Apr 25, 2014

The Soul of a Horse

Life Lessons from the Herd
by Joe Camp

A book I picked up browsing at the library, because it looked interesting. And was. The author is the man who created the Benji films. I didn't know this at first so it confused me when he kept interjecting things about training Benji, without much explanation. Actually, the narrative in general tended to jump around a lot. I did not get a real clear picture of who this guy's horses were, or how he acquired them all. It is not a story in that sense. It is a book about how horses ought to live. Or at least that is what I gathered. And the facts in here pretty much amazed me, because it was contrary to how most people seem to keep their horses. I don't have horses, nor expect that I ever will, but I've read a lot about them.

And Joe Camp says we do it all wrong. He wrote this book after keeping horses for only two years, and tells of his efforts to make the best life for his horses, what he learned and discovered about that. In particular things that people have been doing for ages, without questioning why or neccessarily applying logic to it. The main thing how to create an emotional bond of trust with the horse using Monty Roberts' methods. That horses should not wear shoes- it affects the health of their feet in a tremendous way. That they ought to live outside 24/7, eat off the ground, wander over distance to acquire their food, live in a group of other horses, etc. In short, they are healthier and happier (not displaying any "vices") when living out in the open among their own kind, not shut in a stall most of the day. That we should not attribute what we would find comfortable or even important, to horses. They think and feel differently. He says that horses in the wild are by far healthier and have much longer lifespans than horses kept by people. I was surprised. I had no idea. I found the writing a bit simplistic, and the alternating chapters containing a storyline about a wild horse living through some american history distracting at best, but I could not put the book down because its implications about how we have been treating horses for centuries just astounded me.

There's a lot more in here about horses: behavior, how they live in the wild, daily interactions, learning to work with them and so on, but I've just noted the things that really stood out to me.

I just discovered that he wrote a sequel called Born Wild, and I want to read that now too. Bummer my library doesn't have a copy yet.

Rating: 3/5      238 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Scratching and Sniffings
Coffee Clutch with Dutch Henry
Curled Up

Apr 23, 2014

Dwarf Hamsters

A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
by Sharon Vanderlip

More on hamsters. Best book I've read about them yet. Focus on the dwarf hamsters, and the book goes into detail on what differentiates the four dwarf species commonly kept as pets. They may look the same at a glance, but the physical and behavioral differences are enough that the species will usually not interbreed. This book has a lot more on the history of hamsters than previous reads, clearing up some of the confusion I've had. Makes a note of all the different names hamster species have had- most have several common names, and even the scientific names have changed over the years (in 1700's the siberian or winter white hamster was classified as a mus (mouse) species!

A few more things I learned: most hamsters eat insects in the wild, as a source of protein and moisture. You can feed a pet hamster crickets or mealworms from the pet store. Once again difference of opinion on exercise equipment: this author recommends use of the exercise wheel but emphatically states that hamster balls are unsafe. The book has all the usual information on properly caring for a hamster, but includes a lot more on their biology, dietary needs and health care than I've read before. There's a useful list of the types of questions a veterinarian might ask, so you can be prepared for the visit if you need to get your hamster treated. Also a helpful checksheet of symptoms that could indicate a health problem, and what to do about it (including what not to do). The last few chapters of the book discuss breeding hamsters, raising and caring for the pups. If you feel so inclined. Which I wouldn't. I knew hamsters were prolific breeders, but not that they have the fastest reproduction cycle of all mammals on the planet! They are mature at just a few months old, females are pregnant for only 18-25 days (depending on the species) and the young are weaned at about three weeks. In addition to all that, some females can have up to four litters a year, and can be pregnant with their next litter while still nursing the first one. Yikes. Easy to see how this can get out of control.

This is another one of the Barron's educational series. Found at the public library.
I found an article written by the author here!

Rating: 4/5        112 pages, 1999

Apr 20, 2014


Your Happy Healthy Pet
by Betsy Sikoro Siino

Another hamster care book. This one actually a good read in and of itself. It's sprinkled with humor and has nice writing. A bit redundant; sometimes I found the same phrase used again and again, as if the author was trying extra hard to make it all so interesting but at a loss for new descriptive words. But that's me being nitpicky, it's a good book!

The usual brief history, description of the animals, instructions on their care, handling, feeding and so on. Some things that I noticed: everyone seems to have a slight different take on the history of how hamsters became domesticated. This book tells of hamsters being "discovered" in 1829 and later 1930 by two different zoologists- the first British, the second from a Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The second zoologist brought a family of hamsters back to captivity, but "because so little was known about their care" only three survived to become the basis of a breeding program. Vague mention is also made of their role in research. Other things I learned: hamsters can be allergic to certain kinds of bedding, odors in the air from smoke or cleaning materials, even some food items. Hamsters can catch colds from people and suffer from heatstroke if left in the sun. They can also go into hibernation if it gets too cold (home loosing power when temperatures are low, for example). There's a nice little section refuting some misconceptions about hamsters, and to my surprise, suggestion that if your hamster is not too nervous, you might just take him along when you go on an extended vacation! This author obviously does not approve of exercise wheels, remarking several times that their use can become an addictive behavior and the hamster should only use them periodically, not have constant access.

The book talks quite a bit about why hamsters are so phenomenally popular as pets, especially when most other rodents are disliked by most people. She attributes this to their lack of a tail. Hm. Also notes the Japanese cartoon and books Hamtaro (I've read that!)

Borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5     128 pages, 2007

Apr 19, 2014

The Way of a Horse

by Marguerite de Beaumont

Most of the horse books I read are about behavior or people/animal relationships. This one was different, yet I still found it interesting. It's written by an Englishwoman who established and ran a stud farm. It's all about management. Starts off with the importance of having proper staff, caring for tools, organization, thrift and many other things. Discusses choosing stock, evaluating the points on a horse, breeding and caring for the mares, raising the foals. Health issues, feeding, housing and so on. Some of the views were interesting. She strongly believed in allowing horses to be kept out on pasture as much as possible. Talks about different kinds of training in brief, and about showing horses. There are not many anecdotes here, it is mostly just information. Lots of practical advice. For the right reader, I can see how this book would be very useful, for its good sense more than anything else. In the first chapter the author spectacularly (and quite casually) dated the book for me by quoting Ernest Shackleton, with whom she had held a conversation!

I found this book at a discard sale somewhere.

Rating: 3/5        192 pages, 1953

Apr 17, 2014

Old Crow

by Shena Mackay

I don't know if I should really write anything about this book, I didn't really get it. Gathered more from the flyleaf text than from the narrative itself actually. In brief, it's about a woman who lives in a small English village where the people despise and persecute her. Apparently she was once a beautiful young woman and seduced by a painter, but it must have been a lengthy affair as she has several children by him. And it seems his wife later knew of her. And so did everyone else- and they left her and the children (her family all gone, a grandmother disappeared to Australia who was supposed to send money but died instead) to literally starve. Well, the man wanted to help her and give support, and other times she was offered charity or various forms of assistance, but bitterly refused. The only scenes in the novel that made sense to me were those depicting the suffering of this mother and her children- gleaning fields in winter for cabbages and turnips thrown to feed the livestock, stealing vegetables from gardens and fruit from orchards, gathering coal from the train tracks and cut wood from the forests, freezing and starving in spite of what little they could find. One village woman in particular has it out for this destitute mother and involves herself in deliberate cruelties, the least of which is spreading rumors, trying to get them evicted from their small crumbling derelict cottage. I did not finish the book but I surmise it does not end well. I did not understand the way these people treated each other, nor their relationships- it's a sparse book and failed to inspire me to read enough between the lines.

Has anyone else read this book...? What are your thoughts.

Abandoned        158 pages, 1967

Apr 16, 2014


by Sue Fox

This book on hamsters and their care is pretty thorough.  It has some interesting facts on their history. I was aware that the first captive hamsters were dug out of a field, and that all modern pet hamsters are descendents of the first four captives. What I didn't know was that research scientists were paying farmers to dig up hamsters and turn them in- they were studying a disease that humans and hamsters have in common. Also that the original captive group (also held for research) included ten hamsters, but they escaped their cages twice and some were never found, leaving only four.

After all that, the book goes into much detail on how hamsters live, their needs and care requirements. Different options on housing, play equipment, food and other supplies are carefully compared. Nutrition is examined in detail. The importance of keeping a hamster's habitat clean is emphasized a lot- it can prevent potential disease and keep your hamster healthy. What to do if your hamster gets sick or lost, how to handle an older hamster that is slowing down. Also the role of parents in caring for the small pets, and what children of different ages can be expected to do.

I plan to read several of these books- already finding that they sometimes contradict each other. For example, the previous book emphasized that no child under twelve should have a pet hamster. This one talks about involving children as young as three in hamster care, but clearly states that parents must supervise and be the responsible one. Another difference was that the first book said hamsters should never have citrus or acidic foods; this book includes tomatoes and oranges in the list of fruits/vegetables that are safe for your hamster.

I borrowed this book from the public library. I'm thinking of looking for my own copy, so my daughter will have a reference on hand.

Rating: 4/5      112 pages, 2006

Apr 15, 2014

The Tapir Scientist

Saving South America's Largest Mammal
by Sy Montgomery

Great book about a very interesting animal. I've been wanting to read more books by Sy Montgomery, and so far she never disappoints. In this case, she travelled to the Pantanal (a large wetland area in Brazil) to join a team of field biologists led by Pati Medici. Studying tapirs. The book is all about what their work involves on a day-to-day basis. Tracking the animals. Trying to dart or trap them, taking measurements and samples, discovering where they go and who they hang out with. Things they've learned about tapirs and things they still hope to figure out. Difficulties and problem-solving in the field. Long hours of effort for the reward of a brief moment with an elusive wild animal.

Excellent photographs and descriptions of what the field work is like. It's not all about tapirs, either. There's quite a bit of information on the environment, local people, other wildlife, background on members of the research team and so on. Makes for a very well-rounded book that I found very engaging and thorough.

Rating: 4/5        80 pages, 2013

more opinions:
Jean Little Library
Bookshelf: What We're Reading
For Those About to Mock

Wild Horses

Galloping Through Time
by Kelly Milner Halls

Found this one just browsing on library shelves. It's a pretty good read, with nice photographs. All about wild horses, from their earliest beginnings as small prehistoric mammals to the present day. Featured types of horses are grouped according to what continent or region they live in. I did not realize there were so many different wild horses still roaming free in the world. The mustangs, arabians, chincoteague ponies, barbs, white horses of Camargue (in France) and Namibian desert horses were familiar to me. But also quite a few I had not heard of before including tarpans, koniks and Caspain horses.  Also, since they are part of the horse family (all equines) the wild asses, burros and zebra species are in this book as well. I thought there were more than three kinds of zebra, but guess I was wrong. A bit disappointed the book did not discuss the quagga, not even mention it. No Australian brumbies either?

The scientific aspect was nice, a number of interviews with experts are included. Also listings of places you can travel to see wild horses.

Rating: 3/5        72 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Journal of Ravenseyrie

Apr 13, 2014


A Complete Pet Owner's Manual
by Dr. Peter Fritzsche

Thought to inform myself more on hamster care, since we have one now. So brought home a few pet books from the library. Learned from the fish experience not to bother with the ones in juvenile non-ficion section. A lot of the info in here was already familiar to me, but I was reminded of some important things- like how stressful it is for the hamster when you rearrange stuff in its home cage. Also learned more about the history of these little pets. They are not really domesticated animals, only having become part of the pet trade since the 1980's. In Syria where they come from, people consider them pests. There are twenty different kinds of hamsters, only a few which are suitable to keep as pets. I also didn't know that in the wild some hamsters hibernate through the winter, they can make ultrasonic sounds (similar in frequency to bat calls) and that they can become diabetic. I was also unaware that the use of exercise wheel in hamster cages is a controversial topic among pet owners. The book included some material based on research, from observing the behavior of wild hamster in their natural habitat. Some of the more useful information in the book (for me) was a list of natural foods the hamster can eat (including hay, cat grass and kitchen herbs), instructions on how to find/trap a hamster that has escaped its cage, and tips on how to help your child deal with the death of their pet when it reaches old age (at two or three years).

Rating: 3/5    65 pages, 2007

Apr 12, 2014

Out Stealing Horses

by Per Petterson

I hoped to like this book. It's one of those I felt sure I wanted to read, but once I started was just not appreciating it. I am certain I was missing the big picture, what was really going on in the story, but by the time I realized this it was too late, I no longer cared. The narrative is about a man living in Norway, just across the border from Sweeden. In a cabin in the forest. Part of it is about him as an old man coming to this place to live in peaceful solitude (rebuilding the derelict cabin, taking walks with his dog), but other parts tell of events from his youth, when he and a friend would go up and down the river, looking for something to do and getting into trouble. I did, at first, slow down to absorb the descriptions of the forest and being there, but was unable to focus enough to read between the lines and really get it. It is one of those books full of understatement, which I have to be in the right mood for. It's full of quietness, musing reminiscences. Has a lot to do with father-son relationships, with his coming-of-age, with some awful accidents that occurred- and it felt like another horrific incident was looming just around the corner, in the pages I did not get to. I didn't want to get to that part. You can read some of the other reviews to see what the readers thought, who did get there.

And for some reason the book reminded me of A River Runs Through It, I'm not sure why. I never finished that one either. If one of you out there has read both and cares to comment, tell me if those two books have much in common?

Abandoned       238 pages, 2003

more opinions:
Reading Matters
Blogging for a Good Book
Fleur in Her World
Ready Steady Book

Apr 8, 2014

Guide to Freshwater and Marine Aquarium Fishes

Simon and Schuster's

The very last fish book off my shelf. It's a field guide. On fish and other aquatic life (plants, amphibia, reptiles and invertebrates) you might keep in an aquarium. For a book of its age, the photographs are really excellent and the care/biology information in the introduction seems pretty solid. Although I blinked at an image caption that stated: The ideal aquarium is a reconstruction of a self-sufficient natural habitat, in which plants and animals rely on one another for nourishment. When such a state of balance is reached, there is no need to change the water or feed the animals. I was baffled by this. I don't think you can every get to that point. Maybe you can have the enclosed ecosystem balanced well enough to go long periods without a water change, and for the animals to support the plants- but surely the fishes and other aquatic life must still be fed? Unless it's an outdoor pond, I suppose. Someone please do correct me if I'm wrong. The photo showed an indoor aquarium. I'm pretty sure it still needs input of food. 

Well, it was another book I more or less browsed through. Enjoyed the gorgeous photos. The book was brief enough on listing numerous closely-related freshwater species (only one platy, a few barbs, two kinds of small catfish as samples) that the saltwater section was almost equal in length, and the pages on invertebrates, amphibians and other living things (like hydra, water fleas, mollusks- not all critters you'd want in your aquarium I'm thinking) rounded it out nicely. I never saw turtles, newts, frogs or the axolotl featured in an aquarium book before.

Rating: 3/5    337 pages, 1976

Apr 7, 2014

The Wildlife Detectives

by Donna M. Jackson

For the first time in months (been doing the Dare) I allowed myself to browse a little bit in the library. Walked through the kids' section so I picked up a few J non-fiction books. This one is about how forensic science is used to solve crimes against wildlife. It's doubly difficult to prove things because of course the animals can't tell you anything themselves. Careful matches must be made between samples and specimens to prove exactly what species a piece of evidence came from, in particular. One individual case of a famous bull elk in Yellowstone Park that was illegally shot is followed throughout the book as a example. While of course the book is not as detailed as I would like, it was fascinating regardless. I learned something in particular about deer taxonomy- there are only five species of deer in America- whitetail, mule deer, elk, moose and caribou. I paused when I read that in the book- what about blacktail deer, what about key deer in Florida? So I made a quick search of wikipedia and learned that blacktail deer are a subspecies of mule deer, whereas key deer are a subspecies of whitetail. Hah. Also interested to learn that while bald eagles are completely protected by law- no one can kill them, trade sell or otherwise use their body parts- Native Americans are allowed to use eagle feathers in their sacred ceremonies. So when eagles are found dead of natural causes (or killed by people and not needed as evidence) their feathers and other parts are sent by the National Eagle Repository in Colorado to Native Americans throughout the country (who must apply to receive them). One Navajo medicine man is quoted stating that the eagle feather he uses in healing rituals had been handed down by his grandfather from prior generations- that particular feather is a couple of hundred years old. I am impressed at how sacred they hold the single object. 

Well, a good book. Older kids would learn a lot from this one.

Rating: 4/5    47 pages, 2000

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Apr 6, 2014

Chosen Forever

by Susan Richards

Finished this book a few days ago but had no time to write. It wasn't what I thought at first; I assumed from the cover image and prevalence of equines in the few photos inside that this was another book about horses. After a few pages in I flipped to the front to read the flyleaf text and even more telling, the card catalog subject listings (or whatever that's called) on the publication data page- it said authors, biography; nothing about horses. So. There are horses, they are not the spotlight. Instead the book is about how the author experienced the success of her first published book, Chosen by a Horse. How she went on book tour and grew from being frightened at facing an audience of readers (or empty chairs) to feeling confident and even relaxed. How she met up with friends and family not seen in years and had some closure, renewed some relationships, learned some stories of her own past that helped with the healing process. Horses, friends, loving books, meeting readers, travelling around the country, dealing with a few age issues plus anxiety, meeting a man again. In the end it is a story of joy. I liked this book. It's a feel-good story, but one that is also painfully honest. Not all roses (do you even want roses?) Very real.

Rating: 3/5      278 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Lis Carey's Library

Apr 3, 2014

Dare Complete

Well, I have finished the Dare. It was easier than ever because I was simply too busy to visit the library much. So it felt like I didn't really do a dare because there was little effort involved, or will power- when I had (rare) spare time to read, I just reached for one of the many books on my shelves. I did try to read all the fish books in my house- made good progress with that. Total owned books read were 14- two of those e-books. One abandoned book. Two put up for swapping afterwards, the rest I liked enough to keep in my collection. But I really read 19 books during the first four months (not counting bedtime stories for kids); one was a re-read needed to inform myself about how to care for the worms, and 4 were library books I had borrowed just before the dare began, from holds I'd been waiting for. Overall I feel like my participation was rather halfhearted, sorry for that. Good books, though!

Apr 1, 2014

Exotic Aquarium Fishes

by Dr. William T. Innes

This decades-old book was considered something of an authoritative text in its time. I found it interesting, informative and quaint altogether. It is an encyclopedia of fishes, the first eighty pages being a general introduction to fish biology plus instructions on their care, feeding and management like usual. A lot of the basics are still the same, but some of the info was astonishing. For example, the book is so old apparently aquarium lighting was not a standard feature, there is a careful explanation of how to find the right site for the fish tank that will get the proper amount of sunlight through a window, with an added note that "for those who do not mind the use of electricity" a suspended light can be constructed by mounting bulb sockets on a strip of wood, and that the bulbs can be below the surface as long as water does not reach the socket! What a recipe for disaster. There was no dechlorinator available, instead frequent reminders throughout the book to always use water that has stood for a day or two, some fishes requiring "very old water". I wondered at the quality of care as a lot of the photographs showed fish that had obviously frayed and deteriorating fin edges, yet they were lauded as being excellent specimens. You can bet that most of the species in the book were quite hardy to withstand the relatively primitive care they received back then.

Also the quality of the pictures was something else. I can only imagine the difficulties to be had in photographing fishes in the early days- some of the photos in this book were taken in the 1920's. Most were black-and-white, which gives quite a different look at the fish. I found that it made me pay more attention to the overall shape, proportions and fin structures of the fishes. Some were nearly unrecognizable to me because even though the description praised their colors, I could not quite picture it over the monochromatic image supplied. Afterwards went to the computer looking many of them up for a better visual. The names also threw me off- very few had common names, all listed by their scientific names. I did appreciate that a pronunciation guide was provided so I actually know how to say the latin names now, and that the meaning of the names also given.

I met a lot more interesting fishes in this book, not really featured (or didn't attract my notice) in more current volumes. This fish the author nicknamed the "surplus destroyer" (the book is sprinkled with humor like this, I enjoyed that). Chriopeops goodei is a pretty little fish I never met before, and it's native- comes from habitat in Texas. I like killifishes, although I can't keep them (yet) because they need soft water- and the aphanius genus has cute fishes. The pike killifish has a delightfully vicious appearance! Then there's the snakeheads, channa species, but they're very aggressive too. I've discovered that overall, I find visually appealing or interesting fishes that have a long body shape like the cichlids, loaches and killifishes, or those with triangular profile like the scalare (freshwater angelfishes) and archerfish. I am now daydreaming of someday having a paludarium with toxotes jaculator (the second half of this fish name means "hurler" as it strikes insects down from leaves above the surface with a jet of water from its mouth!)

My edition is a later reprint that has fewer color photos (a lot of the photos are remarked upon in the text as being in color, but they're not) and the second cover image shown here. But I liked the stylish embossed cover found online better, so that's the featured image of this post. I acquired this book through a swap site.

Rating: 4/5     463 pages, 1966