Dec 31, 2010

some things

I've changed my plans a bit for starting off 2011's reading. I was going to do James' TBR Dare all the way thru April, but then realized I've really been wanting to read all the pregnancy/childbirth books off my TBR list. And if I wait until April to read them, there's only a month left before my baby's due. So... I've decided to take the Dare solidly for the month of January, and after that mix in the pregnancy books. I've a list ready- quite a few from browsing my library's collection online (since I've discovered the best books are never actually on the shelves, but in someone's hand!) Here's the titles I have lined up to start reading in Feb:

The Birth of Love by Joanna Kavenna
Belly Laughs by Jenny McCarthy
The Midwife by Jennifer Worth
The Birth House by Ami McKay
The Immaculate Deception by Suzanne Arms
What I Though I Knew by Alice Cohen
Birth Day by Mark Sloan
Homebirth in the Hospital by Stacy Marie Kerr
Great with Child by Debra Rienstra
Spiritual Midwifery by Ina May Gaskin

On a completely different note, I've been dissatisfied lately with the appearance of my blog and fiddling around with different designs. So don't be surprised if it changes every time you visit for a while, until I find the right look!

Oh, and Happy New Year everybody!

Dec 30, 2010

year's end

Here's a look back at my reading in 2010!

Total books read this year: 119

Fiction: 32
Nonfiction: 87

Further breakdown (the numbers don't add up exactly because some books fit into more than one category):

Animals Nonfiction- 55
Nature- 4
Gardening/Food- 9
other Nonfiction- 9
Fiction (3 Historical)- 4
Animals Fiction - 9
YA- 3
Fantasy- 14
Graphic Novels (fantasy)- 2
Memoirs- 10
Short Stories- 2

Male authors- 68
Female authors- 43
Co-authored- 8

Abandoned books: 9
Re-reads: 9

Borrowed from the library: 50
from my own shelves: 69
review copies: 0

Favorite book?
So hard to choose! Looking back, there wasn't any fiction that really wowed me. Which is kind of sad. (I keep thinking of Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, but that one was read at the end of 2009). I read a lot of great non-fiction, though. Fatu-Hiva was a most intriguing, curious adventure story. All the Oliver Sacks books really had me thinking. And by far the most beautiful, for prose and gorgeous imagery, was The Galapagos. Wonderful books.

Most fun read: How to Train Your Dragon. It was delightfully clever and kept me laughing.

Most inspiring: Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh. Beautiful little book.

Least favorite?
The House on Mango Street. I just didn't get why this book is so popular, I found it very dissatisfying.

Oldest titles:
Two Years Before the Mast- first published in 1840! The next-oldest book I read was A Treasury of Flower Fairies, from 1923. Then several books written in the forties, and on up to closer times.

Newest titles:
I read four books that were published in 2010. How Animals Work by David Burnie, Plenitude by Juliet Schor, Dewey's Nine Lives by Vicki Myron and The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson

Longest book I read was The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, 566 pages. A close second was The Amber Spyglass, 518 pages. Shortest were the juvenile non-fiction animal books I read with my daughter, especially Little Cats, 32 pages.

Most-read author of the year:
I can't name a single one. Most authors I read only one or two books by them, but these three authors I read four of each: Stephen Budiansky, Cressida Cowell and Glenn Balch.

Countries visited during my reading year:
Afghanistan, Nepal, France, Kenya, Pakistan, England, Borneo, Siberia, Australia, Germany, Rwanda, the Galapagos Islands (part of Ecuador) and Greenland. Quite some armchair traveling!

Books read only because of a specific recommendation:
The Dancing Plague. I never even would have heard of this book were it not for C.B. James! (Who so kindly sent me his copy to read).

New authors I want to read more of: definitely Shaun Tan, Eva Hornung and Markus Zusak.

Compared to last year, I've continued my trend of reading more and more non-fiction. I used the library a lot more, but also read just as much off my own shelves. I didn't abandon as many books, and went through more re-reads.

Dec 28, 2010

incomplete

It seems very unlikely now that I will actually finish the TBR Challenge this year. And I was so close, having read eleven books (twelve are required)! Unfortunately, the majority of the titles I had in both my original list and my alternates list ended up being books I didn't care for and never finished. (I guess I need to get better at screening books to put on my TBR; although the ones I picked for this challenge I wrote down so long ago I wasn't even keeping track of where I first heard of them yet, so maybe I just wasn't as discriminating to my own reading tastes back then, if that makes sense.) The books I did manage to read were:

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey
The Lady and the Unicorn by Tracy Chevalier
Enrique's Journey by Sonia Nazario
No One Thinks of Greenland by John Griesemer
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
The Moon by Whale Light by Diane Ackerman
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard
The House on Mango Street by Sandra Cisneros
Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper by Harriet Scott Chessman
Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman
The Tortilla Curtain by T.C. Boyle

Not all of the books I gave up on got abandoned posts written about them; those that did were The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein, Rules for Old Men Waiting, Beautiful Swimmers and Inkheart. If you're curious what the other titles were, you can refer back to my original challenge list. In all, I finished eleven books and abandoned ten, leaving three yet to cross off my list. Walden I tried to start several times and just got bogged down. I do want to try it again later. Pale Fire I still have on library hold, but don't know if it will show up in time for me to read it in the week that's left! And for some reason my library only has The Miracle Life of Edgar Mint in audio and electronic format, not an actual paper book. So I probably won't be reading that one either. O well.

The good thing about this challenge is that I've actually wiped twenty-one titles off my TBR list!

Dec 27, 2010

New Authors complete!

I think I've just squeaked by in finishing the New Authors Challenge. I thought at first I hadn't read enough books because I wasn't keeping good track of them. Most of my reading seems to have been non-fiction and memoirs this year and all these new-authors are supposed to be novels, but some of these are juvenile fiction, YA or fantasy, so I'm not sure if they count? Others are written by authors that only have one book published; but I'm eager to read what they write next!

The new authors I read were (links to the books I read by them):

Susanna Clarke
Cormac McCarthy
Cressida Crowell (four books by her)
Shaun Tan (two titles)
Alexander McCall Smith
David Wroblewski
T.C. Boyle
Sandra Cisneros
Neil Gaiman
Philippe Lechermeier
Harriet Scott Chessman
Eva Hornung
Paige Dixon
Alan Garner
Markus Zusak

Which of these authors have you read? Which do think I ought to try more of, even though they didn't thrill me on the first read? My favorites were Susanna Clarke, Cressida Crowell (can you tell?), Shaun Tan, Eva Hornung and Markus Zusak. I definitely want to read more by them!

Edit on 12/29/10: I made a mistake in my tally here. I actually read Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell at the end of 2009, thus the Susanna Clarke doesn't count and is crossed off my list. So I guess I didn't really finish this challenge after all. Blah.

Dec 26, 2010

Rules for Old Men Waiting

by Peter Pouncey

In a little old summer cottage near a pond, an elderly man lives out his final days. Even though winter is approaching and the cabin falling into disrepair, he is unable to find any motivation to leave or fix things up, hampered by his own progressing illness and weakness, and grief at loosing his wife. Originally he moved into the cabin to give his wife some peace in her final days, but now that she's gone he can't seem to do anything. Until one day he makes a list of rules to keep himself going, and starts to write a fictional story about a group of men in WWI. Rules for Old Men Waiting is woven of the daily struggles he faces with old age and sorrow, his construction of a narrative, and his actual memories of the war the writings are based on. I thought it had good promise, but a third of the way through found myself unable to continue.

I've never really been fond of war stories; for some reason fighting scenes actually bore me (this happens when I'm watching films too. Action movies put me to sleep, oddly enough!) None of the characters felt very real to me, neither the old man himself, the characters he created on paper, or the people who inhabited his memories. And so eventually I just didn't care. There was also the issue of format. The only copy my public library has of this book was in large print. Which didn't bother me so much, I soon got used to the oversize font, but every time I encountered a word that normally would be in italics, like the title of a book, a piece of music, or a foreign word, instead it was in bold. (And when a bold word is also in large print, it really jumps out at you!) This unsettled me for some reason. I don't know if it's part of how this book was originally printed, or has something to do with the large-print format? But it distracted my attention every time.

This is another of those cases where I feel slightly guilty for not liking a book, as if I'm really missing something. All the other reviews I could find online praised this one, and it's received several awards. But it just didn't work for me.

Abandoned ........ 401 pages, 2005

more opinions at:
Geezers Book Club
ANZ Litlovers Litblog
The DEBlog

Dec 23, 2010

Neverwhere

by Neil Gaiman

Lurking beneath the streets of London is another world: the London Below. A maze of dark sewer tunnels and rough caverns, of hidden pockets and damp corners. Full of unsavory people who have "slipped through the cracks." Our unlikely hero, Richard, is totally oblivious to this underground London until one day he stops on the sidewalk to help an injured girl, and suddenly his life changes. Simply by assisting the strange girl called Door, he finds himself involved in her quest to avenge her murdered family. It entails a long journey through dark passages under the ground, meeting strange characters and dodging all sorts of dangers. There are thieves and assassins, musicians and shabby courts, people who speak to rats, even monks and angels. And of course, a monster to face at the end. Richard finds he's made of sterner stuff than he or anyone else imagined, and when the adventure is all over, although he begs to return to his former placid home in "London Above", he's not quite sure if he wants it anymore.

Neverwhere is the first book I've read by Gaiman. I've seen praise of it all over the book blogs. It's some pretty gripping fantasy. Even though I never really cared about any of the characters -they just didn't quite come alive for me- I still wanted to keep reading and find out what happened. There are several unexpected turns in the plot that took me by surprise, especially who the traitors turned out to be, and who the assassins were working for! I think my favorite part of the story was when Richard had to face his Ordeal, that was interesting. But for the rest of it, I just wasn't drawn in very much. Not sure why. Maybe because the whole murder-and-dangerous-mission aspect of the story isn't my usual thing. Perhaps there's another Neil Gaiman I should try? Any suggestions?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 337 pages, 1996

more opinions at:
You Can Never Have Too Many Books
Hooser's Blook
A Bookaholic's Review
Novel Ladies

Dec 21, 2010

more for the list!

Reading The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving made me add all these books to my TBR list. Some were mentioned in the text, others I found combing through the endnotes and sources. It's only a fraction of the long list of titles he used. And this is only two-thirds of what I first jotted down- looking up other reviews online has helped me cull somewhat. They are mostly (but not all) about dogs. Have you read any of these books?

These all by Jeffrey Moussaief Masson:
Raising the Peaceable Kingdom 
The Pig Who Sang to the Moon
The Emperor's Embrace
The Face on Your Plate
Altruistic Armadillos Zenlike Zebras
The Cat Who Came in From the Cold


and these by other authors:
Animals and Why They Matter by Mary Midgley
Why We Love Dogs, Eat Pigs and Wear Cows by Melanie Joy
One Nation Under Dog by Michael Schaffer
New Perspectives on Our Lives with Companion Animals by Barbara Jones
The Lost Wolves of Japan by Brett Walker
Dingo Makes Us Human by DB Rose
Decade of the Wolf by Douglas Smith
Among Cannibals by Carl Lumholtz
The Dreaded Comparison: Human and Animal Slavery by Marjorie Spiegel
King: a Street Story by John Berger
The Dingo in Australia and Asia by Laurie Corbett
If Dogs Could Talk by Vilmos Csanyi
The Pit Bull Placebo by Karen Delise
When Dogs Run Wild by Christine Gentry
Bandit: Dossier of a Dangerous Dog by Vicki Hearne
The Inside of a Dog by Alexandra Horowitz
If You Tame Me by Leslie Irvine
Planet of the Blind by Stephen Kuusisto
Dog (Animal) by Susan McHugh
Adventures with Ari by Kathryn Miles
Dog Man by Martha Sherrill
Bear Attacks by Stephen Herrero
Reading Zoos by Randy Malamud

Dec 20, 2010

The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving

by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson

Another book about the relationships we have with dogs. Masson's family adopted Benjy, a labrador who was raised to be a guide for the blind but failed his schooling. As Masson sees it, Benjy is a very lovable dog but simply doesn't want to follow commands, preferring to do his own thing. (In that regard, he was lucky to find a home with the author's family, because Masson doesn't believe in being dominant over dogs but instead treating them as equals.) But the book is not just about Benjy his beloved dog, it's more about why we have closer relationships with our dogs than any other domestic animal.

His book The Dog Who Couldn't Stop Loving is pretty much a complete opposite of Budiansky's The Truth About Dogs, which asserts that dogs have evolved to take advantage of our species and all their begging and fawning is just to get something out of us. Masson sees it differently. He believes that most dogs have an amazing capacity for unconditional love, and moreover, that we as humans have learned to be more loving, altruistic, kind, etc because we evolved alongside dogs. I thought at first his theory was pretty far-fetched, particularly because there's no way he can look back so far into prehistory to prove any of it, and because I kept thinking: what about dogs that aren't loving? what about people who hate animals, or are afraid of dogs? Masson says near the beginning of the book "There is hardly a human on earth who has not at some point in his or her life felt close to an animal from a different species- and not just a dog. And almost every dog has at some point felt friendly feelings not just for us or for other dogs, but for other animals as well." I'm not sure how much I believe such a blanket statement, but the further I read in his book the more stuff he came up with for his theory. Even things like aggressive dogs, cultures that revile dogs, proof of other animals making friends with different species (how many clips on the internet can you find of a cat snuggling with the family bunny, or something similar?) were all addressed. Masson states that dogs and people have a lot in common that they don't share with any other species- retaining playfulness into adulthood, helping others in need, considering another species to be part of their family- and keeps going back to the idea that this is because we evolved alongside one another for so many thousands of years. He compares the behavior and human-animal connection of dogs to that of wolves, dingoes, horses, pigs, cats and other domestic animals. Dogs always come out on top (although he thinks pigs could be just as close to people, given the chance!)

I did feel a bit annoyed at some of his statements about cats, especially seeing that the author himself lived with five cats at one time and wrote an excellent book about them. So I was a bit surprised when he points out how his dog Benjy always gravitates to people who like dogs. Cats, he says, do the opposite: walking into a room they will pick the person who hates or fears cats and sit on their lap- "Perverse," he says, "and we don't know why they do it." I thought this was simply because of the different way cats communicate- to a cat, a stranger staring at them is a threat, so the person who is giving the cat the least amount of direct attention is the one who will appear most friendly. Masson even talks about how cats and dogs use eye contact differently in another part of the book, so I don't know why he found this so strange.

Well, even if I didn't agree with everything the author said here, the book was a very interesting read. It flows easily and seems to be well-researched; there are extensive notes and references in the back. (Which, incidentally, have added a dozen more titles to my TBR!) Recommended to dog-lovers; even if you don't agree with the author's theory, you will find this interesting reading!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 249 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Animal Person
Girls Gone Reading

Dec 17, 2010

the dare shelves

In anticipation of dedicating the first several months of 2011 to reading off my TBR shelves alone, I've gone and organized them all more or less by subject. Sometimes I just like sorting books. It makes me feel pleased. Here's what I've got.

The small two-shelf piece in my bedroom now holds all the adult fiction. In no particular order. Bottom right corner has what I think of as the "heavy books"- a few classics and chunksters I've failed to get through before or just been feeling intimidated by! (Starting with the orange spine of Dubliners and going over to the red-bound Dickens novel).
Out in the living room I have a tall bookcase that only holds TBR books. The top shelf here has all the memoirs. (If you click on any of these photos to enlarge you should be able to read some titles, although some are a bit blurry). At the end there they run into adventure stories (mostly of seafaring types) and the second shelf is non-fiction on various subjects, from earthquakes, global warming and writing to cooking, gardening and plant care. There's a few slim volumes of poetry in there too.
The next shelf down finishes up the plants and has nature and animal books. Bottom shelf starting at the left has juvenile books about animals (mostly fiction) then some YA and a few fantasy books, ending with Catching Fire (I don't have the first one in the series so I probably won't get to read that one or I'd be breaking the Dare by visiting the library!). The last eleven books on that shelf don't count; I've actually read them before. The only reason they're sitting in the TBR is that it's been so long since I last read them I'm not sure if they're ones I want to keep. So I plan on giving them a new read before I decide to shelve them with the collection or hand on.
I almost forgot to include the oversize books off my "coffee-table" shelf, in the other bookcase that holds all my permanent collection. Most of these are nature/animal books, with a few on gardening/food and art.

And that's it! Now I feel like I'll easier be able to zero in on what I'm in the mood for, when searching for a read during the Dare. My Library Thing says I've got 121 unread books but when I try to count them on the actual shelves it's more like 184; I must've forgotten to enter a few titles when they came into the house. Still, plenty to choose from!

Dec 16, 2010

Dewey's Nine Lives

by Viki Myron and Bret Witter

The past week I've gone through a string of frustratingly uninteresting (to me) books. The latest ones I borrowed from the library to finish up my TBR challenge just were not grabbing my interest: Split Estate, Last of Her Kind, The God of Small Things, Sweetness in the Belly. All failed me before fifty pages. Even Walden, which I've wanted to read forever, was so difficult to get into I gave up. So it was nice to find something that looked familiar and friendly on the shelf: Dewey the famous library cat.

Dewey's Nine Lives isn't all about Dewey, although there are several stories of him in there. Mostly it's a collection of stories about other cats; their owners were inspired to share after their hearts were touched by reading about Dewey. I really enjoyed reading the first part of this book. The cats and their people are all such individuals. There are snuggly affectionate cats and bold, independent cats. Cats that came into the lives of people who sorely needed them, and others that made their way into someone's life who never wanted pets or cats before. My favorite story was about the cat that healed the heart of a veteran with PTSD, and the cat who amazed me was the one that spent his days roaming the wild only to come running when his owner called. That cat at different times in his life, survived an owl attack, being bitten by a coyote, and swiped by a bear! There are stories of cats who are the sole animal soaking up their owners' love, and then there's the Florida resort that was practically overrun by cats when the kind-hearted owners started feeding strays. What ties these stories all together is the deep bond each cat has with its human family, and the difference the cats made in each person's life. Very heartwarming stuff.

There were only a few things about the book that lessened my enjoyment of it. Some of the chapters drag at first; you get a lot of backstory about the people involved (and the history of different towns) before the cat ever comes along. The author kept interjecting her own Dewey experiences into other people's stories, as well. It did show how she sympathized with the other characters (sometimes people she'd never even met) but at other times it just felt like an interruption, or filler for a story that didn't have enough detail. And I lost count of how many times she re-told snippets from the first Dewey book, especially finding him in the book drop. The last chapter really started to loose my interest. The first eighteen pages were all about this man's life before a cat made an appearance, and even then the cat had a minor role. It wasn't until the end when the story dovetailed with Viki's own that I realized why. It was more about the author's own personal life and just kinda lost focus for me. In the end, a new kitty comes into Viki's life- never one that could replace Dewey (having such an opposite personality, too!) but one that brought her new love.

If you liked Dewey, or like cats, I recommend this read! Otherwise, it might be of little interest.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 306 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Bookfoolery and Babble
Hooser's Blook
Lesa's Book Critiques

Dec 13, 2010

reading plans

I've decided to take on CB Jame's TBR Dare for 2011.

I'm going the whole way. Only reading books off my TBR pile until April. I'm actually pretty eager to see how far I can get. I might join a few other small challenges during the year, as long as the books are ones already on my shelves, so I won't be breaking the dare.

It will make me sad not to bring anything home from the library for a while, but I've also been feeling sad at not allowing myself go on book-buying binges (even the cheapest sale ones!) until my shelves have been lightened to make room. So if this dare helps me clear off some shelves, then I'll be very happy to finally go book hunting and fill them up again!

Dec 10, 2010

The House on Mango Street

by Sandra Cisneros

Through a series of brief vignettes, Cisneros tells the story of a young Latino girl growing up in a poor city neighborhood. She mentions her siblings, how she hates her shabby little house, all the various characters in the neighborhood- those she's afraid of, admires, thinks are crazy, whatever. How women are oppressed, men often abusive, love and security something everyone searches for in their own way. She talks about how she doesn't want to belong there, wants to leave and find something more. The short book is like a collective snapshot of her neighborhood and some thoughts, all slapped together like a collage. One you wouldn't get much from unless you already knew the stories behind the pictures. Because, even though so many readers have loved this book (and apparently it's taught in schools across the country!)

While I did sometimes like the imagery Cisneros used (other times it just made no sense) it all ran through my head like water through a sieve. Most of the characters in the book are mentioned once and hardly again, so it's difficult to get a sense of any of them as people. Even when some of them showed up again, I hardly recognized them. Each little chapter is so short- barely more than a single page- I never felt like I got much meat out of them. The story doesn't really progress, it's just a collection of moments- which works okay sometimes, but didn't here for me. I got to the end and wondered what I'd just read. Nothing stuck. I didn't even get a sense of place at all. Turned back through the pages and not once did I see it mentioned that the neighborhood was in Chicago, like the back cover says. Where does it say that?

I feel like a dissenter here, but I just don't get what's so great about this book. Maybe I read it too fast. Maybe it's better in the original Spanish- although my copy doesn't mention a translator, so I wonder if the author wrote this version into English herself? Anyhow, my disappointment with The House on Mango Street certainly doesn't encourage me to try anything else by this author.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 110 pages, 1984

more opinions at:
The Zen Leaf
Aelia Reads
Kyusi Reader 
Ready When You Are, C.B.

Dec 9, 2010

Dogear Challenge ends

The end of this month wraps up my Dogeared Reading Challenge. The last book I read for it was Christmas Horse. It was an old used paperback with the cover chipped and worn, and half-separated from the rest of the book.

The other titles I read were:

The Road by Cormac McCarthy
Making Things Grow by Thalassa Cruso
Animal Orphanage by Ric Garvey
Popular Flowering Plants by H.L.V Fletcher
The Owl Service by Alan Garner
Guns, Germs and Steel by Jared Diamond
The Golden Book of Wild Animal Pets by Roy Pinney
Endurance by Alfred Lansing
and Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

I have a giveaway of books and bookmarks available for someone who's finished the challenge! Simply leave a link to your wrap-up post in order to be entered in the drawing. I'll wait until the end of the month, and randomly select a winner from the names the week after. There's also a contest going on for who's read the Most Battered Book- do you think yours qualifies? Leave a link to show us photos of what sorry shape your book is in, and you can be entered! I'm planning on selecting the winner of that one by popular vote- more details forthcoming.

Dec 8, 2010

The Memoirs of Elizabeth Frankenstein

by Theodore Roszak

Roszak retells the story of Frankenstein from the viewpoint of Victor's unfortunate bride, Elizabeth. An inquisitive and intelligent young woman, she is taught by tutors in the household, and more particularly, by her adoptive mother the Lady Caroline. Her closeness to Victor is encouraged; more than just brother and sister, they are destined to marry and their union is (apparently) also part of some great experiment (which I could not make head or tails of, as you shall see). So... as part of her education Elizabeth learns to take no shame in her body and gets initiated into a secret cult of women which reveals to her all kinds of ancient female knowledge. I was blasting through the book, enjoying the writing and intrigued by the story until it got to a certain point. Elizabeth's gradual awareness of her sexuality was not repugnant to me, but things started to get really weird when Victor was included in some of the secret rites, which started to combine alchemy with eroticism. It was so bizarre. I thought alchemy had to do with turning stuff into gold? what does that have to do with sex? and all the obscure symbolism made no sense either and I got weary of trying to figure it out. The more interesting part of the story was the constant contrast between Victor's hunger for scientific knowledge- dissection, mathematics, the new discovery of electricity (we all know to what use he put that!)- and Elizabeth's blossoming understanding of the strengths of women- founded in the wonders of nature. But all that alchemy/mystic sex stuff was just too bewildering. It actually started to bore me. Who else has picked up this book? what did you make of it?

I am remember now and have no idea how this book got onto my TBR list. I think I read a review of it somewhere online that sparked my interest, but can't find that now. For a few other reader's opinions, check out the links below.

Abandoned........ 425 pages, 1995

more opinions at:
Las Risas
somewhere i have never travelled
The Actress and the Bishop

Dec 7, 2010

The Tortilla Curtain

by T.C. Boyle

Set in Southern California, The Tortilla Curtain tells the story of two couples from very disparate circumstances. One is white, well-to-do, living in a gated community, fretting over their safety and security. The other couple is desperately poor, illegal immigrants from Mexico trying to better their lives in this new country. The lives of the two couples intersect when the white guy accidentally hits the Mexican with his car, then just hands him twenty bucks as the injured man flees into the bushes, terrified of being taken to a doctor and then deported. Now unable to work, Candido holes up in the brush at the bottom of a canyon while his young pregnant wife struggles to find work. Everything seems stacked against them, and things just seem to go from bad to worse. Every time they manage to save a little money and hope for a decent place to live, something happens to wipe them out again. Meanwhile, the white couple are at odds with each other: the husband, a nature-lover, enjoys his free access to the hills straight from his backyard; his wife, paranoid about gangs and illegals stealing and spraying graffiti (not to mention her terror of the coyote that threatens her small dogs) is pushing to build a wall around the entire community. All sorts of issues roil around here, and none of the characters are portrayed as black-and-white; they all have their flaws, their sympathies. Even when I hated what the rich folks were doing, I could see why they felt the way they did. This book really packs a punch. Near the end I was smiling when something good finally happened to the poor couple but then everything suddenly spirals into disaster again. It leaves the reader kind of shocked at the end.

But finally, a good read! I simply could not put this one down. Every time a chapter ended I was anxious to continue its thread and find out what happened next. Especially with the Mexican characters. I felt so much more for them, horrified at the depravities they lived through, moved at the final scene which although terribly sad, illuminated the humanity and compassion Candido still had, even while the whole world (it seemed) trod him down.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 355 pages, 1995

More opinions at:
Caribousmom
Savidge Reads
The Hays Crew
I Read, I Knit, I Am

Dec 6, 2010

it never ends

the additions to the ever-growing TBR list. Here's a list of the titles that caught my eye the past week or so, thanks to all the wonderful bloggers linked to below.


Where the Wild Things Were by William Stolzenburg- Things Mean a Lot 
Tell Me Another Morning by Zdena Berger- At Home with Books
Under the Overpass by Mike Yankoski- Bookfoolery and Babble 
Eating Animals by Jonathan Foer-this one's actually already on my TBR, but So Many Books made it grab my eye yet again.
Old School by Tobias Wolff from Jenny's Books
My Masai Life by Robin Wiszowaty- Book Addiction
The Story of Sushi by Trevor Corson- Stay at Home Bookworm
Scent of the Missing by Susannah Charleson from Caribousmom
The Gift of Stones by Jim Crace- Ready When You Are, CB
The Night Shift by Brian Goldman- Hooser's Blook

I've also added to my list This Organic Life and Growing Older by Joan Gussow, thanks to reading some gardening blogs, but I forgot to make a note of who pointed me to them.

Dec 5, 2010

winner!

Patty is the winner of my recent giveaway.
To claim your prize Patty, just email me and I'll send your book and bookmarks soon!

Dec 4, 2010

Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper

by Harriet Scott Chessman

A quiet, musing sort of novel that I liked well enough, but didn't feel any deep connection to or admiration for. O dear. Seems like I'm starting lots of posts off that way lately.... I can't remember what first landed Lydia Cassatt Reading the Morning Paper on my TBR list, but I recently borrowed it from the library to read for my last challenge of the year (wondering if I can get four more books done before the month's over!)

The little book is written from the viewpoint of Mary Cassatt's sister, who sits as a model for several paintings. It gives an intimate look into the daily life of the artist's family, in a particularly painful time of their lives. Because Lydia had just been diagnosed with Bright's disease, and was facing her inevitable death. Her musings presented here are broken, wandering from childhood memories to painful moments of illness and death among family and friends (some of which I never quite sorted out) to her desires to comfort her sister who felt bereft at the idea of loosing her sister. It was hard for me to keep track of the family or really feel close to them- I don't know much about Mary Cassatt's life and this book just felt like a brief snapshot, so I was confused by the mention of names and places left unexplained. A few things did become clear to me- the story of Mary Cassatt's relationship with Edgar Degas, and also of the family's friendship with May Alcott (sister to the writer Louisa). I did like very much to read of Mary's paintings, what inspired them, the creative process she took, her family's reactions to them, criticisms Degas made, etc. But much of the rest of the book, although presented quite tenderly, somehow did not touch me. I think because I spent so much time puzzling over who was who and lived where when... I felt like I should go look up wiki to read more about her life so it would be clear to me, but was too tired to bother.

I've been feeling kind of dissatisfied with my reading lately. I can't tell if it's the books, or just me! Because most other readers were very charmed with this book (see a few samples below).

Rating: 3/5 ....... 164 pages, 2001

More opinions at:
A Fondness for Reading
The Captive Reader
Bermudaonion's Weblog

Dec 2, 2010

The Lady and the Unicorn

by Tracy Chevalier

Have you ever seen the Lady and the Unicorn tapestries? I've only viewed reproductions of them in books, but I'd love to see them in person someday.

Tracy Chevalier here has woven a story about what inspired the creation of the tapestries- unknown to history. It's certainly not what I expected. In the very first pages the reader encounters the unsavory character of Nicolas des Innocents, the arrogant artist who designed the tapestries. He seems to only think of himself- how great his work is, or how much the ladies like him (even when they don't). Everywhere he goes, from the house of the nobleman who commissioned him to create the tapestry designs, or the workshop that wove the tapestries in Brussels, he's trying to seduce young women (and constantly causing problems). The story is told through the eyes of several different characters- the artist Nicolas, the wife of the nobleman (who convinced him to make unicorns, not a battle scene as her husband originally wanted), the daughter of Georges de la Chapelle who runs the tapestry workshop, and many other minor characters. It gives the reader a nice look at all the different types of people who were involved in the making of the tapestries, and the layers of social classes at the time. But it also kept me from really connecting to any of the characters, like I had in Girl with a Pearl Earring (which was told from one character's point of view and thus felt more intimate). Added to that the fact that I didn't really like any of the characters I mostly read the story with an idle curiosity to see what would happen, and out of interest in the tapestry work itself. Although that was hard to picture. At least one diagram of the loom described in the book would have made it easier to understand. So for me The Lady and the Unicorn was an nice enough read, interesting in some respects but in the end rather unsatisfying.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 250 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Shelf Love
Hooser's Blook
The Maiden's Court
NovelWhore's Blog

Nov 30, 2010

Rescuing Sprite

by Mark Levin

Hm. Famous guy writes about his dog. I know his family loved the dog very much, and he was special to them, but I just didn't feel anything special about this book. There was nothing amazing about Sprite like, say, the feats of Moobli, nor was the book funny like Marley. It's not very well-written (in my opinion) so aside from that, just a nice (rather sad) story about a family dog. On the one hand, there are tons of families out there with beloved dogs who can relate to his story, on the other hand I'm not sure why the effort to write Rescuing Sprite. Half of it seems to be the author gushing about how wonderful and special his dog is, without making me understand why; and the other half he's just talking about himself and outpouring his guilt for not having prolonged the dog's life more. Sprite was an older dog adopted when he already had most of his life behind him and a plethora of health problems. Unfortunately by the time his new family figured out what was going on, it was pretty much too late to save him. They only owned him for two years. (All the more reason why I kept wanting to know what was so special about Sprite? He says the dog gave their family so much more than they ever did for him, and yet I didn't see it). The ending is really very sad, especially the months of grief and guilt he went through after the dog's death. So... I would say unless you are a dog-lover, or have owned and lost a dog, or don't mind crying at the end of a dog story, this book probably won't have much for you. It was merely an okay read for me. It's simply that I've read so many other dog stories that were much better told.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 216 pages, 2007

More opinions at:
a man and his dog
needmoretoread
Thoughts, Commentary and other Various Ramblings
American Dog Blog

Nov 29, 2010

Christmas Horse

by Glenn Balch

Another old but good horse story from Glenn Balch (but still doesn't live up to my favorite.) This one is about a teenage boy on a ranch who admires the wild horses that run in the hills. He feels certain there's some good blood in those wild horses, and has his eye on a particular black colt. But his father adamantly claims none of them are worth the effort to catch and train- they're just loco, or their spirits would break at being caught and tamed. Ben gets his wish however, when one Christmas he returns home from school (boarding in the city with his aunt to attend high school) and finds that the black colt was caught just for him and "green-broke" by the ranch hand.

Ecstatic at owning the black colt, Ben's joy soon turns to dismay when he realizes he won't be able to train the horse himself when he's away at school. Eventually he finds a solution in boarding his horse at a nearby riding stable in town, but that doesn't quite solve his problem. Ben has to work in the stables to pay for his horse's keep, and with schoolwork as well, there's little time left to ride his horse. Compounding the issue is his embarrassment when a girl he admires at school finds out he works mucking out stalls. At first she doesn't believe he has a wild horse, then she doesn't believe Ben can ride it. He's determined to prove himself to her as a horseman, and finally gets his chance in a spectacular way.

This book was a slow start. Nice enough, but not very interesting until it got to the part where he was trying to juggle school, work and horse-training, as well as impress the girl. Later in the story Ben takes his horse back to the ranch for the summer, where he moves on from just teaching it to be obedient to commands and introduces the horse to ropes and cattle, intending to make it a skilled cow pony. All the while he's anxious to show his father that this wild horse amounted to something good.

It's a pretty good story, if you like horses. I got a chuckle out of the horse's name: Inkpot. Ben's sister named it after it was caught, before he came home for Christmas and had a chance to name it himself. He didn't like the name at first, but it stuck. I thought it was funny.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 252 pages, 1949

Nov 28, 2010

The Coachman Rat

by David Henry Wilson

Yesterday I decided to pick up a familiar book and just enjoy it. One I read so long ago the ending was just a blur in my memory, so still a re-discovery of sorts. The Coachman Rat. You can read my previous thoughts about it here.

The Coachman Rat is, of course, a re-telling of Cinderella from the rat's point of view, who was turned into a coachman for one night. Robert the rat had always been fascinated with humans, to the point of being estranged from his rat family, so becoming a human, even momentarily, was like a dream come true for him. After the stroke of midnight made him a rat again (but retained his human speech), his life's mission became to find the "woman of light" (fairy godmother) who could change him back again. In the meantime he got snatched up by men fascinated by his ability to speak. First he was displayed in the market and forced to talk as a freak show to earn coins, then handed off to a scientists who wanted to study his abilities and find an explanation. Sadly, those who professed to be Robert's friends only had their own interests at heart and although his quest to find Amadea (Cinderella) lead him to her again, it also made the public believe she was consorting with witches and talking animals. In one of the most horrific scenes in the story, Amadea and her prince are killed by a mob, even as Robert gets his wish and becomes human again. Embittered against humans, he turns all his conniving rat's wits against the people, working his own scheme to not only get revenge on the mob leader now in power but to destroy the whole town as well. I liked that this story has elements of not just Cinderella but also of the Pied Piper. It's not a very pretty tale. After the mob scene all the events tend to go downhill, and the ending, while dark and violent, was also fitting- considering the historical role rats have played in connection with the Black Plague. All in all a very interesting read, if you like your fairy tales with a twist.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 171 pages, 1985

More opinions at:
Jenny's Books
anyone else?

Nov 27, 2010

Diary of a Pigeon Watcher

by Doris Schwerin

When I picked up this book at a used sale, I thought it looked familiar and perhaps I'd read it a long time ago. After getting fifty pages in I realized I tried it once from the library and never got far. This time I made myself finish, if only for the pigeons, but pretty quickly found why I gave up the first time.

Diary of a Pigeon Watcher isn't quite what the title implied to me. Yes, it's about a New York woman's observations of some pigeons that take up housekeeping on a ledge outside her window, but that's only a small part of the book. At first it was about the pigeons, her struggles dealing with breast cancer, and flashbacks to her childhood (most often triggered by things she observed in the pigeon family) but before I got halfway through it was mostly about her family, their history, and what it was like growing up Jewish (but non-practicing) in a very religious neighborhood that frowned on any professed atheists (such as her father, the town physician). So, I liked the pigeon parts. How they raised their chicks, how the young ones learned to fly, the strain of the parents in feeding them, attacks by more aggressive pigeons that coveted their ledge, etc. The parts about cancer were less interesting, mostly because I was confused by her rambling musings and didn't always quite get the allusions and metaphors she made. The family history parts were even less interesting; ie I couldn't connect and it wasn't written well enough to make me live a foreign experience. So I ended up skimming through to read about the pigeons and more immediate childhood memories, and left the rest. Rather a disappointing read.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 288 pages, 1976

Nov 26, 2010

The Secret Lives of Princesses

by Philippe Lechermeier

My daughter and I have been waiting and waiting to read this book. Ever since I read about it on Stephanie's Written Word and Bookfoolery and Babble, I knew I'd have to find this book for her. We've been on the waiting list at the library for what seems like ages, in the meantime playing a few puzzles on the princess site and wondering what all the secret princesses look like.

And now we know! The Secret Lives of Princesses is a beautiful, lavishly illustrated book featuring all the princesses you never hear about. The ones who like to sleep all day, or eat delicious goodies, or sneak around and spy on people. The ones who have rather ordinary tempers, get jealous or sad, are spoiled or even quite bratty- but have unique hobbies and beautiful bedrooms. It's easy to see yourself in one of these princesses, and the puns in their names made me giggle, even if my daughter didn't catch on to that part. Besides beautiful spreads illustrating each princess, there's a page showing the princesses' coat of arms, diagrams of castles, an extraordinary traveling elephant, descriptions of common princess pets, enchanted forests, gardens, and a mind-boggling map. This was my daughter's favorite page and she wanted to read every little description of every little dot but in the end we despaired of finding them all!

My favorite princess was the Eco Princess, who communes with birds, ties up her hair with tree vines, and like beetles. I also feel kin (of course) to Princess Paige who loves to read, but I'm not quite the writer she is! And I liked best the page about Princess Oblivia. Her face is so charming, and her plight so easy to sympathize with- I loose and forget things frequently, too. I also loved the illustration of the Princess-for-a-Day, a beautiful graceful one decked out like a dragonfly. My daughter's favorite princesses were Princess Oblivia ("she's the most beautiful") and Princess Quartermoon ("because her hair is so pretty").

Any little girl who likes princess is sure to fall in love with this book!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 92 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Literarychick
A Year of Reading
Insert something clever here

Nov 24, 2010

book giveaway!

I have an extra copy of Gift from the Sea (in much better shape than the one I'm keeping!) so if someone else would like to read it, here's your chance. I'm including in this giveaway two of my scrap-made bookmarks. I didn't have any of seashells, but these seemed fitting with their seaside subjects. If you'd like to win the set, just leave a comment on this post.
I'll draw a winner's name at random the following weekend, Dec 4th. Happy reading, everyone!

Nov 23, 2010

Gift from the Sea

by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This quiet, introspective little book surprised me with its candor and depth. I really didn't know what to expect when I picked it up. All I knew about Anne Morrow Lindbergh is that she was the wife of famed Charles Lindbergh who made the first solo flight across the Atlantic ocean. In art school I once did a painting of Lindbergh and thus read quite a few books about him.

Gift from the Sea reflects a period of time Anne spent alone at the seaside; a quiet vacation she used to reflect on her life and reconnect with her inner self. She walks the beaches collecting shells and contemplating their beautiful shapes, finding metaphors in the seashells for her musings on the need for simplicity in life, the renewal of solitude, and most of all how relationships change and grow over time. I read it in one sitting but found myself pausing frequently over the words. Even though her perspective on women's roles is a bit outdated, I still found it relevant and appreciated what she had to say about women as mothers, the nurturing core of the family who must always be giving, reaching outside of herself, but also needs to find time to be alone and regenerate. It's a peaceful, thoughtful kind of book that I feel almost anyone could find a treasure in. In a way its reflective tone and friendliness reminded me of Gladys Taber's Conversations with Amber.

A few short passages that stood out to me:

The most exhausting thing in life, I have discovered, is being insincere. That is why so much of social life is exhausting; one is wearing a mask. 


I find there is a quality to being alone that is incredibly precious. Life rushes back into the void, richer, more vivid, fuller than before. It is as if in parting one did actually loose an arm. And then, like the star-fish, one grows it anew; one is whole again, complete and round- more whole, even than before, when the other people had pieces of one.


When one is a stranger to oneself then one is estranged from others too. If one is out of touch with oneself, then one cannot touch others.... Only when one is connected to one's own core is one connected to others, I am beginning to discover. And for me, the core, the inner spring, can best be refound through solitude.

I'm curious now about Anne Morrow Lindbergh's other writings. I'm not too keen on poetry, but has anyone read her diaries or other works? Let me know what you thought of them, what I should try next.

My copy of Gift from the Sea is quite worn with tattered edges on the dust jacket as you can see here; so I'm counting it towards my Dogeared Challenge.
Rating: 3/5 ........ 127 pages, 1955

More opinions at:
Caribousmom
Book Clutter
A Book a Week
On Finishing a Book

Nov 22, 2010

Beautiful Swimmers

Watermen, Crabs and the Chesapeake Bay
by William Warner

This book got boring. It's pretty much what the subtitle says: all about watermen, the crabs they catch and local history regarding crabbing on the Chesapeake Bay (also details on oysters, and the herring used for bait, waterbirds and a few other related things). I liked the parts about the life cycle and behavior of the crabs. They seem like fairly smart animals for a crustacean, and some of the details of their lives are pretty interesting. All the other stuff about exactly how the watermen go about catching crabs, whether by pots or trotline, with descriptions of every bit of equipment that left me just as unfamiliar with it as I was before I never knew it existed, started to really dull my brain. Then there's plethora of details on how crabs are processed, how restaurants serve them, how local people cook them in their own homes, etc etc. Really, if you're fascinated by crabbing or by the locale, I'm sure you'd like this book with all its minutiae. But it just lost me on page 187 (a shame, I got so far!). Beautiful Swimmers even won the Pulitzer Prize in 1977, so by no means take my abandonment of it as the last word. It's just not keeping the interest of this reader.

I've had this book on my TBR for ages; not quite sure how it got there. I tried to read it for my TBR challenge but guess I'm going to have to reach for another title.

Abandoned ......... 304 pages, 1976

More opinions at:
Out of the Woods
Words, words words
anyone else?

Nov 18, 2010

Three Cups of Tea

by David Oliver Relin

In 1993 mountain climber Greg Mortenson went to Pakistan to climb one of the world's most forbidding peaks, K2. His attempt failed, and during the descent he lost the trail and stumbled into a remote village. The villagers nursed him back to health, and during his stay Mortenson was moved by their compassion for a stranger, and also by their need. He saw children attempting to hold classes in the open air, scratching their lessons in the dirt, and promised the villagers to one day return and build them a school.

Back in America, Mortenson stumbled about attempting to raise money for the school, and when by a mixture of luck and determination he'd scraped together enough, he returned and made good his promise. A lot of the book seems to be about his mistakes. He had no experience fundraising, or constructing buildings, or running a non-profit organization, but the failures left him undaunted and he kept on until his goals were reached. After the first school he went on to build more across the region and into Afghanistan. With the help of donors and volunteers, his one-man effort grew into a charitable organization that not only built schools but also bridges and community centers, laid pipes to bring water into villages, paid teacher's salaries, established medical clinics and assisted refugees. I was amazed that he continued to travel through areas that were dangerous after war broke out, and how many times he got himself into frightening situations. His understanding of the local culture and aptitude for learning the language helped a lot. And the people overcame their suspicion of American foreigners when they saw that he simply wanted to help their children become educated. I think part of his rapport with the locals also came about because he didn't just bulldoze in and take over. He sat down to meet with tribal leaders, and got the communities involved- most of the villages donated land for their schools and supplied labor to do the construction themselves. Three Cups of Tea is a wonderfully inspiring story about how one man's dedication to help those in need. The latter part of the book was a bit harder for me to read; what with all the conflicts and bombings, but I did love seeing how near the end Mortenson returned to some of the villages where he'd first built schools and saw children who were ready to move on to a higher education, who wanted to become teachers or nurses themselves, who had already thanks to their schooling, been able to help their communities. It's amazing what a difference he made.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 349 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Read a Book Review
Ardent Reader
In Consideration of Books
The Mountain Library
Tia's Book Musings

Nov 17, 2010

taking stock

of my reading challenges. Because the end of the year is coming up quickly, and I'm not reading any faster lately. Of the three challenges I have left to complete, I've read half the books off my list for the TBR challenge, leaving me with six to go. I need to read nine more books for the New Authors, and two more for my Dogeared one. With only a month and a half I know I really can't hope to get through seventeen books, so I'm aspiring to just finish the TBR, and the Dogeared if I find a book or two that fits for both. How are your challenges going?

Nov 12, 2010

Gorillas in the Mist

by Dian Fossey

I feel like it's been a while since it took me so long to get through a book. And one I was looking so forward to reading, too! It became clear to me pretty quick that Gorillas in the Mist is different in focus from most of the other non-fiction I've read about biology fieldwork; perhaps that's why I struggled through it. Or it could just be the distractions I've been facing lately, and the lack of reading time. But it felt like every time I picked up the book after a break, I had difficulty getting back into it again. Most books I read about biologists going out into the wild to study animals have a similar pattern. They describe how the person became interested in their particular subject, preparations required to get into the field, their frustrating and exciting first encounters with the wild animals, subsequent observations of the animal's habits and lives, and at the end usually concerns come up about conservation and efforts to protect the wildlife from threats by man.

It felt to me like this book was written in an entirely different manner. Nothing wrong with that, it was just hard for me to focus on. From the very start it seems like Fossey jumped right into her mission to protect the gorillas. I felt like I was reading details about her anti-poaching patrols and wranglings with local people long before she talked about observing the actual gorillas. In a way this makes sense; how could she study the animals if they were being killed? of course she immediately took action to keep them safe (this was not only by having poachers arrested, confiscating their tools and removing their traps, but also actively herding gorilla groups away from dangerous areas).

Result was that the actual animals themselves seemed to take second stage in her book. Most interesting I found were reading about the gorillas' family lives, group organization, what they ate, how they traveled, etc. I learned all sorts of things. I didn't know before that gorilla groups will shift, with individuals moving in and out of different families for various reasons. I didn't know gorillas eat mostly foliage (so ones in zoos fed lots of vegetables and fruit get obese!) and also sometimes their own dung (yes, even in the wild, so Fossey speculated it was to get more nutrients or organisms that aided digestion). I didn't know that to catch a gorilla infant (for illegal pet trade or zoos) often many members of a gorilla group will be destroyed because the adults will give their lives attempting to protect their babies. Very sad.

But all these facts I felt like I gleaned between reading about other stuff. The narrative also jumped around a bit, so sometimes I was reading about one animal as an adult, and then later on about its infancy. That was confusing. Also, when the book did discuss individual gorillas it did so in a broad sense, describing their relationships with other animals over a span of decades in just a few pages. So I never really got a sense of the gorillas as individuals (which is what I so love about Jane Goodall's books on the chimpanzees). It felt more like reading a scientific report interlaced with the story of Fossey's urgent anti-poaching campaign. Even when her beloved Digit died, I felt horrified and sad, but in a detached way. It didn't hit me with gut sorrow like reading about the deaths of animals in other books, who had become individuals with personalities to me.

I feel rather glum to say all this; overall it is an interesting book full of information and an amazing story about one woman's dedication and hard work to saving the endangered mountain gorilla. But it just wasn't the best read for me. I never felt entirely enthralled or involved in the narrative; and I missed that. (I know it sounds odd to be enthralled with non-fiction about wildlife; but I often am!)

Rating: 3/5 ........ 325 pages, 1983

You must read Nymeth's thoughtful review of this book on Things Mean a Lot. Has anyone else written a post about it? I couldn't find any others, as my search online kept just pulling up reviews of the recent movie production.

Nov 6, 2010

winner!

It's time for the close of my little halloweeny-bookmarks giveaway. I simply flipped a coin, and the winner is Anna from Diary of an Eccentric! Anna, just email me your address and I'll mail them along. Happy reading, everybody!

Nov 1, 2010

Reflections of Eden

My Years with the Orangutans of Borneo
by Birute Galdikas

As a teenager I discovered the books of Jane Goodall about chimpanzees in Gombe and was enthralled. I've heard quite a bit about Dian Fossey but never yet read her works (it's next on my plate!) But until I picked up this book I was unaware of the third woman primatologist the famous Louis Leakey supported- Birute Galdikas, who studied the wild orangutans. Her book was incredible. I was amazed at the depth of her dedication and patience. She not only managed to locate and follow wild orangutans in trackless forest, but to embrace the local culture, start a movement to protect the rainforests surrounding her camp and rehabilitate confiscated pet orangutans back into the wild. All while conducting her studies and learning more about the quiet red apes than anyone knew before (including McKinnon, to whom she gave a generous nod in her book- she even met him at a conference!)

I feel I can't really describe Reflections of Eden sufficiently; it is better in this case to let Galdikas' words speak for herself. She summed it all up so well here:
Journal articles and monographs on fieldwork talk about theory, techniques, and results. Popular books focus on the animals or on the adventure. One rarely hears how fieldwork changes people's lives. The living conditions, the funding difficulties, the practical problems, the highs of discovery, the false starts and dead ends, the drudgery of scientific record-keeping, the learning how to get along with people and societies initially very foreign to you, the learning how to get along with people, places and things you once took for granted, the feeling of suspension in time as the world spins on without you- all have an impact. Fieldwork forces you not only ton confront situations you could never have anticipated, but also to confront elements of your own character you might never have known. Every trip into the field is also a trip into yourself.
I really felt like I got that broad, yet detailed picture of her work and experiences. Not just the fascinating observations of the animals and insights into their behavior, but also the day to day efforts of conducting the field study and rehabilitating the once-captive orangutans, working with the local people, struggling with the poor living conditions, etc. It was all so vividly real and intellectually stimulating. It reminded me quite a bit of reading The Lion's Eye; the raw reality and wonder of it all.

Near the end of the book Galdikas speaks of the passing of Dian Fossey and her work with the mountain gorillas, it seemed such an appropriate segue into my next reading choice; I know I've had that one sitting on my shelf far too long!

Rating: 4/5 ........ 408 pages, 1995

Oct 31, 2010

a small triumph

This is kind of funny, but I suppose you bookish people will be able to relate. I feel rather proud that after seven years I've finally convinced my husband to get his own library card! Up until now the entire family has just been using mine. Which was working just fine, as I'm the one who visits the library, keeps track of what's due, picks up holds etc. My daughter doesn't even know yet that she can get her own card someday. The problem comes with hubby's use of the card. He doesn't ask me to get books for him often, but when he does he takes forever to read them, because he's so very busy. The last time I checked out a book for him he kept it for the usual three weeks, renewed it twice, and had it for a week longer after that! He doesn't care about his books being late back to the library; is perfectly happy just to pay his fines. Except that when his books are constantly overdue it ties up my card. They won't let me check out any more items until I return his!

So he grumbled at the inconvenience when I dragged him into the library to put his signature on the form, but then commented how easy it was to get a card, and started looking at all the DVDs (especially documentaries) the library has available for checkout; brought several home with him that day. So now he's happy and I'm happy- I'm still getting his books for him, and returning them, but no more problems for me if his are late time after time! It was just amusing to me that it took this long to finally convince him he needed his own piece of plastic to borrow library stuff. Phew!

Oct 29, 2010

bookmarks giveaway



I've got four halloweeny bookmarks, here, ready to be part of your reading! A tasmanian devil, spider, bat and rat. If you'd like to win the set, simply leave a comment. (Must be easy for me to find your email). I'll draw a winner at random next weekend (the first one in Nov).

Oct 28, 2010

more on the list


Once again, even though I'm not reading much at the moment (being more inclined to sleep when I have quiet time ha) I'm still adding plenty of titles to my TBR! Here's books that caught my eye in the past few weeks, and links to the blogs I found them on. Have you read any of these? They all look so good!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok- Books and Movies
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson from Literary Feline
Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell
The Bells by Richard Harvell- Stuff as Dreams are Made On
The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Homer's Odyssey by Gwen Cooper- Maggie Reads
Dewey's Nine Lives by Viki Myron from Bookfoolery
Eels by James Prosek from Amy Reads
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle- Caribousmom
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach- Just Book Reading

Oct 27, 2010

In Search of the Red Ape

by John McKinnon

When John McKinnon set off into the forests of Borneo and Sumatra to study orangutans, little was known about the large apes. Secretive and solitary, they are hard to find in the dense jungles, but McKinnon taught himself how to survive in the tropical wilderness, spending nights out in the forest tracking individual orangutans for days at a time (which shocked the natives who helping him in camp; they were terrified of being in the forest after dark). He learned the terrain well, and became known among the natives as an "animal magician" and among other researchers and tourists as one would could always find the orangutans. McKinnon describes some of his encounters with the orangutans, as well as myriads of other exotic animals, including lots of other primates, snakes, elephants and beautiful birds. He was particularly interested in studying how orangutans co-existed with other primates that used the same food supply, like the siamang (a type of gibbon).

One thing really jumped out at me in the text. At one point the author describes seeing older, very large adult male orangutans who were too heavy to travel in the trees. Instead they walked upright on the forest floor. Later in the book he talks about a mysterious animal the villagers feared called batutut, supposedly a black, hairy upright primate that left large footprints. McKinnnon himself reported seeing orangutans with very dark hair, brown or almost black. My mind immediately made a connection. I'm surprised that the author himself didn't wonder if batutut was nothing more than a large, ground-dwelling male orangutan. Anyone else think that's probable?

Well, if you're interested in orangutans, this is a fairly good read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 222 pages, 1974

Oct 21, 2010

Life Above the Jungle Floor

A Biologist Explores a Strange and Hidden Treetop World
by Donald Perry

This book kind of wasn't what I expected, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I thought I was going to get a detailed description of the author's explorations in the upper stories of tropical jungle, but that was only one aspect of Life Above the Jungle Floor. It starts with the author explaining how he got into biology studies, and his excitement when he found that (at the time) the treetop habitat was an unexplored area; most research in jungle life had taken place in the understory, which was easy to reach. He describes a lot of his methods in reaching the upper heights, using climbing ropes and even moving on pulleys along a rope strung between two large trees, so he could lower himself down into fragile canopies that would not support the weight of a person. I liked reading all the parts about the interesting animal life- insects and birds mostly- that he encountered, the mutual relationships between ants and their host plants, one very creepy passage where he lowered himself into an enormous hollow tree.

But there is also a very interesting section on how life evolved to take advantage of treetop heights, and even new (to me) theories on why the dinosaurs went extinct. I had never heard this idea before, but Perry says that the idea of an asteroid striking the earth is not well supported, it doesn't explain how early birds survived the catastrophe plus he notes that there were lots of small reptiles, which could hibernate in holes and survive even better than small mammals, so why didn't they? Instead, he posits that the advent of flowering and fruiting plants, which spread their seeds wider via mammal and bird dispersal, is what brought about the demise of dinosaurs (which took millions of years, not one sudden event). Because the flowering/fruiting plants were more successful than earlier primitive plants the dinosaurs lived on, they became more prolific, and when their food source got shouldered out, the dinosaurs began to disappear. At the same time mammals and birds exploited the new food source and evolved intricate mutually beneficial relationships with the plants. Maybe I've gone on too much about this, but it was very interesting and made sense to me. Just look at places like Hawaii, where so many native plants have gone extinct due to invasive (more aggressive/successful) plants crowding them out- aren't the native animals disappearing there, too? Anyhow, it was all very thought-provoking. The fourth focus of the book is, of course, concern about how rapidly the forests are being depleted, but that was only discussed in the final chapter.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 170 pages, 1986