Saturday, March 31, 2018

Reading about the reading life: March 31, 2018 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). 

Welcome to a special Saturday edition of "Reading about the reading life." Let's see what we have for this week.

  • According to science, you should be reading more. Among many reasons, it could help you live longer. Story via Inc
  • Meanwhile, if the Pendejo In Chief could be thanked for anything it's that feminist bookstores are doing more business and selling more books as they resist him and the Party of Stupid. The most uptick in sales is in large cities, where most of the remaining feminist identified bookstores can be found. Story via Publishers Weekly
  • Speaking of feminist bookstores, Lit Hub has a bookstore interview article with Cafe Con Libros, a feminist community bookstore in Brooklyn, New York City. 
  • Also via Lit Hub, if you got some money to burn, and you like books, really like books, well, here are 25 very expensive books you could buy on the Internet if so inclined.
  • To consider, greeting cards are often full of cliches, but it turns those cliches can be meaningful and even helpful for some people. Story via Aeon.
  • Wallet Hacks has one of those articles that librarians often hate, the dreaded "where can you donate your used and/or old books." So once again, allow this librarian to clarify a few things:
    • "Local libraries love receiving donations." If as the article states, they are in good condition, and of recent interest, we will probably at least consider it. For public libraries, donations often go to the Friends of the Library book sale for fund raising. So don't get illusions your donation will end up in the library collection. Odds are good it will not. And no, libraries do NOT want old encyclopedias, Reader's Digest crappy books, old National Geographics, or anything with mold. Those will probably just get tossed out, and we will curse you for laying that work on us. 
    • "Just like libraries, schools and universities are often looking for new material for their students." Some poor public schools, maybe, and they still do not want your old 40 years old encyclopedia. Universities I can pretty much guarantee do not actively look for donations unless they are actually new materials, preferably that can be used for a class, or maybe something seriously valuable they could add to their Special Collections (big if). Old textbooks? Do not bother. Rules for libraries as above apply even more to academic libraries. We do not want your old shit. We are even more strict on what we may or not take as a donation, especially since academic libraries rarely if ever have a way to sell donations like public libraries often do. 
    • The other suggestions vary in degree of usefulness, so as the saying goes, your mileage may vary. 
  •  Via Cultural Front, a short piece on Black men, personal libraries, and mentoring. The post is part of a series, and there is a link to read more too. A hat tip to Max Macias (@MaxMacias on Twitter). 
  • Atlas Obscura has an article on book towns. The article also highlights a book on the topic. 
  • If you have an interest in religious texts, Open Culture reports that Princeton has digitized 70,000-plus religious texts, and you can read them for free.
  • Via Scholastic, a report that James Patterson "will personally donate $2 million to teachers to build classroom libraries this year, in the fourth year of his School Library Campaign."
  • And speaking of generous people, Dolly Parton's book foundation just donated their 100th million book. Story via Signature.
  • Pew Research reports that nearly one in five Americans now listen to audiobooks. However, for now, print books still hold on as most popular format. I personally would listen to more audiobooks were it not for the fact that my local public library's selection of audiobooks is pretty poor (a contrast to other areas where they are pretty good). 
  • And to wrap up this week, apparently there is a new trend in fiction about chefs, and that is chefs behaving badly and being overall assholes. Story via The Booklist Reader. However, this is probably not far from reality. Various celebrity chef nonfiction books like Bourdain's Kitchen Confidential (link to my review) DO present chefs as assholes. Not to mention in recent news celebrity chefs have been revealed to be major assholes. Here is a small list of chef and restauranteur assholes, and if you look online, you will find more. So as you can see, fiction here is just reflecting reality.

Friday, March 30, 2018

Signs the economy is bad: March 30, 2018 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 a Good Friday edition of "Signs the economy is bad." My workplace today closed due to Good Friday (thank you Christians for the holiday weekend), which gives me a bit more time to blog. In looking over my feeds, turns out I had plenty of stories to do this feature today, so here we go.

  • The big news this week is the Pendejo In Chief imposing tariffs on the Chinese and triggering a trade war. Naturally, the Chinese are not taking it lying down, and they are retaliating. According to the story, "China will impose tariffs on more than 100 products, including a 25 percent tariff on pork, and 15 percent on fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, wine, modified ethanol and American ginseng." Story via The Rural Blog. Many of those tariffs will hurt farmers and people in the rural U.S., which by the way also happen to be the people who overwhelmingly voted for the Pendejo In Chief and the Party of Stupid. So basically they are now getting what they voted for. 
  • And because the Pendejo In Chief can not just piss off the Chinese, he is also pushing for tariffs to the Europeans, and the Europeans are already threatening to strike back too at very American things like Harley Davidson, Levi's jeans, and Kentucky bourbon. Story via The Guardian. Now, the Kentucky bourbon thing strikes right into the heart of U.S. Senator for Kentucky Mitch McConnell, but more importantly it can hit bourbon makers in Kentucky quite seriously. The big corporate brands will probably survive fine since they have diversified big portfolios. But a lot of small bourbon makers have emerged in recent years given bourbon is experiencing good times in the state, and those would be the ones to suffer in a trade war. Not to mention all the tourism they do in Kentucky, such as the Bourbon Trail and the recently implemented KY Bourbon Craft Trail (for small craft distilleries). Those trails and the tourists from in and out of state who travel them bring in a lot of revenue and goodwill to the state. The Better Half and I have done much of the trails (just a few more to go to get the t-shirt), and it is interesting to see and meet people from out of state, sometimes from around the world, who are doing it too. Last thing this state needs is a Party of Stupid hissy fit trade war to fuck it all up. Then again, this state also overwhelmingly and happily voted for the Party of Stupid and the Pendejo In Chief. So, oh well. If bourbon gets too pricey or brands start going bust, I guess time to switch to some other spirit.
  • So, if you are still asking how bad can this tariff stuff get, here are four charts to explain why the Pendejo In Chief's tariffs hurt just about anyone. Via The Conversation.
  • The other big news this week was Remington, the firearms maker, declaring bankruptcy. In the latest, they are getting some "rescue" financing from some banks. Story via Reuters. Overall, for all the fuss, nothing to get excited over. This is Chapter 11, the one where they reorganize. When it becomes Chapter 7 and liquidation, then I will get excited. All this means now is they get refinanced, some people lose ownership, others gain some ownership, and they keep working. One may think it is amazing a gun maker can be in financial trouble in the U.S. where people just worship guns, but the fact is most guns are bought by the same small group of people. According to this article from The Guardian, "Just 3% of American adults own a collective 133m[illion] firearms – half of America’s total gun stock." To provide further perspective on the gun issues in the U.S, Pew Research Center has a look at the demographics.
  • In news of "how much more can we fuck teachers in the U.S.?" turns out that, according to a new report, the Department of Education, schools of education nationally, and also some teachers who really should have read the fine print all combined to screw over a bunch of teachers when their DoE grants became loans that they now have to repay. It is quite the clusterfuck. Story via Inside Higher Education. This is the kind of story that makes me glad I left public school teaching years ago. Why anyone in their right mind would become a public school teacher in the U.S. in these days is beyond me. 
  • In agriculture, turns out farmers get very little money for their crops and products. Who gets most of it? Marketers. "What this tells us is that 80% of the cost of food is accounted for by marketing." You go ahead and ponder that. Story via Food Politics.
  • In other news, some people love to praise the so-called "gig economy" for it being flexible, or offering jobs in specific niches, but it seems the reality is a bit more insidious as it is more and more becoming a modern form of serfdom. Story via AlterNet. Now, I will disclose that I have a close family member of senior age who works in the "gig economy" to supplement and get income in retirement. He has two different gig jobs, one of them is delivering groceries through an app company. He is healthy enough he can drive and do that work, and he enjoys meeting different people, often people his age and older who may not be as healthy so they need their groceries delivered. However, these are not jobs that can really provide a living given often low pay and lack of any benefits. You are at the whim of the company and customers. As I said, it works for him, but at his age and by his admission, he has few needs so gig jobs work well. For other folks needing more, gig jobs are not exactly a good option. Certainly not something to raise a family on. 
  • Meanwhile, speaking of Kentucky and McConnell's "War on Coal," turns out that half of US coal-fired power plants were unprofitable in 2017. Story via The Rural Blog. One of McConnell's bugaboos is that regulations are killing coal. Want to guess what helped keep those power plants open? According to the story, "Plants that didn't make enough money were able to stay open because most were located in areas where rates were determined by regulators rather than market forces." No, it was not the Party of Stupid's vaunted "free market" that kept those plants in business. They needed government help to keep operating or the "free market" would have shut them down. 
  • In higher education news, females still can't get a break. Even when they get high grades, they still can't get a job. What factor does make a difference? Being likable. In fact, according to the story from Inc., "simply put, you're better off being a woman with an average GPA than a woman with a great GPA." 
  • Meanwhile, in news from abroad, finding a job is still tough no matter where you go. In India, recently they had over 25 million people apply for 90,000 railway jobs. Story via Al Jazeera. Kind of reminds me of the librarian shortage myth (discussed here by The Annoyed Librarian) that ALA continues to peddle where hundreds of librarians can be applying for a single job opening in Podunk, USA. 
  • Because once in a while I try to also be helpful to my readers in the bad economy, here are some advice pieces that may be helpful (or just make you realize most people really are assholes): 
    •  So you have been using that one credit card with the travel points, or you have managed to somehow save enough points in some loyalty program to get some free travel. Well, not so fast buckaroo. The plane ticket may be free (maybe, and let's not even go into what kind of plane seating you are getting), but the airlines and travel industry are not about to just let you waltz on and travel for free. No sirree. There are a lot of hidden costs in that "free travel." Story via Wise Bread. As a wise man once said, "TANSTAAFL."
    • You already knew a vast amount of car dealers are shady, unscrupulous, and unethical. So here is just more confirmation. Turns out they pretty much do not give a shit if you can afford a car or not; they will do anything to sell it to you, even if it means getting you into crushing debt. So beware. There may be one or two decent car dealers out there, but you are going to have to look hard to find them. Story via Jalopnik.
    • Want to have a baby? You live in the United States? You may want to reconsider that or maybe go have your baby abroad in a more civilized country where having a child will not drive you into financial disaster. Here are five charts to show you how expensive having a baby can be in the U.S. Story via The Conversation. The Better Half and I got lucky with our one daughter years ago. At the time, I had really good health insurance (the one good thing maybe from my public school days, the district was big enough to have decent insurance), so it covered much, but not all, of the expenses. Daughter was premature, by the way, which adds complications (and costs). Still, we were fortunate. Many others are not.
  • And how are the uber rich doing? In First World Problems, it seems Kim Kardashian is a little miffed at Kanye for his extravagant expenses of bling, private jets, and other gifts (gifts which I am guessing Kim is not getting because otherwise she would not be bitching). According to her, such expenses are bad. Now let us be honest. She does not give a shit about him. He can go fucking broke for all she cares. But in typical Kardashian fashion, “she’s scared to death he’ll drag her down with him because their finances are so intertwined.” Story via Radar Online.
  • Finally in awesome jobs and how do I get that job, learn about a man who spent 15 years collecting rhino semen. Yes, 15 years jacking off male rhinos to get their seed, and it is now finally paying off. It is all in the hopes of saving white rhinos from full extinction. Story via Mother Jones.

Booknote Batman/The Shadow: The Murder Geniuses

Scott Snyder,, Batman/The Shadow: The Murder Geniuses. Burbank, CA: DC Comics, 2017.  ISBN: 9781401275273

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: superheroes, pulp, crossovers
Format: e-galley
Source: NetGalley

I honestly fail to see the hype this book has gotten from other reviewers. The story is a confusing and convoluted mess, something about The Shadow being alive even though he died 50 years earlier. The Joker makes an appearance, allied to another villain. That is what brings The Shadow and Batman to work together. However, this is one of those wordless comics; it had no dialogue, and all you had to go on was the art (either that, or DC just supplied a defective galley copy, but that does not appear to be the case). The result is more often than not the reader has no idea what is going on in the comic.

If anything can save this comic is the art, which suits the noir setting quite well. But art can only carry you so far, and it does not get you far here. That is disappointing given this crossover idea could have been so much more. Snyder truly missed the boat on this one; then again, after the Court of Owls plot in Batman, his run of Batman has veered into the ridiculous. That whole run with Jim Gordon as the new Batman is just embarrassing (Batman, Volume 8: Superheavy; link to my review). If you want to read good The Shadow comics, pick up one of the recent runs from Dynamite Comics. Dynamite even did a nice crossover between The Shadow and The Green Hornet that is actually pretty good (see The Shadow/Green Hornet: Dark Nights; link to my review). You can also seek out the old The Shadow classic comics.

Overall, this is one to skip. There are much better Batman comics out there and much better The Shadow comics out there. Go find those instead. For libraries, this is one you can safely skip. I am not ordering it for my library. If nothing else, I read it and reviewed it so you do not have to.

Volume Collects Batman/The Shadow #1-6 and stories from Batman Annual #1.

1 out of 5 stars (barely).

Reasons Why I Buy Books

I saw this prompt at Book Riot, and I decided to give it a try. With  the Bad Economy, I try not to buy many books. I am fortunate that I work in an academic library, and I do have a pretty good county public library system. Most of my casual and popular reading I get from my public library. After that, more academic fare I get from my workplace. For books I want to read but that neither library has, my workplace offers interlibrary loan (ILL), which means they will find a library that has the book and request a loan on  my behalf, ship it in, and then I can borrow it. Thus I can borrow a lot of what I wish to read.

The other way I often get books I want to read is via NetGalley and Edelweiss (to a lesser extent). Since I do book reviews here anyhow, those two sites are a nice resource for me as a reader.

Still, there are some books I will buy, and here are some reasons why I would do that:

