Jun 29, 2008

Lucy: Growing Up Human

A Chimpanzee Daughter in a Psychotherpist's Family
by Maurice K. Temerlin

In the seventies, Maurice Temerlin, psychotherapist, conducted an experiment of raising a chimpanzee in his home and treating it like a human child. In Lucy: Growing Up Human he describes what life was like with a growing chimp in the house, and gives his analysis of her behavior. Some of the things Lucy learned (from being taught or by mimicking her human family) were to sit in a chair, use silverware, drink from a cup (she liked wine), put on clothes, entertain herself by looking at magazines, and even basic communication with sign language. The descriptions of Lucy's behavior are nothing less than fascinating. But the family gave her way too much freedom, she was hardly disciplined. The chimp practically destroyed their house, terrorized visitors, and created awful messes (she never learned to use a toilet). I was amazed at the tolerance the family had for her destructiveness, amused at many of the hilarious scrapes she got them into, and at Temerlin's attempts to psychoanalyze her behavior. A great book, interesting, entertaining and thought-provoking. Temerlin mentioned at one point the idea of his wife writing a book on her viewpoint of the experience, but I don't think that ever happened. Too bad, I would have liked to read what she thought of it all. What happened to Lucy after she left the Temerlins is told in Silent Partners.

Rating: 4/5                216 pages, 1976

Jun 27, 2008

Women of Nauvoo

by Richard Holzapfel

I read Women of Nauvoo several years ago when going through some texts on Mormon history. I can't remember where I got it from- the public library, or borrowed from someone's private collection? It is well-researched, based on letters, diaries, and minutes from the Relief Society meetings. Covering a wide range of subjects, it describes the daily life of women in Nauvoo, their different roles in contributing to build up the city, participation in the church and how they organized themselves. Although the accounts of their contributions and efforts are inspiring, the writing that describes them is not at all. In fact, it's very dull. So I found it difficult to enjoy reading this book. However, if you want to learn more about the history of the LDS Church, or the part that women played in its "beautiful city", Women of Nauvoo is a fairly good resource.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 225 pages, 1992

Jun 26, 2008

The Animals Came in One by One

by Buster Lloyd-Jones

Another book I picked up for free one day. The Animals Came in One by One is the memoir of a British veterinarian. He grew up a sickly child, surviving scarlet fever and polio, but forever weakened by them. His childhood sickbed was always surrounded by animals, and he had no doubts about becoming a vet (in spite of his father's adamant disapproval). In addition to receiving formal training, he learned from the animals themselves, observing what plants they ate when feeling ill and concocting remedies from things like wild garlic and herbs. The brief anecdotes and descriptions of his many animal patients and acquaintances are pleasing, but what I found most interesting was reading about the National Air Raid Precautions Committee. During WWII, the vet was in charge of rescuing pets from rubble after air raids, often taking them in when their owners could not be found. In fact, hundreds of pets were euthanized when their owners had to flee the country and couldn't take them along. Dr. Lloyd-Jones refused to do this and instead bought ten acres where he housed over two hundred dogs, cats and various other animals for up to five years during the war. Although I really admired the work the author did, and the book was pretty nice, the writing style is very plain and began to bore me in the end. I liked it all right, but can't get very enthusiastic over it.

Rating: 2/5 ........ 221 pages, 1966

Jun 25, 2008

When Katie Wakes

by Connie May Fowler

I think I picked up this book off one of the biography shelves at the Book Thing months ago. I took it along to an afternoon at the park today. While my daughter ran and climbed, I breezed through some sixty pages, gradually becoming more and more disinterested. This book just did not speak to me. When Katie Wakes is the memoir of a woman living with a man who reviles, mistreats and physically assaults her. All this while living off her paycheck, the drunken sponge! If I could finish this book, I feel I would get a better understanding of the mentality that keeps women from leaving controlling, abusive men. But I could not stomach the brutality, the callousness, and the excuses she gave him. Told in brief vignettes, the story moves back and forth from past to present, as one thought leads into another. It was way too jumpy for me and I just could not concentrate on it.

Oh, and there's a dog in the book. She adopts a black lab mix, who gives her unconditional love and affection. I think the dog played a big part in her healing. It reminded me some of The Craggy Hole in My Heart and the Cat Who Fixed It, which also featured an emotionally troubled woman who reached healing via a loving animal.

Abandoned                      271 pages, 2002

More opinions at:
You Gotta Read This!


by Frank Cottrell Boyce

Seventeen days before pounds become euros, two british kids find a bag stuffed with cash, that came off a train destined to burn the money before the changeover. What to do with 229,000 pounds? Keeping it secret from their father, the boys try to spend all the money before it's worthless- and find out a lot about inflation (on the playground!), difficulties of making change, and that it can actually be hard to give money away. In the meantime, robbers are trying to find them, and someone is trying to woo their father. Because you see, their mother recently died (they milk this for all its worth: "my mum's dead" gets them practically every result they want from uncomfortable recipients of their sad faces). The really weird thing is the younger boy's obsession with saints. In the movie (which I saw first) this was an amusing quirk, but in the book it became downright irritating and bizarre. Especially the inclusion of Mormon missionary neighbors- some of those details were downright inaccurate. Like not celebrating Christmas? Was that supposed to be a joke?

Anyway, while I really enjoyed the film version, I found I didn't like reading Millions very much. I kept loosing interest. There were, I can count, three scenes that made me laugh. The Subbuteo game (p. 70), the loaves and fishes miracle (p. 175) and the way cars are named (p. 214). (Go find the book just to read those three passages!) Sadly, three laughs isn't enough to make me like the book. I'd recommend watching the film instead. It's much funnier and gets the same point across about the relative value of money.

Rating: 2/5                    247 pages, 2004

Jun 24, 2008


by Jerry Spinelli

The story of a boy who was a loser. To his peers, but not to himself. He was clumsy, socially awkward, always making mistakes- teased, ignored, very unpopular. All the way through grade school he continued oblivious of his poor social standing among his peers. He was happy, friendly, and tried to do good. What others thought of him didn't alter how he felt inside. I wasn't sure if I should feel sorry for the kid for being so disliked, or admire him for being so good-hearted. In the end I felt rather unmoved. Nothing much actually happens in Loser, except to unfold day after day in the life of a decent kid who tries hard, always fails, and yet still believes in himself. Sadly, it wasn't nearly as memorable as the other Spinelli books I've read like Stargirl or Wringer.

Rating: 2/5               218 pages, 2002

book giveaway!

Win Three Free Books!

Any Grisham fans out there? This week's giveaway is a chance to win three John Grisham novels (used paperbacks, but in good shape!)- your choice of The Pelican Brief, The Firm or A Time to Kill. You can enter to win one, two or all of these titles- just leave a comment and let me know which ones you want! Random names will be chosen until all the books have a new home. The contest closes and names are drawn on tuesday July 1st.

Sorry, due to postal cost this contest is open to US and Canadian residents only.

Jun 23, 2008

Beauty Sleep

by Cameron Dokey

This is a wonderful retelling of the Sleeping Beauty story. It unfolds the life of the princess Aurore, growing up well aware of what is supposed to happen on her sixteenth birthday, living under the constrictions of the curse and her parents' attempts to protect her from it. She tries to make the best of it, in spite of being forbidden ordinary things like using a knife at the dinner table or doing embroidery. Luckily her cousin introduces her to the great outdoors, so when odd and frightful things start to happen in her kingdom (as a result of her curse, it appears) she sets her eyes on the broader horizon, takes matters into her own hands, and determines to change her fate. Of course things don't turn out exactly as expected, but that's what makes Beauty Sleep fun to read. The characters are really human, the princess is full of life and spirit, and the story has quite a few twists. I really enjoyed it, and only wish it had been longer and a bit more fleshed-out.

Rating: 3/5              186 pages, 2002

Jun 22, 2008

Potty Training Your Baby

A Practical Guide for Easier Toilet Training
by Katie van Pelt

This was the last book I read on toilet training, but I think if it had been the first I would have had an easier time! It's short, simple, and very practical. It doesn't go into a lot of detail, but explains fairly clearly how to transition your child out of diapers and on to using the toilet beginning at one year old and ending when they're two. Potty Training Your Baby states that teaching earlier is easier, because by the time your child reaches the "terrible twos" and is asserting independence by wanting to do the opposite of everything you ask them (at least, that's how it felt to me), toilet use will already be a habit. Van Pelt breaks down the process into three major steps: teaching your child to recognize the need to go, where to go, and control of their body functions.

The book also discusses things like how to choose a child potty, teaching an older child, and dealing with setbacks. Especially useful, I thought, was the idea of letting your child occasionally go somewhere acceptable other than the potty (like peeing in the grass, or in a plastic cup) so that if you happen to be far from a bathroom someday, your child won't panic and refuse the alternative! There's strong emphasis on attitude, and here I think the author takes it a bit too far. I agree with the need to keep a relaxed and calm attitude, and not tease a child about body functions, but she says you shouldn't have your child wash their hands after every time, only when they've actually got something on their hands, so they don't get the "unhealthy" idea their body is dirty and acquire a "negative self-image". Personally, I think it's better to instill in a child the habit of always washing hands after using the bathroom, and is quite possible to do so without making them feel their body is "dirty". My toddler loves washing her hands, playing with the soap and water, and will do so many times a day even when it's not necessary or required!

Rating: 3/5                 119 pages, 1996

Jun 21, 2008

Toilet Training without Tears or Trauma

by Penny Warner and Paula Kelly

This was another potty training book I read when going through that stage with my daughter. It is written by a child development specialist and a pediatrician, and outlines conventional methods, based on the latest research. Brief, easy to read, yet very informative. Describes "signs" that indicate your child is ready, and several different approaches to toilet training, according to how old the child is or their temperament. Most of the emphasis is on keeping the whole affair stress-free, which is good- although I'm not sure I agree that a bad potty-training experience can traumatize a child for life... Since my daughter was older than the babes Infant Potty Training was written for, I found a some of the ideas in Toilet Training without Tears or Trauma more useful for her age, and ended up applying a combination of the two different methods. Particularly effective, I remember, was putting a star-chart on her wall (when she was crazy about stickers). This book was pretty much strictly informative for me. The anecdotes from Infant Potty Training were much more interesting and memorable.

Rating: 3/5                   114 pages, 2003

Jun 20, 2008

Merle's Door

Lessons from a Freethinking Dog
by Ted Kerasote

The author of this book lives in a cabin in the Wyoming mountains, in small, secluded community. He spends his free time hunting, hiking, skiing and subsists mainly on game he shoots himself. During a river trip, Kerasote found Merle, a dog who had been surviving alone in the wild for some time. Upon adopting him, the author decided to give the dog free range to come and go as he liked. Merle's Door describes the depth of their ensuing relationship, evidence of Merle's thought process and decision-making, and expounds on canine history and behavior. These sometimes lengthy quotes from other sources interrupt the story at times, and I'm not sure if I'll find them as engaging next time I read it. But they were interesting. And familiar to me. Most of the books quoted I've read or have on my TBR. I'm also familiar with the area described, having lived several years in nearby Idaho. I grew up in a family that loves the outdoors, and for many years my father filled up our freezer with venison and elk meat from hunting trips (though not exclusively like this author did). So I found a lot to recognize and enjoy in these pages.

Although the conclusions drawn from observing Merle's behavior as an independent dog were insightful, even fascinating, I don't think it's easy to follow these "lessons". Living in busy cities or suburbs, most pet owners would never find letting their dogs roam freely a safe option. Even in the area where Merle wandered, other dogs were often involved in dog fights, caught by the dog catcher, hit by cars or shot at for harassing livestock. Because he learned to survive on his own at an early age, Merle was able to avoid these hazards (or just lucky). He happened to be a very intelligent dog, above average for his kind. His story is nothing less than extraordinary.

Rating: 4/5               398 pages, 2007

All the Dogs of My Life

by Elizabeth von Arnim

In search of the next book to read, I picked up von Arnim's All the Dogs of My Life because I enjoyed her Enchanted April several years ago, and was in the mood to read more about canine companions after Merle's Door. Von Armin's memoir of the numerous dogs that came and went in her life is pleasant and charming, but I did not get much more out of it. I suppose if I had read more of her other works or about her life before this, I might have appreciated it more. As it was, I found my interest seriously deteriorating after about fifty pages. I'll keep looking.

Abandoned                 211 pages, 1936

Jun 19, 2008

cover makeovers

Last night I had a little fun giving new faces to more books I had without dust jackets. I thought I'd share the results with you (from my magazine clip file):

Icebound Summer, by Sally Carrighar

One Child, by Torey Hayden

The Tribe of Tiger, by Elizabeth Thomas Marshall

Papillon, by Henri Charrière

Bambi, by Felix Salten

I read recently that the deer Salten had in mind when writing the story were european roe deer, not the north american white- or blacktail I 'd always imagined. So I used a picture of that species.

Jun 18, 2008

The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands

by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

My husband laughed when I told him I'd read this book (several years ago). He pointed out to me that the author isn't really qualified to give marital advice. All I knew about Dr. Laura was that I used to listen to her talk-radio show in the car occasionally. Most of the time her input struck me as sound, from the limited one-sided story you got from a caller. But reading the book, I got a different impression. It felt way over-simplified, and seemed to blame everything on women. That women need to treat their men better: quit nagging and complaining, and put their husbands up on a pedestal. That men want their wives to just give them good food and constant s-x and they'll be happy. While I appreciate the reminder to look at ourselves first to make positive changes, I don't think problem marriages are all the woman's fault, or solved in such simple fashions. And though some of the ideas here were useful, they were also obvious (respect each other, express your love, give each other some space). I think all the good material in this book could have easily been printed on one page. Unless you do want to read all the examples of people's problems and solutions which can be amusing- I could not believe how manipulative and insensitive some of them were- or insulting depending on your viewpoint.

Rating: 2/5               180 pages, 2004

Jun 17, 2008



the winner

of Vinegar Hill by Margaret Ansay:

Windy Cindy!


send me your address and your book will be on its way! Watch for more book giveaways coming up next tuesday....

Jun 16, 2008

Owls Aren't Wise and Bats Aren't Blind

A Naturalist Debunks Our Favorite Fallacies About Wildlife
by Warner Shedd

The title pretty much tells you what this book is about. Naturalist Warner Shedd describes more than thirty North American wildlife species, not only explaining the error and origin of common misconceptions about them, but also describing their behavior and many interesting facts. Woven seamlessly into the detailed information are numerous personal anecdotes. The fluid, descriptive writing and humor make Owl Aren't Wise and Bats Aren't Blind a real pleasure to read. I was already familiar with many of the "myths" and knew they were incorrect, but there were also a lot in here I had never heard of. And I learned many new things about familiar animals. Did you know for example, that in addition to nuts and seeds squirrels also eat fruit, fungi, tree buds, sap, bird eggs, baby birds and small frogs? I had no idea. My favorite story by far was of the "dead" possum found in Vermont by a man who'd never seen one before.

And I really enjoyed the illustrations by Trudy Nicholson. They are beautiful, detailed and infused with character. Except for- my one peeve with the book- the one of the polar bear. I was really surprised after so many pages of excellent artwork to see such a poor one. It looks like the artist really struggled with depicting fur underwater, and I rather wish she'd just drawn a polar bear on land and made it look great like all the others. I know it's a small thing to be bothered by, but every time I thumb through the book I stop on that page in dismay.

Rating: 4/5                 322 pages, 2000

Jun 15, 2008

Baby Proofing Basics

How to Keep Your Child Safe
by Vicki Lansky

For such a small book, Baby Proofing Basics is really packed with information. In an easy-to-read reference format, it explains how to keep your baby or young toddler safe from all types of hazards. First the book goes through your house room by room, describing potential dangers and what to do about them. Then it covers outdoor areas, safety measures to take while traveling, at the beach, hiking and camping, precautions during holidays (think fireworks and Christmas trees), poison and choking, how to be safe with pets, lists of poisonous plants, and safety rules to teach your child. Comprehensive, quick to read and nothing too paranoid. Although most of it was common sense or things I'd heard before, it was all good reminders at the time. Though some ideas came across to me as unpractical (like turning a desk to the wall so your toddler can't open drawers) others struck me as ingenious (wetting shoestrings before tying will make them shrink together and not come loose again).

Rating: 3/5                    130 pages, 2002

Jun 14, 2008

Never Change

by Elizabeth Berg

At the time I read it, I did enjoy this book. But looking back, I find many of the incidents unbelievable, and the novel as a whole pretty forgettable. Never Change is about a nurse who does in-home care. She leads a quiet, uneventful life. Then she runs into a patient she had a crush on in high school. Back then, he was the popular jock. She was quiet, shy, the girl who never went to the prom. Now he's dying of cancer and she not only takes him on as a patient, but brings him to live in her house, and tries to make his last days comfortable while blossoming in his attention. I think she tried too hard to make him happy: the worst moment in the novel was when she brought his old girlfriend to visit, and then listened to their intimate moments through the bedroom wall! The book wound to a predictable ending. Love, death, lessons learned. Fans of this author mentioned in other reviews that this wasn't one of her better books, so I tried a few other titles. But I could not get into them at all.

Rating: 2/5                214 pages, 2001

Jun 13, 2008

Water for Elephants

by Sara Gruen

I've spent most of today trying to think of what to say about this book that hasn't already been said on blogs (Maw Books' database lists thirty reviews of this one!) So many people loved it, I suppose I ought to just explain why I didn't. Brief summary: Water for Elephants is the story of Jacob, an old man in nursing home reminiscing of the time when as young man he ran away and jumped onto a traveling circus train. Having almost finished veterinary school, his skills are needed so he's taken on. This in the Great Depression, when the circus is hard-hit and work not easy to come by. Based on lots of research, the book abounds with details: the circus organization and lingo, the flashy glitter and display that awes the crowd and hides darker truths- squalid conditions, men and animals alike often going hungry, bosses who abuse their workers, trainers who mistreat the animals... In the middle of it all is an unfolding story of love and violence: Jacob is enamored with a performer who's married to schizophrenic man prone to violent fits. He's also the animal trainer, so Jacob ends up working in close proximity with him. Then there's the elephant, brought into the circus to enhance its status, but no one knows how to work with her. Jacob is desperate to save both the woman he loves and the elephant from the hands of brutal men.

I enjoyed reading Water for Elephants. I had a hard time putting it down, and finished it in a day or two. The inclusion of many bizarre events based on true incidents was a great touch. But I wish the story had included more details about Jacob's work as an untried vet with exotic animals- he's given high status as "the circus vet" yet there are only a few cases mentioned (very briefly) and he seems to spend most of his time mucking out stalls and feeding the big cats. And I wanted to know more about the elephant! I was also disappointed that the closing scene was told in the beginning of the book. What I really loved was all the circus lore. It was the perfect compliment to books like Here Keller, Train This! and Zamba, which do tell more about the animals and less about the life of performers. It also reminded me a lot of Geek Love- that behind-the-scenes story of the freaks on display.

Rating: 3/5                350 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Book Addiction
Ace and Hooser Blook

Jun 12, 2008

Always Running

La Vida Loca: Gang Days in LA
by Luis J. Rodriguez

Growing up poor in LA, the author of this memoir spent many years in gangs searching for security and empowerment. But what he found was a never-ending scene of violence: drug use, rape and murder are common events in the pages of Always Running. Eventually realizing that staying in gangs would probably cost him his life (having seen many friends and family members die), Rodriguez escaped via his education. Years later, he was dismayed to find his own son becoming involved in gangs, and wrote this book in the hopes of deterring him by showing what he had gone through. Although it gives an inside look at gang life, and explains to me some of the reasons why kids join gangs, I really feel like this book failed in many points. Its main method of getting the message across is relating countless shocking incidents, with an array of flashy characters. But the reader never gets any depth- and thus I came away ultimately dissatisfied, feeling slightly ill from reading about many things I would rather not have known in such explicit detail. And I was sad to discover that despite the book's publication, his son still ended up involved in gangs, and in jail.

Rating: 2/5                 262 pages, 1993

Jun 11, 2008

When Fox is a Thousand

by Larissa Lai

Another failed attempt at magical realism. When Fox is a Thousand is a fantastical tale told from three viewpoints: a young Asian-American woman living in modern-day Vancouver, a female poet in medieval China, and a fox who has lived almost a thousand years, using magical powers to animate the bodies of dead women and cause mischief. I was really enjoying the prose, and the modern characters. But the others parts really lost me. I'm sure all the characters' stories weave together in the end, but when after more than fifty pages I still can't really tell what is going on, I don't see the point in continuing. I read seventy-two pages of this surreal book before leaving it behind.

Abandoned                      236 pages, 1995

Jun 10, 2008

Whole Health for Happy Cats

A Guide to Keeping Your Cat Naturally Healthy, Happy and Well-Fed
by Sandy Arora

I have to admit I picked this book up from a library sale just because it has such gorgeous photographs. Whole Health for Happy Cats describes in simple, easy-to understand language how to care for your cat "naturally": feed a raw food diet, use herbs and home remedies for simple ailments, how to monitor your cat's health and even deal with some behavior issues. The part that interested me most was the section on raw foods- the book claims that having a nutritionally correct, raw food diet will prevent many problems cats have- it got me to thinking that if I could grind up chicken carcasses and add all the strange-named additive powders (I'm unfamiliar with most of them) for my kitties, one would stop loosing his facial fur, the other quit having upset stomachs and fleas will find them both unattractive!

I really skimmed over the pages about herbs and flower essences, because I can't imagine myself mixing up remedies at home. But if that's something you're interested in, this book is full of information and charts to help you get started. I've never used things like aromatherapy or acupuncture for myself, much less my cats, so I was kind of skeptical about some of the content. If I did decide to introduce a raw food diet, or try herbal remedies, I'd do more reading first. But this attractive, reader-friendly book (I went through the entire volume in one day) was a great introduction for me to the ideas.

And it answered one question for me: why does my cat like to chew on plastic grocery bags? and the other one lick photographs? Apparently these behaviors aren't as strange as I thought: the plastic and photo chemical coatings are made with animal fat or fish oils, and the residue has a smell that attracts kitties. I had no idea.

Rating: 3/5               184 pages, 2006

book giveaway!

Win a Free Book

This week I'm giving away a paperback copy of Vinegar Hill, by A. Manette Ansay. Enter to win by leaving a comment and tell me why you'd like to read this book! (Or if you already have, what you liked best about it). The winner will be announced on tuesday 6/17 (my giveaways are going to be bi-weekly for a while).

Jun 9, 2008

The Painter from Shanghai

by Jennifer Cody Epstein

I was thrilled when this book arrived in the mail for me from the author: it felt so exquisite in my hands with the sleek, glossy cover and smooth creamy pages. The cover is just beautiful. And the story really intrigued me. The Painter from Shanghai is a novel based on the life of Pan Yuliang, a post-impressionist painter from China who spent her early years in a brothel, having been sold into prostitution at the age of fourteen by her opium-addicted uncle. Half of the book describes her life of oppression there. Eventually she attracted the attention of a government official, who took her out of the brothel to become his concubine and later made her his second wife. He encouraged her to study and grow as a person. And that is what I felt this novel was really about: a woman's struggle to find herself against all odds. Yuliang was one of very few female students at the Shanghai Art Academy. She excelled there, went on to study art in France and Rome, then returned to her native country when it was struggling towards revolution. Her depiction of female nudes (many of them self-portraits) was not well-met in China, and a disastrous public reaction to one of her gallery openings nearly convinced her to cease painting. I am awed at the strength of this woman, who found her realization as an artist in a very controversial fashion, during troubled times. I really enjoyed reading about her time spent in the studio, discussing art with professors and fellow students, learning the methods of painting. It is very inspiring. You can view some of Yuliang's paintings at the author's website.

Rating: 3/5                    416 pages, 2008

More reviews at:
Booking Mama
A Work in Progress
Diary of an Eccentric

Jun 8, 2008

Silent Partners

the Legacy of the Ape Language Experiments
by Eugene Linden

In the 1970's, several different types of experiments were undertaken to teach apes sign language. Ten years later, lack of funding, loss of outside interest and internal conflicts between the researchers brought the studies to a halt. In this solemn report, Linden relates what happened to the apes afterwards- from famous one like Koko the gorilla, chimps Washoe, Lucy and Nim- to those unknown to the public as well. Very few of them reached a happy ending. Some were sold to zoos, other to research labs. One was taken off to be rehabilitated into the wild- with sad results. Raising questions of animal rights and ethics, Silent Partners also confronts the responsibility we have to animals whose lives have been altered by us. Having lived for years in close company with humans, and learned to communicate their desires and needs to us, how could one of these apes feel anything less than misery to be shut up in a cage at a zoo or lab? For a time I was interested in these language experiments, and read a number of books about them (reviews are coming!), becoming familiar with their individual failures, successes and personalities. So it was very sad for me to read of their fate.

Rating: 3/5                247 pages, 1986

Jun 6, 2008


by Ernest Neal

This is a fascinating and informative read about an animal I knew little of. I think my only contacts with it in literature before were Incident at Hawk's Hill and Wind in the Willows, both fictional. Badgers is based on years of direct observation by naturalist Ernest Neal, who was a leading expert on the animal. He recounts many interesting anecdotes in describing the badger's nocturnal behavior, diet, habitat and history, illustrated with lots of excellent photographs and drawings. Badgers in England are quite different from the American ones I'm more familiar with, not only in appearance but also in their habits. One of the most interesting things I learned about them is that they live in expansive underground tunnels and burrows called setts, which are used by generations of badgers in succession. Some have been dated to be hundreds of years old!

I have some confusion about the title of this book, though. When I read it years ago, I had it listed on my TBR as The Natural History of Badgers. But I could only find the title Badgers to read. Looking online for an image to share with you, I also found the title The Badger. I'm sure Neal wrote a number of books about badgers, so I don't know if this is the same book published under an alternate title, or a different text altogether. Also, the image I did pull up for Badgers has a co-author, whereas I don't remember the book I read having two authors. So the faces of the books you see here may not actually be the one I read, but they are attractive in their own right, so I present them to you. (If anyone can clear up my confusion of titles, I'd be glad of it!)

Rating: 4/5                  321 pages, 1977

Jun 5, 2008

Meme: Trends

.From Booking Through Thursday:

Have your book-tastes changed over the years? More fiction? Less? Books that are darker and more serious? Lighter and more frivolous? Challenging? Easy? How-to books over novels? Mysteries over Romance?

My reading taste has definitely undergone a gradual shift over the years. When I was a teenager I used to read a lot of picture books, and enjoy them! There would be days when I would gather a pile of picture books and just sit on the couch and go through them all. I don't do that anymore. I guess I'm finally growing up, but they just don't enthrall and delight me like they used to. Now when we're in the children's section of the library, my focus is more on finding books my child will enjoy than looking for myself.

I also used to read a lot of books I didn't like. This doesn't really fall under reading tastes, but I feel it's related. In going back through my book logs, I am coming across numerous titles that I remember reading and disliking, or just not caring about. Why did I make myself suffer so? I'm definitely enjoying reading more nowadays, and reading more books I like, because if a book just isn't doing it for me, I have no qualms on quitting.

I do still pick up YA or juvenile fiction from time to time, but am finding that my appreciation for that genre is slowly sifting away, as well. I don't have much patience anymore for books that feel like they talk down to the reader, and have a hard time reading a book written for a younger audience unless it's very well-written and crafted. Overall, I would say that I am now reading mostly adult fiction, some fantasy, and a lot more non-fiction than I ever did before. My husband has also been directing me to more sci-fi books and non-fiction on topics I wouldn't normally choose for myself. Oh, and I rarely read poetry anymore, though I used to from time to time. A few months ago I picked up a poetry book I saw on shelf display at the library, and brought it home. But after reading only three poems I was bored and since then haven't really read any poetry at all. This makes me rather sad. I don't know why I've lost my appreciation for poetry.

Jun 4, 2008

Carnivorous Nights

on the Trail of the Tasmanian Tiger
by Margaret Middelbach and Michael Crewdson

Feeling like a travelogue mixed with natural history, this fantastic book was created out of a trip two naturalists and one artist made to Australia and Tasmania with one main purpose in mind- to find the Tasmanian tiger, or thylacine. Traveling across the island in search of a carnivorous marsupial long believed extinct, the adventurous threesome hiked through rainforests, up mountains, crept into caves and visited pubs and museums dedicated to the Tasmanian tiger. They interviewed many people of different sorts who still search for the thylacine, and enthusiasts including wildlife experts working to save endangered marsupials and scientists hoping to one day clone the thylacine from tissue of preserved specimens.

Just as fascinating as the lore about thylacines and the history of their demise presented in these pages are the descriptions of the astonishing and curious Tasmanian wildlife. It was enough to make me want to visit Tasmania one day, to see the bandicoots, pademelons, echidnas, quolls and potoroos for myself. There's lots of interesting information and humorous incidents in these pages, and I marked a dozen pages that mentioned animals or incidents I want to read more about, as well as a list of fourteen additional books on the thylacine and other Tasmanian wildlife. One odd thing about the book is that it's written entirely in the "we" form- which felt awkward at first, but eventually I was able to ignore it. And what I really enjoyed is the artwork of Alexis Rockman, which adorns every chapter- made from acrylic mediums mixed with soil, mud, and other natural substances taken from visited sites and often having direct relation to the animal painted. I kept skipping the text to gaze at the artwork, then going back to read more. (His art in the book doesn't look like what I could find online- it is very granular, textured and mostly monochromatic).

Rating: 4/5                     320 pages, 2005

Jun 3, 2008

The One-Hour Garden

How You Can Have a No-Fuss, No-Work Garden
by Joanna Smith

This book gives you ideas on how to create a garden that is attractive and low-maintenance, requiring an hour or less of work per week. The One-Hour Garden is really written for people who are very busy and want a pleasant outdoors area to enjoy without spending lots of time weeding, pruning, mowing, etc. For me this isn't really the case, so I did find some of the repetitive statements about how tedious weeding is and why lawns are a poor choice tiresome after a while. I really felt like the book could have included less opinion and more detailed factual information. For example, on the front and back endpapers there are maps of climate zones for the entire United States. Yet in all the plant lists types of foliage, soil and sun needs are indicated, but never the zones. So although I now know the hardy plants that like the type of soil/sun exposure I have, I don't know which like my climate zone. There's lots of charts to help you plan your garden and choose plants that require little or no care. The downside to it all is that to have a self-sustaining garden requires a lot of work (and expense) in the beginning to establish- especially if you have to redesign most of your existing space.

I got some really good ideas from this book- like to put in a mowing strip, build a sandbox that can covert later into a fishpond (but it doesn't tell you how), and how to choose plants that look great and take care of themselves.

Rating: 3/5              157 pages, 2003