Mar 31, 2011

Spiritual Midwifery

by Ina May Gaskin

This is truly the hippie book of childbirth. It was mentioned in quite a few of the other pregnancy books I've read recently. Written by a midwife who lives and works in a commune in Tennessee known as The Farm. Ina May learned the practice of midwifery by assisting at births, reading medical textbooks and being instructed by a supportive physician who was their back-up. In the time span of the book, about 2,000 babies were born at The Farm and Spiritual Midwifery shares many of their stories.

They're quite unlike any other birthing stories I've read. Not only do the women all give birth naturally- without drugs or medical interventions (except in a few cases where they had to go to the hospital) without (apparently) feeling any pain, but most of them say they find the experience exhilarating. They put a lot of emphasis on approaching birth with a totally relaxed, fearless attitude, and being surrounded by people who love and support the mother. It kind of makes sense to me that it would be easier to give birth if you're relaxed, that you feel more pain if your muscles are tense, that being stressed or worried could prolong your labor. But it was quite something else to read about mothers who reported having out-of-body experiences while in labor, or communicating telepathically with the baby's father or the infant itself. The language can take a bit getting used to; the women frequently refer to their birthing experience as being "psychedelic" or making them "feel high." They almost always refer to contractions as "rushes." To them, childbirth is not something to endure but a momentous, even enjoyable experience.

It all seems rather touchy-feely when you're reading the stories. A few of their practices had me wondering, though. I don't know how many times the midwife in these stories recommended a women drink liquor to slow down her labor. It also seemed like they frequently had the mother labor flat on her back in bed- when I was expecting to read about more different positions, like squatting. But the later part of the book reminds you how serious the midwives (Ina May is only one of several who have a presence in the book) are about providing their mothers with good medical care, both before, during and after the birth. The last half is a handbook for midwives. It's pretty detailed. I didn't read all of that part, just the bits that were interesting (like all the different ways a baby can present). Other areas just had too much information for me- I didn't want to look at diagrams of how to stitch up tears, or read about all the possible infectious diseases and birth defects.

At the end there are some instructions for new-baby care and the kind of support mothers need when they first go home. There are also statistics about the births on The Farm.  It's a pretty well-rounded text, although the black-and-white photos and drawings feel kinda dated and the hippie attitude is certainly unconventional.

The author has her own web page here where you can read a lot about her philosophy on childbirth.

I note the range of publication dates below because this book was originally written in the seventies, but the fourth edition I read has a lot of added material from 2002.

This ends my spate of reading books about pregnancy and childbirth, unless anyone has some really good ones to recommend that I might have missed?

Rating: 3/5 ........ 479 pages, 1975-2002

more opinions at:
Childbirth Review
anyone else?

Mar 28, 2011

The Impatient Gardener

by Jerry Baker

This is one of those books I picked up from a swap site when I had a green thumb itch. The Impatient Gardener is full of concise, simple gardening advice, about nearly anything you'd want to grow or keep green- your lawn, shrubs, flower boarder, trees, rose bed, vegetables, even houseplants. There is information on how to establish perennials, recommendations for plant species that are relatively easy to care for and do well in different mini-climates of your yard, timelines on when to do certain work in the yard, info on how to layout your flower bed and veggie garden, what to feed your roses, how to keep your trees happy and much more.

But I had a few doubts about the book. First of all, it's rather dated. Secondly, even though the guy recommends some organic methods like feeding with compost, treating plants with homemade tonics (including things like mouthwash and baking soda!) and companion planting in the veggie garden to deter pests and promote plant health (the chart here seems really invaluable) he also constantly recommends the use of chemical pesticides, some of which I discovered by looking them up (not being familiar with their names) are no longer sold, they are so dangerous (like Diazinon). Another thing that kind of threw me was that in the section where he talks about keeping pests out of your yard and garden- deer, moles, squirrels, etc. He starts off by saying you should never kill an animal but find other ways to get rid of it; yet most of his recommendations move quickly from deterrent measures or trap-and-release to using gas, poison and other methods to kill the critters you want to get off your property. Hm.

