Friday, July 19, 2019

Booknote: The Book of Divination

Ann Fiery, The Book of Divination. San Francisco, CA: Chronicle Books, 1999.  ISBN: 0-8118-1618-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: art, divination, history
Format: coffee table book
Source: Borrowed from Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This is a coffee table book on the topic of divination. The  book is organized as follows:

  • Introduction
  • 15 chapters, one for each divination practice presented  in the book
  • A bibliography, plus picture credits and acknowledgements
The book does offer a variety of topics ranging from well known forms of divination such as astrology, numerology, and Tarot as well as lesser known or mostly extinct forms such as metoposcopy (reading lines on the forehead), phrenology, and haruspicy (reading animal entrails). The length and quality of content varies. Some entries are larger and better developed than others. Astrology, for example, gets about 40 pages of content. Haruspicy gets two pages. On the text, the author writes:

"This book is no more than a dabble in the deep waters of Western divination. I have tried to give a sense of the traditions of each of the systems I discuss, but all of them (with the possible exception of haruspicy) would repay further investigation" (9).

That is another thing: the book only focuses on Western divination, no Oriental/Eastern methods in this volume. While I get this is a "dabble," the dabbling is often very uneven. The author also provides instructions as possible if you want to try a method. However, the author is also intensely opinionated, which can be an issue. On this, the author writes:

"I am not demure about my opinions; you will undoubtedly notice that I approve of some interpretations and developments more than others" (9).

That bias likely helps explain the very uneven treatment of subjects in the book. Opinion can be good; however, when this author disdains something she does so aggressively. Plus, at times, to be perfectly honest, she can come across as overly prescriptive and even a bit snobbish. A little less personal opinion and a little more neutrality may have worked better for this book.

A strength of the book is in the illustrations. The author includes plenty of photos, charts, engravings, and other historical illustrations. The illustrations were a reason for me to pick up the book. They do enhance the book.

Overall, this is more of a book to browse than to read cover to  cover. In the end, I did like most of it. Still, I'd say borrow it rather than buy it if you must.

3 out of 5 stars





Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Booknote: Appalachian Health and Well-Being

Robert L. Ludke and Phillip J. Obermiller, eds. with Foreword by Richard A. Couto, Appalachia Health and Well-Being. Lexington, KY: University Press of Kentucky, 2012.  ISBN: 978-0-8131-35861.

Genre: nonfiction, reference work
Subgenre: Appalachia, health, health care, academic essays anthology
Format: Hardcover
Source: Hutchins Library, Reference Collection

This note is a reference book review. We currently have this book in our collection at Hutchins Library; I saw it on our new reference books' shelf, and I decided to make this note both to help me better know this resource and to see if it can be helpful for our students here. In this note, I will mainly look at key features of the book, how it is organized, and why it may be useful and how. On a small side note, I will probably pull some notes or items from this review to write a small quick review for our library's blog about this book. What I am saying is this note is a bit different than my usual booknotes.

In our library, we get a lot of questions related to Appalachia and the region in general. Appalachia is also a big part of the college's curriculum, especially in the required reading second semester General Studies course, so we are always looking for resources in this area. Health in the region is often a popular topic in those classes, so this book seems relevant.

I need to note it was published in 2012. For some of our classes that may require sources within 5 years (for reasons I will not go into here), this book may already be "too old." However, for classes looking at the region more broadly and at overall conditions in the region, this book can be useful.

The book is a collection of scholarly signed essays on various health related topics in the region. The book is organized as follows:

  • List of illustrations
  • Foreword
  • Introduction
  • Three major parts, each containing a series of essays. The book has a total of 16 essays. The major part topics are: 
    • Appalachian Health Determinants
    • Appalachian Health Status
    • Urban Appalachian Health
  • Acknowledgements
  • Selected bibliography
  • List of contributors
  • Index

In his foreword to the book, Professor Couto tells us chapters in this book "addressed all the factors that promote health and well-being, including economic, political, psychological, environmental, and social ones" (xi). Maybe "all" is a bit too ambitious, but a look at the book's contents shows work "to put health and health care in a socioeconomic and political context" (xi). For many classes here on campus, specially in that General Studies curriculum I mentioned, this book can provide a good start for student research assignments.

This book is not just a collection of essays. The book's foreword and introduction provide a good overview of the complex issues of the region in terms of health and health care. The editor writes,

"This volume takes a broad perspective by focusing on the health of all Appalachians, both residents of Appalachia and those who have migrated from the region" (1).

The introduction's overview goes over various essential topics in a brief but clear manner in order to provide background material. Some of these topics include:

  • Medical services for rural areas
  • Health innovations
  • Definitions and concepts

What the book does not cover and why. This is the kind of statement that students and researchers need to pay attention to when considering a source for a research task or assignment as it presents the limitations of the work being considered:

"There are important Appalachian subpopulations (e.g African Americans, Hispanics, Eastern Band Cherokee) and health cohorts (e.g. those with HIV/AIDS) that are not discussed in this volume. Although women's health is reasonably well represented here, many other subgroups in Appalachia are not. This is not an intentional omission; it is caused by an unfortunate lack of reliable regional data on these populations" (16). 

The book's introduction includes a section on "organization of this book." Good scholarly essay collections often include this kind of section. Here the editors define how a book is organized and why they chose their book's arrangement as well as briefly describes each essay in the book. So for students, read the introduction, specially this part, to quickly assess how well this book may suit your assignment or not. For many topics on Appalachian health and health care, you may find this book is a good source. At the end of the introduction you will find endnotes and references used in the introduction, which can be useful for expanding your research.

In the book, each scholarly essay has its own list of references as well. Again, those references are a tool to help students and researchers expand their research. We librarians often call using references from a source "citation mining." Want to learn more about this research technique? You can ask your local friendly librarian.

Finally, the book has an index of terms you can use to locate specific contents in the book. Book also contains various tables, charts, and graphs.

I'd say for some of our classes here, especially for some in the General Studies curriculum as well as classes here and in other places in Appalachian Studies, health, and wellness, this book can be a good resource.

Note: no stars rating. This is a reference book. If you have questions about why I did not rate this book, see my book review statement.

Friday, July 12, 2019

Booknote: Battle Pope Presents: Saint Michael

Robert Kirkman and Terry Stevens, Battle Pope Presents: Saint Michael. Lexington, KY: Funk-O-Tron, 2002. ISBN: 0970810822.

Genre: comics and graphic novels
Subgenre: heroes, humor
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Bought at A+ Comics. Volume was on clearance, i.e. cheap. 


This is a prequel to the Battle Pope series, which I have reviewed in this blog. I will put the links to those reviews below. In the prequel, God finally decides to carry out the Rapture. However, the Rapture does not quite turn out the way He expects, so He just pouts and forgets about humanity. After a while, God feels sorry and sends Saint Michael the archangel, who knows nothing of humans, down to Earth to protect them. Naturally all sorts of misunderstandings happen.

The comic has amusing moment, but it is just not as good as the Battle Pope series. It does feel more like an add on than an essential part of the overall story. I did like the idea of portraying Michael as a tough as nails general with uniform and all. However, otherwise, the comic is not that big a deal. It is a short and quick read, so there's that. I like it, but it was just not on the same level as the main series. I'd say it's optional reading.

3 out of 5 stars. 

* * * * *

Additional reading notes.

If interested, here are the reviews of the main series volumes:

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Deck Review: Everyday Witch Tarot

Deborah Blake (author) and Elisabeth Alba (artist/illustrator), Everyday Witch Tarot. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017. ISBN: 978-0-7387-4634-0. (link to publisher)

Genre: divination, card decks
Subgenre: Tarot, witches, witchcraft
Format: 78 cards deck with companion book (paperback) packed in solid cardboard box with magnetic closure.
Source: I bought this new and own this. (Do not recall where I got it, but possibly Barnes and Noble. You can likely find it at your favorite esoteric shop, or if you must, that big retailer everyone hates but uses anyhow). 


Promotional image for the deck from publisher
Deborah Blake, the author, is a Wiccan high priestess and author of other books on witchcraft such as Everyday Witchcraft and The Witch's Broom (book links to WorldCat). I can see a bit of everyday/quotidian vibe in such books, and this Tarot deck certainly has that. The title of the deck is very accurate; this is a deck you can use on a daily basis. If you want a deck you can use regularly, daily, that feels casual, and not complicated, this deck may be for you. The art is done by Elisabeth Alba, and it definitely works for the deck. I will add that you do not have to be Wiccan like the author (or a witch of any form for that matter to enjoy and use the deck).

Let's start with the companion book: Guide to the Everyday Witch Tarot. The book is pretty basic in terms of content. It is arranged as follows: '

  • Short introduction. The author presents a short story of how the deck was created in the form of a little tale, even starting with "once upon a time." 
  • Chapter One: In this chapter, Blake points out this deck "is based on the classic Rider-Waite deck that many people are already familiar with" (5). However, she also tells us there can be variety with some images close to RWS and others are very different. Still, I can say if you read on the RWS system, you can use this deck well enough. This chapter also includes a basic lesson on how to do a reading and on learning the cards. Blake also encourages readers to experiment. 
  • Chapter Two. This chapter includes common questions and answers. Some common questions include: 
    • What is a signifier and should I use one?
    • What if I get bad news, a bunch of scary cards, or answer I (or the person I am reading for) don't like?
    • Do I have to be psychic to read the Tarot? (spoiler alert: NO. Author then discusses this). 
    •  Under Tarot extras this chapter offers three spells to use with Tarot. If you do not practice a craft or such, you do not have to use these. If you do or choose to try, the spells are substantial but fairly easy to perform in terms of materials and things to do to make the spells work. 
  •  Chapter 3: This chapter contains the card meanings. We first get the Major Arcana. For each Major Arcana card you get a full color image of the card, a key phrase, and then card description and meanings. Major Arcana cards also include a section on "Things to consider," which gives a reader questions and ideas to consider related to the card. For the Minor Arcana cards, cards are arranged by suit ace to ten with their court cards (court cards are not separated from their suits). In terms of substance, content is similar to the Major Arcana: full color image, key phrase, description and meanings and "things to consider," just a bit shorter overall. 
    • On a side note, I do not usually write in my books, but if you do, this book does include some lined pages throughout this chapter for you to add your notes. 
  • Chapter 4. Three spreads included: one-card, three cards, and Celtic Cross. 
  • Brief conclusion. 
The book overall is in full color, and in terms of aesthetics it does look very nice. In terms of content,
Justice-XI.
the material is light and basic. By light, I meant it is pretty positive in terms of meaning and outlook. This book and deck are really for everyday use. The content is good for beginners and those wanting a deck with a positive, optimistic outlook. I am not saying this deck is all sweet- it can and does read honestly- but if you seek some comfort, this is a good choice, and the meanings in the book reflect that.

The content is accessible and easy to read. Black maintains a light hearted tone throughout. If you choose to use the book with the cards, it works well, However, if you read by intuition and/or just seeing the cards, the images are clear and mostly within RWS.

Six of Pentacles
This leads me to the cards. Elisabeth Alba's art is cute and playful. It is also bright and colorful. Plus if you like cats, most cards feature one cat or more. The deck features male and female witches. The images are mostly modern and contemporary, but there is still a fantasy element. Furthermore, if you are looking for a "family friendly" deck or one without "scary" elements, this is a solid choice. In the few times I read publicly for others at events, I carry multiple decks so clients can get a choice. I usually try to have at least one "family friendly" deck, and this one works nicely. If someone brings a child along, this deck is safe for them to look at (properly supervised if they are small children of course). I am happy to take this deck with me to read for others.

This is a deck you can easily use year round. If you plan your decks' Modern Spellcaster's Tarot deck (link to my review) has that borderless style too. I think it works well, and they should use it more. Back to this deck, the good bright art has a bit of a playful element. This is a deck that always made me smile when I used it. This is not really a deep study deck, but it is one for daily use and readings on a lighter side work well with this deck. It is a good mood deck. Good for a pick me up if you need it.
Page of Wands.
rotation based on seasons, I'd say this is a good one for spring and better yet for summer. The cards measure about 4 1/2 inches by 2 3/4 inches. They are borderless with a small ribbon in the bottom of the image to identify the card. This borderless style is one Llewellyn seems to be favoring recently in some current selections. For example, their

Overall, this is a good deck for beginners and for those wanting a light and easy deck in the RWS tradition. I personally like it a lot, and I am glad to have it in my collection. Looking for a witch themed deck, and you like your witches on the lighter side with pointy hats but still a bit modern, this may be for you too.  

4 out of 5 stars.

Note on photos: Except for the promo photo, all photos were taken by me of my personal copy of the deck.


Saturday, July 06, 2019

Media Notes Roundup for June 2019







These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during June 2019.


Movies and films (links to IMDB.com for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via TubiTv.com or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Augustus: The First Emperor (2003. Drama. History.)  A made for television movie produced in a British and Italian collaboration, about 3 hours long which they split into two episodes. Peter O'Toole does a great performance as Caesar Augustus at the end of his life. After the death of his friend and top general Agrippa, Augustus spends time with Agrippa's wife, his own daughter, Julia, telling her his story and explaining his actions, which he always justified as for the good of Rome. I leave folks to judge that history on their own. O'Toole's performance is truly moving, reinforced a bit by Charlotte Rampling in the role of the manipulative Livia;  manipulative yes, but also gains some humanity here. Granted, they do take historical liberties, but compared to other films that also take their liberties, this was actually pretty good and moving at times. If nothing else, do keep in mind, he was the first emperor, and he did bring peace to Rome, a lasting peace. By the way, Gaius Maecenas, Augustus' friend and close advisor who was effeminate (according to history, that was true), and portrayed as a bit flamboyant in the film, was very real, and it turns out he was a very able and competent administrator, especially in cultural affairs. In fact, to modern times, his name is often associated with arts patronage. If nothing else, the film does not get enough of the real Maecenas but we do get a glimpse of his political skills. Overall, the film is worth a look. Via TubiTv.
  • Hellraiser (1987. Horror). Clive Barker directed his film based on his novella The Hellbound Heart. I think this is one of those films that over time has gained a cult status, but it may be somewhat overrated. The pluses: great special effects on the cenobites as well as other parts of the film. The concept is good too, but not explored nearly enough. Film leaves a lot of questions open.The minuses: this is a seriously slow film. Aside from the promising beginning, the film does drag along for most of the running time until things come to a head in the last hour or so. By the way, there is some sex, but let's be honest, fairly tame. I like the idea and concept, the mythology it sets up, but the execution, aside from that last part of the film was not really that great. It has moments, but honestly, it does drag for most of the film. On a side note, my local public library got a new edition of The Hellbound Heart, so I will be reading it just to see the source. Clive Barker may be a horror and dark fantasy master, but I get the feeling his fiction is better than the films. Heck, even the comics adapted from the concept may be better (for example, this one which he wrote). It is a classic by now, but really, not that big a deal. I did not think it was that big a deal when I saw it back then, and not that big a deal now seeing it later. As the saying goes, your mileage may vary. Via TubiTv. 
  • Hellbound: Hellraiser II (1988. Horror). The film starts pretty much where the first ended. In fact, you get some scenes at the beginning from the first film to remind you where things left off. Kirsty the daughter, who survived from the last time, is now in a mental institution, except not all is at it seems. The head psychiatrist turns out to be obsessed with the Lemarchand boxes and manages to unleash the Cenobites once more with the help of another mental patient who is seriously good at solving puzzles. This sequel to be honest felt better than the original, mainly because we get to see more of the mythology Clive Barker created starting with The Hellbound Heart. Special effects are still pretty good for their time. Plus the movie has a better pace; it is not as slow as the first one. The movie overall still holds on pretty well today, mainly in terms of the setting, scenes, and the mythos it presents, plus it was entertaining. Via TubiTv. 
  • The Dwarves of Demrel (2018. also known as Dragon Mountain and/or The Dwarves of Dragon Mountain. Fantasy). Whatever the title, bottom line is three dwarves trapped inside a mine after a cave in. Aside from a brief fly over by a dragon at the start of the movie to see the mountains from outside, the whole movie takes place inside the caves, so setting is very minimal. The dwarves have some steampunk-type tech but that matters little. The film is really a character study of the three men (who could easily be humans trapped in a mine), their trust issues, and confronting their mortality. Otherwise, it is a seriously slow movie with not much of anything, a lot of lost potential, and an unresolved ending that makes it feel like the film was not even completed. It is an hour and half too long. Via TubiTv.


