Month: October 2013

culpable book bloggers duly noted below

Animal Wise by Virginia Morell from At Home with Books
Still Alice by Lisa Genova- Caroline Bookbinder
The Last Banquet by Jonathan Grimwood- Farm Lane Books Blog
Mr. Penumbra\’s 24-Hour Bookstore by Robin Sloan- books i done read

Shaman by Kim Stanley Robinson- The Lost Entwife
A Dog So Small by Phillipa Pearce- Things Mean a Lot
Touch Not the Cat by Mary Steward- Indextrious Reader
Airs Above the Ground by Mary Stewart- A Work in Progress
A House in the Woods by Kai Fagerstrom- very unlikely it seems, that I’ll find this

by Thornton W. Burgess

A bit of different focus for a Burgess story, this one is about the hound dog that lives on the farm. Bowser is feared by many of the forest creatures, and an annoyance to the fox and coyote, who can outwit him but are bothered when he chases them for miles, which he loves to do. One day the coyote determines to get rid of Boswer by leading him on a long run, confusing him and leaving him lost far from home. This works well, and for quite some time the other animals enjoy a respite from the dog\’s presence at the farm and in the surrounding woods. In particular, the fox quickly discovers that Bowser is missing and launches new raids on the chicken house. Blacky the crow, however, finds the dog when he is injured and disorientated, and feels sorry for his plight. He helps the dog locate a populated farm, where he gets temporarily adopted and cared for. Later, the crow tricks the fox into showing Bowser the direction of his old home, and the reunion when he meets the farmer\’s boy again is joyful.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 96 pages, 1920

by George Orwell

This is the second or third time I\’ve read this book; you can read my earlier post of it here. I found that my memories of it had gotten quite mixed up with Jack London\’s People of the Abyss. Orwell\’s book is much narrower in scope than I had recalled; it details mainly his fruitless searches for work in Paris and finally landing a few jobs- first scrubbing dishes in the basement of a \”nice\” hotel, then working in a poorly-run restaurant (the source of my revulsion, it was much worse conditions than the hotel, which I had remembered incorrectly). In between jobs he scrapes pennies, pawns his clothes, follows up useless leads, and often just lies around bereft of energy due to hunger. The second half is about his time spent as a tramp in London, when he showed up for a job that did not materialize for several weeks. Having nowhere to go and no money he slept in various charity wards, other homeless men showing him the ropes. He analyses the system of public assistance (such as it was in his day) from the perspective of the recipients, makes suggestions for its improvement and most of all, lays bare how insulting and demeaning the offers of aid can actually feel to men in dire straits.

I had forgotten completely that the book opened with an unsavory scene where a friend of his pays a nun for the privilege of raping a girl- or so it seemed to me; the scene was more suggestive than than explicit. I think if I had been a bit more of an astute reader the first time around, this would have put me off the entire book! More interesting to me than the narrative itself this time around, what what I gleaned from the introduction. I did not realize before, for instance, that Orwell used a pen name. His real name is Eric Blair, and he assumed a pen name because his parents were appalled that he wanted to be a writer. I also found interesting the descriptions of how much he had to edit out swearwords from the original text, and the variations between the French translation and the English version. Orwell\’s own little list of local slang terms he encountered on the streets and their various meanings intrigued me as well.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 230 pages, 1933

more opinions:
Much Ado About Books
the Oddness of Moving Things
another cookie crumbles
wandering walls

by Keith Ridgway

I seldom, nowadays, purchase an unfamiliar book from a shop. Usually try to read them first, from the library. This one was an exception, and even more exceptional, I started reading it that very same day and couldn\’t put it down. Animals is one of those curious, amusing and disturbing books that makes you wince and laugh aloud at the same time. Or at least, it did for me. On public transit, no less!

It\’s all about the disintegration of an unnamed character. He is an illustrator but does not draw much during the short course of the novel; however the frequent references to his manner of thinking, desire to sketch things, assessment of good pens, fears of being unoriginal and such felt like very familiar territory to me, so I enjoyed that. As the title would have you guess, he has quite a few encounters in his big-city environment with animals; they are all unsettling, and he worries and frets about his reactions to each. He muses internally a lot, over decisions that haven\’t even been made. His inner monologue reminded me a lot of Holden Caulfield. Also like Catcher in the Rye, the book covers just a few days, or perhaps a week, turning around and around.

