Apr 23, 2017

A Zoo in My Luggage

by Gerald Durrell

This short but very entertaining book is about Durrell's return trip to the Cameroons (in Africa), eight years after his first visit. On this occasion he was collecting animals for his own zoo, which didn't have a location yet! The final brief chapters describe the difficulties of getting the animals safely home to England, and finding a site on which to build his zoo (the city didn't want it at first).

Half the book is little stories about the wild animals, much is also about the Fon, a local dignitary Durrell met on his first trip, who greeted his return with enthusiasm- just as much for the nights spent drinking and dancing as for the economic windfall Durrell brought to his country, with his offer to buy as many wild animals as the local people could catch. The character sketches are delightful. Once again the phonetic presentation of the local pidgin dialect can be cringe-worthy, but I had encountered this before and knew what to expect...

Of course my favorite is reading about the animals. The cute bushbabies and infant squirrels, alarming snakes, elusive rare birds. A baboon that caused endless trouble, in particular amusing herself by ambushing visitors and tackling their legs. Two mongooses of very different types and temperaments. A squirrel that has green fur and a red tail- I have read his description of this squirrel before, but never yet able to figure out what species it is or find a picture. Hilarious chapter about his attempts to film wildlife in realistic settings doing normal things- with regular failure: the owl deliberately turns its back on the camera every time, a diminutive antelope only wants to bolt or freeze, a calm episode of filming some rodents gets interrupted by a snake. A doormouse who having tasted the easy life in captivity, refused to leave when it was set free (it had suffered an accident which did no lasting harm but made it unfit for display in Durrell's opinion).

That's the last of my Durrell collection, until I find more of his books.

Rating: 3/5        185 pages, 1960

Apr 16, 2017

Encounters with Animals

by Gerald Durrell

More intriguing stories about experiences with wildlife, by one of my favorite authors. According to the foreward, these brief tales were originally presented as a series of radio talks, and so many people requested a copy of the script that Durrell decided to write them down in a book. Loosely grouped: stories about animals' courtship behavior, rearing and protecting their young, and amusing ways in which their actions remind us of humans. They're kind of scattered- ranging from time in his childhood spent watching insects (most notably a battle between different species of ants), keeping a marmoset as a pet which would crawl into bed with various members of the family in succession every morning (it had trouble staying warm enough) or time spent observing hippos in a river during a collecting trip for a zoo. My favorite was the description of a mother jacana and her brood -a bird in South America that walks across lily pads on the water- trying to evade a single young caiman that lurked in their pond. Also a chapter about the return trip Durrell made on ship bringing animals home- where the captain constantly disparaged the creatures until Durrell claimed he could prove that any invention by man had been used by animals for far longer. Of course Durrell won the bet by describing radar used by bats, electricity produced by electric eels and rays, paralysis (example of drugs?) caused by a spider bite to her prey, and an aqualung created by a spider that lives under water. Funniest part was that Durrell found out later that the captain afterwards would retell these same stories to other passengers to impress them! Behavior of many other animals described: tigers, birds of paradise, praying mantids, spiders, weaver birds, tree porcupine, Père David's deer, an orphaned kangaroo, dwarf mongoose (one I had to look up- he only referred to it by the local name kusimanse), a baby anteater, and a particular whip scorpion which became a beloved pet until he accidentally lost it at sea.

A lot of it felt awfully familiar- I think I've read some of these stories in other books of his, but didn't have the time to page back through them and find out for sure. Enjoyable, regardless.

Rating: 3/5         187 pages, 1958

more opinions: BookNAround

Apr 9, 2017

found!

Maybe you've noticed, I haven't been reading as many books lately. Busy with gardening and transitions in my aquariums and other stuff. What reading I am doing is mostly dipping in and out of magazines- hobby related- so there's that.

I have a happy book moment to tell, though. A month or two ago I wanted to read a book off my TBR shelf about a woman who studied sharks. She was mentioned in this other shark book I'd read. I distinctly remembered getting it at a library sale, and what it looked like. Couldn't find it anywhere on my shelves or the stack on the floor (not organized, but it's not huge, either). Baffled, I searched two or three times. I even looked on my swap shelf downstairs, just in case. And checked my swap site lists online- thinking maybe I'd tried it, given up, put it out for swap and forgotten about it. Nope. I checked my library catalog- still listed as being in my collection, unread.

Finally gave up looking for it.

I just happened to find it today by accident, at the bottom of my backpack (which I don't use very often). I must have stuck it in there as an alternative read for a trip, never opened the book, and forgot it was there when I unpacked later. I'm so glad it's not actually lost or given away! Laughed out loud to hold it in my hands again. Now let's see if it's any good.

Apr 4, 2017

An Entirely Synthetic Fish

How Rainbow Trout Beguiled America and Overran the World
by Anders Halverson

It's about rainbow trout. How they became so popular among fishermen, how hatcheries evolved to populate the streams and rivers, driven by the revenue brought in by sportsmen who then demanded certain provisions. This is back in the sixties and earlier. Entire watersheds were poisoned to remove "undesirable" fish and restock with rainbow trout. That part was awful to read. A lot of this is about management politics and departmental bickering over policies- sadly no real studies into the situation of fish in the rivers was done until it was too late. By then genetic testing and numbers revealed that most fish had rainbow trout ancestry to some degree- so lots of native fishes aren't in their original form anymore but the offspring of hybrids. In a complete about-face, fish and game departments started removing rainbow trout from the rivers they had once worked so hard to stock- when they realized that native fish and some ecosystems were threatened to disappear (fish and frogs don't mix- some frogs in lakes that had never seen fish until they were artificially stocked almost went extinct). The parts about genetics, fish behavior, wild vs hatchery-raised and even disease outbreaks (whirling disease) were interesting. The parts about how exactly why rainbow trout came to be so esteemed over other "trash" fish, and how certain groups of sportsmen tried to control access to fishing areas- seeing themselves as aristocrats in a way- not so much.

I'm not sure how to rate this book. It's one of those I didn't really read all the way through- skimming large sections that were just dull and reading with more attention the parts that caught my interest. I probably skipped a third of the book. As I knew going into it, the book is more about the history of organizations and people who dealt with the fish than it is about fishes.

Borrowed from the public library.

Abandoned           257 pages, 2010

Mar 27, 2017

Aquaria Fish

Management and Care of the Aquarium and Its Inhabitants
by Frank Lee Tappan

I read this book online. Happened across it when I was searching out treatment for a disease symptom in my fish. The entire text is a google document. I read the section that applied to my situation, then curious about the source of the text since it sounded a bit antiquated, scrolled back to the beginning. It's a short but very thorough treatise on how to care for fish- mainly paradise fish and goldfish. I was immediately interested because I have recently become curious about the paradise fish- reputedly the first tropical fish kept in captivity in the early 1900's. This book details exactly how it was done.

With water drawn from rivers and lakes, using plain glass globes (even back then experienced aquarists deplored these small containers) or aquariums that had frames made of iron or tin. The book describes how to situate an aquarium, how to catch live food for the fishes, how to handle breeding of goldfish and paradise fish, how to manage the temperature (heating water over a fire when needed!) and limited means by which to treat disease. Most of the book details the care of paradise fish. I was impressed that all the basics are the same- take care of the water and the health of the fish will follow. Don't overfeed or overcrowd them. Emphasis on having enough surface area so the fish are not deprived of oxygen. Of course some things were deplorable- water changes once every six months! but other techniques remarkably have changed very little in the past hundred years, as I just found out.

The book also describes how to raise fry, and it sounds just as painstaking back then. With attention to first foods, separating the young when they differ in size, and so forth. It has plans for a greenhouse and tells how to raise fish in outside ponds. The author recommended using frog tadpoles as scavengers to help keep the tank floors clean, and various snails as well (some of which I am familiar with). Also mentions use of live plants, and several other species of fish which were kept in aquariums back then- including bullhead catfish, american perch, a common killifish, shiners, and the famous nine-spined stickleback. Five distinct types of fancy goldfish are shown.

I was really surprised at how much of the information in this book was pertinent. Particularly about keeping fishes in good health, avoiding disturbances to brooding parents or young fry, and the benefits of live foods. The illustrations are few, but marvelous. If I ever found a physical copy of the book to add to my library, I'd consider it a treasure.
Rating: 4/5        97 pages, 1911

Mar 25, 2017

Fish Girl

by Donna Jo Napoli

Mira, called the Fish Girl, is a mermaid, living in a seaside boardwalk attraction. The aquarium is actually pretty cool- it spans three stories of the building, with the windows looking directly into the water column, and the fishes can pass between floors through various openings and tunnels. I really enjoyed the artwork of marine life and showing the internal structure of the building with its hidden passages and machinery. Mira feels like she has always lived here, she doesn't question the story the showman Neptune tells, that he's king of the ocean, controlling the waves and life therein. Mira's part is to flit through the corals and plants, letting visitors catch glimpses of her- enough to pique their interest and bring more business in, but not enough that anyone will see her and reveal that Neptune actually has a real-live mermaid in his exhibit. Until she meets a human girl, who through secret visits on the other side of the glass, becomes her friend. Then Mira begins to question the stories Neptune tells. How did she really get here? Is she a captive? Is there more to life- outside the aquarium, out in the ocean- for her?

I really liked this book. The story uses some familiar ideas about mermaids, but also feels fresh and unique. I like that it was told from the mermaid's point of view, trying to understand the world through the confines of this series of interconnected tanks. Appreciated that the author didn't make it too easy- she couldn't immediately talk to her new human friend, for example (and although she communicates with the fishes, they don't talk back in words). But the ending still had a flourish of magic. I admit I was expecting it to go in one direction which I really would have loved- and instead it went somewhere else at the last moment. That's okay. It's been a while since I read a graphic novel, so having a lot of lovely artwork to immerse myself into was really enjoyable as well.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5        188 pages, 2017

Mar 19, 2017

The Ultimate Encyclopedia of Aquarium Fish and Fish Care

by Mary Bailey and Gina Sandford

I have been slowly reading my way through this aquarium encyclopedia. It is all about fishkeeping (focus on freshwater), so starts off by outlining how to choose fish that suit your aquarium and are good companions. The sections about setup and maintenance tasks have good descriptions and nice, clear pictures showing what to do. Unlike most books the species profiles are all about type. Instead of showing pictures of as many fish as possible with very brief specs, there are descriptions of fish by families which describe their needs, habits, breeding strategies and interesting facts in more depth. The pictures are modest in number but very good quality. What makes it such a great book is that it's quite well-written, you can tell the authors enjoy their aquariums and they make this a nice read (the voice reminded me of Thalassa Cruso). Mine's a later edition, updated 1999.

Rating: 4/5      256 pages, 1995

Mar 13, 2017

A Fox Called Sorrow

by Isobelle Carmody

--- spoiler alert ---

This is the second Little Fur book. I'm not sure why I read it through, except that I was curious about the character of the fox. So- Little Fur the half elf/half troll sets off on another quest to save Nature. She meets with the wise owl and learns that the troll king is planning something terrible, and the owl wants to send spies into the troll kingdom to find out what. There's a hopelessly miserable fox who wants to die but hasn't been able to quench his instinct to live. He comes asking the owl for advice and is told to go on this quest- he can protect the spies (a pair of ferrets) and the mission is so dangerous he will probably give his life doing so, and meet his desire with purpose. Initially Little Fur is not supposed to be part of this expedition, but she feels so much compassion for the fox she volunteers to go along. There's also a rude rat and one of Little Fur's cat friends on the journey. And the crow, for part of it. Once again they cross the human city and then go into the underground maze that is the troll's domain (part of it is train tunnels). It's just as dangerous as they had been warned. It looks like they won't obtain their goal or make it out alive- but all comes right in the end. They'd been warned someone would betray them, but it didn't turn out the way anyone guessed.

Overall, I found it hard to keep my attention on the story- it's just a bit simplistic, written for younger readers, in spite of the serious tone and there's a lot of negative feeling. In this story, it's all nature = good, humans = bad. The cats are suspicious but I like their humor, the rat is snarky, the dogs they meet have been badly mistreated by people, and the fox was just as I expected- deeply scarred and tormented from having been experimented on in a lab. (They also met a monkey near the end. This seemed a more likely animal for such a situation than a fox. Hm). You really think the fox is going to die, but at the very end (literally, nearly the last sentence) he lives. So he must feature in the next book of the series, and I would read that one just for the fox (I liked his character) but I think I won't.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 2/5        245 pages, 2006

Mar 9, 2017

Aquarium Fish Survival Manual

A Complete Guide to Keeping Freshwater and Marine Fish
by Brian Ward

It's another older aquarium book that I picked up at a library sale. Goes through all the basics. There's some illustrations showing how fish bodies function, including one of the best descriptions of how oxygen and blood pass through the gills that I've ever seen. Of course a lot of the info about technology is way out of date. And this one goes into enough detail about saltwater vs. fresh that I believe in my initial assessment: the salt side of the hobby is too darn complicated for me. It has a decent outline of how to incorporate live plants into the aquarium, although the photo gallery of plants was kind of amusing- I could guess they were all taken in a dealer's shop- most of the plants looked very recently stuck into the gravel and the same blurry pictus catfish was repeatedly swimming through the scene! While information about them is brief, the species profiles of freshwater fish were quite extensive, and the majority of photos here good quality. Saltwater section showcased fewer fish, but still very good pictures a real pleasure to look at. The kind of book that keeps me near the computer, to search more information or pictures of different fish varieties (not all species mentioned are shown in the book).

Rating: 3/5        175 pages, 1985

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

by J. K. Rowling

This little book disappointed me. I was surprised at first how short it is. It's presented as a textbook on magical beasts, a copy owned by Harry Potter with his handwritten comments and jokes in the margins. Which were kind of lame. The text itself is too brief to be interesting. It's got more historical background and explanation that actual descriptions of the beasts. Which give less detail than the typical species profiles in my aquarium books! I'm guessing all these creatures are ones mentioned in the Harry Potter books, although I only recognized two-thirds of them. For me, it didn't really do much to add to the wizarding world Rowling created. Not impressed. I guess I'm too old to enjoy this kind of fan publication.

Anybody else read this one? Looking for more opinions online I was unable to find any decent reviews about the book since the film (of the same name but not the same material) is getting so much attention online right now.

Rating: 2/5             42 pages, 2001