Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Witty's Year End Book Review 2008

So what if I'm not a librarian anymore! I still read dammit!

Just as a reminder, this isn't a list of new books that came out from 2008 or 2007, these are simply the best books I've read this year.

Best Fiction Book
Every so often I go back and read a title I've passed by before, which is where Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett comes in. Part of his expansive Discworld series, it's a bit of a stand-alone book as it's not fully part of any sub-series like the Weird Sisters or the tales set in Anhk Morpork (although cameos abound). A relatively serious work (okay, there's still jokes and puns aplenty), the novel details the struggles of a young man selected by a Large God of Discworld (one of many) named Om whose followers are losing so much faith in Him that he's been reduced to the form of a turtle. Struggling to re-establish true faith across the land, the boy and his Turtle-god discover that Om's religion has become oppressive and more obsessed with ritual and routine, and the land ripe for war. Serious questions - admist the wordplay - about faith abound, especially when Pratchett reveals at the end the fate of believers - true and fake - in the Discworld afterlife. It's a more serious work than others in Pratchett's 'Verse, but I consider it a good introduction to the place moreso than any of the serial novels. It also contains a fave quote: One day a tortoise will learn how to fly...

Best Non-Fiction Book
No Plot? No Problem! by Chris Baty.
I grabbed this off the Pasco library shelves more than once. Mostly because it's a survival guide for NaNoWriMo. Not that it helped me much this year... 9k word count, sigh... bummer, and damn... but still it's a good motivation and how-to book on writing. Sincerely suggest all would-be writers take a glance.

Best Graphic Novel
Empowered Volume 4, by Adam Warren.
Just a warning, this is a graphic novel not meant for kids. There's still a few people out there who think comic books are all for 13-under preteens. Sorry, there's a market for adult-level comics. And Empowered fits that market to a T. There's no outright nudity, but there's enough exposed flesh shown to hint at what's what. We do see couples getting intimate, and there are elements of sexual roleplaying and yes bondage (which I'll get into later in this review). A bigger issue would be the profanity the characters drop nearly every other word, although most of those are bleeped out (savvy cursing enthusiasts can tell which f-word and s-word is which). If there's an appropriate age level for reading this, I'd say 16-up.
It's a superhero series set in its own universe (it's not Marvel or DC with their own multiverse problems), where nearly everyone we meet are spandex-bound metahumans with overly sized muscles for the guys and overly sized... ah, "tracks of land" for the ladies. But in Warren's world, everyone's got emotional issues: the guy heroes are all confused poseurs more worried about their battle cries than doing a good job; the women heroines have emotional issues stemming from high school traumas. In Warren's most cutting idea, nearly everyone in his universe gets their superpowers from sexually transmitted diseases (one superhero group forms from a STD support group).
In to this world comes Empowered, a young lass and rookie heroine who somehow inherited a powersuit that grants her strength and energy blasts. Unfortunately, the suit is hyperthin and prone to tearing up, meaning one scratch makes her powerless. And in her world, all the thugs and supervillains are adept at hog-tying people: while they won't kill her (cape-killing is akin to cop-killing), they do the more humiliating thing of tying her up and leaving her bound and helpless and half-naked for the world to see. She wants to do good, but she ends up an embarrassment and mocked - sometime openly by her supposed teammates the Superhomeys - by all, leaving her prone to massive emotional issues of her own (as the series progresses, readers learn that the suit is still powerful when torn: it's really powered by Emp's emotional state, which is as fragile as the suit).
Warren started off this series as a set of one-off panels and artwork, mostly from requests he'd get at comic cons from guys desperate for good-girl (and bad-girl) art of bound women. Yeah, some guys are into that. From that, he starts off with a series of witty, sadly brutal stories about a heroine in constant bondage, and the surprising thing is that he actually brings up troubling questions about just what it is that's making us watch her get bound and gagged in the first place.
Because Warren provides depth to his characters, especially Emp. We watch not only her getting bound and gagged, but we also watch the emotional turmoil afterwards when she's back home trying to cope. As she gathers a small circle of friends - a boyfriend called Thugboy, a former ex-thug who was the first to say nice things to her; a female friend and New Jersey ninja (!) Ninjette; and a captured dimensional wolfdemon trapped in a powerbelt and left on her coffee table constantly demanding the latest DVD series to watch - she gains an audience to hear her gripes and provide emotional support. And with her friends' emotional issues - Thugboy's backstory of crossing other Heroes and Villains keeps popping up; Ninjette's fleeing from an abusive family home that's slowly catching up with her - thrown into the mix, we get to compare/contrast all the trauma everyone's going through. Wait, what was my point?
The point is, this isn't all titillation for us. Warren throws out ideas about bondage and what it actually means: is it really fun to watch someone get bound and gagged and humiliated? How much of this is really about sex, or even about fun? In Volume 4, Warren takes us right to the edge of 'Uncomfortable' when he has Empowered show up for a Make-A-Wish event for a cancer-sick preteen boy... only to find the boy's wish is to be a supervillain and roleplay 'capturing' a heroine like her. At what point to we readers worry about the pedo aspects of this questionable roleplay...? Bondage and empowerment (there's that word) issues come up when her best friend Ninjette is hunted and captured by a rival ninja clan at the climax of Volume 3, one of the more violent and unsettling stories in the series (yet).
Volume 4 picks up where 3 left off, with Ninjette suffering the psychological trauma of her near-mutilation by the ninja bounty hunters. But while she's dealing with that, Empowered gets word that she's up for an award (the Capeys, the Oscars of superheroing and as equally self-serving) that ups her self-esteem to new heights... only to find out from her teammates the Superhomeys that the award is a joke, comparing her to an earlier pathetic hero who was devastated by the prank years earlier and seemingly disappeared...
This volume is when we see where Warren is going with this series: it's not about sexual empowerment (regarding the bondage and sex-roleplay issues) as it is about emotional empowerment, the struggle against other people's torments upon our heroes. The plotline of the prank award is the latest and largest blow yet: an open mockery of Emp's attempts to be a real heroine and save others. The conclusion of the plotline - where the awards ceremony turns into a deathtrap - is completely satisfying, and hints that Empowered may have finally proved her worth (slight SPOILER there: that Empowered defeats the bad guy even with her suit in tatters suggests she's learning that she's still powerful even when it's torn).
The beauty of the series is with the characters: no one is two-dimensional and everyone adds value to the storyline. Best of all is the development for Empowered's nemesis, Sistah Spooky, the one Superhomey literally working hard to make Emp's life as miserable as possible. It's Spooky who, after a heart-to-heart with an ex-lover warning her of her phobia against attractive blondes (Sistah Spooky's origin from Volume 1 is hilariously twisted in its own right), reveals to Emp that her Capey nomination is a prank. And Spooky's horrendous love life and the poor decisions she's made there provide an arc of sympathy that might allow our heroine Empowered a better career in future issues.
Nah, that won't happen. Warren's gonna figure other more devious ways to get Empowered tied up again. Maybe with Canadian-grade hemp...?

Best (not really) Unavoidable Book of Ultimate Destiny
Anything by Stephenie Meyer, but especially Breaking Dawn, the fourth volume of her Sparkly Vampire series. I swear, SPARKLY VAMPIRES. This is, actually, something I avoided at all costs. Everything I heard from the summaries - emo teen girl meets broody vampire boy 'neath a silvery moon which then explodes for no good reason actually the only thing exploding are the moody werewolves yeah that does happen - made me just sit back and think: "Wait. Wasn't this from the Roswell High series???"
This whole series is basically an overripe Harlequin romance novel with extra teen angst thrown in for good measure. Not for guys, this is definitely for teen girls... and their moms. Oy.
There is a book recently out by Meyer however, that's not part of that vampire series and by all reports is actually pretty good: The Host. It's an alien invasion story, where humans are possessed by space-wandering parasites. Uninfected humans are in the minority and try to hide and fight back against the takeover, and one rebel girl is captured and merged with a parasite that ends up sympathetic to her cause, joining with her even as separate personalities in the fight to end the invasion. Of course, there's still a cute boy or two motivating the heroine(s)... This wasn't a book of Ultimate Destiny (which means a book of hyped expectations, much like Harry Potter's series finale last year), so it didn't fully fit this category the way Breaking Dawn did. I didn't read The Host: I did give it as a birthday present to my friends' teenage daughter, and she liked it. It will be a series of its' own, so keep an eye out.

Best Book by Someone I Know and Corresponded with via Email on an Occasional Basis
This breaks down to basically two people: Stefan Petrucha and Sheryl Nantus. Since I did Sheryl last year I'll see about reviewing one of Stefan's work.
Petrucha I know from the old old days of the Topps X-Files comic book series, when I did online reviews of the comic, and Petrucha went out of his way to gripe about my speeling errors. Ah, fun times. ;)
He's in constant production by the look of things, mostly with working on Nancy Drew paperbacks (!) and Mickey Mouse comics (!!! dude? Well, hey I guess work is work...) but of higher literary value is a recent work The Rule of Won. Meant for young adult audiences, there's enough bite here for adults to enjoy. The Rule of Won is about a teen slacker drawn in to an overactive high school social club obsessing over a self-help book similar to that Secret book. Only this time, the motivationals seem to be working all too well, and people are getting what they want... with painful consequences. Eventually the slacker has to rise up and get a part-time job at the mall... um, fight back against the evil teen overlords. While it falls into the familiar teen novel realm of standing against peer pressure and groupthink, the snarky ripping into self-help thinking is what caught my eye and fit my reading mood.

So with that, Io Saturnalia and Happy New Year. Now, back to job-hunting...

Friday, December 19, 2008

A 20-year path finding its end

This all began back in August of 1988. Just moved in to the dorms at University of Florida. Went to Anderson Hall, back in that day it was where the student employment office was. Filed an application, spotted an opening for a job with the university library, and signed up.
The job was part-time, working with printing labels and adhering them to book spines. Stripping them with security tags. Processing them for the shelves at all the branches at the school (lemme tell ya, the Maps collection was literally back-breaking! And we had to walk those over to Marston Science ow ow ow). In 1988 it was with the cataloging dept., crammed into a small corner of the first floor of Library West. By 1989 they had relocated to roomier space on the third floor of Library East, where cataloging resides today.
All four years of going to UF, I never went to another job. I liked it. I LOVED working with the books. And I'd like to think I did a good job (for all UF students, check all books with spine label dates between 1988 to 1992. Odds are, those labels? I printed 'em :pride:). And the thing was, it got to where that was the real reason I was going to college. My Journalism degree? Well, I was having problems with that (when you have to take the required course, Reporting, twice just to get the bare grade minimum, you need to reconsider. I still think I'd have been happier switching to poli sci, but I digress). I was more interested clocking in to do my job printing labels than going to classes.
So when I squeaked out a Bachelor's in Journalism, with no viable job offers out there (1992 was a poor year for jobs), I sped back to graduate level at University of South Florida for a Master's in Library and Info Sciences. Graduated with high marks by December 1993. Got a part-time Library Adjunct job with St. Pete (Junior back then) College in Clearwater. Got a full-time Librarian job at Broward County (North Regional) in 1994, and worked as a full-time librarian ever since. From Broward back to UF then down to Pasco County. Got published in a few library journals here and there. Enjoyed my work. Loved helping people find things on the shelves, on the computers, and thought I was good at it. I hope I was good at it. Spent 14 years of my life as a librarian.
This week I lost my job with Pasco County Libraries. And this was that, and that was it.
Right now is a bad job market across the board. Libraries are hurting from massive budget cuts. The Florida Library Jobs website has gone from 5-6 pages of openings to just one page. The latest jobs are all in South Florida, where the cost of living is too ridiculous for anyone looking at a $32,000 minimum annual (librarians work cheap, sad to say). Still, I'm sending out resumes left and right. Looking and hoping and praying. But I might not find a job as a librarian. I might have to look elsewhere.
And in some respects, maybe I do. Part of me feels tired, empty. Part of me feels kinda grateful I got kicked out, feeling like it can shake this damn lethargy. But still, I *liked* helping people. I *liked* finding them information, I *liked* the occasional puzzle, a challenge, stuff like that.
I will come about to post a "Best Of" books I've read this past year, but past that? Maybe about stuff I'm writing. I'm still trying that. Maybe other things. Depends on what tomorrow brings.

Saturday, November 29, 2008

NaNoWriMo - One day left

I'm not going to make the 50k word count. I'm barely making 13k. :(

But here's the deal. I'm going to keep writing this novel. I want to finish this. I may not be able to finish it on this month's deadline, but I will finish it.

Still and all... sigh... :(

Friday, November 21, 2008

Update on NaNoWriMo 2008

One word.

AUUUUUUGGGGGGHHHHHH (as of Nov. 21st, only 9,000 words done)

Compare to a good colleague of mine, Sheryl Nantus, who's got 38,000 words by Nov. 21st. Sigh.

This Saturday. I'm going to try to find an Internet Cafe place in Tampa, see if I can get a few other local writers to join in, and GET SOME DAMN WRITING DONE!

Sunday, November 2, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008

Well, I'm trying it again. I'm gonna try another superhero novel for the National Novel Writing Month event.

For those not in the know, NaNo is a non-profit event urging people (usually bad writers like me) to pound out at least 50,000 words worth of a story that could be developed into a published novel. There's no award or guarantee of publication like the 3-Day Novel contest promises, but the deal is, a finished novel is better than nothing. And in this day and age of Print-on-Demand services and small press publishers, getting published is slightly easier than ever before. The only thing you'll get if you make 50k word counts is a certificate and a firm handshake, oh and a html-code for a graphic on your webpage that says "Hey, I can write 50,000 words and not suck." :-)

I'm going to try the superhero-verse I've conjured up, I've had the heroes in my head for 4 years it's time to let them out and do something...

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

NaNoWriMo 2008

Time once again to mess with mah noggin and squeeze out random clauses and phrases. It's NATIONAL NOVEL WRITING MONTH!

I'm already registered and raring to go. I've got a couple of ideas bouncing about, the one I keep coming back to is a superhero novel about a big-city heroine getting 'sent down to a minor-league city' and struggling to work her way back to the major leagues of crime-fighting. Either that or a crazy, post-apocalyptic earth where a solitary survivor wanders the wasteland in search of... something I haven't figured out yet. ;-)

See you starting November 1st! Sign up if you want! And read the book on writing the book for NaNoWriMo!

Friday, September 26, 2008

Library Thing, or Why Haven't I Sorted My Home Shelves?

The thing is, I've got a Library Thing account. Or at least I did. It was years ago.

And I've never gotten around to plugging in the whole of my book collection into it.

I'd use a weekend to do it, but I'm trying to get back into my short fiction writings and working up the ideas for the next NaNoWriMo.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008


Stop the world, folks! I actually finished a novel for the 3-Day Novel Contest!!!

115 pages of rough draft goodness!!!

Just plopped it in the mail this morning, should get across the border to Vancouver in about... ohh, 15 months from now... ;)

Friday, August 29, 2008

Three Day Novel - One More Time

I know I keep saying I won't do it to myself, but... yeah... I'll be doing that Three Day Novel contest again.

I think I can get over 120 pages this time. I'm going to go very simple, very basic stuff: political thriller with a metahuman twist. :)

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Whither eBooks?

One thing I keep thinking about is how paper print is still so popular when there hasn't been more of an effort to switch to electronic device book reading.

