Dec 31, 2013

Aquarium Fish

by Ulrich Schliewen

A very nice book. This one focuses on creating biotope aquariums, where you assemble the same plants and fish that would live together in nature (or as close as you can get to that). It gets very detailed into the topics of water chemistry and the nitrogen cycle, also has lots of information on how various kinds of fishes breed. There's a nice diagram on fish anatomy and physical adaptations to different lifestyles in their various habitats. The section on plants was informative, but too brief for my taste, and not enough pictures there. Overall the photographs in the book are excellent. One different feature it had was that the glossary of terms was placed in the center of the book. True, it was easily found because the pages are blue, but I found the placement odd.

The second half of the book highlights many popular (as well some more uncommon and difficult-to-keep) species (over two hundred) and gives the usual data on their needs and care. I browsed through this section, again reading the details on those that would be okay in my particular aquarium, but enjoying the beautiful shapes and colors of all the others, and reading those that had interesting facts (like about the fish that can conduct electricity, or the tetra that deposits its eggs on leaves suspended above the water, or the cichlid that in the wild, eats other fishes' eyeballs).

This is one I would definitely consider adding to my own collection. It's also a Barron's book, but significantly larger and more detailed in both text and photos, than the others I've encountered at the library.

Rating: 4/5    160 pages, 1991

Dec 30, 2013

Tetras and Other Characins

by Mark Phillip Smith

This is one from the Barron's series, and follows the usual format. The first half of the book introduces the family of fish- which has a wide variety of forms, so that was a bit confusing. Then there is the obligatory aquarium setup and fish care information. The second half of the book is a listing of many many species, with nice pictures and little descriptions. Most just have scientific names listed, not the familiar terms I know. Some were new or undescribed species when the book was written, so they don't even have a common name. Maybe they have one now, I don't know. There are a lot of attractive species in here, but I've realized I am not really interested in these kinds of fish. Although I might get a few for my tank they probably won't be the featured species. Thus about halfway through the book I just didn't want to read it anymore. The first part all felt redundant to me, so I was bored and skimming. The second half might have been more interesting, but it simply wasn't. I pretty much just looked at the pictures.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Abandoned    95 pages, 2002

Dec 29, 2013

Tropical Fishkeeping

Pet Owner's Guide
by Mary Bailey

This book was surprisingly good. It covers all the basics, but doesn't just describe how to do stuff. Instead, the book focuses on the underlying principles regarding everything from water chemistry to filter choices to feeding the fish. I appreciated this, as I always like to know the why of things! Plus, she points out that you don't need fancy expensive equipment- old stuff often works just as good if you know what you're doing with it. There are helpful details in here about things like choosing and preparing decor for your tank, or adjusting new fish to your existing water parameters, that I haven't seen covered as well before. For example, I knew that fish need plants or rocks to hide among, for a sense of security. But I never thought that having a background on the tank will affect their "psychological health" as well. It gives the fish a sense of direction, the author says- open water and exposure to the front, shadows and security to the rear. Interesting. The pictures are all decent, explanations clear, and best of all, the author has a sense of humor. I actually found myself chuckling and reading passages aloud to my boyfriend. How often does that happen with a pet manual? This one's staying on my shelf.

I got this one from BookMooch.

Rating: 4/5   79 pages, 1998

Dec 28, 2013

more fish books!

ha ha ha
your suffering will never end
poor readers of my currently fish-obsessed-blog

Just kidding! But really, I do have a new influx of fish books. I requested some from the library that are housed in other branches, and then ordered a handful off Book Mooch with excess points I've had floating around for ages. Because I thought I ought to have some reference on my own shelves, you know. And then yesterday my boyfriend surprised me with a gift of books (mostly about fishkeeping!) from a used book store he found just half an hour away. He said it's a wonderful place and he wanted to stay longer and he promised to take me there someday. I'm so tickled!

See the books! (Two top left were swaps; I have three more to come)
You can see the subject matter easily. A few demand mention. My boyfriend is Dutch and he knows I like plants, so there's this book on the history of the tulip craze in Holland called, appropriately, Tulipomania which looks very interesting. Also, he found this Gray's Manual of Botany. I doubt this will be actual reading material, it's more of a reference- over 1,600 pages of identification in the form of detailed written descriptions and the occasional line drawing. Quite a tome. This one has a sense of discovery with it, as someone used it to press newspaper clippings and colored foil candy wrappers. I've removed forty-six small papers from its pages so far. Not sure I've found them all yet!
But the one I really treasure (and I haven't even read it yet) is this little red book with a lovely embossed illustration of a male swordtail on the cloth cover: Aquarium Fishes in Color.
It's from the sixties, and full of hand-painted color plates. I just love looking at it. A few samples:

Dec 27, 2013

Lady on the Beach

by Norah Berg and Charles Samuels

Norah Berg lived in Seattle in the 1940's. She tells of her childhood in Montana, her move to Seattle, her life in boarding houses surrounded by various interesting neighbors. She became friends with a retired Marine, and their friendship grew into love. But they both struggled with alcoholism and eventually things became difficult so they took an offer to work in an oceanside resort and left Seattle for the beach. They dreamed of starting a new life, but things didn't turn out quite as expected. The resort was in shambles. Undaunted, Norah and her Sarge rolled up their sleeves and went to work. When eventually the resort work disintegrated, they found they had fallen in love with the ocean beaches and their new neighbors. Ocean City, at the time, was something of a shanty town. Shacks built of driftwood. Most of the people lived more or less off of the land, scavenging items off the beach to build and furnish their homes with, digging clams, fishing, occasionally hunting game in the lush, damp forest. There were lots of seasonal migrants who spent most of their time picking fruit in other Washington states, then came to winter on the beach. And plenty of ragged characters who had come there for the freedom to live how they liked. Norah slowly settled in and learned how to live comfortably enough, even though most of her homes over the years lacked modern conveniences (picture wood-burning stoves and outhouses at best), and of course there was always the rain and mud.

Besides the vivid picture of how the author made her life in a small, isolated community on the beach, there are lots of little stories about the various people she knew. Funny as well as sad. Norah and her husband tried very hard to overcome their drinking problem but for many years it caused a rift between herself and the ladies who lived in town (proper houses, not shacks!) I was pleased to read how she helped run the first public library Ocean City had. She eventually lost her position (too many hangovers). Years later she took up letter writing as passtime, writing in to radio stations and winning an astonishing amount of prizes. Eventually her letters got noticed by no less than Time magazine, and the fame that brought her flooded her little home with gifts from other readers- mostly books and magazines (she had written of how important reading material was to her neighbors in their poverty and isolation). Once again Norah opened a library, this time freely lending materials out of her own home. I liked that. I also really liked reading how she discovered gardening, and her wild, unplanned flower gardens attracted notice. The ladies in town finally deemed to befriend her then. Most of all, I appreciate how her story tells that even when they had little in way of possessions, Norah and her husband still loved life and felt themselves rich in many other ways. Her description of the wild beauty of the forests and beaches are wonderful.

While it is a lively story of a very particular time and place, this book is more than just that to me, because I also have family history in the very area she described. This book is a treasure to me even more than The Egg and I in that regard. I've been to the beaches she talks about, driven through those little towns, have relatives in some of the areas she mentions. My father tells me that some of my relatives even know some of the people in this book.

My father so very kindly gave me this book, which I really appreciate as it's hard to find a copy.

Rating: 4/5     251 pages, 1952

more opinions:
Sara Ryan
anyone else?

Dec 26, 2013

Let the Right One In

by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This  was intense. I saw the movie version a few years ago (subtitled). The first thing that struck me about the book was that it goes into far more detail (of course) about the characers, and there are lots of minor characters whose lives weave into the storyline, which the movie left out entirely. I liked that. The book also, aside from the bloodiness involved in a vampire story, shows the plain ugliness of human nature- especially those who are lonely, desperate, bored- much more than the movie did. Not far into it I was about to set it aside, not wanting to read about lonely, drunken men who are pedophiles or kids who beat each other up- but there were other parts of the story that interested me so I kept reading. There is a prominent thread in the story about bullying, for example. The main character, Oskar, is a lonely bitter kid with divorced parents and few friends. He gets picked on mercilessly at school and dreams of revenge, has a fascination with serial killers. After striking up a tentative friendship with the strange girl next door he learns how to stand up to the bullies. But they don't back down, they just come back at him harder.... meanwhile a series of mysterious murders are happening more and more frequently, and the whole neighborhood becomes tense and suspicious. By the time Oskar realizes what is going on he feels more inclined to protect his new friend than anything else. There's all kinds of subplots going on here- the teenager whose mother's new boyfriend is a policeman involved in searching for the murderer. The handful of drunken men who hang out together doing practically nothing- they get roped in when one of their gang disappears. I don't really know how to say more about this, but that the look at a lonely and dysfunctional society was more interesting to me than the vampire aspect of the story. In the end it got too brutal for my taste and I doubt I'll read this again. Definitely creepy.

This is a pretty famous book, and a lot of reviewers have done it more justice than I. See the links below for just a few.

Rating: 3/5    472 pages, 2004

more opinions:
You've GOTTA Read This!
Novel Reflections
Avid Reader
Vishy's Blog
Book Monkey Scribbles
The Ranting Dragon

Dec 23, 2013

Aquarium Care of Fancy Guppies

by Stan Shubel

Guppies are not really my thing- I think they look so flamboyant with the long flowing tail all out of proportion to the body- but they are definitely popular, a common beginner's fish and readily available. I can see why people find them beautiful. And there are so many varieties, I actually found a few I do like (from the photos in the book)- the snakeskin patterns and short-tailed ones I think are very pretty (especially the blues).

Well, so this book like all others tells you how to set up an aquarium and take care of the fish, a little bit about their biology and behavior. No news there. I find it interesting how each of these fish books has a slightly different focus. The last one was all about being methodical and scientific- testing assumptions to find out what was really going on, or how to best do something. This book places emphasis on how relaxing and stress-relieving watching the fish in the aquarium can be- good for our own health in that way! Also, how beneficial it is to get children involved in fishkeeping at a young age. Mostly though, its focus was on genetics and breeding strategies. It seems the book was aimed at those who want to breed their guppies, so there was a lot of info on how to select good stock, and how to get the colors and tail shapes you want, and problems that might arise. Also, there was an entire chapter about guppy shows- how to get involved in them, select your specimens, ship them to the show, etc. I found all that interesting just because I know nothing about fancy fish shows! A downside to this book is that its focus is so wrapped around fancy fish breeding that unless you're into that, you might not find it very useful. I found myself getting bored with all the genetics stuff.

One extra feature was at the back of the book- a glossary describing terms about fish and aquarium keeping. It was so informative I found myself reading those pages just to glean some information, but at the same time I found it puzzling. I read the entire book in one sitting, and I'm pretty sure some of those terms explained in the glossary were never actually used in the text of the book.

The book's serious flaw is that the pictures are not good. In a book like this I expect at least decent pictures, especially when you're talking about how beautiful this fish or that one is. But a lot of the photos were out of focus or had glare. And many of the images that had been cropped out of their background to float on a page had some terrible editing going on. Pieces of the tail missing, but you could still see the outline, where it was supposed to extent to. Patches of the body with the color all gone, texture of scales still there. Maybe their printing is bad but someone made a serious mistake on the pictures in this book, and it annoyed me. Exactly like the few I found in Aquaruiums, but here far too many.

Rating: 2/5     112 pages, 2006

Dec 21, 2013

Breeding and Raising Angelfishes

An Informative Guide
by Ed Stansbury

This was by far one of the most interesting reads I've had about fishes so far. It's written by a man who runs an angelfish hatchery, raising them to sell. Topics include the importance of water quality and how to maintain it (stressed throughout the book), proper diet and nutrition for angelfishes, genetics and breeding practices, raising the eggs and fry, how to cull the young fishes for marketability and to improve the breeding stock, and the control of diseases. All of this stuff in much greater detail than I expected, and very informative. For example, he describes exactly how packaged fish flakes are made, why certain commercial foods have better nutritional value, all kinds of information on other types of available food and how to raise your own live food (the part on culturing whiteworms reminded me of a lot of stuff I've read about worm bins, and I believe some of the information is equally applicable to both- particularly in how the worms behave when something is out of balance in their bin, and how to remedy that). Another thing I found interesting was that the author believes filters are often misused and not really necessary if water changes are done frequently and properly- in some of his breeding tanks he doesn't use filters at all. I had never encountered this stance before. In the disease section, he not only describes how to recognize and treat certain diseases, but what the causes are, how the pathogens live and spread, and thus why preventative treatment is better than any cure.

It was quite scientific compared to the prior books, and I appreciated that when the author didn't know the answer to something, he suggested the reader conduct their own experiment and add to the body of knowledge! He describes doing so himself, experimenting with how many young fish can fit in a certain tank size before crowding or other factors inhibit growth rate, what kind of treatment works best for certain diseases, and how the frequency of water changes affects fish health (too often will cause them stress), for just a few examples.

I liked the book a lot because I used to keep a pair of angelfish myself, and even though they were in a ten gallon tank I must have done something right, because once they attempted breeding. Of course I didn't know how to handle that and probably stressed the fish out with my intervention, but it was fascinating regardless. From reading this book I recall certain behaviors and other things about my long-ago angels, and understand them better now. They always bullied the few smaller fish in my aquarium (swordtails and cory catfish) which only makes sense- angelfish are a cichlid species, known for their aggression (even though they are so beautiful and peaceful looking!) Also, when my fish were older the eyes became red and I freaked out about this, I remember worrying that the fish was ill or infected and searching for information on a treatment. I shouldn't have been alarmed, red eyes are normal and vibrant color the sign of a healthy adult!

Rating: 4/5     142 pages, 2005

Dec 20, 2013

bookmarks giveaway!

As I'm reading lots of books about fish lately, it only seems appropriate to do a giveaway on a fish theme. So here's a pair of bookmarks featuring fish! Anyone want some free, custom handmade bookmarks? All you have to do is leave a comment. I will pick a winner at random next weekend. Happy reading!

Dec 16, 2013

Aquarium Care of Cichlids

by Claudia Dickinson

Yes, I'm still reading books about fish! The more specific they are, the more interesting they get. Even though I'm not planning on keeping cichlids yet, I wanted to learn more about them, so found this book at the library. The book went into more detail on things I hadn't read about yet, like how the aquarium hobby first started back in the late 1800's. There's discussion on hobbyist events and shows, and of course all things about cichlids. Their origins, biology, behavior, diet, environmental needs, personality, breeding and how they raise their young. I will never forget some of the unique physical characteristics of these fish- they have a double set of jaws and an interrupted lateral line, unlike most other fishes. (Now I look closely at every photograph of a cichlid to see if I can spot the break in the lateral line). I knew cichlids were renowned for their personality and interesting behavior, and learned a lot more about that in this reading. Of course the book also has basics on setting up a fish tank with a particular focus on the needs of cichlids. It went into more detail on the nitrogen cycle and proper establishment of good bacteria than I have seen before. A lot of the information on caring for sick fish, managing aggression, proper feeding and general husbandry can translate to other species as well, so I did learn some useful stuff. There are so many different cichlids the book could only highlight some of the more popular ones, but I think it a good introduction regardless. It would have been nice to know the names of the many others cichlid species shown in photographs earlier in the book. Overall it's a very well-written and informative guide on caring for these unique fish.

Rating: 4/5   112 pages, 2007

Dec 12, 2013

What Fish?

A Buyer's Guide to Tropical Fish
by Nick Fletcher, et al.

This is kind of a catalog of popular tropical fish (although a few can live in unheated aquariums as well). It's full of gorgeous photographs, a brief description of each fish species, an idea of its price, needs in terms of food, water parameters, habitat decor, companions (if any) and other helpful tips on its care. Most of the featured fish were by now familiar to me, although there were quite a few "oddballs" in the back I'd never heard of before. At the very end of the book is a brief section outlining aquarium setup, fish introduction and water care maintenance. The authors include Mary Bailey, Ian Fuller, Nick Fletcher, Richard Hardwick, Peter Hiscock, Pat Lambert, John Rundle, Andrew Smith and Kevin Webb. I'm sure I've encountered some of them in prior fish books. Quite a lot of the text felt familiar to the point I think it was reprinted from another book I'd already read (mainly the final section on setup- I recognized the pictures too).

I really only browsed through this book. The creatures are all so temptingly beautiful that early on I quit reading the details on every species and tried to focus my attention on just those that are suitable for my own aquarium parameters. After all the looking and reading, I find that I'm still very fond of angelfish (I had them as a kid but my current tank isn't quite large enough) and my new favorite is the chocolate gourami. I love the way that fish looks! but it seems to be a delicate species so that one's not an option either.

Rating: 4/5    208 pages, 2006

Dec 10, 2013

Nanoaquarium

by Jakob Geck and Ulrich Schliewen

I never heard the term nanoaquarium before reading this book; it applies to very small fish tanks, between three and nine gallons. They can only support certain small plants and one or two diminutive species such as dwarf cory cats, little colorful shrimp or a single betta fish with a snail. The idea is to create a miniature, functioning environment with small aquatic plants and fish in harmony. Compared to the other Barron's books, this one gets quite technical with the water parameters and maintenance details. This makes sense as in the smaller, closely contained ecosystem things can go wrong quickly if not carefully monitored and corrected (so the book informs me). The attractiveness of a nanoaquarium is that you can keep one almost anywhere, due to their small size. The downside is that not as many species can go in there, and you have to more particular with the care. I don't quite think this is the option I want, although they do look very attractive. This book is a good introduction.

Rating: 3/5     64 pages, 2008

Dec 9, 2013

Guppies, Mollies, and Platys

by Harro Hieronimus

Another Barron's book on tropical fish, this one specifically about live-bearers including swordtails (which aren't mentioned in the title). It describes the biology of live-bearing fish, how they reproduce, how they are selectively bred to create all the different colors and forms, and how to interpret some of their behavior. There's a profile section that shows lots of other live-bearing fish I wasn't familiar with like goodeids and halfbeaks. The usual care section and information about water quality, aquarium setup and so forth. Each chapter has a helpful question-answer section that addresses things like how to transport new fish a long distance, euthanize a fish that is fatally ill, or what to do with all the baby fish that you'll end up with (inevitable with these pets that readily breed in the community aquarium).

Rating: 3/5     62 pages, 2005

Rainbowfish

by Gunther Schmida

I had never heard of rainbowfish before. Not until someone pointed them out to me in the pet store. I didn't really find them attractive at first- the ones in the shop tank under stress don't show the usual gorgeous colors- but after reading this book the idea of them is growing on me. This book starts out introducing the variety of rainbowfish species, their origins and habitats. Individual species get very short writeups, but helpfully the page numbers where their photos are found is noted so I knew who I was looking at. They really are beautiful fish with irridescent scales and some can change their colors or flash their stripes at will. Helpfully, the book has a section that lists which other fish species make good companions for rainbowfish of differing sizes, and also what kinds of aquatic plants do well with them. There is all the usual maintenance info, some recommendations on how to deal with fish diseases (I didn't know fish could get a form of tuberculosis!) I appreciated the section on some common rainbowfish behavior and how to interpret it. The author notes that in their natural habitat the fish spawn after sudden rainfall. In home aquariums they will often start courtship behavior after a water change, and the author has also been able to trigger spawning with a camera flash (the fish seem to think it is lightening presaging a rainstorm).

There was a feature here which I haven't seen in any other fish books, telling what is legal or illegal in regards to keeping fish- tenancy laws, property damage, who can buy fish (no kids without permission), proper disposal of dead fish and even animal protection for aquarium pets. However, the book was originally published in Germany and is rather outdated, so I don't know how much of that applies here and now!

Overall, this was a good read and a nice introduction to a fish I'm unfamiliar with. The photographs are just fantastic. It is yet another Barron's book, borrowed from the library like all the others.

Rating: 3/5    64 pages, 1998

Dec 8, 2013

Catfish

by Oliver Lucanus and Gary Elson

Another Barron's book on fish (my library seems to have a large number of books from this series). This one was a surprisingly good read, written in a very conversational style. It has, of course, the usual basics on aquarium setup, maintenance, fish selection and care, with particulars to the needs of small catfish in home settings. Most interesting to me was the more scientific information, about where catfish live in the wild- a wide range of habitats, how new species are being discovered all the time, and about the difficulties in classifying and naming them. There are over two thousand recognized species. 

The section of the book that lists different species is quite interesting, but of course each species gets only a brief outline so that sent me online to look up more stuff. It was a bit frustrating that the paragraph headings used common names, while the photos were labeled with scientific names, plus the photos of various fish were not on the same pages as the text about them. So I had to flip all over the place trying to see which photos matched the particular fish I was reading about. That could have been better organized. I was fascinated by all the variety. There are catfish that like soft water, others like hard, some from rivers that prefer moving current and vice versa. Some will dig under the substrate and hide, others swim out in open water. Most like to live in groups or grow too large for my tank size. I didn't realize they were so gregarious! There is an electric catfish, also one that emits poison and can sicken other fish in your tank. And a catfish that lays its eggs in the mouth of a chiclid (which keeps its own eggs and fry protected there)- aptly named the cuckoo catfish! Intriguing stuff.

Rating: 4/5    95 pages, 2003

Dec 7, 2013

Colored Atlas of Miniature Catfish

by Warren E. Burgess

Not being a strictly instructional book, although it does have a bit of that information, this one is more narrative in style which made it more enjoyable to read although going through the plates got a bit tedious. It's all about small catfish that are kept in aquariums, not only the popular corydoras but also brochis and aspidora species, and many that were at the time newly discovered, so not much is known about them. (I paticularly like the longer body shape of the aspidoras, but none are suitable for my tank size). After a few brief sections about catfish and their care in general, the bulk of the book consists of plates that describe one hundred and thirty two different species. I read every single plate with its accompanying info. This might sound tedious, but a few things kept it interesting. Most of the fish are illustrated with photographs, but quite a few have artwork drawn by John Quinn, which are lovely to look at. If the individual species needs water conditions to live or spawn which differ from normal, this is explained. Often in the format of one spawning event observed by a particular individual being described, so a lot of it is anecdotal in nature. The author sprinkles the book with humor, and once refers to the corydoras burgessi as being discovered by "yours truly". Modest, are we! I wonder if the author was friends with some of those other men who were the first to discover or breed some of the other lesser-known species?

Rating: 3/5    215 pages, 1992

Dec 6, 2013

Aquariums

the Complete Guide to Fish and Saltwater Aquariums
by Thierry Maitre-Alain and Christopher Piednoir

This book felt like an encyclopedia on fishkeeping. It is big, heavy and attractive to look at. I spent hours during my vacation poring over its pages. Of course, it's going to be a bit dated from the publication year, but I still found a lot of information here useful for a reader like me who is looking for a general overview on the subject and not delving into individual topics yet. The book starts out by describing the water cycle and the components of water, what the fish and plants need from that and how they use it. Good to know! It then goes through all the usual instructions on setup, maintenance and care, with more details on a wider variety of species than I've seen before in my reading. There is a section just about plants- which I found very informative- including plant compatibility with different water conditions, and how to propagate them. Most of my notes from this book are names of fish species I want to look up.

There's also a feature that I found intriguing at first but then a bit puzzling. Throughout the section of the book that details fish species, there are a series of double-page spreads that show numerous fish grouped by the habitat they originate from (as far as I could tell). But the spreads didn't always correspond directly to the text on nearby pages, and closer inspection revealed that these photos were not of fish living in communal aquariums- but instead some obviously photoshopped work. I suspect quite a few of the fish in those pictures could not at all live together, but it was an interesting visual regardless.

There was, on another page, a terrible picture- not very large- of a fish that had been cut out from its surroundings- only whatever was in front of it in the original picture obscured the fish. So parts of the body were entirely missing. It was horrible and made me wonder what else in this book might suffer in quality, and I just don't recognize it? Or is it just the images that are sub-par? (Most looked beautiful to me, but the errors I did see and point out here, were rather glaring).

Rating: 4/5   281 pages, 2005

Dec 5, 2013

500 Ways to be a Better Freshwater Fishkeeper

Hints and Tips from a Team of Experts
by Mary Bailey, et al

Exactly what it says it is. This book follows the usual procedure of informing the reader about equipment, setup, choosing fish, compatible species, maintenance, feeding, etc. but presented in a different way. Instead of telling you the basics, the book advises how to do it all better. Being smarter in how you do stuff, more economical and so on. Tips on how to make savvy purchases, what kind of tank is better, is used equipment really a better deal, how to make things yourself, how to transport your fish home safely without them going into shock, what fumes in the air might do to your fish, what to do if the power goes out, and so on. I found the suggestions and information most valuable. I jotted down tons of notes and am already using some of the ideas it gave me.

The authors include Bailey, Nick Fletcher, Andy Green, Sean Evans, Peter Hiscock, Anna Robinson and Pat Lambert. Good, clear photos.

Rating: 4/5   128 pages, 2005

Dec 4, 2013

Tropical Fish

A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
by Peter Stadelmann and Lee Finley

This book is another one from the Barron's series. It has all the usual instruction on aquarium setup and fishkeeping. There were a few extra features which I appreciated, and might even photocopy (mine is a library copy) for future reference. One is a page detailing aquarium plants by their growth habit, how to arrange a pleasing layout, how to best plant and propagate each type. There are several charts that help you out when you have an urgent situation- one dealing with "emergency aid for breakdowns in the aquarium"- things like sudden filter malfunctions, leaks, unexpected temperature drops, etc- what to do for each. There is another chart on how to deal with algae outbreaks (nine types detailed), and several pages' worth of descriptions and drawings to help you diagnose and treat common diseases. I was surprise how often emergency measures entailed cessation of feeding the fish for several days; I suppose so that their waste doesn't compound the problem but it is something I would not have thought of. The photos are okay, some really good and others just average, but there are certainly a lot of them! Not all the fish are identified in the pictures, which annoyed me. On the other hand, a drawing of three types of snails easily told me which kind I have crawling around in my fishtank right now (he must have hitched a ride on a plant, a common introduction).

Rating: 3/5   95 pages, 1990

Freshwater Aquarium

Your Happy Healthy Pet
by Gregory Skomal

This book is a great beginner's resource, much more thorough than the kids' books I've been reading on the subject. It's the first one I've considered actully acquiring for my home library, to keep on hand.

Like all fishkeeping books, it starts out with facts about fish evolution and biology. I learned that fish body and fin shape can tell you about their swimming habits, just like the mouth shape can suggest how they feed. And did you know that although saltwater covers 68% of the Earth's surface and freshwater 3%, the numbers of species are saltwater: sixty percent, freshwater: forty.

I learned more details about tank setup, and this was the first fish book that addressed the nitrogen cycle. There is information about different kinds of filter systems and all the other required equipment. The book recommends popular, easy fish for beginners as well as advising against fish that require more specialized care (but look so temptingly beautiful when you see them on display for purchase!) The fish are described in groups: catfish, live-bearing fish, tetras (characins), killifish, labyrinth fish, rainbowfish, cichlids and knife fish. It makes good recommendations for a community tank by selecting fish that not only have compatible temperaments, but also that occupy different levels of the space in the tank. There is also a chapter on proper feeding, (including how to prepare foods for your fish in your own kitchen) maintenance and cleaning schedules, and disease control. Also a chapter on breeding fish at home, which is not really applicable to my plans but was interesting reading. Each species has its own requirements for success, whether it be the temperature and feeding that trigger breeding behavior, or how to care for the parents, eggs and fry at each stage.

I have a long list from this book of more species I want to look up and read about for possibilities in my own aquarium. The book also cleared up my confusion from a prior read that said algae was a fungus. This one tells me that algae used to be listed in the kingdom thallophyta but now it is classified in its own kingdom, protoctista. So the other book was giving factual information, based on what was known when it was published.

Rating: 4/5  128 pages, 2005

make an e-reader cover from an old book

I have disemboweled a book. This feels a bit sacriligeous, but it's not the first time I've taken a book apart! I did this a bit differently than the various tutorials found online, and also learned from the experience how to do it better next time, so thought I'd share my steps here. First, of course, is to choose a book you don't care much about, which is close to the size of your e-reader. I have one just a bit larger than my kindle. (Next time, I'd pick one a bit thicker, so it closes easier. I have to hold mine shut with a rubber band if it's not facedown).
You need: your e-reader, a suitable sacrificial book, elmer's glue, a plastic cup to mix it in, a few drops of water, paintbrush, plastic wrap, pencil, x-acto knife or box cutter, ruler or straight edge, tweezers or sandpaper.
Choose whether to leave a few pages loose in the front or have it open just inside the front cover. Put a sheet of plastic wrap to protect the cover and first pages, and paint the outer edge of the rest of the page block, with elmer's glue thinned just a bit with water - you want it to soak into the pages some.
Close the book and let it dry under weights. I have lots of other books handy for this!
I let mine dry overnight. Next, trace shape of the e-reader onto the page block
and cut through the layers of pages to make the cavity your device will sit in. This step I did too quickly and had to clean up a lot afterwards. Some pointers: make a hole with the point of your x-acto blade at each corner, this will give your blade a place to stop and avoid overcutting the edge. Make your first few cuts very carefully and even; the blade will follow the path and the rest of it will go easier. (I didn't do so well at this, but mine is just to be useful, not so pretty). Use the blade or sandpaper to smooth out rough edges and if needed, tweezers can help you pick bits of paper out of the corners  This step takes the most time. Make a note of how many pages your book has, so you notice when to stop before cutting into the rear cover.
Cut a little gap for your finger to go in where the on/off switch is. This can be a half-circle shape, or go all the way through the page block if you like.
Paint the inside edge with glue, shield the free pages/front cover with plastic and set under weights to dry again.
If you want it to look particularly clean and you've left a few loose pages, carefully glue one of those down over the cavity and cut the e-reader shape out again, then dry with plastic and weight, so that the top surface is nice and tidy.

The aftermath:
Was this worth it? I think so. In fact, I'm going to do it again when I find a better book, one with an interesting texture on the cover (and preferably no exterior text)
I found that using this book cover for my kindle had two great benefits. One, it disguised the fact that I was reading on the device, so my kids weren't always pestering me to play games on it! They still haven't realized I have something else inside that small red book, ha. Two, I vastly prefer reading on the kindle now that it feels like a real book (I mean preferable to the way it was before, bare in my hand. I still would rather read physical books most times). Subconsciously I even forgot I was reading on the device, and caught myself reaching a hand to the edge of the glued book to turn a page forwards or back, instead of tapping the screen to scroll it!

I like to think that this book has a secret life now, full of multiple identities.

Nov 30, 2013

Choosing a Fish

by Laura S. Jeffrey

Another kid's book about fishkeeping. The title is a bit misleading, it has far more information than just how to choose the right fish for your space and conditions. There's information on tank setups, water conditioning, where to situate the aquarium and so forth. Also some info on what kinds of fish are compatible for communities, and how to maintain a healthy environment for the fish. I liked this book. It recommends that you start with species that are hardy and easy to care for, and tells how to do research on the fish before making a purchase- even noting that pet store employees will not always know what they're talking about! The book points out that you should be conscious of where the pet store gets their stock from- are the fish wild-caught in ways that deplete reef ecosystems? or are they raised in hatcheries? All things to think about.

The book has very good pictures, as well.

Rating: 3/5    48 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Marina's Tween Materials Blog

Nov 29, 2013

101 Facts About Tropical Fish

by Sarah Williams

This fact book felt familiar to me, the way it was laid out. It's in a kid's non-fiction series, and I feel pretty sure that I read a book laid out like this before, but perhaps didn't blog about it. This is not a trivia book about fish as might first appear, instead it's your regular instruction book with basic information about the history of keeping fish, their biology and needs, how to set up a tank, choose healthy pets etc. But all laid out in brief numbered paragraphs, thus the 101. Odd, but maybe easier for kids to read?

I learned from this book that fish scales don't actually have any color. The pigment comes from the skin underneath. Some fish have no skin pigment and are transparent! And that the shape of a fish's mouth can tell you what kind of food it eats. There is some misinformation here, though. It says that algae is a kind of fungus (not!) and that once a year you should take your entire fish tank apart and scrub everything with soap (NO! this will kill the fish) Mention of rainbowfish, tinfoil barbs, rasboras, glass catfish and mudskippers led me to look them up online. The last one- mudskipper- I have heard of before but didn't know they could be kept in an aquarium.

Rating: 2/5   32 pages, 1976

Nov 27, 2013

Fish for Kids

by Dana Meachan Rau

This kid's book about keeping fish is a good introduction. It outlines basic setup, water maintenance and fish care. I appreciate the fact that the book points out that although you have to spend time caring for your fish, they are only for looking at and you can't play with them like a cat or dog. That's important for kids to realize! While the book advises that saltwater aquariums require a lot more specialized equipment and are harder to care for, it then goes on to profile quite a few popular saltwater fish. I can just see a kid reading this book and begging their parents to get a pair of clownfish or a seahorse. I've been wanting for a long time to one day keep seahorses, but in no way am I ready for their special needs! The fish species that get brief profiles here (describing needs, water requirements and behavior) include angelfish, bettas, blue-green chromis, goldfish, seahorse, molly, guppy, clownfish, platies and neon tetras. The pictures are okay, nothing spectacular. And while the book didn't introduce me to many new fish (the only one I hadn't heard of before was the chromis) I did learn that neon tetras' color gets duller when they are asleep, and that live-bearing fish (guppies, mollies and platies) like brackish water.

Overall I think this book is very good for children interested in keeping an aquarium, it really lets you know what you're getting into. Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 3/5   48 pages, 2009

Nov 26, 2013

adding to the TBR

book titles I found on other blogs, in the past couple weeks:

The Death of Santini by Pat Conroy- The Lost Entwife
Returning to the Lakota Way by James M. Marshall- The Lost Entwife
the Man Who Planted Trees by Jean Giono- So Many Books
Alice in Tumblr-Land by Tim Manley- The Lost Entwife
The Mad Scientist's Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke- The Lost Entwife
C.S. Lewis on Stories and Other Essays On Litearature- Across the Page
Dollybird by Anne Lazurko- Indextrious Reader
The Urban Bestiary by Lyanda Lynn Haupt - Bookwyrme's Lair

Making the list was a bit discouraging this time. Only the first title is available at my library. The rest I'll have to wait, or find elsewhere...

Nov 25, 2013

Setting Up An Aquarium

A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
by Axel Gutjahr

This is a book from one of those educational series, the kind of pet manual you'd probably find in a store alongside fish supplies (my copy came from the library). Barron's, in this case. It has lot of the solid, basic information I'm looking to brush up on, plus plenty of bright, enticing photographs of fish species. Like most fish-keeping instructionals, the book goes over basic aquarium necessities, fish care, some disease control, easy live plant choices, how to balance and maintain water quality and so forth. For such a short book, it has a lot of information! I read about some things I'd never heard of- that some people use computers to regulate the lighting in their aquariums and simulate sunrise/sunset conditions?! (sounds expensive), that some filters pass the water through ultraviolet light to sterilize it?! And while the book advises to test for pH and water hardness and to control oxygen exchange, it makes no mention at all of ammonia, nitrites or nitrates, which is what I've been monitoring. It's only five years old, I didn't think the chemical testing I'm doing was such a very new thing...

Regardless, it's also given me plenty of new ideas on how to beautify my aquarium with water plants. And has suggestions on finding and making your own decor out of bamboo stems, coconut shells, river rocks and driftwood (must be cleaned and prepared, but I'm going to try some of this!) The pictures and descriptions of popular fish have changed my lineup a little bit. I'm now adding zebra danios, swordtails, black skirt tetras, blue gourami, striped panchax or other killifish varities to the list of possibilities for my tank.

Rating: 3/5    64 pages, 2008

Nov 24, 2013

Adam's Task

Calling Animals by Name
by Vicki Hearne

I haven't read a book this difficult nor so excellent, in quite some time. Vicki Hearne is an animal trainer who works with dogs and horses, also writes poetry and studies philosophy. So the book touches on all those things, but mostly is (to my understanding) about how we communicate with animals, how that relates to understanding and training them. I can't quite explain how that all intertwines with philosophy, because I admit I didn't understand all those parts. I like how the author thinks, but often the details of her explanations would loose me (thus it was a good book to take to bed. About one chapter and my brain was tired!) I think it shows its time, because a lot of her stance appears to be reactionary to the aftermath of Hitler's era- she encounters a lot of dog owners and trainers who believe that strict obedience is abhorrent because look what it lead to in Germany. Also she butts heads with lots of people- pet owners, trainers she disapproves of, behavioral scientists and university professors all- who claim that animals react to things merely in a mechanical fashion and have no sense of reason or emotion. Hearne adamantly believes otherwise, and strives to prove it. She shares some compelling stories about training dogs in obedience and tracking work, and of working with problematic horses. I found her description of how horses think and communicate particularly fascinating- I didn't know they were so tactile. There's also a very interesting section about pit bull dogs. She had one, and the media hysteria about these dogs as dangerous animals was just starting to boil up. She remembers when these dogs were beloved as a bold, friendly and all-american breed. Runs into trouble when brings one on campus, even though the dog is obviously well-mannered. I was most curious to read one of the final chapters, which is her opinions on how cats think and deal with people, but admit I had trouble comprehending that one. It's definitely a book I'm keeping on my shelf to read again, because I want to understand better the things Hearne is getting at.

Oh, and I loved the fact that she was constantly referring to literature, especially how stories about animals reflected or influenced our ideas and perceptions of them. She mentions myriad famous animal stories, also quotes from Virginia Woolf, Shakespeare, C.S. Lewis and Rudyard Kipling. And the introduction was writting by Donald McCaig. I always enjoy it when the books I have talk to other books I also have on my shelves. It makes me feel like they are having a conversation and I am in the middle and in good company.

Rating: 4/5     274 pages, 1982

more opinions:
From the Armchair

Nov 21, 2013

Freshwater Fishes

Great Pets
by Marjorie L. Buckmaster

I'm planning on starting up an old hobby- keeping tropical fish. It's been sixteen years or more since I had a fish tank, so while I wait for the setup to be complete and the tank cycled, I'm reading up on all I can find and doing my research about what kinds of fish I'll get. This starts, of course, with lots of online reading. I've read posts on fish forums until I feel like my eyes are going to fall out. So on our latest trip to the public library I brought home all the books I could find that seemed applicable- either to tropical fishkeeping in general, or to the specific species I'm considering for my tank. The selection among the adult non-fiction books is pretty slim, so I brought home a stack from the juvenile section as well. If nothing else, these books remind me of the basics in a very solid way, and they usually have fantastic photographs to admire while I daydream about my own aquatic pets.

So, Freshwater Fishes was the first one I read. My older daughter immediately commented on the title: isn't the plural of fish just fish? The book explains: when you speak of two or more fish of the same species, you use the plural form fish. If you're talking about a group of different species together, you say fishes. I had no idea!

That's not the only thing this book taught me. I knew that goldfish have been kept domestically for centuries, and that the practice began in China, but I didn't know that people have been keeping fish for over 4,500 years, and that they were first kept as food stock. I also learned a bit about the presence of fish in mythology, some cultures even have fish deities- although the book only touched on this.

Mostly, this book was a reminder of the basics for me again. It explains the anatomy of fishes, their dietary and temperature requirements, how to set up a fishtank, how to clean it, how to choose healthy-looking fish and steps to introduce them into the aquarium. There are also some brief descriptions of popular species including: bettas, mollies, goldfish and koi, guppies, tetras, gouramis and algae eaters. The book tells young readers how to keep their fish healthy with regular water changes, strict feeding schedules and being careful to match fish temperaments when keeping a community tank, as well as being mindful of how large the fish will grow, so they have enough space.

I was a bit surprised that with all the details on regulating temperature and such, one important part was left out: dechlorinating or conditioning tap water before adding it to the tank. I shouldn't be too critical: the book is probably meant to give kids facts and get them excited about keeping an aquarium, expecting that most will have an adult helping. But still, it's such an important thing to omit! Another thing that alarmed me was that the book says you can keep goldfish in a bowl with only once-a-week water changes. That's bad advice. I started out with goldfish in a bowl myself as a kid, and I remember very clearly that I had to change the water once a day. Goldfish simply poop a lot. It wasn't until I put my goldfish in a filtered tank that I had ones survive any length of time- I think my oldest lived to be a few years. (I did have a certain pair of angelfish live for ten years, when later I had tropical fish).

Well, I liked the book for all that it reminded me of, and enjoyed the pictures. I'm getting excited about my new venture!

Rating: 3/5      48 pages, 2008

Nov 20, 2013

Dogs I Have Met

by Ken Foster

I picked this book up at a used sale because I did enjoy Foster's first volume, Dogs Who Found Me. In this book Foster tells of returning to his home in New Orleans after hurricane Katrina, and continuing rescuing dogs he finds wandering on the streets. His work now includes book signings and travels, also quite a few television appearances speaking in behalf of dogs, particularly pit pulls and related breeds. But strangely, my impression was that most of this book was about the people involved in dog rescue, not the dogs themselves. Either that, or there were simply too many dogs mentioned, with not enough details on them, that I failed to remember any of them individually. Which ultimately, made me bored with the whole book. That disappoints me, as I liked the first one so well. The book is also stuffed with letters from readers and other people telling about their own experiences rescuing dogs, their own pit bulls, or simply how touched they were by Foster's book, for whatever reason. While I appreciate how this showed the many people Foster has reached, the numbers of other people helping lost and misplaced dogs, and the strength of the human/dog bond, it also felt a distraction to me, like the author was using it as filler because he didn't have as much to say. Hm. Maybe it's my own fault, being distracted? That's often the case when I can't focus on a book. So please do read the reviews linked to below. The do better justice to this book, which I'm sure is good in its own right, just didn't work for me right now.

There is an extensive resource listing in the back, of rescue groups and organizations that work with certain misunderstood dog breeds or help people with their dogs. Certainly useful!

Rating: 2/5    192 pages, 2008

more opinions:
American Dog Blog
Two Little Cavaliers
anyone else?

Nov 17, 2013

winner!

There were only two entries for my latest bookmark set, so to make it a bit more fun than just punching an integer into random.org, I wrote the names on slips of paper
and let my kid pick
it's Anna!
please email me your postal address and I'll send these along