  • The book is a book I love. If I own it, it is likely I want to reread it again down the road someday. A book in this category is a favorite I feel I need to have on my book shelf. 
  • The book is by an author I love. Kind of same as above. If I really love an author, I really want to have all their works. However, recently I have relaxed this reason a bit. As great as some authors are, not all their books are that great. For instance, I like Stephen King, but not enough to own everything he has written. In the case of King, his books are easily available in a library anyhow, so I do not feel the need to have all his works on my shelf. 
  • It is a book or kind of book one my libraries does not have nor is likely to have. This is very applicable to various graphic novels, to most good manga, and to erotica titles among others. For manga I tend to like darker, more serious titles that are in contrast to the usual kid friendly fare most libraries have (if they have any manga at all), so I will buy those. That also applies for graphic novels. The same goes for erotica titles; few libraries are likely to have a decent collection in this area. Another area is Warhammer 40,000 books. Very few libraries I have found have a selection of these, so I tend to buy these. However, I am selective on which WH40K titles I get. If they are ones I know I will be likely to want to keep, I buy. If not, then I do ILL read them. The Horus Heresy series, part of that WH40K universe, I've borrowed so far via ILL. That series by now is at 30-plus books or so, and quality varies, so I borrow rather than buy. 
  • The book was dirt cheap, so I bought it. If I find a good book on  a clearance pile, or at a library book sale, and it is seriously cheap, I may take a chance on it and buy it. If I like it, I keep it. If not, I pass it on. Same goes for the library friends book sale. Hey, for instance, one time I got the Real Academia edition of One Hundred Years of Solitude for a dollar. How could I pass that up? That kind of thing.
  • The book may be in an area of study or interest, and I feel a need to have it for study. This is mostly applicable these days to Tarot, divination, and esoterica books. The library here does not really have these, and anyhow, there are a few I want to have in my personal collection anyhow. For some older titles that may be in public domain and such, I have found PDFs to load on  my e-reader. For newer titles, I get the print if I can. 
There you have it. I never really wrote this down until now, and it was an interesting reflection to do. So how about you out there? What are some reasons you buy or do not buy books? Feel free to comment  below.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Booknote: Furry Nation

Joe Strike, Furry Nation: the True Story of America's Most Misunderstood Subculture. Jersey City, NJ: Cleis Press, 2017.  ISBN: 9781627782326.

Find it in a library near you via WorldCat.
Buy directly from the publisher.
Or you can buy at that giant online retailer everyone loves to hate (but uses anyhow).

Genre: Nonfiction
Subgenre: subcultures, pop culture, furry, cosplay, history, memoir
Format: e-book
Source: Provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

The book argues that furry fandom may be new, but the concept of anthropomorphizing animals has been with us for a very long time; it is part of who we are. From ancient native rituals and shamans to Looney Tunes cartoons, anthros have been with us. They continue to live with us in cartoons, furry cosplayers, and sports mascots among others. Joe Strike sets out to tell these stories to the world, and in the process, he strives to dispel myths and stereotypes.

The author opens in the preface by telling us this will be a book "about people: the people who birthed the community, wear the costumes, create the art, attend the conventions-- and maybe enjoy a furry kink or two" (viii). The book is also the author's story. This approach has advantages and disadvantages. An advantage and strength is the presentation of the furry experience's diversity. You do not have to wear a suit to be a furry. The furry experience involves art, media, literature, and other experiences. You can be very overt about it or as private as you wish, especially now with  the Internet. The author strives to display this great diversity through stories and examples. Odds are good many readers may read this book and come to realize they  are a furry too.

A disadvantage is that the book does have a lot of passages that boil down to minutiae. So and so went to this event or that, this newsletter published this or that, then died off, came back, so on. Those small details often read like a dry timetable, yet they do serve to document the experience. What the author has done is document a cultural phenomenon that is not well known outside of insider circles and done his best to make it accessible. It may not the most interesting reading at times, but you can sense the importance. I get the impression that, even with some faults, this is a book that many will read and consult down the road to learn more about the furry experience.

Today, the furry experience has gone mainstream for the most part. Conventions and cosplay get regular press coverage. Comics and graphic novels regularly feature furries, and they are more than just furry funny animals. And there are plenty of furry communities online for enthusiasts at all levels as well as for kinksters and fetishists. As the author writes,

"In an age of a million fandoms and mainstream kinks, weirdness is no longer so weird. Perhaps weird is even the new normal: cool, different, and challenging" (326).

The author has taken us on a journey from humble beginnings to furry culture today. These are times when even your local friendly librarian may well be furry.

Overall, I liked the book. Some parts are more interesting than others, but this is still a labor of love as well as an important book of preserving a history and experience. It is not an academic book, but I have a feeling many academics down the road may be taking a look at it. I'd say this is a good addition for public libraries. Academic libraries with strong pop culture programs will want to add this one.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some additional reading notes:

Goal of a fursona:

"Every culture has an artistic form of self-expression. And that's the true goal of a fursona: creating an animal-based counterpart to your own true inner being" (23). 

What furry is:

"Furry is, by its very nature, a gathering of people who have a strong identification or fascination with animals, an 'alternative'  to conventional attitudes, and as such, welcoming to folks whose attitudes and values differ from the population at large" (43). 

Where most furry activity actually takes place:

"Furry was birthed by cartoon and 'funny animal' comics fans and artists. The majority of furry activity still takes place on paper, and increasingly on computer screens. Fursuiters standing outside the convention hotel are easy to spot, but the buying, selling, and creation of furry art going on inside (or online) is where the real action take place" (80). 

Friday, March 23, 2018

Signs the economy is bad: March 23, 2018 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.

A lot has been going on since the previous edition of this feature, so let's get on with it.

  • Let's have a look at rural U.S.A.
    • Cuts in food stamps hurt rural US the most. Via The Daily Yonder. Oh well. My sympathy only goes so far given that this area overwhelmingly voted for the Pendejo In Chief and the Party of  Stupid. They are just getting what they voted for. "On the night of the 2016 presidential election, President-elect Trump walked away with 60 percent of the vote in the nation’s 2,332 rural counties."
    • A Catch-22. Hunters, via fees and taxes on things like ammunition, help fund conservation programs in wildlife areas. With less hunters due to a decline in people who hunt, conservation programs suffer from lack of funding. Story via The Rural Blog
    • In rural Texas, if you want to spend your last days  in hospice, and you live in the middle of Nowhere, Texas, it could get real difficult  for you real fast. Story via Stat News.
      • And if you think it is just in Texas, the overall economics of caring for the elderly are about to get a lot worse. Taking care of those aging Baby Boomers who ,basically took the ladder up behind them after they got all sorts of breaks in life compared to later generations, is basically the next big economic time bomb about to go off.  Via The Conversation.
    • Speaking of consequences, federal funding for studying the health effects of mountain top coal mining has been denied. Oh well. You can thank the Pendejo In Chief and the Party of Stupid for effectively killing this project. Story via The Rural Blog.
  • Let's have a look next at higher education.
    • Eastern Michigan University is cutting four varsity sports to try to make ends meet. According to the story, "The teams being eliminated are softball, men’s swimming and diving, women’s tennis, and wrestling. Cutting those teams will save $2.4 million and will eliminate intercollegiate athletic spots for 58 men and 25 women." However, they are still more than happy to keep funding their men's football team to the tune of "more than $20 million a year from its own funds to subsidize football and other NCAA Division I sports teams." Because priorities, man. Story via Inside Higher Ed.
    • Essex County College in New Jersey is "is cutting 34 positions next year as it deals with decreasing enrollment and scrutiny from its accrediting agency." Via Inside Higher Ed, other links included. 
    • Antioch College is furloughing staff and faculty. Via Inside Higher Ed.
    • Udacity, which  was known for having a money back guarantee if you could not get a job after going through their education, just decided to discontinue said guarantee. Story via Inside Higher Ed
    • And the big news this week was University of Wisconsin at Stevens Point deciding to say fuck it, we are not going to be a liberal arts type of institution anymore and axing 13 majors, "including those in anchor humanities departments such as English and history and all three of the foreign languages offered -- and, with them, faculty jobs. Tenured professors may well lose their positions." Story via Inside Higher Ed. It's not like they need higher learning. Just toss some vocational course work, call it a day. (Nothing against vocational education but let's be honest, employers today often look for skills you learn, lo and behold, in humanities and liberal arts).
  • And in other news. 
    • Given some recent company decisions, this article asks if Barnes and Noble closing stores is just a matter of time. For instance, February 12, 2018 was a Bloody Monday for a lot of their now former full time workers. Via The OASG
    • On the other hand, according to recent studies, 95% of people who go to stores basically want to be left the fuck alone by the salespeople. Story via The Week. This is one I can relate to. Nothing I hate more than going into a store, especially if I am browsing, maybe trying to make a decision on buying something, only to have two or three pesky salespeople with clearly not enough to do pestering me if I need help. If I need help, then I will then fucking ask you, or I would if I could because according to basic rules, the moment you DO need help, these "oh so helpful" sales people conveniently disappear and are nowhere to be found. And at that point, I just walk out and buy whatever I might have bought there elsewhere or online. 
    • For all the whining Baby Boomers do about Millennials, it turns out Millennials DO have plenty to complain about, especially about the mess their elders left for them. Turns out Millennials ARE way poorer than Boomers ever were. Story via VICE.
    • In fact, things are so bad for Millennials that most of them have zero (0), nothing, zilch, nada saved for retirement. There is another economic time bomb waiting to go off. Story via VICE
    • In news from abroad, Japan is facing a new problem: senior criminals. To be specific, senior women criminals. It turns out lonely old women with nowhere to go or anyone to be with are committing small crimes, enough to get them into prison. Why? Because they can find community and stability in jail. Story via Bloomberg
    • In food news, Pizza Hut is adding more cheese to their pizzas due to a cheese check off program. In other words, the dairy industry is trying to create more demand for cheese, and Pizza Hut is playing along. Story via Food Politics blog.
  • And finally, how are the uber rich doing? Well, "they’re buying blood from healthy young people to inject into sickly old fucks. . . " Yea, they are hoping to live forever via yet another apparent get rich scheme. Dr. Myers at Pharyngula goes over the details. 

Top Ten Books I Can't Believe I Read

I saw this prompt at That Artsy Reader Girl a while back, and I figured I would give it a try. Like her, I am interpreting the idea of  "books I can't believe I read" pretty broadly. Some are here because they are so bad I can't believe I managed to read them. Others because I am amazed there was a book on such and such a topic. And maybe  one or two made this list because they amused me. So here they go, in no particular order, with my comments. Links go to my reviews of the books unless otherwise noted.

  1. Ensayo sobre la ceguera (link to WorldCat). Saramago's Essay on Blindness. I read this on Spanish translation, and it was a while back before I was formally doing reviews on this blog. This is a hideously horrible book that reminds you of the worst of humanity. How the hell this guy has won awards left and right with barely legible stuff is beyond me. Only positive out of this is I can say I have read Saramago at least once. 
  2. Arms and the Dudes. This made the list because it was so good. I can't believe how incompetent and stupid the U.S. Government can  be in running international operations and warfare. That these guys managed to set up their arms deals racket with  U.S. Government contracts so easily is baffling yet not surprising. 
  3. ClownFellas. This makes the list because if it were not for NetGalley, I would not have discovered it. It was fun, and it gave me an introduction to the world of bizarro fiction and to a new to me author. I will keep looking for more books in the genre and by that author down the road. 
  4. Good Advice From Bad People. Because even the worst assholes, criminals, swindlers, etc. may have something good to say at least once. Go figure. 
  5. Canned! Yes. There is a book about beer can art, and I read it. 
  6. Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. I can't believe I got through this somehow given how boring and lackluster it is. This is another one I fail to see the hype. 
  7. The New Naked. I cannot believe that in this day and age, moralistic, judgmental, biased, and pop psych tripe is what passes for some much needed sex education for seniors (or anyone else for that matter). I can't believe I wasted the time reading it, but at least I read it so you do not have to. 
  8. A Curious Man. Ripley's life really was a  lot like his "Believe It or Not!" stories. This was a really cool book, and I do recommend it. 
  9. The Walking Dead Series. I made it as far as Book Nine (of the hardcover compilations. This covers issues 97-108). I can't believe I lasted this long on a series that has  become nothing  more than a paean to bullying survivalist assholes and gun and weapon violence fetishism. Because let  us be honest, this now extended soap opera of seeing who can get more violent has long abandoned the idea it was about zombies in favor of post-apocalyptic tough guy fantasy. I also stopped watching the show ages ago, and I could not care less about neither. 
  10. White Bread. Yes, amazingly enough there is a book about plain white bread, and I did read it too. I guess for me I am always amazed about the topics you can find in books from the most amazing to the most mundane, and they are often very interesting books.
There are a few  more books I could add to this list, but these were the ones I recalled when I looked over my list of books read in the past.  So, what are your top ten books you cannot believe you read? Feel free to comment, or if you write a post, feel free to link to it in comments so I can read it too.

Monday, March 19, 2018

Booknote: X-O Manowar, Volume 3: Emperor

Matt Kindt,, X-O Manowar, Volume 3: Emperor. New York: Valiant Entertainment, 2017. ISBN: 9781682152355.

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

In this installment of the series, Alric has won the war, and peace may be at hand. He is now emperor, but he soon discovers that governing may not be as easy as making war. Various intrigues to undermine the peace are unraveling, and heavy is the crown on the head of the man wearing it  now. Add to this an alien invasion, and Alric will really have to struggle to keep peace and order.

This volume covers issues 7-9 of the comic. This continues to be a great series with strong characters and plots that draw you in. Once you start, you just keep on reading. For me, this series continues to be a pleasure to read and one I am happy to recommend. If you are looking for something good, a good adventure story, this is it.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Best books I read in 2017

The best books I read in 2017. (They do not have to be published/released in 2017. I just have to have read them) 

I have wanted to post this list for a while, but time and life tend to get in the way. This is a list  of what I consider the best books I read in 2017. These books may or not have been published in 2017. They are books I read last year that I rated highly, and I think folks out there may want to consider reading as well. Links go to my reviews of the books.

Thrawn (Star Wars). Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the very popular non-canonical (as in not in the movies. . . yet) characters in Star Wars. This is his origin story, and it is a great read.

LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy. A photographer takes Star Wars LEGO figures and toys and puts them in new, often amusing poses, then takes pictures of them. If you like LEGOs, and/or photography, this is a fun book to look at.

Live Through This. Clay Cane's memoir of growing up as a gay black man in the U.S. touching on society, culture, religion, race, among other topics. Very moving book.

Tears We Cannot Stop. This is Michael Eric Dyson's "Sermon to White America," and boy do white Americans need to read this and take it to heart.

Kitchen Table Tarot. Another great Tarot book. I liked its casual style and home style approach.

Ghostland. A great book about haunted places in the United States and how people experience the haunted and paranormal. You get a bit of culture, history, and trivia in this book.

Bringing the Tarot to Life. This book combines theater and writing prompts with Tarot for an interesting experience in reading and working with the cards.

The Marseille Tarot Revealed. For learning Marseilles-style Tarot, this is a very good book. I have received as gifts two Marseilles decks. They are not my preference (I do not tend to like pip-only decks), but they were special gifts, so I am determined to learn the system, and this book is a good option for that.

The Thousand Dollar Dinner. This book was one of the good reading pleasures I got in 2017. Before cooking competitions and celebrity chefs became television and media staples, we had this event.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Media Notes: Roundup for February 2018

These are the movies and series on DVD I watched during February 2018.

Movies and films:

  • Assassin's Creed (2016). This is an adaptation of the video game series. Parts of it look good, but it is a seriously bad, overdone clusterfuck of a plot. Callum Lynch is a direct descendant of Aguilar, an assassin from the 15th century part of an order in conflict with the Templars, who are the tyrannical villains. Advanced technology allows him to tap the memories of his past and become an assassin in modern times to take on the Templars and find a key artifact (the Apple of Eden) that the Templars want to use to destroy free will. It is as ridiculous as it sounds; when they do find the artifact, it is even more ridiculous. An effing librarian could have probably done it. If this film had maybe stayed in the 15th century and made some kind of adventure, it might have worked but the back and forth was messy. The plot was slow and a drag, even the fight scenes were slow.  I can see why this was not successful overall with poor reviews. Even hardcore fans of the game will be disappointed in this mess. 
  • Dunkirk (2017). I wanted to like this movie more, but it was just a seriously slow piece. While I appreciate the various perspectives, it was just a slow movie to watch. Honestly, I do not see what critics out there see when they rave about it because this movie just lacked anything to really draw viewers in. You are better off just reading a book about Dunkirk if you want the dramatic and compelling story. This event was one of the British people's finest hours, but you do not get that sense here. Overall, an underwhelming and forgettable film. I am definitely glad I did not spend money to watch this in a movie theater. 
  • The Midnight Horror Collection: Road Trip to Hell (2010. 4 movies DVD collection). The library had this DVD, and I got curious. It is part of Echo Entertainment series of DVD collections with specific themes, such as road trips for this one. I looked and there are other collections for things like slashers and voodoo. Based on this selection, not quite sure if I will keep looking for others. In the end, I only watched the one movie of the set. Since that one, noted below, did not make a good impression, I returned the DVD back for now. I may or not give it a second attempt later.
    • The Craving (2008). The movie description: "A group of college students embarking on a cross country road trip to the Burning Man Festival find themselves stranded in desert. Come nightfall a vicious predatory monster comes out. . .". This movie is basically an illustration of all the stupid shit horny college students can possibly do in a horror film to get themselves killed by whatever creature/threat/danger of the moment is out there to get them in the middle of nowhere. Traveling in the desert? Check. Getting lost when they get off the main highway? Check. Lacking ability to do basic things like read a map? Check. Creepy dude in a shack in the middle of nowhere who it turns out lures victims for the creature? Check. And why does he do it? To get a high off the creature's smell of all things. Slow pacing. Some teasing sex scenes early but nothing to write home about, and overall fairly boring film where nothing really happens until about 50 minutes into the hour and 30 minutes film. The ending was not surprising neither (the movie pretty much telegraphed it). Overall, you can skip this one.

Television and other series:

  • Inspector Lewis (Pilot through Series 6, 2005-2009; Amazon link for reference). This is the spin-off of the Inspector Morse series.  After Morse's death at the end of that series, Lewis continues on as a detective. He now has a promotion to inspector, but life is not easy for him, and crime never rests in Oxford. He has a new partner, Detective Sergeant Hathaway. This month I managed to watch the first half of the set, which goes up to the middle of Series 3. Some brief comments on some of the episodes:
    • The Series Pilot episode sets the series. Seems the authors wanted to throw every tragedy they could on Lewis. Not only did Morse die, but it turns out Lewis' wife dies from a hit and run, so he is a widower now (and let's bet we find out who the killer was later in the series kind of thing). He returns to Oxford after a two-years leave working training cops in the British Virgin Islands. And right away, he is thrown into a case. Meanwhile, his new boss would rather he take a job teaching young cops, but Lewis for now is having none of that. 
    • Whom the Gods Would Destroy. A tale of murder involving four college buddies who form a secret society around the Greek god Dionysus. When they start being killed one at a time, it falls to Lewis and Hathaway to find out why. I enjoyed all the Greek myth references, and I admit it had me going since the culprit turned out to be someone I did not expect right away. A good episode overall. 
    • Music To Die For. This was a trip back in time to the 1980s and the Cold War as what seems a lover's triangle turns into a tale of East Germany and Stasi informants. It was interesting and nicely set up. We also get quite a bit of Wagner's music.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Booknote: Librarians With Spines

Yago S. Cura and Max Macias, Librarians with Spines: Information Agitators in an Age of Stagnation. Los Angeles, CA: HINCHAS Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780984539888.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: library and information science (LIS), essays, activism, librarianship
Format: paperback
Source: print copy from editors provided in exchange for honest review 

This book is a collection of essays from librarians doing a variety of things in the field. We get a look at activities and voices that we rarely see or hear within the "polite" circles of librarianship. This  is a book that more librarians need to be reading so they can break out of the usual milquetoast practice and perhaps even free themselves of the illusion that our profession is neutral, an illusion that can be particularly dangerous in these "Hard Times."

The book is arranged as follows:

  • A short preface
  • Two short introductions by the book's editors
  • Nine essays
  • A short conclusion
  • A list of the references from the essays
Editor Yago S. Cura notes in his introduction that this book was a private endeavor. The editors used donated money to fund its publication and published it as  "private information professional citizens" (vii). This frees them to publish items of interest without corporate restrictions. The book also shows that there are good, radical librarians of all colors doing great work in their communities, making a difference very often one patron at a time. These are not librarians likely to get named "Movers and Shakers" or receive "major" accolades that come and go and are often nothing more than a resume line. These are stories of hard working librarians in the field doing some good. They do what they can very often with what little they have. They are the kind of librarian I aspire to be.

The book covers a good variety of topics ranging from LIS education to youth services to graphic  novels and zines. Personally, I found the essay by Mary Rayme on prison librarianship interesting largely because I see little on that topic in the library literature; she also does a good job to demystify the work a prison librarian does, and she humanizes her patrons as well. In terms of style and presentation, the essays vary from informal to academic. Essays mainly look at librarians in their work, but we also get a look at LIS education as well as a look at our professional organizations. When you put it together, for a small book as this, the editors cast a very wide net in their quest to show the many colors and diversity in librarianship. In doing so, the editors challenge us to ask ourselves: who do we serve? who are we really working for? why do we become and continue to be librarians?

Overall, library schools need to buy copies to hand out to their incoming students. Just like some colleges do that "freshman common reading" thing, maybe this book becomes a common reading for incoming library school students. In a time when much of library literature is just pretentious, overwrought, often too theoretical, and  barely read, and mostly colorless, the editors here offer a solid collection representing librarians of colors presenting their work, showcasing what works or not in an accessible way. I am glad to have read it, and I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. I took a lot of notes while reading this book. I am not including them all here in order to keep this blog post at a manageable level. As always, the review part is already done. You can stop or keep reading as you wish:

Why the editors published the book:

"Max Macias and I are primarily publishing this book to highlight the thoughtful, innovative work so many radical librarians are doing across the country. You know who you are. We see the work you concoct, day in-day  out, at your information laboratories" (vi). 

They also published it to remind us all why we really do what we do. They also define what is a librarian with a spine:

"A librarian with  a spine is a resourceful, buoyant information professional that feels an obligation to the community they serve and, so, they act with that community's best interests in mind when they create programs, events, and initiatives" (viii). 

Anthony Bishop on the issue of diversity at library conferences. This is something I have certainly witnessed and experienced. This is especially applicable at so-called "diversity" conferences:

"I find the same types of librarians attend these conferences: low-level librarians with little or not authority to affect change and in turn the conferences become large venting sessions where great ideas are discussed but no real action can come out of it" (14). 

Bishop goes on to point out that he has no fear of reprisal in being brave, but we have to be honest, realistic, and sympathetic to those who fear job loss or other reprisal if they speak up. Librarianship is a very small world, and if you get labeled as a "trouble maker" (or as having as "bad attitude" if you speak up a bit too "aggressively" to the powers that be), retaining and/or keeping employment can be an issue. I am personally in a bit of a better situation now (though perhaps not by much), but I have been in the boat of "you can speak up and be all activist" or you can stay employed and put food on the table. I tend to like not starving, and so does the family I provide for. The point is that as idealistic as many want to be, risk can be very real, and those of us who can need to speak and act for those who cannot, and we need to work for the day when we can all do and speak what is right freely.

A reminder from Lopez and Winslow:

"Librarians of color have an obligation to mentor young librarians early and often" (78). 

And as tiring as it can get, we have to mentor cross-racially as well.

A simple definition of "critlib":

"Critlib, or critical librarianship, is the discussion and application of social justice in the library field" (Branum quoted  in 84). 

Critlib does need to include library managers, and those managers do have to be willing to stick their necks out. Personally, if there is one lesson I learned from library managers in my life, especially the bad ones, is that you need to be ready and willing to "take the bullet" for your subordinates if need be. Your job is to make sure they can do best job they can, support them to the best of your ability and provide them the resources they need, and stay the hell out of the way so they can do the work. And when higher ups somehow try to muck things up, as they often do, your job as manager is to run interference and keep those mucking higher ups out of the way. You step in, and you do not simply expect those with the most to lose to do all the work.

In this regard, as supervisor, I am often guided by this quote attributed to General George S. Patton, Jr. of all people:  

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
Then again, one of my personal mantras is also attributed to General Patton (which I think more librarians with spines need to use too):

"We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way."

Finally for these notes, why neutrality is not an option for decent librarians:

"The act of neutrality is the act of siding with  the status quo and refusing to be an ally. For librarians of conscience, neutrality is not an option" (Branum quoted in 91).