When I was studying for my library degree in 1993, there was talk even then of electronic screen eBooks, reading off of CD-ROM discs. There's a moderately successful eBook format online with NetLibrary, however only libraries seem to carry it. There's been, from what I've read, attempts to create book reading devices, but there were conflicts over marketability, technology, copyrights, costs, what have you. It's only been in the last year, with the advent of Amazon's Kindle device, that I've seen any overt big-push toward eBook reading.

Paper print is still popular because 1) it's relatively cheap, and 2) it's what people know. But as more people do stuff on computers and the Internet, and depending on if Kindle retains and expands its' place in the market, we should finally start seeing a shift away from paper-based reading and toward computer-screen reading.

I'd love to see a Kindle in action. And I'd love to get my short story book on Kindle. Heh.

Monday, June 23, 2008

George Carlin RIP

Man, this week started off with some real weak tea... :(

Carlin was best known for his routine over Seven Words You Can't Say On TV. In terms of being anarchist, free-thinking, and an occasional writer of words, I do note his passing. I also wonder if Sam Kinison and Richard Pryor are gonna let George pull up a bone throne to the discussion table in Hades...

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Thinking about publishing

With summer here, thinking of things to do.

Would like to find more time to get more writing done. I've done some short stories, submitting them to contests and to a state fellowship program, gonna see how that all turns out.

Thursday, March 27, 2008

On Lib Guides

One project we're working on at my library system is branching out to different online resources various research tips, online references, and handouts that people can use to improve their skills and their access to library materials.

I've been working on something called LibGuides, which allows you to create a page with side menus and a main box of instructions/explanations. Like what we used to call Pathfinders as printed handouts, a LibGuide allows you to create a simple one-page tool that
  • Can list bits of information, such as book titles, names, items of interest;
  • Can allow you to link to that information;
  • Can allow you to type up instructions on how to use the library, or the computer, or the Internet, or any other thing that you might do in a library;
  • Can allow library patrons to access the information even from their homes, so you can assist in remote access stuff so patrons can do their research whenever and wherever.
My first project is creating an instruction page on how to sign up for free e-mail services. Typing up the instructions was easy. The tricky part now is putting in the damn illustrations... I'll let you know how it goes. ;)

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Ahhh, tax time

It's that time of the year again, between January and April 15th, wherein everyone goes paperwork crazy and files their tax returns. Like they say in the "Sun Makers" episode of the Fourth Doctor Who, everyone runs from the taxman...

This year there is a slight change. There is a stimulus package coming from the government, a rebate check ranging from $300 to $1200 depending on your status. The deal is, you have to file for tax returns this year, something that certain income groups, especially among retirees, didn't have to do before. (please read the instructions on that link for further info) As a result, we're getting a lot of questions at the library regarding tax filings, waaaay more than usual (this is coming from someone who wrote a short story about how even angels had tons of paperwork to file...).

There's a link here to my library's E-Gov't blog that details some of it. If you're a retiree, the one group that's asking the most questions about, you can get tax assistance from the AARP group, and locate the nearest AARP Tax Aide service in your community. There is also the official IRS website to get your forms online for free (must have recent version of Adobe Reader to open them)

Tax season. It's about 10 times more fun than Duck Season...if you happen to be a Wabbit.

Monday, January 28, 2008

New trends in librarianship

A lot of it has to do with outreach and promotion. Note the links I have for the Pasco Library System's blogs. We're attempting to promote readers via book discussion groups and recommended lists; we're trying to bring in teens and youths to make libraries a community activity center.

Some of the things we're looking at now include starting up a Wiki (online, open-input encyclopedia that can provide information and links to resources), creating Lib Guides (webpages linking to online resources), and profiles on various networking sites (we've already got a MySpace page, and are looking at other sites).

What does this all mean? It means we'll have 154 different ways of finding a copy of Green Eggs and Ham for ya, that's what. ;)

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

New Year's Resolution 2008

I hereby resolve to finish writing a novel, anything, seriously, for once. Damn you writer's block!

Have fun, everyone!