Category Archives: Reader’s Advisory

Memoria, Oratio, Scriptura: Truth and Method in Local Histories

By James Johnson

It would seem that History, in subject terms, from every culture and ethnic group, has memory as its precursor to contemporary method, utilized for documenting and understanding linear time, ancestry, and even ethnographic boundaries in retrospect. Memory can externally form in expressive traditions through song, chant, verse, and other articles of art and culture.

Spiritual, artistic, or physical articles of importance manifest a People’s group or individual memories. Transcribed in coastal red cedar totems by some aboriginals of the Pacific Northwest, or in tribute to nature and death carved upon neolithic cairns of some of the first Irish, these exist as tangible artifacts. Artifacts arguably at the crossroads of extinction and resurgent significance.

Oral history, unique to no ethnic group, appears as a cataloguing schema of the natural world, familial genealogical group-sets, and ritual spiritualism. Often perceived as an inferior form of historical collection and dissemination, Oral methodologies are the probable human default. Oral history can serve a culture of “illiterates” with no written language just as well as the culture where class structure dictated one’s likelihood of literacy. Where invention and technology arose to become the barrier breakers to monograph making and acquisition, literacy rates increased. There was an undeniable drive within the medieval peasantry to attain and share knowledge in this new way. Why? Written word, painfully transcribed by hand and in various languages – an ordeal obviously suited to the patience of priestly monks – long predated the German inventor’s newfangled printing press. Of course the sentiments of an illiterate European peasantry furnished with enough gumption to avoid utter despair will permanently be beyond my knowing, but I am willing to make the presumption that literacy was purpose-driven in the pursuit of Truth.

Truth, for some reason or another, is a core ethical tenant embedded in the institutions which I value. Truth in justice, truth in marriage. Truth in the knowledge that I’m buying beef and not man-meat from the grocery store. So imagine now the dichotomy of literate and illiterate groups sharing consensus as to what is Truth based on writ of law. How could anyone expect the disenfranchised not to seek this levelled plane? In the Western Hemisphere, this inequity has been routed with functional literacy rates increasing over time. The proficiency with which the growing or diminishing number of individuals developing critical analysis skills through literacy is a topic for another time.

Truth is a value in the bones of the rural community. The importance of reporting on the dull or exceptional true lives of people is evident in the abundance of early newspapers under various monikers: gazette’s, gleaners, standards, dispatches, and heralds. Keeping and distributing journals of record shared the union of clans, civil administrative machinations, and vociferation’s of the mourning. These isolated publications, those few issues salvaged by forward-thinking preservationists of their respective times, provide for us now an avenue of exploration much deeper than any oral tradition could aspire to. If you wanted to know the price of a pound of bacon or stew chuck in 1841 Upper Canada, and I were to share anecdotally that my great, great, great Grand Pop told his kid, and he told his kid, and so on and so forth, that it cost $0.10 cents a pound, how would you or anyone else know it for truth? Or that coinage wasn’t dollars or cents but pounds, sterling, and pence at that time?

Obviously, written and oral history share a common aspect. They are subject to the experience and subsequent opinion of scribe and speaker alike. The confounding nature of this truth, obfuscating the notion of Truth itself, remains an area of personal interest. However, preferring to adopt a First Nations approach to challenge this hypocrisy; listening to the speaker’s (or writer’s) experiences and respecting their stories as lived experiences. Or some version of it, if you like.

European settlements have a longstanding practice of recording their lives in minute detail. A direct impact of written versus oral histories is evident in the range of volumes produced by counties, townships, and historical societies throughout North America. This abundance of record serves a community in many ways, provided a community acknowledges that it may not represent all contemporary subgroups, a fact apparently less self-evident the more our mindsets shift progressively. It is apparent to most sincere researchers that written records, including census documents, were apt to inconsistency or outright error. This is a reflection of the relationship between oral and written traditions, rather than a condemnation of either. Whether reciting from memory or recalling events in testimony, the potential for error appears for both. Nevertheless, I could tell you the tale of the Sandyford Mystery, a cold blooded Scottish yarn of greed, betrayal, and murder! I might even get half the story right from off the top of my head, and that might be enough for some. For others, there is the near 500 page court proceedings, digitized from microfiche and available here. I value this information, and the method it is presented by, due in great part to my general distrust of strangers. Acknowledging biases in printed opinions, the factors of information processing in person are just as impactful, if not more. These include body language, intonation, level of voice, language or accent barriers, and physical location apprehension. Not to mention the challenge of returning to the materials for clarification.

Nevertheless, regarding either as inferior or superior is not the point. I remain convinced that the two methods are connected by progression. Spoken words become written. Ethnographers and anthropologists embark on fieldwork collecting and cataloguing oral histories and myths as a matter of survival, not some misplaced sense of superiority, though I’m sure the latter sentiment exists, however limited it may be. These oral histories aren’t necessarily the mythological origin stories of the Indians in North America either. Diminishing language and culture in some groups in the British isles is a growing concern for their respective Governments and local leaders.

The banner image for this article displays a collage of local history monographs. Township councils, historical societies, and sometimes impassioned local members, collect records and primary source material to tell the tale of their community’s past. Photographs and land purchase agreements, birth, marriage, and census data. And of course, the stories. Oral stories, parallel the hard data, adds the human element, and in many case confirms doubts or supports beliefs. These books and more like them are critically endangered. The growing ranks of rural ghost towns supports this prediction of doom. Young people can’t write local histories if they aren’t living the reality of them.

I suppose in a way that should be my pitch to counsel. That little town comically presented on the brink of insolvency, victims of Tommyknockers or invading body-snatchers, needs an archivist. A town preservationist, with ties to the community and desire to maintain stories, engage youth, and advocate for funding from all levels of government. Is that the solution to the ghost town epidemic? Not in and of itself but in revitalization efforts, paramount.

Find these old books if you can, while you can. Primary and secondary source material like no other. Specifics will vary by location so ask a Librarian in the geographical area you are interested in researching. For Ontario researchers, listed society websites often sell their own publications or provide tips on where you can find them.

At The Circulation Desk

Serious About Serials

Tearing Staples And Cracking Spines:

Reader’s Advisory For The Horror Movie Magazine

By James Johnson

It should be prefaced that current readers of either title might actually consider Rue Morgue punching down and out of it’s weight with this month’s Versus instalment. I would agree with them on one point: these two titles are unique organisms. Either has contrasting characteristics, features, style, contributors, and even political ideologies. However, they both share a media landscape that we have culturally coined, and subsequently use to categorize, as Horror and compete in a market with truly forgiving consumers. I’m not recommending one over the other. Read both. Read more serials! Objectively, either of these titles can satisfy some fans of horror. The point of this versus series is to highlight titles of the same subject to expose new readers wishing to explore the options available to them. Too few library professionals advocate serial readers advisory, and that’s a shame in our opinion.

It becomes obvious as soon as you pick up this Halloween’s copy of Rue Morgue that there’s a level of authority assumed in the general quality. Perfect binding (a new feature I believe, since every prior issue I have is saddle stitched), heavier paper poundage, and custom cover art. Whereas SCREAM lends this reader a particular reminiscence – the fanzine wave (and decline), the slick pages of medium to low poundage, saddle stitch binding, and tacit Gonzo-Journo obsessive contributors, mark it as a true genre classic, even though it’s only 11 years in publication compared with Rue’s 24. Obviously, these thematic mags play at different speeds. I can easily see a Rue Morgue reader picking up a copy of SCREAM, and vice versa. Horror genre film critiques in print are not as common as general interest serials, such as US, Harper’s, or Cosmo. I think it’s fair to say that both titles are most likely bunk-mates on the toilet tank of the Horror movie fanatic and that’s why they’re in focus.

SCREAM Magazine #68

ISSN: 2045-2128
Audience: Adult

Boasting the title of “the world’s no. 1 horror magazine” (unverified!), SCREAM serializes bimonthly “100 bloody pages of content”. The words include surface to mid-depth analysis of modern and classic horror movies, often focusing on European and British Cinema, such as the Hammer and Giallo classics. Generally, the cover art or layout has an emphasis or theme which will be featured in the principal article. This cover (like every other so far) is a collage of iconic movie imagery arranged in such a way to inform the reader of the contents. It’s standard for this level of production value, though the colour choices, fonts, and arrangements are pleasant and engaging.

I have always had issue with magazines that boast the number of pages of content they’re selling. In my opinion, I think at best it’s misleading and at worse misinformation. The front and back cover should not be consider “pages of content” yet they are. Quarter, half, and even full page Ads are also not “content” in my opinion. If you’re trying to sell me something I can’t buy with my attention, but actual cash, I’m probably not going to refer to it warmly as “content”. So be warned, it’s more like 80-90 pages of content. Not bad. Other than the featured articles (#68 is a revisit of two Slashics, Freddy’s Revenge and Dream Warriors), readers can expect interviews, reviews of books and DVDs, retrospectives, and more. Standard genre fare.

The writing has a casual feel of an informed fan with experience in critiquing their favourite films. If you’re looking for a deep dive analysis, you’ll instead find an excellent though ultimately slim review of what the avid fan probably already knows. There’s no pandering, and the language meets the reader and the writer at eye level, increasing its accessibility and reach. SCREAM is a great title for explorers of the genre, eager to dip their toes in the world of horror cinema that’s not overbearingly esoteric. SCREAM wins with it’s gorgeous bright colours, full and rich border-less formatting, and clean presentation.

Pet Peeve: Recurring segments VHS Ate My Brain and Video Nasty are regrettably missing from this issue in favour of more retrospectives. These segments are often compelling and provide gritty insight for the casual consumer. Here is where SCREAM suffers from what most genre cinema zines suffer from at times: stale repetition. This issue continues a retrospective of the Nightmare On Elm Street franchise, where their competition in our spotlight has two solid features, Mexican Gothics and Folk Horror.

Kudos: The Halloween issue (Sept-Oct) could have been released at any season. There’s not a jack-o-lantern in sight. A horror movie magazine that keeps print’s version of click-bait out of its season of the witch issue? I’m impressed. Halloween is everyday in my world, and so it would seem at SCREAM.

Rue Morgue #202

ISSN: 1481-1103
Audience: Adult

Toronto based Rue Morgue sells a different story for our would-be horror readers and that’s not a bad thing! Rue Morgue’s subtitle reads “Horror in Culture & Entertainment”. Where SCREAM highlights modern and obscure films alike, Rue Morgue delves deeper and examines the cycles that Horror sub-genres naturally birth and die throughout time. There’s most certainly a firm hand in editorialship, where editor Andrea Subissati often acts as contributor to many segments. SCREAM seems to have a nice balance of freedom and control that I felt lacking in Rue Morgue. That’s their prerogative, of course, and I can respect the vision and commitment Subissati and the controllers of Rue’s assets have.

The content (articles and interviews) are insightful and creative, informative, and thoughtful. While written in plain-speak, the topics of discussion are often viewed through a post-modernist lens. This could quickly become tiresome, but the richness of the topics covered make it informative, albeit far from a place of neutrality. That may be indeed be fair, as the movie viewer brings with them their own biases and lenses, so why not reviewers themselves? By that metric I can agree, however, that does not mean Rue Morgue wouldn’t benefit from a broader spectrum of ideas and voices.

The advertisements for Rue Morgue products and third party toys and merchandise can get a little loud. Many fans love the exposure to horror collectibles and the latest trends, so this may be a feature many enjoy. The culture and entertainment of horror today is saturated with bits and bobs for the collector, and Rue Morgue advertises plenty of options for the consumer.

Pet Peeve: Over-hyped subscriber mailbag section. Publishing letters from subscribers describing why they’re glad they subscribed is cringe. Perhaps there aren’t many fan mail complaints, but certainly there must be some.

Kudos: Accessible depth. A true challenge with zine word restrictions. Rue Morgue’s in depth analysis and excavation of lost or unexamined relics of cinema’s past puts them at the top of their peers.

At the Circulation Desk

Serious about Serials: a periodical discussion on titles you may not find in your local library

Highlight: Drive In Asylum, Iss. 14

Photo by Library Tech Files

“In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible…”

Estimated reading time for this article: 6 mins

By James Johnson

At the end of 2020 we discussed the unfortunate passing of editor Joe Kane, the man that cast the shadow of the Phantom of the Movie’s; a cinema reviewer extraordinaire. Truly one of the greats, Joe Kane cultivated a tone and message as columnist and film critic. He distilled this character into the pages of the cult magazine for cinema freaks, Videoscope. Although we had hoped someone would carry the mantel, the truth is many of these treasures are either in decline or defunct. Despite the sad loss of Joe, the article I wrote about Videoscope fostered a new hope in me, similar to feelings I get when searching for lost media. With this new hope and my long-time love of the medium, a series on articles, reviews, and discussions of periodicals seemed inevitable.

Of course I anticipate the reader rolling their eyes in frustration, miffed that we discuss magazines far too often. And of those discussed, fringe cinema and cult movie zines have been front and centre. Perhaps pulpy periodicals are not as popular to the average reader as “contemporary fiction on social commentary” advisory may be. There is growing cultural and social angst in our communities, and coming together to recognize injustices is more relevant than ever. Municipal funding for library programming, collection development, and resource advisory likewise could not be more relevant or needed than right now. For the most part I think our librarians are capable, qualified, and effective at delivering these services to the community. Now, more than ever, libraries are serving us in so many ways it can be hard to keep track of the apps and third party subscription services metropolitan systems tend to support. Toronto Public Library’s services are plenty, ranging from research assistance to dial-a story for sleepy time.

With that prefaced: I’m not a librarian. I’m a library technician by trade. I don’t work in a library. The pandemic has made it even harder for newer graduates to get a fair shot and those with the most experience are usually considered first for interviews. But what kind of library tech would I be if my best solution was to do nothing? Not a very good one, I can tell you. So I use this platform, which I have worked hard to build and brand, to exercise my skills and training.

Though I know reaching the most patrons possible is part of policy and for good reason. It’s cost effective and addresses common elements in most mission statements, usually something to do with equitable access and resource allocation. However, it is my opinion that I should reflect on the less obvious titles in order to promote and support content and creators, and to promote discovery of new sources otherwise overlooked.

Mainstream magazines get enough of the spotlight and certainly most of the shelf and budget space. I can use this venue to share some of the better unknown publications I have had great fun researching and reading. In a way, I get to develop my own advocacy, a skill library technicians should cultivate for career development.

In the spirit of literacy and promotion and getting out of my wheelhouse from time to time, I do plan on sharing a review of some of the resources librarians in my neck of the woods utilize. Resources for collection development and acquisitions can be websites, catalogues, and (you guessed it) periodicals. Watch for a Quill & Quire review in the near future.

What’s important to remember is this: if I only showcase or recommended the resources typically found in a public library system, the content I think has value would remain lost to a broader audience. Or potentially lost all together. Libraries can be discovery hubs to resources not in the library itself and I’m happy to support and encourage patrons to seek alternatives to the library holdings.

For now, I’d like to share a few alternatives to Videoscope in a short series of reviews. I’ve gathered some titles I think meet the requirements. These range from mainstream glossy newsstand quality to the independent enthusiast with an inkjet fanzine.

Home internet access was a launching pad for indie content creators that reached the masses like never before. I wasted many hours combing the web for “zines”

The 90’s opened the door for home-brew publications to reach greater audiences with access to the internet. E-shopping indie zines and newsletters was easy, even on dial-up. I remember receiving my Art Bell After Dark newsletter after purchasing a subscription through his website. Thumbing through pages of UFO and Bigfoot Polaroids scanned and pasted in glorious black and white with clip art highlights remains vivid in memory. Especially after receiving and reviewing Drive In Asylum’s 14th issue.

Drive-In Asylum from editor Bill Van Ryn of Groovy Doom reminds me so much from that time. When I stumbled upon their Etsy page I new I wanted to get a closer look. Scrolling through their past issues I quickly settled on issue 14, a Joe Bob Briggs feature I thought looked great. The cover illustration by contributing writer Sam Panico is eye catching and evocative. The pages are lined with classic drive in movie posters and full of reviews, commentaries, a point/counter point column, and of course, interviews. The writing has that unmistakable tone of a schlock movie mag you’d find on the stand, with informal writing, shot from the hip. I love it. I’m not reading this for an authoritative deconstruction of the narrative and structure in The Killer Shrews, I want to feel like I’m sitting on the couch with an old friend, the credits are rolling and the discussion’s are frank.

That’s not to say the articles aren’t accurate, comprehensive, or intelligent. On the contrary, the contributors are skilled and talented writers. I’ve been reading Rob Freese’s work for years and I respect his insight and opinions.

The simple but effective printing and binding method allows for a smaller bottom line for the reader, albeit at a significant sacrifice in quality. The content overshadows any misdemeanours in quality. In celebration of printer paper and stapled bindings, there is a love affair with the content and a hinted desire to share it with as many fans as possible. You can’t help but appreciate the work that goes in to editing a fanzine like this. To organize your colleagues and come together for the joy of the reel. Any points I would be willing to dock are forgiven on such merit alone. The insight gained from the Joe Bob interview stands on its own as qualifier for a great read.

Drive In Asylum provides an intimate and appreciative perspective on movies, and the contributors clearly love what they do. The old movie poster and Drive In adverts are a pleasure to look at. Despite the quantity of these images, it doesn’t feel like any of it is filler for a lack of content. The movie posters are essential, and I found myself reminiscing over my days behind the video rental counter, hanging posters and watching screeners.

It’s almost impossible to suggest a fanzine for readers advisory. When it comes to the budget, a library has to put priority on popular items to reach a broader audience. My unique position and experience in advisory in the private sector (books and movies) and obvious lack of current library employment allows me to shed those policy limitations and recommend whatever the heck I want. Within reason of course, I’m not a madman.

Titles like Drive In Asylum are what keep bringing me back to periodicals. Without a doubt there are significant challenges with publishing a recurring title and I applaud any effort given to producing such content with frequency. Support independent creators like Groovy Doom’s fanzine and check out Drive In Asylum.

Item details:

Title: Drive In Asylum, iss. 14.
Publisher: Groovy Doom and Co.
Type: Fanzine (independent publication)
Date: February 2019
ISSN: NA
Recommended Audience: 16+
Order from: http://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/GroovyDoom?ref=shop_sugg