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:

  • The Making of the Mob: New York (2015. Crime. Docudrama). Description from IMDB.com: This is an "eight-part docudrama that begins in 1905 and spans more than 50 years, tracing the original five families that led to the modern American Mafia, including the rise of Charles Lucky Luciano, Meyer Lansky and Benjamin Bugsy Siegel." This particular series aired on AMC in 2015. Series combines drama with historical narration. If you know the history, well, you know how things turn, yet the series manages to make it dramatic and interesting. Series goes from the origins of the American Mafia to basically when the Gambino Crime Family is born. I did like watching this, and I will likely be seeking out one or two authors who provided expertise in the series. Via TubiTv.
  • The Making of the Mob: Chicago (2016. Crime. Docudrama). Second season of the series covers the rise of the mob in Chicago. This has eight episodes as well. I did not find it as interesting as the New York series, but it was still pretty good and worth watching. An important point it makes is that everyone thinks of Chicago and Al Capone, but there were others, some we barely if ever heard about, who really ran things and helped give rise to what became known as the Chicago Outfit. Series goes until the passing of Tony Accardo, who manages to survive into a good retirement, very rare for any mob boss. I did jot down a couple of book titles to read later mentioned in the series, such as Thompson's Kings about the Chicago numbers rackets, which at the time prior to the Outfit were ran by African Americans. Via TubiTv.
  • Gangsters: America's Most Evil (2012-. Mob. Crime. Documentary). Via YouTube.
    • "The Rat from Southie: James "Whitey" Bulger." A look at the life of Boston mobster "Whitey" Bulger. 
    • "The Mafia Cops." Looking at Louis Eppolito and Stephen Caracappa, the NYPD cops who worked for the Mob and almost got away with it. David Fisher, who wrote Friends of the Family (link to my review) appears in the documentary as one of the experts going over the story.
    • "The Iceman: Richard Kuklinsky." A look at the hitman. 
    • "Sammy the Bull: Salvatore Gravano." The close associate of John Gotti who did flip and thus helped bring down the Teflon Don. As Gotti's underboss, once he turned witness, he pretty much destroyed the notion of silence (omerta) in the Mob, showing overall that rather than honorable or organized, they were every man for himself. 
  • Mobsters (Documentary. true Crime. biography. 2007-2012). I continue watching episodes of this series via YouTube here and there. See the June 2018 roundup for previous commentary on the series overall.  Episodes watched:
    • "Tommy Lucchese." 

Friday, July 05, 2019

Booknote: The Three Questions

Miguel Ruiz and Barbara Emrys, The Three Questions: How to Discover and Master the Power Within You. New York: Harper One, 2018. ISBN: 978-0-06-239109-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: spirituality, self help, inspirational
Format: paperback
Source: Main branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I picked this up mainly because I have read some of his other books, such as The Mastery Of Self (link to my review) and The Four Agreements (interestingly enough, I do not have a review of this. I may reread it and write a review for the blog down the road). This book did not seem as strong as The Four Agreements, then again, neither was The Mastery of Self. Now that I mention it, I do not recall Mastery of Love to be that great neither (another one I read before I started posting reviews on the blog). I am starting to think he is kind of coasting on his first book.

The premise of this book is for readers to consider three important questions. Once you do, you unlock the power within you so you can live better. The three questions are:

  • Who am I?
  • What is real?
  • What is love?

The book is organized as follows:

  • Introduction, which includes the story of the pearls of wisdom, i.e. the questions. 
  • A section developing each question. 
The book does invite the reader to do some serious inner work and reflection. Much of the theme is about liberating  yourself from doctrines, dogmas, and versions of reality that were imposed on you by others. It is a good message overall.

The book can be quite repetitive at times. I get some of that is the teaching, but after a while some of the parts can be a bit tedious.

Overall, if you've enjoyed the author before, you may want to read this. If this is your first foray, you may want to try The Four Agreements first. In the end, I liked it, but I'd say it's optional reading.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

Don Miguel must have written this before the ascent of the Pendejo in Chief because the master's vision of government is seriously innocent:

"The kind of government most of us are familiar with has three main branches: a legislative, an executive, and a judicial branch. All three have the overriding purpose of serving the welfare of the country. A system of checks and balances makes sure on branch of government doesn't act in ways that undermine the others" (54).

 I honestly think he was watching reruns of Schoolhouse Rock a bit too much (likely this episode) because that description is as far from reality about government as you can get, specially in United States. He is making a point that our minds are like a government. On that basis, I  am glad my mind is nothing like the clusterfuck that passes for government in the United States. In these times, I do not think that was a good example. It comes across as seriously naive.

On respect. This is not an easy point for me. I believe common courtesy can be given. Respect has to be earned, and again, contrary to the author's optimism, there are evil and despicable people not deserving respect. Still, he writes:

"We don't have to like people to show them respect. All human relationships thrive on mutual respect, whether or  not we can agree on ideas" (64). 

On being wise. This I could agree with:

"Wise men and women distinguish themselves by challenging what they know. At some point, they decide to take a  deeper look at reality, questioning the world they've created in their minds. They dare to see what is, not what they were taught to see. They refrain from telling old stories and confirming common beliefs. They refuse to let memory dictate reality. They remove the blinders and start a journey toward awareness" (160).




Sunday, June 30, 2019

Reading about the reading life: June 30, 2019 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).



It's the weekend before the 4th of July (Independence Day in the United States), and it is the last Sunday of June 2019. Let's see what stories we got.

  • Barnes and Noble has not been doing well, and recently they got bought by a hedge fund. In the United States, getting bought by a hedge fund is pretty much the kiss of death given hedge funds usually just strip companies they buy for parts, sell off what they can for profit, and then scrap the rest in bankruptcy court, and move on leaving devastation in their wake. The new owners, who also own a British book chain, claims they want Barnes and Noble stores to be more like small independent bookstores; this is ironic given B&N in its prime helped to decimate a lot of those small stores it now wants to imitate. We'll have to see how it goes. Personally, I remain very skeptical. Story via Fortune magazine, which naturally has an optimistic look to it (they are a business magazine after all). 
  • Meanwhile, Amazon has woes of its own, this time is the issue of fake or counterfeit books being sold on its site. Amazon may protest their innocence, but at the end of the day, they are just not policing properly. After all, and we need to be honest here, they still make money even on those fakes to the chagrin of honest book sellers and publishers. Amazon basically has no real incentive let alone sense of decency that would make them do something substantial about the issue. Story via Vox
  • In news of libraries and archives, a team of editors and librarians saved the Sunset magazine archives. Story via Stanford Magazine. What happened? "Since 1898, Sunset—publisher of Sunset magazine and more than 800 books—had chronicled life in the West. That history had been preserved for posterity and research, meticulously catalogued in multiple rooms and dozens of file cabinets. Time Inc., Sunset’s owner since 1990, had just told the editors to empty everything into dumpsters. They were moving to Oakland." Then the team came together to help preserve this important periodical and the history it documented. 
  • A scholar returns to the MLA (Modern Language Association) annual conference, and he finds the MLA basically contemplating being a dead man walking. Story via The Times Literary Supplement.This quote from the article sums the situation nicely: "The current state of the humanities can be found in the juxtaposition of these two sessions. First, academics devote their lives to writing things they know that nobody will ever read, then they gnash their teeth about why nobody cares about what they do." In a disclosure note, I will say part of why I left further academic work after my Masters in English to go to library school was the idea of having to write things "that nobody will ever read." Granted, this blog probably gets three or four readers on a good day, but that is still more than anything I could have written had I pursued a doctorate in English or most other humanities field. I could say more, but I will stop here while I am ahead. 
  • Via the academic journal Participations: Journal of Audience & Reception Studies, (warming: PDF for the article), an article on "Book Blogs as Tastemakers." This is an article I would like to read in depth when I get time, but I wanted to make sure I highlighted for my four readers. The Literary Salon blog breaks the article down a bit so you get an idea what it is about. 
  • Via Open Culture, "in 1886, the US Government Commissioned 7,500 Watercolor Paintings of Every Known Fruit in the World: Download Them in High Resolution." Read the article, and it includes the link to where you can see and get the images.
  • Book Riot looks over the story that DC Comics is shutting down its Vertigo imprint and some of the questions that raises. 
  • Did you know that Yale University has a Babylonian collection? It does, and it includes ancient tablets that well may be the first cookbook ever. They even went ahead and tested some of the recipes recently. Story via Yale News.
  • Via RA for All, a blog I follow about reader's advisory, on asking the patrons what they did not find and then listening. A nice idea in theory, and more useful to public libraries. I will be honest, in my academic library the campus faculty already do plenty of telling us, without any asking, what we do not have that they think we need to buy, and a lot of it is expensive things we cannot afford for pet projects that may or not support the curriculum. We are a teaching and student centered library, not an R-1. I think in this case, I may skip asking that question, or at least use it very sparingly. But as I said, for public librarians who do more active reader's advisory (which usually applies to recreational reading), have at it. For us, one place we may be asking the question is for users of our graphic novels collection, which is mainly recreational. 
  • Via Readers Read blog, just when I thought I had seen it all: IDW announces they are going to publish The Mueller Report as a graphic novel. On the one hand, I think it is totally ridiculous and maybe even a bit of dumbing down going on. However, on the other hand, this is not the first time some major government document or report has been condensed and adapted as a graphic novel. For example, the 9/11 Report was adapted to a graphic novel and also adaptations like The Great American Documents, Volume 1: 1620-1830 (link to my review of that). So adapting The Mueller Report is part of that tradition. If I get my hands on the graphic novel version, despite my moratorium on reading anything political, I will read it so I can review it here. Stay tuned. 
  • Via China Daily (English edition), a story on how China wants to send more of their books out into the world. Story highlights a recent seminar in China bringing together representatives of the book trade from various countries to discuss what kinds of books about China may be of interest. 


Friday, June 28, 2019

Booknote: The Quiet Don

Matt Birbeck, The Quiet Don: the Untold Story of Mafia Kingpin Russell Bufalino. New York: Berkeley Books, 2013.  ISBN: 978-0-425-26685-4.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: biography, true crime, Mafia, mobsters
Format: paperback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library


This book is about reclusive Pennsylvania mob boss Russell Bufalino. On the one hand, the book has some interesting points. On the other hand, the writing is often a convoluted mess as Birbeck follows a non-linear narrative storytelling style that makes events and people confusing to the reader. The story already involves a large cast and a lot of events, and Birbeck's not so organized narrative complicates the reading.

Bufalino's base of power was in Northeastern Pennsylvania. If you are not from Pennsylvania, it may be you had no idea there was a Pennsylvania Mafia. There was, seems like there still is, and Bufalino led it. But he also had reach into New York and even Washington, D.C. Bufalino was part of a massive culture of corruption in Pennsylvania that went from city officials to the governor of Pennsylvania. Along the way, he flexed his power in places like New York, influenced U.S. Congressmen, and even had assets in Cuba before Castro rose to power.

If you need a visual on Cuba, think of that scene in the film The Godfather, Part II where the mobsters carve up a cake depicting the island of Cuba:



In addition, Bufalino was a mobster who seemed to have a  hand almost anywhere. Did he get Jimmy Hoffa killed? Possibly. Did he help the CIA in attempts to topple Castro? Maybe. The book tells an interesting story, and it raises questions. A catch is that there is no bibliography nor additional sources listed. So one may wonder how much is true and what may be, well, a bit embellished.

A big issue with the book is the narrative style. Birbeck often jumps from one event to another, often with little to no transition. Somewhere along the way, a bit halfway through the book, he mentions Bufalino's passing. Then the author skips back in time, forward again, and you end up wondering if such and such event was before or after Bufalino died. The last part of the book dealing with De Naples happens long after Bufalino is dead. On the one hand, it shows the legacy of corruption Bufalino left  behind. On the other hand, at that point you might forget this book is ostensibly about Bufalino since at that point we are well past Bufalino's time. Overall, the subject matter of the book is interesting, but the narrative is so disjointed to really get into the book. I finished the book, but it was often not an easy read.

I ended up liking the book, mainly for the interesting parts. The portrayal of Jimmy Hoffa makes me want to find a good book or two on him. The CIA and the Mob connection seems a bit of a stretch,but again, something I can check out later. For me, if a book encourages me to read more, that is always a good thing. However, as I said, the disorganized style takes away a lot from the book.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Some brief additional reading notes:

On how Bufalino rose to power:

"He was smart, organized, and maintained the lowest of profiles" (108). 

And he lived simply:

"He lived in a modest ranch-style home he purchased for $22,000. He dressed plainly, drove an older car. . . " (109). 

Plus,

". . . Bufalino cultivated politicians and took care of local police departments, either through cash handouts or favors" (109). 

Further,

"Alliances with law enforcement and local, state, and federal politicians were simply considered good business, and it didn't hurt if you could count among your friends a U.S. congressman or senator" (167).




Friday, June 21, 2019

Booknote: Book by Book

Michael Dirda, Book by Book: Notes on the Reading Life. New York: Henry Holt, 2006. ISBN: 0-8050-7877-0.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: books about books, reading, personal essay
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library


After reading Browsings, I saw Book by Book at my public library and picked it up. I'll say up front that it was not as good as the other book. Book by Book is a collection of essays on various topics combining highlights of Dirda's life, notes on book he has read, book recommendations, and quotes from books jotted down as you would in a commonplace book.

The book has a preface, ten chapters, and "a selective and idiosyncratic who's who." That last section is a list of authors and thinkers mentioned in the book; it is a very personal list for him, so your mileage may vary in terms of what may interest you or not.

My main issue with the book is that is not as interesting as the other book of his I recently read,  Browsings (link to my review). In this book, at times Dirda goes into some seriously obscure books and topics. Other times he just gets a bit too verbose and even outright boring. When an essay in this book is good, it is good. When it is not, it becomes a drag. In terms of quality, the book is pretty inconsistent overall. I'd say if you really like Dirda's work, you'll likely enjoy this. If you have not read him before, this book is good, but it is not his best. I liked it, but I wanted to really like it; it was just not consistent.

3 out of 5 stars.


* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

Quoted by Dirda:

"Remember that every life is a special problem, which is not your's but another's; and content yourself with  the terrible algebra of your own" -- Henry James. 

Dirda on knowledge:

"Knowledge isn't only its own reward; it gives us maps through the wilderness, instruments to guide our progress, and the confidence that no matter where we are we will always be, fundamentally, at home" (18). 


Dirda, like other authors, is concerned children do not read enough, favoring electronic devices and screens. I can't say I totally disagree with him, even if he sounds a bit too nostalgic. The issue is not lack of  books. He mentions how the 1970s and 1980s saw a lot of children and young adult books published, and later we got the J.K. Rowling juggernaut, but again, electronic screens and the Internet emerged. He writes,

"In 1950s Ohio, a boy could slide easily into daydreams about King Solomon's mines, mysterious islands, swordplay in Ruritania, cackling master criminals, and dark avengers. Books fed the imagination" (73).

And,

"While I sometimes think it's wrong to be concerned, it has been a long while since I glimpsed a kid sprawled under a shade tree lost in a book. After all, we can't count on J.K. Rowling to create or sustain a passion for turning pages. Like Aristotelian virtue, reading is a habit. Children need to read, then to read some more. Quantity matters far more than quality-- there will be plenty of time for classics. But when starting out, the young should be immersed in a culture of the sentence, not the screen" (73). 

That is cute. Children reading under a shade tree. I wonder what pastoral utopia he lived in.

Dirda offers some advice to parents for encouraging kids to read more. This includes:

"Fill your house with print. There should be paperbacks, comics, magazines, and newspapers everywhere the children look. Books should be a part of a family's daily life, not something special. Ideally, each member of the household should have his or her own bookcase" (74).

That was certainly true growing up for me. We did have books and print in the house. In fact, our dad paid for two newspapers, a local and the local edition in English language just to encourage us to read in Spanish and English. I was always fortunate enough to have access to books growing up, and even had my own bookshelf in time in my room. On an odd though, we were never taken to the public library. Only library I knew was mainly the small one in the schools I attended, but that is another story.

Some books Dirda recommends that I would like to look up later:





Friday, June 14, 2019

Media Notes: Roundup for May 2019

 These are the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during May 2019.


Movies and films (links to IMDB.com for basic information unless noted otherwise). Some of these I watched via TubiTv.com or other online source. The DVDs come from the public library (unless noted otherwise). In addition, I will try to add other trivia notes, such as when a film is based on a book adding the information about the book (at least the WorldCat record if available):

  • Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979. Science Fiction. Adventure). The film that started it all. Heck, I remember being a kid in the theater.  Granted, it was not exactly a critical success, but it did launch the film franchise we know today. I do have a soft spot for this film, in part due to its aesthetics; the ship looks pretty good, and it does have a good soundtrack. Plot is pretty basic: "When an alien spacecraft of enormous power is spotted approaching Earth, Admiral James T. Kirk resumes command of the overhauled USS Enterprise in order to intercept it." It does try to recall the days of the Enterprise just exploring something new, so in that sense, it tries to capture that and does it, even if it is a bit flat at the end. Still, it is a nice nostalgia trip now and then. Via PopcornFlix, which in May brought in some of the first ones in the series (I think they got 1-3, and 5), so if anyone wants to indulge, go for it. 
  • Death Ship (1980. Suspense. Horror.)  The movie description is pretty simple: "A mysterious ghostly freighter rams and sinks a modern day cruise ship whose survivors climb aboard the freighter and discover that it is a World War II Nazi torture vessel." Within that, the movie is basically a very slow boiler that is more atmospheric and suspenseful than anything else as various hints and small events eventually reveal the true nature of the ship, by which time it may be too late for anyone to escape. It is a slow film, but if you like your horror slow to build, and minimal on the gore, this is fairly decent. Stars George Kennedy and Richard Crenna. Via TubiTv.
  • Cartel 2045 (2017. Action. Science Fiction. a.k.a. Juarez 2045). In a not too distant future, a Mexican drug cartel manages to get warfare robots from an American company selling their wares on the black market (after they lose their key government contract and are about to go bankrupt). Needless to say, this beefs up the cartel. A small special ops team is sent to get the engineer that is held hostage by the cartel, forced to help them with the robots. A member of the team may be the key to the mission, but everyone from the cartel to his superiors want him dead. The premise is not bad, and Danny Trejo really hams it up as the evil boss of the Malvados Cartel. We get a blend of action and intrigue as our hero is not sure who he can trust, not even the A.I. the good guys have to help them in their mission. The robot special effects are alright; we are not talking high end, but they work overall. Overall, pretty good movie. Worth a look at least. Via TubiTv. 



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:

  • C.O.P.S. (1988-1989. Animated series. Police. Action. Humor. Children and Young Adult). The basic description on TubiTv, which works: "C.O.P.S. began as the brainchild of F.B.I. Special Agent Baldwin P. Vess. When Vess came to Empire City with a hot lead on The Big Boss, he realized he would require the assistance of a special breed of cop ... individuals who weren't afraid to lock horns with organized crime. Thus, C.O.P.S. was born." This was one of my favorite cartoons in younger days, and TubiTv recently added the complete 65 episode run, so I will be binging for a while. The police officers are all different and colorful given they have different specialties, and the crooks are comically less than competent. How the Big Boss manages to control crime in the city is truly puzzling if you think about it too much. In fact, seeing it today, some of the plots are on the silly side, and at times, you wonder why they do not do some things differently. It was a show for kids and young teens. Like many cartoons in the 80s, it did provide some positive messages. Unlike cartoons like G.I. Joe that usually had a PSA or lesson at the end, C.O.P.S. usually has the lesson as part of the story, more integrated. However, it is still pretty entertaining. Overall, a fun cartoon from the 1980s.  Watched 7 episodes. Via TubiTv. 
  • Emergency! (1972-1977. Drama. Firefighters. Paramedics. Medical drama). The series that I am sure inspired a few kids of our generation to become firefighters, paramedics, doctors, nurses, and so on.  In fact, being a paramedic was a pretty new thing when the show came out, and the show was so good it enabled legislation passed to promote paramedic training. In the first two episodes, the program was in its infancy, and the legislation was still being fought for. Hard to imagine not having paramedics now, but back then even some doctors opposed sending "amateurs" to do medical work. The show caught well the conflict and eventual resolution that led to allowing paramedics to work. I loved this show as a kid. I am surprised I did not become a paramedic or such; I really liked this show and looked up to the guys. Anyhow, watching it today, seeing the tech they had then versus now is fascinating. Show was executive produced by Jack Webb, who gave us shows like Dragnet and Adam-12, so this one is also based on real stories. The series was praised for its realism; the main actors even got some real paramedic training as part of the job. In fact, the realism in the medical procedures and some of the firefighter experiences is very good. The show combined some light humor with solid stories and great medical drama. Before we had "cool" shows like E.R., Third Watch (this is a show I also liked) and other police and emergency personnel dramas, we had Emergency!, which compared to many modern dramas, was fairly accessible to all ages yet it was not lightweight. Via TubiTv, which had the first season (has 12 episodes). I hope they do get more episodes.  
  • Crimes That Made History (2017. Documentary. Crime. History).  I do not know much of this series other than what TubiTv mentions and IMDB, which is little. Anyhow, series with ten episodes about various crimes throughout history. Looking at the credits, I see it is a French production. Episodes last, without ads, about 25 minutes each. Overall, well made. They do define "crime" quite broadly. For example, they have episodes on the Andes crash where the survivors turned to cannibalism and on Roswell and UFOs in 1947. I would not call those "crimes" per se. However, the series does go broad and diverse on the topics. Episodes bring in a variety of experts in various fields, making the inquiry very interdisciplinary. Since it is international in scope, it is also interesting when you see historians specializing in U.S. history who are not "American" as they bring a different and valid perspective on U.S. events. You learn a lot in 30 minutes or less, and in my case, makes me want to go get an extra book or two on some topics. Via TubiTv. Here is a sampling of episodes.
    • "Jack the Ripper." First episode in the series. For a 25 minute series, they put in a lot of effort, content, and expertise. Episode combines a narrator, a variety of period images, a good array of experts including criminologists, specialized historians, pop culture experts, and for this episode even a look at "ripperologists", described as amateur historians of Jack the Ripper that often blend real facts and history with fantasy. Series is not just about the Ripper but the society of the time, the culture, and even the influence of the Ripper today. As I said, for 25 minutes or so, they do an excellent job and provide an interesting documentary with a lot of depth, at times more so than an hour documentary made elsewhere. If you know little of Jack the Ripper, and do not want to spend a lot of time, this series gives a very good overview of the events and why it is significant historically. 
    • "Albert Soleilland." From episode description: "Paris, January 1907. Albert Soleilland is accused of the rape and murder of a little girl - Marthe. The press details every step of the case as if it was a show. As early century France was on the verge of abolishing the death sentence, that infamous crime set the abolitionist cause back decades; the media massively and eagerly asked for his execution." France eventually abolished the death penalty in 1981, but this case basically meant it may have been abolished a lot sooner were it not for the public outcry along with other forces like the press. Episode not only looks at the case, but also other cases similar to this one that incite a frenzy for revenge in the people and calls for the death penalty, also looking at that drive for revenge common in violent crimes against children. This is a part of history I did not know about, so I feel I learned quite a bit about this time period as well as the case from the documentary. 
    • "Fritz Haarmann." The vampire of the Weimar Republic, this serial killer could not have afflicted Germany with his horrors at a worse time as his crimes became a metaphor for the corrupt Weimar Republic and even foreshadowed Hitler for Germans. The fascinating thing of this episode is not so much the crime, but the context of the times and all the connections. This series truly makes an effort to be interdisciplinary in presenting the story and its times. At times I find myself wishing to go find a book and learn more, which is a great sign of a well made documentary series.  
    • "Roswell: Back to the UFO (1947)." This may not be a "crime" per se, but the episode was very well done, looking at the context of the Roswell phenomenon, how it started, and how it went on to become a pop culture thing.
    • "The Jonestown Massacre: an American Apocalypse." This was not just about the massacre, but also about American society at the time. A lot of context is presented. Keep in mind, Jim Jones was not the only "guru" at the time, the Cold War and American hatred of communism in any form was in full swing, Martin Luther King and Malcolm X were assassinated not too long ago in relation to Jonestown, and the counterculture was on as well. Jonestown was way more than a horrific massacre for Americans, and the press did quite a piece of work on framing a specific narrative.


Booknote: Browsings

Michael Dirda, Browsings: a Year of Reading, Collecting, and Living With Books. New York: Pegasus Books, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-60598-844-3.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: books about books, personal essays
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library 


The book is a collection of essays that Michael Dirda wrote for the online magazine The American Scholar from 2012 to 2013. The essays are mostly bookish and literary but you also find some more personal pieces and even a rant or two. Essays vary in length but are about four pages long on average. Dirda describes the essays in the book's introduction:

"These are, in fact, very much personal pieces, the meandering reflections of a literary sybarite. The essays themselves vary wildly in subject matter, and rarely stick closely to their stated titles" (x).

Some of the topics Dirda includes are:

  • Bookish pets
  • Books on books
  • Spring book sales
  • Dirty pictures (not what you think) 
  • In praise of small presses
For an academic (he does have a doctorate in comparative literature), he does have a nice, warm style of writing. You can sit with this book and your favorite beverage and just relax and read. Dirda is very well read, and it shows in the many connections he makes between his essay topics and books he has read. This is definitely a good book for bedtime reading given the essays are light and easy to read. In addition, if you are looking for new books to read, Dirda is always generous in recommending books to read.

Overall, I really liked this book, and I do recommend it.

4 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

In the essay "Armchair Adventures," Dirda starts by asking the following:

"Why is it that I so seldom want to read what everyone else wants to read?"

He makes an essay out of answering that question. My answer is a bit more simple: I do not give a shit about most of what everyone else wants to read. As you can see, my answer is not going to get me any professional writing gigs anytime soon, but it is my honest answer. To further clarify, I'd say it's because I like trying out new things, often new to me things which may be a bit older. Plus I will admit that often I do not think highly of "what everyone else wants to read." For instance, if Oprah puts it on her list, for me that's a "don't bother with this book" sign. In the case of Oprah, after she enthusiastically endorsed A Million Little Pieces only to later force herself to retract that endorsement in order to save face when the author was revealed to be an outright liar, I tend to be very skeptical of hot shot people shaping "what everyone else wants to read." Overall, I know what I like to read, try out something new here or there, and I read what I want to read.

Some suggestions from Dirda's "Books on Books" essay. I am linking titles to WorldCat where a record is available:

By the way, "Black Friday" style madness is not just for places like Walmart and Best Buy. Some high end book sales can be just as bad with long lines before opening, camping out, and then rushing in. See his essay "Spring Book Sales." I guess book collectors can be just as tacky and chusma as everyone else.

Another answer to why not read what everyone else is reading:

"As readers grow older, their tastes often become more rarefied, more refined, more recherch√©. Certainly mine have. These days I gravitate increasingly to books no one has heard of, let along is interested in, books that are odd and quirky and usually out of print" (109). 

I do not necessarily go for the extremely obscure as Dirda does, but I do seek out the odd and quirky where I can. I am not a book collector in the strict sense of books as objects of value. I do have a lot of books, but they are books to read, not just to stare at on the shelf. In reviewing, I do try for books that are available, even if it means doing an interlibrary loan request. As much as possible, I want books that are accessible to the average person and not just some book collector. Having said that, if I find a nice old paperback used that turns out to be good, even if out of print now, I'll share about it in a review. 

Dirda waxes nostalgic about LPs and CDs while his kids want downloaded music. Personally, I am more on his side. I prefer CDs where I can for the simple reason I own the music I bought on that CD. If I want to rip the CD to make electronic copies to play on my phone, I still own the original. Plus, when it comes to LPs , and some early CDs: 


". . .it once came in a substantial box, with a full libretto in multiple languages. Sometimes there was even a score, as well as a booklet with an essay on the opera and its composer, pictures of the performers and conductor, brief biographies and discographies of everyone involved. The covers of the boxed set might even reproduce a painting, perhaps something by Fragonard or Watteau" "(119).

I remember many of my dad's old LPs included things like song lyrics, photos, and even an essay or two on the music and/or performers. Then there was the cover art. You got a bit of that on the first wave of CDs, but publishers soon began skimping on that. And no, not all of that makes it to the Internet in case any of you technophiles dare suggest doing an Internet search.

Then again, Dirda, like many serious literary types, can get seriously pedantic at times. He commented on a Consumer Reports magazine headline: "America's Worst Scams?" 


"Looking at it, I wondered if that shouldn't be 'America's Best Scams'? Really terrible scames wouldn't be particularly effective, would they?" (177).

To which I reacted: they are the "worst" scams for those who fall for them, you overthinking twit. Plus, honestly, you need to get out more if this is the sort of thing you think about often. 

From his essay "In Praise of Small Presses," to look up: 




On your personal library: 


"Books don't just furnish a room. A personal library is a reflection of who you are and who you want to be, of what you value and what you desire, of how much you know and  how much more you'd like to know" (233). 

Keep on reading: 


"None of us, of course, will ever read all the books we'd like, but we can still make a stab at it. Why deny yourself all that pleasure? So look around tonight or this weekend, see what catches your fancy on the bookshelf, at the library, or in the bookstore. Maybe try something a little unusual, a little different. And then don't stop. Do it again, with a new book or an old author the following week. Go on-- be bold, be insatiable, be restlessly, unashamedly promiscuous" (234). 



Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Booknote: Mindful Tarot

Lisa Freinkel Tishman, Mindful Tarot: Bring a Peace-Filled, Compassionate Practice to the 78 Cards. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2019.  ISBN: 978-0-7387-5844-2.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: mindfulness, wellness, Tarot
Format: e-galley
Source: NetGalley


I wanted to like this book, but it did not really work for me. Yes, the author has a doctorate, accolades, and credentials, but this book left a good bit to be desired for me as a reader. And the only reason I mention about the author's credentials is that many other more prominent reviewers brought them up as part of their positive reviews. Credentials are not an automatic proof a book is good or not. This book overall is not bad, but it has issues readers may want to consider.

The idea of integrating mindfulness with Tarot is very appealing. At a time when concepts like mindfulness and wellness are popular, including workplaces touting wellness programs (disclosure note: my own workplace touts a wellness program), a book like this makes good sense. The main issue with Mindful Tarot is a lack of balance. The author at times spends so much time on the mindfulness part that it is easy to forget this book is ostensibly about Tarot. In addition, the author too often spends more time telling stories of personal travels to various places and locations for meditation, retreats, so on that one wonders if we are reading a travelogue or a personal travel journal. There is nothing wrong with either one of those things, but I wanted a book on Tarot. What we do get on Tarot is just not that substantial. Given the promise of the topic, it seems like a lost opportunity. I feel this book could have been more. The book does offer a good amount of wisdom bits, but you have to wade through a lot of other stuff to get to them.

Despite its main issue, the book still offers some good things. The vision of the book sounds great. The author writes:

"Mindful Tarot is a complete practice: a practice that is as much about learning to live a more abundant and mindful life, as it is about deepening our connection to that wondrous gallery of 78 archetypes, the Tarot." 

The author also asks some good questions, such as:

"What if Tarot, when practiced mindfully, could teach us to live with this much joy and beauty? What if it could help us turn toward the world, even in the midst of confusion and trouble, embracing what is with clarity, with love and with a sense of possibility?"

On a side note, the author adds value to the book in the form of mp3 files available on her website. That material is supplementary, so I did not consider it in reviewing the book.

Another issue to consider is that the author can and does get a bit preachy on progressive values and issues. I am mostly OK with it, but for other readers this may be a consideration.

Additionally on the positive, the book does offer various exercises to try out. Sadly for this review, the galley did not always render the spread layouts properly on the e-reader. Still, the exercises are good things to try out (and I am sure they will look better in the print edition). The author does also provide ways, some of them very simple, to change outlook, to be more mindful of the present instead of too focused on the future. Once the book gets to the card meanings and actual lessons in Tarot, it gets better as a resource. Also note that you can look over the works consulted section for additional sources of study.

For libraries, I would say this is a very optional title. I probably will not acquire it for our collection (we are an academic library). For public libraries, I'd say this is likely optional as well. If you have a good amount of readers interested in wellness and mindfulness, then this book could be added to a collection of similar books. However, if you are looking at it as a Tarot learning book, there may be more accessible options out there.

In the end, I just thought it was OK.

2 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes:

As I said, the author presents some good points, and she even quotes others as needed. For example:

"In a recent blog post, Tarot expert May K. Greer quotes educator Parker Palmer's famous dictum: 'Wholeness does not mean perfection: it means embracing brokenness as an integral part of life.'" 

As an educator and librarian, I found her view of Mindful Tarot as inquiry to be intriguing and something I could see and possibly apply to my own Tarot journey. On inquiry, she writes:

"Inquiry forms a crucial component of Mindful Tarot as well. Mindfulness practice requires the clarity and precision of inquiry. Like a good wine connoisseur, we need ways to observe and articulate nuance. With its deeply rich vocabulary of archetypes and images, Tarot invites us into a finely tuned interpretive practice. We may think that the cards respond to the questions we ask, but the practice of Mindful Tarot reveals that the reverse is actually more accurate." 

To emphasize:

"When we spread out the Tarot, it is we who are responding to the questions posed by the cards." 

A side note. The author emphasizes the need to immerse in the Tarot, to learn its language. Sure, she is not interested in the occult or esoteric. On this, she writes:

"This mindful approach is not so interested in the occult or the esoteric. I'm not concerned with psychic or intuitive revelation. I'm not turning to deity, or channeled guides, or ascended masters, or any other veiled and hidden authorities. I'm also not striving to 'translate' as particular card in isolation, plugging a meaning from some expert source elsewhere. In truth, I am simply not concerned with what's 'elsewhere.' I'm hoping instead to hunker down right here." 

As I often say, you do you. In my case, I do read some occult and esoterica because I want to know things like Tarot's history and how we got here. But I also read books like this one. I think, and this is now an observation based on experience and some reading and study, that you do need to study as well as intuition, and maybe even a bit of mindfulness. What often irks me about some "intuitive" folks is the idea they just flat abandon or refuse meanings or other information because they got intuition. I've come to learn in my journey so far that you can use intuition but you also need that "book learning" (how much of that book learning you need can vary, but I would argue you do need it to some degree. You can decide how much or how little, or none at all. As I said, you do you. I have a pretty good idea how much I need it my learning along with intuition).

On another side note, a lot of learning in Tarot and cartomancy when I think about it is not unlike when I was learning critical theory (I was an English major in a previous life). There are different theories in criticism, and you study them, find the ones that best work for you, and those are the ones you apply in your work. In order to bend their rules, well, do you have to know what the rules are your are bending. So, and again, my view, intuition, book learning, occult, esoterica, astrology, kabbalah, so on and now mindfulness are part of that larger picture of study. I study some here, some there, find what I want to focus on more and what to focus on less, but they are always in my toolbox, and I can draw on that toolbox when I do readings. If nothing else, having specialized knowledge is good, but if you can supplement that with other theories and techniques, your reading is enhanced. Again, your mileage may vary.

If nothing else, getting back to the book, you need to know where you came from to know where you may go. To learn a language, learn it well, master it, you need both those vocabulary lists and immersion in the language experience. As a teacher who has taught languages, I understand that as essential, and as the author shows, this goes with mindfulness. She adds:

"To be sure, studying meanings is an essential part of the process, along the journey, in the same way that studying vocabulary lists is so critical for learning a new language. Indeed, Mindful Tarot requires our willingness to dive into the language of the cards as a whole." 

You also need context to be balance:

"When I practice Mindful Tarot I'm using everything I know about 'dictionary meaning' as well as context." 

Here is a good piece of advice the author provides:

"Read the guidebook that came with the deck, but don't rely upon it like a decoder ring. Read the meanings I provide, but don't rely upon those either. Make your deck yours." 

Another bit of good advice:

"But gravitate toward any Tarot deck you like-- even if its artwork or schema departs dramatically from the Waite-Smith imagery. As you practice with your deck, incorporating the readings below into your own inquiry, allowing your cards to pose questions instead of defining answers, over time you will undoubtedly weave your own sense of the integrity and wholeness of the Tarot in your life." 

At this point, once more, I cite the Rivera Tarot Corollary to Ranganathan:

"Every deck (Tarot, oracle, etc.) its user/owner/collector, and every user/owner/collector their deck." 


Sunday, June 09, 2019

Reading about the reading life: June 9, 2019 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).




I have a few items of interest this week. Let's have a look:

  •  Over in London, another independent bookstore is closing. Reason given? Amazon in large part. Via The Guardian. I often have mixed feelings about stories like this. If you live in an area with good independent stores, I think you should try at least to support them as much as possible (as well as shop local as much as you can). However, when you live in some deity forsaken place, and you want certain things, Amazon is about your only option to get said things. As much as I hate Amazon for their ethics and practices, guess what? Where I live, it often is either that or nothing. I am not settling for nothing. 
  • A nice piece out of Al Jazeera looks at readers embracing books about marginalized characters written by people of color. Thing is publishers are not quite publishing enough.
  • Via LitHub, how iconic cookbooks can reflect the politics around them, sometimes even shape them. Article looks at the example of a Cuban cookbook among other things. 
  • They did a study up in Canada and found out that library users (in Canada at least) do buy more books as well. Via BookNet Canada. 
  • Literary Saloon briefly highlights and comments on that article from The Atlantic about lower reading of books in academic libraries every other librarian probably told you about already. However, any snark aside, facts are facts, and book circulation is declining in academic libraries, even in the one where I work. That decline does include faculty as well as students using and reading less library books. On a note of hope, there are some areas of growth, at least for us. Our graphic novels collection does circulate quite well, so at least recreational reading is holding up. 
  • Via Fine Books & Collections, see how Nick Basbanes' book On Paper gets turned into an art piece
  • To give you more time to read books, John Scalzi reveals a trick to keep your GMail inbox (and probably most inboxes) free of clutter. It is a trick marketers hate, but you will appreciate. Consider it this week's Public Service Announcement.
  • In a bit of trivia  (and this can be mildly NSFW by the way), Bending the Bookshelf explains what futanari is and gives an overview of the genre. This is a bit of reader's advisory. 
  • Finally, for this week, a Spanish language item. Via Lecturalia, a look at the origin of book fairs.



Friday, June 07, 2019

Booknote: Tarot Time Traveller

Marcus Katz and Tali Goodwin, Tarot Time Traveller: Enhance Your Modern Readings With the Wisdom of the Past. Woodbury, MN: Llewellyn Worldwide, 2017. ISBN: 9780738751344. 

Genre: nonfiction (mostly)
Subgenre: Tarot, cartomancy, history, time travel fiction
Format: e-galley
Source: NetGalley


This is a book that promised a lot, and when I heard of it I was looking forward to reading it. Overall, while the book offers a lot in terms of content, the execution and delivery of said content were disappointing. To be honest, I am not sure what other early reviewers gushed about so much. This is not an easy book to read or follow straight through (and yes, I read the book cover to cover for this review).

Bottom line: the authors' time travel gimmick simply does not work. It goes from cute to seriously annoying in a hurry. It is extremely distracting, and it often deters from and interrupts any reading flow you may be building up as you try to read along. Very often as I read on one of the diverse topics the authors present, as I was really getting into the topic, their time travel gimmick kicked in, "hey, read more on this later, now we go to who knows where, not connected to this topic right away but it will be later." Except that "later" might or not come because with all the jumping around you are just not sure where you are or where you are supposed to be. This made for a terrible reading experience.

The catch is this did not have to be such a poor reading experience. The content is solid, substantial, often with potential to be comprehensive. Heck, even the footnotes can be interesting. The authors clearly know their stuff. A good solid history of Tarot and cartomancy sounds great, and the book's content can provide that, if only they had put some thought in organizing it well instead of trying to play academic pop scifi with their time travel gimmick. If this was an attempt to blend fiction (the time travel frame) with nonfiction (the actual content), it fails in that regard.

Having said all of the above, if you are willing and able to just skip the time travel stuff, follow just the table of contents and browse what you may need or are most interested in first, this can be a useful book. You get comparative material on Tarot cards and reading methods. That alone makes the book decent. But the authors offer history and footnotes that at times are more interesting that some texts, but not distracting, more the kind of footnote to look up later. For me, anything that encourages readers to want to learn more and read more is always good.

So why in the name of the deity of choice did they adopt that time travel annoying gimmick of constantly teasing and interrupting the reader? I am not even annoyed at the concept of the gimmick, but the execution was awful. Only reason I do not rate this book lower is because of the good things I have mentioned.

In the end, this is not a book for beginners. If you are a beginner, find some basic Tarot books, especially if you are starting new to learn Tarot. There are various good basic Tarot books Ask around. Tarotistas are often happy to share titles with beginners, you can always ask your local friendly librarian, including me. The book may be better for more advanced learners, keeping in mind it is not exactly linear.

This leads me to those interested in history. Let me be blunt here. If the jumping around the authors do does not bother you, this book may be for you. However, if you prefer reading history chronologically ordered as many histories do (not saying you have to, just saying if you have that preference), then I suggest you skip to this book's bibliography, review it, pick out titles on specific topics, say Marseilles Tarot, and read those instead. You'll benefit from reading primary sources and/or secondary sources more directly relevant to your topic of interest, plus you'll likely get more depth. This brings up the issue of depth, which is not always consistent in this book. Since the authors try to pack as much as possible, and organization is not well executed, the result is that depth of content varies.  So if you want a broad overview, again browse this book selectively. Want depth? Get a specific book on a specific topic. Ordinarily I would not make such a comment but since the authors themselves made this ambitious claim in their book:

"In that way, Tarot Time Traveller can serve as a framework for a full history and discovery of the mysteries of tarot." 

Then it is very fair game to examine the claim, which this reviewer found wanting to put it mildly. And that quote is just one of various similar claims the book makes and may or not deliver. I'll just say I took notes as I read on my e-reader, and I did a lot of highlighting and notes, good and not so good including counting the interruptions in the reading flow by the authors. In the interest of brevity, I will skip presenting that count to my four readers.

For libraries, this book is completely optional. Public libraries seeking Tarot and cartomancy books for casual readers or light learners may want to pick up something easier to read and overall lighter. For academic libraries, optional as well. If you are considering this as a first addition for a small collection on this topic or say a small collection on paganism in general (this is where Dewey classification will likely put this book under), skip it. While this book has good content, this is one undergraduates may find frustrating, and I am not sure grad students will like it better.

So for advance Tarotistas, especially those very familiar with these authors, this book may be a good addition to their Tarot and esoterica collections.

As for me, despite wanting to like it more, it ended up just being OK.

2 out of 5 stars.