Friday, March 16, 2018

Best books I read in 2017

The best books I read in 2017. (They do not have to be published/released in 2017. I just have to have read them) 

I have wanted to post this list for a while, but time and life tend to get in the way. This is a list  of what I consider the best books I read in 2017. These books may or not have been published in 2017. They are books I read last year that I rated highly, and I think folks out there may want to consider reading as well. Links go to my reviews of the books.

Thrawn (Star Wars). Grand Admiral Thrawn is one of the very popular non-canonical (as in not in the movies. . . yet) characters in Star Wars. This is his origin story, and it is a great read.

LEGO Star Wars: Small Scenes from a Big Galaxy. A photographer takes Star Wars LEGO figures and toys and puts them in new, often amusing poses, then takes pictures of them. If you like LEGOs, and/or photography, this is a fun book to look at.

Live Through This. Clay Cane's memoir of growing up as a gay black man in the U.S. touching on society, culture, religion, race, among other topics. Very moving book.

Tears We Cannot Stop. This is Michael Eric Dyson's "Sermon to White America," and boy do white Americans need to read this and take it to heart.

Kitchen Table Tarot. Another great Tarot book. I liked its casual style and home style approach.

Ghostland. A great book about haunted places in the United States and how people experience the haunted and paranormal. You get a bit of culture, history, and trivia in this book.

Bringing the Tarot to Life. This book combines theater and writing prompts with Tarot for an interesting experience in reading and working with the cards.

The Marseille Tarot Revealed. For learning Marseilles-style Tarot, this is a very good book. I have received as gifts two Marseilles decks. They are not my preference (I do not tend to like pip-only decks), but they were special gifts, so I am determined to learn the system, and this book is a good option for that.

The Thousand Dollar Dinner. This book was one of the good reading pleasures I got in 2017. Before cooking competitions and celebrity chefs became television and media staples, we had this event.

Friday, March 09, 2018

Media Notes: Roundup for February 2018

These are the movies and series on DVD I watched during February 2018.

Movies and films:

  • Assassin's Creed (2016). This is an adaptation of the video game series. Parts of it look good, but it is a seriously bad, overdone clusterfuck of a plot. Callum Lynch is a direct descendant of Aguilar, an assassin from the 15th century part of an order in conflict with the Templars, who are the tyrannical villains. Advanced technology allows him to tap the memories of his past and become an assassin in modern times to take on the Templars and find a key artifact (the Apple of Eden) that the Templars want to use to destroy free will. It is as ridiculous as it sounds; when they do find the artifact, it is even more ridiculous. An effing librarian could have probably done it. If this film had maybe stayed in the 15th century and made some kind of adventure, it might have worked but the back and forth was messy. The plot was slow and a drag, even the fight scenes were slow.  I can see why this was not successful overall with poor reviews. Even hardcore fans of the game will be disappointed in this mess. 
  • Dunkirk (2017). I wanted to like this movie more, but it was just a seriously slow piece. While I appreciate the various perspectives, it was just a slow movie to watch. Honestly, I do not see what critics out there see when they rave about it because this movie just lacked anything to really draw viewers in. You are better off just reading a book about Dunkirk if you want the dramatic and compelling story. This event was one of the British people's finest hours, but you do not get that sense here. Overall, an underwhelming and forgettable film. I am definitely glad I did not spend money to watch this in a movie theater. 
  • The Midnight Horror Collection: Road Trip to Hell (2010. 4 movies DVD collection). The library had this DVD, and I got curious. It is part of Echo Entertainment series of DVD collections with specific themes, such as road trips for this one. I looked and there are other collections for things like slashers and voodoo. Based on this selection, not quite sure if I will keep looking for others. In the end, I only watched the one movie of the set. Since that one, noted below, did not make a good impression, I returned the DVD back for now. I may or not give it a second attempt later.
    • The Craving (2008). The movie description: "A group of college students embarking on a cross country road trip to the Burning Man Festival find themselves stranded in desert. Come nightfall a vicious predatory monster comes out. . .". This movie is basically an illustration of all the stupid shit horny college students can possibly do in a horror film to get themselves killed by whatever creature/threat/danger of the moment is out there to get them in the middle of nowhere. Traveling in the desert? Check. Getting lost when they get off the main highway? Check. Lacking ability to do basic things like read a map? Check. Creepy dude in a shack in the middle of nowhere who it turns out lures victims for the creature? Check. And why does he do it? To get a high off the creature's smell of all things. Slow pacing. Some teasing sex scenes early but nothing to write home about, and overall fairly boring film where nothing really happens until about 50 minutes into the hour and 30 minutes film. The ending was not surprising neither (the movie pretty much telegraphed it). Overall, you can skip this one.

Television and other series:

  • Inspector Lewis (Pilot through Series 6, 2005-2009; Amazon link for reference). This is the spin-off of the Inspector Morse series.  After Morse's death at the end of that series, Lewis continues on as a detective. He now has a promotion to inspector, but life is not easy for him, and crime never rests in Oxford. He has a new partner, Detective Sergeant Hathaway. This month I managed to watch the first half of the set, which goes up to the middle of Series 3. Some brief comments on some of the episodes:
    • The Series Pilot episode sets the series. Seems the authors wanted to throw every tragedy they could on Lewis. Not only did Morse die, but it turns out Lewis' wife dies from a hit and run, so he is a widower now (and let's bet we find out who the killer was later in the series kind of thing). He returns to Oxford after a two-years leave working training cops in the British Virgin Islands. And right away, he is thrown into a case. Meanwhile, his new boss would rather he take a job teaching young cops, but Lewis for now is having none of that. 
    • Whom the Gods Would Destroy. A tale of murder involving four college buddies who form a secret society around the Greek god Dionysus. When they start being killed one at a time, it falls to Lewis and Hathaway to find out why. I enjoyed all the Greek myth references, and I admit it had me going since the culprit turned out to be someone I did not expect right away. A good episode overall. 
    • Music To Die For. This was a trip back in time to the 1980s and the Cold War as what seems a lover's triangle turns into a tale of East Germany and Stasi informants. It was interesting and nicely set up. We also get quite a bit of Wagner's music.

Friday, March 02, 2018

Booknote: Librarians With Spines

Yago S. Cura and Max Macias, Librarians with Spines: Information Agitators in an Age of Stagnation. Los Angeles, CA: HINCHAS Press, 2016. ISBN: 9780984539888.

Genre: nonfiction
Subgenre: library and information science (LIS), essays, activism, librarianship
Format: paperback
Source: print copy from editors provided in exchange for honest review 

This book is a collection of essays from librarians doing a variety of things in the field. We get a look at activities and voices that we rarely see or hear within the "polite" circles of librarianship. This  is a book that more librarians need to be reading so they can break out of the usual milquetoast practice and perhaps even free themselves of the illusion that our profession is neutral, an illusion that can be particularly dangerous in these "Hard Times."

The book is arranged as follows:

  • A short preface
  • Two short introductions by the book's editors
  • Nine essays
  • A short conclusion
  • A list of the references from the essays
Editor Yago S. Cura notes in his introduction that this book was a private endeavor. The editors used donated money to fund its publication and published it as  "private information professional citizens" (vii). This frees them to publish items of interest without corporate restrictions. The book also shows that there are good, radical librarians of all colors doing great work in their communities, making a difference very often one patron at a time. These are not librarians likely to get named "Movers and Shakers" or receive "major" accolades that come and go and are often nothing more than a resume line. These are stories of hard working librarians in the field doing some good. They do what they can very often with what little they have. They are the kind of librarian I aspire to be.

The book covers a good variety of topics ranging from LIS education to youth services to graphic  novels and zines. Personally, I found the essay by Mary Rayme on prison librarianship interesting largely because I see little on that topic in the library literature; she also does a good job to demystify the work a prison librarian does, and she humanizes her patrons as well. In terms of style and presentation, the essays vary from informal to academic. Essays mainly look at librarians in their work, but we also get a look at LIS education as well as a look at our professional organizations. When you put it together, for a small book as this, the editors cast a very wide net in their quest to show the many colors and diversity in librarianship. In doing so, the editors challenge us to ask ourselves: who do we serve? who are we really working for? why do we become and continue to be librarians?

Overall, library schools need to buy copies to hand out to their incoming students. Just like some colleges do that "freshman common reading" thing, maybe this book becomes a common reading for incoming library school students. In a time when much of library literature is just pretentious, overwrought, often too theoretical, and  barely read, and mostly colorless, the editors here offer a solid collection representing librarians of colors presenting their work, showcasing what works or not in an accessible way. I am glad to have read it, and I highly recommend it.

5 out of 5 stars

* * * * * 

Additional reading notes. I took a lot of notes while reading this book. I am not including them all here in order to keep this blog post at a manageable level. As always, the review part is already done. You can stop or keep reading as you wish:

Why the editors published the book:

"Max Macias and I are primarily publishing this book to highlight the thoughtful, innovative work so many radical librarians are doing across the country. You know who you are. We see the work you concoct, day in-day  out, at your information laboratories" (vi). 

They also published it to remind us all why we really do what we do. They also define what is a librarian with a spine:

"A librarian with  a spine is a resourceful, buoyant information professional that feels an obligation to the community they serve and, so, they act with that community's best interests in mind when they create programs, events, and initiatives" (viii). 

Anthony Bishop on the issue of diversity at library conferences. This is something I have certainly witnessed and experienced. This is especially applicable at so-called "diversity" conferences:

"I find the same types of librarians attend these conferences: low-level librarians with little or not authority to affect change and in turn the conferences become large venting sessions where great ideas are discussed but no real action can come out of it" (14). 

Bishop goes on to point out that he has no fear of reprisal in being brave, but we have to be honest, realistic, and sympathetic to those who fear job loss or other reprisal if they speak up. Librarianship is a very small world, and if you get labeled as a "trouble maker" (or as having as "bad attitude" if you speak up a bit too "aggressively" to the powers that be), retaining and/or keeping employment can be an issue. I am personally in a bit of a better situation now (though perhaps not by much), but I have been in the boat of "you can speak up and be all activist" or you can stay employed and put food on the table. I tend to like not starving, and so does the family I provide for. The point is that as idealistic as many want to be, risk can be very real, and those of us who can need to speak and act for those who cannot, and we need to work for the day when we can all do and speak what is right freely.

A reminder from Lopez and Winslow:

"Librarians of color have an obligation to mentor young librarians early and often" (78). 

And as tiring as it can get, we have to mentor cross-racially as well.

A simple definition of "critlib":

"Critlib, or critical librarianship, is the discussion and application of social justice in the library field" (Branum quoted  in 84). 

Critlib does need to include library managers, and those managers do have to be willing to stick their necks out. Personally, if there is one lesson I learned from library managers in my life, especially the bad ones, is that you need to be ready and willing to "take the bullet" for your subordinates if need be. Your job is to make sure they can do best job they can, support them to the best of your ability and provide them the resources they need, and stay the hell out of the way so they can do the work. And when higher ups somehow try to muck things up, as they often do, your job as manager is to run interference and keep those mucking higher ups out of the way. You step in, and you do not simply expect those with the most to lose to do all the work.

In this regard, as supervisor, I am often guided by this quote attributed to General George S. Patton, Jr. of all people:  

"Never tell people how to do things. Tell them what to do and they will surprise you with their ingenuity."
Then again, one of my personal mantras is also attributed to General Patton (which I think more librarians with spines need to use too):

"We herd sheep, we drive cattle, we lead people. Lead me, follow me, or get out of my way."

Finally for these notes, why neutrality is not an option for decent librarians:

"The act of neutrality is the act of siding with  the status quo and refusing to be an ally. For librarians of conscience, neutrality is not an option" (Branum quoted in 91).