Jan 31, 2010

book giveaway

I have a nice copy of Linda Greenlaw's The Lobster Chronicles here, that I'll give away to one lucky winner! Includes one of my handmade bookmarks of a cloud over bright ocean. If you'd like to have it, just leave a comment here. Contest closes, winner chosen at random the coming sunday, Feb 7th.

Jan 30, 2010

Defined by books

A little while back I was tagged for this meme, and when I saw it on Paperback Reader this morning, realized I hadn't done it yet! The rules are:

1.) Go to your bookshelves...
2.) Close your eyes. If you're feeling really committed, blindfold yourself.
3.) Select ten books at random. Use more than one bookcase, if you have them, or piles by the bed, or... basically, wherever you keep books.
4.) Use these books to tell us about yourself - where and when you got them, who got them for you, what the book says about you, etc. etc.....
5.) Have fun! Be imaginative. Doesn't matter if you've read them or not - be creative. It might not seem easy to start off with, and the links might be a little tenuous, but I think this is a fun way to do this sort of meme.
6.) Feel free to cheat a bit, if you need to...


 So I walked along my permanenet collection shelves, which line one wall of our living room, and closed my eyes to grab ten books. Here they are:
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell- this is one of those books I would never have read, if I hadn't met my husband! When I was in school I read 1984 and Animal Farm, but I never knew Orwell wrote novels, too. My husband and I discovered this together, and for a time every visit I made to a used bookstore I would search their shelves for any Orwell novels. We read and discussed most of them together. We're still trying to finish off our Orwell collection. This one's not really a novel; it's based on true experience, but it has the same style and feel.

The Book of the Dun Cow by Walter Wangerian- even by my standards, this book is kind of weird. It's about a group of talking animals on a farm ruled by the rooster Chanticleer, in a world before humans existed and ends up as a battle between the rooster and a monster from the deep. It has a lot of subtly religious themes; sometimes I feel like it's all supposed to be allegorical about something Biblical. I really don't know how to explain this one. I love it just because it's a great story and the characters are vivid and fascinating, and it makes me laugh out loud. I guess it just shows how much I like animals, fantasy, and books that are different from the rest. When I first read this book I was prone to underlining, it's full of pencil marks all over the place.

At the Back of the North Wind by George MacDonald- I can't remember how I first stumbled upon this book, but it's one I've read several times since childhood. I read all the George MacDonald I could get my hands on, at one time, and this one was always my favorite. It's a gentle little story about a quiet boy, different from the rest, who befriends the mystical North Wind, and she carries him away on a strange dreamlike journey.

Pinocchio by G Collodi- My copy of this book is very old, shabby and falling apart. I think I found it in a used bookstore somewhere. Once I found out that some of the well-known Disney fairy tales were based on actual books, I sought most of them out- Bambi, the Hundred and One Dalmations, Alice in Wonderland, Peter Pan, etc. Pinocchio the book is quite different from its film counterpart- the storyline is a lot longer, and wandering, and full of many different adventures.

The Moorchild by Louise McGraw- a story about an odd girl who doesn't fit in with the other children in the village, until she discovers that she has fairy blood, and seeks out the fey people under the hill, to steal back the child that was switched with her at birth. What does this one say about me? I like reading fantasy, and books about strange children...

A Swiftly Tilting Planet by Madeline L'Engle- I loved the Wrinkle in Time series as a kid, but this book was always one of the more difficult ones for me. I loved that it had a flying unicorn in it, but the parts about Charles Wallace inhabiting different people in different times really confused me the first time I read it. It's one of those books I'm almost afraid to go back and read again, for fear the adult me won't like it quite as much as the young me did, and I'll be disappointed.

Illusions by Richard Bach- I was surprised and delighted when I first read Jonathan Livingston Seagull, and afterwards tried several other Bach books. None of the others struck me quite the same way, but this one was pretty good- it's about a pilot who travels the countryside giving rides to people in his small plane, and at the same time taking an inward journey into spiritualism. I haven't read it in ages.

In the Company of Newfies by Rhoda Lerman- love books about dogs, what more can I say? This one is about a woman who loves newfoundlands, and her life with the huge gentle dogs. It's very beautifully written as well, I really like the way Lerman uses words. If I can ever find another book she's written, I want to read it.

Eye of the Albatross by Carl Safina- another one of my favorite subjects is books about the experiences of naturalists in the field. Usually those are about mammals in Africa or something similar, but this one is about a small ocean island, and mostly focuses on the bird populations there. It's well-written and fascinating.

Making Things Grow Outdoors by Thalassa Cruso- I've always had something of a green thumb, but never really got into gardening until we owned our own house with a backyard I could dig up! It's only been two years, but already I've got a small collection of gardening books. Thalassa Cruso is my favorite author on gardening so far- she's so easygoing, fun and informative to read.

Well, I'm not sure I did that quite right. I didn't really get any hardcore fantasy or sci fi in there, or any of the classics that are on my shelf, but it's a pretty good sample of the books I own and love. I don't know how much this told you about me, but I do know it's made me want to go back and re-read a bunch of those books!

I can't think who to tag for this right now, and my husband and kid are bugging me to go cook up a huge waffle breakfast while the snow is falling outside, so I have to skip off the computer and into the kitchen. If you've read this and find it interesting, consider yourself tagged! I'd love to see what's on your shelves.

(If you're the person who originally tagged me for this meme, please let me know so I can give you credit! I can't remember and I thought I had your meme bookmarked but now I can't find it sorry).

Jan 29, 2010

Tall Blondes

by Lynn Sherr

This wonderful book is all about giraffes. Tall Blondes tells how giraffes astonished the first Europeans who saw them, and recounts many intriguing tales about these beasts that people made up when they were still a mystery. It moves the reader through culture and art, showing how the giraffe has paced along into modern times, still giving us things to wonder at, even as scientists and naturalists explain some of the mysteries of giraffes. (Like how do they lift their heads from drinking without blacking out?) Ending up featuring giraffes in zoos, safari parks, and even making an appearance in films. Lots of intriguing stories, myths and facts. The photographs and illustrations are beautiful, the content informative and often amusing as well. I also liked that the dimensions of the book itself mirror the subject- the copy I read was 9.5 x 6.5 inches, a narrow book that held in the hand felt taller than its fellows.

And to top it all off, here's a little sketch I did of some giraffes yesterday. I read this book a few years ago, borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 167 pages, 1995

Jan 26, 2010

a note

I haven't been reading much lately. Usually I'd finish a book like The Truth About Dogs (which is really fascinating, by the way) in two or three days, but here it is four days gone and I've barely read two chapters. There's a good reason, though! For two years I haven't done any art at all. Then a week ago I wondered if I'd lost my skills, and sat down to try drawing. I was ecstatic to discover my eyes and hands have not forgotten how to work together! So, as I only have a limited amount of free time in a day, reading is getting shuffled aside. I'm just enjoying sketching so much. Posting here will be sporadic for a while, as well as commenting on other blogs. But I haven't disappeared, and I certainly haven't stopped reading! I'll still drop in from time to time, or whenever I finish a book.

You can see my drawings here.

Jan 23, 2010

winner

Sandy J is the winner of the My Friend Flicka giveaway. Congrats, Sandy!
Next giveaway will be posted Sat 30th.

Jan 21, 2010

Mammoth

The Resurrection of an Ice Age Giant
by Richard Stone

Although the subtitle and jacket flaps make it sound like this book is all about trying to bring the woolly mammoth back to life through cloning, there's really much more to Mammoth than that. It's written by a journalist who visited the site in Siberia where a huge block of ice was slowly being thawed out with hairdryers in the hopes of uncovering an intact frozen mammoth carcass. That endeavor ended uncertainly, with the scientists still searching for cell tissue that wasn't too degraded from being in ice for thousands and thousands of years. However, although they didn't clone a mammoth, the research done in the attempt yielded a lot of fascinating information about these and other extinct ice age mammals, as well as their habitat.

So the bulk of this book, between the opening chapters which lead the reader on a journey into Arctic regions in search of frozen megafauna and the closing ones that describe the failed attempts to find intact DNA samples, is all about research on mammoths. Their evolution, their relationship to modern elephants, and the big questions about their demise: did they die out because of climate and habitat change? because early humans hunted them to extinction? or could it have been a viral disease that wiped them out? All these ideas are examined in depth. I also found it really interesting to read about the indigenous peoples of Siberia, who once thought the huge bones were from legendary giant rats that lived underground, dying when exposed to fresh air, and were against the disinterment of mammoth bones, believing that whoever disturbed the remains would be stricken with a curse and die.

There's also quite a bit of discussion about the ethical issues of reviving extinct species, if it ever can be done. It sounds crazy, doesn't it, to make the mammoth come back to life- but perhaps not entirely impossible. They have been able to clone mice from dead frozen ones, and microbes that have been frozen for thirty thousand years or more show signs of life when thawed out. So maybe someday in the distant future, they could clone a mammoth. I don't really think it ought to be done, though. Even though the book also addresses the issue of where would such a creature live? (reconstructing the mammoth's steppe habitat) it all seems pretty sketchy to me. However, I didn't know much about mammoths before I read this book, so all the additional information on discoveries about mammoths was pretty interesting.

When I tried to read Love War and Circuses, the chapters on mammoths held my attention. So when I saw this book at the public library, I picked it up.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 242 pages, 2001

Jan 20, 2010

The Character of Cats

The Origins, Intelligence, Behavior and Stratagems of Felis silvestris catus
by Stephen Budiansky

I thought I knew quite a bit about cats, until I read this book. The Character of Cats turns a lot of my assumptions about our feline friends right on their heads. Things such as: did the Egyptians really worship cats? did ancient man domesticate the cat, or did cats domesticate themselves? how have cats retained so much of their wild behavior and instincts? are cats really solitary creatures? can you teach a cat to do anything? just how smart are they?

Cats are fascinating animals, but I never realized just how much of an anomaly they are in the animal kingdom until I read this book. It discusses many things about cats; from their evolution, genetics and behavior to how they learn and perceive the world and what exactly many of our long-held assumptions about them are based on. It made me question many of my preconceptions about cats, and in a way that made perfectly logical sense. Wonder why your cat acts the way he does, what makes him tick? This book is a must read!

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 227 pages, 2002

More opinions at: The Stay at Home Bookworm

Jan 19, 2010

The Road

by Cormac McCarthy

I'm sure you've all heard about The Road by now. It's a bleak post-apocalyptic story about a father and son trudging along a road through desolation, trying to reach the southern coast where they might find a warmer climate and survive the winter. Everything is burned to ash, most people and all animals are dead, stores and houses have already been looted so it's difficult to find anything to eat. And the few survivors they meet are extremely dangerous men. The only thing really keeping them going is their love for each other, their despair in seeing each other suffer, the faint glimmer of hope that on the coast they might survive. Because alone, neither one of them would last long.

I didn't really have this book on my TBR but when my neighbor having just finished it, offered to loan it to me, I figured why not see what everyone's talking about? Plus, his copy was pretty beat up and it's an author I haven't read before, so I could count it for both the New Authors and the Dogeared reading challenges. Although I read through it pretty quickly, in a matter of two days, not really wanting to put it down, somehow it left me unmoved in the end. Plenty of awful things happen in this book. It is disturbing and depressing and dismal. But I didn't cry. I don't feel devastated and horrified, although I think I ought to.

Perhaps it is the writing style: brief, clipped sentences which readily reflect the atmosphere of the book. Not to say they aren't descriptive; at the end I looked up some twenty-four words that were unfamiliar to me, and found they all had a very precise meaning. But the concise writing, while enabling me to read through the book very quickly, failed to connect me emotionally. And the few hints at what had happened prior to the book's events- what caused it all, where is the boy's mother- are scanty enough to leave you to come up with your own ideas, which I found frustrating. I just wanted to know more. To feel more. This might be one case where the film outshines the book, I just might respond more to a visual impact than I did the paucity of details in the text.

So... I didn't hate it, but I didn't love it either. It's a good book, I was engaged and intent to find out what happened next all the way through. But it didn't leave much of an emotional impact on me, despite all the horrors therein and the heartstring-tugging relationship between father and son.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 287 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Trish's Reading Nook
books i done read
Things Mean a Lot
The Novel World
Passion for the Page
Hey Lady! Whatcha Readin'?
Under the Dresser
It's All About Books
Diary of An Eccentric
The World Inside My Head
Book Addiction

Jan 17, 2010

My Friend Flicka

by Mary O'Hara

One of my favorite books of all time. I don't remember what made me first pick it up at the public library, but for years I would periodically go back and read it, over and over. Eventually I discovered there were two more books by O'Hara about the same horse ranch, and I read those too.

My Friend Flicka is a coming-of-age story about a boy on a Wyoming horse ranch. Ken is something of a daydreamer, and struggles to please his authoritarian father and find direction for his future. More than anything else he wants a horse for his own, like his big brother. His father feels he isn't ready for that responsibility, but his mother talks him into letting the boy have a horse. Ken chooses an unbroken filly which proves to be the most difficult horse to tame on the entire ranch. Even when attempts to catch and break in his filly cause accidents and crisis, Ken is stubborn and sticks to his decision: he loves this horse, and never will give it up. I will let you know that while both Ken and the horse suffer, everything comes out right in the end!

More than just a book about boy and his horse, My Friend Flicka is a vivid picture of ranching life. The decisions his parents face in managing the ranch, dealing with financial issues, taking care of their stock, nurturing their marriage and raising their two boys in a remote area are an integral part of the story. The father worries that he's made the wrong choices in running horses on his range as opposed to sheep, the mother worries about her boys riding across pastures where they might meet dangers like half-wild stallions and bulls, or mountain lions come down from the hills. Although fiction, this novel (and its sequels) are based on a ranch the author lived on, and many of the characters and events in the stories are drawn from real life. To my mind, that makes reading them all the more intense and delightful.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 285 pages, 1941

More opinions at:
Reading to Know
anyone else written about this book? all I find when I search are film reviews!

book giveaway!


Win a free book and two horse bookmarks!
I'm switching my giveaway days to the weekends. For the first one of 2010, here is one of my favorite novels, My Friend Flicka. I found this copy at a library sale and couldn't resist picking it up, just so I could give it away to one of you! It is a little dogeared, the cover and spine creased, but still readable, and has some nice lively line drawings inside illustrating the story (I cannot find the name of the artist). I'm including two bookmarks featuring horses in this giveaway. If you'd like to win, all you have to do is leave a comment here! winner will be picked at random next sunday.

(Bookmarks shown twice because there is an image on both sides. Click to view larger.)

Jan 16, 2010

Tell Me Where It Hurts

A Day of Humor, Healing and Hope in My Life as an Animal Surgeon
by Dr. Nick Trout

Finally, a book that I'd love to shelve alongside James Herriot. Tell Me Where It Hurts gives readers an intimate look at what goes on behind the scenes in a modern animal hospital. The author, Dr. Trout -a veterinary surgeon trained in England and practicing in the US- describes many patients and incidents in his work, all compacted into the scene of one busy day. To add to the confusion of juggling numerous appointments, phone calls and consults with owners and colleagues, he often flashes back to other events earlier in his career that relate to the present case- jumping back into the current thread near the end of a chapter with a suddenness that often threw me for a moment. I had to flip back a few pages more than once to remember which dog with what problem he was talking about. He can be a little wordy, sometimes the jokes felt forced, and I never really like it when an author tosses around brand names to illustrate someone's wealth (or lack of) (probably just because I don't recognize them so they don't ring up the intended images). But aside from all those things, this was a great read.

So many things are discussed in depth. The relationship of the vet with pet owners, both good and bad. The skill of surgery and the beauty he sees in it. The frustrations of working with animals who can't tell you what they're feeling, having to deduce so many things. The heart-rending decisions, when owners must decide if their pets' life is worth the cost of the tests it takes to find out what's wrong, and the intensive care. Although dogs and cats are the mainstay of Trout's work, he also mentions working with livestock during his training, and peering over the shoulder of an exotics specialist to observe surgery on turtle. Overall, I really enjoyed this book and the appreciation it gave me for the hard work veterinarians do.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 286 pages, 2008

More opinions at:
FT's Books
Read Like Me
For the Pits
A Peas of My Mind
Live Vitale

Jan 15, 2010

The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms

by Jane Yolen

This story is about a young girl with a hearing impairment who resents having to wear a hearing aid and learn sign language. The she meets a silent girl on the beach who turns out to be a mermaid. The mermaid had disobeyed the merfolk laws and as punishment was banished from the sea, thrust onto land with legs. She and the girl strike up a friendship. Under the water, mermaids speak via signals with bubbles and hand gestures, so the two easily work out how to communicate in sign language. The girl comes to find beauty in the fluid motion of speaking hands, and the mermaid does a good deed for a dolphin, after which she is allowed to return to the sea. The Mermaid's Three Wisdoms is a nice little book. It reminds me somewhat of The Seal Child.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages, 1978

Jan 14, 2010

Meme: Flapper, or Not?

From Booking Through Thursday, suggested by Prairie Progressive:
Do you read the inside flaps that describe a book before or while reading it?

I had to think about this. I'm kind of all over the place. If it's fiction and brand-new to me, I'll often read the flaps and all blurbs on the back before starting, to get an idea of what I'm in for. If it's an author I'm returning to, I usually skip it because I want to approach the book with an empty slate. Sometimes I go back and read it after I'm done, to see how the flap description matched up with what I thought of the book. Sometimes it seems way off the mark, as if whoever wrote the flap copy didn't even read the entire book!

With nonfiction, I often come up with a question somewhere in the middle of my reading that I think flap copy might answer (usually about the author) and read it then. I have a very old worn copy of Icebound Summer, with an awful-looking dust jacket that I've kept just because the flap copy is informative about the origins of the book itself, and I didn't want to loose that information.

And then there's always books of all descriptions where it never even occurs to me to read the flaps, and I just dive right in. I guess it depends on how much I want to know beforehand, and how informative the flaps might be.

What about you? do you read the flaps?

About the Sleeping Beauty

by P.L. Travers

I always like reading alternate versions of fairy tales, so once years ago I picked this one up from the public library. The little volume About the Sleeping beauty includes a retelling of Sleeping Beauty by Travers, then an essay examining the fairy tale, and concluding with five different versions from other cultures. More interesting than variants on the fairy tale are Travers' analysis and musings over the heart of the legendary story itself, its underlying meanings and implications. But although I liked reading it at the time, none of the stories really made a strong impression upon me and now I can't recall a single one well enough to give you the details. However, if Sleeping Beauty is one of your favorite fairy tales, I would definitely look this book up!

Rating: 2/5 ........ 112 pages, 1975

Jan 13, 2010

Anybody Can Do Anything

by Betty MacDonald

This book was a little slow at the start, but pretty soon I found myself laughing fit to burst every few pages. It's another memoir by Betty MacDonald, who having recently left the chicken farm she wrote about in The Egg and I, comes home to Seattle. It's the Depression Era, and jobs are very hard to come by, but as a single mother with two children, Betty must find work to help support her family (she lives with her mother and sisters). She feels herself woefully inadequate and lacking in office skills but her older sister Mary has connections everywhere and being indomitably optimistic, pushes Betty into one job after another. Most of them don't last long. Everything from being a secretary (dictation, shorthand, mimeograph machines) to selling advertising, working the sales floor, tinting photographs by hand, and organizing Christmas parties for large corporations. Eventually she gets steady work in the offices of the National Recovery Administration, and from goes on to find her feet as a writer.

In the meantime, most of Anybody Can Do Anything is full of awkward interviews, scrambling to acquire or prove non-existent job skills, fending off jealous co-workers and sidestepping desperate people on the sidewalk where "every day found a better class of people selling apples on street corners." At home she and her sisters pinch pennies, make their own party dresses out of hand-me-downs, eat by candlelight when the power is cut off, and put up with each others' endless blind dates. Their cheer and solidarity in the face of hard times is heartening. When there's no money to be had they stretch the meatloaf and stew to share with sundry friends and amuse themselves by sneaking into luncheons of private clubs (such as the Northwest Association of Agate Polishers), sitting in the back row of music student recitals and laughing themselves silly over the awkward performance, or even pretending to be rich and making real estate agents drive them all over town to tour big old empty mansions, where they argue over who will get what room and where their non-existent collection of furniture should be arranged.

As I grew up in a Seattle suburb, a lot of the atmosphere, locales and details of the city were familiar to me. I loved reading about the era when public transportation was all streetcars, Pike Place was just the local three-block "public market" and the ferry dock a long drive over dark hills from downtown. While the gloom of the Depression is always present- desperation for jobs, hearing of people committing suicide, constantly dodging debt collectors- the ability of Betty and her family to keep their heads up and find amusement in everyday circumstances makes this little memoir glow.

I got this book through Paperback Swap. I read it for the Random Reading Challenge.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 256 pages, 1950

More opinions at:
Penny Farthing
anyone else?

Jan 12, 2010

New Dogeared Reading Challenge

This reading challenge is about appreciating the old, worn-out and beat-up books we come across. They're out there, and perhaps they're feeling neglected- hoping they don't get shuffled long enough to end up in the recycling (or worse, trash). So let's give them some love! For the Dogeared Challenge, you have to read dog-eared, torn, stained, winkled, falling-apart or otherwise in-bad-condition books.

These can be manhandled books, from public libraries, used bookstores, etc that have passed through many readers' hands already.

They can be old copies, books which have been in print for a long, long time yet still hold together (I'm thinking anything printed earlier than 1920).

They can be well-loved books that you've read so many times since childhood the pages are barely intact (I've known a few to be held together with rubber bands to keep the pages from getting lost).

They can be abused books, ones that get their pages bent, edges scuffed, laid down on their faces, coffee spilled on them, etc.

Rules:

 - You must read 10 (or more) books that fit the criteria. The older, more neglected, worn-out they are, the better! 
 - Can be crossed over with any other reading challenge.
 - Make a list to start with, or find the books as you go.
 - The genre or subject is entirely up to you.
 - Re-reads are fine, as long as it's been several years since the last time.
 - Books must already be in poor condition. Please don't beat up a book while you read it, just to count it for this challenge. Treat your worn-out books gently, and hopefully they can be read again and again. 
 - If you want to, post about the worn books you read on your blog and share photos of the actual copy you have in hand. If you don't have a blog, you can share about your experience in comments on the posts I will be making for this challenge throughout the year (watch my sidebar).
 - Challenge starts now, ends on December 15, 2010
 - To join, sign up with the Mr. Linky below, or leave a comment on this post. Link directly to the post on your blog where you announce how you will take part in the challenge.

Optional: To add to the fun, you can evaluate the wear and tear each book you read is suffering from, and there will be a little contest to accumulate "damage points" for your books. (Winner will be required to share photos showing the condition of the books they read). You can count one point for each of the following conditions your poor book has:

- dogears, folds, creased or crumpled pages
- spine/binding badly damaged, loose or cracked
- water damage, wavy pages and/or wrinkles
- covers very fanned, curled, or separating from book
- stains, soil, yellowed pages and/or lots of foxing
- writing, underlining or highlighting  (in body of text)
- heavy scuff marks, dents and/or bumped corners
- bad odor (enough that it makes you uncomfortable)
- pages torn, chewed on or missing (body text, not endpapers)
- mold or other organic substance (yeah, yucky I know)

Thus, one book can have a maximum of 10 damage points.

So here's how to participate:

Worn and Weary: Commit to read 10 or more obviously worn books. The more worn-out, the better!

Tattered and Torn: Read 10 or more very worn books, and count up damage points accordingly. Over 50 points will get you entered into the drawing for a prize.

The Most Battered Book: A separate contest will run for the one most beat-up book read this year. If you find and read a book in really awful condition, share a photo of your copy! Email your photos and a brief description to jeanenevarez (at) gmail (dot) com. I'll published the photos here on the blog as they come in, and at the end of the year we'll vote for which book has the wost condition.

Note: if you don't want to sign up for the Dogeared Reading Challenge, but just happen to come across and read a really tattered book during the year, you're still welcome to enter the Most Battered Book contest. Simply email me your photo and description.

Prizes:

Completely Dogeared Everyone who completes the reading challenge will be entered into a drawing for this prize: Your pick of any 2 books off my "swap shelf" or 2 Book Mooch points, plus a collection of 10 bookmarks I've found in used books (most featuring bookshops).

Utterly Decrepit Everyone who completes the challenge and tallies more than 50 damage points for the condition of their books, will be entered into a drawing for this prize: 10 mylar sleeves to protect your dust jackets, a manual on book care/repair, and a custom-made jacket by me to cover one of your own "naked" hardbound books.

Most Battered Book Winner chosen by popular vote, from submitted photos of beat-up books read during the challenge: $20 gift card at Powell's Books.

Last of all, pick a button and have fun!


(Buttons were created from photos I took of a very dog-eared and folded book my neighbor is reading. The second button shows just how much the cover is curled!)

New Authors Challenge

Okay, maybe I'm a bit crazy, but I saw this reading challenge and thought it looked great. So I'm signing up for yet another challenge, the New Authors Challenge 2010. Basically the idea is to read books by authors that are new to you, mostly in novels. (You can read the rules at Literary Escapism) I'm always eager to try new authors, but haven't done so much fiction reading as I used to, so maybe this will coax me to include more novels in my reading this year. I'm signing up to read 15. I don't have a list yet, but will discover them as I go.

Jan 11, 2010

The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill

by Mark Bittner

After reading a novel that featured the wild parrots in San Francisco -Elsewhere in the Land of Parrots- I was delighted to finally read a true account of these birds. The Wild Parrots of Telegraph Hill is the story of one man's relationship with these birds, mostly cherry-headed conures, which have established themselves in the city. Bittner was living in a studio apartment on Telegraph Hill when he first began to take an interest in the small parrots. He started feeding them at regular times, gradually getting the flock used to his presence until he could stand outside on the balcony, with birds eating from his hand and perched on his shoulders. The more he observed the birds, the more he wanted to know about them. He gave them names, sorted out some of their relationships, and rescued ones that were injured or sick, nursing them back to health in his home. He began asking around about the parrots, trying to learn more about the origins of the flock. Surprised to find that no one was studying the conures (and many people wanted them eradicated because they are non-natives), Bittner began taking detailed notes himself on their behavior, and after six years had become something of a local authority on the birds. He gave slide shows and lectures, and after the book was published, pushed to get legislation passed to protect the birds. His book is a wonderful read full of details about the parrots' distinct personalities. It's also a story of the author's own search for meaning in his life, for stability (in his early years in San Francisco he was homeless), spirituality and love.

You can read more about Mark Bittner and the parrots on his website. There's some gorgeous photos there, too.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 288 pages, 2004

More opinions at:
Breaking the Fourth Wall
Loily's Book Tryst

Jan 10, 2010

A Book Dragon

by Donn Kushner

I read a review on Savidge Reads today about a book I've been wanting to read, Firmin. It reminded me of another book I read several years ago, about another small animal who loved books, this one a dragon. I saw it on a clearance table at a bookstore one day, and was curious enough to buy it.

A Book Dragon is a charming tale about a dragon called Nonesuch, who is the last of his kind. It covers some six hundred years of his life, starting out when he is a young dragon living in a medieval forest. Needing a treasure to guard, Nonesuch forsakes the usual gold and instead chooses an illuminated book. For a time he observes the monk who illustrated the volume, then accompanies the book on its journey through the centuries. He survives while his relatives die out, by his ability to change size in order to hide. He watches humans from secrecy, reflecting on their various follies, and in the end is a little dragon no larger than an insect, haunting a modern bookshop and still guarding his precious book. At one point a rat teaches him how to read, and Nonesuch can finally value his book not merely as a physical object (albeit a beautiful one) but for the words it contains. A Book Dragon is an engaging little fantasy, written for younger readers but with intriguing little details and clever explanations (like how the dragon survived into modern times by fasting, hibernating and changing shape). There is some moralizing in the tale, and Nonesuch deals out his own form of justice, to people he feels deserve it. A story sure to charm booklovers who like a little light fantasy.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 197 pages, 1987

Jan 8, 2010

End of 2009

I saw this meme at The Book Zombie, and have been thinking about doing end-of-the-year stats instead of looking at the numbers on my blog's birthday (middle of August). So even though I kind of did this just four months ago, I'm looking at a year's worth of reading again. The questions are a bit different, and it sounds better to say "I read so many books in 2009" than it does "I read so many books in the last year since my blog began" ha ha. (So this is probably going to be tradition here from now on, with some other kind of hoopla going on here on my blogiversary).

The actual questions here are borrowed from Savidge Reads.

How many books read in 2009?
94. Not the most I've ever done in a year, but pretty good when you consider I'm raising a toddler, tending to the demands of two cats, and trying to get back into drawing and painting again.

How many fiction and non fiction?
31 fiction and 63 non-. Wow. I was surprised by that. I knew I was reading more non-fiction lately, but not that it was twice as much as fiction. I used to read so much more fantasy, too.

Books about animals?
(I added this question, because I read so many of them!) Fiction and non-fiction featuring animals: 51. Everything else: 43.

Male/Female author ratio?
40 women authors and 52 men. And two written by a man/woman team, which I assume were spouses. Pretty even. I never even thought about this before; I don't pay much attention to whether the authors I read are male or female. I don't really have a preference, either.

Favourite book read?
It's so hard to choose, but I think I would have to say Kon-Tiki. It was just so thrilling to read, and I remember at the end feeling charged with excitement and wonder, and blabbing on and on about it to my husband. I hadn't felt that worked up about a book in a long time.

Least favourite?
Emma. Sorry to say. There were a lot of other books that disappointed me, or got dull and I had to force myself to finish. But they were all within my normal reading interests, whereas Emma was not only a very dull book, but one of a genre I don't usually read, so it was more difficult to make myself read the whole thing.

Any that you simply couldn’t finish and why?
16. Once or twice a month I usually encounter a book I just can't get through. Usually just because they're boring me- or I'm much more interested in another topic at the time. For more details, you can always read the posts about each abandoned book.

Oldest book read?
No question that it's Emma. First pubished in 1816. Next-oldest was The Egg and I, published in 1945.

Newest?
I read nine books published in 2008. (Only half of those were sent to me by the publisher). Had to look at the actual month they were printed in to find the very newest, and I think that would be Chalice, which came out in November.

Longest and shortest book titles?
Assuming I can include the subtitle (some of those get really long!) the longest would be Compost This Book! The Art of Composting for your Yard, your Community, and the Planet. Three tied for short ones: Sand, Frogs, and Fluke.

Longest and shortest books?
The whopping door-stopper was Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, at 782 pages. The next contender was Daughters of the Sunstone, 697 pages. And Wolf Totem, 527 pages. Then a few four-hundred pagers, the rest in the normal range (two or three hundred pages). Shortest book was Poop, 61 pages.

How many books from the library?
3. Very, very few. I know I've been trying to plow through all the piles and piles of books that make their way into my house, but I really do want to support my local library more. I'm working on that this year.

Any translated books?
4. They were Wolf Totem, My Beaver Colony, The Little Prince and Kon-Tiki. The one that definitely felt the most foreign was Wolf Totem. (By which I mean that the sentence structure and use of foreign words made me feel like I was reading a work written in another language. Sometimes I like that).

Most read author of the year, and how many books by that author?
I think it was Clare Bell. I read 3 of her books.

Which countries did you go to through the page in your year of reading?
Cambodia, Laos, Thailand, Mongolia, Sweden, England, Scotland, Argentina, Ecuador, Israel, Egypt, Chile, Kenya and several other countries in Africa. If I could count the imaginary places from fantasy and sci-fi novels, this list would be longer!

Which book wouldn’t you have read without someone’s specific recommendation?
I don't know if this really counts as a recommendation, as I can't recall her actually telling me I should read it, but I know I picked up Their Eyes Were Watching God because I've always seen it on my sister's shelf, and I think it's one of her favorites.

Which author was new to you in 2009 that you now want to read the entire works of?
A few. Betty Macdonald, Edward Abbey, Susanna Clarke, Thor Heyerdahl, Thalassa Cruso.

Any re-reads?
5. They were Red Fox, The Cats of Lamu, Daughters of the Sunstone, The Little Prince and Ratha and Thistle-Chaser. All but one are books I read as a child and loved (but didn't necessarily love the second time around) and they were fun to re-visit. The Cats of Lamu I had read once back in college when I found it in the library; read it again after finally acquiring my own copy.

Did you read any books you have always been meaning to read?

Yes. I'd had The Other End of the Leash on my TBR for ages, and when I finally read it I could see why it was always hard to find at the library! A very good book.

Jan 7, 2010

The Nature of Horses

by Stephen Budiansky

A very interesting book about horse evolution and behavior. It has a scientific bent, but is well-written and easy to read.  As well as delving into the origins of many things horses do and how they act, it also debunks a lot of myths about horses, looking closely at reasons behind them. I wasn't familiar with a lot of these misconceptions, having never owned a horse or been part of the horsey world, but I liked reading about them nonetheless. Some of the more interesting parts were in the beginning, where The Nature of Horses discusses how horses might have first been domesticated by man. In the latter section the book focuses on how present-day horse breeding practices (particularly closed stud books) are affecting the animal, and what this might do to domestic horse breeds in the future. Overall a book any horse owner (or one just interested in the animals, like myself) is sure to enjoy.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 290 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
Dana's Doodles
Horse Blog
Women and Horses 
the stay at home bookworm

Jan 6, 2010

blog award

While I was semi-absent from the blogging world during holidays, Carol's Notebook so kindly gave the DogEar Diary this award. The rules of the Beautiful Blogger award are to pass it on to seven other bloggers, and tell seven things about yourself.

I'd like to hand this one on to:

A Life in Books- I really like the look of this blog, the header image especially. Always features the most interesting books, too.

Nan's Corner of the Web- Nan's Corner is a blog I've discovered recently. I think I first started reading it because I stumbled across a post on an animal book (and she has the most lovely, fun chocolate lab you've ever met, frequently featured), then kept coming back for all the great, honestly written book reviews.

A Striped Armchair- one of the blogs I've been reading since I first discovered book blogs. Eva is on a challenge kick right now, so many I never heard of! Go on over and see if you want to join any of them!

Paperback Reader- The background of worn book spines on this blog is just awesome. I wish I had it on mine. I go there just to look at it, seriously (I'm all about the visuals, sometimes). Nice to read about all the books and things too, of course!

Bloody Hell, It's a Book Barrage!- Chartroose's blog has gone silent lately, which makes me very sad- I always loved reading her blog. I do hope she's well and returns someday soon! In the meantime, there's still lots of cool posts to read about books and things over there.

Read All Day is another blog new to me- and it has a very unique, bold look. I really enjoy Nina's writing, and have added quite a few books to my TBR because of her.

The Book Zombie- is so classy-looking. And the reviews are fun. I'm not really into vampire books, myself (yet- maybe I just haven't discovered the right ones) but there's a wide variety of books Joanne reads and writes about, so I keep coming back for more.

And seven things about me? Hm:

My favorite time of year is autumn. I love the colors of the fall leaves, and the crisp, cool air. I've come to love it even more now that I live in an area that has humid summers- the coolness of autumn is a blessed relief!

When we got our first cat, I wanted a beautiful cat (shame on me). Our first cat was very handsome- but high-strung and aggressive. Our second cat we picked because he was laid-back and easygoing- but sometimes he's so cooly removed and aloof. Our third cat we picked because she purred the most- and she's the most friendly, playful, happy-to-sit-in-your-lap cat! I think I'm getting better at appreciating cat personalities. 

I'm afraid of mold. On food. It gives me the willies. Especially the insides of old Halloween pumpkins- that's just horrifying. (Have I mentioned this before?)

I like composting. There's just something about making stuff you'd throw away into something that can feed my garden. When I find the real dirt at the bottom of the pile I'm thrilled. I don't know anyone else who gets happy over a pile of rotting vegetation and kitchen scraps.

I love houseplants, but don't have many right now. I used to have some philodendrons, until I read they were poisonous to pets (my kitten likes to chew on plants). Then I had a venus flytrap- very cool- but it got forgotten one weekend when we were away and dried out. The only live plant in my house right now is a tiny geranium bonsai I'm trying to slowly coax into shape.

For some reason, Christmas music gets on my nerves. I like to listen to George Winston's December album- where the carols and tunes are melded into piano music- and especially I like to play it at other times of year when it confuses people. Used to drive my college roommates nuts! They hated hearing Christmas music in the middle of summer.

Right now I'm thinking of my favorite food combinations with chocolate. Strawberries dipped in chocolate. Chocolate chips mixed with raisins and peanuts. Chocolate and cheese wedges. Chicken cooked in chocolate sauce- mole! What are yours?

Jan 4, 2010

Challenge complete!

Yesterday I read my last book for the What An Animal Challenge. The goal was to read six books featuring animals before Feb 2010 but I kind of outdid myself and read thirteen. That's because I realized the first list I made was too easy for me (I read animal books all the time, in case you haven't noticed) and I swapped it out before starting, to include books I was less likely to pick up on my own initiative. I ended up reading half of that first list anyway, just because I really wanted to!

So, here's the books I finished of the "coffee-table" set (the real challenge for me):

Frogs by David Badger
Alligators and Crocodiles by John Behler
The Cats of Lamu by Jack Couffer
The Long African Day by Norman Meyers
The Marsh Lions by Brian Jackman
Killer Whales by Sara Heimlich

And the others I read just for fun:

Running After Antelope by Scott Carrier
The Animal Wife by Elizabeth Marshall Thomas
A Dog's Life by Ann Martin
The Dolphin Doctor by Sam Ridgway
Pigeons by Andrew Blechman
The Old Country by Mordicai Gerstein
Wolf Totem by Jiang Rong

That was fun! I'm eager to sign up for this reading challenge again when the third time comes around- and I think I'll make myself read books about animals I've never encounter between pages before. That should be interesting.

Jan 3, 2010

Killer Whales

by Sara Heimlich and James Boran

A short but really interesting book on orcas, or killer whales. Discusses their worldwide distribution, physical development, social life, communication, hunting skills, and fate in captivity. All in brief, but at the same time quite informative. Having never read anything about these marine mammals before (aside from a few National Geographic articles, perhaps) there was a lot to interest me. Did you know that there are two distinct groups of orcas that live in the Puget Sound area, some "resident" animals that have a fixed territory, others "transient" who travel through. The former hunt mainly fish, the latter mostly other oceanic mammals, like seals. Their differences have become so marked that scientists believe they are evolving into separate killer whale species. Some other intriguing facts I learned were that orcas have a similar life span to humans- females can live up to eighty years- and the young remain with their mothers for most of their life. They take a long time to mature, and adults actively teach younger whales specialized hunting skills. Their social organization is akin to that of apes or elephants in its complexity. Long vilified for their carnivorous nature, orcas have proven in captivity to be curious, playful, easily trained animals- learning faster and performing more reliably than their popular relatives the dolphins. (Not to say that there haven't been injuries and deaths caused by frustrated, aggressive whales- the book says they get easily stressed by living in confinement). Killer Whales was a tantalizing introduction for me; now I want to read more in depth about these fascinating animals and their three-dimensional aquatic world.

Rating: 3/5 ........  72 pages, 2001

Jan 2, 2010

The Book Thief

by Markus Zusak

It's hard for me to find what to say about  The Book Thief. So many others have already read and shouted about it. I saw reviews all over the place, but it was Trish and BookGal who really made me want to read this one. I'm glad I did. I really enjoyed it, but there were also some things that kind of annoyed me.

The Book Thief is about a young girl named Liesel in Nazi Germany. Living with foster parents in a poor neighborhood. She brings with her a stolen book, picked up off the ground from the cemetery where her brother was recently buried. She doesn't know how to read yet, but her new foster father patiently teaches her, and Liesel slowly finds a new world opening to her as words begin to speak from the pages. As the outside world crumbles around her- hatred, chaos, all the horrors of war- Liesel finds comfort in reading. And since there is no money to buy books, she steals them. A neighborhood boy who is her friend goes with her on forays to steal books, then her foster father teachers her to read them. At first she treasures the words for herself, later sharing them with others: the Jewish man hiding in their basement, the panic-stricken neighbors huddled together in a bomb shelter, the woman next door devastated by loss of her son. It's an amazing story about the power of words, and of friendship. Not without sorrow and pain. A rich and complex story about ordinary people suffering through wartime, about far more than just a girl who loves books, but I don't want to say much and give something away. The author will do enough of that for you.

I loved the way Zusak drew his characters, the ways his words crafted sentences, concise and yet strikingly descriptive. I was sometimes annoyed by the narrator. Who in this story is Death himself. There are frequent interjections by Death giving his overall opinion (in bold type, like a news headline) and he often announces what's going to happen later in the story. I was okay with this up to a point, but then fifty pages from the end of the book, Death bluntly reveals who is going to die. It deflated the emotional power of the book for me, and the ending fell a little flat. I much rather would have come upon that knowledge suddenly, through the events leading up to it, or with more subtle foreshadowing. Such a powerful story, but that part really disappointed me. Another small thing to note is that the story is told from the inside (so to speak) without much explanation of events in WWII or the Holocaust, so for readers unfamiliar with that history some things might be unclear. Check out some of the other reviews, listed below. A lot of them go into far more detail than I.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 552 pages, 2005

A few of the many other opinions:
The Zen Leaf
Jules' Book Reviews
The Book Lady
Well-Mannered Frivolity
The Literary Wombat
The Reading Life
Musings of a Bookish Kitty

Jan 1, 2010

Challenges for 2010

I'm joining the Support Your Local Library Reading Challenge, hosted at J. Kay's Book Blog. At first I wanted to sign up at the "Just My Size" level and commit to reading 50 library books for the year, but then I calculated in my head and realized I might not be able to finish. That's four library books a month, and I've already got myself into the TBR Challenge, which is mostly books off my own shelves. As I average only one or two books a week at best, I'm going for the "Mini" level, which is to check out and read 25 books. I think I can do that. I have so many heaps of unread books in my house I haven't been going to the public library much at all lately, and that makes me feel guilty (why, I don't know) so this challenge will help me remedy that!

On another note, I still have one book to read for the What An Animal challenge and ten for the Random Reading challenge. I'm still plugging away at The Book Thief, which is only taking me a long time because it's been vacation time and there haven't been many quiet moments for reading (but lots of movies and jigsaw puzzles and cookie making and playing in the snow and little road trips and fancy cooking - I made pho last night- and overall general laziness!) Back into reading soon enough.

Happy New Year, everyone!!

DogEar Challenge Winner

Only three people finished my reading challenge, and only one left a link on the wrap-up post. I entered the other names into random.org anyhow, but guess what, Jenny was number three, and that's the one that came up. So Jenny wins the prize! Email me for more details.