Jan 31, 2011

A Dog's Book of Truths

by Nancy LeVine and Joseph Duemer

Here's a book I picked up at a library discard sale once, and never read until just yesterday. It's a beautiful tribute to one woman's two beloved dogs (Australian shepherds). Exquisite black-and-white photographs are paired with thoughtful, poetic sentiments on how dogs view and experience the world (text by Duemer).  It's one of those books you could read in ten minutes but spend much longer lingering over the pictures and pondering the prose. My favorite passages:

Dogs make little of our music, but scent is as obscure to us.

Dogs know the world cannot be described from any one position- that everything must be explored by many circumnavigations.

Because they do not read the future, common wisdom says dogs know nothing of death, that it takes them by surprise- but the seriousness with which they watch the night come on is rich with knowledge of the dark.

On LeVine's website you can view some of the photographs from the book

Rating: 4/5 ........ 96 pages, 2002

The Wandering Whale

and Other Adventures from a Zoovet's Casebook
by David Taylor

I do so enjoy David Taylor's books, about working as a veterinarian for wildlife in zoos, parks and private collections. When I can get my hands on a copy I gobble it up and hold onto it to read again later. He's such a good storyteller, and his firsthand accounts of working with exotic animals are always interesting (and sometimes downright funny). In The Wandering Whale some of the creatures he treats include an orphaned walrus, a capuchin monkey in need of a caesarean, a stranded whale, another monkey with diabetes, falcons suffering from fungus in their lungs and an emu who can't lay its egg. There's also a self-destructive hornbill, a pair of pandas in a zoo reluctant to mate, and the heart-wrenching story of an orca suffering from a mysterious internal infection. Taylor doesn't have any qualms about sharing the more depressing, unpleasant aspects of vet work. It was really sad to read about the whale he struggled for months to save, not knowing exactly what was wrong but going through treatment after futile treatment (including ozone therapy, something I never heard of before). I wonder if nowadays it would be any easier to diagnose and treat such a sick whale...

The book is pretty focused on just telling stories of Taylor's work with the animals. He doesn't spend much time explaining background events. One chapter does veer into a kind of rant on how mankind exploits animals, even those we keep as beloved pets. Overall it was a really enjoyable read, with information that sometimes surprised me.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 196 pages, 1984

Jan 30, 2011

the list

never stops growing! (of course). This week I just added a few to my TBR, thanks to the wonderful bloggers linked to below (and a few other sources).

Bound to Last by Sean Manning- The Indextrious Reader
Far Afield by Susanna Kaysen- Bookfoolery and Babble
Get Me Out
by Randi Hutter Epstein- The Book Lady's Blog
Oranges by John McPhee- Caroline Bookbinder
The Hopes of Snakes by Lisa Couturier- found online
The Plant Hunters by Tyler Whittle- found listed in Wily Violets and Underground Orchids

Jan 29, 2011

cougar bookmarks giveaway!

I'm sure this won't surprise you, but I love watching nature programs on TV. One I recently discovered (called Baby Planet) features the young of various wildlife species, usually in some need of help- whether orphaned and being raised by volunteers or in zoos needing medical assistance. A few days ago I saw a segment about a cougar cub that had cerebral palsy. I didn't know big cats could have cerebral palsy, and even though the poor cub stumbled about it was still such a beautiful animal.

With that in mind, here are two sets of bookmarks featuring cougars I made. One shows adults in different environments- a desert and a mountain cave- the other set features puma cubs, looking alternately endearing and fierce. Which do you like better? Leave a comment for a chance to win one of the sets, names will be drawn next weekend.
Bookmarks are about 2 x 7.5". Laminated, with an image on both sides (fronts only are shown).

Jan 28, 2011

Winter World

the ingenuity of animal survival
by Bernd Heinrich

This was the perfect read to complement the white, snowy world outside my window. Winter World is all about what animals do to survive cold weather, based on Heinrich's own curiosity and observations about the natural world. Although it examines the strategies of many different creatures, from small insects to various members of the squirrel family, bats, beavers, frogs and bears, there is a common thread running through all Heinrich's investigations as he tries to solve the mystery of how kinglets (a bird smaller than a chickadee) manage to survive cold winter nights in northern latitudes (he lives in Maine). This book is just jam-packed with beautiful nature writing and compelling facts. Things like why some animals spend the winter scurrying around in a constant search for food, while others are comatose for months at a time in a hibernating torpor (and what, exactly hibernation is). Some animals hoard food, others lay up fat stores in their bodies, still others simply suspend all body functions, to any scientific examination dead to the world (no heartbeat, sign of breathing, etc.) Did you know that some frogs can survive having half the water in their bodies turn to solid ice? That bears go the whole winter without drinking or urinating? that turtles live the winter in frozen-over ponds because they can absorb oxygen through their skin?

It's the kind of book that got me so enthralled I read it in all of two days. I kept reading passages aloud to my husband: "listen to this!" and even though he's not intrigued by how animals do things like I am, he found interesting things like how the study of animal survival methods can impact human medicine. For example, unraveling the secrets of bear hibernation could help with the treatment of diabetes or patients who suffer oxygen-depletion to the brain (like stroke victims). It's just amazing. Learning about all the ingenious ways animals endure the cold and come out alive and well in springtime was just fascinating. Makes us humans with our need for sweaters and furnaces seem fragile beings indeed, compared to all the small creatures that simply weather the elements, each in their own way.

Rating: 5/5 ........ 357 pages, 2003

Jan 26, 2011

Wily Violets and Underground Orchids

Revelations of a Botanist
by Peter Bernhardt

One of the few instances where I bought a book I'd never even heard of before at a shop, just because the title was so intriguing. Wily Violets and Underground Orchids is a curious book describing all sorts of interesting things about plants. Mostly it's about the intricate relationship flowers have with their pollinators, be it birds, insects or small mammals. A lot of the focus is on Australian plants, which was interesting because I know next to nothing about them. There's also a chapter on tallgrass prairie, and several about orchids. It even has something of a literary bent: one chapter is all about how an Australian author/illustrator made native flora such an intricate part of her children's fairytales (Snugglepot and Cuddlepie, ever heard of them? I hadn't) that generations of Australian children grew up being familiar with the names and habits of their native plants, without even being conscious of it (I still struggle to identify common trees in my neighborhood!). Another chapter describes the Victorian orchid craze, when people had such trouble keeping the plants alive they were rare and expensive- and then goes on to describe a myriad of sci-fi stories that describe orchids turning into ominous, vampire-like monsters!

I think what fascinated me most was reading about the mistletoes that grow in Australia. There are so many but they are so well-camouflaged that most people don't even notice them. They grow as parasites on other trees, and usually their leaves mimic the shape of the host leaves. What's so interesting is the debate about why the mistletoes look like their hosts. One theory is simply that they have evolved to blend in and thus avoid browsing animals that would eat them. Another is that trees make hormones in their roots that determine leaf shape, then send the hormones up to the leaves through their xylem. Since mistletoes don't have their own roots, and absorb whatever is in flowing through their host's xylem, they also take in the hormones; thus their leaves look the same. Isn't that interesting?

I was also really intrigued to read about the giant water lilies (that can support the weight of a person) and how difficult it was for botanists to learn to propagate and grow them in greenhouses. One botanist, after studying how the thin leaf structure could support so much weight, applied the same physics to architecture, and amazed everyone with his glass palace!

If you're interesting in plants- especially orchids and mistletoes, I'd say this book is a pretty good one.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 255 pages, 1989

more opinions at:

Jan 25, 2011

Coyote for Keeps

by Burdetta Johnson

This is a book I really enjoyed as a kid. I think I read it in third or fourth grade- my teacher had a bookshelf in the back of the room and during free reading time I picked out this book again and again. It's about a brother and sister who spend a summer visiting their grandparents' ranch in the desert. I remember the opening scene very well, when the children first arrive and their grandmother serves biscuits dyed bright colors with food coloring. I guess I thought that was pretty cool when I was a kid! But the story is all about the coyote; the boy and girl find a coyote pup whose mother was killed by a bounty hunter. They try to raise and tame it, which isn't easy- first because coyotes are wild animals (even when little) and secondly because lots of neighboring ranchers just want coyotes dead. I really don't remember how the story ended- did they keep the pup? find a safe place to release it back into the wild? It seems to be a pretty obscure book- I can't even find an image of the cover to show you- but I remember liking it so much.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 160 pages, 1965

Jan 24, 2011

Most of My Patients are Animals

by Robert Miller

I remember this one as a fun, entertaining read that also can tug at your heart. And you know me, how much I like stories of veterinarian work. Miller writes about his work both with household pets, livestock (mostly cows and horses) and also exotic animals- chimpanzees, elephants, lions, even a hummingbird. It's actually been a long time since I read Most of My Patients are Animals and now thinking about it I kind of wish I could come across a copy to read again- my library doesn't have this book. I can't recall any of the stories in particular, but I do know I liked reading them, enough to keep my eyes out to find this book again someday. Anyone else read it?

I found an article here that explains why Miller's book was titled Most of my Patients are Animals (as opposed to all).

Rating: 3/5 ....... ? pages, 1996

Jan 23, 2011


RD Home Handbooks
by Harry Tomlinson

When I have an itchy green thumb but it's too cold outside to garden, the next-best thing is reading gardening books! Harry Tomlinson's Bonsai handbook is just the sort of plant book I like: informative, easy to understand, sprinkled with a bit of humor to make the reading pleasant, and full of excellent photographs. It has a brief introduction to the art of growing bonsai, a beautiful gallery of species suitable to bonsai with specifics on their care, propagation and styling, and several sections at the back detailing how to create a bonsai (whether grown from seed or formed from an already-established plant), routine bonsai care and pest management. There are also details on tools and their use, soil mixtures, design basics, choosing pots that compliment your tree, etc. At the end there's a more complete dictionary of plants suitable for bonsai that makes it a total of 250 that this book tells you how to grow and care for. While I appreciated all the informative instructions, what I enjoyed most about Bonsai right now was looking at all the wonderful pictures and imagining what my little crassula and geranium could look like someday (I'm aiming for something like this). It's books like this one that make me get excited about doing stuff with plants.

Interestingly, I found that this book is actually an abridged version of Tomlinson's
The Complete Book of Bonsai which I'm now also eager to get my hands on. And it's nothing like the ridiculous brevity that was his Bonsai: 101 Essential Tips. I really wonder why the guy had to publish three books about bonsai, when two just contain info found in the complete one...

Rating: 4/5 ........ 216 pages, 1990


Jen, who writes Crowded Bookshelves (a new-to-me blog I'm eager to explore) has won my recent bookmark giveaway! Congrats, Jen. Email me at jeanenevarez (at) gmail(dot) com to claim your bookmarks!

Jan 20, 2011

Having Faith

an Ecologist's Journey To Motherhood
by Sandra Steingraber

Another excellent book about pregnancy, Having Faith is a sensitive memoir with a very scientific bent. (And it's not religious in nature; she named her daughter Faith, thus the title). Part of the book simply focuses on the author's experience being pregnant: what it's like to have morning sickness, mood swings, to face choosing between relief offered by the medical establishment during labor alongside the desire to avoid interventions and do it all naturally. Steingraber is a scientist herself, so at every stage of her pregnancy she contemplates the effects environmental toxins and pollution can have on the developing fetus. It gets very particular: why does a mother who takes thalidomide on one certain day have a baby born with no ears, a mother who takes it a few days later one born without arms? for example. The stories of birth defects caused by ignorance, indifference or simply unavoidable ingestion of toxins can be a bit horrifying, but at the same time this book did not leave me feeling frightened. If anything, it's very informative and really makes you think about what you're putting into your body. And the effects that environmental factors can have on a baby don't end when it's born, either. Steingraber asserts that since a baby in utero or a nursing child ingests everything the mother does, at even higher concentrations, human babies are the very top of the food chain and face the most dire consequences from environmental pollution. It's kind of scary how much is unknown about this subject (or at least was when the book was written) and to think of the pollutants that could be present in your breastmilk (could the best possible food for your new baby also be the most contaminated?) but again, I didn't find the issue highly alarming so much as just something to really consider and another motivation to eat healthier, organic foods. Aside from all that, the book is written with such insight, skill and even humor that it's a pleasure to read.

Rating: 4/5 ........ 342 pages, 2001

Jan 19, 2011


by Laim O'Flaherty

This novel describes what happened in one impoverished mountain region of Ireland when famine spread because potato crops failed. It starts out in one small family living on a plot of rented land; their initial discovery from a neighbor that disease is spreading through the potato fields which at first is not their biggest concern as one of their family members is sick, another expecting her first child. When it becomes apparent that most of the potatoes are ruined, at first the people turn to other means: they eat their sheep, or move in with better-off family neighbors, or travel down to the village to seek work. But as the second planting season comes and even more potatoes fail, things start to get serious and the entire community is afflicted. Famine doesn't just follow what sufferings the peasants faced but moves through a whole cast of characters: the local shopkeeper, village priest, English landlords and other public figures. When the scope of disaster becomes clear, everyone reacts differently. Some attempt to help the poor but are inept. Others only look out for their own interests, try to take advantage of the situation, or simply ignore what's going on. The poor cling to each other or turn on their friends; some disappear into the mountains or try to leave the country, others riot and take up arms against those who promised help and failed to bring it. They watch in despair as their few remaining animals are confiscated by the landlords for unpaid rent, their other crops exported to make up for losses, and they are left with nothing. In the end, disease spreads, children starve, old people sit in a stupor in empty houses. Only one of the main characters escapes with any hope for the future.

It's really very dismal. I thought, when I first began reading, that it was going to stick with the initial family, the Kilmartins, and describe everything through their experience (rather like Steinbeck's The Grapes of Wrath was told mostly from the viewpoint of the Joad family). But actually the bulk of it jumps around between the landlord, village doctor and religious leaders, describing lots of intrigues, suspicions and meetings that ultimately just confused or bored me. I was loosing interest in the middle but pressed on, simply wanting to know what happened. The final chapters focused back on the poor family again, and that felt more immediate and interesting. It really is a sad story but unfortunately the characters were portrayed with so little emotion I didn't really feel for any of them.

I read this book hoping I'd learn more about what happened when the potato blight caused famine throughout Ireland in the 1800's. I'm still vague on many of the details but have a more general picture of it now. I only wish the story had been told better.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 466 pages, 1937

more opinions at:
A Cuban in London
anyone else?

Jan 17, 2011

Laughter and Tears

the Emotional Life of New Mothers
by Elisabeth Bing and Libby Colman

Written by a psychologist and the childbirth educator credited with introducing the Lamaze method to the US, this book deals with the emotional highs and lows of new motherhood. It is organized in stages, describing what new mothers might expect to experience during the first few hours after birth, the first several days with a newborn, the first six weeks and on up to a year. Discussed are not only the joys of being a new mom but also the stress, ambivalence and emotional turmoil that can accompany it, including things like feeling uncertain, changes in roles with your marriage partner, anger and frustration, etc. There's lots of helpful information on how to handle difficult emotions and when to recognize that you need help (such as in the case of postpartum depression). While most of the book is rather dry and clinical reading (I actually found it kind of boring) some quotes by new mothers sharing their own experiences help make it more personal and let new moms know that whatever they're experiencing, they're not alone. Laughter and Tears is a good resource to have.

Rating: 3/5 ....... 276 pages, 1997

Jan 16, 2011

bookmarks giveaway!

I'm giving away this pair of bookmarks with pretty color patterns. If you'd like to have them, just leave a comment here! Winning name will be drawn at random next weekend.

Jan 15, 2011

Mothers who Think

Tales of Real-Life Motherhood
edited by Camille Peri and Kate Moses

Another collection of true stories, on the focus of motherhood. This book really stands out from the others of its like that I've read. It has excellent writing, intelligent and thought-provoking subjects. Don't be put off by the title. It's not, as I first assumed, a book about moms that are "better" than the rest for some reason. Not a book about how to be a parent, but what it's like to be a parent. Mothers who Think is about moms who remain themselves, how they work parenting into every other aspect of their lives. The stories aren't sugar-coated nor are they complaining; most are painfully honest and have an emotional depth that will touch you in one way or another. Everything from difficult pregnancies to mothers struggling to raise their children alone, one with an autistic son who wants to play soccer. Mothers who deal with knowing their kids are miserable at school, who face loosing control when they're angry, who have to raise their children in bad neighborhoods, who go through a mess of issues in family court. There are stories of adoption, of loosing a child, of sibling rivalry and non-participant husbands. Some of the stories are sad, or laugh-out-loud funny, others just incredibly deep. I wish I had this book in my hands now to read it all over again. I remember at the time I even had my husband read three of the essays so we could discuss them. It's that good (usually he finds my parenting reads boring!)

Rating: 4/5 ..... 282 pages, 1999

more opinions at:

Jan 14, 2011

Saints, Scholars and Schizophrenics

Mental Illness in Rural Ireland
by Nancy Scheper-Hughes

It's a bit odd the connections I've found in my reading lately. Sitting in a waiting room flipping through a magazine a few weeks ago, I found an article about new studies that suggest the emotional health of a mother while pregnant can have affect her child- even into adulthood. What stood out to me in particular was the correlation found between mothers who suffered extreme physical and mental stress -such as starvation- during pregnancy, and children who grew up to have mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia. Then while reading Far From the Land, I noticed at one point Rice mentioned that almost every family he knew in rural Ireland had someone with a mental illness. I wondered if this had something to do with the famines Ireland went through in previous generations? I hadn't heard before about the prevalence of mental illness in Ireland. So it was with curiosity that I picked another book off my shelf, Saints Scholars and Schizophrenics, which addresses this very issue.

It's a case study of an isolated village society on the Western coast of Ireland in the 1970's. The author, an anthropologist, spent several years living in the village and taking note of all the customs around her. Particularly the less-known, seldom-spoken of customs that pervaded private households and that, she felt, contributed to the high incident of mental illness in rural Irish communities. It's rather a dismal book. Discussed in detail is how the community was slowly disintegrating; commerce failing, young people emigrating away from the island, old bachelors living their lives on lonely farms, few people marrying into the area, even fewer babies born. She paints an image of a community loosing its vitality and being constricted under societal and religious mores that kept them from intimacy- not only between peers who seldom discuss personal matters but also between husband and wife, between mother and child; it seems a whole group of people who hold their distance and then face lifelong frustrations. Most interesting to me was the section that examined family dynamics, particularly how parents' expectations of their childrens' roles affected the society.

I noted that the author points out that she didn't necessarily believe that social conditions were the sole cause of schizophrenia, but that she suspected they would "exacerbate what may be an initial vulnerability or tendency." At the same time she questioned whether the disease could really be hereditary, as it was most prevalent among the elderly bachelors who had no children. For that reason she was looking closely at social conditions to see if there was an underlying cause of mental stress. I also appreciated the introduction, where the author talked about how the publication of her book affected the people she knew in that little village; even though she gave it another name and tried to make the people she mentioned anonymous, many of the villagers easily identified themselves in the pages and were hurt or mortified by what she wrote. I wonder how that little village is doing now, some forty years later.

One thing I didn't find in the book that I was half-expecting were descriptions of erratic behavior and how people either ignored or shunned it. Such incidents are only mentioned in passing, and more time is spent divulging information gained from interviews both with families in the community and patients in the mental hospital. There's lots of graphs full of data but I didn't look at them too closely. Altogether it's an interesting, if somewhat somber, book to read.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 245 pages, 1979

Jan 13, 2011

the list

keeps growing!
Links go to where I noticed the book; titles without a link I came across in my reading.

Kasey to the Rescue by Ellen Rogers- Bookfoolery and Babble
Food Fray by Lisa Weasel- Sophisticated Dorkiness
Laika by Nick Abadzis- You've Gotta Read This!
Pegasus by Robin McKinley from Jenny's Books
Conundrum by Jan Morris- Things Mean a Lot
Stalking Irish Madness by Patrick Tracey- The Book Lady's Blog
The Devil's Share by Kris Farmen- The Black Sheep Dances
Elegy for a Disease by Anne Finger
The Color of Earth (and perhaps its sequels) by Kim Dong Hwa- You've Gotta Read This!

Have you read any of these?

Jan 12, 2011

Past Due

A Story of Disability, Pregnancy and Birth
by Anne Finger

Even though I read it some years ago, I still remember how this book took me by surprise. When I picked it up I just thought it was about a woman dealing with a long pregnancy, having a child born past the due date, but there's so much more than than. It's about a woman disabled by polio who is a strong feminist, worked in an abortion clinic and is an advocate for disability rights. She finds herself with a possibly risky pregnancy. Her story dealt with a lot more political issues than I'd considered before regarding women and birth choice. Making the author's decisions even more complicated are the facts that she has bad memories of hospital experiences as a child when doctors tried to correct her limp. She wants to have a home birth but things don't go well and she ends up in the hospital with scary complications and the possibility of a baby with brain damage. I don't know which part was harder to read, about her difficulties being pregnant with a physical disability, or the heartwrenching weeks she spent in the hospital watching her baby get poked, prodded and tested in the neo-natal intensive care unit, never sure from one day to the next if he would be okay. Past Due is one of those books that's very hard to put down, but I don't know if I'd recommend it for a first-time mom to read (like I did!) It can be very intense.

I read this one (from the library) before being aware of the author's other works. Now I want to read her more recent book, Elegy for a Disease, which is about her childhood experiences.

Rating: 4/5 ....... 203 pages, 1990

More opinions at:
Baxter Sez 
Library Thing
Literature Arts and Medicine Database
anyone else?

