Oct 30, 2018

The Real Doctor Will See You Shortly

A Physician's First Year
by Matt McCarthy

Narrative of a doctor's training year working in a New York City hospital as intern, this one caught my eye browsing library shelves. Probably because I had Farmer's work on my mind, which not surprisingly the author references once himself. Compared to an older book I've read about internship, this one is very modern (so modern that I got a little tired of the author referencing popular TV shows and describing his co-workers by what famous actor their looks or manners reminded him of). (Also tedious is his frequent use of swear words in tense situations- particularly the F one). But mostly it was a good read, one I constantly found interesting and hard to put down. Even when some scenes were distressing. McCarthy did a small stint in surgery- realized it wasn't for him- and then worked in the critical care unit, then intensive care, also doing some time in general practice. The book is really about how his skills as a doctor were built up- from nervous and fumbling to confident and leading teams himself. He describes the structure of the hospital; the different teaching styles various supervising residents gave him, panicky moments when he made a wrong diagnosis, the checks that saved his butt from serious error, the difficulties in figuring out what was wrong with unconscious (or just uncooperative) patients, the long hours and incredible stress of it all.

A lot of it is not only about his learning curve in practicing medicine- how to actually do procedures, use the equipment, etc.- but about how he gradually develops a better bedside manner, starts to connect with his patients, finds the balance between keeping himself dispassionate (so he can think critically about a case) and showing the patient that someone cares. Some of the doctor-patient interactions he describes are very touching, others actually nerve-wracking. He describes his euphoria at being part of a team that literally brings a person back from death- and the depression when it goes the other way. The second half of the book also has a lot of internal quandry and fear, as he accidentally gets a needle stick from a patient with a serious, highly infectious disease- then has to take a severe regimen of medication proactively, while waiting for his own diagnosis. It really gave him some perspective on how patients might feel about their treatment.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5              323 pages, 2015

more opinions:
the 3 R's Blog
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Oct 28, 2018

Mountains Beyond Mountains

the Quest of Dr. Paul Farmer, A Man Who Would Cure the World
by Tracy Kidder

I admit I'd never heard of Paul Farmer before, although I recoginzed this title. He was a brilliant doctor and anthropologist who as a medical student had already traveled to third world countries, and appalled by the lack of medical care for poor people, started doing something about it. In particular he focused his efforts on a community in Haiti that lived above a lake caused by a dam which had flooded their farmland. Most of them never moved anywhere else, just up the hillside, and suffered from starvation because they could no longer grow enough food. Widespread tuberculosis and other diseases were exacerbated by poor nutrition and squalor. Farmer set up facilities and procedures to treat and cure tuberculosis among hundreds of impoverished families, but he did so much more than that. He learned about their native culture especially voodoo beliefs and how it affected their view of illness. He traveled personally (sometimes hiking an entire day to read isolated huts) to visit the sick in their homes, especially entire families affected by tuberculosis. He made efforts to provide the poor with clean water, concrete floors and tin roofs for their modest homes (replacing dirt and leaking thatch), and dietary supplements. He conducted studies to find out exactly what types of treatment would have the best results, and worked tirelessly to bring the plight of thousands to the attention of the global medical community, raised money, started programs in other countries. Peru and Russia are featured large in the book although Haiti was always his base. It amazed me that he was so dedicated to his patients- insisted on treating people even when medication for tuberculosis was expensive, unavailable to the poor- and of course they couldn't pay- and proper treatment took years. Missed or late doses caused drug-resistant strains of TB to arise (it's a bit more complicated than that) so Farmer would often personally go find the patients to find out why they had missed their appointments- sometimes tracking them down to prison and extracting them in order to give them medical care (his phraseology). I learned so much more about tuberculosis than I ever wanted to know.

