Aug 26, 2011

The New York Times Book of Mammals

edited by Nicholas Wade

Pretty interesting book, The New York Times Book of Mammals is a compilation of the best articles on mammals from the newspaper's Science Times section, spanning the years 1991 through 2002. They're organized in sections regarding which type of mammal is featured: rodents, wild cats, wolves and their cousins, primates, etc. The articles range in subject- some are about new studies into animal physiology that hope to impact modern medicine, others look at animal behavior, or the reintroduction of species to lands they've been extinct from for decades (namely the wolf; there were four or five articles on wolves alone!) I think the most interesting ones for me were to read about the social structure of naked mole rats (similar to insects'), the genetic deterioration of cheetahs, how hormone exposure in the womb influences the gender of infant gerbils, and how reindeer herds are being lost to migrating caribou who tempt them to leave their accustomed lands. Also of course the ones regarding pregnancy, birth, infants bonding to the mother, the amazingly complex components of human milk (subjects close to me right now). I'm intrigued to see if there's a newer edition printed with reports more current to what's being discovered in science today.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 302 pages, 1998

Aug 22, 2011

The Year of the Whale

by Victor B. Scheffer

Like Moby Dick, this book alternates narrative with sections describing facts about whales. The storyline is a young sperm whale's life, beginning with its birth in autumn and following it through an entire year as it navigates the waters, shadowing its mother and learning through exploring its environment. The factual parts describe man's encounters with whales and his exploitation of them, including some rather graphic descriptions of the butchering done on whaling ships. Interestingly enough, sometimes a biologist or scientist was present on the whaling ship, hoping to get a chance to study a whale's body as it was being processed. There's also an account of the first sperm whale to be kept alive in captivity, and several stories of stranded whales. An interesting read, but a bit dry for my taste and of course the facts are outdated. The Year of the Whale won an award for being the best natural history book in 1970 (and now I have a new list to pore over- what better reading than all the years' best natural history books going back to 1926?)

Rating: 3/5 ....... 244 pages, 1969

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Lexivore's Lunch

Aug 20, 2011

Socks

by Beverly Cleary

One of my childhood favorites, I just finished reading Socks  with my six-year-old last week. It's a friendly little story about the daily life of an ordinary housecat. At first the kitty luxuriates in the attention of his young owners, but soon a baby arrives and everything changes. Socks has to deal with people getting up at odd hours, mealtimes being delayed, the anxiety of listening to the baby cry, and visits from well-meaning relatives, some of whom tease or criticize him. Another trial in Socks' life is battling with a neighborhood tomcat... But then the baby starts to grow up, and Socks finds that the little person in the family is no longer so annoying but can be a great playmate. It's a cute book, one we could really relate to, having two cats and a new baby. My daughter enjoyed pointing out all the ways in which our cats and baby behave similar to or differently from those in the story.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 158 pages, 1973

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The Old Book Reopened
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Aug 15, 2011

The Leper

by Sigmund Brouwer

Set in the late 1800's, this brief heart-tugging story is about a man who contracts leprosy while serving with the military in India. He returns home and can't bear to expose his wife and young children either to the risk of contracting the disease nor to the awful sight of his ravaged face. So instead he makes arrangements to have most of his monthly stipend sent to his wife, while removing himself from her life and hoping she finds a man to provide for her and raise his children, so that he can end his own misery with a suicidal jump off a bridge. Before he can carry out all his plans, though, he unexpectedly makes contact with humanity again- discovering an abandoned child who needs his help. Despite the risk of leprosy, if he doesn't take her in she will surely die.... The baby not only touches this man's life, but also the lives of several other individuals, one being a stern unattractive woman (unfortunately named Ima Hogg) who finds her life opening up to love once she begins caring for the baby. And in a neat, tidy circle the leprous man not only finds compassion and acceptance where he only expected repulsion and rejection, but finds love again, and a reason to live.

I can't really say more without giving it all away, as the book is really quite short! It's one my grandmother had borrowed from her public library, and while visiting her this week I picked it up to read as well. It's a tender story, one that will bring you close to tears. With, granted, a strongly religious message but it's not overdone like in some books. My only quibble was the author's penchant for jumping around in time. I prefer my stories to follow a straight linear narrative; but it's not much to complain about here.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 182 pages, 2002

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Original Books
Flowers in my Pot
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Aug 12, 2011

the big list

I may have been quiet about the blogs lately, but I'm still reading them! (I just usually have a babe in arms so it's hard to type comments.) The proof is here: a big old list of all the books I've found in your posts. Follow the links, and you can read what tempted me to add each book to my toppling TBR. I have a sneaking suspicion some of these books are already on my list, but don't have the time to double-check right now...
Through the Garden Gate by Susan Hill- The Octogon
The Righteous by Michael Wallace- Books and Pals
Urban Pantry by Amy Pennington- We Read to Know
The Wisdom of the Radish by Lynda Hopkins- Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier- Page 247
The Wild Life of Our Bodies by Rob Dunn- Life is Short, Read Fast
Wicked Bugs by Amy Stewart- The Black Sheep Dances
The Bad Tempered Gardener by Anne Wareham- Garden Rant
The Woodlanders by Thomas Hardy- The Octogon
In the Kingdom of Gorillas by Bill Weber and Amy Vedder- Ardent Reader
The Earth Moved by Amy Stewart - A Striped Armchair
This Life is in Your Hands by Melissa Coleman- Bermuadonion's Weblog
Season to Taste by Molly Birnbaum- Life is Short, Read Fast
Two Kisses for Maddy by Matthew Longelin- At Home with Books
Slow Love: how I lost my job... by Dominique Browning- books i done read
The Summer of the Bear by Bella Pollen- Bookfoolery and Babble
West of the Moon by Katherine Langrish- Things Mean a Lot
Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs- The Lost Entwife
Left Neglected by Lisa Genova - Jules' Book Reviews
Fire Season by Philip Connors- Bookfoolery and Babble
Through the Kitchen Window by Susan Hill- The Octogon
Your Backyard Wildlife Year by Marcus Schneck- Stuff as Dreams Are Made On
The Filter Bubble by Eli Pariser- Reading Through Life
Born to Run by Christopher McDougall - Reading Through Life
Cheating Death by Sanjay Gupta- books i done read
Sheepish by Catherine Friend- Superfast Reader
Feathers by Thor Hanson- Sophisticated Dorkiness
The New York Regional Mormon Singles Halloween Dance by Elna Baker - Love, Laughter and a touch of Insanity

Aug 11, 2011

African Cats

Disneynature
by Amanda Barrett and Keith Scholey

Admittedly I brought this book home to read just because it's cover kept catching my eye from the library shelf, with its large beautiful lion's face. I noticed it a few times and declined (it's rather heavy) before finally giving in to the visual temptation and checking it out. It's about the making of the film African Cats, which I'd never heard of before, much less seen. Now I want to, even though the book has given away probably most of the major events in the film. One of the filmmakers was also involved in creating the tv program Big Cat Diary, which is one of my favorite nature shows. So I'm pretty sure I'd like the African Cats production as well.

The film portrays the lives of one cheetah trying to raise her cubs to adulthood, and the doings of a pride of lions including a bunch of half-grown youngsters, some females with small cubs, and one older male who's recently lost his partners. A lot of it focuses on how different the lives of the solitary cheetahs and social lions are. The book tells about how the film was made, the struggles of the producers to find the animals, keep track of them, keep equipment in working order, and hope the animals didn't leave the boundaries of the reserve, because they couldn't follow them without making huge detours. Most of the narrative, though, is about the lives of the cats, all their twists and turns. The text is accompanied by fantastic photographs, and also an array of lovely ink and wash illustrations by Jean-Paul Orpinas. I was enthralled to the last page.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 205 pages, 2011

Aug 10, 2011

What's Michael?

Show Time
by Makoto Kobayashi

This is a japanese comic about a cat. I read volume 8, because that's the one I found. It's a mixture of humor involved in the daily life of the kitty and the ineptitude of his owners, plus some odd fantasy. I have to admit I didn't quite "get it" all the time. The parts that were most amusing to me were about things like the cat stealing fish off the counter, or the baby crawling around imitating the cat. I didn't get the segment about a huge fat cat in a pet store that terrified everyone who no more than looked at it. There's a part where the baby turns into adult and goes to work in an office entirely staffed by cats, who scramble to deal with her still-babyish behavior like examining the stapler by putting it in her mouth, or bursting into tears just because she's tired. I found the baby parts pretty funny, just because I have a baby in the house now, so it's all close to home. Quick, enjoyable, sometimes puzzling, and overall a very different reading experience for me.

You can see a good sample of the artwork here. One thing that really caught my attention in the artwork was the people's faces. The cats are all cute, the owners look relatively normal, some of the other people depicted have quite strange facial proportions. And the face the baby makes when it's about to cry is downright disturbing!

I chose What's Michael? off the library shelf pretty much at random. My daughter is in the summer reading program and one of the challenges was to read a comic book or graphic novel. She selected a Garfield collection, I got to this one thinking it looked cute!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 86 pages, 1995

Aug 8, 2011

A Country Year

Living the Questions
by Sue Hubbell

Sue Hubbell lives on a farm in the Ozark hills with several thousand honeybees. She is a small-scale commercial beekeeper, stationing her hives in beeyards around her community, collecting their honey and then trucking it to nearby states for sales. Her existence is full of challenges, often scraping below the poverty line. But it is also full of beauty and a closeness to the wild things that inhabit the land with her. Unlike most of her neighbors, who consider creatures like snakes, possums and coyotes vermin and try to get rid of them on sight, she is delighted to observe them and write down the things she learns and the new questions that spring to mind upon seeing unexplained things happen in nature. Like an oriole perching on a hummingbird feeder to guzzle sugar water. Or a column of saw-fly larvae marching across the ground single-mindedly (to what goal she could not figure out). Even the snakes and roaches that invade her beehives and the termites that eat her cabin floor are treated with leniency, given space to do their thing unmolested (more or less; she used to evict roaches from her hives until she realized the bees did a better job of it themselves and their failure to do so indicated a colony weakness she had better be aware of).

Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed reading A Country Year, with its mixture of nature writing, observations on humanity (she has a lot of interesting descriptions of neighbors and acquaintances) and stuff about beekeeping. Her voice reminds me a lot of my favorite gardening writer, Thalassa Cruso, and the book also recalls another one I read about minutiae in nature, Wildlings. Whatever else I can find that Sue Hubbell has written, I know I want to read it.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 221 pages, 1983

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the Stay at Home Bookworm
Notes from the Officer's Club
rick librarian

Aug 2, 2011

Honeybee

Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper 
by C. Marina Marchese

Marchese visited a neighbor one day for a personal tour of his apiary. She was fascinated by the bees and floored by the taste of fresh, raw honey (straight from the hive; she stuck her finger in a comb cell and licked it off). Curious to learn more about bees, she started attending meetings of a local beekeeper's club, then acquired her own hive and eventually left her established job to start a new venture: keeping honeybees, harvesting their honey and marketing products she made from it (candles, skin products and the like as well as honey).

Her charming book introduces the reader to honeybees in both the broad sense- giving a little of their history with mankind, their role in other cultures around the world, and their biology for example- as well as the personal minutiae, describing incidents when she personally worked with bees and honey, and how she learned about them. She even includes recipes for foods and lip balm made with honey. I feel like I learned so much from her. I was particularly intrigued by the descriptions of monofloral or varietal honeys, made from collecting the honey after the bees have been harvesting nectar from one main plant, so that it has the distinct flavor of that flower source. I'm pretty much only familiar with the clover honey you get in the grocery store. Once or twice I've tasted honey with comb in it, or a wildflower honey, but again from the same source, so they're probably mixed to create a standard flavor. I had no idea that honeys could have such a wide range of taste. Marchese describes dandelion honey as having a hint of white pepper. Honey from mangroves, she says, have a "swampy" aroma and are used in pickle brine! Colors and consistencies also vary greatly- purple loostrife honey, for instance, is dark and looks like motor oil; ling-heather honey has the consistency of jelly and cannot be extracted from the comb but must be gently pressed out. With each honey description she also describes the plant and climate/soil it comes from, so it's like reading a little gardening treatise; pairing the land and the food that comes from it. She suggests foods to accompany each honey varietal, which might range from mixing it into a specific kind of dressing or marinade to using in certain types of baked goods, or on exotic cheeses with fine wines.

I am very curious now to try some local (and varietal, if I can find it) honey: I know there's some available at the local farmer's market we frequent on the weekends. So far, this is my favorite of all the bee/honey books I've been reading. I borrowed this one from the public library.

You can visit the author's website here: Red Bee Honey

Rating: 4/5 ........ 256 pages, 2009

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Farmbrarian
a Life Sustained