Wednesday, June 29, 2022

Book Review: Lady Mechanika, Volume 6: Sangre

Joe Benitez,, Lady Mechanika, Volume 6: Sangre. Encino, CA: Benitez Productions, 2020. ISBN: 9781949328028.
Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: steampunk, Victoriana
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley 

I continue to enjoy this series. Previously I read Lady Mechanika: La Dama de la Muerte (link to my review).  In fact, I listed that one among my top graphic novels read in 2020. So I was happy to find this volume and keep reading her adventures. 

In this volume, Lady Mechanika travels to Spain to protect a baron's son from what may be a demonic entity. However, when she gets there, she finds out it's not just a demonic possession case. The exorcist priest the baron called in may be doing cruel experiments on the boy, experiments the church would not likely approve but that his fathers approves of tacitly. That is not all. There may be a more sinister force at play, one with a connection to the New World. 

This book grabs you from the start. Initially I was not sure what the Mesoamerican prologue had to do with the main story, but soon the author reveals the connection. Once the connection is revealed you can appreciate the story's depth a lot more. Throughout the book, you get great world building and some very good and detailed lore. Clearly some good effort and imagination along with some research went into crafting the story. This story moves along well, has good action, and a lot of detail to keep readers interested. 

As in previous volumes, the art on this is excellent. The art is a great reason to get this volume. There are even some large panels I wish I could get as prints; the art is that good. In addition, if you want to see more of the art, the volume includes a cover gallery of the comics issues making up the volume. 

Overall, I really enjoyed this one, and I will recommend it to anyone who listens. This is a solid selection for libraries with graphic novel collections. I'd buy it for our library. It is also one I would be happy to have in my personal collection. 

5 out of 5 stars. 

Qualifies for the following 2022 Reading Challenge: 

Monday, June 27, 2022

Book Review: The Art of Sushi

Franckie Alarcon, The Art of Sushi. New York: NBM, 2021. ISBN: 9781681122854.
Genre: graphic novels and comics
Subgenre: food, Japan, travel
Format: e-book galley
Source: NetGalley 

I can say right away this is one of the nicest books I have read this year so far. The author travels from France to Japan to learn all he can about sushi. Along the way not only do we learn about sushi, but we also learn about elements of sushi such as the fish and the rice as well as those who make it and even related topics like sake and soy sauce. The author takes us on a journey along with his friends and gives us an in-depth look at Japanese culture as well as sushi. 
Our story starts with the author's initial attempts at making sushi, which are not very successful. From there, he embarks on his journey to learn about sushi and research it for this graphic novel. The story reads a bit like a food travel show with a bit of travelogue of Japan. On the journey we meet chefs, fishermen, sake and soy sauce makers, and we go from high end sushi for elites to Kaiten sushi chains for the common folk. 
The author tells an interesting and entertaining story. There is a lot of attention to detail. This is an educational book, but it is also a pleasure to read. The author weaves the various stories together so they flow without effort, easily transitioning from one topic to the next. Explanations of various processes are clear and accessible. The text is well written and suitable for general readers. 
The art is simple in a black and white style. However, food illustrations and diagrams are in color and drawn in a detailed and realistic style. At times you feel like you can reach in and grab a piece of sushi. The rest of the art is basic, but it works nicely with the text. This is a graphic novel that is a pleasure to look at as well as read. 
In addition, the book includes a set of recipes at the end for readers to try out. The book also includes a list of addresses and other locations from the story and/or relevant to the story. 
Overall, this is a fantastic book for all ages. This is a must have for libraries with graphic novel collections. It is one I would gladly buy for my library, and I can say I would buy a copy for my personal collection. This book can inspire folks to learn more and explore the world of sushi. Very well done. 
5 out of 5 stars. 
This book qualifies for the following 2022 Reading Challenge: 


Friday, June 24, 2022

Deck Review: Lo Scarabeo Tarot

Mark McElroy (author) and Anna Lazzarini (illustrator), Lo Scarabeo Tarot. Torino, Italy: Lo Scarabeo, 2007. ISBN: 9788883956959. (Link to Llewellyn, the U.S. distributor)
Genre: Tarot decks
Subgenre: mashup, study deck, company flagship deck
Format: 78 cards with little white book in basic tuck box
Source: I own this one 

Knight of Swords
I used this deck for the first time in January 2022. This is Lo Scarabeo's flagship deck. As I used it over the month I found myself enjoying it. 

The deck comes with the standard 78 cards and a little white book (LWB). As usual with Lo Scarabeo LWB's, this one is written in multiple languages: English, Italian, Spanish, French, and German. The LWB is 63 pages long, but the English part is just 14 pages long. The LWB includes an artist statement-- author is Mark McElroy, and Anna Lazzarini is the illustrator--, a bit on using the deck, and a "divinatory dictionary," which is really a list of keywords for each card. The artist statement explains the deck's vision as a deck that incorporates elements and symbols of Tarot de Marseilles (TdM), Rider Waite Smith (RWS), and Thoth decks. The artist also explains how the cards were scripted using The Fool-0 as example/template. Unfortunately, all we get after that are card keywords. You get one keyword for a light meaning and one keyword for a shadow meaning. 

The author explains this is a study deck, which is good, but he leaves the work to deck users. Author
writes that "the deck may be used with virtually any divinatory guide, beginner's manual, or instruction" (8). I do agree when the author states this is a good deck for beginners, but I wish the publisher would have made an effort to produce a full book integrating the author's card script notes (if such notes did exist) presenting the cards' symbols and which details come from each deck. However, the decks does well with a good guidebook. I consulted Lyle's book now and then, and it worked well. I feel I could have used a different book like Louis's Tarot Plain and Simple. Feel free to keep your favorite Tarot reference book handy when using this deck. 

The author also writes that "more advanced students will enjoy comparing these cards to their parent decks, identifying the inspirations for the elements found in the Lo Scarabeo illustrations and discussing the merits of the symbolic enhancements integrated into these new cards" (8). On the one hand, that sounded a bit like the publisher was too lazy to create a full book and left the study work to users. On the other hand, and this can be a positive, that study and comparison process can be provide some great Tarot journaling time. That can be a good thing for Tarot users who may prefer avoiding another book they may not use. I leave the decision to readers on where to stand on the companion book issue. 

Four of Swords

Let's look at the cards. Initially, the cards may look like an RWS clone. Then you start using the cards, looking at them closely, and you start to notice symbols and details. You do not have to be familiar with the three parent decks. To be honest, RWS style is predominant, and all cards are fully illustrated. This makes for a good beginner's deck. It also can work for intuitive folks and/or those who work without books. I've used TdM a bit, and I've seen Thoth, though have not studied it, so I can see how folks very familiar with those decks will pick up details here and there. 

The art is reminiscent of graphic novels and comics. I'd say it's similar to decks like the Llewellyn Classic Tarot (link to my review). The art is colorful but not too bright. The art is also very rich in symbols, and the artist pays attention to small details. On the surface, it may look like an RWS clone, but as you use it you start to discover the depth in the details. For me, I found a detail or two, a new idea or two I had not considered before. It's a deck that is not flashy, but it does have substance. This is definitely a good study deck. It is also a good work horse deck. For me, this is a deck I can read easily whether for myself or with other people. As I used it over a month, I enjoyed it and found myself exploring it more and more. This is a deck I really like, and it is one I can see myself using again. I would that if I ever teach Tarot this deck could be a good option. 

Overall this is a very good deck. For me, this can be a reliable daily use deck. It is also a deck I'd recommend. It may appear simple, but it reveals depth the more you use it. I am glad to have it in my collection. 

4 out of 5 stars.

Friday, June 17, 2022

Ten Books I Have Read With a Color in the Title

Welcome to another list of books I have read with some feature in common. You can check my previous entry, books with blood in the title, here. This time I am highlight ten books I have read that have a color in the title. If I have done a review of it here in the blog I will provide a link. If you decide to read any of these, please feel free to leave a comment here and let me know. 















Book Review: The Oxford Guide to Library Research, 4th edition

(Cross-posted from Notes from a Simple Librarian)
Thomas Mann, The Oxford Guide to Library Research, Fourth Edition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2015. ISBN: 978-0-19-993106-4.
Genre: nonfiction, guides
Subgenre: academic research, LIS
Format: trade paperback
Source: Hutchins Library, Berea College 

Our library recently acquired this for the reference collection as an update to the third edition that we had. I did notice this edition's publishing date is 2015, so it already may be falling behind in some details. When I investigated, I did not see a fifth edition forthcoming. Still this is a pretty good book overall.  

This book is a guide to help readers do research online and offline with an overview of various online and offline sources. Though it goes over online and offline sources, there is some bias or preference expressed in the book for print sources found in libraries, especially large research libraries. Naturally it also favors subscription based online resources, again found in libraries, especially large research libraries. The publisher describes this book as "the gold standard in the field," but it is so as long as you are using and accessing large research libraries. There is not much here about smaller academic libraries, like ours, and even less about public libraries. Though the strategies presented can apply for any researcher, the book is mainly for academic researchers at large research universities and institutions, for example, the Library of Congress, which is by the way where the author works. 
The book is arranged into 15 chapters. Some of the chapter topics include: specialized encyclopedias, use of subject headings in library catalogs and databases, citation searches, people sources, and hidden treasures (other not so visible at times sources like microforms and government documents). The book definitely strives to be as inclusive of various resources as possible. 

This is a guide mainly for academic researchers. The book is also commonly used as a textbook in library school programs (or "i-Schools" as they often call themselves now), and a lot of the material in the book is written more for librarians in training than actual non-librarian researchers. At times, some topics, such as cataloging and subject headings, may into more depth than most researchers may need, but that depth is necessary for librarians to understand how the systems work in order to better help their patrons. For other readers, some of the material may be way more technical than they want or need to know. 

For librarians in the field, like me, parts of this book may serve as a skills refresher. I did read it all to write this review, but for my brethren in the field I recommend you read what you need when you need. 

The book may not be too accessible for undergraduates. It does offer good research tips, but undergrads may need to dig through the more dense material first to find the good tips they can use. The book may be more geared to graduate students, research faculty, and especially librarians in training. Thus I would recommend the book for academic libraries, especially R-1 and similar institutions. For small academic libraries, I'd say this is optional. I am good with having it in our small collection, but having read it I can see it can be optional for us. 

In the end, I liked some parts better than others, and I think many academic readers can find some use in it. 

3 out of 5 stars. 


Additional reading notes: 

The book is designed to answer three questions: 
"First, what is the extent of the significant research resources you will miss if you confine your research entirely, or even primarily, to sources available on the open Internet? Second, if you are trying to get a reasonably good overview of the literature on a particular topic, rather than just 'something quickly' on it, what are the methods of subject heading that are usually much more efficient for the purpose rather than typing keywords into a blank search box? And third-- a concern related to the first two-- how do you find the best search terms to use in the first place?" (xv).

A challenge is convincing researchers, especially students on tight schedules and deadlines who DO want it quickly and just good enough to do the assignment. Then again, a lot of what those students do is not "real" research. It's rather synthesis and compiling of sources on a decided topic, but that is a whole other conversation. 

This is a good point that many folks often miss or conveniently refuse to understand: 

"In the overall universe of information records, three considerations are inextricably tied together: (1) copyright protection; (2) free 'fair use' of the records by everyone; and (3) access limitations of what, who, and where

It is not possible to combine (1) and (2) without restricting at least one element of (3)" (xvii). 

Now things like copyright and access to research are debatable, but at the moment the above is the reality, unless you do as some faculty, researchers, and increasingly students do and find your sources in some shady parts of the Internet (and no further comment from me on that). 

A bad habit many librarians, especially the cool and hip ones like the "doers and stirrers," tend to have, which irks me a bit to be honest: 

"(The library field, unfortunately, has a habit of simply following Google rather than focusing on alternatives to it that work much better in the niche areas libraries must fill)" (115). 

That is also why so many libraries go to big default search boxes on their websites to "search everything" or do one "big search" without regard to trade offs of such decision in terms of focus, relevance, and useful results. It's a jump on the Google bandwagon of big search box and hoping the algorithm is on your side, except the algorithm is usually not on your side. Librarians jump on this for convenience, to make it "easier" for themselves and for impatient patrons instead of putting in the work and teaching students and/or patrons properly. Again, this can be a whole other conversation for another time. 

A growing problem in open Internet searching. I often mention this in library instruction, but few students seem to really appreciate it. Less savvy faculty often gloss over it: 

"(The growing proliferation of echo chambers and filter bubbles-- i.e. producing search results weighted and skewed by individuals' own idiosyncratic past search histories-- further diminishes the Web's capacity to provide inclusive overview perspectives)" (133). 

The author gives a nod to Reader's Advisory: 

"Bibliographies are also frequently more useful than databases when questions of 'reader's advisory' nature arise-- that is, when people just want recommendations of good books to read, in any subject area" (184). 