I am in awe at the work this man did, the far-reaching influence he extended, even when others didn't believe in his methods at first. For example, when he found out how horribly expensive medication to treat drug-resistant strains of TB were, he personally did things to drive the price down. And it had a cascading effect. He also worked with AIDS patients in parts of the world and among impoverished communities that no one else wanted to touch, saying it wasn't worth the effort. This book is kind of a jumble- it leaps around some, tells of the author's connection with Farmer, but not much explanation about how he managed to earn the role- travelling around with Farmer to learn what he was doing in order to write this book- reminiscent to me of In Africa with Schweitzer by Dr. Edgar Berman- also his habit of questioning Farmer about his views and then noting them down in the text. Several chapters tell of Farmer's childhood and how he got to where he was when Kidder met him. The rest is a complex, eye-opening account of his life's work, ranging from squatting in mud-floored huts to take the blood pressure of his patients to flying around the globe for various meetings and conferences in his quest to do whatever it takes. Wow. (Another similar read: Witness to War by Charles Clements, inasmuch as they both deal with bringing medical care to marginalized people who desperately needed it). Did I mention? Farmer founded Partners In Health, and was a renowned infectious disease expert (among other things). There are a lot of other people in this book, who worked alongside Farmer or donated or otherwise helped with his cause, but I can't possibly name them all. You have to read the book!

Rating: 4/5           322 pages, 2003

More opinions:
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Oct 22, 2018

The Blue Sweater

Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World
by Jacqueline Novogratz

This book is, ultimately, about helping people to help themselves. The author started out as a Wall Street banker but soon left her job to follow her dream instead: travel the world and find ways to solve problems of poverty. Initially she worked with companies that provide microloans to the poor, consulting and helping them evaluate if their systems actually worked or not. She saw firsthand in many different areas (mainly India, Pakistan and parts of Africa) that traditional charity often does not provide a lasting solution. She wanted to put power in the hands of the people, to listen to their needs and give them what would be most beneficial in the long run. Her vision changed as her experiences grew, in the end she developed (if I understand the final chapters right) a new type of enterprise to help the poor which was based on capitalism but seems to make sense...

The message is strong, and the examples clear, so this book doesn't really deserve the rating I gave it except that: I had to make myself finish reading it. I got a lot more out of reading the anecdotal accounts of the author's personal experiences with impoverished people she aimed to serve and teach, than I did reading about her theories, her management strategies, her meetings with people and travels to and fro all over. The names start to blur. What stood out to me were stories like the one of the women's bakery in a slum, or how she worked to get malaria-preventing mosquito nets distributed to the poor, or of her visits to Rwanda shortly after the genocide to find people she had known and hear their stories. I really admire that she was honest in writing about her mistakes, in admitting that at first many local people resented her assignment, as an outsider, to help them run their fledgling enterprises. Some places she was never really accepted and did not return. Other places she made lasting friendships and revisited years later.

But honestly, a lot of the book was difficult for me to stay interested in. Probably someone going into the business of humanitarianism would find this a lot more engaging.

Rating: 2/5                262 pages, 2009

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Caribousmom
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Oct 20, 2018

Aquarium Fish

Eyewitness Handbooks
by Dick Mills

The subtitle of this volume is: The visual guide to more than 500 marine and freshwater fish varieties. It has nice, glossy pages and shows a stunning variety of fish species, but I found it somewhat lacking. It's got the usual intro section, in this case with more about the biology of fish than aquarium setup and care, which was fine with me. The pages on fresh- and saltwater habitats was interesting (did you know that freshwater constitutes only 2 or 3 percent of water on the planet? and yet freshwater habitats are far more diverse than saltwater- which covers over seventy percent of Earth). The bulk of the book, of course, is profiles of individual fish species and varieties. Most of them freshwater, with a few uncommon fishes I've never seen before, and just sixty pages of marine species. The big disappointment was in the quality of the images. A lot of the fish shown look stressed with completely washed-out colors. If you want to identify fish solely by their fin shape, well okay but for me, I want to see their colors. The accompany text often said "males of this species in prime condition will show-" or "content individuals will be-" describing the colors and patterns I always think of for them. When you browse a book to enjoy the visual appeal of such a variety of aquatic life, there's something really amiss in not having them shown at their best. Also, the descriptions on individual temperament and care needs were very brief. I was appalled to read on the page about goldfish that "the maximum size a twin-tailed goldfish attains depends on the size of the tank in which it is kept." That's not entirely accurate. There are a few other tidbits of outdated info in here, but that was the worst. And this is rather petty- but my current favorite, the paradise fish, was mentioned in another description as a comparison, but never actually featured. It's a shame to leave out one of the oldest ornamental fish in the hobby.

Rating: 2/5            304 pages, 1993

Wild Animals in Captivity

an outline of the biology of zoological gardens
by H. Hediger
translated by G. Sircom

You might think by the image on this book cover, that it's about how animals suffer in captivity, but it's not. It's about the biological needs of wild animals, using facts about how they exist in nature to promote husbandry methods in zoos that are better for their welfare. Such as: making sure tree-dwelling animals feel high enough off the ground to be safe, herbivores have enough flight-distance from human observers, nocturnal creatures aren't in constant daylight, etc. Down to the smallest details like what type of flooring in a cage makes the animal comfortable, what type of feeding situation suits its social needs, how to train wildlife to accept the presence of humans (so they aren't constantly in a panic) and even basic training to make their handling easier. The particulars about keeping snakes, whether or not to trim birds' wings, arguments if certain animals need a lot of space to live comfortably- were quite interesting. The author points out that most animals in the wild are not so free to roam around as we might think- they are often constrained by the microclimate, dietary needs and the pressure of conspecific rivals holding them into a strict area. He emphasizes time and time again that animals' welfare is best met by avoiding anthropomorphizing them and looking at what animals actually need, not what humans would feel better about in a certain situation. It's a book far ahead of its time- I was stunned to find it was first translated from German to English in 1950! A lot of it is rather dry, technical reading but the reasoning so clear and the snippets of case studies offered as examples so illuminating, I persevered all the way through.

There are more reviews of this book on Goodreads.

Rating: 3/5              207 pages, 1950

Oct 17, 2018

Animals Make Us Human

Creating the Best Life for Animals
by Temple Grandin
with Catherine Johnson

Very interesting book about the welfare of animals, based on their core emotional needs. Temple Grandin is well-known for her design work, making livestock handling facilities easier for animals to navigate calmly. A lot of the recommendations in this book was stuff I'd heard before- about dogs being unhappy left home alone all day, or horses needing company in the field, and so on. What's different is the way Grandin interprets the animals' needs. Her take on it is that all animals share a core set of emotions- defined as play, 'seeking' (engaging in curiosity or pursuing a goal), fear, rage (usually beginning as frustration), and panic. These things can be pinpointed in regions of the brain, and she explains how most undesirable behavior stems from these emotions being activated or not.

First she talks about livestock animals that live in very confined conditions- cattle, pigs and chickens. She describes how each of the emotions are affected- for example pigs need opportunities to 'seek' (have straw to root around in) and chickens need to feel safe so they aren't constantly in fear- and tells specifically how she has seen these needs neglected or met in facilities she visits. She is open about her own research with pigs and how the results weren't at all what she expected, but taught her something. She tells how conditions in the industries have changed over the decades of her career- some things are worse, but surprisingly a lot of things have improved, especially since audits haven been instigated (with measurable steps).

The next section of the book is about domestic animals that live as pets- dogs and cats mainly- and whether or not they have a good quality of life living in people's homes. I was actually taken aback that her conclusion on dogs was they used to have better quality of life when they were commonly allowed to roam neighborhoods (which she recalls from her childhood). She points out that keeping dogs shut up alone in houses all day frustrates them and causes separation anxiety, and when they are out but always on a leash, fights between dogs are far more likely. Interestingly, she goes back and forth about whether or not dogs need to live in a pack hierarchy system like wolves- human owners making themselves the leader. She claims this idea of wolves living in strict hierarchy is wrong, that usually they live in families and your dog needs you to be a parent, not a pack leader, but dogs aren't really the same as wolves anyway. Also that wolves avoid fights because they have a repertoire of submissive behaviors to communicate to each other with, and dogs appear to have lost this via breeding- I had never heard this theory before but she explains how some researchers actually studied the number of submissive behaviors different breeds of dogs typically use, and some of them were appalling low in number, which led to more fights because they can't diffuse the tension properly.

