Month: October 2010

This is kind of funny, but I suppose you bookish people will be able to relate. I feel rather proud that after seven years I\’ve finally convinced my husband to get his own library card! Up until now the entire family has just been using mine. Which was working just fine, as I\’m the one who visits the library, keeps track of what\’s due, picks up holds etc. My daughter doesn\’t even know yet that she can get her own card someday. The problem comes with hubby\’s use of the card. He doesn\’t ask me to get books for him often, but when he does he takes forever to read them, because he\’s so very busy. The last time I checked out a book for him he kept it for the usual three weeks, renewed it twice, and had it for a week longer after that! He doesn\’t care about his books being late back to the library; is perfectly happy just to pay his fines. Except that when his books are constantly overdue it ties up my card. They won\’t let me check out any more items until I return his!

So he grumbled at the inconvenience when I dragged him into the library to put his signature on the form, but then commented how easy it was to get a card, and started looking at all the DVDs (especially documentaries) the library has available for checkout; brought several home with him that day. So now he\’s happy and I\’m happy- I\’m still getting his books for him, and returning them, but no more problems for me if his are late time after time! It was just amusing to me that it took this long to finally convince him he needed his own piece of plastic to borrow library stuff. Phew!

I\’ve got four halloweeny bookmarks, here, ready to be part of your reading! A tasmanian devil, spider, bat and rat. If you\’d like to win the set, simply leave a comment. (Must be easy for me to find your email). I\’ll draw a winner at random next weekend (the first one in Nov).

Once again, even though I’m not reading much at the moment (being more inclined to sleep when I have quiet time ha) I’m still adding plenty of titles to my TBR! Here’s books that caught my eye in the past few weeks, and links to the blogs I found them on. Have you read any of these? They all look so good!

Girl in Translation by Jean Kwok- Books and Movies
Up From the Blue by Susan Henderson from Literary Feline
Under This Unbroken Sky by Shandi Mitchell
The Bells by Richard Harvell- Stuff as Dreams are Made On
The Human Bobby by Gabe Rotter- Bermudaonion’s Weblog
Homer’s Odyssey by Gwen Cooper- Maggie Reads
Dewey’s Nine Lives by Viki Myron from Bookfoolery
Eels by James Prosek from Amy Reads
The Blessings of the Animals by Katrina Kittle- Caribousmom
Packing for Mars by Mary Roach- Just Book Reading

by John McKinnon

When John McKinnon set off into the forests of Borneo and Sumatra to study orangutans, little was known about the large apes. Secretive and solitary, they are hard to find in the dense jungles, but McKinnon taught himself how to survive in the tropical wilderness, spending nights out in the forest tracking individual orangutans for days at a time (which shocked the natives who helping him in camp; they were terrified of being in the forest after dark). He learned the terrain well, and became known among the natives as an \”animal magician\” and among other researchers and tourists as one would could always find the orangutans. McKinnon describes some of his encounters with the orangutans, as well as myriads of other exotic animals, including lots of other primates, snakes, elephants and beautiful birds. He was particularly interested in studying how orangutans co-existed with other primates that used the same food supply, like the siamang (a type of gibbon).

One thing really jumped out at me in the text. At one point the author describes seeing older, very large adult male orangutans who were too heavy to travel in the trees. Instead they walked upright on the forest floor. Later in the book he talks about a mysterious animal the villagers feared called batutut, supposedly a black, hairy upright primate that left large footprints. McKinnnon himself reported seeing orangutans with very dark hair, brown or almost black. My mind immediately made a connection. I\’m surprised that the author himself didn\’t wonder if batutut was nothing more than a large, ground-dwelling male orangutan. Anyone else think that\’s probable?

Well, if you\’re interested in orangutans, this is a fairly good read.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 222 pages, 1974

A Biologist Explores a Strange and Hidden Treetop World
by Donald Perry

This book kind of wasn\’t what I expected, but I enjoyed it nevertheless. I thought I was going to get a detailed description of the author\’s explorations in the upper stories of tropical jungle, but that was only one aspect of Life Above the Jungle Floor. It starts with the author explaining how he got into biology studies, and his excitement when he found that (at the time) the treetop habitat was an unexplored area; most research in jungle life had taken place in the understory, which was easy to reach. He describes a lot of his methods in reaching the upper heights, using climbing ropes and even moving on pulleys along a rope strung between two large trees, so he could lower himself down into fragile canopies that would not support the weight of a person. I liked reading all the parts about the interesting animal life- insects and birds mostly- that he encountered, the mutual relationships between ants and their host plants, one very creepy passage where he lowered himself into an enormous hollow tree.

But there is also a very interesting section on how life evolved to take advantage of treetop heights, and even new (to me) theories on why the dinosaurs went extinct. I had never heard this idea before, but Perry says that the idea of an asteroid striking the earth is not well supported, it doesn\’t explain how early birds survived the catastrophe plus he notes that there were lots of small reptiles, which could hibernate in holes and survive even better than small mammals, so why didn\’t they? Instead, he posits that the advent of flowering and fruiting plants, which spread their seeds wider via mammal and bird dispersal, is what brought about the demise of dinosaurs (which took millions of years, not one sudden event). Because the flowering/fruiting plants were more successful than earlier primitive plants the dinosaurs lived on, they became more prolific, and when their food source got shouldered out, the dinosaurs began to disappear. At the same time mammals and birds exploited the new food source and evolved intricate mutually beneficial relationships with the plants. Maybe I\’ve gone on too much about this, but it was very interesting and made sense to me. Just look at places like Hawaii, where so many native plants have gone extinct due to invasive (more aggressive/successful) plants crowding them out- aren\’t the native animals disappearing there, too? Anyhow, it was all very thought-provoking. The fourth focus of the book is, of course, concern about how rapidly the forests are being depleted, but that was only discussed in the final chapter.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 170 pages, 1986

A Natural History
by Bernd Heinrich

This curious book is part memoir, part nature writing in a way, centered around the sport of long-distance running. It\’s certainly not like the other Heinrich books I\’ve read. Why We Run is the author\’s account of his experiences as a runner. He recounts how he got into running during his school years, then goes through discussions of how the body uses energy and the physics of movement in relation to running. Not just the human body, but that of many animals, too; examining everything from insects to wolves and antelopes. It was pretty interesting, to read how different animals utilize different energy sources and how their body mechanics work to specialize in certain aspects: endurance, distance, explosive speed, etc. Then Heinrich turns all this back on himself, and tries experimenting with his own body, in training for long-distance endurance runs. How far can he go? what type of fuel supplied when will his body respond to best? and at the very end, after he thinks he\’s figured it out, he runs a 100-kilometer marathon. Now, I\’m not a runner myself, so some of the parts about the sport I didn\’t really connect to. And sometimes the technical aspects of it, in how the body functions with things like oxygen intake, energy consumption, speed, effort, etc- could get kind of hard to get through- in that way it reminded me a bit of the bug book I read recently. But it was interesting regardless, particularly in the end where he started to tie it all together. I certainly learned a lot about the different animals that I never considered before, and a lot about how our bodies work, and what they are capable of. That part was amazing. If you\’re a runner, I\’d certainly say give Why We Run
a look!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 292 pages, 2001

a few more opinions at:
Jump the Stump
anyone else?

Memoirs of a Sansei
by David Mura

I picked up Turning Japanese at The Book Thing just because the title and cover looked interesting. It\’s written by a poet (one I never heard of or read before), a third-generation Japanese-American who recounts a year he spent in Japan with his wife. It sounded interesting at first, because the author professed to have grown up entirely American, and was curious to find his roots in Japan. Some parts that taught me bits of the foreign culture were interesting, others got too introspective for me. The author was constantly feeling smug about how for the first time in his life he could blend in just because of his looks, and how some things came naturally to him but not his wife (who was white) but then at other times he felt superior because of his American attitude. It was kind of confusing. And not much was very descriptive. I felt like I waded through pages of words without getting a real sense of what the Tokyo was like; there would be a little bit giving me a sense of the seasons, the crowds, the small spaces. But most of it seemed an endless recounting of parties where the conversations didn\’t make sense (to the author either it seemed) or his two-hour commute to classes with a master teacher- the dance parts were confusing too; I didn\’t understand the style of Butoh. I\’m sure I\’m just not the right reader to appreciate this book; it was really starting to bore me; I made it through just over a hundred pages before finding it tedious. Someone else may well like it better.

I\’m a bit curious what Mura\’s poetry is like, but not enough to go search it out. (It seems strange to me that while he felt distanced from his cultural roots, the poems he mentioned in the book were about things stemming from Japan; like the experiences his grandparents had in camps).

Abandoned…….. 373 pages, 1991

Anyone else read it? I\’d like to link to another opinion here, but can\’t find any.

by Philip Pullman

I\’m not sure I know how to talk about this book without giving stuff away; so if you haven\’t read it yet maybe you don\’t want to read this post.

Lyra and Will continue to follow their adventures through various worlds, pursued by various entities that either want to keep Lyra safe, use her skill with the symbol-reading instrument, or outright kill her to get rid of the threat she poses. But Lyra has her own plans and instead of heading straight for Lord Asriel\’s gathering to help his cause (and come under his protection), Lyra follows her own path, driven by guilt. She wants to find her friend Roger who died in the first book, and Will also wants to find his father, so together they make their way beyond the boundaries of all the worlds. This was my favorite part of the story. I loved how they dealt with the harpies, and that Lyra (such an admirable character, but nevertheless a deceitful lying child) finally found value in telling the truth. Later parts didn\’t thrill me as much- the battle was just a muddle and confusion for me- as battle scenes in reading often are, and even some parts I was looking forward to figuring out still puzzled me. I really liked seeing how Will and Lyra\’s relationship developed (although it was kinda odd to me how suddenly they were in love), and was glad that Mrs. Coulter met her end- that woman really disturbed me! Overall the book wasn\’t quite as good for me as the first two- it felt really long, and not as character-focused, but I still liked it a lot.

This is the one I couldn\’t read before. For probably the very reasons that make people want to ban the entire series- the idea of a controlling religion, battled against by the reasonable people in the world; it finally coalesces into an all-out war on heaven when one outrageously ambitious man plans to attack God himself and overthrow the rule of Heaven. Back ten or so years ago when I first approached The Amber Spyglass, I was still a very religious person and the idea -even in fiction- of God being just one presumptuous angel who set himself above all the others and made a bunch of rules to oppress people really bothered me. It made me quit. So in a way I can see why some find it uncomfortable, because I did myself once (but I still don\’t think the books should be banned).

However, none of that bothered me this time. I was wondering if it would, but my worldview is so different now and this time I just enjoyed it as a story. A different way of looking at things, and all in a different universe that doesn\’t exist anyways. In fact, I quite liked the ideas that were presented at the end, they fit more with my own current mindset now. But I was curious all the way through how Lyra would fulfill the prophecy- play the role of Eve, and how Mary Malone would be the snake. And whenever that moment happened, I didn\’t see it. Was the temptation that Lyra should leave more windows open? or stay with Will and one of them weaken? why didn\’t I see it? (someone please point it out to me I feels so dense).

And now perhaps I\’ve said too much rambling on about it, but there you go!

Rating: 3/5 …….. 518 pages, 2000

More opinions at:
Hooser\’s Blook
Paperback Pirate
Keep the Wisdom

I\’ve decided to count my used copy of The Golden Compass towards my Dogeared Reading Challenge. I\’m certain now that I want the series in my collection, but this copy is just going to have to get replaced as soon as I can find another. For one thing, the edges are so worn they\’re soft, the cover is separating from the binding, and it\’s got creases on the corners. But what bothers me most is that the spine doesn\’t seem to visually fit with the rest of the book. It looks like this:

A very generic look and what\’s with those red triangles? I just hate looking at it on the shelf. Doesn\’t match the others in appearance at all. So this one has to go! But it was great reading it. I\’m just so puzzled by that incongruous spine. Have you ever seen a book like that? Why would they print it like this?

Anyhow, it\’s my ninth book for the Dogeared challenge. Is anyone else still participating in this one? Do let us know about the sad (condition-wise) books you\’ve given one more appreciative read!

by Philip Pullman

Lyra\’s adventures continue in The Amber Spyglass, second novel in the His Dark Materials series. It has become clear not only to Lyra but also to many other figures in the story (who have their own plots and designs) that the boundaries between worlds are fragmented in places. People can step between different universes with unprecedented ease- though it\’s not always safe what they find. Lyra finds herself on a quest to help Will, a boy from another world (one more like ours) find his missing father and a small weapon of great power. Difficulties arise because Lyra, having become proficient in reading the golden compass, can be quite headstrong and have her own ideas about what course their paths should take. I\’m glad to see that near the end she learned her folly and buckled to the guidance of those wiser than herself, although I was really surprised she never asked for advice on how to heal Will\’s persistent wound (did this occur to anyone else?). Anyhow, their adventure takes many turns as they find themselves in another world where adults are preyed upon by unseen wraiths and children run wild, fleeing from a rich man who wants to steal their most prize possession, and battling a madman who holds the weapon which only Will can use. Lyra also gets more involved in research into the mystery of Dust, the implications of which are becoming more and more clear. One thing I really like about these books is that (so far) it\’s hard to tell exactly which side you\’re supposed to be rooting for. Who are the good guys, and who the bad? Each character seems to have their own motivations and nobody is just \”black or white\”. I like that. It makes the characters feel so real, and complicated. The storyline doesn\’t only follow the children but also shows events happening to other characters from the first book: the witches, the armored bear, the balloon man- all who have a part to play in what looks to be a great battle at the end (book three!) which I\’m eager reading towards myself now.

Those are just my quick thoughts. I wish I could say more in depth, but jotting this down in a bit of a hurry…

Rating: 4/5 ……. 326 pages, 1997

More opinions at:
Worthy of Note
Ace and Hooser Blook
Outside of a Dog
Eagle\’s Path


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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