Friday, October 20, 2017

Reading about the reading life: October 20, 2017 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).

Let's see what has been going on in reading, books, and literacy recently: 

  • According to NPD Bookscan, comics and graphic novels are experiencing growth in the book market. It also indicates there is growth in  women buying comics and graphic novels. 
  • Open Culture has a story on Napoleon's traveling library
  • Gustavo Arellano resigns from OC Weekly. Why is this significant? "Arellano was the rare Latino editor-in-chief among American alt weeklies. In fact, he was the rare Latino leader at any English-language news organization — period." The owners of OC Weekly seem to be claiming bad economy kind of stuff, but this may be questionable. Story via The Los Angeles Times
  • Via The Paris Review, a piece on finding books "by accident." Piece starts out a little stuffy when the author goes over some old literary serious book she found and stakes her claim that "I never go all the way and read real mass-market crap" (which is the kind of somewhat snobbish attitude The Paris Review often offers), but it then warms up when it talks about the experience in general of finding those books by accident in places like used bookstores  or thrift shops. So, literary or "mass-market crap" or anything else, any readers here have any happy book finds, books found by accident? The comments are open.
  • At Cooking With Ideas, the question of whether to use a cookbook or use Google to find your recipes  is the way to go. And what about cooking magazines?
  • Via Signature, a small list of 5 charming southern bookstores
  • I knew it: book clubs are just excuses for schmoozing and boozing it up, even in the 1700s. Via Atlas Obscura
  • This came out a while ago, but I thought it  was of interest. It is an article out of The New York Times on college summer reading books. You know, those books some of us hate that colleges make their incoming students read every year for a "bonding experience" and are more than likely soon forgotten by said students. Here is another similar article on the same topic, this time via Inside Higher Ed.
  • Dangerous Minds featured piece looking at old PAN paperbacks.

Booknote: Grocery

Michael Ruhlman, Grocery: the Buying and Selling of Food in America. New York, NY: Abrams Press, 2017.  ISBN: 978-1-4197-2386-5.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, food, business, history
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

This book features some history of grocery stores in the United States, but that is not the main focus. The book looks more at American food buying and how those habits have changed over time, especially since the time of Ruhlman's father, who enjoyed grocery shopping. In addition, in order to look more closely at grocery operations, the author focuses on Heinen's, an Ohio-based Midwestern midsize grocery  chain.

For the most part, it is an interesting book. I found the historical passages interesting, and I wished there were some more of those. The book is more a bit of memoir, social study, and a look at Heinen's. In fact, the author may have spent a bit too much time at Heinen's. After a while, the book feels more like an extended infomercial for the grocery chain, and that takes away from the book's overall narrative and content.

Another interesting element is discussion of some of the "tricks" grocers may do. For instance, having the milk all the way in the back. Folks, including grocery experts, claim it is to make you go through the grocery store, hoping you buy other things you may not need. Grocers like Heinen's claim that the refrigerators and freezers are along the back wall where they can be plugged in and stocked easier. OK, but do note how some stores recently do put some milk in smaller units in the front for customer convenience. Given that grocers like Heinen's claim they are highly responsive to customer desire (that can be debated some other time), it seems enough annoyed people got other stores to stock some milk where you can get it, pay and leave.

Staying with the theme, when grocers like Heinen's and others are asked about why they sell food that may or not be as good for you, they say it is because the customer wants it. It may be their honest answer, but I find it a bit flippant and easy. If customers started asking for arsenic-laced cookies, I am sure they would refuse to sell them (although that is more likely due to a fear of lawsuits than any morals). The point is when an author asks why food retailers get so much more scrutiny than other retailers, the answer is clear: they sell food, something essential that is not really optional. So yes, scrutinizing our food supply is crucial. In fact, we do not do enough of that.

Overall, I liked the book, but I felt it could have been more than what it was. If you are looking for a straight up history of groceries and grocery stores, this is not it. It does work well as a memoir and a look at groceries in the later part of the 20th century into today.

3 out of 5 stars.

* * * * * 
Additional reading notes:

Why grocery stores and supermarkets are significant:

"Because they are a reflection, even symbol, of our culture, and thus a gauge of who we are, supermarkets illuminate what we care about, what we fear, what we desire. They offer a view of our demographic makeup, including how  much money we have and how big the country is, not to mention how much it is changing" (2). 

A big event from 1988 mentioned in the book and that I recall: Walmart gets into the food business, and it opens its first Walmart Supercenter.

The book does feature footnotes throughout and a selected bibliography at the end of the book. From that bibliography, the following books are ones I may consider reading down the road. Book links go to WorldCat:

* * * * * 

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 13, 2017

Booknote: Blitzed

Norman Ohler, Blitzed: Drugs in the Third Reich. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2017.  ISBN: 9781328663795. 