So... I think I might keep this book around for some reference, it has lots of easy-to-find and understand guidelines for when to plant things, how to prune etc. and I'm curious to try a few of his homemade plant tonics. I looked for other reviews of this book online but all I could find was a handful of Amazon reviews- all of which raved about the results of following his advice, by the way. I didn't think much of this until the other day I saw a guy in our neighborhood mowing his lawn- when the grass has barely turned green, it's not even over an inch high in my yard! Personally I've never given my lawn much care beyond mowing when it starts looking scraggly, so I was wondering about starting up some regular lawn care. And then I looked at this neighbor's lawn compared to the others around it- his was fuller and greener. And one of the first things this Jerry Baker recommends doing with your lawn is cutting it as low as you can in the spring when it first begins to turn green. So maybe he has something there. I just might try following some of his advice, but I sure am going to steer clear of the chemicals and pesticides. They make me nervous.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 228 pages, 1983

Mar 26, 2011

Immaculate Deception II

Myth, Magic and Birth
by Suzanne Arms

 This book (engaging and very easy to read) looks at childbirth practices in modern Western culture, particularly how hospital doctors treat women and what historically led them to use so many interventions routinely. In some ways a lot of the historical information repeated what I recently read in Get Me Out, but there were quite a few new angles here, too. Arms focuses a lot on why men have overpowered women in the field of childbirth care, not only looking at how physicians shouldered out midwives in the recent past but also the role the Catholic Church played in discouraging the practice of midwifery. That chapter got a bit dull to read (it often felt like she was veering off the subject of childbirth and more into religious stuff), I was glad to move on from it. There are a few chapters that each give a fictional scenario illustrating how women typically gave birth in different periods of history. One shows a woman in a tribal culture, another a woman in Victorian times. They felt rather conjectural to me; I wondered exactly how she could know of the attitudes and practices surrounding childbirth in prehistory?

The latter part of the book is all about how childbirth is approached in our times-  how drugs are used, the rise of cesarean sections, use of ultrasounds (she considers them unnecessary), babies being put into intensive-care units more than ought to, the presence of midwives and doulas in hospitals, why our culture causes so many women to fear childbirth, how babies should be treated immediately after birth, etc. etc. In pretty much every case she is pointing out how intrusive hospital policies are and advocating midwife-assisted homebirths or in birthing centers. Birth is a natural process that need not be treated like a disease and almost any woman can get through it without drugs or interventions, seems to be her overwhelming message. Needless to say, I found Immaculate Deception II to be very one-sided, mostly anti-hospital in nature, yet at the same time it was very encouraging. I was able to set aside her negativity about hospital settings and instead focus on the empowerment of women, the assertion of their strength and ability to trust their bodies and birth their children without fear or tension.

At the very end of the book is a collection of interviews and stories about birth, showing many different opinions and circumstances. I liked the fact that it included not only stories of mothers giving birth, but also the viewpoints of various midwives, obstetricians, physicians,  fathers, even an interview with an eight-year-old girl who was present at the homebirth of her baby sister.

My original intent was to read the first version, Immaculate Deception, but I couldn't find a copy available. Probably for the best, as I've since read that it has quite an angry (possible more negative?) tone towards the medical establishment. I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 290 pages, 1994

Mar 23, 2011

Night

by Elie Wiesel
translated by Marion Wiesel

Years and years ago in high school I went through a period of reading lots of books about the Holocaust- mostly personal accounts. I can hardly remember what any of them were now, but they held a kind of horrified fascination for me. After some time, though, the subject just got too depressing. I couldn't take it anymore and quit approaching those books. This one has been sitting on my shelf for ages and I'm not quite sure what made me pick it up now. It says something that it took me quite a few days to get through such slender text, though.

Night recounts how the author lived through and survived being shuffled between ghettos and several different concentration camps during WWII. Luckily he was able to stay with his father almost the entire time, but it seemed a heartwrenching thing, too, that they had to watch each other suffer. He tells about all the awful things: brutal treatment, starvation, forced marches, seeing infants and young children killed, people hanged for no good reason, etc. etc. Near the end his father becomes very weak and ill, and their roles are reversed as he must protect and care for his father, often with resentment. He also talks a lot about how his faith in God was shaken, about deep despair and hoplessness. It's all told in a very sparse, poetic style that really doesn't give a lot of detail. On the one hand, I was glad of that. Sometimes the details can just be too harrowing, especially in this case. On the other hand, I often felt detached from what I was reading, as if I was viewing it all through a telescope turned the wrong way. What most saddened me was reading about how some of the people turned on each other- a son fighting his father over a scrap of bread, men in a transport car beating up an woman among them who kept screaming about seeing flames, in order to silence her... I can easily see why Night is among the classics. It's a very personal, direct account of the horrific things that happened during the Holocaust. It just makes your heart ache.

Wiesel has written many many other books; he was a favorite author of one of my friends in high school. Has anyone read some of his other works? I'm curious about them...

Rating: 3/5 ........ 120 pages, 1958

more opinions at:
Ardent Reader
Diary of an Eccentric
Ready When You Are, CB
You've GOTTA Read This! 
Literary Wombat
Book Addiction
Things Mean a Lot
Ace and Hooser Blook

Mar 21, 2011

a heap of books

I feel like I haven't been doing much reading or posting here, lately. Instead I've been getting things reading for the coming baby, and trying to plant some of my garden (much less ambitious there than usual). But I have been managing to follow along with all your reading adventures in my google reader, even if I don't comment as much as I used to... and thus also adding to my TBR pile! Several of these books I've seen about time and time again, but the reviews linked to here are the ones that finally convinced me I want to read it too.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder- Fizzy Thoughts
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee - books i done read
Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich- You've GOTTA Read This!
Robert Frost: Farmer-Poultryman edited by Edward Lathem- Garden Rant
Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen- BermudaOnion's Weblog
The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby- The Literary Word
One Bird's Choice by Ian Reid- Reading Through Life
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith- The Zen Leaf
Let the Right One In by John A. Lindqvist- You've GOTTA Read This!
Wither by Lauren DeStefano- Bookfoolery and Babble
Welfare Brat by Mary Childers- Shannon's Book Bag
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- Ready When You Are, CB
Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols- A Work in Progress
Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols- A Work in Progress

I notice that I've been adding to my lists even more books about gardening and self-sufficiency. I've really been wishing more and more that I could keep chickens or bees in my backyard. Think of it! Fresh eggs, bug control and wonderful fertilizer, all from a handful of hens. Wouldn't that be great? O well. I think my next subject of focus is probably going to be books about backyard chickens, or any of these farming/gardening books in general.

Mar 19, 2011

Your Baby is Speaking to You

by Dr. Kevin Nugent and Abelardo Morell

I first saw this book on SMS Book Reviews, and thought it looked just lovely. So I added it to my list of "pregnancy and baby" books to read. I'm so glad I did, it was just as wonderful as I expected. Your Baby is Speaking to You is a collection of beautiful photographs, the type you'd expect to find in a book that just features photography as art. I don't think I've ever seen such cute infants before! (even the ones that are upset or crying look adorable) The photographs all nicely illustrate and compliment the text, which discusses different behaviors and emotional responses the newborn has, ways in which it can communicate with its loved ones. There's the obvious- the baby crying because it is hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, etc- and the not-so-obvious. Such as: when you are having a wonderful, face-to-face moment talking and cooing to your little one and the baby yawns or turns away, she might just be telling you she's had enough interaction and needs a break! There are sections on fussing, sleeping behavior, feeding, imitation (even an hour-old baby can mimic your facial expression), reflexes, touch and more. All of it informing you on just how much a newborn baby is taking in and what they are learning about the world around them. I love the gentle, thoughtful prose in this book. A sample:
Your baby is learning simply by watching you and by paying attention to all that is new and unexpected in the world around him. However, he is able to learn only because he can rely on you to protect him and meet all his needs. Whether he is asleep, wide awake, or in distress, it is the consistency and reliability of the care you provide that allows him to take in all the information he needs to understand his world. Love makes learning possible; and then learning provides its own momentum. 
I appreciated that the book doesn't just tell you about the wonderful babies that are easily soothed and snuggle up to you, but also the fussy ones that cry a lot or are difficult to comfort. The book was a gentle reminder to me of some baby "milestones" (after all, it's been five years since I last had an infant in the house!) by three months they start having regular sleep patterns, for example. It was a delight to pore over these pages (in the space of just an afternoon) and remember how wonderful babies are, that even though they can't talk yet, they definitely have ways of letting you know their needs and making a deep emotional connection with their family. Beautiful.

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 106 pages, 2011

more opinions at:
Becky's Book Reviews
Escape in a Book
The Opinionated Parent

Mar 17, 2011

book set giveaway!

Unhappily, I didn't enjoy reading Our Horses in Egypt, but happy for one of you, this means I'm passing the book on to one lucky reader!
I'm also including in this giveaway two bookmarks I made featuring horses (brown, to match Philomena, maybe they'll help bring her to your mind's eye).
 All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. I'll use Random.org to select a winner at the end of the month.

Mar 16, 2011

Our Horses in Egypt

by Rosalind Belben

I thought for a long time that I wanted to read this book. I've had it on my TBR since I saw it reviewed three years ago on A Work in Progress! More recently, when Gavin at Page 247 read and wrote about it, I mentioned I'd been wanting to read it but my library doesn't have any copies. So he very kindly sent me his.

I was so happy to get my hands on this book, and then so frustrated and dismayed when I discovered I didn't like it. The premise really appealed to me. The story is about an woman who travels to Egypt searching for her horse. Thousands of horses were taken from the English countryside for the Army's use in World War I. At the end of the war, the surviving horses meet two fates: those that were too injured or broken-down were destroyed. Many more were sold in Egypt for local use. Very few made it home again. The story of Our Horses in Egypt is told from two points of view; it switches back and forth between the mare Philomena's wartime experiences and the travels of her former owner Griselda, who drags her daughter and Nanny along with her in the search throughout Egypt.

My problem was with the writing style; it's very clipped and sparse, and uses a lot of terminology I'm totally unfamiliar with- especially military terms and words in other languages- half the time I didn't even know what language it was. The setting was also new to me- so the mention of places and events didn't really help me get a grasp on things. The descriptions were just not enough to give me get a sense of place without already having some background knowledge of it. Much of the story is told in dialogue without really describing what people are doing or thinking, which is also hard for me to follow. Events are mentioned in small half-sentences and then it moves on to the next thing. I found it all very hard to take in. I did get a vivid picture of all the horrific things the animals suffered both as warhorses in the heat of battle as as beasts of burden in Egypt's streets. Hunger, thirst, sores, biting insects, wounds, beatings, etc. The military tactics and such were just a blur to me, as the myriad of people mentioned by name and little else, who moved in and out of scenes with little to introduce them. I hardly knew what was going on most of the time, or who I was reading about when it wasn't Griselda or Philomena herself.

I was about ready to toss the book aside at eighty pages but then went back and read all these other reviews, every single one glowing and advising to stick it out despite the odd writing style, so I did. I made myself finish. I wanted to get the sense of greatness from this book. But it just didn't work out for me. And I feel very sorry for that, I did want to love it so. Please take a look at some of the other reviews linked to in this post and below. I feel like I cannot really give this book justice, and there's a lot of you out there who might appreciate what I failed to!

Rating: 2/5 ........ 304 pages

more opinions at:
Pages Turned
Dovegreyreader Scribbles
Book World
Evening all afternoon
what we have here is a failure to communicate

Mar 13, 2011

Get Me Out

A History of Childbirth
by Randi Hutter Epstein

One of the most interesting birth-related books I've read yet, Get Me Out is about the cultural history of childbirth, from ancient times up to today. Each chapter takes a subject through its evolution- the one about cesarean sections begins in the 1400's when they were done only after both mother and child had died in childbirth, in order to baptize the baby before burial; eventually the operations became more successful (at least the baby lived) but were done only in extrememe emergencies; today some women request the surgery for convenience! Quite a change. Other parts of the book explore the advancement of birthing tools (like forceps), how women have moved from birthing at home to using hospitals (and back into the home again), the use of drugs (whether for pain relief or supposed prenatal benefits- often going awry), the first use of x-rays and then later ultrasound, and sperm banking. Some of the stories from the past can be quite horrific- as when a doctor in the 1800's did repeated experimental surgeries on slave women to learn how to repair fistulas. Lots of things in the book opened my eyes but probably the most surprising was when I read about twilight sleep. For some reason I had assumed that twilight sleep was pressed upon women by doctors who wanted complete control over unconscious patients during birth (from something I read before?) but this book tells the opposite: doctors were reluctant to use a drug they didn't know all the side-effects of, and feminists of the day demanded a pain-free birth when they saw it was possible.

There's a lot to learn in Get Me Out, not only about how medical science has advanced over the decades but also how societal attitidues towards birth have changed, often drastically so! There's enough disturbing details about what women suffered in childbirth in times past that I'm not sure I would recommend this for pregnant women to read (I probably shouldn't have read it at the time, myself!) but otherwise, it's pretty intriguing.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 302 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
The Book Lady's Blog
Elizabeth's Books
A Self Proclamation

Mar 12, 2011

Labor of Love

A Midwife's Memoir
by Cara Muhlhahn

Muhlhahn traveled the world as a teen and early on discovered she wanted a career in a medical profession, helping people in need. When she decided to deliver babies she first worked as an apprentice to a lay midwife, then realized she wanted more training and went through the schooling to work in hospitals as an RN. Eventually she became frustrated with rigid protocols and left the hospital scene to open her own solo practice as a homebirth midwife in New York City. While I found it interesting to see her insider's take on the politicking and other dynamics among medical personnel in the various settings- especially the hospital- I was a bit disappointed that this memoir focuses more on the midwife herself than on birthing stories, or the women she worked with. It got dull after a while reading about all the paths her education took; around page 60 I started skipping passages to read the more personal stories. But there weren't enough of them, and all too brief and on-the-surface to satisfy. The women she helped to give birth hardly have any presence in the stories she tells; there's more about her own birth (constructed from stories told to her) and that of her son than of any of her patients. It's all mostly about what she does at school, or in her various jobs, how she questions the status quo and thus eventually comes to make her own path. There's one chapter almost entirely about her frustrations with traffic and parking tickets, and the last chapter is about a documentary film she was in: The Business of Being Born. I've not seen it, have any of you? As far as memoirs about birth go, I much preferred reading Baby Catcher, or more recently, The Midwife, to thisLabor of Love.


Rating: 2/3 ........ 256 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Superfast Reader
Read ~ Knit ~ Blog
bookrblog

Mar 9, 2011

Operating Instructions

A Journal of My Son's First Year
by Anne Lamott

Rather like Great with Child, this book is gathered from journal entries the author wrote, from the time of her son's birth until he was a year old. But that's where the similarity ends. Where Great with Child was full of introspection and nearly-philosophical musings, Operating Instructions is much more light-hearted, candid and often funny. It's the voice of a single mom struggling to get by, weathering the bumps of new motherhood without the support of the baby's father. At first she feels very alone, often frustrated and fearful; but soon comes to realize that there are plenty of people around her willing to shower her son with love. Friends, family and church members are all there when she needs them. Her journal entries jump around a bit, often with big gaps of time- there's almost nothing about the first few weeks, for instance- but then, who has time to write a lot with a new baby, colicky and up crying all night? It also seems like her insecurities, worries and surges of anger take over the pages- but when you think about it, that's when writing is more cathartic, when you're feeling blue, so I'm not surprised that a journal would be heavier on the negatives than the good days. And there are shining moments when she expresses her deep love for her son and her gratitude for her friends. This was one of my favorite passages, I read it several times:
He's so beautiful, so funny, so incredibly dear, and he smells like God. When Mon or Dudu have to hand him back over to me when they are about to leave, they lean into his airspace and sniff one last time, trying to memorize him, maybe storing a little hit for later.
We all lean into him, soaking him up. It's like he's giving off a huge amount of energy because he hasn't had to start putting up a lot of barriers around it to protect himself. He hasn't had to start channeling it into managing the world and everybody's emotions around him, so he's a pure burning furnace of the stuff. This is my theory, anyway, that he radiates it; it's probably affecting us all like a spray of negative ions, like being in a long hot shower or t the seashore.
For instance,  I notice that the kitty, who like all cats, is a heat freak, stands right next to him all the time. She basks in him...
Some readers might be dismayed at her frequent mention of a difficult past- before having the baby she used drugs, smoked and was an alcoholic. She bemoans missing the relief that drugs and smoking used to give her; it's admirable to me that she managed to kick all those habits and do what was best for herself and her baby. As you might have gathered by now, the book is actually more about the author's own ups and downs than the day-to-day miracles of watching her baby hit his milestones, per se- but I liked reading it all the same. It felt very honest.

I borrowed this book from the library. I feel like I tried to read it several times before, many many years ago; but none of the content was familiar so I must have given up really early way back then. Lamott also writes fiction but I've never read any. Can anyone tell me about them? I liked her voice in this book, so I'm thinking I might enjoy her novels, too.

Rating: 3/5 ......... 251 pages, 1993

more opinions at:
First the Egg
green parenting
Black and white and loved all over
Caroline Bookbinder

Mar 8, 2011

The Bay

a naturalist discovers a universe of life above and below the Chesapeake
by Gilbert Klingel

I lived a few years ago not too far from the Chesapeake Bay, so it was pretty cool to read a book all about that body of water, its ecosystem and wildlife inhabitants. The author of The Bay doesn't just rattle off facts about the animal life that inhabits its waters and marshes, but describes in engaging detail actual incidents where he observed many of them close at hand. Some chapters describe moods of the landscape created by weather and the passing of daylight (and nighttime) hours: the movement of wind and sun over the waves, the sounds that echo across or through the water in darkness, and what he gleans from them. Other passages examine in detail the life cycles of such curious creatures as jellyfish, sponges, sea worms, fiddler crabs, great blue herons, bald eagles, starfish, osprey and different kinds of shellfish. They were all interesting, each in their own way. Most illuminating were the paragraphs where he told of diving under the surface and just standing for long passages of time on the floor of the Bay, just to see what animals would approach him or pass by. I've never read such descriptions of underwater life. One of the things that stood out vividly to me was how he explained that so many of the fish and other creatures have beautiful, iridescent colors underwater, yet when we see them caught and landed above in the dry air they turn dull or at best silvery gray, so that we never really know their true appearance and beauty at all. Unless you can sit under the waves and wait patiently for them to swim by, like he did. Klingel's lovely writing style reminded me quite a bit of reading Rachel Carson, or Sally Carrighar. I was pleasantly surprised- this book with its rather unassuming cover and outdated appearance did not have me expecting much and I ended up enjoying it immensely.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 278 pages, 1951

Mar 7, 2011

Escape

by Carolyn Jessop

Found this one at a book sale -almost two years ago- and remembered having seen reviews of it around the book blogs. Picked it up out of curiosity but never read it until now. Although the writing isn't great, sometimes repetitive and dull, the story itself is captivating in a kind of horrific way, and I could not put it down for a few days.

Jessop grew up in a radically fundamentalist sect of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day-Saints (FLDS) right before the now-famed Warren Jeffs came to be its leader. At eighteen years of age she was forced to marry a fifty-year-old man who was a complete stranger to her and already had four wives. Over the years he married many more women, the crowded house they lived in had some twenty young children at once! Jessop herself had eight children by this man she did not love. Her story is one of continual fear, living in a family full of tension, mistrust and physical abuse. I would expect that a family with so many women vying for the husband's attention would have plenty of back-stabbing and rivalry, but what I did not expect was how constantly the wives were hurting each other instead of giving support, how the children were used as manipulative tools against their own mothers, how often the kids were neglected. Her husband treated her abysmally- even denying her medical care (she says a lot of people in the community believed that illness was a punishment from God and only prayer/repentance would resolve it). It was also very disturbing to read of the religious beliefs that taught these women they had no choice other than to be completely subservient to men who were often cruel to them. So many of the stories about the early church history and doctrines echoed what I learned myself as a child in the LDS church- but interpreted in a completely different fashion, twisted almost beyond recognition. It was really disturbing. When leadership of the secluded community Jessop lived in began to shift, the rules became more and more constrictive, and eventually she saw the need to leave in order to keep herself and her children safe. Unlike most women in the community she had some education and this made it easier for her to adjust to living in the outside world, but it was still a struggle and of course her husband came after her. Their legal battle over the children was told very briefly at the end (which is probably a good thing; I find descriptions of court scenes tedious).

The uplifting part of the book is seeing how she finally freed herself from living in such oppression and managed to make a new life for herself. It was difficult for her children, though- they believed their mother was putting them in an evil environment and were still continually manipulated when visiting their father. Her oldest daughter even returned to the cult when she turned eighteen- I wonder what it was like for her when she went back. Reading Escape was rather painful (if riveting)- I don't like to think of people suffering so- and I'm not sure I want to read any more stories of polygamy. I know there are a lot out there, one even written by women from the same community Jessop was part of. I'm curious to see how the stories of other women compare to hers, but not sure if I want the distress of reading about their experiences.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 413 pages, 2007

more opinions at:
Maw Books Blog
Book Addiction
Life is Short, Read Fast
Ardent Reader

Mar 6, 2011

ZooBorns

The Newest, Cutest Animals from the World's Zoos and Aquariums
by Andrew Bleiman and Chris Eastland

I first saw ZooBorns mentioned on Bermudaonion's Weblog, and thought it would be a good one to share with my daughter (who's six). So when I saw it on the library shelf, I snatched it up. The book is full of beautiful photographs of newborn and very young animals of all sorts of different species. They're just adorable! My daughter loved seeing which ones she could name (meerkat, beluga, hyena, zebra, etc) and which were entirely new to her (the aardvark, potto, marmot, echidna and tamandua in particular). The pictures are a delight, but reading the text together was another matter. Each page featuring an animal has a list of basic stats- its name, birthdate, location etc- then a bit of text describing the animal, giving some little facts about it or information on its status in the wild. Even though the passages were very short, the language was also a bit too technical for my daughter and I found myself rephrasing most of it so she could understand (she wasn't happy to just look at the pictures, but wanted to know about the animals, too). So it's not really a kid's book, even though it's so disarmingly cute- fact emphasized that I found it in the adult non-fiction section of the library. I didn't mind reworking the words a bit so she could enjoy it with me, though.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 150 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Carol's Notebook

Mar 5, 2011

Salt Marsh Summer

by Jack and Mike Couffer

Salt Marsh Summer was written by a father and son team, describes an area of marshland in Southern California, near which they resided. They describe walks through the mudflats, observations of local wildlife- most intriguing were the fiddler crabs!- and dismay at how the marsh was being affected by developments, people dumping trash, etc. I enjoyed the stories, all told in a friendly, charming fashion- one about a gull with fishing line tangled on its leg that they tried time and time again to catch and relieve of its burden, another about a lady who let her dog run loose on a beach where there were strict leash laws- only to end up plastered in mud when she tried to free her pet after it got stuck from wandering too far out into the marsh! yet another about the discovery of a rare species of shrew. It's a quiet kind of book, one that amuses and educates at the same time, showing how a few individuals can actually have a serious, positive impact on their environment. The Couffers were not at all shy about getting involved with local scientific studies or the work of Fish and Game biologists to do something about preserving this little bit of land. Most people would glance at the marsh and just see a lot of stinking mud, but these men reveal the hidden beauties of such a place, and the importance it has for myriads of wild creatures. Lovely little book.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 92 pages, 1978

Mar 4, 2011

Liquid Land

A Journey Through the Florida Everglades
by Ted Levin

Another book about swampy regions, this one exactly the opposite of Stirring the Mud. While that little book was poetic and musing, this one is jammed up with hard facts. A bit too many of them, for my taste. Liquid Land is about the ecology of Florida, focusing mostly on how acts of man have altered the landscape, severely changed the habitats of wildlife, and what some people are doing to try and restore it (if such a thing can ever be done). The main points I gathered are that the Florida Everglades are made up of a huge, very flat expanse of interconnected and constantly moving water, affected not only by tides and tropical storms but also periods of fire and drought which all contribute to how the plants and animals live and reproduce. When people started coming in with developments, draining certain areas, walling up others, making ditches and canals and roadways, lots of things were changed beyond repair- most often not for the better. Some animals that used to be present in staggering numbers have dwindled to tiny populations, others disappeared entirely.

Most of the book seems to be recounting various lawsuits and actions of corporations and conservation groups, and the details of those just got so boring. I know they're important, but they're not very fun or engaging to read about. The parts I liked better were where Levin described meeting individuals who were directly involved with environmental issues- a man who took it upon himself personally to relocate vividly-striped tree snails (a beautiful creature I never knew existed before! - see the bottom of the page linked to for some beautiful photographs) from an area where they were threatened to a more secure location, or where he accompanied one of the few men who still hunts frogs for a living, then a scientist who tracks Florida panthers and another who studies the snail kite, an endangered raptor. But even those parts of the book were a bit too dry for my taste, and it was with some effort I forced myself to finish the thing, still hoping to glean something interesting out of it all. It did give me an introduction into a landscape I hardly ever encountered before (the only book I think I've read set in Florida swamps before is The Yearling) and made me more curious about the wildlife there. I also want to find out now what's happened to all those places Levin feared were irreparably damaged; it's been eight years since this book was written so I wonder if things have gotten better or worse since then. (But I have to wait until my computer's back up before I can look things up).

Rating: 2/5 ........ 286 pages, 2003

anyone else read it?

Stirring the Mud

On Swamps, Bogs, and Human Imagination
by Barbara Hurd

What a unique little book! Stirring the Mud is just that- a book all about mud, of all things. It's an odd mixture of poetry, literary allusion, childhood memories and biological curiosities, all revolving around the muck of a swamp. Hurd writes about swamps and bogs as places of beauty, mystery and (as they have so often been viewed) sources of revulsion and disease. She ponders on the lives and doings of creatures that live in these muddy, watery domains, and draws parallels between the swamp and things like the depths of the subconscious, the stewing of imagination, the unformed beginnings of things. You'd be surprised what she ends up mentioning in connection to mud- anything from burial customs and Superbowl games to watercolor painting techniques and the dynamics of relationships. Her metaphors often slide one into the other, shifting focus several times in the same paragraph (rather like elusively flowing mud itself) and it can be either frustrating or entertaining trying to keep pace with it all! Sometimes I was befuddled, often intrigued. Of course I rather liked the natural history bits but they weren't very extensive or detailed, just enough to whet my appetite.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 143 pages, 2001

more opinions at:
Rick Librarian
Wild Clutter

Homebirth in the Hospital

Integrating Natural Childbirth with Modern Medicine
by Stacey Marie Kerr

This little book wasn't really what I expected. For once, I thought I was going to be reading a mostly technical book, and ended up surprised to find a collection of anecdotal stories. Homebirth in the Hospital is written by a physician who started out her practice in the traditional medical field, then became involved with midwives and homebirthing experiences for a while. She ended up working in a regular hospital, but does her best to provide midwife-type, non-invasive care in the hospital setting. The introduction to the book describes her background and how she came to choose this avenue, of providing expectant mothers with more natural methods of childbirth in the hospital, where medical assistant is close at hand if needed. The opening chapter describes exactly what it means to integrate homebirth in the hospital, and goes into different aspects- like allowing the mother to make choices, having good communication between doctor and patient, creating an atmosphere of trust, keeping hospital protocols from overwhelming the experience, etc. The bulk of the book is a collection of stories from the doctor's own experience, showing how different parents went through childbirth with her. Some intended to birth at home or in a birthing center but ended up in the hospital due to complications. Others chose the hospital setting, with Kerr's guidelines and encouragement to keep interventions to a minimum. They're all quite different, and show just how varied childbirth can be- and more importantly, that nothing ever goes quite as you expect it to. In fact, she pretty much said throw the birth plan out the window- that doctors just roll their eyes at such things because they know it won't go the way you want it to (something I can attest to, myself!) The final chapter is pretty much just a repeat of the first chapter, except addressed to doctors instead of to prospective mothers. (It felt entirely redundant). I liked reading the stories of all the different women and how they handled birth, wondering all the time what mine will be like this time!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 211 pages, 2008

more opinions at:
Kate's American Life
Massachusetts Friends of Midwives
Citizens for Midwifery

update

Hello, hello. I've kind of been lurking about, snatching some computer time at the library but now we have a laptop temporarily on loan from my husband's work, so I can finally catch up on some reviews! In the meantime, with less hours spent online at home (you wouldn't believe- or maybe you would- how often I'm popping on to look things up I'm curious about, or find recipes for dinner or such) I've been getting lots of reading done! Cutting quite a big dent in both my TBR shelf at home and the list of stuff I'm borrowing from the library. I've almost got an entire shelf cleared off my TBR bookcase! That feels nice. So I'm going to cram in quite a few short reviews here, to catch up on things. New computer parts are in the mail, and then my husband will rearrange its innards (cross my fingers) so hopefully we'll be up and running again as normal sometime next week...