Friday, July 31, 2009

Jacket Blurbs: 7-31-09


Nude & Tattooed Librarian Calendar

It's that time of year again: racks of calendars are soon to be populated with the 2010s, which brings on the nude fundraiser calendars! Last year, the male friends of the Barre library bared all for a calendar, so you can sure bet there's some library-friendly partial nudity to put on the wall next year, too.

This time, it's statewide: the Texas Library Association is producing a semi-nude calendar of their members. Not only is there the promise of exposed skin, but the calendar specifically focuses on The Tattooed Ladies of the TLA. Unless the skin is inked, you won't be seeing it. The funds raised from the calendar sales ($20 at their online store), go to support the TLA's disaster relief fund. In fact, like Barre, the TLA's last naughty calendar featured the men of Texas libraries. Who knew that PG-13 nudity and libraries went together so well?

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

Acquisitions: Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual

I hope nobody took this seriously, but there's little chance it ever passed as a serious book. Phyllis Diller — who, surprisingly, is still alive & kicking — compiled a bunch of her stand-up punchlines into this book in 1967, at the height of her career. Phyllis Diller's Marriage Manual comes with the tagline on the back: "If the last time you smiled was for your wedding photo, this is the book for you." This is for the Wifey's feminism collection: Diller was an early comedienne of the feminine style, and her wife-sympathetic humor has probably driven much of the lazy-lout image of men these days. In flipping through the book, there's a lot of illustrations, done in a style that I initially thought was Gahan Wilson, but is credited to Susan Perl. Maybe if I ever feel the need for a marriage manual, I might have to finally read this; it might not help, but it'll probably make me laugh.

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Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Romance Writers of America

Romance novels are serious business, and the weekend before last was the 29th annual Romance Writers of America Conference. Largely attended by women aficionados of the genre, the event had meeting and seminars on how to be at the top of their game. The mainstream media covered the event somewhat, with a high-profile article in the Washington Post, a Nora Roberts interview by Scott Simon on NPR, and a short writeup in Publisher's Weekly. While it appears the attention is welcome, from a genre who is often a punchline, and there's some sour grapes over being treated like a joke by the media. The Post came across as stereotype-enhancing and an unfunny attempt as humor. The NPR story got his negative reaction on the air: Simon tried his hand at romance, but ended up sounding mockingly cheeky, and got called on it. I hope none of them saw The GeekDad's "ten reasons romance writers are geeky, too"; having their idiosyncrasies pointed out doesn't seem to please the romance author.

(Image found here)

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Monday, July 27, 2009

Review: Uncommon Carriers

John McFee gets around, but not nearly as much as the subject of his book. Between the two covers of Uncommon Carriers, McFee crosses the country on trains, trucks, boats, and — except for fear of customs officials — probably would have UPS'ed himself if he had a big enough box for it.

Uncommon Carriers is a mish-mosh of essays, a series of nearly unrelated gonzo-journalism, in which McPhee rides along with a commercial shipper of one kind or another. Each method is a common one: nearly everyone has passed a mirror-bodied tanker truck on the freeway, or stopped for a mile-long train of coal-filled hoppers to cross the road. The only common thread between the stories, save for one Thoreau-themed canoe trip, is the transport of freight in our country. In fact, as far as commercialism goes, these stories are heavily American. The product moved starts as raw material at one point, and ends up a final product at another. McFee's adventures cover the ground in between.

Being a book of scattershot transportation articles does mean a degree of unevenness between the sections. The copyright page says that much of the book originally appeared in The New Yorker and The Atlantic Monthly, which explains the lack of consistency. The boating parts have the strongest writing of the book; had he expanded just on the theme of river transportation, the book might have been better overall. The parts with the 18-wheeler that frame the book are probably the weakest, and the railroad sections, while interesting, spend more time on the mechanics of railroads than the human component of the train. As a work of literature, this ain't a classic, but it is excellent for a summer read, definitely a good "guy's book", full of big engines, American-made materials, just a touch of foul language, brief exposure to bare breasts, and each machine's operators fit into a "man's-man" category of their own.

