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 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.