Month: December 2011

I was completely floored this christmas when my husband bought us a Kindle Fire! I never expected to have an e-reader, at least not anytime soon. I always thought I wouldn\’t like them, wouldn\’t like the reading experience. Of course I miss the feel of pages and the scent of paper, but I\’m surrounded by about six hundred paper books on shelves, so that\’s not really a gap in my life here. It was a different experience, reading on the kindle, but not as awkward as I\’d expected.

I\’ve never used another e-reader, so I\’m just comparing this experience to reading regular paper-bound books. The Kindle is small, easy to hold in the hand, but a bit heavier than I expected when I first saw it. In some ways it makes reading easier- I can prop it up and read hands-free, and it\’s easier to hold in one hand and use a thumb or finger to turn the pages, when I\’m nursing the baby and have my other hand supporting her. That\’s a struggle sometimes with a real book. I found turning the pages very easy and intuitive- you can do it either by sliding, or with a finger tap. I usually tapped. One of the features I really like is that you can tap on any word and pull up a definition, since the Kindle has a dictionary loaded onto it. I love that. You don\’t know how many times I\’ve wondered about a word but not wanted to stop reading, jotted down a list and by the time I got around to looking them up it wasn\’t contextual any more. It took me a bit of time to get used to navigating the book on the screen, you can\’t just flip through pages to see what\’s ahead for example. And I really didn\’t like the way photos were handled. This book had an insert of photos in the middle. I really enjoy photos in books. But here, though each photo and caption was given its own screen on the Kindle they were incredibly small. If you tap on the picture you could enlarge it to fill the screen, but then it was blurry. I was really disappointed in that. I think with all the tecnology we have out there, it should be simple for them to put good photos up when they\’re included in a text. I can put my own photos on my Kindle, and they look fantastic! Here\’s my older daughter:

The Kindle Fire also has email, games, and all kinds of other stuff on it. Which means everyone else in my house wants to play on it and I have to juggle with them for reading time! I imagine in the future I would love to take the Kindle on trips, because I can load numerous books on it and not worry about the luggage space. But it would also be a great thing to entertain restless kids on airplanes or long car rides, so maybe I wouldn\’t get to read on it anyways!

I was a bit worried about eyestrain, since my eyes get fatigued reading stuff on a screen too long. Discovered that if I adjust the screen brightness according to the light in the room, it\’s easier on my eyes. Contrary to what I originally thought, lowering the brightness so the screen is dimmer in dimmer light made it easier. I\’d never read on it in the dark, though, which I once thought might be cool. Nope. Have to have light.

I also found it felt like I was reading faster on here, than with a real book. Probably because the amount of text on each screen is less than on any regular book page (or so it felt to me) so I\’m turning pages more frequently. You can look at what percentage of the book you\’ve completed, but for me it didn\’t have the same sense of progress as looking at where my bookmark is in a block of pages.

So… overall I\’m pleased with the experience. I don\’t think the e-reader will ever replace real books for me; if I read a book I like on the Kindle I\’ll probably go buy myself a hardcopy rather than just own a file. It still feels more real to me. But I was pleasantly surprised at enjoying the experience and I will definitely use this thing, especially on trips. Yay!

by Irene Pepperberg

Even though he\’s so famous that the author had to devote the entire opening chapter (which I might skip next time, by the way) to how many people recognized and mourned his death, I never heard of this parrot until I saw other book reviews about it.  Alex and Me is about the author\’s work with him, training him to label objects with words and answer questions so she could delve into how complex his thinking process might be. I was pretty impressed with his accomplishments: correctly naming colors, shapes, textures, quantities. Learning to compare and categorize. Learning phrases from what students around him said and applying them to correct contexts. Showing understanding of the concept of zero. And more. A lot of the descriptions of how she taught him and how obstinately he often refused to do repetitive drills, reminded me of reading books on language experiments with apes. Much of this book is about Pepperberg\’s struggles in academia: trying to secure jobs, find funding, secure recognition from the scientific community, dealing with frequent moves and marital stress. It was interesting to me how particular she was with words in describing her project when seeking grants or giving lectures. For example, she wanted to be dissociated from the furor that was arising challenging the claims of those who taught apes sign language so she never said Alex learned words or names for things, instead she called them \”labels\”. Also curious was how little passion comes through these pages; she didn\’t seem to have a very close relationship with Alex, or at least didn\’t express it. In fact, she mentioned a few times how she tried to keep her distance from him so their relationship would remain a clinical one appropriate for the study. Understandable, but it made reading the book a little cold. Overall, I was very intrigued with the work she did with Alex and wanted to learn more. I\’m definitely going to try and find her other book The Alex Studies to read, it seems like that one goes into more depth and this book felt a bit lacking to me. I kept wanting more detail, more explanations, even more anecdotes than she provided.

After finishing the book I went on youtube to find videos of Alex talking, I wanted to hear his voice. I should have done it before I started the book so I could have had his voice in my head when I was reading!

Incidentally, this was the first book I ever read on an e-reader. I\’m going to discuss that experience in my next post.

rating: 3/5 …….. 240 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Book Coasters

One of the results of organizing my TBR was that I found more books I want to read- from poking around in the library\’s online catalog. Here they are, added to the list:

Horses Never Lie About Love by Jana Harris
Be Different by John Robison
Lonesome George by Henry Nicholls
Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens
The Wilder Life by Wendy McClure
Man O\’War by Dorothy Ours
Seashells: Jewels of the Ocean by Budd Titlow
The Way of the Tiger by K. Ullas Karanth
Oudrey\’s Painted Menagerie by Colin Bailey

a Year in the Vanishing Wilderness

by Erik Reece

This book has filled me with outrage, sorrow and disbelief. I knew a little bit about the atrocities of strip mining from watching a brief news report on it once, but I had no idea of the extent of the environmental damage and threat to human life, until I read this book. It wasn\’t one I was intending to read over the holidays, in fact I had to take a break for a few days there because it was making me so incensed. It was the subtitle that caught my eye off the library shelf, and then a bit of perusal inside the cover flap made me realize what the book was about, I felt I ought to read it.

Lost Mountain chronicles the disappearance of one particular mountain in the Appalacian range in Kentucky. The author visited the mountain once a month for a year, hiking up to the summit and wandering around the ridges to see how the mining was changing its landscape. Changing? Removing. Destroying. Annihilating. Strip mining, or mountaintop removal, is when instead of tunneling through the ground, mining companies use large machinery and explosives to blow the mountaintop away, in order to reach coal. Not only does it destroy the habitat, but tons of debris is illegally dumped into streams and valleys and chemicals leach into the groundwater. I didn\’t know this before, but the Appalachain mountains have one of the most diverse forests in North America in terms of both wildlife and plant life, and are considered our only rainforests. Many of those species are in decline. I kept shaking my head in dismay at the continual blatant disregard for safety or concern for others that these mining companies practice. Blasting too close to human habitation. People\’s homes getting ruined: foundations cracking, flying rock breaking things, piles of rubble and naked slopes causing floods and mudslides. Children getting sick from respiratory illnesses. People dying of cancer left and right. Overloaded coal trucks driving dangerously fast on narrow roads, killing people. Miners getting paid pittance, families starving, union organizers facing death threats. People who sue for damage to their homes and loss of lives, just getting ignored or threatened or sidestepped because the companies just claim bankruptcy and then open up again under a new name. I could go on and on. It\’s just disgusting. It had me incensed. I can\’t believe that in our country a few powerful companies can just go on destroying the landscape and people\’s lives because they have the muscle of money and power.

Augh! Well, the book itself was a pretty engaging read. It\’s set up in alternating chapters, between descriptions of Reece\’s hikes around the mountain and the progressive destruction he observed and chapters about events, health issues, lawsuits, how people in the region live, etc. The chapters are so brief they almost feel like essays, but they are also so intense I don\’t think I could read it in longer stretches. I appreciated that the author presented both sides- he met and spoke with mining workers and owners alike, and sat in on some town hall meetings where mining employees argued to keep the industry rolling because what would they do without the jobs? It is truly a sad situation. In the end, after the mountain top is gone and Reece can no longer climb to the summit, he files complaints with federal Office of Surface Mining, and visits the mine with inspectors to see if the groundwater is getting contaminated, and sees firsthand how they argue out of every environmental ill.

There were parts I liked. I liked the chapter about the flying squirrels, such marvelous creatures. It was really interesting to read about a re-enactment of Robert Kennedy visiting the community. I liked the inclusion of poetry by Wendell Berry, which I\’d never read before. And despite all I thought to the contrary, it even ended on a positive note: restoration of the land. The mining companies are supposed to restore the habitat, but the most they usually do is level the ground when they\’re done and seed it with grass, creating unnatural pastures up on the flattened mountain plateau. Reece reports that it would actually be easy to plant young trees, which can later be harvested for their wood and would hold back erosion better. It\’s even cheaper. It just doesn\’t look good as quick- little trees dotting the broken landscape are less impressive than a wave of green grass I suppose. So it was hard for the mining companies to be convinced that planting tree seedlings was better.

It was hard for me to assess from looking stuff up online if strip mines are actually following the procedures for reforestation. Looking online I found lots of sites that present a positive image of strip mining, with plenty of photos showing lush green forest growing where strip mines had been. But they predated this book so I wonder if some of these atrocities are still continuing.

I had a few small quibbles with the book itself, particularly a handful of typos I came across- break printed for brake, with for will, etc. They jumped right out at me. It\’s not a big deal, but it always bothers me a little bit to find that.

rating: 4/5 …….. 250 pages, 2006

more opinions:
Tree Hugger
Lake Loop

by Jo Coudert

This is a very pleasant and thoughtful little book. It reminded me a lot of Conversations with Amber, which is a favorite of mine. The author looks back on her years with seven different cats (she\’s owned quite a few more) and in describing their different personalities and behavior, draws parallels to how we human beings deal with life. It feels more like a book about living well and fully, than a book about somebody\’s cats. She talks about character, about patience, about building relationships. She discusses the effects of early childhood- whether secure and loving or stressful and abusive- in influencing one\’s outlook on life. She talks about having self-confidence, about the value of hard work, about breaking ruts of behavior, making positive changes in our lives, putting on appearances, being needy or self-sufficient, jealousy, meditation, etc. A wealth of insights and observations. It only helps that I happen to agree with or admire many of her sentiments.

I find it a bit amusing that she and I have completely different taste in cats, though. Meaning, how they look. I once fell into error by choosing a handsome cat from a shelter based solely on his looks- he turned out to be not right for our family (see below). Coudret, too, is pleased to have cats that are beautiful or striking in appearance, but our opinion on that differs. She likes stocky longhaired cats with luxuriant fur. I like lean, athletic cats with long, graceful tails. I\’ve always thought white cats with tabby patches were pretty. A cat comes into her house with all those qualities- lean, muscled, white with tabby patches, a long tail- and she is always mentioning how much a ruffian he looks, how scrawny and unkempt. I\’m thinking, I\’d like to see his photo! I bet I would find him a handsome cat.

Some readers might be a bit put off by her solutions to problems with a few of the cats- one that turned assertive and began spraying all over the house was relocated to a farm where he disappeared and no one knew his fate. I can sympathize, though- I had a cat once that was very aggressive to children and after trying for months to remedy the situation I gave him to a family without children, who lived on a large property where he could roam (he was a passionate hunter). The same day we took him to his new home, he bolted out their door and was never seen again. I still feel bad about it to this day, but also don\’t know what I would have done differently… Anyway, that\’s a tangent here. I liked Seven Cats and the Art of Living, so much that I want to find a copy for my own shelves.

rating: 4/5 …….. 192 pages, 1996

more opinions:
From the Recamier
anyone else?

Ever since I read Merry Hall, I\’ve found some of Nichols\’ sentiments on plants creeping into my own opinion. Especially in regards to the speckled or spotted laurels. He speaks of them repeatedly with contempt, saying they look sickly, works very hard to rid his property of them. Finally I went online and looked them up. And instantly recognized the plant.

Soon after moving here to Virginia, I had noticed a shrub that grows in many people\’s yards. It has large, pointed bright green leaves with paler green or yellow speckles on it. They look rather tropical (to me) but keep their leaves right through the winter. I always wondered what they were. Now I know: spottedd laurels! I was familiar with solid-colored laurels from back home, my mom\’s yard has a nice hedge of them- but these were something new. I always looked at them with curiosity before.

But sadly, since Nichols influenced me, I can\’t help but look at them with distaste. Every time I see one, I think it looks ill, diseased. Just because of the spots. Just because of how Nichols went on and on about them.

 Am I alone or have you ever had an author\’s (or character\’s) opinion affect your own in real life?

by Jenna Woginrich

This book continues where her previous one left off. Woginrich continues to strive to live her dream of homesteading. She moves into a new place, a rented cabin in a small community in Vermont. Continues gardening, raising chickens and rabbits. Adds sheep, ducks, geese, a turkey, a goat and a sheepdog to her little farm. Most of the book is not really details about the animals, or even about her efforts to raise her own food. For all she loves sheep, I learned more about what it\’s actually like to keep them from this other book. There\’s not much mention of her practices of animal husbandry, for example, until she has to defend someone\’s accusations on how she keeps them. There\’s hardly any mention of the garden, except for that she has one. It came across to me that the focus was her emotional journey. She talks a lot about her longings, dreams and plans, and then describes how she goes about acquiring them. There are welcoming neighbors who help her along the way, and suspicious ones who report her (unfounded) for animal cruelty. In the end, she discovers she can\’t stay forever at the cabin and undergoes a frantic search for a piece of land to own.

Barnheart was a quick, focused read. I really admired the tenacity which she had, to stick to her goals. She didn\’t mind if she looked odd to her neighbors (or even her own family) but just went ahead and found classes in the things she wanted to learn, found someone to trade sheep with her, found friends who liked fiddling, neighbors who helped her build a sheep shed, a whole community of people living the same kind of lifestyle (with a surprising variety of backgrounds). Her enthusiasm is catching, her honesty refreshing, her love for this way of life very obvious. I enjoyed reading her little book and have recently subscribed to her blog so I can follow along with her doings. I don\’t know if I\’ll ever have a homestead (or even if I want to) but I do love gardening, and want to have a few chickens someday (maybe rabbits too) so it\’s nice to see someone living that dream and far beyond it.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 184 pages, 2011

I\’ve spent the last week or so organizing my TBR list. The main focus of my task was to separate the list into the books I can find at my local library, and those that are unavailable. I don\’t know how many times I\’ve gone to the library with a list of titles I was currently interested in, only to find most of them weren\’t in the system. Frustrating. So I\’ve looked them all up and now know that even if I have to wait for something to travel from another branch, at least all the books on this list are there. It\’s satisfying to know that.

The list of books not at the library, dubbed TBR etc, is full of titles I\’ll just ignore for now. Someday I might search for them on swap sites, or purchase those I really really think I\’ll like, but I have no idea when. I\’ve had a policy for a long time of borrowing books to read before I decide buy them, to keep the number of purchases down. It would be hard to start breaking that habit, especially where there\’s still so much on the regular TBR that I can still read at no cost.

I\’ve also sorted the list a little more, especially with the nonfiction books, to make finding things easier. I\’m not quite sure how to sort the fiction, which is the next-longest segment of the list…. It was interesting to see how the list broke apart when I started searching the library\’s catalog. About half the classics and nonfiction I want to read are available. Most of the YA books, two-thirds of the fiction and fantasy are available too. But less than a third of the animal books I\’m interested in are. It was also eye-opening to go through the entire list in detail. I\’m eager again to read many books I had completely forgotten were on my list. I found quite a few books that I\’d read and not removed. And a number that were in the wrong place- fiction titles listed as memoirs, for example. Now it all feels tidy, and much more accessible. The list is not nearly so intimidating anymore. It feels manageable. I rather believe I might actually read all these books someday.

It will add an extra step whenever I add a bunch of titles to my TBR, because now I\’ll go look them up in the library catalog first. But I\’m hoping it will save me some time and frustration down the road.

by Kingfisher

Yet another cute board book we found at the library. This one shows a close-up of a baby farm animal- the chick\’s feet, pig\’s curly tail, a lamb\’s bright eye- gives a clue about the animal\’s identity and hints that the child guess \”who is my mommy?\” The following spread shows each baby animal with its mother and identifies their different names- chicken and chick, sheep and lamb, horse and foal etc. It\’s utterly charming, a great introduction to familiar animals, their mothers and some typical characteristics each have, from the goat\’s silky beard to the lamb\’s wooly coat. Six animals are shown, with nice clear photographs. Animal Babies on the Farm is a hit with my child.

rating: 4/5 ……. 28 pages, 2005

by Vicky Creelen

This is the first book that ever got my baby\’s attention. Baby! Baby! has no words, just pictures. Each spread shows a baby and on the other page an animal. There\’s always a similarity between the two- posture, expression or activity. It\’s fairly large for a board book, so the baby faces are nice and big and catch your little one\’s attention. My kid loved looked at the faces, and it was easy to make up some words telling her what was going on: \”oh, look at this baby with his legs all bent like a froggy\” or \”this baby is sitting up like a big ole gorilla!\” My daughter\’s favorite page is the one where a kid sticks out his tongue next to a yawning lion also showing its tongue. I like the one near the end where a baby holds his head high (seen against the blue sky) aside a giraffe also holding its head high. Or the one where a baby sleeps with his hands tucked under him, and a kitty sleeps with its paws tucked just so- they both have just a bit of tongue peeking out, too. The only picture we don\’t really appreciate is the caterpillar, juxtaposed with a baby lying on the floor on his tummy, arching his back. Both babe and caterpillar look really small on the page, and it\’s not nearly as engaging for the child. Overall this is a wonderful collection of pictures, arranged so nicely. You\’d be surprised how much a kid can look like a turtle\’s face!

On Flickr you can see some of Creelen\’s paired photographs. (They aren\’t all in the book- that only has eleven pairs). And I noticed that some other reviews say it\’s baby faces next to baby animals, but the animals are definitely not all babies- about half are grown.

rating: 4/5 ……. 24 pages, 2008

more opinions:
Young Readers
Maya Reads
Readia: Children\’s Book Reviews


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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