Month: October 2009

Agriculture Information Bulletin 409
by the US Dept of Agriculture

When there\’s a change of seasons I get an itch to read gardening books. This slender volume is pretty packed with information. Growing Your Own Vegetables is a handbook containing articles by various professors of agriculture and other related fields, from different universities. Each short section is about a particular group of related plants: cucurbits, tomatoes and peppers, leafy salad vegetables, root crops, legumes, the onion family, herbs, etc. It gives advice on how to grow, care for and propagate the plants, recommends varieties and notes common problems that may be encountered (although not much on how to solve them beyond applying pesticides). The lists of plant diseases and pests dismayed me, but I found enough useful info to fill several pages of notes, and encouragement to try a few new plants in my garden next year. The book is a bit old- just over thirty years- but a lot of the information seems pertinent, and many of the vegetable varieties listed I recognized right away- Sweet 100 tomatoes, Detroit Dark Red beets, Longstanding Bloomsdale spinach, Fordhook Giant swiss chard- I guess the good ones stay around! I especially appreciated the chapter on asparagus and rhubarb- two perennial plants I want to establish in my own garden- and the one on uncommon vegetables, some I\’ve never heard of (dasheen, chayote, sunchoke) and others I\’d like to try growing when I\’m feeling braver and a bit more experienced (peanuts, artichoke, soybeans).

One interesting thing about the book is that although its contents have over a dozen authors, the voice is very consistent. Only one seemed to break with straightforward informative writing and throw in a bit of friendly humor, which made it stand out. The chapter on herbs has a general recipe for making butter, vinager or jelly with various herbs. Throughout the book are several charts on plant spacing and how many feet of each type will feed a family of four (or calculate by the number of adults in the household)- very useful.

I found this book at a discard sale. The copyright page tells me it contains Part 2 of the 1977 Yearbook of Agriculture. I\’m a bit curious what\’s in Part 1, but doubt I\’ll ever find out.

Rating: 3/5                        244 pages, 1977

by Alan Beck

This brief little scientific book gives the results of a study done on free-roaming dogs in Baltimore. The author simply followed dogs about the city, observing their behavior and interactions with people. The study distinguishes between pet dogs that have simply got loose for a period and stray dogs that have no owners. It looks at how stray dogs have adapted to living in the city environment, and provides all kinds of general information such as how far they roam, where and how they find food, how densely they are distributed, their daily activities, what threats they pose to people- in the form of causing injury or spreading disease, how they can become a nuisance (noise and dog poo) what threats the dogs face from humans (animal control) and recommendations on what to do about controlling their numbers.

Aside from The Hidden Life of Dogs I\’ve never read a book quite like this. The Ecology of Stray Dogs is far more focused and scientific, and draws some interesting conclusions- for example, it shows how stray dogs can blend in and avoid notice by behaving like pet dogs, even when they\’re actually very wary of humans. It demonstrates that despite the fear of dog bites, stray dogs actually pose little to no threat to people (most bites are from pet dogs). It sounds dry and boring but I was fascinated. There are so many books out there about studies of wild canines, or the antics of people\’s pets, or even fictional accounts of stray dogs\’ lives- I\’ve read half a dozen- but this is the only scientific study on stray dogs I\’ve ever come across. This little book is well worth the read, if you\’re interested in that kind of thing.

I read this book on interlibrary loan in San Francisco several years ago. I think I\’d like to read it again, having since lived in Baltimore, it would now be easy to picture the places described. But it\’s hard to find.

Rating: 3/5                          98 pages, 1973

by Betty MacDonald

I only had a vague impression of this book going into it: city girl becomes the reluctant wife of a chicken rancher in the mountains and relates the struggles of her first year, in the 1920’s. What I didn’t know until I opened The Egg and I was its setting: the Olympic Peninsula in Washington State. And that’s why I fell in love with this book. My heart has roots that thread back to that locale. I grew up in Seattle, and my father’s family lives around Grays Harbor, which is on the southern costal part of the Olympic Peninsula. So when Macdonald described the heavily forested mountains, the houses weathered grey with cedar shingle roofs, the damp and endless winter rain, the logging clearcuts full of wild blackberries, the choking underbrush of salaal, huckleberries and oregon grape, the smoked salmon and fresh-dug clams and little oysters- it was all dearly familiar to me. I could see it because I’ve been there.

Besides the familiarity of place, I loved this book because its writing is so frank and funny. The hardships MacDonald suffered were many- endless chores made difficult by lack of running water and a cranky old wood stove that failed to heat the house well; slovenly neighbors always begging for help and causing more problems; bears and cougars wandering near the house; hundreds of baby chicks demanding attention every few hours; etc etc- yet she never lost her sense of humor, although it gets kind of bitter at times. Her descriptions of the Native Americans who lived on the Peninsula are disparaging, but I was able to glide past that prejudice and enjoy the rest of the book. Her husband could come across as uncaring and demanding, yet at the same time he would haul water for her and assist in other ways while men around them just looked on and sneered at him for doing “women’s work”. Her neighbors are colorful: down one side of the mountain live the Kettles, lazy and shiftless with a yard cluttered with dead cars; on the other side the Hicks, neat as a pin and cooly cricital- both full of endless gossip. Anyhow, I won’t go on and on. If you like memoirs about what life was like in the days of few conveniences, this one is a darn good read. I know I’m going to go looking now for some more of MacDonald’s autobiographical writing. She also wrote the Miss Piggle-Wiggle books, which I read over and over from my gradeschool library as a kid.

My own copy of The Egg and I has a worn, dreary cover so I gave it a new face from my scrap file. Here’s the result. (You can see some more covers I’ve redone on these two old posts.)

Rating: 4/5
287 pages, 1945

win a free bat bookmark
In the spirit of the season I thought I’d give away a bookmark of a bat this week! It’s one I made from scrap pictures out of a magazine, double-sided and laminated. If you’d like to have him, just leave a comment on this post for a chance to win. Name will be drawn next tuesday, 11/03. Open worldwide, as long as you have a postal address!

by William Sleator

Five orphaned teens of widely differing personalities find themselves unwillingly involved in a behavioral experiment. They\’re all placed in a House of Stairs– an environment made up of staircases, small landings, occasional bridges- no walls, no floor, no place to feel safe. There\’s a small computer that flashes colors and dispenses food- but only in response to certain actions. Which they have to decipher by guesswork- and the results become more and more bizarre, until the kids are barely holding onto their sanity. I read this book a long time ago as a teen and it really made an impression on me. The characters are a bit flat and stereotypical, but the dynamics of their interactions and the different ways they respond to the challenges they face make it an interesting read. It really gave me the shivers back then, but now I want to read it just to pick apart what made some of the kids come out of it okay, and the others drive themselves to disintegration.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 166 pages, 1974

More opinions at:
Journeys with Books
Reading is My Superpower
Opinions of a Wolf

by Patricia Briggs

I have been dragging and dragging my way through this book for the past several days, and just not getting anywhere. It might be the author\’s writing style, or perhaps werewolf books just aren\’t my thing (this is the first one I\’ve tried). The premise was interesting- a female mechanic whose ancestors were Native American shamans has the ability to shape-shift into a coyote. She gets mixed up in a power struggle between two different werewolf packs. She\’s not as powerful as them, but can sense magic, identify people by their smell, see in the dark, etc. In her world (kind of like McKinley\’s Sunshine) magical beings live alongside but hidden from normal people- so there are vampires, witches and other fae on the fringes of the story. I liked reading the details about how their society worked, the social dynamics like a wolf pack, the \”new\” werewolves struggling against their animal instinct. But I wanted to read more about what it felt like to be in the animal form, I wasn\’t connecting to any of the characters, and the constant telling of backstory throughout the plot slowed it down for me. I made it about halfway through- 126 pages.

I grabbed Moon Called at a discard sale, because of a review at You Can Never Have Too Many Books that made me want to read it. I\’ve seen it on many other blogs; see a few links below.

Abandoned                         288 pages, 2006

More opinions at:
Read Warbler
The Narrative Casuality
Blogging for a Good Book
Danielle\’s Book Thoughts

by Sylvia Cassedy

Lonely, sullen Maggie goes to live with her stern, elderly aunts in a big old spooky house that used to be an orphanage. Her aunts try to correct her recalcitrant behavior and introduce her to \”suitable\” friends, but Maggie pushes everyone away. She only has imaginary friends- a handful of unintelligent girls she secretly bosses around. Stirred by a dull curiosity, she wanders the empty rooms when she can escape her aunts\’ attention, poking into things and lecturing her invisible followers. Then she begins to hear voices, and eventually stumbles upon a hidden room in the attic- where a pair of china dolls appears to have been waiting for her. In her initial shock she avoids the room, but then returns and soon finds herself going there day after day, keeping company with the prim doll couple and their little china dog, opening her heart to care for something, and at the same time solving a little mystery about the orphanage\’s past. I first read Behind the Attic Wall years and years ago, and went back to it many times. Even though Maggie isn\’t a very pleasant character at first, there\’s something about her that warms to the reader- her stubborn tenacity and slowly unfolding tenderness (rather like Mary in The Secret Garden, it now occurs to me). It\’s a solemn kind of story, and rather sad; one that\’s hard to forget.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 315 pages, 1983

A while back Jules gave me a blog award and I completely forgot to acknowledge it. Sorry this post is so late in coming, but I just wanted to say thank you, Jules, and pass the award on to some other wonderful book bloggers. This one is the Let’s Be Friends Award.

“Blogs that receive the Let’s Be Friends Award are exceedingly charming. These kind bloggers aim to find and be friends. They are not interested in self-aggrandizement. Our hope is that when the ribbons of these prizes are cut, even more friendships are propagated. Please give more attention to these writers. Deliver this award to eight bloggers.”

I’m beginning to have a hard time deciding who to pass awards on to, as I think you’re all wonderful and friendly. But here’s just a few I thought to recognize today:

The Zen Leaf …………………… A Sea of Books
Emily’s Reading Room …….. Book-a-rama
Farm Lane Books ……………. A Patchwork of Books
Carol’s Notebook …………….. Words by Annie

Modern Life in Ice-Age Alaska
by Richard Leo

A contemplative memoir about life in rural Alaska. We\’re talking extremely rural. The author, Richard Leo, lived for fifteen years in an isolated cabin deep in the Susitna Valley. For most of the year the only way to and from his cabin is by dogsled, or hiking with a backpack. There are no roads. During breakup leaving the valley is impossible. Way Out Here is a collection of thoughts, observations and brief stories about what life is like in such a remote, cold place- its hardships and benefits. He talks about the irony of using modern conveniences (solar-powered electricity) alongside primitive means (outhouses, no tv, etc). One chapter is all about sled dogs, another about how the diverse, widely scattered community of the valley comes together to argue over issues of building resorts to encourage tourism, or leaving the land pristine. He talks about how living so remotely makes self-reliance and helping neighbors a necessity, something he instills in his sons (which took my mind back to Confessions of a Slacker Mom). He talks about the wide vistas and looming mountains, the brilliant still landscape of winter and madly active growth of summer; the eerie twilight when the sun sets for half the year, the disorientation when it never goes to bed for summer. There are mountain-climbing trips and walks on glaciers, hunts for moose and encounters with bears.

As my house is kind of cold right now- our furnace broke right after we returned from vacation!- it was easy for me to feel immersed in this book, to imagine myself tramping alongside Leo across snowfields, or balancing on the dogsled whizzing through turns. I\’ve heard his previous book, Edges of the Earth, is even better so I\’m anxious to read that one now, too. (I found this book at a library sale for twenty cents.)

Rating: 3/5                191 pages, 1996


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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