Friday, February 17, 2017

Booknote: Bushido: The Soul of the Samurai

Seán Michael Wilson,, Bushido: the Soul of the Samurai. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 2016.  ISBN: 978-1-61180-210-8.

Genre: nonfiction, graphic novels
Subgenre: Asian studies, Japan, samurai, bushido
Format: trade paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) public library.

This is a graphic novel adaptation of the classic book by Inazo Nitobe. The adaptation is by Sean Michael Wilson, who also did The 47 Ronin, which I read and enjoyed too (link to my review of that). The original Bushido book was published in 1905, and it was meant to introduce Westerners to the samurai way and tradition (on a side note, you can find an audiobook recording of that book on The book goes over the traditions, codes, virtues and practices of bushido. Wilson's adaptation brings this classic text to life for a new generation of readers.

I found the book to be very accessible and easy to read. The book has an introduction and seventeen chapters. Each chapter starts with an introductory text for the chapter's topic, then it expands on the topic with graphic illustrations. The art is in black and white, and it is very good, suitable to the text. I found it interesting and a good basic introduction to the classic work, which I may try to find down the road.

The book makes a good selection for libraries with  graphic novel collections.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

On Nitobe's book:

"His Bushido: The Soul of Japan was one of the first books to present samurai ethic and their role in Japanese culture to Western readers. We present it here in visual format, for the first time in English. . . " (from the book's introduction). 

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Note: Qualified for Blogger Shame challenge since I initially got it via NetGalley, but I was not able to get to it at the time, and the galley expired. However, my public library got it, so I was able to redeem it. 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Booknote: The Thousand Dollar Dinner

Becky Libourel Diamond, The Thousand Dollar Dinner: America's First Great Cookery Challenge. Yardley: Westholme, 2015.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: foodie, cooking and cookery, celebrity chefs, U.S history
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison  County Public Library 

Before we had the celebrity chefs of today and snobbish finicky celebrity eaters, we had men like Lorenzo Delmonico and James W. Parkinson, the star of this book. The story is as follows: the year is 1851. A group of wealthy New Yorkers invite a group of wealthy friends from Philadelphia for a fancy meal. The New Yorkers took their friends to Delmonico's for a feast meant to "astonish our Quaker City friends." Lorenzo Delmonico was told that money was no object; it was for the honor of New York. After that fine dinner, the Philadelphians invited the New Yorkers to Philadelphia for a feast of their own. The Philadelphians hired James W. Parkinson to create what later became known as the Thousand Dollar Dinner. It was 17 courses; it lasted 12 hours, and at the end, Philadelphia was victorious. This is the story of that epic dinner for wealthy people.

The book is also a story of high society in the Eastern United States at the time. Additionally, the book is a culinary history as it looks at the courses and the food served. The author brings it all together in a book narrative.

The book is arranged based on the menu of Parkinson's 17 course event. After a short introduction opening the story we get the menu (La Carte). The menu is 17 courses, so we get one book chapter for each course. The book ends with "An Ovation," which  serves as an afterword. To conclude, the book includes a section on notes about sources so you can see the documentation the author used, and a bibliography.

Each book chapter is like a small history lesson. The author describes the course, how it would have been served, techniques the chefs of the time used, and even where Parkinson varied from traditions. You also get a small history of the ingredients used. In addition, it is interesting to note that some items we do not eat anymore, like some of the small game bird or terrapin. We may not eat some items due to lack of availability, rising costs, or simply tastes have changed over time. The menu truly gives a glimpse of a different and interesting piece of Americana. The author put together a very well researched history and made it fun to read.

Overall, this was an interesting and entertaining read. Chapters are not too long, just enough, like a good course. If you are a foodie reader, you will probably enjoy this book. History readers, especially of social histories, may find it interesting as well. It is a well researched book with lots of notes, but it is for general readers. I'd say this is definitely a good acquisition for public libraries. Some academic libraries may want to consider it, especially if they have strength in 19th century U.S. history, culinary sciences, and/or pop culture. It was definitely enjoyable.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading notes:

A bit  of what was happening in 1851:

"It was 1851, a time of significant progress and change. That year, Britain's Great Exhibition-- the first of its kind-- displayed the marvels of industry and manufacturing from around the world, including the latest kitchen appliances, steel-making displays, textile looms, and firearms. The specialty grocery story, Fortnam and Mason, debuted their famous ready-prepared hampers packed with exotic foods, spices, and drinks to the delight of exhibition visitors. In America, the restaurant industry was experiencing rapid growth, where some of the foods displayed at the Great Exhibition could now be found on menus" (xiii). 

