Friday, April 12, 2024

Book Review: Secondhand

Adam Minter, Secondhand: Travels in the New Global Garage Sale. New York: Bloomsbury Publishing, 2019. ISBN: 9781635570106.

Genre: business and economics
Subgenre: travel, logistics, supply chains
Format: hardback
Source: Madison County (KY) Public Library 

If you ever wondered what happens to stuff you donate to a charity or thrift shop this may be the book for you. Minter travels the world and talks to all kinds of folks involved in the multi-billion dollar secondhand trade. From entrepreneurs for hire who empty houses of the deceased to rag makers to television repairmen, the author asks questions and explores what happens to stuff we discard and/or hope may be reused. Along the way, he looks at consumer society and provides some suggestions to solve the ever growing glut and clutter. In addition to stories, Minter also provides data and facts from various sources. For details on sources you can check the notes section.

The book is arranged with a preface, 12 chapters, and an afterword. Minter begins close to home in the United States, but soon we are traveling the world to see where various items end up. Along the way we learn a hard lesson: many objects do have a lifespan, and they are destined to a dumpster or landfill. 

An interesting element in the book are the various stories of folks in the secondhand trade. Some are following family tradition. Others just come to it for an income or because they saw a market gap that needed to be filled. Minter presents humane stories that are interesting and moving at times. I was also amazed by the ingenuity some of these businesses show. 

The book also provides a look at how markets work and how these items can travel the world. For example, restrictions or not, border zones tend to be strong places for secondhand trade, just look at the U.S.-Mexico border for example as items no longer wanted in the U.S. make their way to be sold in Mexico. 

Most of the book is interesting, but it does have some slow parts here or there. 

If you read his previous book and liked it, Junkyard Planet, you will probably like this one. This book is a good option for libraries both public and academic. It makes readers ask themselves some hard questions. I liked it overall. 

3 out of 5 stars. 

Additional reading notes: 

How to find data in a hard to trace market: 

"Fortunately, a lack of data doesn't mean the trade in used goods is untraceable. But instead of finding it through data, a reporter must travel to the places where secondhand goods are collected, bought, repurposed, repaired, and sold" (xvi). 


The booming business of emptying houses: 

"The reasons for these cleanouts vary, but they typically revolve around downsizing and death. Business is booming: by 2030 senior citizens will account for one fifth of the U.S. population. Some of those seniors want to remain in their large single-family homes packed with stuff. But many others downsize, either by their own or someone else's choice. And some will pass on, leaving the heavy responsibility of cleaning out a life's accumulations to somebody else" (2). 

 

Contrary to what many Americans think, the stuff in their homes is worthless aside the owner's sentimental value: 

"The contents of a bathroom-- from toothbrushes to soap-- can't be reused. Kitchen utensils are typically too beat up to serve anything but the scrap-metal industry. Old CDs, DVDs, books, and media players are generally worthless unless they're scarce, in good condition, or of interest to collectors. Furniture, unless it's an antique of value, has a diminishing market, especially if it's made by IKEA. Used clothing, unless it's made by a well-known and expensive brand, is often barely competitive with the flood of new garments made in low-cost factories around the developing world. And electronics, from desktop computers to phones, rapidly depreciate into a state of worthlessness-- at least to consumers in places where the next upgrade is just a season away" (4-5). 



Friday, April 05, 2024

Book Review: Women Who Murder

Mitzi Szereto, Women Who Murder: an International Collection of Deadly True Crime Tales.  Coral Gables, FL: Mango Publishing, 2024. 

Genre: true crime, women
Subgenre: anthology
Format: e-book galley
Source: Provided by the author in exchange for an honest review, which you can read below.


I knew of Mitzi Szereto from her previous work in the erotica genre. One example of her editorial work is Dark Edge of Desire: Gothic Tales of Romance, which I read and reviewed. Mostly through social media and some articles, I saw her move on to other genres including true crime. I happen to enjoy reading in true crime, so when this recent book, Women Who Murder, came up for review, I was curious. I am glad to have read it. 

The book is a collection of crime stories of women who murder. As I started reading, I was reminded of the old Rudyard Kipling line: 

"The female of the species is deadlier than the male." 

Very often in crime, folks tend to dismiss women or don't think the "gentler sex" is not capable of deeds like extreme violence and murder. The editor shows in 14 tales that when it comes to crime females are not the "gentler sex." 

This is an international collection. We get crime stories from the U.S. and from around the world. We also get crimes from previous centuries as well as contemporary. 

The book starts with the editor's introduction. In the introduction, the editor provides context. The book looks at stereotypes, the reality, what makes women killers scary, taboo, yet oh so fascinating. The editor also reminds us that women can be as lethal as men. She writes: 

"When it comes to murder, women have proven themselves to be equally up to their male counterparts-- something that makes society far more uncomfortable than they are with the typical man-as-killer scenario. Female lethality is scarier. It's the ultimate taboo" (15). 

She does remind us that, statistically speaking, women do kill less than men.

After the introduction, we get the stories from various authors, some of which were the journalists covering a story at the time. The stories overall are interesting and draw you in. They feature much attention to detail. Sometimes we have all the facts. Other times we get different versions, such as the situation in "Ruth Snyder: the Original Femme Fatale." As the author writes: 

"Judd and Ruth would later give hugely different accounts of their relationship, as each tried to implicate the other. We'll give you both sides of the story-- though neither is likely entirely true-- as well as the indisputable facts" (32). 

Sometimes the reader has to do a bit of extra work to decide where the mystery goes. I will add also that bit of unreliability in the narration for that story just adds a bit more to the tension. 

Additionally, women kill for various reasons. It could be a response to abuse. It could be for self-defense or protection. Sometimes though it is just outright evil. The editor's selections give us a diverse look at the many reasons women chose to kill, or perhaps in a moment or two the choice is made for them. 

A strength in this book is not only the interesting stories. The stories include context. They often look at the situation of their times. For example, we may see how the press covered an event at the time. Bias in press coverage is presented and considered. Also misogyny often plays a role in how a woman murderer is treated by society and the justice system. Looking at the history behind the crimes adds depth, and I found it very interesting. 

Overall the book reads at a good pace. I found the international stories, such as the Iranian murderer, fascinating. Much of the true crime genre centers on the United States, so it was good to get accounts from other parts of the world. Readers of true crime will enjoy this collection of stories. For me, this was definitely a different take on the genre, a good read, and I even learned a thing or two. 

I recommend the book for libraries that collect true crime works. This make a good addition to go along some of the usual names in the genre. When a patron asks "what can I read next?" or "are there any women murderers?" you can offer them this book. I certainly will will promote it through reader's advisory. It is easy to read, engaging, fascinating, and just scary enough at times. Excellent. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

This book qualifies for the following 2024 Reading Challenge: 


 


Book Review: Profiles in Ignorance

Andy Borowitz, Profiles in Ignorance: How America's Politicians Got Dumber and Dumber. New York: Avid Reader Press, 2022. ISBN: 9781668003886.

Genre: politics, history
Subgenre: humor
Format: hardcover
Source: Via Interlibrary Loan at Hutchins Library, Berea College. The book came from the Jessamine County (KY) Public Library

 

Andy Borowitz's book in a way does a public service as it looks at how the U.S. as been getting dumber and dumber, especially when it comes to politics. I don't think it's so much that leaders have gotten worse. As we read through the stories the blame really falls on voters who have gotten more and more tolerant of dumb, ignorant, and stupid politicians. After the voters, the media deserves blame for failing at their job of being accurate and calling out the bullshit. 

Borowitz starts with Ronald Reagan, and works his way up through politicians like Dan Quayle, George H.W. Bush, George W. Bush, and Sarah Palin among others all the way to Donald Trump. To illustrate his points, Borowitz divides the narrative into three stages. First, the dumb politicians are ridiculed. Reagan survived the ridicule stage due to his acting ability and seriously good handlers. Quayle ended up in ignominy. Next is acceptance where politicians still need to pretend to be smart, but folks accept the stupidity or rather ignorance. By the third stage, the willing ignorance and cluelessness are celebrated. In the last stage the last thing a politician wants is to be perceived as an intellectual. 

A strength of the book is that is well documented. Borowitz has done the research, often referring to specific books and sources. In addition, notes are included at the end of the book. 

The big issue for me is this is just not an interesting book. It reads more like a dry history textbook. Plus, if you already know much of this history already, including having lived through much of it, then this book is going to be depressing rather than amusing. For many readers, this may be history they need to learn, but it may still be depressing. In addition, the humor is a lot lighter than advertised. Borowitz gets snarky here or there, but otherwise the text presentation is fairly straightforward. 

I don't think it was worth breaking my politics/social issues/activist stuff reading moratorium to read this. I do like he brings a lot of good information in one place, but it is very dry reading and depressing at times. He goes on to give some suggested solutions in his epilogue, but given the current state of the United States, I wonder if he may be a bit too optimistic. Your mileage may vary here. 

Despite some issues, I think public libraries should consider acquiring this book. This a very optional selection for academic libraries; it is not one I would acquire for our library unless a patron requested it. With books like this, the real sad thing is the people who should be reading it will likely ignore it, so it ends up preaching to the choir. 

Overall it was OK for me, so 2 out of 5 stars. 



Sunday, March 31, 2024

Media Notes: Roundup for March 2024

 

  

 

This is a somewhat random selection of the movies and series on DVD and/or online I watched during  March 2024.


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).

Amazingly enough, I did not watch any movies this month. I've been reading a bit more, which is a good thing, and I have been binging some old television shows, which I am mentioning below. We'll see how it goes next month. In terms of media, this was a very slow month for me. Then again, I will add for an academic instruction librarian, it is busy time, so often I just got home tired, had dinner, read a book before bedtime.


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.

Only thing I watched worth mentioning was NYPD Blue, which is available on Tubi. I've been zipping along through it.


  • NYPD Blue (1995-2003. Police procedural. Drama). Finished seasons 3 and 4. I am in the middle of season 5 as the month ends. The show has 12 seasons total. I am really liking it; it is as good as I remember.
    • In more actors you've seen elsewhere, Vanessa Del Rio, adult film star, makes an appearance as herself in Season 3, Episode 15. Tobin Bell comes back in the last episode of season 3 (different character).
    • When I mentioned previously that writers in this show really have it for Andy Sipowicz's character, in Season 3, Episode 20, two episodes before the season ends, Andy Jr. is killed. Just when father and son were starting to make up, the writers stick to Andy again. Last episodes of season 3 really bring the mood down, very moving. 
    • Again, actors you've seen elsewhere, Christopher Meloni, better known as Detective Stabler in Law and Order SVU, appears early in season four as a minor hoodlum. Continuing with the Law and Order cast, Dann Florek, who portrayed Captain Cragen in Law and Order and in the SVU spin off, makes an appearance in Season 5, Episode 7.
    • Episodes 8 and 9 of Season 5, "Lost Israel," is one of the intense episodes in the season, if not the series, as the squad deals with a rich father who is also a pedophile framing a homeless man for a crime. Moving episode with some serious suspense to it.
       

 

Friday, March 22, 2024

Book Review: Making the List

Michael Korda, Making the List: a Cultural History of the American Bestseller, 1900-1999: as Seen Through the Annual Bestseller Lists of Publishers Weekly. New York: Barnes and Noble, 2001. ISBN: 0760725594. 

Genre: books and reading
Subgenre: cultural history, United States, Americana
Format: hardcover
Source: Hutchins Library, Berea College

 

This book is a cultural history of the United States and its reading choices and habits. It is based on the bestseller lists of The Bookman (1900-1912) and then from Publishers Weekly (1912-1999). The author was a former editor at Simon and Schuster, a fact he often refers to throughout the book often to remark on a famous author on the lists he may have published or that he may have missed publishing. 

The book is arranged into an introduction, ten chapters, and an epilogue. Each chapter covers a decade starting in 1900 and ending in 1999. The epilogue wraps it up as the 1990s come to an end. 

The book blends facts and a bit of literary history with anecdotes and some trivia. We can learn a lot about American reading habits, interests, and desires from what they read, or at least what they are buying to read. You can even see how reading tastes change over time, and how some reading tastes come and go in cycles. At the end of each chapter you get the bestseller lists by year. Initially, the lists were just fiction, but by the mid-1910's, we get fiction and nonfiction. 

For bibliophiles, this can be an interesting book to learn about reader habits over time in the United States. Along the way we see trends including the rise and fall of chain bookstores, then the giant box bookstores, and the Amazon behemoth on the horizon. In 1999, it was still some time before Amazon became the monster it is now. 

The text is fairly straightforward. It's mostly a presentation of facts and analysis with some anecdotes. Interesting at times but not terribly compelling. This is a book more for bibliophiles and librarians, and also for folks who enjoy trivia. I found it interesting to see the many books that were bestsellers once that are now gone and forgotten, gone out of print even. As the lists get into the later decades, I found one or two books I've read. Yet overall I am reminded I don't read much based on bestseller lists, or at least based on the Publishers Weekly bestseller lists. 

I liked the book as for me it was an easy read. The chapters are not long, so you can pick the book up, read a chapter here or there, and you're done with the book before you know it. If you like reading about books and reading culture, with an American focus, this may be for you. 

3 out of 5 stars. 

Additional reading notes: 

What the bestseller lists tell us, according to the author: 

"It tells us what we're actually reading (or, at least, what we're actually buying) as opposed to what we think we ought to be reading, or would like other people to believe we're buying" (x). 

Though he argues also that not everything on the list is pushed by Oprah, Oprah does push a lot of stuff into bestseller lists. That aside the author's observation seems quaint in an era where bestseller lists in various places are rigged or "gamed" such as Amazon's lists or PACs buying politician books in droves to make sales look better and to hand out as favors in fundraisers, etc. (here is one example). Overall, the focus on bookstore sales also seems a bit quaint, again, due to Amazon's excessive influence as well as other online outlets, though Amazon remains dominant. 

These days we take bestseller lists and other ranking lists like Top Ten for various topics for granted, but that was not always the case: 

"We score everything and everyone, but when the top ten books were first listed by sales in 1895, it was a startling innovation in retailing, though it did not immediately catch on" (xvi). 



Wednesday, March 20, 2024

Book Review: Tarot for the Hard Work

Maria Minnis, Tarot for the Hard Work: an Archetypal Journey to Confront Racism and Inspire Collective Healing. Newbury, MA: Weiser Books, 2023. ISBN: 978-1-57863-807-9.

Genre: Tarot
Subgenre: social justice, activism
Format: Trade paperback
Source: Hutchins Library, Berea College 

This will likely be a top book for me at the end of 2024. Yes, reading this book breaks my moratorium on politics/social issues/activist stuff, but it was well worth it. You can read it as a cartomancer to deepen your practice as well as do the hard work. You can also read it without any cartomancy experience and still learn and find it useful in your work to dismantle systemic racism. 

The book is arranged as follows: 

  • A foreword by Rashunda Tramble, author of Numinous Tarot and founder of staywoketarot.com
  • Introduction. Here the book's author explains their approach and presents the book's overall structure. 
  • 21 chapters, one for each Major Arcana card. 
  • References and resources. This is a bibliography and works cited list. 

In essence, this books looks at the 22 Major Arcana cards in Tarot and their archetypes as resources and tools of liberation and dismantling systemic racism and oppression. The guidance goes from working on yourself individually to working outwards to implement positive social change. For a cartomancer this can be a new and radical way to look at the cards. As I read it, I learned new insights into the cards, and I will be adding some of those lessons to my card reading experience. However, the book offers much more. 

Every chapter features readings and exercises to help you learn more and do the work. We get an opening text about the card and its archetype, keywords, the archetype in liberation work, correspondences, and other concepts related to a card. You want to keep a journal or notebook handy because the author includes writing prompts and other small reflection exercises throughout every chapter. In addition, every chapter ends with "Building a Toolkit." This is a prompt and/or exercise to help you expand your social justice work. Each card has its own unique toolkit prompts connected to the card's archetype. For example, The Hermit's toolkit is "Protect Unhoused People." This is because of the Hermit's search for a safe space. 

I read the book cover to cover for this review, but this is really a book to read, write, reflect, and do the exercises a bit at a time. I will say that trying to do everything suggested in the book is seriously ambitious. It is called "hard work" for a reason. If so moved, work with the book at your best speed. For some folks, their talents, skills, and temperament may mean that you focus your work on one archetype or a few. Don't try to get through the work all at once. Take care of yourself and pace yourself.  

The book is very easy to read. Pretty much anyone can read this. The author keeps the heavy esoterica to a minimum. As I wrote earlier, you don't have to read the cards to get benefit from the book. You can use the Tarot archetypes as inspiration for your own work. For cartomancers, this can open new possibilities to do the work as well as understand the cards in a new way. 

Overall, this is a great book. It can be a bit intense at times, as social justice work can be, but it is well worth reading. Cartomancers with an interest in social justice need this on their shelves. Even cartomancers not as interested may want to read it for the learning experience. 

I recommend it for public and academic libraries, especially if they collect pagan and esoteric materials and/or social justice works. I ordered it for our library, and I hope it finds readers. 

5 out of 5 stars. 


Additional reading notes: 

Tramble in the foreword on Tarot as a catalyst: 

"Both you and I believe that tarot isn't just fortune telling. It can also help us discover what influences our thoughts and actions. Which archetypes, numbers, symbols activate something deep in the core of our being? We believe that tarot helps us access and analyze hidden messages, imprints, and signals we've picked up by living in this society. Tarot allows us to address these issues. Tarot is a catalyst for change" (xii-xiii)

 

The book's author on this book as a tool: 

"Tarot for the Hard Work is a tool for passionately demolishing structural oppression. It is a tool for white people who want to use their privilege for mass liberation. It is a tool for Black and Brown people living in a structurally racist society intent on selling self-hatred and shame to marginalized people and capitalizing on their pain. It is a tool for both tarot newbies and tarot experts. It is a tool for action. It is a tool for going beyond baby steps. It is a tool that can offer great satisfaction, as well as great difficulty. It is a tool to expand your comfort zone. It is a tool that requires your presence for it to work" (2). 

 

Another reason you need a journal to write along as you read the book: 

"A journal will give you unlimited space to explore and do a deep dive: in your journal you are writing your own antiracism manifesto" (4). 

 

A reminder: 

"All liberation work is creative work because our job is to create the world to come. And in waltzes the Empress" (36). 

 

This book qualifies for the following 2024 Reading Challenge: