Friday, November 30, 2018

Booknote: White Trash

Nancy Isenberg, White Trash: the 400-year untold history of class in America. New York: Penguin, 2017.  ISBN: 9780143129677.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history, ethnicity, politics
Format: trade paperback
Source: Copy provided by the college as part of Dean's Reading Group

I read this sometime in 2017; it was before I declared my personal moratorium on reading anything political, activist, social justice, etc. Part of the reason I read it was for the campus Dean's Reading Group. I am including the basic notes I took when the reading group met at the end of this review.

If I have to describe this book in a nutshell, it would be this: the nation that became the United States has an atrocious history of basically exploiting anyone weaker and/or different for profit and gain. The irony is that very often, the racism and exploitation take turns. White people in the U.S. came from a variety of places, and many were not always seen as "white." The definition of "white" has also changed over time as one immigrant group who was previously seen as not white would settle in, integrate, become white, then act like racist assholes to the next group of immigrants. Rinse and repeat. The other big issue of course is wealth. Those who have it are more than happy to exploit those who do not. The term "white trash" mainly comes from poor whites who were literally dumped by the British in American shores to get rid of them in the old nation and put them to work exploiting the new lands. It is a term that has evolved and stayed. The book presents more details, but that is basically it in a nutshell. The exploitation and bigotry chain has not changed much from the early times of the colonies to the nation the United States is today. Kind of depressing when you really think about it.

It is not an easy book to read. For one, it is a heavy book in terms of theory and detail. In fact, much of the earlier part of the book dealing with the early history is fairly dry and repetitive, and I was tempted to drop the book a couple of times because it did have some seriously boring parts. However, once you get past that, it starts getting a little interesting. Isenberg in addition can be a bit preachy, which I bet was an extra reason the Dean's Reading Group found it appealing; they tend to like books that preach to the choir. The thing is this is a book that more people not in the choir need to be reading.

Overall, I liked the book despite it being a depressing read at times. As I said, I think more people need to be reading it. It did give me a lot to think about, and I made note of various passages to ponder and remember. Furthermore, the author provides extensive chapter notes documenting everything, and this provides material for readers wanting to learn more. Having said all that, this is the book that finally burned me out and made me declare my politics, social justice, activist materials moratorium. So take it for what its worth. The paperback edition I read does add a new preface to the book reflecting the 2016 elections and their aftermath.

3 out of 5.

* * * * * 
Additional reading notes:

Why you really need to pay attention to history. Donald Trump was not a trailblazer nor an innovator nor anything new in politics. If anything, he is just tired old recycled material from previous people, even down to his MAGA slogan:

"American democracy's quirky past haunted the Trump campaign. He was not the first cranky businessman to run for high office, even in recent memory. Ross Perot was, capturing 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992. Nor was Trump the first millionaire mogul with Hollywood ties to seek the presidency. That was William Randolph Hearst, a century ago. And he certainly can't claim to the first outsider who promised to clean up Washington and embody the hopes and dreams (and fears) of the common man. That honor belongs to Andrew Jackson. As critically, he was not the first politician to question the pedigree of a sitting president either. James Vardaman did that in spades, when he insulted President Theodore Roosevelt. Trump's rhetorical appeal to the "silent majority" was stolen from Richard Nixon. Sarah Palin paved the way for him as an earlier version of a Republican reality TV populist. Trump's favorite slogan, 'Make America Great Again,' was of course, Ronald Reagan's first" (xv). 

The argument of this book:

"The argument of this book is that America's class history is a more complicated story than we've previously considered. The past informs the present. Presidential candidates are not masters of their own destiny; rather, they are often a patchwork of rhetorical scripts, familiar gestures, political styles inherited from their predecessors, and whatever else they happen to borrow from the grab bag of popular culture" (xv).

More on the book's purpose:

"Lest the reader misconstrue the book's purpose, I want to make the point unambiguously: by reevaluating the American historical experience in class terms, I expose what is too often ignored about American identity. But I am not just pointing out what we've gotten wrong about the past; I also want to make it possible to better appreciate the gnawing contradictions still present in modern American society" (2).

Exploitation was built in early in colonial America, for example:

"The leaders of Jamestown had borrowed directly from the Roman model of slavery: abandoned children and debtors were made slaves. When indentured adults sold their anticipated labor in return for passage to America, they instantly became debtors, which made their orphaned children a collateral asset" (27).

Heck, even William Goodell Frost, president of Berea College in the 1890s, gets a mention here, and it is not exactly flattering. I will let the readers judge this one, but I will note this is often a topic of conversation on campus in some classes that look at the history of the college. I will just say Frost had his less than brilliant moments:

"In the 1890s, third-generation abolitionist William Goodell Frost, president of the integrated Berea College of Kentucky, redefined his mountain neighbors: 'The 'poor white' is actually degraded; the mountain white is a person not yet graded up.' The latter had preserved a unique lineage for centuries, and in this important way had not lost the battle for survival of the fittest. Frost saw the mountaineer as a modern-day Saxon, with the 'flavor of Chaucer' in his speech, and a clear 'Saxon temper.' He was, the college president wrote, 'our contemporary ancestor!'" (187).

* * * * *
Notes from the faculty reading group session I attended:

  • The book is heavily focused on the U.S. South.
  • If you live in poverty, and all around are poor, you don't really think about class. There is no comparison point. 
  • Even among poor people, however, there are class distinctions. So they often point fingers at each other (instead of at the real enemy).
  • The perception of lazy, a myth really about poor whites as well as for people of color.
  • Education  as a bootstrap, a way to get out. But often education is shamed by poor people. Those who "get out" seen as rising above their station. 
    • Those who get out often feel guilty about getting out. Do you still want to be part of where you come from, even invisibly? Or do you do/be the person you have become?
    • Side joke: do some of these folks need a "white trash therapy group"?
    • Question: is it a matter of having certain advantage at a certain time?
  •  Challenge: think about that narrative about education being a tool to get out. 
    • For Berea College, Rev. John G. Fee even had this notion. 
  • The book is certainly not the narrative many saw and currently see in schools. 
  • Appalachia education narrative is literally education equals getting out and not coming back. 
  • Term: "silicon holler." Work by telecommuting, but as long as you have good Internet (something we do not always have here by the way). 
    • Note: you need all types of people. It is not just about mind workers. 
  • A far future challenge: when people do not have to work (automation, drones, etc.). 
    • Irony may be a need to go back to the land. Grow your own food. Go back to basic skills of home economics (canning, child care, making things, etc.) 

Friday, November 23, 2018

Booknote: The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich

William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich. Ashland, OR: Blackstone Publishing, 2010. ISBN: 9781483078632. Audio read by Grover Gardner.

Genre: history
Subgenre: World War II, Nazi Germany
Format: audio e-book
Source: Overdrive system provided by Madison County (KY) Public Library 

This is one of those big books that I have always been curious about reading, but for one reason or another I never got to reading it. With many people making comparisons between the current "Hard Times" in the United States and Nazi Germany, I figured it was a good time to take a look at this and see if any of those comparisons could be true or accurate or not. Plus, I found the book in audio format, which allowed me to read it while doing other work. The book takes us from the rise of the Nazi Party and Hitler to the Nuremberg Trials and their result.

For starters, it is interesting to see the thinking of historians at the time of the book. The author, a journalist, starts his foreword by describing some of the many  sources the author draws upon to write this history. Shirer found some people thought it was "too early" to write this history. Keep in mind the book was published in 1960. The war ended in 1945. He goes on to emphasize there is no fictionalization, "no part of imagination." He draws on primary sources, witness accounts, and his experiences at the time.  If he has to speculate or is missing a piece, this will be clearly identified. He also acknowledges that his interpretations may be disputed. It is also interesting to point out that historians in his time complained about the book because Shirer himself was not a historian. They also complained because he did use primary sources such as witness accounts. Pompous historians of his time claimed to write history you relied on previous reputable historians and secondary sources. I admit I found that a bit laughable, especially because today even for basic research and synthesis papers, students are encouraged to use primary sources as much as possible. Here in my college, we take students to our archives department so they can learn how to use primary sources in research. I found it hard to imagine that was not an essential element of writing history back then. I think historians back then were just cranky that Shirer wrote a book in their "territory."

Shirer's book covers a lot of ground, and it presents a lot of detail. Much of the detail presented is minutiae, so the book can get a bit heavy at times when reading. Once or twice I did have to back up a segment to listen again because some small detail passed on by. On the other hand, there were some details that I probably could have skipped and not missed much. The book is strong in its great attention to detail, but that attention to detail also often makes it a very dry read. It is not the most engaging book, but as you read you get the sense it is an important book and a book worth taking a look. I am glad to have read it, but I do not think I will be rereading it any time soon. If nothing else, this book may encourage readers to seek out further reading on the topic.

For the rest of this review, I would like to highlight some passages and parts of the book I found interesting and add some thoughts.

After the foreword, Shirer takes a bit of time going over Adolf Hitler's ancestry. Had a certain ancestor not legitimized the son who would be Hitler's father, his last name would have been different, and even comical-sounding.

In Chapter 1, Shirer looks at Hitler and his reading habits. As a librarian, I always find reading habits of people to be interesting. In this case, Shirer quotes from Hitler's own book, Mein Kampf. I read the quote, and I have to say, if it was not Hitler saying it, some folks might be more receptive of it. The quote also echoes other writers who wrote prescriptively how to read well. Anyhow, here is the passage:

"I know people who read enormously whom I would not describe as well read. True, they possess a mass of knowledge, but their brain is unable to organize and register the material they have taken in. On the other hand, a man who possesses the art of correct reading will instinctively and immediately will perceive every thing which in his opinion is worth permanently remembering, either because it is suited to his purpose or generally worth knowing." -- Hitler, from Mein Kampf, quote by Shirer. 

Shirer then points out that many of Hitler's ideas were not even original. He picked them up from various thinkers and politicians of the 20th century. Here we can note for readers interested in where Hitler got his ideas from the following: Whitman's Hitler's American Model (yes, Adolf Hitler did admire U.S. racist ideas and sought to emulate them) and Black's War Against the Weak (about the U.S. eugenics movement, which Hitler also found very inspiring). When it comes to racism, bigotry, and waging war on the poor and weak, the U.S. was a pioneer in those endeavors, and as we can see, an inspiration to tyrants. (By the way, this is not just Hitler. The U.S. has been notorious not only in inspiring tyrants but even training them to be better tyrants. For instance, look up a little something called The School of the Americas sometime. Link to Wikipedia for convenience, but there are plenty of other sources out there) Chapter 4 looks further at Nietzsche and other philosophers; it is a bit on the long side and slow reading. Yet this is the thinking that helped to shape Hitler, or at least the advisors that advised Hitler. These were fashionable ideas of the time by the way, and they were fashionable ideas in and out of Germany.

While we are it, Hitler also illustrates how the "wrong" reading can basically work to confirm biases and prejudices, such as him in early days immersing himself in the anti-Semitic literature popular at the time. This example often leads me to be skeptical of librarians and other literacy advocates who claim that people, as long as they are reading, they should read everything and anything. Hitler read a lot of the "everything and anything" of his time. His problem, which is the problem of many folks today, is that he read a lot of hate and bigotry literature. This is not unlike somebody today in the U.S. who only reads and listens to right wing propaganda from authors like Limbaugh and Coulter and a steady diet of Fox News and InfoWars. Most if not all of those folks lack any critical thinking skills, so they are easy prey. It is not easy to withstand constant propaganda and misinformation. Even a man as educated and smart as Shirer had difficulties when constantly exposed to Nazi propaganda during his time in Germany. He managed to survive and see truth, but it took a lot of work. He later describes this in the book:

"Though I listened to the BBC and other broadcasts, my job necessitated the spending of many hours a day in combing the German press, checking the German radio, conferring with Nazi officials, and going to party meetings. It was surprising and sometimes consternating to find that notwithstanding the opportunities I had to learn the facts and despite one's inherent distrust of what I learned from Nazi sources, a steady over the years of falsifications and distortions made a certain impression on one's mind and often misled it. No one who has not lived for years in a totalitarian land can possibly conceive the dread consequences of a regime's calculated and incessant propaganda." --Chapter 8. 

This still survives today in the United States, especially now in the "Hard Times" where the administration constantly lies and misinforms and has plenty of channels to spread the propaganda. The era of "fake news" is not really new, but it has certainly flourished in the U.S. in recent times even if the term as used by many of its advocates is not exactly accurate, but then again, that is part of the distortion. All I can say is decent librarians and educators have their work cut out for them in these times.

Speaking of Hitler's book, author also says that had people read  Hitler's book early on, especially people outside Germany including other nations' leaders, perhaps things would have turned out differently. After all, Hitler spelled out exactly everything he intended to do and do with armed conflict. Looking at history, dictators and tyrants often make their intentions very explicit and clear early on, yet for some reason people refuse to take them seriously until it is too late. It is a lesson people continually fail to learn.

Moving along, Shirer looks at Hitler's rise to power. It was not a straight up smooth rise, yet he still managed to rise in power. Readers may recall the putsch, a failure, that still made Hitler a national figure. Also, the  jail sentence he got for basically  staging a coup and treason was light, so it sent message that any consequences if caught would be light. This is a lesson that needs to be learned, and that is traitors (as well as bigots, white supremacist terrorists) do not deserve light sentences but the harshest punishment possible. A lesson the U.S. clearly has failed to learn.  By the way, looking at it today the putsch may seem laughable.

In addition, many of Hitler's inner circle were unsavory characters to put it mildly. Even when other Nazi party members wanted Hitler to get rid of them, Hitler defended them and kept them on in part due to their loyalty to him and in part because as long as they were useful (to him) they were worth keeping. This is eerily reminiscent of the Pendejo In Chief and the people he surrounds himself with including liars, cheats, con men, etc.

In addition, people did enable Hitler; we cannot deny their part in helping him rise to power. Chapter  8 looks at life in Germany from 1933 to 1937, a time the author lived there and observed. He remarks how the people did not seem to mind their loss of civil liberties and rights, the barbarism that arose, and the extreme regimentation (even more so than usual). In some ways, chilling to see some of this in the United States of today. For example, the fact that there is a debate in the U.S. whether children of immigrants and refugees belong in cages is a chilling things to see, and it does invoke echoes of the past. Then again, even during this time, tourists did go to Germany quite a bit, and could go anywhere (except concentration camps and military installations), study anything. It seemed Germany had nothing to hide. And while tourists came and Germany "charmed" the world, Germans were basically doing their best to erase Jewish people by legislation and then terror. Naturally, outsiders did not really see this (or if they saw any of it, turned a blind eye).By the way, to learn more about travelers and tourists during this historical time, there is a new book out by Julia Boyd, Travelers in the Third Reich. It was recently reviewed in The Washington Post.

In his afterword, author speaks a bit about the book's reception. He  had been concerned a book as long as this, with so many footnotes, and expensive (at the time) would not sell. He was also concerned that the subject would not be interesting. The book did attract a good amount of readership, which surprised the author, including sales via Book of the Month Club. Interesting, some reviewers put him down for not being a "historian who teaches history" as I mentioned above. As for the Germans, at the time they panned the book for the most part (they could not confront their own history when the book came out). However, he also got positive reviews. He ends on a note of skepticism whether the Germans have changed or not. He does note atom bombs have made conquerors like Hitler obsolete. On a side note, we know now that Germany has changed and progressed.

Overall, the book was OK. It was good but not great. It is hard to rate because on the one hand, it is a bit of hard and often very dry reading. This is not a book people today will rush to pick up. Yet it is an important book and a good look at a dark time in history from someone who was there. Additionally, in reading this I can see some parallels to the U.S. and the Hard Times today. Sure, things are not as extreme, but the potential is easily very much there. This book offers plenty of warnings, but the question is whether people will be willing to heed those warnings and act before it is too late.

2 out of 5 stars. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Thanksgiving Post 2018, plus some leftovers for Black Friday

 Once more, the Turkey Day holiday (a.k.a. Thanksgiving Day) is upon us. As in recent years past, I am staying home for the  holiday with the Better Half and daughter having a small, humble meal and a time of relaxation. If you are traveling, I wish  you safe journeys. If you are hosting people, I hope things work out well and with minimum stress.

To give you a little entertainment and amusement during this holiday time, here are some links to stories, trivia, and other facts about the holiday or related to the holiday that I  hope you find amusing and/or interesting.

Before I go further,  let me make an observation. For some reason, as I was putting together this post and choosing things to share, I noticed a lot of news sites and other sites putting up milquetoast articles which boil down to "how to get along with your asshole bigoted racist relative during the holiday." I am not going to share any of those pieces of tripe since they all basically say the same thing of treating us like idiots by saying things like "we are not accustomed to getting along with people who think differently" and "we all need to get along." To which I say, "fuck that." I am not in the custom of getting along with racist, bigoted assholes nor will I tolerate them in my home. As far as I am concerned, neither should you. So, in my humble opinion, here is my small advice that I feel needs to be said in the Hard Times:
  • If you are stuck with one of those assholes, give them the silent treatment. Do not engage. They may persist, but eventually they will get the clue their bullshit will get no response and move to something safe like praising how good the pie turned out. If you are hosting, don't invite them, and if they come and misbehave, it is your home and your right to kick them right out of the house. If you are being hosted, and some asshole breaks out, feel free to leave. Bad behavior should never be rewarded.
  • By the same token, if you are one of those extreme liberal activists with a few causes, the holiday dinner is not the time to be preaching about whatever the cause or trying to win converts. Don't go weaponizing your activism and pissing off everyone else in the process. Just like the racist, bigoted asshole should not be tolerated, the preachy "you are all oppressors" or some variant moralizer should not be tolerated neither. Shut it and let people enjoy their meal in peace. Your causes and need for activism will still be there the next day. 
  • However, if you still feel a need to be an asshole during the holidays, you can always try to discuss inheritances and estate planning during the meal gathering. I shit you not, this is just what some lawyers actually suggest (via Above the Law).  Because you want to make sure your will is in order in case you choke on a turkey bone during the meal and die on  the spot.
So, there, I've said my piece. Let's look at a few nicer things.

Some trivia

  • I usually try to include the fact sheet that the U.S. Census Bureau does for holidays, in this case the one for Thanksgiving. However, I do not know if this is a sign of the Hard Times, but they did not have one for 2018. I did not find one when I looked in the site. 
  •  On some good news, USA Today reports that the average Thanksgiving dinner costs a bit less this year. 
    • The USA Today story is based of the annual Thanksgiving survey that American Farm Bureau does every year. Here is the link for this year's survey. What do they base it on? "The shopping list for Farm Bureau’s informal survey includes turkey, stuffing, sweet potatoes, rolls with butter, peas, cranberries, a veggie tray, pumpkin pie with whipped cream, and coffee and milk, all in quantities sufficient to serve a family of 10 with plenty for leftovers."
  • However, if you are traveling by car, you will likely pay more for gasoline this year. UPI reports that U.S. drivers can expect to pay $80 million more for gasoline than last year.
  • The Library of Congress Blog offers a small story about a rare cookbook "by a formerly enslaved person who during her life received an array of accolades for her culinary creativity." 
  • Stuffing. Dressing. Same thing? Not quite, and Thanksgiving and Co. explains the difference, plus they provide some recipes.
  • Is it yams or sweet potatoes? Both? The Library of Congress' blog gives a bit of history to explain the difference.
  • The turkey? It is all a lie according to this Alternet article that discusses how today's turkey is basically a product of massive industrial food engineering.
  • Did you know that appointments for Botox spike up during the holidays for Thanksgiving and Christmas? Via Priceonomics.
  • Want to be more mindful while eating? Here is some Buddhist eating advice, via Tricycle
  • You may also want to be a bit more careful about food waste during Thanksgiving and the holidays. Via The Conversation.


This seems to be a big story this season as I am seeing a lot of stories on Friendsgiving. This basically started as a way for friends and other groups of unrelated (by blood) people to get together and celebrate Thanksgiving because they were away from family. These days, it is often a pre-Thanksgiving meal of friends to have before they go home to "the real family." Often you do it because this will be your good meal before you head into the hell ground that is the family.

  • The Atlantic provides an overview, looking at it in terms of Millennials (because, let's be honest, it is still trendy to blame Millennials for everything and anything). 
  • Often Friendsgiving meals are potluck meals. Thanksgiving and Co. offers some do's and don'ts for the event.