Uncommon Carriers, by John McPhee
ISBN 0-374-28039-8
Published 2006, 248 pages
Published by Farrar, Straus & Giruox

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Thursday, July 23, 2009

Book-Burning In Wisconsin

It hasn't happened yet, but several residents of West Bend are inkling for a literary campfire. The presence of gay-friendly books in the library have citizens up in arms, going so far as to build and enter an anti-gay-book float in the Fourth of July parade. That faction claim the books are "explicitly vulgar, racial and anti-Christian," but the library believes that re-shelving the book based on content, rather than book type or appropriate reading age would be considered censorship. The library has also declined to shelve books that affirm heterosexuality or are written by "ex-gays," which I think would be a reasonable concession, but — given the general tone of those books — it's likely the library is unable to find any books of reliable quality that fit the religious resident's requirements and fulfill the library's purpose of serving the community. Happily, free speech does have some advocacy in the community, which is probably why the library hasn't been forced to rescind their stance as of yet.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Acquisitions: Tangerine

I picked this up at a church rummage sale where there were selling everything for $5 a bag, so everything remotely intriguing got tossed in the sack. I had hoped one of the kids would be interested in it, but everyone had wrinkled their nose at the book — so I'll probably read it myself. Tangerine, by Edward Bloor, is a lite gothic horror for kids, about a legally blind boy whose family moves to an unusual new town where reality is almost inverted, causing mystery-solving revelations. The book originally came out in 1997, and I'm rather surprised I haven't heard of it: it won several awards and is ranked highly on Amazon. Maybe the kids don't know what they're missing out on.

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Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Blender No More

Yesterday morning, upon retrieving the mail, I found a Maxim in my mailbox. On it was this sticker, which read:
Welcome to Maxim!
This note is to inform you that Blender has ceased publishing with the April 2009 issue. The balance of your paid subscription will be fulfilled with Maxim. If you are already a subscriber of Maxim, the balance of your Blender subscription will be added to your Maxim subscription.
I had missed this when it hit the news this spring; it wasn't a surprise. Blender had noticeably succumbed to magazine anorexia, the shrinking page-count of a publication on its way out. I'm a subscriber to both Blender and Maxim thanks to, so there would have been no real loss if Blender stopped arriving (in fact, I hadn't noticed that the May through July issues were even missing), which is probably a further clue to Blender's relevance. Maxim isn't a great magazine either, but I tend to find something worth reading in it more than I did in Blender. I shouldn't get too attached, though: others have noticed symptoms of magazine anorexia in Maxim, too, so the clues are leading to an internet-only Maxim in the near future. Stuff magazine was the first casualty in 2007, but it was repeated content with Maxim for the most part; they, too, were rolled over into the Maxim subscriber's list (frankly, I liked Stuff better). If the magazines are being condensed into one better-quality publication, it might help...but, flipping through this new erstaz-Blender issue of Maxim, it doesn't look like the loss of one title resulted in extra effort in the sister publication.

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Monday, July 20, 2009

Classics No More

The Second Pass has done something drastic: they have picked out several "classics," and decided that they're really not worth all that they're built up to be. Ballsy, but often necessary; as times chance, contexts move, and (from what I remember; I've only read a couple on the list), many of those books strike emotional chords with readers at the time, taking broad strokes at society and humanity in charged prose, but that won't give them lasting power. I could never imagine Kerouac continuing to have the resonance he's enjoyed for much longer; his stuff is so rooted in the time of the 50s and 60s, it was bound to lose relevance as time moved on. Via.

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The Book Seer

The Book Seer thinks it's pretty smart: tell it the last book title you've read, along with the author, and it will let you know some reasonably similar titles to pick for your next foray into literary entertainment. Overall, it does a pretty good job of what it claims to accomplish, and the interface is fun. Don't expect to get recommendations based on recent books, or small-press titles, though: the last few books I've read were new releases, and haven't been in the system long enough for connections to grow. The Book Seer doesn't come up with recommendations on its own; the site is essentially a cool interface to pull data from three book-related websites:, LibraryThing, and BookArmy. The LibraryThing recommendations, at least for the books I queried, were the most thorough and relevant. Amazon's were OK, but fewer relevant ones by my measure. Sadly, I don't think BookArmy gave a single recommendation for anything I entered. Try it out for fun, but I don't think it'll become a need-fulfilling go-to website for book lovers.