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: history
Format: hardback
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

The full title of the book made it sound more interesting than it actually is. The book is arranged broadly in three parts:a period before the Second World War, a close look at German armed forces and also a close look at Adolf Hitler, and the end of the war when it all falls apart. This was a time when pharmaceutical industries  were rising. The book provides a look at the role and influence of drugs, mainly prescribed meth in  the form of  drugs like Pervitin, had on the German armed forces and on Hitler.

In the early half of the 20th century, many drugs like opiates we consider or rate as illegal were commonly available, easily found in drug stores, and casually prescribed if they needed prescription. Companies like Merck were rising on the way to become the big pharma players of today. The book does provide a nice picture of the pharma industry in the early half of the 20th century. There was an  interest then in performance enhancing drugs for workers and the military. That is where drugs like Pervitin came in. Soon military leaders made sure the German armed forces were well supplied with these drugs. Such drugs enabled the soldiers to work longer, fight longer, and be more aggressive and eager about it. Just one detail: not everyone was sure about possible side effects.

The book then spends a significant amount of space with Hitler and Dr. Morrell, his personal physician. Though the Nazis preached ideals of health and clean living, reality was way different. Drug use was rampant; often it was the one thing that kept the soldiers fighting. As for Hitler, his drug use worsened as he needed drugs to keep carrying out his evil agenda.

Overall, it is an interesting book in parts, but it can get repetitive at times. For me, the best parts were the broad looks at society and the pharmaceutical industry. Other parts were a bit of a drag to read. In the end, the book provides a look at the Third Reich from a perspective seldom explored, so there is the value. It was OK for me in the end.

2 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, October 06, 2017

Booknote: Mincemeat

Leonardo Lucarelli, Mincemeat: the Education of an Italian Chef. New York: Other Press, 2016.  ISBN: 978-1590517918.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: memoir, chefs, cooking
Format: hardcover
Source: Berea branch of the Madison County (KY) Public Library

I recently finished reading this. . . barely. The author has been compared to Anthony Bourdain, which is part of why I picked up this book. Let me warn you not to be fooled. Apparently, being a drug addict, a womanizer, a thief at times, and often an asshole can all be forgiven if you can cook decently enough.

Bourdain and Lucarelli can both be dicks, but I do not recall Bourdain actively stealing from places he worked at. Also, Bourdain after a while learns some humility, albeit the hard way, and he displays a degree of  humanity that you will not see in Lucarelli's book. Lucarelli makes bad choice after bad choice, barely redeeming himself because he has the ability to cook. Other than that, there just isn't much substance to this book, at least until he settles down a bit to teach and consult, but by then the book is over, and you could not care less about the guy.

This seems to be a trend in chef memoirs: it does not matter how big of an asshole or poor human being you are, as long as you can cook fancy food, you can get away with it if there are people willing to pay for it. Very few can do it well, and Lucarelli is not one of them. You get tired of his antics, and the asshole schtick wears out pretty fast. The book is jut not really compelling. This is a book to skip.

1 out of 5 stars.

This book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, September 29, 2017

Signs the economy is bad: September 29, 2017

Welcome to another edition of "Signs the Economy is Bad" here at The Itinerant Librarian. This is the semi-regular (as in when I have time and/or feel like doing it) feature where I scour the Internet in search of the oh so subtle hints that the economy is bad. Sure, pundits may say things are getting better, but what do they know? And to show not all is bad, once in a while we look at how good the uber rich have it.

 I was going to take a short break from doing this feature, mostly because I am trying to keep my mental sanity. But much like Michael Corleone, "just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in." A lot fuckery and many signs that the economy is bad have emerged this week, so here we are for at least one more installment.

  • That racist troll asshole Milo Whatshisname was going to be part of some bigots' hate fest free speech rally at Berkeley recently. The organizers cancelled the event, but he decided to show up anyhow. Being the firebrand (sorry for the euphemism) he is, the campus had to have additional security, and for the 15 minutes he was there, he left a cost of $800,000. $800K for a campus experiencing budget cuts overall in the bad economy. The cost of "free speech." Story via Al Jazeera
  • A new study is out confirming what many of us already know: yes, corporate money does influence politics. Learn more from this story via In These Times. A link to the actual study is included. Once more I am reminded of George Carlin speaking on the "real owners." 
  • While some people are whining over football players protesting racial inequality, game fans in New England had another issue to complain about: the stadium ran out of bottled water and began charging $5 bucks for tap water (yes, for the stuff that should be free). Story via The Lexington Herald Leader
  • In news of the stupid, Rapper B.o.B. believes the Earth is flat. Now, that is not the stupidest thing. That would be the fund raiser he has going to fund a satellite to launch into space in an attempt to prove his laughable ignorant stupidity. Want even more stupid? He has a few other "celebrities" who support his belief. Story via The Lexington Herald Leader
  • In new opportunities, you can now get a degree in Marijuana Studies (it is actually in medicinal plant chemistry, but you get the idea). Story via Big Think.  
  • The plight of exploited adjunct professors is in the spotlight again as new revelations show many are so poor and vulnerable they sleep in their cars and even turn to sex work to make ends meet. Story via Alternet.
  • Meanwhile, in Stony Brook, New York it seems they are balancing the university budget by cutting back tenure lines and laying off tenure line professors in humanities. Meanwhile, they are adding tenure track folks in STEM. You know, that whole do what the market tells you to do thing. Story via Inside Higher Ed. I bet these people would get along with Kentucky governor Matt Bevin just fine. 
  • Meanwhile, rural students are the least likely in the United States to go to college. Story via The Rural Blog
  • Meanwhile, textbook prices often mean poor grades for those who cannot afford them. Story via Inside Higher Ed.
  • I have often said in half jest that librarianship, especially reference work, is a lot like being a confessor. However, I did not mean I wanted to take poverty vows, as the Annoyed Librarian suggests that our profession seems to advocate. 
  • Here is more proof that women often get the short end of the stick in the bad economy. Turns out even parents are sexist as they tend to save more for college for a son versus for a daughter. Story via Inside Higher Ed
  • And what can we blame Millennials for this week? Actually, this week it is more how badly screwed Millennials are. The next hot trend for them is seasonal work in exploitative warehouses like those owned by Amazon. Story via VICE
  • Plus, as if things were not bad enough, finding decent coffee may get more difficult over time. Story via VICE
Meanwhile, let's see how the uber rich have been doing:

  • American seniors are getting healthier and richer while they leave the poor behind. Story via The Conversation
  • Ever wonder how Walmart makes money by pricing things like milk and eggs at very cheap prices? This small video explains it. Via
  • The asshole CEO of Equifax recently resigned after it was revealed his company was hacked and made a ton of people suddenly vulnerable in terms of credit and finances. Naturally, because this is the United States, he not only was allowed to resign instead of going to prison like any other racketeer would, but he also left with a $90 million dollars golden parachute. Story via Boing Boing
  • Apple is releasing the new iPhone X, and it is apparently a bit steep in price at close to $1,000. Apple's Tim Cook has an answer to people concerned about the price. Shut up and stop whining. Story via  Mashable.

Reading about the reading life: September 29, 2017 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 has been a while since I have posted in this series, but the bad economy has kept me a bit busy in terms of blogging. The big news this week was the devastation Hurricane Maria caused in the Caribbean, especially in Puerto Rico where the damage is catastrophic. So far, what little I have heard is that family is safe, but it is hard being up in the U.S. and only getting silence from the island. Meanwhile, the show must go on, and I will my best to distract a bit from the news of the week and look at some lighter fare.

  • Via Working Knowledge, a profile of pencil maker Faber-Castell. There is a podcast you can listen to, or you can read the transcript. Learn a bit how they keep innovating on something that seems so plain and basic as pencils. 
  • So do you think you could stop Hitler from rising to power? Or if you are a fascist, do you think you can get him into power without liberals realizing it until it is too late? Secret Hitler is a new board game that simulates such questions. The game is part of a tradition of games where players try to identify a "traitor" in their midst. Story via The New York Times. "
  • B.D. McClay at The Week reflects on authors that get labeled as "forgotten." They may or not really be forgotten, but apparently if you have a so-so author, label them "forgotten to get them some attention. Personally, I think there is a reason some authors do get forgotten, and they should probably stay that way. 
  • Find out what happens when someone opens a bookstore that only features people of color authors. Story via Good.Is.
  • Meanwhile, in Kingston, New York they are opening a bookstore that also sells craft brews. So you can buy a book and get a beer. Story via Daily Freeman.
  • In some entertainment news, Maury Povich recently stated that he sees his paternity test shows as Shakespearean dramas. He says, "there is love. There is lust. There is betrayal. There is conflict." On that basis, I do not think he is far from the truth. Story via VICE. Let me tell you what he should do next, in my humble opinion. You know those white supremacists bigots who take DNA tests in hopes of proving how white and pure they are (only to find out they are not). Do those DNA tests on the show. "Cletus, you claim to be 100% white. The DNA test revealed that is a lie!" That's good drama that would make The Bard proud. 
  • The bad economy is a problem for you? You want to read, but your book budget is tight or nonexistent? Book Riot offers you some ideas on how to be a book lover on a budget.
  • In some encouraging news, 8 out of 10 adults still see libraries as credible sources of information. Story via Signature.
  • Also via Signature, John Hennessey discusses writing graphic novels and teaching history with  them. 
  • Meanwhile, it is getting harder for writers of political thriller fiction to ply their trade because the Pendejo In Chief keeps upstaging them in real life. Story via Vox
  • Here is a little book humor for my Spanish language friends, 5 habits that show you are a book addict. Via Lecturalia.
  • And finally for this week, Hillary Clinton's book had a great debut in terms of sales. Story also via Vox.

Booknote: Two cute board books

Jennifer Adams,, Emma: an Emotions Primer. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2015.  ISBN: 978-1-4236-4023-3.

Jennifer Adams,, Treasure Island: a Shapes Primer. Layton, UT: Gibbs Smith, 2015. ISBN: 978-1-4236-4020-2.

Genre: children's books
Subgenre: board books, educational, classic literature
Format: board books
Source: Won contest giveaway offered by publisher

I recently took a look and read these two board books from the publisher. It is a cute pair of children's board books that I won in a contest a while back.

The Emma book is "an emotions primer." It uses characters from the classic novel to illustrate basic emotions like excited, surprised, angry, and amused. The art is cute, simple, and very colorful using solid colors.

The Treasure Island book is a "shapes primer." It uses characters and locations from the classic novel to teach children about shapes like squares, stars, ovals, and
diamonds. Like the other book, it has nice art.

Both books are nice, simple, and bright. They are cute items to start your kids reading early and give them a bit of classic literature in the process.

4 out of 5 stars.

These books qualify for the following 2017 Reading Challenges:

Friday, September 22, 2017

Booknote: The Fountain Tarot (Guidebook)

Jason Gruhl, The Fountain Tarot (guidebook). Boulder, CO: Roost Books, 2017. ISBN: 9781611805482. 

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

This is going to be a short review since the publisher did not provide much. While I was not expecting a copy of the deck or such, I was hoping for a bit more than what is in essence a "little white book." So this review will be short.

This is pretty much the guidebook that the publisher includes with the deck. Upon reading it, I was not terribly impressed. The book looks like any other Tarot guidebook I have read, and the meanings are fairly basic and conventional. In other words, I fail to see from the book how this deck and/or its guidebook would distinguish itself from other decks out there or their guidebook. Since they only provided the book via NetGalley without any art or illustrations to go by, I cannot judge anything other than the text provided, and on that basis, I simply cannot recommend this book.

I will note that I have seen images of the deck, and they look pretty good. But as I noted, the only artifact provided was an electronic copy of the guidebook's text, and to be honest, it is pretty lackluster.

1 out of 5 stars.

Booknote: Television Series of the 1960s

Vincent Terrace, Television Series of the 1960s: Essential Facts and Quirky Details. Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016. ISBN: 978-1-4422-6834-0.

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

This is a reference book about trivia of 1960s television shows. If you watched TV during this decade, or like me caught the reruns in syndication later, you'll remember these were some of the most loved and popular shows of American television. They were so popular that they keep providing fodder for remakes and movie adaptations, often with  bad results. There is something to be said for not messing with classics.

The book is arranged as follows:

  • Short introduction where the author describes how the book was put together. 
  • 82 individual entries arranged alphabetically. 
  • An index that is basically actor's names. There is also an additional thematic index, which may be more valuable. 
As the author states, this book does not have essays or opinions. It is just a collection of facts and trivia about the shows. The book covers programs that premiered from January 1, 1960 to December 31, 1969. The author notes that shows that premiered in the 1950s and were still running in first run in the 1960s are not included. Some examples of shows not included are Bonanza, The Donna Reed Show, Gunsmoke, Perry Mason, and Zorro. The author focuses on really trivial facts, not so much things you could find in places like You get things like street addresses, names of pets, and other details that other sources often miss. A fascinating thing for me is show producers, intentionally or not, could be very inconsistent. Street addresses and car license plates often change without reason, sometimes even in midseason.

So how did the author compile all this? He acquired and watched every available episode of each show. And not every show is featured in the book; it depends on what information is available. A show like Dr. Kildare, very popular in its time, is not included in the book because there  is not enough available material to make an entry. In the end, the book is a selective compilation that often documents details not found elsewhere.

This is a book to browse at your leisure. For shows I knew, it was nice to go down memory lane and recall details. I also learned about some shows I did not know before. Entries are pretty basic, just the facts. There are a few black and white photos, but overall the book is minimally illustrated. For television buffs, this may be a good option. I'd say public libraries may wish to consider it. Academic libraries with strong pop culture programs may see it as an optional selection.

In the end, I liked it.

3 out of 5 stars

This  book qualifies for the following 2017 Reading Challenges: