Mar 31, 2008

a real book nut

Inspired by the Book Tour on A Work in Progress, I decided to share some photos of my own. This bedside shelf holds books waiting to be read and given a status: keep forever or give away (the cat likes to mark every one as his own, even though he doesn't know how to read):

This is where my permanent books usually live:

Nonfiction is on the small white shelf (on the right). My husband's books are on the little brown shelf atop it. Oversize nature and art books are sandwiched atop the white shelf between husb's shelf and the tall shelf. Of the two full-size bookcases, the top two left shelves are fantasy, the rest is all fiction. The two boxes (lower right bookcase and in front of white shelf on the floor) now hold books destined for PaperbackSwap or giveaways, which I'll begin doing about once a week (keep your eye on tuesdays!) after we're settled from our move.

Which is coming up in a few weeks. So I began preparing and took all the books out to box up. Here's what they look like all on the floor! Quite a heap. The last counting total (thanks to LibraryThing) is 489.

The crazy thing? A few friends we haven't seen in two years are coming to visit from the opposite coast. And I take so much pleasure in having friends peruse my shelves. Even if they just stand a while with that sideways head-tilt, and don't exclaim on or start a conversation over a title. So I took all the books out of boxes and put them back on the shelves to be admired. After the visitors are gone, I'll box them up again. My husb is going to make fun of me for it, I know. I think he doesn't like seeing my books. He asked if I would throw away the more unstable of my bookcases once its contents are boxed up, with the words "finally! good riddance!" and wants to grant a small room in the new house just for my library, so the books aren't out cluttering the common living space. Grumble grumble.

So you see why I had to put them up again, in case visitors turn out to be book-admirers. I love looking at my books almost as much as reading them. Someday I'll show you a picture of my three-year-old's collection (over 100), two-thirds of which she's inherited from me.

Mar 30, 2008


The winner of my first book giveaway is

Verbivore of Incurable Logophilia.

Congratulations, Verbivore!
Send me an email with your address and I'll mail your book presently. I'd love to hear what you think of it when you're done reading!

Mar 29, 2008

I Went to the Woods

The Adventures of a Bird Photographer
by Ronald Austing

This short autobiographical book relates some experiences of famous bird photographer, Ron Austing. From a young age Austing was interested in raptors and climbed trees with friends to capture and identify owls and hawks. Then he began taking pictures of them. Before long he was consumed with a desire to capture images of birds in flight. It was a long tedious search for the right cameras and equipment. Eventually he began selling his photos, and made a goal of photographing some 200 local bird species. Much of the book describes Austing's methods of catching and releasing birds, and how he set up to get his pictures. Besides the photography aspect, I Went to the Woods describes the behavior of owls, hummingbirds, kingfishers, red-tailed hawks and peregrine falcons. Austing also briefly tells how a variety of injured or orphaned wildlife lived in his home (as he was also a park ranger), and advocates wildlife protection.

I found most interesting the chapter that described how he caught wild falcons. One method involved fitting a pigeon with a harness to which were tied (by hand!) forty or so small slip nooses, then throwing it out the window of a moving car upon driving past a falcon. The pigeon was on a long line, like a leash. When the falcon grabbed the pigeon, its talons would get stuck in the nooses, and it was caught. That's what I love about this book: curious facts about falconry, bird behavior, nature photography, that I never would have dreamed of.

This book was really interesting, and of a very straightforward writing style. I missed many of the references involving photography (having never developed my own film) but enjoyed all the aspects of wildlife observation and avian beauty.

Rating: 3/5                 143 pages, 1963

Mar 28, 2008

Old Yeller

by Fred Gipson

Old Yeller is about a boy's coming of age on the Texas frontier in the late 1860's. When his father leaves on a trip, Travis has to take up the man's work and protect his mother and little brother. At first it's routine: plow the field, chop the wood, shoot something for dinner. But then several accidents occur, and Travis starts to feel he can't handle it all. Luckily a big ugly stray dog shows up. At first Travis hates him for stealing the family's meat, but then he comes to depend on the dog for protection and assistance with the half-wild livestock. Old Yeller becomes his closest companion, and invaluable to the homestead. Unfortunately, the dog isn't immune to accidents himself, and when he gets bitten by a rabid wolf, Travis has to face shooting the dog he loves in order to save his family. (Revealed on page one.)

This is a really enjoyable book, in spite of its more serious elements. Told from young Travis' perspective, it's full of frank, humorous descriptions and funny moments. His little brother's antics are pretty hilarious too. And I loved the scene where the bull fell over backwards in a cart and rolled down a hill. My edition happens to be an ex-school-textbook, and includes a short, interesting appendix in the back that describes wildlife from the Texas hill country, and the longhorn cattle. Old Yeller has very similar themes to The Yearling (about a boy in Florida with a pet deer) and Where the Red Fern Grows (a boy in the Ozarks with 'coon dogs). All of these books show families living on small farms in isolated areas, the main character being a teenage boy who learns some harsh life lessons from nature.

Rating: 3/5                         200 pages, 1956

Mar 27, 2008

Meme: Cover-up

I really wasn't going to make three posts today; but I didn't realize it was thursday until I saw some other blog posts about Booking Through Thursday. I haven't been there in a while and really wanted to participate, so maybe I'll just take a break tomorrow since I've overdone it today!

Today's question comes from Julie:

While acknowledging that we can’t judge books by their covers, how much does the design of a book affect your reading enjoyment? Hardcover vs. softcover? Trade paperback vs. mass market paperback? Font? Illustrations? Etc.?

If I already have plans to read a certain book, designs won't make much of a difference to me. But the quality of cover art definitely influences my shelf browsing. I'm much more likely to pick up a book that has attractive art or jacket designs. Great interior illustrations can sometimes be a plus, as well. Good paper quality and easily readable type makes the reading experience a real pleasure. I've already discussed the issue with choosing hardbound books over paperbacks or trade sizes here.

When it comes to my personal library collection, I'm much pickier about how the book looks or feels. If I find cover designs absent, uninteresting or distasteful, I'll even create my own out of scrap magazine clippings. If I own a book, I like it to have an interesting or beautiful face!

The Artist

by Norman Garbo

This is one book I discovered because the title caught my eye on a free shelf. When I began reading it, I looked up the names involved and found that this novel appears to be pretty obscure. Is it an awful book? Not at all. Disturbing, certainly. Violence, s-x and racism all move in huge continuous waves through the pages.

It is about an artist called Duvid Karlinsky, of an immigrant family, who grows up in a New York slum. I really enjoyed reading the parts about how he studied painting, worked in the studio, struggled to get his art seen. He refused to paint pretty pictures that people liked- instead depicting the ugliness of the slums around him, raising public awareness of oppression and poverty. Eventually this landed him as a correspondence artist for the newspapers in WWI, where he witnessed more horrors, and participated in his own share of violence. After some thirty years back home, he went overseas again to paint and fight during WWII. There's a lot of heavy material in The Artist about hate and intolerance between ethnic and religious groups. These scenes of racial strife alternate with passages of love- describing Duvid's relationships with the three women of his life: an actress, a prostitute, and a girl he met on the beach near his studio. I was surprised to find that certain scenes for once did not offend me, but were just a natural part of the story, not overly detailed or exaggerated.

The Artist is a compelling story about one man's lifelong striving to turn the ugliness around him into something permanent on canvas. Sadly, it never seems to absolve his inner unrest, but just reflects the inhumanity of life around him. As much as I enjoyed reading about a painter, overall this story did not sit well with me. The passion, violence and hatred all rush together to a terrible final scene that hits like a dead weight. With the rape, murder and destruction it ended up being more of a thriller/horror story at the end, which I ought to have seen coming, but didn't. Left me with a bad taste in mind, and I had to quickly turn to lighter reading.

Rating: 3/5                     477 pages, 1978


Participate in my first giveaway and Win a Free Book: The Artist, by Norman Garbo. Not pristine, but a very decent hardback. If you'd like to have a copy, I'll be happy to send it to you! Just leave a comment on this post and you'll be entered. I'll use to pick the winner on sunday 3/30/08.

Mar 26, 2008

Zoo Vet

Adventures of a Wild Animal Doctor
by David Taylor

I've read many books featuring veterinarians which were hailed on the jacket blurbs as being comparable to James Herriot (the latest being Creature Comforts) but they were never quite as good as promised. In David Taylor, I finally found a writer who stands up to the comparison. Taylor was the first veterinarian to specialize in exotic species. He worked for a number of zoos and wrote eight books about his experiences as a wildlife veterinarian. I've only read four of them, but want to get my hands on them all; they're great! Similar to Herriot, Taylor describes working before anesthetic dart guns and other modern conveniences for veterinary medicine were developed; he often had to think up ingenious ways to work with or treat dangerous animals. The writing is very informative about what goes on behind the scenes in a zoo regarding wildlife heath and treatment. It is thrilling at times with many narrow escapes, very humorous and quite engaging. I read Zoo Vet two years ago so I cannot recall any specific incidents to relate, or which wildlife species are described therein. But I know I enjoyed the book very much, and if I ever find it, will add it to my private library permanently.

Rating: 4/5                      
Published: 1977 pp 255

Mar 24, 2008

Meme: Library Love

I just don't feel like writing about a book today. And I liked this meme I saw on Superfast Reader a few weeks ago. So I'll answer it now, even though I'm rather late. (You can trace the meme all the way back to Becky's Book Reviews, where it began).

How do you plan on celebrating Library Lovers month?

Well, I missed it. I didn't even know there was a library lover's month until I read about it on the blogs! Although I read every day; isn't that a celebration of sorts? And I'm a very faithful patron of my local library.

How often do you accidentally spell library as ‘libary’ when you’re in a hurry?

I don't know, but I'm sure it has happened. My toddler's pronunciation of the word is pretty close to that.

What is the most amount of books you’ve ever had checked out at one time?

Recently within memory? Thirty-eight; but it wasn't all for my reading pleasure. A dozen of the stack were for my toddler, another twenty for my husband's project fixing up the house. Books checked out just for me? I'd say the largest pile was around fifteen. When I was a kid I used to bring home more at once, I probably hit the twenties or thirties then regularly. Once I visited a public library and asked what the checkout limit was; the woman at the desk said fifty! I said how could anyone carry fifty books out of the library? She said with a shopping cart. I wondered if that every really happened.

What is the longest you’ve ever gone without visiting the library?

A month or two. When I was in college I visited the library very seldom; being busy with schoolwork and most of my reading was for classes. And after my daughter was born I didn't go for a month, but my husband brought home reading material for me. There have also been times when my piles of second-hand books at home have stacked up so I didn't have a need to go to the library for a while. But I don't think it's ever been more than three months, max. Usually I go once a week, or at least twice a month.

What is the biggest fine you’ve ever had?

Five dollars. For a book I thought was lost but found before I had to pay for the copy.

When you go to the library, do you plan ahead and make a list? Or do you browse?

It depends. I used to browse a lot, but with a three-year-old who just wants to dig in the puzzle bin it's hard to meander through the stacks quietly. My TBR has grown too big to ignore, too. Now I usually look stuff up at home and bring a list. But I still manage to pick a few strangers off the shelves that catch my eye while collecting what I've come for!

Have you ever been shushed by a librarian?

Never. Not even when my kid gets too noisy, though I've received my share of stern looks (on her behalf). They are quite effective.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done to a library book?

Lost it. I left one in a rental car once. And my husband's accidentally left one on the commuter train. (Luckily, someone found and returned it!) My daughter has torn a few pages. (We had to quit reading pop-up books for a while). I am guilty of occasionally dog-earing a page, though I always unfold them before returning! I'm somewhat concerned about dropping one in the bath, but so far that hasn't happened (though I did drop a cordless phone, once. It dried out okay). A board across the tub to rest your hand on is helpful, and also not reading thick hardbound books there (like the latest Harry Potter).

Have you ever had a “favorite” librarian?

Yes. The children's librarian at the Burien Public Library where I grew up. My mother took us to so many library activities. We participated in reading challenges, summer reading programs, all kinds of things. She used to have a desk in the children's section, always decorated and with cool stuff on it (like a huge jar full of gumballs. Guess how many gumballs, and you win the jar. I think my sister won it once. That sort of thing). She has the most wonderful, expressive voice and was always helpful, talked to the kids very friendly. We got lots of book recommendations from her.

If you could change one thing about your library it would be…

No charges for loans! My public library charges fees for requesting a book from another branch in the system, or for checking out videos. I don't like it at all.

Mar 23, 2008

Emergence: Labeled Autistic

by Temple Grandin and Margaret M. Scariano

I first read about Temple Grandin in her book Thinking in Pictures. Years later I stumbled across this one, and was eager to read more. Here Grandin describes parts of her childhood and how she made her way through school. Emergence is not as detailed or involved as Thinking in Pictures, being more of a summary of her youth. She describes memories of being teased by other children, confused by their actions, and the reasons and feelings behind her own unusual behavior. She talks about teachers who mentored her, and how her own internal symbolism enabled her to make goals and finish high school and college (a rare achievement for an autistic person). Included in this short book are letters by Grandin's psychiatrists and teachers (written to her mother), which give a different point of view; facts and data about autism, and the original checklist Grandin's mother filled out about her behavior when she was diagnosed. As it stands alone, this book can feel rather incomplete and brief. But read in conjunction with Thinking in Pictures, it completes the story, adding many new insights and details of this extraordinary woman's life.

Rating: 3/5                 Published:1986, pp 180

Mar 22, 2008

How To Steal A Dog

by Barbara O'Connor

My curiosity was perked when I saw this book mentioned online somewhere. Spotted it at the public library, brought it home and read it one night in the bathtub (the best reading spot in my apartment. Hot water must be included). How To Steal A Dog is about Georgina's issues with her family's homelessness, and her determination to change their situation. Her father's abandoned them, they've been evicted and are living out of a car while their mother struggles with two low-paying jobs, trying to save enough to get a new place to live. Georgiana is highly embarrassed and frustrated by their situation. One day she sees a lost-dog sign and makes up a plan to steal someone's dog, then collect the reward money. But her plan doesn't unfold smoothly, and she continually runs up against her conscience. Faced with the question: is it okay to do something wrong in dire circumstances? Georgina learns some powerful lessons about honesty, friendship, and that money isn't everything.

Rating: 3/5            Published: 2007, pp 170

Mar 21, 2008

Winter's Tale

by Mark Helprin

I don't know how this book ended up on my TBR list. It is a vast, sprawling fantasy of New York City. The main character is Peter Lake, an ignorant yokel who stumbles into the City in the 1800s and quickly falls into an organized group of thieves and petty criminals. One day while breaking into a house he falls in love with a rich girl (one of the most preposterous scenes in the book), who has a terminal illness.

Winter's Tale is full of surreal incidents and picturesque language to the point of ridiculousness. I was enjoying it for the sheer fun and astonishment of the word play until I reached page 200 where Peter Lake dropped out of sight and the already meandering plot took off in a direction I couldn't recognize. Then I did something I've never done before. I skipped about 150 pages and began reading again, when Peter Lake (like Rip Van Winkle) reappears after half a century has gone by. Having seriously lost interest in the storyline, I skimmed the last fourth of the book, reading only those parts that dealt with Peter Lake's search for his legendary white horse that could leap four city blocks and aspired to fly in the sky. Something about the style of this book reminded me a lot of The Tin Drum, or even One Hundred Years of Solitude. If anyone's managed to read and like Winter's Tale, I'd love to hear why!

Abandoned                      Published: 1983, pp 688

Mar 20, 2008

All the Wild Horses

Preserving the Spirit and Beauty of the World's Wild Horses
by Dayton O. Hyde

Essays on various groups of wild horses around the world- the familiar (to me) Western mustangs, ponies of Chincoteague and Dartmoor, and less familiar horses of the Namib Desert, French Carmargue, and the Sorraia, Pryor Mountain and Kiger mustangs. There are chapters on the history of wild horses and the controversy surrounding wild horse protection, conservation and management. Most interesting I found was a comparison of the behavior of wild horses and their zebra cousins. And a wonderful, lyric account of how the horses experience a year at Black Hills Wild Horse Sanctuary, which was founded by the author.

All the Wild Horses is a beautiful book with absolutely stunning photographs. One I definitely want adorning my coffee table someday.

Rating: 4/5             Published: 2006, pp 208

Mar 19, 2008

Madame Bovary

by Gustave Flaubert

A few days ago I was looking through my shelves for unwanted books in too poor condition to swap to drop at the Book Thing next week, when I noticed a tattered copy of Madame Bovary sitting among the TBR clutter. It came from the same box at my mother's house that coughed up The Gulag Archipalego. I picked it up and thought: I really ought to read this. It's a classic.

So I tried. I made it through 120 pages about a pretty young wife who finds herself married to a country doctor. He's quite content with life, she's bored silly. He loves her very much, she finds him dull and repugnant. She longs to experience romance and emotional thrills. For a while she resists her feelings, because of society's strict moral code; then gives in and has several secret affairs.

One night when my husband couldn't sleep I said "let me tell you what I'm reading" and began to relate the story to him. He was snoring within minutes. Yesterday I made another attempt to read a dozen more pages, and found my attention seriously wandering. So I skimmed through the rest, of Emma Bovary's second affair, her husband's failure, her ultimate tragic end. (Reminded me very much of Anna Karenina, which I read in high school). Maybe it was a poor translation (Lowell Bair)? maybe the subject just isn't shocking to modern readers anymore? I know this is great literature, meticulously constructed by the author, full of symbolism, details and profound portrayals of human nature. But I just couldn't sympathize with or like any of the characters, and I got bored. I seem to be in the minority here, so if you want to read great reviews about this book, check out A Guy's Moleskine Notebook or A Reader's Journal. They give Madame Bovary its due, where I cannot.

Abandoned ...0/5... 303 pages, 1857

More opinions at:
Books 'n Border Collies
Ardent Reader

Mar 18, 2008

A Leg to Stand On

by Oliver Sacks

This book is about a doctor who must adjust to being the patient. As the result of a freak accidental encounter with a bull on a mountain, Oliver Sacks suffered a horrendous injury to his leg causing severe nerve damage and shock. After which he had the strange sensation that the leg was not part of his own body. During his long convalescence the neurologist strove to understand his own physical identity crisis, the psychological nature of illness, and the doctor-patient relationship. Although at times the writing got a bit tedious and lost me in its complex analysis, I still found A Leg to Stand On a really engrossing book. And the role of music in his survival down the mountainside and subsequent healing process is utterly fascinating.

Other books I've read by this author:
An Anthropologist on Mars

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

Rating: 3/5                  Published: 1984, pp 224

Mar 17, 2008

Nobody's Horses

The Dramatic Rescue of the Wild Herd of White Sands
by Don Hoglund

In the 1940's the US Government appropriated land from ranchers in New Mexico surrounding the White Sands Missile Range, a top-secret testing site where the first atomic bomb was detonated. Most of the ranchers left their horses on the range, believing their land would be returned to them. But it never was. Eventually the horses became enclosed by the Missile Range security fences. They thrived in the severe desert, their numbers swelling until a drought pushed them towards starvation. In 1994, dozens were discovered dead near a dried-up water hole. Don Hoglund, an equine veterinarian experienced in working with wild horses, was called in to manage the complex and dangerous task of removing over 2,000 wild horses from the Range.

Nobody's Horses tells the story of that rescue operation. In addition to describing harrowing roundups and careful handling techniques, the book also tells of all the conflicts between military personnel and animal rights activists, fears of anthrax contamination, reactions to the Oklahoma City bombing. Hoglund traces the ancestry of the wild bands back to the original homesteaders who lived on the land, recounting a lot of Western history. That part of the book became rather dry reading for me, and my interest began to flag near the end. But it is a notable book, full of appreciation and respect for the magnificent wild horses.

Rating: 3/5 ........ Published: 2006, pp 251

Mar 16, 2008

One Day on Beetle Rock

by Sally Carrighar

Based on several summers' observations of wildlife in Sequoia National Park, One Day on Beetle Rock describes the lives of nine different animals, crossing paths and spanning twenty-four hours on a singular location. Each chapter outlines events of the same day through the experience of a different animal: weasel, Sierra grouse, chickadee, black bear, lizard, coyote, deer mouse, stellar jay and mule deer. Written like a novel and full of detailed information on each species, this is one of my favorite pieces of nature writing. If you've ever wondered what the business of day-to-day life is like for another species, this book is an excellent read. It gives a strong picture of what each creature's sensations, concerns and consciousness might be like, without over-anthropomorphizing them.

I would like to quote from the forward by Robert C. Miller:

These are stories of the adventures of animals, but with a difference- the stories are of actual animals in an actual place, as the author has observed them. She has watched carefully and recorded truthfully, always with sensitive understanding and a keen awareness of beauty. The tales are fiction, yes, but fiction closely parallel with face. This is real natural history.

A companion to this book is One Day at Teton Marsh, by the same author.

Rating: 4/5                  Published: 1943, pp 196

Mar 15, 2008

Girl with a Pearl Earring

by Tracy Chevalier

This is a fictional account of Johannes Vermeer's household, told through the eyes of a young maid, Griet. New to the place, Griet has to learn her trade while facing Vermeer's acerbic mother-in-law, tight-lipped wife and spoiled children who taunt and harass her. In addition to her regular duties, Vermeer puts her to work in his private studio, cleaning and doing rudimentary preparations for his paintings (like grinding pigments). The continual mundane labor of Griet's days is described in a slow, poetic fashion against building emotional friction in the household, for Vermeer's wife is uptight over a many things, the least of which is her jealously. Jealous because Griet alone is privledged to enter the master's sacrosanct studio, and jealous because she is also pretty enough that one day Vermeer asks her to pose for him. The Girl with a Pearl Earring becomes a tense household drama and scandal, over the painting of this picture.

Griet is something of an anomaly. She is very quiet, observant, and hardworking, but also (for an uneducated maid) surprisingly outspoken and forward-thinking. Much of the book is about the slow awakening of her intellect and spirit. She stands a quiet observer in an eddy surrounded by the swirl of larger events, which are only half-perceived. Overall the book is so lovely I was able to overlook her unlikely character and enjoy its beauty and prose.

My only complaint is the lack of illustrations; I would have liked to see the paintings as I read about them. If you visit the author's website, you will find images of the art, alongside quotes of the text where they are mentioned. It's great! I just wish I'd visited it while I was reading the book. I'm eager to read another of Chevalier's books I've seen mentioned lately, The Lady and the Unicorn, which has as much to do with tapestries as this one had to do with oil painting.

Rating: 4/5 ........ Published: 1999, pp 233

More opinions at:
Ardent Reader
The World Inside My Head

Mar 14, 2008

Becoming Anna

by Anna Michener

This memoir was written when the author was sixteen. In it, she describes her life up until the point when she was adopted by the Michener family and changed her name from Tiffany to Anna. She describes a childhood of being emotionally and physically abused by her family, then spending most of her teenage years in two separate mental institutions. Most of the book is a horrendous account of inside the mental hospitals- relating all kinds of atrocities (over-medication, incessant verbal abuse, unwarranted and severe punishments) and describing in detail the other teenage patients. All the patients are portrayed as being misunderstood and wrongly placed there; while the adults- doctors, parents and teachers are painted in a negative light. I questioned whether it could have really been so black and white. At the same time, this book resonates with so much pain, anger and bitterness that I have no doubt the author is describing things as she saw and felt.

The ending seemed to wrap up a little too quickly. There were some gaps in the story. Perhaps it was just things she didn't feel comfortable sharing, but I felt there must have been a way to fill in the holes and make it more complete. Full of detailed descriptions, colorful language and sardonic commentary, Becoming Anna is a painful yet very compelling book.

Rating: 3/5                     Published: 1999, pp 264

Mar 13, 2008


by Chris Bohjalian

Connie, the daughter of a midwife, tells the story of her mother's murder trial. During a difficult delivery on a freezing winter night in an isolated farmhouse, Sibyl made a desperate decision to save the baby's life, when she thought the mother had died of a sudden stroke. But what if she'd been wrong? Through Connie's eyes we see Sibyl struggle to keep her life from unraveling under the ensuing onslaught of hostility from traditional doctors, men of the law, neighbors and friends alike. Supported by other midwives and her family, Sibyl stands by her decision and defends her occupation, even as she is plagued with disapproval and her own doubt and guilt. Like many Jodi Picoult novels, Midwives deals with a very controversial issue and winds up in a courtroom. It seemed a bit sensationalized and the characters were rather flat, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. However, I felt quite dubious about the daughter's final role.

This book has some themes in common with The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, on the subject of traditional versus alternative medicine. It's not as good a book, but interesting to think about in the same context.

Rating: 3/5 ........ Published: 1997, pp 372

Read more reviews at:
Book Haven
SMS Book Reviews
Hooser's Blook

Ardent Reader

Meme: Negativity

I read this meme on Dewey's blog, The Hidden Side of a Leaf. It addresses some questions I've asked myself lately, so here goes:

1. When you dislike a book, do you say so in your blog? Why or why not?

Yes. Unfortunately reading is not always a positive experience, so my record of it isn't going to be, either. I like to be honest about my reactions to the books.

2. Do you temper your feelings about books you didn’t like, so as not to completely slam them? Why or why not?

Usually. I'm not out to hurt anyone's feelings. Most books/authors don't deserve to be pummeled with unkind remarks! However, I might have made a few exceptions, where I felt there was something dishonest about the way in which a book was written. I have to mention that yesterday I found a site that is all about slamming books, Scathing Book Reviews. At first it was hilarious to read what horrendous things were said about classics like Hamlet and The Grapes of Wrath. Then I discovered that all the remarks came from Amazon reviewers, which weakened the validity of it somewhat.

3. What do you think is the best way to respond when you see a negative review about a book you enjoyed?

Let it be. Not everyone is going to share my opinion or taste in reading material. However, if I feel I can offer a remark that may encourage someone who is reading the negative review to still try the book, I might leave a comment.

4. What is your own most common reaction when you see a negative review of a book you loved or a positive review of a book you hated?

See the above response: we all like different things. Why get upset about it? Sometimes it makes me sad if a book I really really love gets bad reviews, but it's not worth it to get all bent out of shape. I probably dislike books that those people love, in return.

5. What is your own most common reaction when you get a comment that disagrees with your opinion of a book?

I'm not about to censor other's opinions, so I just let them be. Unless of course, the language is abusive then I might moderate some comments but so far that hasn't happened. If anything, I get more repsonses on posts I make that reflect poorly on books everyone else seems to have raved about. I don't mind at all. I like to hear what everyone has to say, especially when their opinion is different from mine. It's more interesting than just having everyone agree with you all the time.

6. What if you don’t like a book that was a free review copy? What then?

I'm still going to write about it and be honest. I am up front to people who send me books that my "reviews" are based a lot on personal opinion and what I like to read, so they shouldn't expect rave reviews if they send me the latest hot romance novel or murder mystery. I'm just not into those kinds of books, so I probably won't like it regardless of how well it's written. And unfortunately, I'm not very good at stepping back and making an un-biased analysis of writing style, character development, plot arcs, etc. I'm just sharing my opinions on books. Including the negative ones.

7. What do you do if you don’t finish a book? Do you review it or not? If you review it, do you mention that you didn’t finish it?
I still make a brief note of what the book was about and why I stopped reading it. Sometimes it's just as interesting to see what people don't like in books as what they do. Also, I don't want to forget a book I really disliked and pick it up a second time.

This has happened. One time a college roommate lent me a book that was her absolute favorite. I got a third of the way through and it began to feel very, very familiar. Finally I realized I'd read it before- and been terribly bored. I handed it back to her with the tactless remark "I've read this before, it was kinda boring" and she got quite offended. The book had touched her so much, she cried when reading it. If I'd recalled my first attempt, I could have avoided that whole unpleasant scene!

Keeping track of the books I abandon removes that problem.

I'm curious to hear what my fellow book bloggers have to say about this topic. I tag Charlene, Ravenous Reader, Chain Reader, Trish, Chris and anyone else who reads this and wants to participate.

Mar 12, 2008

Horse People

Scenes from the Riding Life
by Michael Korda

This book is everything the previous one was not. Excellently written, thoughtful and full of information, it is a wide-ranging yet well-focused narrative on experiences with horses. It follows the author's personal journey into the world of horses, from rented rides in New York's Central Park to a privately owned stable in the countryside. Along the way he relates many stories of friends and acquaintances with horses, as well as the relationship of horse to man throughout history.

It is curious that, like Horseplay, this book also features a romance and divorce, with the narrator/main character leaving city life to be closer to horses. But those are all background notes, here. The horse is in the spotlight. Horse People touches on horses in art (introducing me to Rita Dee), horses owned by famous people (I glossed over most of the name-dropping) and all things horsey: formal dressage, casual trail rides, small-town rodeos, little girls and their ponies, the foxhunting elite, three-day eventing, backyard horses and thoroughbreds rescued from the racetrack. It expounds a bit on a few breeds: Arabians, quarter horses and thoroughbreds. The strongest impression I came away with was the sheer amount of work involved in caring for a horse.

Full of humor, interesting anecdotes and lots of good sense, this is a great book. I am certainly going to look for more books by this author.

Rating: 4/5                   Published: 2003, pp 367

Mar 11, 2008

The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat

and Other Clinical Tales
by Oliver Sacks

In the same vein as An Anthropologist on Mars, this book is a collection of twenty-four stories describing various neurological patients. They suffer from a wide variety of maladies involving perception- a woman who cannot tell where parts of her body are located, a man who has entirely lost his sense of balance, various patients with phantom limbs, Tourette's syndrome, strange kinds of memory loss and more.

I first came across this book when a college roommate was reading it years ago. The title story seemed so bizarre I was a bit incredulous. The experiences related in The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat are a bit harder to relate to than those in An Anthropologist- it's easier to imagine what it's like to be a blind man with restored sight than a person who continually perceives one object to be another entirely. If anything, that makes this book even more fascinating.

Rating: 4/5                            233 pages, 1970

More opinions at:
Things Mean a Lot
Stuck in a Book

Mar 10, 2008

Wild Horses I Have Known

by Hope Ryden

In the public library the other day I started browsing, and picked up several more books on wild horses. This one caught my eye because of the great photography; it wasn't until I sat down to read it that I realized it's juvenile non-fiction. Still well-written and enjoyable; I even learned some new things.

Wild Horses I Have Known describes experiences the author had observing and photographing wild horses. Most of the brief chapters describe behavior, survival tactics and social organization of the horses. The last chapter explains that horses are not really a non-native species brought to the American continent by Spaniards, but were actually re-introduced. Horses were once native to North America, evolving "from tiny Eohippus to might Equus, the true horse" which roamed across North America for two million years before becoming extinct. I had no idea.

I also learned that bachelor stallions who don't yet have their own mares will sometimes hang around a mare who has left her herd to give birth, then make off with the mare and new foal to start his own herd. That stallions will not only rescue mares that have been appropriated by other stallions, but also go after foals which have gone astray. And the most curious incident Ryden observed was during a skirmish between a stallion and a group of young bachelors, when the stallion knocked one of the yearlings off his feet, and then instead of biting him, pulled hair out of his mane!

Rating: 3/5                         Published: 1999, pp 90

Mar 8, 2008


by Judy Reene Singer

Judy van Brunt runs away from her cheating husband to live and work on a horse farm in North Carolina. Her riding skills deemed inadequate, she quickly gets relegated to the position of groom, while receiving lessons. Both the job and the lessons are exhausting work. She becomes infatuated with the first handsome, rich man she meets and incessantly talks men and horses with her fellow female grooms. The farm boards wealthy patrons' horses, as well as breeding, training, selling and showing in dressage competitions. I thought I would learn about what dressage actually is, and the lore of life around horses. But this story is more about romance, gossip and jostling for status among the rich and snobbish. I enjoyed the horsey parts and much of the witty humor, but many of the characters were flat to the point of caricature, and after a while the repetitive puns, jokes on names and humor involving food became tiresome. By the end I was barely skimming the pages to see how predictably it would turn out. I realize now this book just isn't what I was looking for; it's light reading: humorous, witty and somewhat sarcastic.

In the middle there's a puzzle, involving loading six horses into a trailer: "Merkury couldn't be stalled next to Allegreto because they were archenemies. Allegretto didn't like Ivan, and Lexus hated Merkury, but Sam, the buffer, could be put next to anyone except Nero. By 5:30 am, we were using paper and pencil to do math permutations. By six o'clock, we were up to second-degree integers from calculus. A solution was finally found..." but isn't given in the book. Can you solve it?

(Here's a good example of the exaggeration that makes up the humor in this book: with a pencil, paper and writing only the names, I solved it in two minutes. I think I would find Horseplay hilarious as a movie, but I just don't care much for reading this sort of thing.)

Rating: 2/5              Published: 2004, pp 278


A question for my readers: Does anyone find the Title Index (found near top of sidebar) useful? Would an index by Author name be better, or both? Or does no one use it at all, preferring to dig through the archives?

Mar 7, 2008

An Anthropologist on Mars

Seven Paradoxical Tales
by Oliver Sacks

Oliver Sacks, neurologist and author, takes us inside the experiences of his patients in An Anthropologist on Mars. Here are the lives of a painter who went color blind after an accident, a man with a brain tumor that eclipsed all his memories except for those prior to 1970, a surgeon with Tourrette's syndrom whose symptoms disappeared while he performed surgery, a man who after forty-five years of blindness had cataracts removed and could make no sense of the visual world, an artist whose photographic memories of a certain place overwhelmed his life, and two autistic individuals- one severely disabled yet an extraordinary artist and the other a professor who understood animals' interactions better than people's- using that to build herself a successful career. This last patient was Temple Grandin, who I've also read about from her own personal accounts.

Written not as an examination of illness, but an exploration of the world of the mind, these studies demonstrate how the perception of the brain creates the reality we live in. Oliver Sacks says: "These... are tales of metamorphosis, brought about by neurological chance, but metamorphosis into alternative states of being, other forms of life, no less human for being so different."

It's a very fascinating book, one I highly recommend.

Rating: 4/5                         327 pages, 1995

Read more reviews at: Things Mean A Lot
anyone else?

Mar 6, 2008

Keeper and Kid

by Edward Hardy

The best thing about this book is that I really, really could relate. My daughter is the exact same age as this kid. Raising a toddler really can make you feel like you're always dealing with one demand or disaster after another. But at least I was somewhat expecting that. It's not the case with Hardy's main character, James Keeper.

He's been divorced for several years, now in a new relationship but continually thinking of the old one. One day out of the blue he gets a phone call: his ex-wife is in the hospital. Nearly on her deathbed (though he doesn't know it yet) she asks him to promise to take his dog back. Only later when he shows up to collect, it's not a canine but a child: his child, fathered three years ago during a trip to a family reunion he attended to maintain a false front for a grandfather who didn't know they'd divorced. This guy doesn't know how to deal with kids, but he has one now. Worse, his girlfriend doesn't want to have anything to do with kids at all. In the ensuing winter months, James (or "Keeper" as he's often called) slides around trying to find his footing in the new, strange territory of fatherhood.

I had a hard time putting Keeper and Kid down. Alongside the main story, I was intrigued with Keeper's interesting job: finding old, valuable items to sell online or in his scrapyard/antique shop. I liked the surreal part of his weekly card nights with friends where they viewed forty-year-old slides chronicling the vacations of an unknown family, found in an antique chest. And most of the descriptions of life with a toddler rang home. Though I got a bit tired of Keeper's hopelessness and self-pity his friends prove themselves to be true, and he learns that no one can raise a child alone.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 294 pages, 2007

Read another review:
Booking Mama
Book Addiction
Ardent Reader

Mar 5, 2008

A Sand County Almanac

And Sketches Here and There
by Aldo Leopold

Aldo Leopold is considered "the father of wildlife conservation in America." He spent a lifetime working for the U.S. Forest Service and Game Management department in Wisconsin, continually advocating better land use and wildlife management. This book is his magnum opus. I always saw it on my mother's bookshelf growing up, so it lodged itself as a book of great importance in my mind. Yet I didn't read it until I was in college and picked up an illustrated copy at a garage sale one summer. Immediately I found myself immersed and delighted with the beautiful lyric prose, detailed and poetic descriptions of wildlife, and thoughtful, convincing arguments presented in the final sections.

The book is arranged in a manner that draws the reader in, to solidify and build towards Leopold's famous Land Ethic treatise. In the first part he describes a year on his exhausted farm in Wisconsin, describing the seasons, the land, the animals that live and travel there. The second part (Sketches Here and There) describes the natural history and local fauna/flora of different parts of the country: Idaho, Illinois, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, etc. In the final section of the book Leopold expounds in detail the idea that land is a community of living things and can be a lasting and positive part of culture itself, if we use it wisely and treat it with respect.

A Sand County Almanac is a classic, one of the best pieces of nature writing I have ever read. It stands shoulder to shoulder with Silent Spring in terms of impact and lasting impression on me. Some parts of the book echo sentiment and ideas I recently read in Adventures with a Texas Naturalist.

Rating: 5/5 Published: 1949, pp 228

Mar 4, 2008

A Great and Terrible Beauty

by Libba Bray

I read a great review about this book on Jenclair's blog A Garden Carried in the Pocket, and have been wanting to read it for some time. Finally have it in my hands, but I just couldn't get into it. Something about the writing style just fell flat with me, and my mind kept wandering. So after forty pages I put it aside, perhaps to come back to later.

Abandoned                403 pages, 2003

Mar 3, 2008

Housekeeping Vs the Dirt

by Nick Hornby

Being "Fourteen months of massively witty adventures in reading chronicled by the National Book Critics Circle finalist for criticism". Need I say more? I love reading what Nick Hornby says about books and the reading experience, although some reviews have made me dubious of reading his actual fiction. I found that I related more to Housekeeping vs the Dirt than its predecessor, The Polysyllabic Spree, perhaps because he mentioned more American works, and I have either heard of, read or want to read about a third of what was discussed. So it was nice to be able to relate more directly, and not just in the general sense of being a book lover.

I have heard much of In Cold Blood, The Men Who Stare at Goats and Then We Came to the End. I've read some works by Barthelme, too. Hornby has convinced me that I really ought to read more, also Ian McEwan. He's also validated A's appreciation of "Sopranos" and "The Wire", reiterated my puzzlement over people who sell books on Amazon for a penny (or several pennies), and convinced me that I am quite outside the normal realm. After all, I am a person who would read a book after the kids are in bed and the dishes shelved (p. 14) and also one likely to pick up a book on peregrine migration patterns (p.50). Hornby also happens to mention my sister's favorite artist, Jack Vettriano, and talks about Into the Wild. This is a book I've read recently, so I was eager to see what was said, but it didn't come until the end. I did sit on my impatience and wait until I arrived there in due time, although A. said why do that? it's not as if the book's written chronologically. But I did!

Oh, and I must have better eyesight than I thought. Even though I wear glasses for astigmatism headaches, I managed to read the small print line without a magnifying glass. It was horrifically disgusting, and A. laughed when I paraphrased it to him!

Quoted in this book are selected excerpts from Sarah Vowell's Assassination Vacation, Jess Walter's Citizen Vince, Jennie Erdal's Ghosting and Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (a graphic novel). All in all, an astonishing good and funny collection of words on reading.

Rating: 5/5                   Published: 2006, pp 153

Read another review at: In Spring it is the Dawn

Mar 2, 2008

Wolves At Our Door

The Extraordinary Story of the Couple Who Lived with Wolves
by Jim and Jamie Dutcher

This book is about the making of a documentary film on wolves. Its focus was to show the family life of wolves and their social interaction in detail. About half of the book describes methods used to gain the wolves' trust and record natural behavior, difficulties involved in film production, negotiation with various organizations and their Idaho rancher neighbors who hated wolves. The rest of the book covers the life of the pack, which I found particularly interesting. The Dutchers write about both the wolves' patient, family-orientated nature and their fierce, sometimes brutal competition for social position: "In a wolf pack there are no equals. Someone always has the slightly upper hand, and there is always the chance of moving up the ladder a rung or two. It is in this nebulous middle rank where one sees the true and fascinating paradox of life in a wolf pack, the incredible balance of competition and cooperation."

Wolves at Our Door is an insightful portrait of both wolf nature and the involvement of a wolf advocate. Making a film about these animals ended up with the Dutchers founding their own wolf-education organization and living in an isolated area with the animals for six years. It ends on a sad note. But there are many gorgeous photographs, which I admired time and time again.

Rating: 3/5                Published: 2002, pp 299

Mar 1, 2008

cover makeovers

I have a habit of collecting pictures from discarded magazines (especially National Geographics) left over from the days when I wanted to be an illustrator, and was building a scrap file for visual reference. Recently I went through my shelves and pulled out a bunch of books that had no dust jackets:

Then I dug through my scrap file, collected some pictures, and gave these books new faces. It was fun, and they look much nicer now (I think)! I clipped the photos out of dozens and dozens of magazines, so I have no idea who originally took them, but I'm not going to make any profit off them, so I don't figure I'm breaking any copyright law. Any more than decoupageing a lampshade with clippings would be. And if for some reason these books ever left my library, I'd remove the covers I made, first.