Anyway. The final part, about animals living in zoos, was even more intriguing. Grandin was asked by a number of zoos to help them manage their animals' welfare- either recommending how to make life better for the animals or helping them train animals to accept medical procedures. This last was the best reading in the book for me. Most prey species, the book states, are very easily startled into panic and flight- if they are suddenly frightened in an enclosed setting, they can literally kill themselves frantically trying to escape the situation. Training consisted of using clickers to anticipate a reward, and gradually habituating the animals to novel objects or situations, until they had skittish antelope and similar animals very calmly walking up to zoo vets to have blood drawn or be given a vaccination! It's thrilling to read about that kind of work making strides with animal welfare. She also discusses other types of animals in captivity- how much easier it is to keep a group of monkeys happy than say, an elephant which can't live in a large family (no space) and basically she is against keeping large predators in captivity, because they can never engage in the roaming and hunting behaviors that keep them mentally well-fit and content.

I have paraphrased a lot here. There is so much more detail and the very specific viewpoint Grandin has on animal emotions -how that affects their behavior, and how we need to understand it to improve their welfare in captive situations- was one I had never quite come across before. It made all of this an engaging read, especially beneficial to anyone interested in animals sciences I think.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Rating: 4/5             342 pages, 2009

Oct 14, 2018

The Escape

Animorphs #15
by K.A. Applegate

This was a good one. True to pattern, it opens with humorous moments- the Animorphs are hanging out at the mall, and they morph parrots in order to discourage a restaurant from using caged birds to attract customers. They take the birds' places and spout insults and slurs about the establishment. I had forgotten about the Chee from a previous book, but here they show up again to inform the Animorphs that something suspicious is going on out in the ocean. The team morphs seagulls and dolphins to get there and check it out- after an awkward scene at a local marine park where Toby has to essentially dive-bomb a dolphin in order to 'acquire' its form- he's a hawk, so it looks like a wild bird is attacking a dolphin on display. When the team makes it out to the spot in the ocean, they find lots of hammerhead sharks acting oddly, with unnaturally coordinated behavior. Of course they morph hammerheads to blend in so they can sneak closer- a frightening experience (and a negative portrayal of sharks here, which draws on nearly every popular misconception about them!) In particular, Marco, the narrator of this book, is struggling to keep his composure and deal with the possibility of battling the enemy- which of course they do in the closing chapters- because they find out that Visser One is involved in this undersea operation, and Marco's own mother is the human controlled by this Yeerk Visser. Except most of his friends on the team don't know that. This story had a nice amount of character-building: we see how Marco and Jake support each other (Jake diffuses a tense moment Marco has with some bullies) and manage to enjoy moments of pure thrill, even in the middle of all this stress due to secret alien warfare. Also a lot is revealed about how much Marco himself suffers under the surface, even though he puts on a comic attitude to lighten the mood with his friends.

Rating: 3/5         176 pages, 1998

Oct 12, 2018

another long TBR

Strange Weather by Joe Hill- Shelf Love
Tin Man by Sarah Winman- Bookfoolery
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett Crosoczka- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Be Prepared by Vera Brosgol - ditto
Every Falling Star by Sungju Lee- It's All About Books
No and Me by Delphine de Vigan- Indextrious Reader
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang- Last Book I Read
American Wolf by Nate Blakeslee- Ardent Reader
All Out edited Saundra Mitchell- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Crosstalk by Connie Willis- Shelf Love
Our Native Bees by Paige Embry- Bookfoolery
Girls of Riyadh by Rajaa Alsanea- Indextrious Reader
Brain on Fire by Susannah Cahalan- Ardent Reader
The Wolf Border by Sarah Hall- Shelf Love
The Truth About Animals by Lucy Cooke- Last Book I Read
The Chaos of Now by Erin Jade Lang- Caroline Bookbinder
A Nest for Celeste by Henry Cole- Bookfoolery
Version Control by Dexter Palmer- Shelf Love
Dragon Behind the Glass by Emily Voigt - Sophisticated Dorkiness
The Emissary by Yoko Tawada- Indextrious Reader
Landmarks by Robert Macfarlane- Shelf Love
The Secret Lives of Color by Kassia St. Clair- Reading the End
Natural Selection by Dan Pearson - The Captive Reader
Rhapsody in Green by Charlotte Mendelson - ditto
Odd Girl Out by Laura James- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Orchard House by Tara Austen Weaver - ditto
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata - A Little Blog of Books
The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Bradley- Bookfoolery
Charlotte Sometimes by Penelope Farmer- Shelf Love
What the Dog Knows by Cat Warren- Curiosity Killed the Bookworm
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness - Ardent Reader
Six Weeks in the Sioux Tepees by Sarah Wakefield- Bookfoolery
Prairie Fires by Caroline Fraser - Sophisticated Dorkiness and Across the Page
Marilla of Green Gables by Sarah McCoy- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Calvin by Martine Leavitt- Good Books and Good Wine
Educated by Tara Westover- C Bookbinder and S Dork
Agorafabulous! by Sarah Benincasa- Musings of a Bookish Kitty
Stories of Your Life and Others by Ted Chiang- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Ice Master by James Houston
Green Thoughts by Eleanor Perenyi- Garden Rant
The Dead Lake by Hamid Ismailov- Ardent Reader
Bookworm by Lucy Mangan- Captive Reader
Norma by Scfi Oksanen- Shelf Love
Gardening on Main Street by Buckner Hollingsworth
Her Garden Was Her Delight by Buckner Hollingsworth
A Southern Garden by Elizabeth Lawrence
When Elephants Fly by Nancy Fisher- Bookfoolery
In Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
In Your Garden Again by Vita Sackville-West
More for Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
Even More for Your Garden by Vita Sackville-West
The Rector's Daughter by F.M. Mayor- Work in Progress
The Undesired by Kathleen Sully- Neglected Books Page
Confessions of an Igloo Dweller by James Houston
The Lambs by Carole George - Caroline Bookbinder
Slow Emergencies by Nancy Huston- Indextrious Reader
Over Forty in Broken Hill by Jack Hodgins
Enchanted Summer by Gabrielle Roy- Indextrious Reader
Garden in the Wind by Gabrielle Roy- Indextrious Reader
Dearest Prickles by Walter and Christi Poduschka
Phone Call with a Fish by Sylvia Vecchini - Rhapsody in Books
Here There and Everywhere the Story of a Sweeeet Lorikeet
The Country Ahead of Us, the Country Behind by David Guterson- Ardent Reader
The Hen Who Dreamed She Could Fly by Sun-Mi Hwang- Indextrious Reader
Passage through the Red Sea by Zofia Romanowicz - Neglected Books Page

Oct 10, 2018

The Unknown

Animorphs #14
by K.A. Applegate

The minute I started this one, I realized a big reason I liked the Chronicles book more, is because it didn't rehash the main premise all over the place. Sigh. I just - didn't enjoy this one much. Found myself skimming at the end, to be done with it quicker. It has a ridiculous premise- ridiculous even for Animorphs. Cassie's father goes to a place near a secret military base called Zone 91 (obvious reference to Area 51) to check on a sick horse. Turns out the horse is behaving very oddly and the Animorphs suspect it isn't a horse at all. They return later and find out the Yeerks have been taking over horses. This could have been really interesting, except it wasn't. The author made it appear that horses are fairly dumb, so that part of the story was boring. Except for where the kids all go to a racetrack to acquire horse morphs so they can blend in with the Yeerk-horses as spies- and Cassie ends up in a race. As a horse. Later they figure out what the Yeerks are actually doing on the base as horses- and it's really inane. Funny, but inane. The kids get caught by a military captain but escape as roaches. They crash an event at the Gardens (the amusement park half of it) where the enemy are attempting to infect more humans, and end up fighting Hork-Bajir warriors and Visser Three himself in the middle of a haunted house ride. Sorry, but those final chapters with the fight scenes just made me roll my eyes. The plot had several holes in it I couldn't ignore. Another part of the overall story is about crazy people who believe in alien abduction- and the Animorph kids think this is all fake- because they know the real aliens who have invaded. There could have been some real strong irony there, but again it fell flat for me. The dialog wasn't as amusing, and the introspective parts not nearly as thoughtful, as usual.

Well, at least I didn't waste shelf space on this one. It's on my e-reader. Moving on.

Rating: 2/5               166 pages, 1998

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews
Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales

Oct 9, 2018

The Hork-Bajir Chronicles

by K.A. Applegate

Although this one is a prequel to the main series, covering events that happened generations before the core Animorph characters, it's intended to be read in the middle of the series if you don't want to give yourself spoilers. I read it after number thirteen (some chronological lists recommend reading it after book twenty-two). I was actually putting it off for a while, doubtful I'd enjoy a story about other aliens on a far-away planet, not the familiar Animorph kids on Earth.

I could not have been more wrong. Like Enchantress from the Stars, this story tells of a clash between civilizations, and alternates between the viewpoints of each. The main characters are Aldrea- a female Andalite, daughter of the famous Seerow who unwittingly taught the evil Yeerks how to use technology; Dak-Hamee, a young Hork-Bajir of rare intelligence; and oooh, Esplin 9466- the Yeerk who would become Visser Three. It was actually really cool to read some chapters from the Yeerk's point of view, it makes you realize why they parasitize other species. It doesn't make them likeable, but a bit sympathetic. If you'd never had eyes to see the world with, you might do anything to gain a pair, too. So the story tells how the Yeerks were unleashed by the Andalites, how the peaceful Hork-Bajir planet was overwhelmed, how one small group of Andalites there struggled to hold them off until help arrived- too late. It's about a peaceful society attempting to learn the arts of warfare to save themselves- but is it worth the cost. It's about one friend taking advantage of another who doesn't know as much- until he learns what's really going on. It's about how brutal and senseless war is, does a personal sacrifice mean anything if they all die in the end. There's even an interspecies love story- told subtly, but it's there. And if you want some excitement, know that the story moves at a nice clip, with space battles near the end. I also enjoyed the environmental aspect, the description of nature on this alien planet and how delicate its balance was to keep certain species alive.

In spite of the very simple writing style, I was hooked on the story and very interested in all the complex developments that arose as each character became more aware of what was going on and more invested in the outcome, even when they saw the huge negatives along the way. Aldrea driven by her desire to be more than what's expected of a female Andalite- to become a warrior, and later on, to get revenge for the death of her family. (The Andalites can be rather arrogant, it turns out). Dak-Hamee driven by curiosity and hunger for knowledge- until he knew enough to be horrified, ashamed, and realize it was too late to turn back. Also inner perspective on the Yeerks- Esplin in particular driven by ambition, needing to set himself a higher rank and earn recognition from his peers- and he did it very cleverly, too. There's so much wrapped into this story, its sophistication belies the page length or age level, really.

Enjoyed this one on my e-reader.

Rating: 4/5               224 pages, 1999

more opinions:
Arkham Reviews

Oct 5, 2018

The Alien Animals

the Story of Imported Wildlife
by George Laycock

This older book is about animals that humans have deliberately moved to new areas of the globe- sometimes the species they wished to see established failed to survive long term, many more thrived- often with disastrous consequences, (which we didn't seem to be able to learn from). Although the book is cautionary about the merits of importing exotic wildlife into new areas, it didn't have a lot of proof why this was a bad idea, and more often than not lauded efforts (reporting governments spending thousands) to put wild animals in places they had not lived before.

Some of the myriad examples laid out in the book: Barbaray sheep, oryx and kudu (from Africa) in New Mexico, ring-necked pheasants from Asia brought to North America, brown trout from Chile introduced in New Zealand, North America and many other places, striped bass moved from the Atlantic coast to the Pacific (and even to inland bodies of water), wild boars from Russia introduced into the Great Smoky Mountains, various songbirds (most notably the house sparrow, the European starling and rock pigeons) scattered all over the place- just because people missed them when they moved to new countries, gray squirrels from America to England, the nutria (a large aquatic rodent) from South America to Louisiana, the mongoose from India to Jamaica (and many other places also). I grew up knowing that chukars (a partridge) live in eastern Washington state- but they're originally from Asia. The burros that roam arid regions of the southwest here were imported from Africa. And of course there's the famous example of European rabbits introduced to Australia.

A lot of these cases I had not heard of before, so I looked some of them up to see how well they had "taken" in the long run. Unfortunately, most of the animals are still where they were transported. A few fitted into their new ecosystems nicely, most shouldered out native species or ravaged the landscape. It's horrendous the amount of animals that were introduced to New Zealand and Hawaii, wiping out many native bird species. This book will sit on my shelf next to Where Do Camels Belong?- it's the same topic, just with a different viewpoint. When Laycock wrote this one, 'acclimitisation societies' were still in existence- their reason being just to bring exotic species into new locales! Usually because sportsmen wanted more animals around for hunting purposes.

Rating: 2/5             240 pages, 1966

Oct 4, 2018

My Backyard Jungle

by James Barilla

While I liked this book, it has a misleading title. I was expecting it to be something like Suburban Safari or Noah's Garden. It really is more about the author's travels to see how wildlife co-exists with people in other parts of the world, than it is about his own backyard. In the first chapter the author tells how he planned to make his yard a wildlife habitat, he wanted to get certified to stake a sign telling all his neighbors so. He also intended to plant a vegetable garden and grow fruit trees- but there's nothing about the garden except for breaking ground. The chapter about his trees is all about trying to thwart a squirrel that ruins every peach. There is also a section about how he deals with an opossum under the house that makes noise in the middle of the night.

Most of the book is about his travels. He visits Diana Beach, Florida where descendants of escaped green monkeys live in the wild (I had no idea!) He goes to India to see the monkeys living in cities- I swear that part takes up a third of the book. It was pretty interesting- but overwhelming with reminders of the presence of trash. He goes to Massachusetts to see bears that den under porches- this part reminded me a lot of True Grizz. He goes to Brooklyn to visit beekeepers. He goes to Brazil and sees how two species of tamarin might intersect with dire consequences. Back at home he goes on the rounds with an animal exterminator- learning what it takes for squirrels, rats, bats, and opossums to be excluded from attics and crawl spaces. And then finally deals with the critter under his own house.

Side note: I was a bit baffled at the use of references in this book. It seemed overdone. Example: a simple sentence They're easy to anthropomorphize (about squirrels) has a reference number. (I know this refers to that one short sentence, because the sentence before it has a number, too.) Out of curiosity I looked it up- it pointed to nine pages in another book I happen to have on my shelf. Which describe (in a much more charming style) the antics of young squirrels in this other author's backyard. I can understand backing yourself up with references when quoting, for example, the number of macaques that populate Delhi. But so many times in this book I'd be reading a paragraph where the author seems to just be describing his thoughts on a matter, or his own yard maintenance, and suddenly there's a reference number. It's as if he didn't trust his own opinions.

There's a great review of this book on Goodreads, by the way. Complete with added pictures.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5             363 pages, 2013

Oct 3, 2018

Girl, Interrupted

by Susanna Kaysen

Please be aware of spoilers below.

I first read this story about mental health a long time ago. Prompted to revisit it because honestly, I saw a copy in my teen's stack from the library and I wondered what she would find there. I couldn't recall the book clearly myself. Poking around online didn't help- the only detailed info I could locate pointed out things about the film, not the book- which apparently added more shock value to the story. I haven't seen the movie. But from several online reviews, seems like it has quite a bit of sex and scenes of death- from suicide. I can tell you, having just finished the book- there is no actual sex in it. The characters talk about it: one time they have a discussion about blow jobs (the taste) and another time speculate if they had a boyfriend visiting, could they manage to "do it" between nurse checks (fifteen or ten-minute increments). Kaysen herself mentions that she went out with a teacher one time, and he kissed her- but in a therapy session she lets the doctor believe they slept together, and apparently the film carried that idea further. As for the suicide- well, it is discussed a lot in the story- the author constantly thought about it, and one time they hear that a former patient committed suicide after going home. That's it. In case you want to know!

What is it mostly about? How the author found herself in a mental hospital as a teen, after what seemed to her a very brief interview with a psychiatrist. She was moody, she practiced self-harm, her perception of time had serious lapses, she struggled with uncontrollable thoughts that looped and spiraled downwards- but really, she wondered what she was doing there. She tells about the other young women on the ward with her- most of them seem to have more serious issues than herself, until the day she starts to wonder- frantically- if she has substance, if there are bones beneath her own skin- and injures herself in a quest to find out. I think that was the most disturbing thing to read about. On the whole, I found it to be bluntly honest, frankly questioning, a bit snarky at times. The writing is also very lyrical and refreshing at times, and once again I really enjoyed her voice.

I was surprised how much of this reminded me of I Never Promised You a Rose Garden. Not the symptoms, but the atmosphere. Kaysen's memoir is placed during the late sixties- cold packs, electric shock and isolation were still common treatments. The feel of the ward is so similar- sitting in the hall outside the nurse station, waiting to make it back outside- or not. On a side note, she managed years later, to get hold of the records from the hospital, and reprinted some of the pages in the book- showing what the nurses and doctors had written about her, what their actual diagnosis was. Comparing that to the inner thoughts she shares about her time spent there, is interesting and puts some perspective on things. Kaysen is discharged after two years, able to hold a job and maintain a relationship, but still often questioning herself- wondering am I sane? are you?

Rating: 4/5             169 pages, 1993

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Reading Through Life

How to Live with a Calculating Cat

by Eric Gurney

Looking for something to use my excess of points on a book-swapping site, I picked this one at whim. It's a cute, funny book about how difficult cats can be to live with. It has a very brief history of the domestic cat, pointing out how they were worshiped in ancient Egypt and then persecuted in the Middle Ages. The rest is tidbits about how frustrating cats can be: having litters nonstop (this was the sixties) after lots of backyard caterwauling, ruining your furniture (selectively), demanding fine food, sleeping in odd places, getting stuck up trees, despising dogs, gravitating to visitors who hate cats, etc. Rather stereotypical and all to be expected, if you've ever had a cat in the house. Really, the charm of this book for me was in the illustrations- I recognized the style but it took me a while to realize where I'd seen it before. It's the same artist who made the children's books The Digging-est Dog and The King, the Mice and the Cheese, which I remember very well from my childhood. This was a fun read (but not a keeper).

Rating: 2/5             141 pages, 1962

Oct 2, 2018

Folks, This Ain't Normal

by Joel Salatin

Joel Salatin runs an organic farm in Shenandoah Valley that amazes me- the systems he has worked out to cycle all the nutrients, to have the animals and crops support each other. I've wanted to read one of his books since I saw him speak in part of a film.

This book is all about what's wrong with our current food system. He discusses so much: how people ought to live closer to the land, be in connection with the food they eat, store up for winter, etc. How kids need to be involved in household chores. How ruinous packaging is to the environment. That pasture-feed beef is actually better for the environment that turning to a completely vegetarian diet (I hadn't heard this before). Raising cattle for food isn't good or bad, depends on how it's managed. Questioning how healthy soy products are (really?). The glories of compost. The preciousness of water. The horrors of GMO's. The immense difficulties small farms face in getting their products to consumers- regulations and rules tying their hands every step of the way, it sounds like. I didn't know that chickens are omnivores- in warm months of course they eat insects, in the winter it used to be common for farm boys to kill rats, squirrels, etc. to feed the chickens protein once a week. I'm sad to read about older farmers desperate to find a young person who will take their land and continue to farm on it- because often their kids don't want to. I learned why Virginia has famous ham- the climate is perfect for butchering hogs. If food is too preserved to start rotting when left out on your kitchen counter, Salatin thinks you shouldn't be eating it! He details a lot of reasons why chemical fertilizers became common usage, that I had not considered before. He says that properly grazed fields build soil faster and sequester carbon better than forests- using his own land as an example. And that's just a little sample of the subjects covered in here. I'm not sure if I agree with all his statements or ideas, and a lot of it sparks further reading. I'm definitely interested in a few of his other titles now: Everything I Want to Do is Illegal and The Sheer Ecstasy of Being a Lunatic Famer.

The only thing I didn't like about the book is it feels like it was drawn from TED talks he gave. He stuffs it with a ton of information- a lot of it quite brief, but really gets your mind racing with questions. Not a lot of detailed sources or data to back it all up- and he gets pretty worked up about certain subjects. Railing on big businesses and government decisions, often interjecting side remarks and comments like "let's get real, folks" and "come on, now!" I would have appreciated more in-depth examinations of the subject matter.

Borrowed from the public library.

Rating: 3/5            361 pages, 2011

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Book Nook Club
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