The dinner's cost:

"But Parkinson successfully rose to the challenge, creating a seventeeen-course feast famously referred to by Philadelphia newspapers as the 'Thousand Dollar Dinner' (since it reputedly cost the Philadelphians $1,000, an enormous sum equivalent to perhaps thirty-two times that amount today). The guests sat down at 6 P.M. and did not rise from their chairs until 6 A.M. the next morning. A gastronomic turning point, this luxurious meal helped launch the era of grand banquets in nineteenth-century America" (xv). 

For those interested, the author does explain if it would be possible to replicate the dinner today and what it would take at the end of the book.

On what the dinner featured:

"Parkinson's dinner paired different rare wines and liquors with each of the courses, which included such delicacies as fresh salmon and baked rockfish, braised pigeon, turtle steaks, spring lamb, out-of-season fruits and vegetables, and several dessert courses showcasing rich pastries, ice cream, cakes, and puddings. Each of Parkinson's courses was designed to meld familiar dishes with novel presentations. Special praise went to an artful and luscious sorbet that he created using an expensive Hungarian Tokaj wine" (xv).

As reader and librarian, looking through the bibliography was interesting. I would love to look over all those old cookbooks and culinary histories that the author looked over. Here are a few selections from the bibliography I think I could pick up down the road:

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This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, February 10, 2017

Reading about the reading life, February 10, 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). 


The spring semester started, and I have been busy. However, I have managed to find a few things of interest this month, so let's take a look. 

  • Via The Guardian, an essay on bibliomania
  • And speaking of people who may be spending way too much on books. What the author of the article says: "You might ask why I spend so much money on books when I could just borrow them from a library. First, my local library is unlikely to have all the books I want to read (more on that later). Second, when I’m reading a good book, I want to read it actively. I want to write in the margins. I want to make notes. I want to make it my own. If you get a library book you can’t do that." Two things I will say. One, for the library not having all you want, they also do something called Interlibrary Loan. If they do not have  it, they will find a library does and borrow it so you can check it out. By the author's own admission, he does not read everything  he buys right away, and he has a lot of books on his TBR shelf. So yea, he can probably afford to wait a bit for an ILL to arrive. I borrow books via ILL all the time. Two, if you insist on writing in the margins, can't help you much there. Although I will suggest keeping a book journal (in print or online) is a good option, which is what I do. In the end, the article makes some good  points about the importance of reading, but the guy does come across a bit as a pretentious privileged snob. Story via The Observer
  • Via Tricycle, a Burmese monk tells his story about his book collection, a collection that has survived the times and military regimes among other things. 
  • In Kyoto, Japan, a hostel has a book theme, and you can even sleep on shelves in the midst of books. Story via Japan Today
  • For those of you who like coloring books or want to explore that hobby, here are a variety of links to museums, galleries, libraries, so on that offer images and pages for coloring of art for free. Often they are very nice documents you can download to color. Via Open Culture
  • Via Infotecarios, a discussion of the used book trade and how it is not compatible with e-book culture. (Spanish language article). 
  • With the election of the Pendejo In Chief (that is what I call him, or Lord Dampdick), certain books are suddenly seeing a rise in sales. Here is a list of 5 books that got increased sales as the result of the new presidential regime. Except for one, these are not books about the guy, but more about understanding the climate that led to his rise in power. Story via Esquire.

Booknote: The Way of the Wiseguy

Joseph D. Pistone, The Way of the Wiseguy. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2004.  ISBN: 0-7624-18397.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, true crime, law enforcement, Mafia and the mob
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

The author, Joseph D. Pistone, a.k.a. Donnie Brasco, may be better known to readers from his previous books Donnie Brasco, which he wrote in 1988. That book went on to become a bestseller and a movie starring Johnny Depp in the title role. Now, decades later, Pistone goes back to the Mafia world in this newer book.

The Way of the Wiseguy is a collection of stories and anecdotes from the author's days undercover inside the Mafia and the lessons that  he learned. After the book's introduction, the book is organized into 34 short chapters with topics such as:

  • Wiseguys are not nice guys
  • Wiseguys and money
  • The Boss
  • Old Wiseguys and New Wiseguys
In addition, the book features an appendix with a transcript of some undercover surveillance audio. My edition even had a CD so you could listen along to the transcript if you wished. I would consider the appendix materials to be optional reading. Skipping them does not take away from the overall reading of the book.

The stories in the book range from amusing to dead serious. Wiseguys are definitely a breed apart, and they live by a set of very specific rules. They are rules passed down from wiseguy to wiseguy, and now Pistone has put many of them in a book for us to get a glimpse at  their world. The book is entertaining overall. The chapters are fairly short reads, so this is a book you can pick up and go. For fans of the previous book and the film, you get more trivia and details on some of the characters they have met before. If nothing else, the book gives a look at a world few outside it get to see. I really liked it as it even had a few lessons for regular life.

4 out of 5 stars.

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Additional reading  notes:

Donnie asks his mentor Lefty what is the advantage of being a wiseguy:

"Lefty looks at me like I'm the world's biggest moron. He gets excited and jumps out of his chair and starts yelling and waving his arms, 'What are you, fucking crazy?' he says. 'Are you fucking nuts? When you're a wiseguy, you can steal, you can cheat, you can lie, you can kill people--and it's all legitimate'" (9). 

A life lesson from wiseguys that more of us can learn and use:

"You can usually get what you want by being direct, forceful, and unrelenting-- you'll find most wither in the face of such resolve.

Realize that confrontation is not always a bad thing, and you'll get more out of life." (70).

Turns out living in a wiseguy neighborhood could be safer for you. . .mostly:

"So, if you find yourself suddenly living in a neighborhood dominated by wiseguys, count your blessings. You might have to put up with  the occasional blood-drenched mob war. But otherwise, the crime rate is going to plummet" (78). 

On getting respect, again applicable to us regular folks:

"In life, you will be accorded precisely the respect that you demand for yourself. Once you learn that lesson, you are way ahead of the game" (103). 

Distrust is not a bad defense mechanism, and in the current climate, perhaps more necessary:

"I have seen too much deceit, too much scurrilous behavior, too many truly evil people. Let me get to know you for a while, then I'll decide if I like you. That may sound a little harsh, but what can I say? I've seen the world from a different angle than most people, seen its ugly underbelly up close. When you spend time around wiseguys, you learn that trust is a luxury you really can't afford" (144). 

Interestingly enough, wiseguys love the film Donnie Brasco:

"Who cares what Roger Ebert thinks. My movie got thumbs up from guys who cut off thumbs for a living" (149).

So, according to the author, what can you get from his book:

"Maybe a little insight into the darker side of human nature, into the crazy impulses we all manage to control but that wiseguys let run wild. Maybe a little better understanding of a rich part of this country's history. Maybe nothing. Like I said, I'm not here to push any lessons  on anybody" (195). 

What stuck with the author from the experience, a lesson more of us can heed and apply in our lives:

"The one thing that did stick with me long after I ceased being Donnie Brasco was the wiseguy attitude. Not backing down from confrontations, standing up for yourself, taking no shit, cutting corners here and there. I'm not talking about acting like a tough guy or throwing your weight around or doing anything illegal or unethical. I'm talking about being someone who understands how the world works and makes it work for him. Nobody's sucker. A guy who knows his way around" (196). 

Friday, February 03, 2017

Booknote: Paper: Paging Through History

Mark Kurlansky, Paper: Paging Through History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2016. ISBN: 978-0-393-23961-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history, microhistory, paper.
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library.

As  much  as I wanted to like Kurlansky's Paper, the book is just too slow of a read. I've tried to get through it for over two months, and just dragged myself through it. I checked it out, renewed it until it reached renewal limit, then checked it out again. It was a slow, dragging read.

While the topic is interesting, the narrative is just not engaging enough. It makes a good bedtime book if you need something to help you sleep. The book overall is very comprehensive, drawing  from various areas of history. It often shows that civilizations developed paper once they felt the strong need to record things. And despite concerns about its production, it will continue to survive at  least for now.

The book also features a timeline and a bibliography. As a librarian, I think I found the bibliography a lot more interesting than the book itself. In the end, as I said, I wanted to like it, but it was just not engaging at all. On a side note, Nicholas Basbanes, an author I  have enjoyed in the past, also has a book on the  history of paper: On Paper: The Everything of its Two-Thousand Year History. I may give that  one a try instead.

2 out of 5 stars.

Book qualifies for this 2017 Reading Challenge: