Aug 20, 2014

Giant George

Life with the World's Biggest Dog
by Dave Nasser with Lynne Barrett-Lee

When the author and his wife started looking for a great dane puppy, they knew they wanted a big dog. But they had no idea how big George was going to get. It amused me that he was the runt of his litter, and ended up being the largest one! He tipped the scales at two hundred and forty-five pounds, standing four feet at the shoulder. He had to have his own queen-sized mattress to sleep on, and wouldn't fit in their regular car, only a truck. He liked to ride around in a golf cart. You would think living with such a large animal would be problematic, but aside from his huge appetite, and the inconvenience that his head easily reaches every countertop, the dog is actually mild-mannered and very gentle. He was very close to his family, in fact would get extremely anxious if left alone. It was touching to read how bonded George became with his owners, and how he helped them get through some tough times. When their veterinarian made comments that George was larger than any other dog he'd seen, they looked into it and friends suggested they try for the world record, since the dog currently holding the title had recently died. The part about how they had to apply for the Guinness World Record was interesting, and I was surprised to see how passionate some people got about this- other dog owners trying for the same record going so far as to contest his measurements, some said their were exploiting their pet and posted unkindly remarks about the dog online. Of course he became famous and the family tells about taking their dog to visit schools, veterinary conferences and other events. Many people travelled to see him- it was difficult to fly George anywhere as he didn't fit in any commercially-made pet crates! This was a fun read.

Rating: 3/5     255 pages, 2011

more opinions:
Shannon's Book Bag

Aug 19, 2014

The Pig Who Sang to the Moon

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

This book makes a very strong case for turning vegan. In it, Masson looks closely at the emotional lives of common farm animals: the pig, cow, goat, sheep, chicken. Also ducks and geese. He presents evidence that these animals are quite sensitive, amiable and sociable creatures, which made them easy to domesticate in the first place. They make friends, often from other species. They get lonely, mourn the loss of their young or companions, show fear at approaching death. They display gratitude and trust towards those who treat them kindly. They like music.They can dream. One scientist, Masson informs me, says that even bees dream (about flowers). Yes, the book is full of anecdotes but there is also scientific evidence presented of how certain animals' brains have very similar functions to ours. Of course they can feel: emotions are more basic than logical thought (and so many animals display that, too). So, the point of it all is that these animals have the same basic needs and desires we have: to live comfortably, be with their companions, raise their offspring. Knowing that should influence how we treat them. I was aware before of the awful conditions pigs, chickens and cows are usually kept in, but did not know other things for example how goose down is stripped from living birds (kept in crowded conditions) so that they can grow more feathers and be stripped again. It is so painful for them they often go into shock, and after four or five "pluckings" they die. It seems to me that sheep are goats are not treated so badly as the others, but Masson points out that we still take their young away from them, cause them stress and pain and often misunderstand or ignore their needs. Not to mention eating lambs: Mary had a little lamb / Her father shot it dead / And now it goes to school with her / Between two chunks of bread.

A tough thing, to be the child of a farmer. But the book isn't all about animal distress! Much of it is intriguing accounts of how how animals feel, the depth of their emotional lives. Other things too, like the fact that in ancient Egypt pigs were not eaten but valued for their work in agriculture- they were used to thresh grain and to plant it, too. Goats show a sense of humor. They don't actually eat tin cans but will eat the paper labels off cans, or shirts off a clothesline! Wild ducks know which ponds on private land are safe during hunting season, and will flock there the day before the season opens. How do they know? Pigs' skin and organs are so similar to humans that scientists are studying how to use them in transplants. And more. Compelling book.

Rating: 4/5      277 pages, 2003

Note: if you have written about this book on your blog, do tell me know in the comments. For some reason google blog search fails me: I get pages upon pages of results from top-name booksellers, animal-rights websites (relevant, but not what I want) and media sources, not blogs. I looked through eight pages of results without finding one normal reader's blog. Why?

Aug 17, 2014

more TBR

My list is just getting longer and longer....
While Beauty Slept by Elizabeth Blackwell - The Lost Entwife
The Ghost Map by Steven Johnson- James Reads Books
Castle Waiting by Linda Medley- Love, Laughter and a Touch of Insanity
Let the Tornado Come by Rita Zoey Chin- Bermuadonion's Weblog
California by Edan Lepucki- My Porch
Beg by Rory Freedman
A Game for Swallows by Zeina Abirached- Love, Laughter, and a Touch of Insanity
Landline by Rainbow Rowell- Things Mean a Lot
Intern by Sandeep Jauhar
Doctored by Sandeep Jauhar- Caroline Bookbiner
All My Patients Kick and Bite by Jeff Wells
Never Turn Your Back on an Angus Cow by Dr. Jan Pol
A Feathered River Across the Sky by Joel Greenberg
A Squirrel Forever by Douglas Fairbairn
Babylon's Ark by Lawrence Anthony
Second Ascent by Alison Osius
Bound by Night by Larissa Ione- Musings of  a Bookish Kitty
On Cats- Doris Lessing
Tobermory by Saki
Particularly Cats by Doris Lessing
Animals Are My Life by Eddie Straiton
Blind Corners- Geoff Tabin
A Man Called Ove by Fredrik Backman - The Lost Entwife
The Old Age of El Magnifico by Doris Lessing

Aug 16, 2014

James Herriot

The Life of a Country Vet
by Graham Lord

James Herriot is one of my all-time favorite authors. I have all five of his books on my shelf, used to have a collection of cat stories too, until I realized that was redundant (the stories being selected from the other books). My children have a few of the picture-book versions on their shelf, too. So I was curious to read this biography when I found it at the library.

The first thing I learned was that the real Herriot is named Alfred Wight, and the real James Herriot is a footballer (soccer player)- Wight was an avid soccer fan and used the name of one of his favorite players. I read about Wight's parents and his childhood in poverty-stricken Glasgow during the 1920's. The book started to get interesting when it reached Wight's years in veterinary college. He dreamed of working with small animals- cats and dogs- but work was hard to find so he took a position in a Yorkshire practice that mainly served farmers. According to Graham Lord (who knew the man personally),Wight had always kept diaries, was an intelligent well-read man, and practiced his writing skills with dedication. He didn't get his first book published until he was in his fifties, and the big story of this book is how that amazing success came about, and then just kept growing. Wight based his stories on real life, but changed a lot of facts, names, personalities to keep characters' true identities obscured (though that didn't last- some were incensed to find how they had been portrayed, others flattered), rearranged dates to suit his narrative, used anecdotes and tales told in veterinary school, and purely invented others. In short, his books are more than fifty percent fictional. But the basis in reality is so solid that they feel true, and are so well-written, warm and funny and down-to-earth that they became wildly popular. So I was right when I shelved my collection of Herriot books among the fiction.

It was revealing to read about the struggles in Wight's life, about his personal crises and health issues, his private griefs. For me the best part of the biography were the chapters that described his experiences with the publication process, how his growing fame changed the village he lived in, how he refused to let it change his life, even when in later years fans were lining up outside his surgery door every morning for autographs. He was always kind and friendly to his readers, but got sometimes got upset at their intrusion as well. He continued working as a vet, even when he was a multimillionaire and didn't need to, and others urged him to just take up writing full-time. Being a vet was his life, writing was on the side. I admired that.

Rating: 3/5    276 pages, 1997

more opinions:
The World is Quiet Here 101
Engine Summer

Aug 15, 2014

Pip and Posy

The Little Puddle
by Axel Scheffler

A mouse and bunny friend play all day together- walking their dolls, building a city, pretending to be lions. They are having so much fun the bunny forgets to stop when he has to pee, and has an accident on the floor. His friend reassures him, helps clean up, loans some dry clothes, and they continue playing. Next time he has to go, bunny boy remembers to use the potty. And they take a bubble bath together. Cute little reminder for kids who are potty training (mine is not perfect at it yet so this was a nice book for her).

Rating: 3/5    24 pages, 2011

more opinions:
There's a Book
Read with Rosie
Kids' Book Review
Buzz Words

Aug 14, 2014

The Caged Virgin

by Ayaan Hirsi Ali

I was curious to read another book by this author after finishing Infidel; have been waiting for it to come off the library hold list. Ended up just skimming through, reading parts that caught my eye. It's a treatise on women's rights, especially in regards to how they are treated in some Islamic countries. Main topics are how women are suppressed and/or mistreated by men, arranged marriages, genital mutilation, the lack of trust and respect women are given, and their often dismal lack of education. Plus all of the social fallout from the above, in certain cultures and places in the world. And what she suggests we do about it. This is important information, but it can also be dry reading- personally I absorb information better when it is embedded in storytelling. So when the author told about several different women she assisted as a translator among recent immigrants to the Netherlands, I paid attention. When she went into moral philosophy, social criticism and plans of action, I quickly lost focus and began skipping pages. Sorry. I did notice that she included in her book advice and instructions explicit for Muslim women who wanted to run away from their family situation! Kind of a short guideline on what not to do, what to expect, how to plan. I also found interesting a section that went through the ten commandments, and gave her thoughts on each one. Also very interesting her description of the film that caused so much controversy, including the relatively short script for it. Read objectively, it did not seem as offensive as I first imagined- but I cannot really judge, as I haven't seen it. I imagine the visual has a greater impact. Likewise I can't give a firm opinion on this book, because I didn't read it all, just some pages here, some pages there. A lot of it felt repetitive to me. I very recently read her opinion on all the same topics, her stance and her personal stories regarding them, in the previous book (with a lot more detail to the stories) so I suppose that's why I couldn't stay focused here- not enough new material it seemed.

Abandoned        187 pages, 2004

more opinions:
Page Turners
Kulna: For All of Us

Aug 13, 2014

Fowl Weather

by Bob Tarte

The description of a household full of pets, where two people live with over thirty animals including parrots, ducks, geese, chickens, rabbits, a few cats. Oh, and occasional wild birds that people bring over to be cared for until they can fly free. I was expecting to read mostly about what life was like with so many animals, but to my surprise it had a similar theme to the last book I read- dealing with a parent's advancing age. In this case, the onset of dementia and eventually alzheimer's. Also meddlesome neighbors, inept applicants for jobs, the search for a competent pet sitter, and many awkward moments dealing with cold weather and wading-pool duck ponds. It was curious and amusing, but only to a point. Nearly every other sentence seems to be stuffed with sarcasm and forced humor, so much that sometimes I had to stop and read a sentence over again to get what he was really saying. Maybe I was too tired, but sometimes I just wanted a straight description, without the adding joking. I was also interested to find that Tarte likes bird-watching, believes in omens and is suspicious of the supernatural when strange noises are heard at night. Those last two, with all their accompanying detail, got really old on me. And I'll give you fair warning: lots of animals die in this book. Of old age, unforseen accidents, illness, sometimes no known reason at all.

I read a previous book by this author, and saw this one at the library, thought it might be good too. He's got another one about cats, someday I'll probably get to that book.

Rating: 2/5     305 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Stay At Home Bookworm
One-Minute Book Reviews

Aug 11, 2014

The Nature of Dogs

by Mary Ludington

Another oversized book I borrowed from the public library to enjoy its pictures for a while. Begins with the author's notes about why she took up photography, her goal to photograph every dog breed, and her reasons for taking pictures of the dogs outdoors, letting them just do their thing while she recorded them with the camera.

The results are some striking images. They are all black-and-white, some with timeless look of sepia tone. I did not care for the many blurred images, which really do nothing to give you an idea of the breed's conformation or appearance. Each breed page has a bit of its history (quite interesting) and characteristics, especially in regards to how the physical traits were developed to specialize the dog in its job. For example, she says that the long loose skin folds on a basset or bloodhound's face "stir up scent" from the ground, "swishing scent particles into the oversized nostrils" to help them follow a trail. I was surprised to read that the wrinkles on a bulldog's head "functioned as gutters to divert the bull's blood" when it was historically used in bull baiting. Also interesting to read that the bull terrier was bred to have naturally upright ears when cropping was banned, and that doberman pinschers descend from a dog owned by a tax collector, Karl Friedrich Louis Doberman, who wanted a dog that would "offer protection from thieves and encourage reluctant taxpayers to pay their dues." When I read of the endearingly catlike traits of the shiba inu, including its habit of purring, yodeling and screeching instead of barking, I thought of the basenji dog (which wasn't featured). There are many other intriguing facts about sixty various dog breeds in here.

Also included are brief essays by Temple Grandin, Kevin Kling, Winona LaDuke, James Hillman and Mary Gaitskill with Peter Trachtenberg, written specifically for this book. On various things such as the keen senses dogs use, and the nature of their relationship with humans. I especially liked Winona's essay about reservation dogs, which included a native american legend about how dogs became human companions. And the final essay by Gaitskill and Trachtenberg, which imagines the marriage of a cat and dog and is formatted as an interview with each species (about the traits of the other, and what it is like to live with them) was very amusing.
You can see many more of Ludington's photographs here.

Rating: 3/5       176 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Dog Art Today
Humor Books

Aug 10, 2014

Wife in the North

by Judith O'Reilly

This book is about a woman who loved London, but her husband convinced her to move to Northumberland with two young boys. She was pregnant as well. And then he continued commuting into London, often spending weeks away. I didn't quite enjoy this book as much as I'd hoped to. A lot of it felt negative- her complaints about her husband, missing her social life in the city, trying to fit into a rural community. I could relate to the parts about being a mother and having a new baby, some of the cute things her boys said really made me smile. She also had to deal with helping her elderly parents, rennovating their home and renting another in the meantime- thus moving several times, and trying to help her son overcome a bullying issue at school. At the same time she talks about starting to keep her journal online in a blog format, and the repercussions when other mothers realized she was publicly writing about their school. It seemed like most of the book was her complaints, but then again people are more inclined to write about the bad times and let off pressure, then to write about the good things I guess. Some predicaments were funny, others very familiar and then there were parts I just couldn't relate to at all (not being someone who pines after city living).

Rating: 3/5      346 pages, 2008

more opinions:
On My Bookshelf
The Book Nest
Bermudaonion's Weblog