Mar 27, 2014

A Year at the Races

by Jane Smiley

Similar to Conversations with a Prince, this book is about the author's relationship with her horses. She keeps racehorses, so it's all about the workings of the racetrack too, from an inside perspective. The back end, she calls it. Smiley's fiction has been hit-or-miss with me, but I was glad to find I enjoyed reading her non-fiction. It has more focus. The book centers on a handful of racehorses she has owned, their personalities and quirks, working with and training them, overcoming problems, trying to figure them out. Plus lots of interesting thoughts on human-animal relationships, communication, how horses sense and perceive things, and so on. I was a bit surprised not only at the subtle superstitions that prevail at the racetrack, but the use Smiley made of an animal communicator who claimed to be able to hear the horses' thoughts and relay them to the owner. I had difficulty believing this, although the communicator often told things that matched exactly with the horses' circumstance and behavior, that she could not have known otherwise. But the author herself sometimes stated things that contradicted her belief in this communicator, and claimed she didn't expect the reader to believe in it either. So there's that. All in all this book was a much more accessible, personable read about racing than for example, Seabiscuit. While it's not among my favorites (some parts dragged, especially the name-dropping) I'm keeping it on my shelf for future reads.

Rating: 3/5       284 pages, 2004

Mar 24, 2014

book list

because even though I am not finding much time to read (hence the silence lately), I somehow still manage to add plenty of books to my ongoing TBR list
Chaser by John Pilley- Across the Page
You Don't Look Like Anyone I Know by Heather Sellers- Caroline Bookbinder
Going Gray by Anne Kramer- Bermudaonion's Weblog
Call of the Mild by Lily Raf McCaulou- found browsing library catalog
Eating Aliens by Jackson Landers- ditto
One Good Dog by Susan Wilson
Saving Gracie by Carol Bradley
A Small Furry Prayer by Steven Kotler
A Street Cat Named Bob by James Bowen
Weird Things Customers Say in Bookstores by Jen Campbell- Caroline Bookbinder
Breathing for a Living by Laura Rothenburg- Shannon's Book Bag
Breasts: A Natural and Unnatural History by Florence Williams- Things Mean a Lot

Mar 22, 2014

The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Aquarium Fish

by Dr. Stanislav Frank

This book differed from most of the other fish books I've been reading in that it does not go into details about aquarium setup or fish care. Instead, its focus is biology. So I learned some interesting stuff, like that fish scales have annual growth rings, and looked at some fascinating diagrams and photographs- in particular a series showing the growth and development of fish eggs (magnified many times). Although, once again, this is an older book, the science still seems pretty solid. Following the first twenty-five pages of biology lessons and fish anatomy, there are over four hundred photographs of popular aquarium fish. Most are black and white, a handful in color, some small marginal drawings pointing out sexual dimorphism. A lot of the pictures show spawning or parental behavior of the fishes. While many of the descriptions detail the water conditions, food and other particulars each species needs, the author seemed to be more focused on informing the reader about breeding behavior and how to rear the fry. It was only mildly interesting. I really browsed through the majority of the book.

Rating: 3/5      352 pages, 1980

Mar 18, 2014

You and Your Aquarium

by Dick Mills

Another older book on fishkeeping that I got through a swap. It's very informative and although some of the described items obsolete (I've never seen an aquarium heater with an external thermostat for example), I learned a lot regardless. It has some good features- a chart outlining differences, pros and cons between four types of setup- freshwater cold, freshwater tropical, saltwater cold and saltwater tropical (most books only go into the tropical stuff). Good explanation of the different kinds of filtration (including biological). Tips on how to reduce heat loss in the aquarium. Very nice drawings showing what kinds of fish live in the same natural habitat- gave me better ideas of which fish are more suited to my own water conditions. How to collect or cultivate live foods. Great page spread on sample design layouts for six kinds of setup- cold freshwater, cold marine, tropical marine and tropical freshwater for hard, soft or soft/medium-hard water conditions- showing some typical plants, kinds of substrate and decor that would be suitable. Two topics I never found addressed in a book before- an in-depth description of fish shows- the different levels, how they are organized, how the fishes are judged, what makes a quality specimen and so on. Also the last chapter is about photographing your fish. While the technical aspects of this might not apply anymore- the camera equipment described is definitely outdated- the methods for setting up lighting, using flash, confining the fish to a focal area and so on is invaluable. Overall this book is a solid resource that I'm glad to add to my shelves.

Rating: 4/5    288 pages, 1986

Mar 9, 2014

The Horse Lover

by H. Alan Day
with Lynn Wiese Sneyd

The author of this interesting book is a rancher, mostly cattle. He bought a third ranch because the spread was so gorgeous, wanting to care for the land and practice good husbandry. Got the idea to run horses on it instead of cattle, and after lots of planning, research, even visit to the nation's capital, he got permission and funding from the Bureau of Land Management to turn it into a wild horse sanctuary. Fifteen hundred unadoptable mustangs, which had previous been living in corrals at a management facility, became his to care for. With wide open space and room to run, the old, scarred, ugly and otherwise unsuitable horses showed their natural beauty and tenacity. It's heartening to read about someone who cares about animals so much and wants to better their lives. How he studied the horses' behavior, learned how to work with them, even taught them (everyone thought that was impossible). He did his utmost to keep their stress levels low, gradually conditioned them to accept human presence -instead of panicking into instant flight- and even trained them to follow men on horseback, so he could move them between pastures to keep the land sustainable.

Throughout his account of establishing and running the wild horse sanctuary, the pages are enriched with stories of past horses and experiences that he learned from. I really enjoyed reading all that. But of course it isn't all about his wonderful way with horses. There's frustrations in running the ranch and sticky doings with bureaucracy. In the end I found myself becoming angry alongside the author at the decisions of higher-ups that didn't at all seem to be in the best interest of the horses. And even though he ended up sans wild horses, turning the ranch back into a cattle operation, there is a relatively good ending and I found I was satisfied with how things turned out (mostly because I appreciated the author's integrity in how he worked with animals, people, and the land).

There's some other very satisfying things about this book as well. I liked the writing style, the spark of humor and metaphors. It even sent me to look up a few new words (copacetic, peloton). I was tickled pink to meet in the pages another author I've read- Dayton O. Hyde. The two met, were fellow ranchers and became friends. It's always such a treat to meet your favorite authors in other books. Mostly they just get a mention, a tribute, but this was something more. Another highlight- completely unexpected- was when actor Kevin Costner visited the ranch, looking for a site to use in filming Dances with Wolves (one of my favorite movies). He ended up choosing another ranch for various reasons, but reading about his visit was enlightening regardless.

I received a copy of this book from the publisher.

Rating: 4/5      243 pages, 2014

more opinions:
4th ST8
Patagonia Regional Times