Jan 11, 2011

The Birth Book

by William and Martha Sears

At the time I read this book (seven years ago) it seemed very complete and informative to me. The Birth Book covers such topics as how to prepare yourself for birth, both pyhsically and mentally, how to research all your options, how to manage pain during birth, and what the birthing experience might actually be like. It includes lots of medical information as well as first-hand accounts of many different mothers' experiences. Well-illustrated, too. There are quite a few drawbacks, though, which actually make me hesitate to recommend it. First, it's been seventeen years since this book went into print. A lot has probably changed in that time and I'm sure there is better, more up-to-date information out there. Secondly, the authors lean very heavily towards natural childbirth. When I was expecting my first child, I was very interested in natural childbirth and so appreciated reading about doulas, water births, midwives, having your baby at home, etc. However it turns out that going au natural was not the best choice I could have made. The Sears' methods for "managing pain" didn't work for me at all. Theirs is not the only book I read on natural childbirth, nor did I avoid books about traditional hospital methods, so I'm not blaming the book for my expectations. But I do feel that it helped encourage my hopes of doing it all-natural and heightened my uneasiness with interventions and medications. So my suggestion is- if you're a very strong woman and know for sure you want a natural birth, this book is useful. If you're uncertain about it or a first-time mother, be sure you read some other opinions. The Birth Book is really biased in favor of home births (and other alternatives) and rather negative towards hospitals and doctors. Take it all with a grain of salt.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 269 pages, 1994

Jan 9, 2011

Far From the Land

an Irish Memoir
by Thomas J. Rice

Far From the Land was on my bookshelf because I won it from Carrie K. in a giveaway. I'm glad that the Dare finally encouraged me to pick up this book.

Rice's memoir is about growing up in rural Ireland on a poor, rocky farm that barely sustained his family. He tells about the community spirit, neighbors coming together to help each other. About the poor schooling, running up and down the mountainsides with his friends, playing Gaelic football (quite rougher than the version of soccer I'm familiar with!), working with his neighbor's fabulous Arabian horses, passion for music and dance, many things. Being the only son and sole child remaining at home when his older sisters all emigrated, he quit school at an early age to help his mother on the farm (his father being mostly absent) and worked hard to make it a more prosperous place. But eventually he realized that there wasn't much future on such poor land, and convinced his mother to sell everything so they could move to America. After seeing how tightly knit their community was, and how much pride they took in working the land, it was heartbreaking to see them pull up their roots and leave it all behind. Their first stop in Sheffield, England where one of his sisters had a boarding house, was much more difficult than they'd imagined, but young Rice (only seventeen) and his mother persisted in following their dream against all obstacles. The book is about more than just his family and experiences growing up. There's also quite a lot of Irish history, which I pretty much unfamiliar with, so the first few chapters were a bit difficult to get through. But eventually I came to see how all the legends, heroes and tales kept alive in ballads and oral memories were an integral part of the people's character, and shaped what they were even though the events were several generations past. Rice's own mother was involved in the Irish Civil War of 1922 and quite the local hero; everyone looked up to her and she really was an amazing woman. I really enjoyed reading this memoir. It was thoughtful, colorful, poignant and humorous at times. Full of unforgettable characters and wonderful tales. I'm anxious to see if Rice writes another book about his experiences in America someday...

Rating: 4/5 ......... 358 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Writer's Voice
CelticLady's Reviews
5 Minutes for Books

Jan 8, 2011

A Child is Born

by Lennart Nilsson

Can you tell what my subject of interest is right now? I'm not yet reading the pregnancy books, sticking to my TBR shelves for a while, but I've been looking back at titles I read the first time 'round (but didn't write about) and recalling what I can of them. This is one I'd thought of sharing with my daughter (except my library doesn't have it), if just for the images. She's quite curious about how the baby grows and what it looks like at each stage of development: does it have fingernails yet? eyelashes? can it suck its thumb?)

 A Child is Born delivers just that. Honestly, I don't remember much of the text at all; I know it was chock full of information on everything from conception to infertility treatments and labor. What I remember most is the stunning pictures. This is a visual book, full of amazing images of what the baby looks like while it's growing inside the mother's womb, from the first division of cells to near full-term when you can recognize facial features. From the date of publication though, I'd assume that a lot of the textual information in this book could be seriously out-of-date, so if you're going to check it out, I'd recommend doing so mainly to appreciate the photography.

Unfortunately there's a disturbing note to that, too. Reading around online I found quite a few negative reviews (on Amazon, so how much can I trust that?) that said Nilssen's photographs (at least in the first edition), taken before sophisticated imaging technology was possible, are not of fetuses in the womb but of aborted babies (or those that were going to be). Do you find that disturbing? That this book, which comes across as a celebration of the miracle of birth is based largely on photos taken of dead fetuses? Conversely, his stunning photographs have been used by pro-lifers to support their cause. Apparently when the book first came out, people were amazed at how human a fetus looked at early stages of development, and it was wildly popular. Some of the pictures were even sent into outer space.

You can read a little more about the book here.

Hopefully someone else finds the topic interesting, as I feel I'll be blogging about a lot of pregnancy and baby-related books for a while!

Rating: 3/5 ........ 216 pages, 1986

anyone else read this book? what is your opinion on it?

Jan 7, 2011

Real Birth

Women Share Their Stories
by Robin Green

I read this book last time I was pregnant, but I remember it being one of the ones I enjoyed. I like reading about other people's real-life experiences, it's so refreshing after going through instruction-type books that just tell you what to do, to read instead about women who've actually been through it and how they felt about things. Real Birth contains thirty-six stories, and no two are alike. The women are from all different backgrounds and live in varying circumstances: wealthy and poor, urban and rural, first-time moms and those who've been through it before. They have varying viewpoints on birth: some go to the hospital, others have their babies in birthing centers or at home, and yet others find themselves in unexpected places! I appreciated that it wasn't a book full of feel-good stories; some of the women didn't plan on getting pregnant and felt ambivalent about having a baby. Others struggled with complications, cesarean and even stillbirths. But it all felt very honest and real, and the universal theme, the wonder of birth and motherhood, makes it a strong collection.

Rating: 3/5 ........ 227 pages, 2000

anyone else read this book?

Jan 5, 2011


One reader completed my Dogeared Reading Challenge, and that was Girlsgood! She even outdid me by a long shot- reading ten dogeared books. She wins two books off my swap shelf and a collection of bookmarks. Girlsgood, please email me at jeanenevarez (at) gmail (dot)com to obtain a list of the titles I have available and collect your prize!

Jan 4, 2011

Mister Monday

Keys to the Kingdom: Book One
by Garth Nix

I thought I'd try another Garth Nix book, as I loved so much his series that begins with Sabriel. The protagonist here, a teenage boy named Arthur Penhaligon (is that supposed to remind me of Arthur Pendragon? but I didn't see any similarities in the story) lives in a world very like ours, but apparently set in the future. He's just started a new school, and added to that awkwardness, suffers an asthma attack in gym class on the first day. During which he receives a visit from some very strange people and is given a metal clock hand referred to as The Key. Arthur quickly finds himself the target of dangerous creatures from another dimension who are trying to get the Key back from him; at the same time he rather intuitively discovers powers of his own and ways to use the Key. It's interesting that along with the fantasy elements there's also quite a bit of medical stuff going on in the story- Arthur's struggles with asthma, his mother's work as a researcher developing vaccines, and the looming threat of viral outbreaks (severe quarantines enforced by the government). It seemed to me that Arthur's parents would get more involved in the story later on due to her role and the constant fear Arthur had of a serious disease outbreak, but I didn't get far enough to find out.

The storyline of Mister Monday just wasn't holding my interest. While I was curious about a protagonist who had to combat mysterious enemies while at the same time dealing with his physical weakness (asthma), I found I didn't really care much for him as a character after a while. The magical world gets introduced so quickly and is entirely confusing- from looking at other reviews after setting this one aside, I got the impression that it continues that way through the entire book! The action scenes are a muddle to read, and it was just too much work to figure out what was going on when I didn't really care about who it all was happening to. I was rather disappointed. I didn't find this book nearly as rich and engaging as Sabriel and its companions.

Abandoned ........ 361 pages, 2003

more opinions at:
The Book Muncher
Melissa's Bookshelf

Jan 3, 2011

more books

that I want to read someday! These titles are ones I noticed on other blogs in the past few weeks, and then I added even more after seeing everyone's highlights of 2010.
The Cheese Monkeys by Chip Kidd- Ready When You Are, CB
Seaglass Summer by Anjali Banerjee from Puss Reboots
The Englishman who Posted Himself by John Tingey- Puss Reboots
Making the Rounds with Oscar by Dr. David Dosa- Socrates Book Reviews
Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks by Rebecca Skloot- Reading Through Life
I Feel Better with a Frog in my Throat by Carlyn Beccia- SMS Book Reviews
What's Up Down There? by Lissa Rankin- The Book Lady's Blog
The Chimp Who Loved Me by Annie Greer- SMS Book Reviews
Born on a Blue Day by Daniel Tammet- Farm Lane Books Blog
Salmon Doubts by Adam Sacks- Puss Reboots
American Born Chinese by Gene Leun Yang- Puss Reboots
Leo the Snow Leopard by Hatkoff- Diary of an Eccentric
Dirty Secret by Jessie Sholl- Book Addiction
Bastard Out of Carolina by Dorothy Allison from The Book Lady's Blog
The Undertaking by Thomas Lynch- The Book Lady's Blog
All About Lulu by Jonathan Evison- ditto
To Have Not by Francis Lefkowitz- At Home with Books

Jan 2, 2011

Witches and Warlocks

Tales of Black Magic, Old and New
edited by Marvin Kaye

A collection of forty-one short stories, Witches and Warlocks features tales of people dealing in the supernatural, or having magical power, inflicting curses, etc. There are fortune-tellers and magicians, enchanted objects and magic potions, dealings with the devil, mysterious beings and monsters, even spiritual guides which aren't malevolent at all etc. There's even a few zombie stories (the most disturbing of all, I found, was "Emma's Daughter", of a woman who insisted her recently-deceased child be brought back to life- with awful results). There were lots of authors whose names I recognized- Isaac Asimov, Oscar Wilde, Ray Bradbury, Tanith Lee, H.G. Wells; as well as many others I never heard of. All the stories were new to me (even "Young Goodman Brown", which I'd heard of in high school but somehow never read). I was actually surprised how much I liked reading them all, as such dark stories aren't my usual fare (but these weren't terribly dark; nothing like the Angela Carther I once read, which was really creepy!)

So here you'll find amusing stories, some clever ones, a few little mysteries. There were some that simply didn't make any sense to me at all, like the one about the man who tied pipes onto bat's wings and then controlled them to create eerie music in the air? or "The Song of the Morrow" by Robert Louis Stevenson, which I just could not make heads or tails of.

My two favorite stories were "The Fisherman and His Soul" by Oscar Wilde and "The Tiger's Eye" by Frank L. Baum. In Wilde's story, a fisherman falls in love with a mermaid, and a witch tells him that to join her in the sea he must cast away his soul. So he does, and his soul wanders off in the world alone, each year coming back begging the fisherman to let them be one again, telling marvelous tales of wonders he's seen to tempt him. The ending quite surprised me. "The Tiger's Eye" features a tiger family on an exotic island; a baby tiger is born missing an eye and his parents force a magician to turn himself into an eye for the cub. But the eye still holds the magician's consciousness, and full of anger he fills the young tiger with maliciousness, causing it to rampage through the forest. Eventually the other animals get tired of his destruction and band together to destroy the rouge tiger. Of course the magician in the eye doesn't want to die, so he has further plans....

Some of these stories are quite long, even divided up into little chapters of their own, as it were. Others are only a page or two. I found that most of the shorter stories didn't work well for me, they just felt too incomplete. The only one I liked was "Too Far" by Frederic Brown, it amused me. Some other stories of note:

"Fat Chance" by Thomas D. Sadler- a Duke entreats his court magician to do something so he doesn't have to join forces with the King's army and go to war. The magician's solution makes the Duke unfit to ride to war, but unfortunately  he won't reverse the spell after the King's army has moved on.

"The Traveler" by Ray Bradbury- in a family of magical people, Cecily's only power is the ability to enter other people's (or animal's) minds and experience what they see and hear. Sometimes she can even influence them...

"Between the Minute and the Hour" by A.M. Burrage- an unfriendly shopkeeper is cursed by an old woman to randomly time-travel, each time going back further and further, the world he visits becoming increasingly unfamiliar.

"The Curse of the Wandering Gypsy" by Patricia Mullen- an old lady joins a team in a fortune-telling shop, causing jealousy among the other employees. She seems quite unaware that strange things happen when she gets angered by her co-workers.

"Sanguinarius" by Ray Russell- a lonely noblewoman, bored whilst her husband and lover is away at war, invites a strange woman into her castle who at first pretends to merely entertain but then tempts her into darker and darker activities until she finds herself trapped in a mire of unsavory circumstances.

"Vasilisa and the Witch" - a Russian folk tale rather like Cinderella, but featuring the witch Baba Yaga instead of a fairy godmother, who must be tricked into giving assistance.

"Doll-Baby" by C.H. Sherman- a young girl in a rural area is compelled to assist at a childbirth, which she does grudgingly. She helps out only hoping that things will be over quickly, but after she finds a crude baby doll hidden in the forest, the birth starts to go wrong and she wonders if it will ever end.

"The Party Animal" by Alvin Vogel- in a futuristic world where zombies are commonly raised and used as servants, one is cursed to go amok and spends his time crashing rich people's parties.

"Light-Headed" by John Tunney- a teenager buys pot from a mysterious man, but instead of getting high, the kids turn invisible. At first it's fun, but then they start to feel lighter on their feet, insubstantial enough to float away...

Rating: 3/5 ........ 529 pages, 1989

anyone else read this collection? I couldn't find any more reviews