Friday, June 10, 2022

Reading About the Reading Life: June 10, 2022 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 been a bit of a while since I have done a post in this series, so I've been collecting stories and finally feel I have enough to make a post. I have kept busy with work (need to make a living),  reading and reviewing books, and a bit of cartomancy here and there. Let's see what we have this week.

  • Ashlie D. Stevens writes for Salon about cookbooks in the used section of bookstores. She writes about getting lost in those bookstore sections and finding books that may be gems or busts or a look at past now gone. I thought right away of the Better Half who enjoys collecting some cookbooks, and she often checks that area of the used bookstore as well. 
  • Nicola Sayers in 3 Quarks Daily writes about digital scrapbooking. Much like the writer, I "I am incessantly recording: things I have read, things I want to read, ideas I have come across or had, ways I want to be or to look, memorabilia from places I have been or want to go, inspiring or thought-provoking words, song lyrics, images, film clips, you name it." I just do it online in various places. Some of it I do on my blogs, but also on social media like Twitter and NewTumbl. And yes, I do keep a physical journal as well as an ideas and drafts notebook. The essay also refers to Walter Benjamin's book The Arcades Project (link to Wikipedia entry about the book). On small side note, I cannot help but wonder what will happen to some of those things I curated and scrapbooked when I pass on. A good question to reflect on some other time. 
  • Book Riot had an article with a brief history of the Uncle John's Bathroom Reader series. I have read and enjoyed books in the series. They often make for nice easy reading, and you get to learn something new at times. In fact I have reviewed some books in the series here on the blog. Links to my reviews:
  • The Fine Books and Collections blog looks at the question of what impact does the recent movie adaptation of Death on the Nile have on the book trade. For example, as it happens when a new movie based on a book comes out, publishers rush to reissue new editions of the book, usually with covers that match movie art or photography.The post mentions a bit also about any antiquarian book interest in light of the movie. On a personal note, I have not seen the new film, but I did see and enjoy Branagh's previous Christie adaptation Murder on the Orient Express, which I did enjoy. I watched and reviewed that film back in August 2020.
  • Shine looks at the influence of Latin American literature in China. The focus is on Argentine literature like the works of Jorge Luis Borges. For example, according to the article, "among Latin American nations, Argentina has had 230 literary works translated, both classic writers and emerging authors. Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortázar, Manuel Puig and Ernesto Sabato remain on the spotlight. "
  • The Walrus takes a look at where the horror genre is going recently. You get an overview of the genre, and you might also find a new book or two to read. 
  • It is another week, or another month, and that means someone, somewhere in the books and reading world is writing something about book reviewing, usually about what may or not be a problem with book reviewing. 
    • Dan Stone in his substack post looks at New York Review of Books reviewers and how they review each other's books. Using a little bit of bibliometrics, Stone found out that yes, they do review each other's books quite often. The post does include various graphs to illustrate the point. 
    • L.A. Review of Books has a response to a previous essay (essay is linked in the article) about the state of book reviews. These kind of articles usually bemoan the state of the book review, that it may not be intellectual enough, or rigorous enough, or that it is a bourgeois endeavor, or, on and on. I will tell my four readers this much. I review books here on my blog, first to keep track of what I read and offer my honest assessment as reader, scholar, and librarian. Second, I also do it as a bit of a reader's advisory service to help others decide if they want to read a book or not, and maybe help a librarian here or there decide if they should buy a book for my collection. I do not aim for some rarefied level of reviewing, just an honest review with integrity. 
  • We are getting to the summer again, and in academia we know what that means: it's time for colleges to do their summer virtue signaling ritual of forcing incoming freshmen to read a common book, usually with some political/social issues/activist focus. In other words, the kind of books I currently do not read under my self imposed moratorium on such topics. Makes me glad I went to college before this became a trend. 
    • If you think I am being snarky about the topic choices colleges are making, Inside Higher Ed backs me up. They take a look at the kind of summer books colleges force (oops, strongly encourage) their students to read, and they point out that "many institutions are choosing books that touch on issues of social justice—particularly racial inequities." As often happens, colleges as much as possible try to bring in a speaker relevant to the book they chose, either the book's author or someone with expertise on the book's topic. My college has done this sort of thing (it paused during COVID), and they usually brought in the author to one of the early campus convocations. 
    • Lit Hub also looks at what books colleges are asking their incoming students to read
  • Publishers Weekly asks why are book sales slipping in big cities. Sales are rebounding a bit in bookstores in the post-pandemic (you know, the pandemic that everyone says is over despite it still going strong). Yet it seems stores in urban areas are having the most difficulty recovering in this bad economy. A big factor, according to the article, is that many people have migrated away from big cities to smaller cities and rural areas, in part due to cost of living, again, the bad economy. Not mentioned in the article, but a possibility I would propose is online shopping. The pandemic in the early days meant lockdowns, and a lot of people were stuck at home. They ended up doing a lot more online shopping, and that includes shopping for books. That may be a hard habit to break in favor of going to a bricks and mortar store. However, as I said, that is just my theory.
  • Finally for this week, Nieman Lab looks at how self-publishing combined with social media and social media's algorithms is enabling the far right to get their messages out. No, self-publishing is not just for fan fiction, edgy erotica, and other weird niches. If you have an interest in information literacy, reading, literature, politics, and social issues, this may be of interest. A bit from the article:

    "We found a group of about 15 novels by self-identified neo-Nazis and other white supremacists that were known to counter-terrorism experts. Others were not. These books were disturbingly easy to get, because they were sold on sites including Amazon, Google Play, and Book Depository.

    Publishing houses once refused to print such books, but changes in technology have made traditional publishers less important. With self-publishing and ebooks, it is easy for extremists to produce and distribute their fiction."

As always, thank you for reading. If you like the writing, feel free to subscribe on your favorite feed reader or follow me on social media where I share links so you can come back.  If you wish to comment, feel free. Just keep it civil. Paz y amor.

Book Review: From Sun Tzu to XBox

Ed Halter, From Sun Tzu to Xbox: War and Video Games. New York: Thunder's Mouth Press, 2006.  ISBN: 9781560256816.
Genre: nonfiction, history
Subgenre: U.S. history, video games, technology, military history
Format: trade paperback
Source: Hutchins Library, Berea College  

This book looks at the history of video games and their connection to military culture. Criticism of ultra realistic warfare video games may seem a recent phenomenon. However, the relationship between the military, warfare, and games in general goes back to antiquity. The author explores that early history and then brings us up to the early 21st century. Along the way we meet a cast of creators, inventors, hackers (before the word "hacker" came to mean a cyber criminal), military officers, game developers, and player. 
The book sets up the scene in 2003 with the U.S. Army's game "America's Army," which was both a game as well as an army recruiting tool. I remember when that game came out, and how it was a big deal to some folks. In addition, that game is very much the precursor of many warfare and military themed games we have today ranging from corporate made games to homemade games created by amateurs. 
After the introduction, the author goes into the history. To be honest, Part One: "War and Games Before Computers" is the most interesting part of the book. You learn a bit how games like chess emerged and soon became tools to teach warfare and tactics. 
The rest of the book brings the story into modern times. Note that after the introduction, this is a story focused and centered mainly in the United States. Game developers and computer scientists had a serious love-hate relationship with the U.S. military, who during the Cold War funded their research and games development. Eventually some entrepreneurs broke out to create their commercial games without military subsidies. The author does make sure to note that the creation of digital computers and games, contrary to the common popular belief, was a heavily subsidized by the military affair. This is a detail that many conservatives, right wingers, and libertarian types tend to conveniently forget in their narratives: 
"That computers as we know them would not have been possible without massive government funding, largely through military channels, is a concept many today would find surprising. Latter-day corporate hype has colored our conventional understanding of the history of digital technology with a decidedly libertarian streak. Innovation is portrayed as a the product of single inspired individual: independently minded, even rebellious entrepreneurs, exemplified by alpha-geeks like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates. Those who think differently. But a closer look into how digital technologies actually came into being shows that their ultimate origins were anything but free-market. The directions these technologies took--indeed the very creation of the digital computer itself-- was an enormously subsidized affair, pursued in the interests of maintaining and strengthening American military dominance, at a time when the very future of humanity seemed to rest on the outcome of this contest" (79).
The book overall is a bit of dry reading. The topic sounds interesting, but aside from the early history, it's another story of military interests funding something they want, and by some good chance we get civilian applications, games in this case. In addition, a significant part of the book is getting seriously dated. Gaming technology has leaped forward significantly since 2006 when this book was published. 

Overall, the book is OK. It looks at an interesting topic, but it just is not that interesting in terms of the writing and presentation. 

2 out of 5 stars.