Thanksgiving Food

  • Buying a turkey? Via The Conversation, an economist explains how turkey is priced. For example, the article mentions that it is cheaper if you buy your turkey frozen. Granted, you have to do all the work of thawing it, cooking it, etc., but it is a lot cheaper than buying a fresh bird. In fact, it is so low in price that grocery stores expect to make their money when you buy all the other stuff and fixings for the feast. It is kind of like movie theaters; theaters do not really make money on the movie tickets. They make their real money on the overpriced concessions. And if you want to have another turkey for Christmas (I can't imagine why, but hey, you do you), the price of that frozen turkey is still a bargain.
  • Want to serve a turkey on the wild side? The Reynolds kitchens (the guys who make aluminum foil and such) offer recipes for flavor blasted turkeys with things like hot cheetos. Your turkey will either turn out awesome, or no one will ask you to cook ever again.
  • This article from the Los Angeles Times suggests that things will go easier for you as the cook if you cook using sheet pans. They include some recipes as well.  

Don't want turkey? Other food options

  •  GQ offers an alternative to turkey. Cook two chickens instead. It will be easier and taste much better. 
  • Some folks, like my household, cook something completely different. But maybe you are not quite ready to give up on  the  traditional meal. So, how you have your turkey, but add a little something different, like some tamales or some other ethnic dish? When I was growing up in Puerto Rico, for Thanksgiving, we often had a turkey (because, you know, the yankees brought that over when they invaded) but also had local traditional dishes like arroz con gandules. Via NPR.
  • Quartz offers three more ideas of what to do other than the usual. One of their suggestions is Taco Party, which he have done in previous years.


Black Friday

Translation: A normal day/Black Friday

So, you ate til you could eat no more. You napped, then ate some more. Now it is time to get up atthe crack of dawn to go shopping. Because what better way to celebrate gratitude for what you have than getting up at the crack of dawn (or fuck it, rushing right after dinner to Walmart or whatever asshole retail decided to open on Thanksgiving and start Black Friday the day before) to shop for more stuff? It's the American Way.

And now, a special Thanksgiving edition of

Great Debates Of Our Time

Today's topic: What is the proper time to serve Thanksgiving dinner? Here is what The Atlantic says about it, but what say you? Feel free to comment about it.

Finally, let me leave you with a bit of humor, courtesy of It's a Southern Thing. Here is what happens when you have too many leftovers:

Friday, November 16, 2018

Do book bloggers need to be in touch with publishing?

Heather of Based on a True Story asks "Are Book Bloggers Out of Touch With Publishing?" Until I read her post I admit this was not something I though about much if at all. I have not formally been a book blogger for a long time, but I am also a librarian so naturally I have an interest in books and reading. I think that you can be "in touch" with publishing and its trends just fine. It does not mean that being "in touch" has to be reflected in your book blog.

I may be one of the few librarians, and fewer people in general, who still uses an RSS reader to stay  informed. One of the folders in my feed reader is dedicated to resources, blogs, news, and other items about books and reading. This can include news from the publishing world. So I feel I am fairly in touch with publishing trends, at least in a passing fashion. For many of the hot, current things, I am just aware they exist, and that is good enough for me. I am aware enough that I can answer basic questions about those current things and direct a client to where they can learn more as needed.

Having said that, it does not mean I feel a need to blog about whatever the latest and hottest in publishing at the moment. Most the stuff that fancy top lists from places like The New York Times and Amazon are not stuff I am interested in reading. If they are your cup of tea, that is great, and you can read about those bestsellers and commercial hits elsewhere. I am an eclectic reader, but I tend to read items that are considered mid-list or just out of the way. If you are really interested, you can learn a bit more about the kinds of books I enjoy reading and reviewing from my reviews statement (which you can also find on the right sidebar of this blog).

I figure that "top of the line" bestsellers and current commercial books get plenty of coverage from big places such as The New York Times, other major newspapers, Oprah Winfrey, morning news shows, NPR, etc. They do not need little old me to give them any more love or coverage. Plus to be honest, I just generally do not find those types of books interesting. For me, there are so many more interesting things out there that do not get covered or reviewed as much, and as reader and librarian, I would rather share those with my four readers. This does not mean I do not read current things. I do pick up current and new books regularly, and I even review regularly for a publisher and/or editor or two. But when I am not reviewing something new, I am looking for next interesting and neat book out there that can use a bit more promotion.

So, going back to the question: do book bloggers need to be in touch with publishing? In my case, as a librarian and reader I feel a need to keep up. However, I think it depends on what kind of book blogger you are. If you are into the current stuff and the latest, then yes. That seems evident. But if you are more into the mid-lists or maybe even just looking at older things, then being "in touch" may not be an issue for you as a book blogger. In the end, I'd say follow your bliss, read and review what you like. Let your book blog reflect your passions as a reader.

Booknote: Bad Clowns

Benjamin Radford, Bad Clowns. Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press, 2016.  ISBN: 978-0-8263-5666-6.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: reference, clowns, pop culture
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This book is a semi-academic treatise on bad clowns ranging from bad to terrifying. It looks at clowns in media and popular culture. The book features an introduction, then 13 chapters, a section of notes, a section of references, and an index.

Some chapters are more interesting than others. The last chapter deals with trolls, online trolls that is, as a modern form of bad clown. While the rest of the book was interesting, well reasoned and presented, this last chapter was basically a stretch, as if the author ran out of material, and he need to put in a patch to wrap up the book. Compared to the various clowns and clown variants the author presents, online cowardly mostly anonymous assholes, a.k.a. trolls, should not be anywhere near clowns. This was a serious flaw in an otherwise pretty good book.

The author looks at clowns from early times with characters like Mr. Punch. Then looks at clowns in media and culture, including criminal clowns, and even some sex clowns.There is also a look at coulrophobia (fear of clowns). As librarian and reader, I found the chapters on clowns in books and literature and in film and screen to be the most interesting. The clown sex and porn chapter was also interesting. In addition, the book features some good photos and  illustrations, many from the author's personal collection.

While not a definitive book, this book can serve as a good start to learn more and investigate the topic of bad clowns further. It can give you a  good start for further research. I liked it, but I felt at times it could have been better.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

On why this book:

"Perhaps a better question is 'Why not a book about bad clowns?' They are all around us: television, in movies, video games, books and elsewhere. Bad clowns have -- much to the irritation of good clowns-- over the years become the most recognizable type of clown. Yet there is relatively little (even semiserious) scholarship about these villainous vagabonds" (1). 

What is included in the book:

"This book goes far beyond trotting out the familiar bad clown tropes of John Wayne Gacy and Pennywise. They are included here, of course, but you'll also find bizarre, lesser-known stories of weird clown antics including S&M clowns; Ronald McDonald protests; Bozo obscenity; clowns in vans abducting children; evil clown scares in Europe and North America; backstage scenes at Marvel Comics with Obnoxio the Clown; Crotchy, the clown who forced the Nebraska Supreme Court to watch him masturbate; dip clowns, troll clowns, and much more" (1). 

Clowns are not inherently threatening:

"Clowns may be scary to many people, but they are not inherently threatening the way a coiled rattlesnake or knife-wielding mugger is. The fear of clowns stems from a latent, potential harm, a suspicion that the seemingly silly and harmless pratfalling fool before us may in fact not be so silly, so foolish, or so harmless" (21). 

On a side note, Chapter 10 has a section on "Clowns as Shamans." This could be useful for one of our GSTR 410 classes that has an emphasis on humor and a unit on Native American humor.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Media Notes: Roundup for October 2018

These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during October 2018.

Movies and films (links to for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise):

  • Punisher: War Zone (2008. Action. Adventure. Crime. Comics). The 2008 take on the Punisher character of Marvel Comics, with Ray Stevenson in the title role. In this outing, the Punisher goes after a mob family, taking all out but one enforcer who survives but is disfigured. Becoming Jigsaw, the enforcer moves to exact his revenge. To complicate matters, one of the men the Punisher kills was an undercover federal agent, unknown to the Punisher, so the authorities' attention is on him as well.  Overall, of the takes on the chraracter, this one does pretty well. A lot of action and violence, which goes with the character, and entertaining. Via
  • Rise of the Foot Soldier (2007. Crime. Action. Biography). Movie based on the life of British criminal turned writer Carlton Leach. Leach came up from football hooligan to become a career criminal. The film is based on his book, Muscle, which is his memoir of his time as a criminal.Watching it, initially it reminds me of the play and book Among the Thugs by Bill Buford. I was fortunate to see a theater performance of Among the Thugs some years back when I was in graduate school. The thug scenes of the film reminded me of Buford's book. Soon, Leach finds work as a bouncer due to his tough reputation. He sets up a "firm," a business of a group of bouncers to "fix clubs" so they could get the right clientele. In the process, he discovers hired muscle is valued in other places, like drug deals, and that is his way in. However, as many of these stories, once the drugs come in, things start going out of control and spiraling down. When a triple murder of Carlton's friends is discovered, the gruesome act wakes him up to get out of the life. He was lucky. Overall, it is an intense movie looking at a series of events in the 1980s and mid 1990s. It is violent, gruesome at times, but also engrossing to watch. Via TubiTv.
  • The Rise of the Krays (2015. Crime. Drama). This is the story of the Kray Brothers, Reggie and Ronnie Kray, who rise up to be prominent gangsters in London in the 1960s. Film is based on a true story. Reggie and Ronnie rise in power through extreme violence, violence that Ronnie not only uses but even cherishes to a mad degree. It turned out he indeed was mentally ill, schizophrenic. However, his illness just added to his violent reputation as rivals became afraid to cross him. His brother was barely able to keep him in check. The movie follows the brothers and the descent of Ronnie into madness and extreme violence. For the viewer, much like those around Ronnie, you are just not sure what extreme act he will do next. It is a pretty basic movie, nothing fancy, but it does draw you in. As an additional feature, it does have a pretty good music soundtrack reflective of the time period depicted. On a trivia note, this was one of three movies about the Krays that came out in 2015. Overall, the movie was alright but as I said, nothing great. Via TubiTv.
  • Europa Report (2013. Science Fiction. Thriller). A science fiction entry into the by now popular genre of "found footage" films. Six astronauts travel to Jupiter's moon Europa on a mission to see if life can be sustained there or not.  The mission was privately funded, and for six months or so, watched on Earth, then the ship vanished, its fate unknown, until new footage is received and declassified. Movie is pretty slow overall. Plus you already know the mission is doomed; we are watching their lost footage, so it is matter of finding out what happened, and it drags on its way to the final reveal in the last couple of minutes. They do try to make it look very realistic,  but if you are attentive you can spot various misses, not to mention there are moments when the astronauts seem to miss what seem like basic safety rules. Not to mention, if you really think about it, the ship seems somewhat shoddily made (what? the corporation spent all those billions of dollars, and the ship seems to fall apart when someone sneezes?). Still the effort was there to make it look realistic, but in the end, this movie is just no big deal. It turns into a boring experience where you do not really care about the characters and can't wait for it to be over. Via TubiTv.
  • Alien Covenant (2017. Horror. Science Fiction. Thriller). We return to the Alien franchise once more in this somewhat slow and predictable film. The colonist ship Covenant suffers a major accident in space. They come across a world that looks like it could be a good place to settle down, only to find the horror of the aliens after discovering a survivor from the Prometheus ship. I could not help but see some parallels between this and The Island of Dr. Moreau of all things. Movie looks good, but pretty soon you get a good idea how it will end. Pacing is fairly slow, and the jump scares pretty minimal. Suspense is not that good neither since you figure out the villain pretty early on. This is overall pretty forgettable. DVD via Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library.

Television and other series (basic show information links via Wikipedia unless noted otherwise). Some of these come in DVD from the public library. Others may be via YouTube, which, as noted before, I keep finding all sorts of other old shows in it, often full episodes:

  • Supermarket Sweep (Game show. 1965-2003). I continue watching the 1990s run, with some 2000s, hosted by David Ruprecht, which ran on Lifetime Channel and later on Pax TV, on YouTube this month. See the June roundup post for more comment on this show. Watched 10 episodes. 
  • Iron Chef (Japan). (1993-2001). I keep watching these via YouTube. 
    • "Natto Battle." This was around the time Tadamichi Ohta forms the faction bearing his name to preserve traditional Japanese cooking. They are the nemesis of Iron Chef Japanese Masaharu Morimoto. They challenged once before, and lost, so this is their second challenge. Challenger this time is Tatsutoshi Kumamoto.  
    • "Natto Battle 2." This time, another big Japanese cuisine group sends a challenger. The group is the Japanese Cuisine Seminar Group, founded in 1930 to preserve traditional skills like knife work. Turns out Iron Chef Japanese Rokusaburo Michiba headed the group at the time. Another member comes to challenge, Kuniyuki Ishikawa.
  • Sherlock Holmes (1984-1994. Granada Television Series). As I noted in the September roundup, the main branch of my local public library had the run of the "Return of Sherlock Holmes" part of this series starring Jeremy Brett as Sherlock Holmes, a favorite of mine. The "Return of Sherlock Holmes" set features four volumes, and they start when Holmes returns after the fall at Reichenbach Falls. (On a side note, I have found other episodes online as well, and I will note when I watch those).
    • "Wisteria Lodge."  Mr. Scott Ecles is the guest of a Mr. Garcia at Wisteria Lodge. Overnight, the host and servants disappear. Ecles goes back to London, hires Sherlock Holmes. When they go back to Wisteria Lodge, the local inspector says Garcia has been murdered, and Ecles is the prime suspect. It falls to Holmes to solve the mystery, which reveals a lot more depth than the local inspector thinks is there, including a fugitive Central American dictator.
    • "The Priory School." The son of a duke is kidnapped from his preparatory school, and it falls to Sherlock Holmes and Doctor Watson to find him. Story is not as deep as others, but it does have an interesting twist with the Duke and his family. 
  • Mafia's Greatest Hits ( Documentary. True Crime. Biography. 2012- ). I commented on this series in the June 2018 roundup
    • "Sam Giancana" (Season 1, episode 1). A look at Chicago boss Sam Giancana. This episode also look closely at how he was related to the Kennedys and Giancana's influence that helped the Kennedys along. That notion is in dispute, yet the questions remain. And then, there was the CIA, Giancana, and the U.S. wanting to get rid of Castro. Let's just say Giancana had a lot of fingers in a lot of places. In the end, he had a 50 years career, rare for any mobster.

Booknote: Maker's Mark: My Autobiography

Bill Samuels, Jr. and Maker's Mark Distillery, Maker's Mark: My Autobiography. Louisville, KY: Saber Publishing, 2000.  ISBN: 0-9705861-0-8.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: liquor and spirits, brands, coffee table book, arts, trivia, Kentucky, bourbon
Format: hardcover coffee table book
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County Public Library

This is mainly a promotional book for the brand, but it is also a nice and interesting coffee table book. It is also quite nice to look through.

The book is presented as the  life story of the bourbon brand from its humble beginnings to today. Along the way we also get the story of the Samuels family and a lot of trivia and interesting tidbits. The book also features great photographs.

The book starts with a short introduction by Bill Samuels, Jr., the company president. From there, the book has short, easy to read chapters that present the history and trivia. Yes, the family is related to Jesse and Frank  James. No, their first attempts at advertising were  not always successful. In fact, the book even has a chapter of "bad" ads. Throughout the book, Bill Samuels keeps a good sense of humor combining serious history with some amusing moments.

Fans of bourbon and especially Maker's Mark will very likely enjoy the book. However, you do not have to consume spirits to enjoy the book. If you enjoy books on brands and their  history, this is  a book for  you. It is also a good  piece of Kentuckiana.

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, November 02, 2018

Booknote: The Making of the Godfather

Mario Puzo, The Making of The Godfather: an Original Essay. New York: Hachette Audio, 2013. Read by Max Casella. ISBN: 9781478926887

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: films, books, essays, Hollywood
Format: electronic audiobook
Source: Overdrive system of the Madison Library (KY) Public Library

This book is more like an extended essay where Mario Puzo discusses how he wrote the book and turned it into the motion picture that would become the famous film. Puzo is pretty straightforward and honest in the essay. He admits that The Godfather was not his best novel; he wrote it to make money. As for the film, he realized early on that he had to write it so he could then go on to write the books he actually wanted to write. In many ways, he is just a guy who wants to make a living out of his writing and so he writes what will make money while using that money to live on so he can  write what he really wants. In the end, Puzo concludes that writing books is better than Hollywood.

The book also offers some interesting bits of trivia, such as:

  •  Puzo claims that when he wrote the novel, he never met a mobster. That happened after the book became famous. At some point, a story, more like a rumor, circulated that the Mob paid him a hefty sum to write the novel as a PR  move.
  • On making a million bucks or so from The Godfather. On  the  one hand, much of it went to taxes, debts, agent fees, lawyers, and other expenses, so he was not rich yet. But the part he did manage to get, he lived it up and spent it  as fast as it came in. Go figure.
  • "Accountants who make profits disappear like Houdini." This is Puzo's remark on the movie world and how they make money (and make it disappear so as not to have to pay certain people, like those who actually make a film). This  is still an issue to this day, but I am sure many  of today's actors. writers, so on, have better lawyers to watch their interests.
  • Puzo clarifies that the Johnny Fontane character in the book is NOT based on Frank Sinatra. Sinatra still thought it might be, and  he fussed. In a chance encounter, which was not Puzo's idea, a millionaire friend wanted to introduce Puzo to Sinatra; Sinatra was basically a serious asshole, definitely not like Fontane.

This book first came out in 1972, which is the year the film came out. It gives a bit of insight into the context and times in which the film was made from the book. The narrator of this version has a nice, strong voice which makes me wonder how close is it to Puzo or not. Overall, it was an interesting book.

Reading about the reading life: November 2, 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).  

The month of October just flew by. I celebrated Halloween attending a wedding of friends; it was a wedding in costumes. Simple, nice, and fun. We're now into November, and it seems like before we know it the holidays season will be here. So stay tuned for my annual series of holiday posts coming up later. Meanwhile, let's have a look at the reading life.

  • Inc. has a small piece telling us why it is a good idea to make reading a part of your daily routine. 
  • This seems a bit like a First World Problem. Readers for the Man Booker Prize are complaining some book selections are way too long. Even the term "book inflation" has been tossed around. Story via The Guardian.
  • End of September means Banned Books Week in many parts of the United States. With Banned Books Week you always get a fuckbagel or two who clearly do not get the concept of irony. For example, some pastors in Maine wanted to ban some books from a local public library, and of course, they wanted it done during Banned Books Week. However, their local community  "were in fact concerned, mostly by the good pastors' bigotry and small-mindedness; others were entertained by the irony of their protest." No matter how much the asshat "men of God" whined they "not a man of hate. I help everybody, whether it’s homosexuality, fornication, adultery. . . "(and apparently they do not know how to phrase things neither. Really, they help others with fornication? I do not even want to know), things went poorly for them and the books stayed. Stories via National Coalition Against Censorship and Alternet.
  • In Germany, a bookstore faces the usual challenges of less people buying books and competing against e-books and online sales. Their solution? They sell bread and sausages in addition to books. Story via The New York Times
  • The New York Times also offers an opinion piece "In Praise of Mediocrity." The idea is basically to, you know, relax a bit and enjoy your hobbies if you have them. The columnist is also author of the book The Attention Merchants, which looks like an interesting book to add to my ever growing TBR list. 
  • Via Longreads, it seems physiognomy, yes, that old pseudoscience, has never really left and may even be making a comeback
  • Via Mental Floss, a new study that confirms that growing up in a house full of books is good for you. I certainly was lucky enough that growing up we always had books in the house. 
  • It seems fiction sales between 2013 and 2017 have been decreasing. Story via Publishers Weekly.I found that a bit counterintuitive. I mean, in the Hard Times, fiction is definitely perfect for escapism, especially if it has nothing to remind you of the Hard Times. However, part of the answer is  how the book publishing industry itself works. 
  • The New York Review of Books offers an article arguing Thucydides may have known quite a bit about the United States today. I may need to reread Thucydides sometime soon.
  • LitHub has been doing a series on books that defined the century, running from 1900 to today in the 2010s. You might or not agree with all their choices, but it is interesting to look over their lists. 
  • Via Atlas Obscura, a look at Barter Books, a secondhand bookstore inside a Victorian train station in England. 
  • Via First Things, a look at the bookish life and what is it good for. 
  • Meanwhile, the Los Angeles Book Review ponders why we need erotica.
  • I've shared this piece in a few places, and I think it does need to be widely disseminated. As a book reviewer myself, I can appreciate what it states. Via Cornerfolds, "How not to request reviews and six thing[s] you should be doing." Much like Tracy the blogger, "I've realized that expecting an author to look at a review policy is a fantasy and I've moved on. I've passed denial and anger and now I'm into acceptance and laughing at the ridiculous requests that come through my inbox." So please, authors, agents, publishing aides, etc, read this and then plan accordingly. Book reviewers everywhere will appreciate it. By the way, you can find my book review statement here and on the right side of my blog. 
  • Via Vulture, a look at the growth in audiobooks.