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Friday, July 17, 2009

Acquisitions: Caught In The Act

No, I wasn't the one caught: the book is called Caught In The Act: The Photographer in Contemporary Fiction. Despite the "photographer" in the extended title, there's very few pictures in this book, just one at the start of each chapter. The cover makes the book look like it's a series of mysteries, but it's not exactly that, either. This collection of short stories focuses on main characters who are photographers: paparazzi, portraitists, and, yes, it sounds like there's a crime scene photographer somewhere in there. At around 150 pages, it won't be a long read, but it looks interesting, mostly as a collection with an unusual theme. Published in 1996, it is now out of print.

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Thursday, July 16, 2009

Bus Driver Reading While Driving

I'm never one to discouraging reading while riding the bus, but it isn't exactly recommended while you're driving. A Montgomery (MD) County bus driver has been taken off driving duties after a sharp-eyed rider recorded some reading-while-driving skills while on duty. Surprisingly, even after the photos were brought to light, the driver wasn't fired: recent changes have been made in the area which would result in immediate firing for using a mobile device while operating public transportation, but apparently a book isn't as big a threat. I do admit, because they are a series of photos and not video, it's hard to say if she's just reading at red lights…not that it would be much better. Via.

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Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Music and Literature

University of Arkansas literature professor Christian Goering was interested in incorporating music into his English classes as an "instructional and motivational tool" for his students to connect better with the books they are assigned to read. Steinbeck and Tracy Chapman, Jane Austen and Counting Crows, Harper Lee and Johnny Cash: students draw on their CD collections to identify songs that evoke the book's themes, and the two are used together to help students understand their readings. A lot of musicians derive their songs from literary sources — Iron Maiden's Rime of the Ancient Mariner helped me through Senior English — so much of the list seems rather obvious, but if a student needs to get their head into a book, adding an audio component appears to be helpful according to professor Goering.

Goering asked his students to identify as many song connections as possible for the book Of Mice and Men, and the came up with a hundred connections, allowing Goering to pull six common connections that a song might have with a book:
  • A song is inspired by literature directly;
  • A song connects to a text thematically;
  • A song’s setting connects to the setting of a literary work;
  • Characters in a song mirror the characteristics in a classic work;
  • The tone of a song is similar to the tone of a piece of literature, and;
  • A song’s plot structure or narrative follows that of a literary work.
Goering's research has been included in The Essential Criticism of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, but he's been collecting more than just Mice and Men's related tunes at his LitTunes website. If you want to get to the meat of the associations and set up your iPod appropriately, the database of relationships can be found here. As a sidenote, I'm bookmarking the page about using Johnny Cash as an example for teaching writing for future reference.

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Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Acquisitions: Portrait From The Heartland

Another rummage sale book: Portraits From The Heartland. I probably would have overlooked it, except I noticed was published by the Plains Art Museum, the prominent modern art museum in the area. Sculptor Duane Hanson posthumously had an exhibition at the Plains in 2005, which I didn't visit, sadly, and the book appears to have been produced specifically for the show. The publisher is New Rivers Press, which I just learned is the university press of MSUM.

If you're unfamiliar with Hanson, he's the artist whose expertise are jarring, hyper-natural statues of average people. A few years ago, at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, a group of us encountered his 1975 sculpture, "Museum Guard." The installation was, as you see in the Flikr photo, just standing, off to the side, as a regular museum guard would. It took a good three or four minutes before we realized he was a statue — and fifteen years later, it's about the only thing I remember from that museum. Going to an entire show of his work bordered on causing heebie-jeebies, but now I wish I had gone. The book doesn't do the statues justice. In fact, the photos are too professionally done, too well lit and framed, so the non-real qualities of each piece are too emphasized. They should have been shot in low light on grainy film, and they would have shown off what makes them great art pieces.

The book's cover, in particular, has a poorly-done glossy coating which (you can kind of see in the scan above) is puckering and peeling. No big deal, though; it doesn't affect the interior, and it's for my own enjoyment, not resale. I think I paid fifty cents for it. The previous owner, however, must not have paid anything: inside the front cover is a sticker that reads, "This copy of Duane Hanson: Portraits from the Heartland compliments of the Plains Art Museum."

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The Golden Library Cart

Speaking of librarians and their duties, an ancient competition was held recently, and to the victors have gone the spoils. Librarians from Oak Park, Illinois have won the coveted Golden Book Cart. The event was held as part of the American Library Association's annual conference, which — so I'm told — is far rowdier than us mere mortals can imagine. Those librarians, boy, once they put on viking helmets, expect some pillaging to occur.

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Monday, July 13, 2009

Awful Goth Book

A few weeks ago I was at the Fargo Public Library, and saw the book to the right: it was so naiively incomplete, I had to take a few pictures. Everything You Need to Know About the Goth Scene is a tiny book full of pictures with only the slightest superficial information on Gothness, including a connection to Wicca I'd never really heard before, so I planned on panning the book here. When I got home, however, I saw Hang Fire Books had linked to the Awful Library Book blog, so I thought I'd send it to them instead and get their take on it.

The reason those librarians found the book to be awful were largely different from me. I had thought it was a book focused on parents trying to come to terms with their weird-dressing child, but their research saw the book as mostly filed under "young adult" categories, which I could see in the simple language and unassuming blandness of most of the content. It probably is better suited for kids than parents, but I found it filed in the adult shelves, so my assumption was based largely on how it appeared on the shelves than its content. A book mostly of pictures with simple language and general statements definitely is more suited for a 10-year-old than a parent — had I found this in the kid's section, I wouldn't have questioned the Everything book's uneverythingness. That brings the Awful Librarian's thoughts more into light: a librarian is often less a judge of content, more an overseer of how information is filed and presented to the potential reader.

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Friday, July 10, 2009

Reading Women Are Sexy

The view of book-loving women ranges from misogynistic to slutty to honest, and now there's an art installation that seems to pick up on those last two. Called Bookworms Never Go To Bed Alone, New Zealand artist Kelly Thompson is exhibiting her view of how hot book-reading ladies are. The gallery showing is, sadly, in Melbourne Australia at the Gorker Gallery. There's more at Kelly's site, if you have patience to get through the lame flash interface (there's a bit of NSFW).

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Thursday, July 09, 2009

The Codex Climaci Rescriptus

Last Tuesday, Sotheby's had a very, very old piece of literature for sale. The Codex Climaci Rescriptus was auctioned with an expected sale price of around £500,000 — around a million USD — but, sadly, it was not sold; Sotheby's website isn't very clear, so it could have been pulled, but more likely the Codex didn't reach the expected reserve price and the lot was skipped and may come up for sale again in the near future. I'm surprised it didn't go, because of its history, having its own Wikipedia page and being available for reading online via Google Books. It's not often that you can buy something with its own Wikipedia page, let me tell you.

The Codex is an example of one of the funnest literary terms I've heard in a while: it is a palimpsest. In ancient times, due to the difficulty in acquiring or affording parchment, old documents were reused. Being rather thick and resilient, the top layer of the parchment was literally scraped off, leaving a mostly-clean sheet to be written upon again. The process wasn't perfect, and as you see in the example above, the Codex had a very ineffective erasing. A ghost of the original text is clearly visible through the new transcription, and has been identified as portions of the New Testament. The biblical stories were scraped off, and in the 9th century A.D. the pages were flipped and re-written with a portion of the Scala Paradisi and Liber ad Pastorem. Today, those add far less to the value than the underlying older text: the Codex is better known for its Bible text than anything else.

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Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Acquisitions: The Orchid Thief

Picked this up at a rummage sale of a middle-aged, rather attractive woman. Wifey humorously chastised me for chatting the MILF up about the book while counting my quarters to purchase The Orchid Thief. The rummage-sale woman complimented it for being an approachable book on an odd obsessive subject. My only familiarity with the book is the film Adaptation, which, I understand, has little to do with the actual book itself. I normally would pass a recent, common book, but I just reviewed The Dangerous World of Butterflies over at Collector's Quest, and The Orchid Thief is mentioned several times in its media materials. Butterflies is about the seedy underbelly of butterfly collectors and poachers, and when combined with the recently-read Flight Maps, on capturing and using birds for everything from fashion to target practice, then, too, The Orchid Thief and its illicit flower collectors, rounds out a trilogy of humanity's obsession with possessing the beautiful parts of nature.

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Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Best Of The National Book Awards

Since 1950, the National Book Award has been given to those authors exhibiting excellence in American literature, but this year, in commemoration of the 60th Awards, a special award will be given. Today the National Book Foundation announced The Best of the National Book Awards Fiction award, selecting the greatest work of fiction of the past 60 years as the pinnacle of American literature today. Seventy-seven contenders have been selected by the National Book Foundation, the governing body behind the Award, and will be voted for by authors connected with the Foundation. The top six will become the 'short list' for the Best Of award, and in September the public will be polled, via their website, and the winner will be awarded in October.

There will be plenty to keep your attention in the meantime until the public vote is undertaken: the Foundation is publishing a blog with entries for each book, including a variety of information about the authors, times, and topics of these classic works of fiction. I'll be one of the people bookmarking the blog, reading about each book every day. The National Book Foundation, despite lacking an Oscars-sized media blitz, is making good use of the internet to get the word out about the award, keeping people interested, and being interested in modern literature is their honorable focus.

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Gold Mining, 1855

In 1855, a Scottish man headed to the goldfields of Ballarat during Australia's 19th century gold rush. Recently, that miner looking for his fortune brought a small fortune to an antiquarian book dealer. The miner's diary was sold to the Gold Museum for $50,000, and will be on display there. The book had already been loaned to the museum, in anticipation of financing, so there was little to wonder if the book would end up anywhere else. The Courier also offers some excerpts from the diary, for those of you curious about the daily life of a gold miner.

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Monday, July 06, 2009


Add this one to the list of classic literature I have never read: Robinson Crusoe is a book I've never opened, and I'm sure I've passed it by numerous times during my book-shopping habits. Not that it never would have appealed to me. I'd bet 10-year-old me, who enjoyed Robert Louis Stevenson and Charles Dickens, would probably have liked it a lot.

The reason it hasn't jumped out at me as a book requiring my attention may be the huge amount of artistic homage to Defoe's 18th century novel. Lost in Space, Swiss Family Robinson, Gilligan's Island: people are constantly ending up on uncivilized, ignored islands, left to fend for themselves. Men imagine each other are some form of beef-based junk food. Tom Hanks names a ball Wilson, which has become a part of American culture as the best name for a self-named friend. This continual reference to Robinson Crusoe even has its own, rather obvious and clumsy name: Robinsonade. The Germans loved the Robinsonade genre more than anyone else during the 18th century, but that doesn't mean they were necessarily good at it, according to The History of German Literature:
[Robinson Crusoe] appeared in a German translation in 1721, and elicited in Germany, as well as throughout Europe, the greatest admiration and a countless host of imitators. Between 1722 and 1755 more than forty Robinsons appeared in Germany, and were read with frantic eagerness. There were the German Robinson, the Italian Robinson, the clerical ditto; the Saxon, the Silesian, the Franconian Robinson; two Westphalian Robinsons at once; the moral, the medicinal, the invisible Robinson; and even the Bohemian Robinson. Then there was the European Robinsonetta: "Miss Robinson, or the cunning young maid;" "Robunse, with her daughter, Robinschen," and so forth. The books are generally worse than the titles.
We Americans lay claim to a genre called "Westerns" that is just about as full of waste as the German Robinsonade genre, so I can't complain too much. Even as a genre, "western" tosses a wider net , in terms of geography and characters, than the "robinson-crusoe" genre. A Robinsonade needs a main character, a one-way mode of transportation, and a civilization-free destination — the rest tends to lean on the level on ingenuity the character has, on on what aspects of civilization they can do without. For as narrow that view is, we've seen a couple hundred years of revamping and re-processing that same story in a myriad of styles, covering wide-ranging genres from contemporary fiction to sci-fi. To see more, the University of Florida's Digital Collections has a whole section on the Robinsonade genre.

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Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Acquisitions: Speer Ammunition Manual

While rummaging this past weekend, we happened across a little bundle of hand-reloading resources. The rummage sale was rife with western novels, a few WWII novels, and the host looked like he had rode more than his share of motorcycles in his life, so it isn't a large leap to figure he made good use of these books during his hobby time. I have no interest in hunting, and only a passing interest in gunplay (I had fun skeet shooting once), so these books aren't for me. Although, the detailed mechanics therein do appeal to the geek in me: who knew bullets were so complex? No, I can't talk myself into keeping yet another book of statistics of no use to me: each one is for sale over at

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