue to enjoy. It is definitely a great read and a refreshing alternative from the usual DC and Marvel fare.

After his previous victory, Aric of Dacia rises in rank and power. He now commands armies as a general. In his new mission, he also has to play diplomat in solving a territorial dispute in order to preserve an alliance. The comic blends action and some intrigue with great art reminiscent of other classic comics. This is definitely a great series and one I will keep reading. I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Holiday Post 2017: Books and Reading

Welcome back to The Itinerant Librarian and my annual series of holiday posts. Today I am looking at books and reading. I always enjoy finding lists of books to read and suggesting an idea or two for what to read next. Also, stay tuned as I will soon be posting my end of year reading report as well as choosing any reading challenges I will be doing in 2018. Meanwhile, let's see what is out there in reading and books.

The big lists

Basically, the usual popular stuff (that I feel obligated to include)

  • The big behemoth online retailer everyone loves to hate has their list of 2017 best books out.
  • The New York Times has their 100 notable books for 2017. I can say I have not read a single book in this list, and I feel fine. I do have some from their nonfiction list in my TBR lists. 
    • Apparently the NYT also asked their readers to pipe in on their favorites over at the NYT Facebook page, and here are the  highlights in case you care. From this list, I have Neil Gaiman's Norse Mythology on my TBR list (my public library has it, but I have  not gotten my hands on it yet. No rush neither as I have plenty of other things to read at the moment).
  • Here is The Guardian's list, which includes hits and misses.

Other lists

These are the not quite major reading lists that I think are still good and/or interesting somehow.


For some reason, I came across a lot of cookbook lists for the end of the year. Part of me always wonders how many people who buy or get these books as gifts actually use them to cook anything from them. I have often observed that a lot of higher end cookbooks are totally impractical and nearly useless unless you are a professional chef with an industrial well-stocked kitchen. But at least the pictures are often nice to look at. Here then is a sampling of cookbook lists.

 Books on specific topics

These are lists on specific topics. Some of these lists may help you understand better a specific topic or issue. Signature often does that type of list  well, and I link to the ones I find of interest over on my commonplace blog Alchemical Thoughts. So here are some books on specific things.

  • Business. For  some reason, business people love to tell others what to read. If you are into business books, here are some ideas. Inc.'s Leigh Buchanan offers what she deems as 10 brilliant business books
  • Buddhism. Tricycle staff picks out their top Buddhist books for 2017
  • Photography books. The folks at Atlas Obscura offer a list of photography books. This is a genre I have been enjoying more recently, in part because I find just looking at nice photos and pictures to be relaxing. From this list, the book about Hong Kong shop cats sounds interesting. By the way, on a side note, the Atlas Obscura folks have their own book, Atlas Obscura: an Explorer's Guide to the World's Hidden Wonders, out now, which I have added to my TBR list and hope to read soon. 
  • Art books. NYT has a list for those
  • Picture books for children. Shelf Talk has some suggestions
  • Horror. One of my reading challenges for 2017 involved reading horror books. It is a genre I enjoy, but I do not always make the time to read it. So I am always looking for suggestions. Barnes and Noble has a list of best horror for 2017
  • Books about books. Fine Books and Collections has a roundup of books about books
  • Books for the holidays and/or about the holidays.
  • For Progressives. Here is a guide for progressives who wish to give books as gifts to their relatives ranging from the woke niece to your hopeless bigoted elder (they are way more optimistic than I am in thinking that asshole is going to read a book). Via Yes! Magazine
  • For books in Spanish, either in Spanish language or translated into Spanish, El Pais newspaper offers their 20 best (Spanish language source).

A few other bookish things

These are just a few extra things about books and reading I found interesting. 

Monday, December 18, 2017

Holiday Post 2017: Gifts, strange things, and other shopping

Welcome back to The Itinerant Librarian and the annual series of holiday posts for 2017. Today I am focusing on gifts, strange things, and other tidbits about shopping during the holiday season. If you had some foresight and planned ahead, odds may be good you are done with your shopping by now. I am certainly done with  mine, and boy am I glad. I cannot recommend it enough to get your shopping, be it in person or online, done on the early side so you can relax on the few days before Christmas. Heck, this year I had to order from that big online behemoth everyone loves to hate, and since I did it early, got the free delivery, and the stuff  is wrapped and ready to go. Seriously, consider taking some stress away from your life.

However, if you are still shopping, either because you did not plan ahead, or you are just one of those people who get the thrill of doing it last minute, some of these links may give you some gift ideas. For me, I look at these in large part because they are interesting, or I find them some ridiculous, I need a laugh or two. So let's have a look.

Gift giving etiquette and advice

You can't just randomly give gifts or do so without thought. There are rules and some etiquette involved.  Plus some additional advice.

  • Here are some bits of gift giving etiquette basics via Wise Bread. For example, can your regift? Probably but there are things to keep in mind.
  • Via Living Well, Spending Less, here are some big holiday problems solved. Did that one relative bring extra guests you were not expecting? What about that one relative with the dietary restrictions? Or again, your crazy drunken RWNJ uncle who will not STFU about politics?  Here are some ideas on how to deal with that and some more.
  • Consider this a PSA: do not give animals/pets as gifts. That is usually something you should let the person decide if they want a pet or not. So please do not give a life sentence. Via AlterNet.

Lists of general gifts
  •  If you like pens and stationery, the Goulet Pens blog has a few gift ideas under $20. Personally, if they were not so high maintenance, I'd use a fountain pen more. 
  • USA Today claims they have "10 gifts for men that they'll actually love." These kind of lists often remind me that I do not really fit into the prototypical manly man. Either that, or those manly men are just ridiculous hipsters and guys with way too much money and idle time. Because fancy pears and Amish beard balm are not the first things that come to mind when I want a holiday gift. Having said that, the idea of gifting a good reliable chef's knife (because yes, men cook at home too) is a good one. 
  • The Advocate also has their 2017 holiday gift list (warning: it is a slide show). Do gay people (the magazine's main demographic) really go for some of this stuff? Those Tagame men's swimming briefs, which retail for $58 bucks by the way, look more disturbing than flattering for example (seriously, they make you look like some guy is biting your dick off). Now, the portable power jump starter I think is a practical thing, and  I think everyone with a car should have one or something similar to it. And I actually like that bamboo laptop organizer; I'd get two (one for my home office and one for work), so this list is not as bad as it appears initially. 
  • ProPublica has a somewhat eclectic gift guide for 2017
  • Now this I found interesting and useful. The title of the article is "Christmas Gifts That Will Save You Money." It is not about cheap stuff for you to buy. It is about practical things to give someone that will save them money down the road. For example, socks. Sure, as a kid you hated getting stuff like that. I know I did. I had plenty of socks, which I got year round anyhow. I wanted the toys and luxuries I could not get otherwise outside of Christmas. But as a grown up, well, socks do cost money, and I do not always have said money or time to get them. For guys who wear suits, dress socks are a must. Athletes need athletic socks. The Better Half loves getting those warm socks to wear around the house to keep the feet toasty. You get the idea. So Lifehacker has a list of a few things that may seem mundane but you could be helping someone save a little money by gifting them these kind of things. 
  • Finally for this  category, some things to treat yourself via GQ. Personally, I am not sure about some of these; I do not need a $600 blender for example. However, I did already treat myself to some new Tarot and oracle decks, which I will using later in 2018. Stay tuned for reviews of those in this blog.

Specific and niche gifts

These are gifts for that very specific fan or nitpicky gift recipient. Do they have it all already? Try some of these.
  • Do you have a trekkie/trekker/hardcore Star Trek fan you need to buy for? Wired has a list of logical gifts for them. 
  • Do they like music? Well, the Lexington Herald Leader has what they consider some great album suggestions for 2017
  • Maybe you really are cutting it close in the shopping, or your recipient may like something different. Maybe a subscription gift, such as one of those box subscriptions, might be a good idea. Here are five ideas from Money Talks News
  • For the gamer, game consoles and games are popular, and here is The New York Times guide for those. If your gamer goes for nostalgia, well, Atari games are making a comeback. 
  • Speaking of nostalgia, Salon has a guide of nostalgia-based gifts for kids (and the kid in us all). Some of these are basically old time toys and gadgets given a digital or electronic makeover.  For example, there is a VR Viewmaster available. 
  • For readers and writers, The Millions has their 2017 Gift Guide, which even features the apparently mandatory "overpriced candle." 
  • Boing Boing has a gift guide too, heavy on stuff for geeks and technophiles.
  • If you need your gifts to be ethical, environmentally friendly, so on, here is a list for under $100 bucks (that right there means I probably will not be getting many if any of these). Via AlterNet.
  • Do people still wear watches? Well, if they do, GQ offers a list of "Affordable" watches. That word, affordable, I do not think it means what they think it means. 
  • Some folks have a tradition of giving teachers some small holiday gift at end of school year. Book Riot has some ideas for literary gifts for teachers
  • Do you want to do a DIY gift? Well, you should have started making them already. Still, here are some books to give you some ideas. Via Shelf Talk. Here are a few more DIY ideas from Wallet Hacks.
  • If you like alcohol and spirits, Drinkhacker has their 2017 Holiday Guide
  • Have a grad student in your life? Here are some gift suggestions from grad students themselves. A little short on money? Well, your grad student may appreciate one or more of these gifts that do not cost a penny. Via Inside Higher Ed
  • Some people apparently like the Williams-Sonoma store and catalog, not sure why. If you have a fan of W-S in your life, and  you kinda hate W-S, well, here is your hater's guide to help you find something. Via Adequate Man.
  • Gotta do one of those white elephant give exchanges or such? Here are some ideas. I personally like the Millennium Falcon ice molds (just saying, in case anyone feels generous out there). On the other hand, that Guzzle Buddy wine bottle attachment may be a bit of overkill. Via Boing Boing.

For many folks, a new calendar makes a nice gift. These days you can find a calendar for just about any theme, taste, concept, etc. Then there are calendars like these:

Gifts we can call "interesting" 

  • This one may be for that one alcoholic relative who can't just drink one bottle of beer at a time. If he has a six pack, he needs to open them all at once, and now, thanks to this gizmo, he can open them all at once. Via Foodiggity.
  • I know a lady or two who would appreciate these dainty insult teacups and saucers. Via Dangerous Minds
  • For the bong and pipe enthusiast, here are some Christmas themed bongs and pipes. Via Dangerous Minds
  • For that one relative on your shit list. Via Worst Things for Sale.
A small bit of NSFW stuff

Self-explanatory. (If this offends you, just skip to the next category)

  • Looking for something a bit frisky or just to warm things up? Joanna Angel has some sex toy and item suggestions. There are two erotica books included in the list, Asarotica and Night Shift, which I recently received review copies for, and I will be reviewing them on the blog soon. Stay tuned. Via FHM magazine. 

And for those of you unfortunate enough to have a Pendejo In Chief supporter and fan in your life be it friend, relative, etc.

Odds are good some of you know such a person or are related to one, and you have or feel the need to get them a gift. I have no idea why you feel that, but here is some help.

  • If  you are feeling mean and want to get to the point, get them this festive Trump figurine. Via Dangerous Minds.
  • On the other hand, if you feel more like trying to make the peace (futile, I know, but let's say you are feeling generous and full of the whole holiday spirit thing), you could get them a cuddly Trumpy bear. Via Dangerous Minds too. 
  • And finally for this category, if he is a gun fetishist (oops, enthusiast), and you have some  money to burn, there is always a Trump .45. Yes, this is actually a real pistol. Via Forbes. Hat tip to Christian Nightmares.

Other holiday shopping tips and overall advice

Some final pieces of advice. 
  •  Some folks decided to give gift cards. For some, they can be a good gift. However, there are some things you need to consider. Via USA Today.
  • Here are some last minute money tips to help you during this season. Via Mint Life. Keeping a budget and sticking to it is important; I know I find that tidbit helpful. 
  • Perhaps you are considering or getting ready to give to charity. Here is an ethical guide to do so, via The Conversation.
  • Do you bake cookies? Do you want to send some to relatives? Here is some advice on how to ship cookies safely. Via Lifehacker.
  • So, the holidays are over. There are a few things you are better off buying right after Christmas such as wrapping paper and Christmas decorations. But you already knew that. In addition to those, here are some more ideas of things that are way cheaper right after Christmas. Via She Budgets.
  • After the holidays, at the start of the new year, you may feel a need to resolve to save more money. You may consider doing the Penny Challenge or the 52 week challenge. Details here via Wallet Hack.

Booknote: Neil Gaiman's Forbidden Brides

Neil Gaiman, with Shane Oakley (artist), Forbidden Brides of the Faceless Slaves in the Secret House of the Night of Dread Desire. Milwaukie, OR: Dark Horse Books, 2017. ISBN: 978-1-50670-140-0.

Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: Gothic fiction
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I was not impressed by this comic. The story feels more like filler than anything substantial. The plot is about a Gothic writer in his castle who want to write "serious" literature in order to gain respect. Instead, to his chagrin, he writes Gothic literature about frail women, the undead, and other night mysteries. To complicate things, he gets interrupted by his raven and his butler among others.

The comic is supposed to be a satirical take on writers who take themselves too seriously. It does not really work. The plot seems like a mess. The one positive feature is Shane Oakley's art, which captures the Gothic atmosphere well.

I did some looking around after reading this volume. This comic, it turns out, is an adaptation of a short story in Gaiman's anthology Fragile Things. A few fans swear "the joke" works better in prose. I say if you need explain the joke or identify it as a joke, it does not work. This was a case of a short story adaptation to comics that was  not needed. I usually like Gaiman's work, but this is nowhere near his  best. It was OK. . . barely.

2 out of 5 stars (barely).

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 15, 2017

Holiday Post 2017: Traditions, Manners, and other Miscellanous stuff

Welcome to the first of my Holiday Posts for 2017. This has not been an easy year. Work overall has been good; it has kept me busy, and it has challenged me at times. However I am grateful for the work, the fact we still have a roof over the head, food on the table, and some of the simple things in life. Clio, our new cat who had her first Christmas at home last year, has settled in nicely.

As for the rest of the real world, this year is now part of what I have come to know as the "Hard Times." I wish I could say I have hopes for 2018, but to be honest, I do not see things getting better. So I have been making an effort to just expose myself less to news and current events. I have trimmed and continue to trim my RSS reader and my social media feeds. I have been doing my best to read more in an escapist way, though that has not always been successful. I have not done my tally for books read in 2017 yet, but I get the feeling the number will be lower than 2016 just because more often than not my mood has been foul after hearing whatever the hell the Pendejo In Chief  and the morons of the Party of Stupid have done. But let's try to stay positive. I still got a good amount of reading done, and I have continued my Tarot and oracle card studies. I have found Tarot and oracle to be a  nice way to meditate and tune out for a while.

So whatever holiday or holidays  you celebrate this season, I wish you all a happy and safe time. Let's get this show on the road then.

Some trivia about the holidays: 

  • Did you know that the value of U.S. imports of Christmas ornaments from China for 2016 was $1.5 billion. In fact, "China led the way with 92.0 percent of the U.S. total imports of Christmas ornaments." The U.S. buys a heck of a lot of Christmas ornaments from China. You can see this figure and more from the U.S. Census holiday fact sheet for 2017
  • Did you know that too much Christmas music can be bad for your mental health? That is a recent finding from psychologists. Article via AlterNet
  • Learn how Santa Claus went from being a nice saint to the patron of shopping malls and crass materialism. Via The Guardian

On holiday cards: 

  •  Do you still send out Christmas or holiday greeting cards? In our house, we still do send out a few. Do you know how to address them properly? Here are some etiquette tips on addressing holiday cards. Via USA Today
  • Are you bored sending and receiving the usual holiday cards? How about spicing things up with some of these rude Christmas cards (warning, some images may be NSFW). Via Dangerous Minds
On decorations and other objects: 

  • Did you have leftover decorations from your Christmas tree? You are not sure what  to do with  them? You got a beard? How about you just hang them from your beard? No, seriously, someone thought that was a good idea. Via Cosmopolitan.  
  • You can complement those beard decorations with an ugly sweater or two. Via Shoplet blog.
  • And if you get a little hungry, you can maybe bake one of  these holiday cakes. Via The New York Times.
  • If you are traveling, you might get to see these creepy Santa Claus statues. Via Web Urbanist.
Some wellness advice and other tips: 

The holidays can be stressful, and  I get the feeling that in these Hard Times they are bound to be more stressful for more people. So whether you are hosting people or traveling to visit people, here are some pieces of advice to keep your stress levels low when your drunken barely literate Right Wing nutjob uncle decides to insult you and your loved ones during the holiday gathering. Don't get in a war of words or any other fisticuffs with him. He and his ilk are  not worth it. Instead, maintain the peace, breathe deeply, and if it gets bad, just leave (or kick him out). In addition, this time of year often invites reflection as we look to the  year that  has passed and we look towards the new year, so I am including some ideas to help you reflect, including ideas for journaling, which  is a practice I find helpful.

  • Via Inc., here are some tips on how to manage stress and have an easier time time during this holiday season. Do some basic things  like getting enough sleep and staying hydrated. That part about matching water for every cocktail you might  have is spot on. 
  • Are you dreading conflict over the holidays? A big piece of advice is to let it go. Or, as my mother would often say, rub some olive oil on so that stuff slides right off. Personally I prefer the avoidance tactic: just avoid the toxic people in your life, but if you can't, this may help. Via The Conversation.
  • One thing you may consider to make the world a bit better around you is giving to charity. The Christian Science Monitor has some ideas
  • Time to reflect on the previous  year? Consider some journaling. 
Thanks for stopping by. I hope you stay tuned and return for the rest of the holiday posts series. Up next, I plan to look at the many ridiculous things people give each other for presents along with a bit on shopping. And later on, I will look at some of the reading lists and other suggestions on  what to read for the next year. I will then wrap up with  the annual "WTF Happened?' post. You don't want to miss out.

In  the meantime, Happy Holidays.

Booknote: Vampire Haiku

Ryan Mecum, Vampire Haiku. Cincinnati, OH: HOW Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-1-60061-772-0.

Genre: Poetry
Subgenre: vampires, horror, humor, Gothic
Format: paperback
Source: I bought this (on clearance) from Half Price Books

This is a poetry narrative that combines  horror and humor.

William Butten was on the Mayflower on his way to the New World. En route, another passenger, Katherine, turns him into a vampire. From there, we get Butten's story of three centuries or so of his life in America. He decides to keep a journal, documenting his life in haiku verses. From the American Revolution to the 20th century, Butten feeds and witnesses various events, big and small, of U.S. history.

The story combines  horror, a little romance, a bit of a Gothic feel here and there, and a nice dose of humor. The author really manages to keep the classic 5-7-5 syllables haiku structure throughout, which adds to the book's charm. I did have some mixed feelings about the ending, like the author changed his mind in midstream, but in the end, things turn out well.

Overall, it is a charming little book. For history fans, you may finally get some answers to previously "unsolved mysteries" like what really happened to Amelia Earhart. For true vampire fans, this will be entertaining as well. In the end, I really liked it.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Booknote: Super Sikh, issue 2

Eileen Kaur Alden,, Super Sikh, Issue 2: Viva Las Vegas. Chicago, IL: Rosarium Publishing, 2017.  ISBN: 9781495627132.

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

This is the continuation of the series started in issue one (link to my review of that). Issue two was great fun to read, but it was short. I wanted to keep on going. This issue picks up where the previous one left off. Deep gets released from TSA detention, and he heads out of Los Angeles to Las Vegas on his way to Graceland. In Las Vegas, he helps out a woman in trouble in trouble and offers her a ride to Memphis. Meanwhile, Group X, an Islamic terrorist group has been thwarted by Deep once too often. They find out he is  in the United States, so they send a hit squad to get him. However, even for terrorists the economy is bad so they send them over in the cheapest coach seats they can book. Will Group X succeed?

This comic has a bit less action this time, but it does add a nice does of humor. Also, Deep is a compelling and  humane character you just want to follow and see how things turn out. He is a good guy in a time we can really use a good guy or two. Additionally, we get some good art, making this a very good comic to read. The cover art was great. I will also note that the comic makes some good commentary on issues like racism, but it does so without being preachy about it. The author simply embeds it in the narrative.

Overall, I wish it was longer, and I hope the series keeps getting better. I definitely recommend following this one.

4 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 08, 2017

Signs the economy is bad: December 8, 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.

Unless I find a big influx of stories in the coming two weeks before Christmas, this will likely be the last edition of "Signs the economy is bad" for 2017. Do not worry. I am not expecting 2018 to be any better under the current "Hard Times," so I am sure this series will continue well into 2018. In the meantime, I have come across a few early holiday season stories along with  the usual fuckery, so let's have a look.

  • It is getting more difficult to find volunteer firefighters, especially in rural areas. To make things worse, the number of volunteer firefighters we do have now is diminishing. This is not exactly good news given recent events like the California wild fires. Story via The Rural Blog
  • Meanwhile, U.S. farmers are killing themselves in record numbers. Again, to make things worse, this trend is not exclusive to the U.S. Story via The Guardian
  • In other rural news, 2/3 of rural counties now offer even less jobs. Story via The Daily Yonder
  • Moving along, the U.S. construction industry is working harder than ever in light of recent disasters such as hurricanes in Texas and wildfires in California. Like many other industries in the U.S., the construction industry employs foreign workers, including some on various visas. Well, the Pendejo In Chief's administration, in its quest to keep messing things up and making things harder on everyone else, is moving to end protections for workers with temporary protected status,  many who do  those rebuilding jobs. Story via NPR.
  • Laborers in China are not doing much better. After being told and encouraged to leave the countryside and move to cities for jobs, those jobs are now dwindling, and they are basically being told  now to GTFO. Story via NPR.  
  • Meanwhile, in case you needed more reason to be angry at how restaurants exploit their workers, especially workers, their latest fraud is to basically skim off tax receipts. Seriously, they can now use software to void transactions, show less than what they actually sold, etc. in the quest to not pay or pay less taxes. It is not just a U.S. thing by  the way. Story via The Lexington Herald Leader
  • And in news from the friendly skies, an airline that had delays offered their passengers some vouchers so they could eat at the airport. The problem? The vouchers were for about 8 bucks, and the cheapest food available was about 11 bucks. As the kids said, #fail. At least one of the passengers was not happy about it. Story via Inc.
  • In higher education news, via Inside Higher Ed
  • On a positive for some, if you happen  to be a genetic researcher or such, the military may have work for you as it invests about $100 million in research for "genetic extinction" technology. The DARPA guys who brought you the Internet are now  interested in using genetic technologies to kill malaria-carrying mosquitoes, which  sounds good, but it is the military. So naturally one wonders who long before they turn that in other fine bioweapons. Story via AlterNet
  • In avocado news: 
    • Did you know that if you are on a dating site and your profile mentions avocados, especially guacamole, your odds get better? Story via Atlas Obscura
    • In ridiculous news, here is a solution for stupid people who can't handle knives and cut avocados. Now, you can buy pit-less avocados. Story via BBC. 
  • You have to hustle in the bad economy, and this includes erotic performers online. Sidny Deveraux discusses what it is like to be "a naked lady on the Internet." This is a piece I found interesting on a topic you do not always  hear about. Story via CQ Magazine.  
  • In early holiday season news, do you ever wonder why the  hell it is next to impossible to find t that one must have toy or gift everyone wants no matter how early or diligent you are, especially online? Here is the answer. Motherfucking assholes are using bots to buy them all up before you get a chance, and then reselling them at obscenely exorbitant prices in places like E-Bay. Story via The New York Times
  • And finally for this week, do you have a gun enthusiast family member who  has it all? Are you not sure what you could possibly get them that they do not have already? Do you have some serious cash to spare? If you do, then you could get them a Trump .45. What is a Trump .45? It is a limited edition pistol, "the Rolls-Royce of firearms made for Donald Trump supporters and Second Amendment fans.It's finished in 24 karat gold, made with real meteorite, and has the blessing of the NRA.Could this limited-edition 1911 pistol engraved "TRUMP 45" make presidential firearms great again?" Story via Forbes, with hat tip to Christian Nightmares.
So that does it for this edition. Stay tuned for through the rest of the month I will be posting my annual holiday series. From ridiculous gifts to holiday traditions to books to read, I will take a look at the at the holidays with  a little fun in mind. 

Booknote: Sequential Drawings

Richard McGuire, Sequential Drawings: the New Yorker series. New York: Pantheon Books, 2016.  ISBN: 978-1-101-87159-1.

Genre: art
Subgenre: drawings, comics
Format: small hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library 

This small book collects McGuire's series of sequential wordless drawings originally published in The New Yorker magazine. The art ranges from cute and witty to somewhat plain and ordinary. The quality can vary. It is a plain book, and the art is composed of line drawings. The artist can do a lot with those basic line drawings.

In the end, it is a cute book with some sequences better than others. This may be more for fans of the magazine. I liked it, but I did not think it was a big deal.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Booknote: Thrawn

Timothy Zahn, Thrawn. New York: Del Rey, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-345-51127-0.

Genre: science fiction
Subgenre: Star Wars, space opera
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch  of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a Star Wars novel about the character that became Grand Admiral Thrawn. This character was introduced in  Timothy Zahn's trilogy of novels that started with Heir to the Empire in 1991. The character was part of what became the Star Wars Expanded Universe (EU), which was before Disney bought Star Wars. The Expanded Universe works were often hit or miss, but the character of Thrawn proved to be a popular one. Now Zahn writes about Thrawn one more time to tell the story of his rise to power.

When the novel opens, Thrawn is a young Chiss, member of a mysterious alien race. As a youth the Empire finds him, and  his tactical acumen catches the interest of the Emperor. The Emperor makes sure Thrawn enters the Imperial Academy. There he meets Eli Vanto, who becomes his trusted aide. From there, Thrawn's talent gets him promotions, making him an ally or two, and a lot of enemies along the way on his path to become Grand Admiral.

The book offers two stories. The main story is Thrawn's story. A secondary story is that of Arihnda Pryce, a woman with  an agenda of her own who becomes a ruthless Imperial administrator. She has the one thing Thrawn lacks: political savvy. She may be either an ally or a foe for Thrawn.

Along the way, Thrawn educates Eli Vanto in the art of war. Every chapter in the novel starts with Thrawn's notes and thoughts on topics like warfare and leadership, notes he is making for his student. After these small notes, the plot ensues. The book has 29 chapters plus an epilogue.

Fans of this character will definitely enjoy this book. Star Wars readers will enjoy it as well. The book has good pacing, a solid plot with plenty of action and intrigue, and Thrawn is a very appealing character. He is an Imperial, but you will find yourself rooting for him. Overall, this is a book that draws you in right away. I definitely enjoyed this one, and I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars.

Side note: similar reads include:

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Monday, December 04, 2017

Booknote: Dreadful Diseases and Terrible Treatments

Jonathan J. Moore, Dreadful Diseases and Terrible Treatments. New York: Metro Books, 2017. ISBN: 9781435164710.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history, health and medical, trivia
Format: paperbackM
Source: We bought this

The book is a history of disease and treatments over time. If anything, it reads a lot like a catalog of seriously bad medical ideas too. Before the medical establishment began to get a clue about things like washing your hands before surgery, things could be pretty gruesome if you were a patient.

The book is arranged into 11 thematic chapters. The narrative is not fully linear in terms of chronology. Chapter topics include:

  • The Black Death
  • Shocking Surgery
  • Tropical Diseases
  • On Fecal Matters
The book is an interesting read overall, but it can get gross at times. The author also includes plenty of engravings, illustrations, and photographs to complement the text. Some of the visuals can be a bit strong for some readers. I found the chapter on mental illness particularly interesting.

Overall, this is a book to read a bit a time. It  is not always easy to read, but it is interesting, and if nothing else, it may make you think twice about longing for "the good old days."  The book does give you a sense of how disease and responding to it shapes history. It is an accessible selection. Some parts have more depth than others, but still a good book. I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, December 01, 2017

Signs the economy is bad: December 1, 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.

Welcome to another edition, and today is the first of December. The year is almost done. I wish I could be more optimistic, but as bad as 2017 has been it seems 2018 is going to be worse. So I am trying to just take things a day at time and practice a bit more self-care. Meanwhile, the Bad Economy is still going strong. This week, depending on how you look at things, not all is bad. Anyhow, let's have a look.

U.S. Government and  Party of Stupid stuff. Because in government, someone always knows how to make money if you grease the right palm:
  • The big news recently is the GOP's attempt to give a tax cut to the uber rich at the expense of the rest of us.To justify themselves, Paul Ryan imagines how much better life a certain "Cindy" single mom will have with the tax cut he alleges someone like her would get. Only problem with that is "Cindy" is starving along with  her children, and their plan will just make it worse. But hey, we do need to decrease the surplus population. Story via Boing Boing. If there is a hell, Paul Ryan, his party, and those who keep voting them in should spend it, not in eternal torture, but just in the abject grinding poverty they want to give to the  rest of us. 
  • Many of us find the Pendejo in Chief's constant verbal diarrhea on Twitter to be annoying. However, it turns out that his constant brain farts online are actually profitable. It turns that political fundraisers of his base love them and  can use them to get more money from the rubes. Story via Lexington Herald-Leader
  • The Department of Homeland Security is looking to implement facial recognition technology at border entrances. Naturally, a good number of private companies are stepping up to suckle the government teat and hoping to get a contract to make money on  that. Story  via The Intercept
  • Does anyone know what exactly Omarosa Manigult, the former The Apprentice contestant the Pendejo in Chief fancies, does exactly at the White House? Whatever the hell it is, she is paid about $179K for it. The White House claims she is an “assistant to the president and director of communications for the office of public liaison.” Sounds like fancy name for a sinecure. Must be nice. Story via Reality Blurred

The other big news was of course Black Friday and the start of the holiday shopping season. Well, maybe I should amend that since many retailers have been offering "Black Friday deals" since sometime back in July or so. So let's get the holiday season rolling, have a look at holiday shopping, and see what has been happening:

  • Reuters reported that more shoppers than expected kicked off the holiday season on Black Friday and beyond in the United States. According to the article, "Shoppers on average spent $335.47 over the five-day period, with older millennials spending the most at $419.52 each, according to the NRF survey of 3,242 consumers on Nov. 25-26." So people may be whining that money is tight, but clearly it is not tight enough to keep people from shopping. Then again, let us be honest, who can blame them? With the Hard Times, people need a little diversion, and hey, shopping can provide that.  
  • I had no idea that the period from Thanksgiving Day to Cyber Monday had a name: Cyber Five. This is peak holiday shopping season for US shoppers. Well, it does, and Inc. is reporting some trends and patterns that retailers can learn from it.  For example, who did the most shopping? According to the article, "Shoppers located in California, Texas, Florida, New York and Pennsylvania made the highest volume of purchases for the second year in a row." 
  • Cyber Monday turned out to be the most popular day of the Cyber Five. There are some positive reports on it (I know, that does not sound like Bad Economy, but again, I better not hear people whining later about how tight money is) like USA Today  reporting how it is the biggest online shopping day in the U.S. and  how it is a rumble between Amazon and Walmart. Reuters is reporting that Cyber Monday sales jumped up
  • And what was the must have item for Black Friday? A gun. Both NPR and The Washington Post, among many other news agencies, reported that background checks to get a firearm jumped to record highs. 
  • Black Friday can be an opportunity for entrepreneurs, like this guy. Via Retail Hell Underground.
  • Salon argues that despite all the hoopla about online shopping that in-store shopping still matters. I am sure places like Sears, which are on deathwatch, find that reassuring. Personally, I do a lot of my holiday shopping in person, but there are some things I get online because they are not available locally. Having said that, I am glad I already pretty much got my holiday shopping done. 
  • Now, one of the impressive things about shopping online is how quickly you can get things delivered. Amazon in fact takes pride in this. However, it may  not all be a silver lining as USPS mail carriers report that, if they want to keep Amazon's lucrative delivery contract, they have to, shall we say, "fudge" the delivery numbers a bit? Story via CBS 46. 
  • In other Amazon shenanigans, what else do they do to keep prices low? Well, the latest is recruiting merchants from India. Because Americans may all bitch and moan about how they like to buy "Made in America" and similar bullshit, but they do not like to pay for that. They want their stuff cheap, and Indian merchants are more than ready to sell it to them via Amazon. Story via The New York Times
  • Finally for this shopping segment, do not say I am not helpful. Here are a couple of gift ideas in case you need them: 
    • Did you spend your Thanksgiving dinner with relatives? Did you piss off your drunken Pendejo In Chief worshiping obnoxious uncle with that facts stuff? You feel a need to make peace? Well, get him one of these. Via Dangerous Minds.
    • Do you have someone who is into video games and nostalgia? You can help keep Atari alive and get them a gift by purchasing a retro video game machine for them. Story via The New York Times.
  •  For many, part of holiday shopping is a visit to Santa Claus. Just go to the mall, get in line, sit on the Jolly One's lap, and tell him what you want. Well, not anymore. Santa now requires reservations for a spot in his lap. Story via NPR. 
There are also some higher education news this week in the Bad Economy:

And in other news:

To wrap up, let's have a peek at how the uber rich are doing: