Month: April 2008

and Other Stories
by Norman Maclean

Sadly, this is one of those posts where I write about why I didn\’t like a book that I really wanted to love. I heard great things about it. But when A. and I watched the movie version, I fell asleep. He loved it. He said it\’s \”a guy movie\”. I thought well, the book is probably better.

As far as I got, A River Runs Through It is about the relationship between two brothers, and fly fishing. My copy also contains two short pieces, Logging and Pimping, and The Ranger, the Cook and a Hole in the Sky. These two are about summer jobs taken by the author as a young man in the early 1900\’s, in a logging camp and as a forest ranger. I found interesting the details on logging, fighting forest fires afoot with crews hired on the spot, and how to pack a mule train. I didn\’t like reading about the drinking, card gambling, fistfights and whores. I also didn\’t like that the first short piece was largely about how much the author hated his sawyer partner, and the second how much he hated the ranger station cook. I had a feeling the main title story was going to be about animosity between the brothers, as well.

Well, first of all I read the opening five pages of acknowledgements which is really a brief essay on why Maclean wrote the book. It was interesting. It mentioned that after he wrote the two short pieces, he got some writing advice and tried to follow it with A River Runs Through It. So I thought (for some reason) I\’d read those two first and see how his writing improved with the third. Mistake! And I only made it about fifteen pages into the title piece, then skipped around a bit to see if the descriptive writing on fly fishing would improve upon it for me. It didn\’t. It\’s really sad to say that what I liked best about the book was the acknowledgements! But I still feel there\’s something very worthwhile in this book. I really want to appreciate it because it describes things close to my family: my father grew up in a logging town, and he also is a fly fisherman. I\’m going to hold onto it for another try later. I feel this is the kind of book I have to read with a peaceful and contemplative mind, and right now I just want escape and entertainment.

Abandoned               217 pages, 1976

Remarkable Accounts of Animal Emotions
by Mark Bekoff

In this wonderful book Mark Bekoff has collected anecdotal stories from some fifty different scientists and behavioral researches, showing animals expressing a myriad of emotions. Each story is fairly brief, and they are grouped into sections: love, fear, anger, joy, grief and \”fellow feeling\” or empathy. The accounts are by turns curious, fascinating, amusing and sad. Some are also really dry and boring. I felt this had more to do with the variety of writing styles than the actual stories themselves. The awesome photographs more than make up for a few hard-to-read paragraphs. The Smile of a Dolphin is a book any animal lover will appreciate, and one skeptics of animal emotions would do good to read. Some notable contributers include Jane Goodall, Sue Savage-Rumbaugh, Roger and Deborah Fouts, Irene Pepperberg, Elizabeth Marshall Thomas and Michael W. Fox.

Rating: 4/5                   224 pages, 2000

The Unlikely Triumph of Steven Sharp
by William Mishler

I picked this book up on a whim at a thrift store one day. It sat on my shelf for several months and almost got shuffled off. I\’m glad it didn\’t, because it was surprisingly good!

A Measure of Endurance tells about Steven Sharp, who lived in a small farming community in Eastern Oregon. As a teenager he lost both his arms in an accident with a hay baler. After the accident he faced living with a hampering disability and constant pain. Yet Steven faced the whole ordeal with a very stoic frame of mind and avoided laying blame on anyone, seeking pity or commiserating his loss. Three years later, his family happened to discover that other farmers across the country had suffered similar accidents with the same equipment. So they sued the manufacturer, a huge corporation. A large part of the book describes the lawsuit, and the complicated preparations Sharp\’s lawyer made. Usually I don\’t enjoy reading books that feature a legal trial. By the time I get to the end I find them tiresome, confusing or melodramatic. But this time it was different. It stayed interesting, and Steven was so admirable I wanted to know all details of the outcome for his sake.

I was glad that the terrible accident was not dwelt on or described in detail. The few times it was explained in brief were enough for me. Instead, the book really focuses on the strength of Steven\’s personality. He grew up with dyslexia, migraines, and a great love of the outdoors. This all affected his outlook on life and how he was able to deal with the trauma of loosing his arms. He is an amazing person, and his story is very inspirational.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 306 pages, 2003

more opinions at:
Shannon\’s Book Bag

by Maurice Sendak

This is one of those books so wonderful it will always be around. A classic of children\’s literature, Where the Wild Things Are is a story told more in pictures than words. It\’s about a mischievous little boy Max who gets sent to his room for being \”a wild thing\” and dreams himself into a land of monsters where he rules as king. If you want to read more, try these reviews.

I don\’t usually talk about picture books on my blog, but last night reading this one to my daughter I noticed something. The wild things are not the same on every page. I got curious how consistent they were, and sat down to look more carefully through the pages. There are eight double-page spreads featuring monsters.

When Max first arrives at the shore four monsters meet him. There is a lion-thing with three horns, a goat with claws, a redhead monster with duck feet, and the signature (to me) creature with stripes and scaly legs. (I\’ll refer to him as \”mr stripey\”).

The next spread shows the same four monsters with one more peeking through the bushes, who has a bull\’s head.

Third spread features four: all the above monsters minus the goat-thing, and plus an eagle-face one.

In the fourth wild scene, the only monster we\’ve seen before is the lion-thing. There\’s three new ones- one with a red bulbous nose and short horns, one with a long nose and short horns, and one that has the redhead\’s face, only minus duck feet and bearing stripes. This is redhead-stripes\’ only appearance.

Fifth scene (hanging from trees) has four familiar monsters: mr stripey, duck-feet, bull-head and eagle-face.

In the sixth spread (marching through the forest) there are five wild things: mr stripey, bull-head, eagle-face, duck-feet, and in the middle the red-nose short-horned one.

On the seventh pages (the monsters sleep) we see long-nose, lion-thing and bull-head.

And in the parting scene five wild things roar \”don\’t go!\”: red-nose short-horns, bull-head, duck-feet, mr stripey and lion-thing (although he seems to be missing two horns, not-quite hidden in the cave).

So how many wild things are there? I count nine. If you want to include the sea-monster Max sails past on his way to where the wild things are, there\’s ten. Curiously though, when I see the characters from this book featured in various places only five or six seem to make a regular appearance: mr stripey and those that have distinct animal features: lion, bull, eagle, goat (my favorite, even though he is only on two pages of the book) and red-nose short-horns. The two more nondescript monsters don\’t seem to be as popular, poor things! Which one is your favorite wild thing?

I really like this animated bit I found on You Tube.

Rating: 4/5                     40 pages, 1963

Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior
by Temple Grandin

I found this book utterly fascinating. It looks at animal behavior, emotions and intelligence from the viewpoint and understanding of an autistic experience. Temple Grandin, a professional designer of animal-handling systems, explains in depth how autism has lead her to identify with many ways in which animals feel, see and experience the world. She shares insights on many different species: dogs, cats, horses, pigs, chickens, cattle and others like prairie dogs, dolphins and elephants. I have never before read a book that goes so in depth what it is like to be in another\’s skin. Grandin repeatedly demonstrates how physical aspects of an animal\’s being affect their perception of and responses to the environment, and how their natural senses and intelligence give them specialized abilities we cannot readily understand (like dogs who predict seizures). Animals In Translation is one of the best non-fiction books on my shelf, and just writing this review about it, flipping through its pages, makes me want to read it all over again.

Rating: 5/5                       355 pages, 2005


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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