ucontent: new book on user-generated content

UContent: The Information Professional’s Guide to User-Generated Content by Nick Tomaiuolo

Experienced reference and instruction librarian Nick Tomaiuolo’s (aka the Web 2.0 Librarian) new book is a must-have for all librarians involved in digital content. UContent clearly describes various user-generated content (UGC) tools and how librarians can implement these in their library work and personal development.

UContent is targeted toward the beginner in UGC but tricks and tips will be welcomed by more advanced users. UContent isn’t pretty. It’s a bare-bones how-to do-it-yourself approach, but it works.

Since the content of the book can easily become outdated, Tomaiuolo has created an excellent website to accompany the book. The most important chapters are on blogs, audio and video services,  social bookmarking, and Flickr.

Tomaiuolo provides an overview of the service as well as interviews with expert users or developers. Most importantly, he demonstrates how these services have been implemented by other librarians. This provides real-life demonstrations of the possibilities of UGC and acts as a jumping-off point for developing your own content. And, like any good librarian, he has a terrific bibliography for each chapter. UContent is sure to become a handy reference book for librarians as the enter the Web 2.0 world of UGC.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

afterlives of the saints

Afterlives of the Saints: Stories from the Ends of Faith by Colin Dickey (Unbridled Books, 2012).

Dickey’s latest work is an interesting selection of saints – famous and forgotten, martyred and disfigured, the academics and the ignorant. Afterlives is not a collection of biographies; it is much more a postmodern investigation of their lives. A foundation in Catholicism is less necessary than being well-read in Joyce, Proust, Borges, Flaubert, and Foucault. Because of this, those merely curious about the more strange and macabre saint stories will be disappointed. While Dickey’s examinations can be, at times, tedious and feel forced, they invite the reader to reconsider complex life stories. His insights on the lives of saints in contemporary culture and faith are a welcome perspective in the scholarship.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

the little red guard

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The Little Red Guard: A Family Memoir by Wenguang Huang (Riverhead, 2012).

Huang tells of growing up in Maoist China with a careful blend of objective journalism and bittersweet memory. The focal point of his narrative is his grandmother’s coffin – a contraband object in a communist country that requires cremation. Huang’s grandmother clings to traditional beliefs of burial and keeping the family together after death so as to protect family members as they continue in life. The coffin becomes an object simultaneously uniting and destroying his immediate family, shaping the adolescent years of the author.

As a memoir of communist China, I became more attached to the characters in LuLu Wang’s The Lily Theater. However, Huang’s involvement in politics, as a young Red Guard and later active in the Cultural Revolution, is a refreshing new look at the complicated and delicate balance performed by citizens under Mao’s dictatorship. His enjoyable and easily read novel provides an open door for engaging in the history of a closed society.

(I received a free copy of this book in exchange for a review)

miss peregrine’s home for peculiar children

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Riggs, Ransom. Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Philadelphia: Quirk Books, 2011.

Ransom Riggs’ first novel blends fantasy prose, simple yet descriptive, with vintage photographs, the type of developed film mistakes we quickly and easily delete with today’s digital cameras. The photos are not compliments to the text; they are necessities for Riggs’ ultimate goal – that the reader believe every word is real.

Riggs has created a C. S. Lewis wardrobe for the 21st century – loopholes which lead to seemingly otherworlds that are really manifestations of our own. And, while Miss Peregrine’s peculiar children are not lions or witches, their supernatural talents only help to enhance their humanness. Easy to read, elements such as time travel, freak show oddities, and a lonely, bored teenage protagonist will appeal to young adult readers. Historical fiction, moral and ethical overtones, and a coming of age protagonist will keep more advanced readers interested. Some adults many feel bored by Jacob and his sixteen-year-old point of view, but I ask them to remember that the book was written for teens and didn’t we all feel like life was one long out-of-body experience at that age?

Regardless of age, all readers will be coming back to Miss Peregrine’s home for much, much more.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

the odditorium

The Odditorium: Stories by Melissa Pritchard (Bellevue Literary Press, 2012)

Pritchard has conceived of a handful of charmingly bizarre stories that evoke science fiction and non-fiction simultaneously. You’ll meet Pelagia (“Christ’s Holy Fool”), Annie Oakley and Sitting Bull, Kaspar Hauser (a German boy found in the wilderness), and Norbert Pearlroth, the fact checker for Ripley’s Believe It or Not.

Each story has such a unique voice that only one can be read at one time. The shorter stories are far better than the more developed ones. These stories rely on clever character development and pull in ephemeral text. The two longer ones, “Captain Brown and the Royal Victoria Hospital” and “The Nine-Gated City”, lack imagination and curiosity. “Captain Brown” is perhaps half the book’s entire length but gives the reader little in which to invest. “The Nine-Gated City” is the least like the other stories, more historical fiction that hasn’t been well researched.

Despite these few pitfalls, The Odditorium has made me a Pritchard fan. She shows she can write – and think – magically.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

the beautiful forevers

Boo, Katherine. Behind the Beautiful Forevers: Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity. New York: Random House, 2011.

Annawadi is a Mumbai slum of about 3,000, nestled near the Sahar International Airport and a sewage lake. Pulitzer Prize winner Boo spent three years observing and asking questions of Annawadi’s most prominent members. Abdul, a young and eternally hopeful trash picker; Asha, determined to be the undercity’s political leader; Fatima the One-Leg, whose reputation as a prostitute doesn’t deter her from shouting her opinions at neighbors.

Boo seamlessly narrates the daily lives of these struggling people while outlining India’s political corruption and social and religious divides. It is important that she maintain small moments of her journalist background – this continues to remind the reader that the stories are real. There is an author’s note at the end of the book that reiterates Boo’s intense research. It may be worth having this at the beginning, getting the reader to know up front that, regardless of the storyteller narrative, this is nonfiction.

This is an eye-opening observation of India’s poorest. I have the advanced readers edition, but I’m betting later publishings will have “national bestseller” on the cover.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)

zombies are academic

Moreman, Christopher M and Cory James Rushton, eds. Race, Oppression and the Zombie: Essays on Cross-Cultural Appropriations of the Caribbean Tradition. McFarland, 2011.

Editors Christopher M Moreman and Cory James Rushton have compiled an excellent source of zombie research. Their introduction is a must-read for understanding the historical placement of the zombie in Caribbean and Western traditions. They make the careful distinction between Voodoo, the skewed and racist depiction of black magic, and Vodou, the real spiritual and religious tradition of an intelligent people.

The essays are divided into four subsections. The first focuses on the zombie origins in Haiti. Anna Kordas’ New South, New Immigrants, New Women, New Zombies continues the conversation Moreman and Rushton started in the introduction. These are the ultimate threats, “potentially dangerous to white, middle-class society in the early twentieth-century.” The 1932 film White Zombie is frequently used as an example, referring to the foreign/immigrant zombie master who uses the undead to maintain his plantation. Guess Who’s Going to be Dinner by Barbara S. Bruce examines race in Night of the Living Dead, transforming Romero’s ultimate zombie flick into a social commentary on contemporary (1968) America, a commentary that can be considered continued in Dawn of the Dead (1978).

The second section does well to explain why zombies so often end up roaming shopping malls (Dawn of the Dead). Time for Zombies (Ronjon Paul Datta and Laura MacDonald) discusses zombie consumerism, “the logic of sacrifice, viewed from the point of view of capitalist time.” The third grouping, Culturally Transplanted Zombies, requires a knowledge of specific contemporary zombie films. Among these are Dawn of the Dead (2004), Shaun of the Dead (2004 and Best Zombie Movie EVER), Boy Eats Girl (2005), Fido (2006), Horrors of War (2006), and Flight of the Living Dead (2007). These films are relevant in a post-9/11 world of globalism and economic uncertainty.  

The final two essays are the least connected to zombie tradition and typical cinematic interpretations. Zombie Categories, Religion, and the New False Rationalism by Edward Dutton questions the term “zombie” used as a metaphor by sociologist Ulrich Beck for “living dead” social categories such as family and class. David Biesecker’s Nothing But Meat appropriately closes the anthology. In it, he frames some contemporary zombie films in light of his primary discipline, philosophy, suggesting “that the zombies are the ones holding the mirrors up to us.” In other words, we fear zombies because we realize ourselves as living dead.

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.)