Month: September 2009

The second genet bookmark was never claimed, so I did another drawing with the random number generator. It gave me #2, which is Lezlie, of Books n\’ Border Collies! Congrats, Lezlie. Sending you a genet this week!

Next up is a trio of bookmarks with autumn leaves. I love it when the trees put on their fall colors, so I was in just the right mood to make these. Double-sided and laminated, with gold ribbon edging. Leave a comment to get your name in the hat. One winner will be drawn on tuesday, Oct 6th.

(click on the image for larger view)

by John Steinbeck

I thought of this book because I saw it mentioned on The Zen Leaf among a list of banned books. I was really taken aback- what could be objectionable about The Red Pony? So I pulled my own copy (with lovely illustrations by Wesley Dennis) off the shelf to thumb through and refresh my memory.

Well, now I remember. It is kind of brutal. And the kid swears once or twice. Sorry, there will be some spoilers here, so don\’t read ahead if you want to avoid them.

The Red Pony is about a young boy living on a small ranch in California. It is really four short stories, which show Jody growing up, learning some bitter lessons about life and death. In the first story, Jody\’s father gives him a red pony, and it is his responsibility to care for it and train it. Jody delights in the pony\’s lively spirit and is proud to show him off to his friends. But one day the pony mistakenly gets left out in a rainstorm and becomes ill. The ranch hand, Billy Buck, tries to save the pony but it dies. The descriptions of the pony\’s sufferings are pretty stark. Jody is angry about the pony\’s death, and feels betrayed by Billy. The next story opens up with Jody venting his frustration on smaller creatures around him- teasing the dog, killing small birds, etc. Then his attention shifts when an old man shows up from the mountains. He says he was born on the ranch long ago, and now that his life is at an end, he wants to stay there until he dies. But Jody\’s father doesn\’t want him hanging around the ranch. In the third story, Jody is allowed to take his father\’s mare to be bred by a neighbor\’s stallion, and the new colt will be his. He and Billy watch carefully over the mare\’s pregnancy, but when it comes time for her to deliver the foal, something goes wrong and Billy must make an instant decision- to save the mare, or fulfill his promise to Jody and give him a live colt. In the last story, Jody\’s grandfather comes to visit, telling romanticized tales of the times he led a wagon train across the plains, to the delight of Jody, and the great annoyance of his father. Strife ensues when Jody\’s father openly admits he\’s sick of hearing his father-in-law\’s tales.

All the stories have a common theme of death. Jody\’s first colt dies, and so do his dreams (his fantasies of owning a fierce, prancing stallion were never realistic). His faith in Billy\’s infallible ability with horses dies. He sees the old man come to the ranch seeking a peaceful place to meet death, and being turned away. He sees his grandfather face the fact that his time of glory is passed, only interesting to small boys. And then he has to confront the reality that he can only have his longed-for colt if the mare dies. Not a pretty picture, all around. Jody isn\’t a nice, innocent little boy, either. But there\’s something in these stories that makes them vivid and real, throbbing with life, with the pain of growing up and the hardness of living on a small, poor ranch. I hate to see animals suffer as much as anyone, and yet I love this book. It is just so heartachingly real.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 120 pages, 1933

As I\’m sure you know, it\’s Banned Books Week. I thought to participate in my own little way, I\’d write this week about some books I\’ve read that have been banned or challenged. In the TBR shelf by my bed I have a few titles from the lists of banned books: Their Eyes Were Watching God by Zora Neale Hurston, To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolfe, Dubliners by James Joyce and Schindler\’s List. Hm. I\’ve tried to read two of these before, and couldn\’t make it through. I\’m going to give them another honest effort this week. Out of the several lists of banned books I\’ve seen online, I counted up fifty-six titles that I\’ve read. Forty-two of those are books that have a permanent place on my own shelves. That must say something for the quality of these books, objectionable material or no!

Some banned titles previously featured on this blog:
The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini
Bless Me Ultima by Rudolfo Anaya
Black Like Me by John Griffin
The Handmaid\’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Call of the Wild by Jack London

I have to admit I haven\’t liked all of these books. In fact, they often make me squirm (I\’m a bit of a prude, don\’t care to read lots of sex or violence). But at the same time, what better place to meet frightening or distasteful subjects than in a book? What better place to meet issues that often need to be faced, for the very reasons they make us want to avert our eyes? Reading these books broadens my mind and gives me lots to think on. Then, too, there are some whose spot on the list puzzles me. I have to think people who want to ban books are simply offended by or frightened of what\’s in them. Frightened by the influence books could have on our minds. Do you think books have such potent power?

After all, I\’ve read Go Ask Alice and it didn\’t make me want to experiment with drugs (quite the opposite!) I\’ve read all the Harry Potter books – and let my five year old kid watch the movies- and neither of us want to be a witch (we know it\’s just a story). My view is that if you object to what\’s in a book, just don\’t read it. I\’ve set aside many a book (as my Abandoned list attests to) that made me too uncomfy (or, more frequently, was just boring me). But that doesn\’t mean I\’d stop others from reading those books. Everyone should be free to read what they like.

by Norman Myers

I think this book has sat longest of all on my shelves unread (six years). I still remember clearly when I acquired it. I was a student in San Francisco, and one of the used bookstores I liked to browse had an extensive section of coffee-table books, replete with beautiful images and heavy, glossy pages. This one always caught my eye, and finally one day I gave in and bought it. At the time I used it frequently for reference, practicing drawing from the photos of the animals.

The What an Animal Challenge II has finally motivated me to actually read it. Similar to The Marsh Lions, this book is wide in scope, describing more than forty species of animals- from the large, well-known elephants, lions and zebra through the middle ranges of antelopes, jackals and birds down to hyrax, termites and even the naked mole rat. The Long African Day is full of scientific information and statistics, light on the anecdotes and descriptive writing I usually enjoy. It examines the wildlife in view of their evolutionary development and ecological niches, also issues of land use and conservation. There is a lot of discussion about research- often noting how much was simply unknown in the 70\’s, and the need for further study. In that regard, it\’s rather outdated. Some of the attitudes feel dated, too- like the idea that animals should be conserved because we need to use them for research, or that animals solely act in mechanical response to environmental stimuli. But reading past that, the details are still interesting. Especially how it is organized.

The book sweeps across East Africa by each stage of the day- early morning, the heat of midday, afternoon, and the approach of night. Each major section discusses what the various animals are doing at that time, going on to examine further aspects of their behavior, how they fit into the environment, and what impact development, tourism, poaching, etc. has had on them. More than any other book I\’ve read on wildlife, it reveals the complexity of how different species\’ lives interlock, how specific their various adaptations to the environment are, and how small-seeming changes can have far-reaching affects on many different plants and animals. The amount of information is overwhelming, and I have to admit I glossed over a few parts that started to feel dull. The photographs, mostly black-and-white, while having an older, slightly grainy look, are excellent in quality- I still pore through the book at times just for the pictures.

Rating: 3/5                  404 pages, 1972

I have been unable to contact one of the winners of my genet bookmarks. slipbananapeel, please email me (jeanenevarez AT gmail DOT com) your address. If I don\’t get a reply by monday, I will draw another name from that giveaway post.

Writings from Homeground
by Allen Lacy

I feel a bit discouraged that this seems to be the week of books I don\’t care for. And that a lot of them are from the reading list I made for my own reading challenge, so I\’m having to rework the entire list as I go! Here\’s another one- a collection of writings by a gardener. Just my thing. It\’s a nice enough book. It has a lot of information about different plants (mostly flowers) arranged by the seasons they show their colors in. Also a small section on thoughts about gardening work, and another about the author\’s pet peeves! But it wasn\’t nearly as engaging as Thalassa Cruso, and lacked the advice on horticulture that I appreciate. Lacy shares lots of info about the history of plants- their countries of origin, the persons who discovered them and made them popular. He quibbles a lot about plant names, too. But the discussion of nomenclature in Weeds in My Garden was far more interesting. I really only read a solid fifty pages, then started thumbing through to try the parts about my favorite flowers (nasturtiums) or plants I\’m more familiar with (hostas and marigolds). Even the part about calling the stuff underfoot dirt or soil only vaguely annoyed me. Sorry, I had to put another one aside!

Abandoned             290 pages, 2000

by Eric Eddison

I read this book once because I saw the title mentioned as a favorite of a character in a book I loved (how\’s that for a recommendation?) It\’s an epic-style fantasy about two warring kingdoms in a medieval world. It starts off with one man\’s quest to rescue his brother from the enemy and overthrow a tyrant- then the two factions battle endlessly to see who will control the entire world. Ordinary poor folk and foot soldiers die by the thousands for no good reason. The battles are huge and bloody, there\’s constant fighting, deceit and mass confusion going on. And sorcery, strange creatures, beautiful women who get ravished, etc etc. I can\’t say I\’ve read another book so full of gory battle details (unless it\’s these by Richard Monaco). Looking back, I\’m not sure what kept me going through the whole book- unless it was the fantastically rich, archaic language. Eddison writes like no other. His prose can be tedious, confusing and very beautiful. If you like reading epic sagas (particularly Nordic ones), or are interested in a fantasy tome that heavily influenced Tolkien\’s work, I could recommend The Worm Ouroboros. But for me, the storyline was too wandering and the ending frustrated me beyond belief. It\’s a complex work, that probably deserves a more discerning reader than myself (see below links for more appreciative reviews). It\’s full of heroism and romanticism, treachery and tragedy and headaches for this reader. I admire it very much but I hardly liked it at all.

Rating: 2/5                     445 pages, 1922

More opinions:
anyone else?

by Scott Carrier

This book wasn\’t really what I expected. I spotted it on a shelf in a bookstore one day and from the back cover blurb gathered that it was about the author\’s attempt to see if he could outrun a pronghorn antelope. The story unfolds in small pieces: his brother studies how mammals breathe while they run, theorizing that humans evolved an upright stance because they could regulate their breathing and have greater stamina for long-distance running. He wants to test the theory in person, as well as interview primitive people who are said to have run down game on foot. That in itself interested to me, but the antelope thread is interspersed with many other brief stories and vignettes. They chronicle Carrier\’s wanderings throughout his life, particularly his work as a fledgling journalist. The segments about his travels to Mexico, Kashmir and Cambodia were more in depth and most interesting- especially as I recently read about situations in Cambodia in Search for the Golden Moon Bear, and here a lot more light was thrown on that for me. But on the whole I found many of the pieces in Running After Antelope too brief to satisfy me. Colorful and intriguing snapshots of American life and journalistic travels, often ironic, sad, conflicting- but sometimes I was left wondering: what was the point? Belatedly I realized this book is an assemblage of radio pieces done on NPR for \”This American Life.\” I\’m not very familiar with the program; maybe if I\’d heard them on the air first I would appreciate it more.

Rating: 2/5                    130 pages, 2001

Two luck winners today! each gets one of my African genet bookmarks. My daughter helped pick the names. And they are:

Esperanza and slipbananpeel !!!

Happy readers, send an email to jeanenevarez at gmail dot com with your snail mail info, and your bookmarks will be along shortly.

And just for the fun of sharing, here\’s a few photos of my kitten lounging atop one of my TBR piles. She\’s grown so big I can hardly call her \”the kitten\” anymore! I\’m trying to think if I can work one of these into my header… (click on an image to see it larger)

Sandy Nawrot at You\’ve GOTTA Read This! tagged me for this fun ABC meme several weeks ago, and I never got around to it until today. So here you go, some tidbits about me: Available or single? Nope. Married! Best Friend? my husband Cake or Pie? Cake Drink of choice? Horchata Essential item for every day use? Birkenstocks Favorite color? Blue Google? Yeah, I google everything Hometown? Born in San Francisco, grew up in Seattle. I consider Seattle my hometown. Indulgences? Chocolate. Books. Steaming hot baths. With candles. Preferably all together. January or February? um, what? Kids and their names? Isabel, 4 Life is incomplete without…? A cat in residence Marriage date? Jan 2nd. We wanted it to be New Year\’s Day, but that didn\’t happen Number of siblings? Three sisters Oranges or apples? Apples. Organic, so you can enjoy chewing the skin without a bitter taste of pesticides. Phobias and fears? Mold. Especially on food. Freaks me out. I can squash spiders and chase snakes, but have to call hubby to remove a fuzzy orange from the fruit bowl. Quote for the day? \”A good novel tells us the truth about is hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.\” – G.K. Chesterton Reason to smile? The smell of rain in springtime. Blooming nasturtiums. A purring cat. Season? Fall. I love the crisp smell in the air, and the colors of the leaves. Tag 3 people? Caribousmom, Jenny, Trish or anyone who wants to join in! Unknown fact about me? I played the clarinet in high school (not very well) Vegetable you hate? Turnips Worst habit? Chewing my nails X-rays you’ve had? My broken toe! Your fave food? Right now I\’d love some chicken mole Zodiac sign? I don\’t read horoscopes, but I\’m a Libra


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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