The main events are not really solid events at all, and before long you start to wonder how much in just in the narrator\’s mind, and not really occuring at all… It starts when the illustrator is disturbed at seeing a dead mouse in a gutter and examines it in detail; he is fascinated and upset at his friend\’s description of a haunted building; he gets locked into a public park after hours and has a run-in with an amicable policeman; he has an encounter with a famous woman which goes all wrong; he has an inexplicable row with his partner and bunks with various friends for a few days, but that all goes awry as well. His friends are experimental artists, architects and writers, all very interesting characters in their own right. One, which never ceased to amuse me, was a man who had created an elaborate imaginary country (centuries of detailed history and all) for the sake of writing anonymously about politics but had never yet penned a political novel; our narrator bluntly points out flaws in this fabricated world and causes that friendship to go sour as well. Threaded through it all is a fascinating look at societal norms and blunders, an examination of details that often go unremarked.

I was reminded somewhat of Animal Crackers.

The ending took me completely by surprise. I didn\’t know what to think. It made me realize how utterly unreliable this narrator was. How much of what he related was just imagined? It\’s one of those endings that makes you sit and flip your brain back and forth: did what I think just happened, really happen? I was doubly frustrated because I also wanted to know, of course, what happened to his partner, if it really was what the narrator had suggested, because his memory turned out to be unreliable as well. I\’m definitely going to have to read this book again to see if I can pick it all apart and read between the lines better.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 265 pages, 2006

more opinions:
anyone else?

by Thornton W. Burgess

This little book is about some things that happen to Blacky, a crow in Burgess\’s community of talking wildlife. There are some daily doings of Blacky as he moves about searching for food, pestering his neighbors, rousing up his flock to mob larger birds of prey, acting with great curiosity and caution when he finds new things, and other typical crow behavior.

There are three storylines, and they don\’t quite fit together well. The first story tells how Blacky discovers that the owls have set up housekeeping very early in the spring, and he tries to find a way to steal the owls\’ eggs to eat. Unable to get them by himself, he enlists the (unknowing) help first of his fellow crows, then of the farmer\’s boy. Neither plan succeeds, and Blacky is frustrated that the boys\’ recent change of heart (which I still have yet to pinpoint in the chronology of these little books) causes him to relent at the last moment and put back the owl eggs, instead of keeping them for his collection.

Then the timeline suddenly jumps to fall and we have a new storyline about Blacky getting involved with two different groups of ducks, warning them from the threat of hunters. The second little duck flock doesn\’t listen and further concerned, Blacky tries to get rid of the hunter himself but fails. So he alerts the farmer\’s boy to the hunter\’s presence and then watches to see what the boy will do. This kid has a very strong moral sense; because the hunter is on public land and has a right to be there, the boy doesn\’t feel like he can rightfully tear down the hunter\’s blind. He finds another way to spoil the man\’s hunting and save the ducks.

The final story is again about eggs. Blacky spies two eggs in a hen\’s nest just inside the door of the henhouse and is tempted to steal them, although normally he would not dare approach so close. He is greedy and takes the larger of the two eggs, and then finds out later to his anger and dismay that he has been duped. I chuckled at this story. Blacky stole a fake egg which was put there to coax the hen to lay. The crow realizes his mistake and after being thoroughly upset, he then treasures the egg as a pretty object, part of his collection of shiny things.

Well. I did like these stories. They are a bit repititious and stuffed with moral lessons as usual for Burgess, but I don\’t mind. I did find the arrangment odd, that the storyline suddenly jumped from early spring into fall, but that\’s a small matter too.

Rating: 3/5 ……… 80 pages, 1920

by Witi Ihimaera

I recall when I first saw the film made from this book, several years ago, and how moving it was. It\’s the story of a Maori community on Whangara, set in modern times. Reading it, there is a distinct familiarity to The Bone People (the local language and customs) and the role of a young man being friend and protector to a little girl reminded me a lot of the books with Fynn and Anna. That\’s one of the main differences between film and movie; that in the book the story is told from the viewpoint of Kahu\’s young uncle, even though to me she still seemed to be the main character.

Kahu loves her grandfather and is anxious for his attention and approval but he dismisses her entirely for being \”a mere girl.\” He is looking for a boy child to be born into the family line and become the next leader. Kahu is shunned from the gatherings where Maori culture and ancient songs are taught to the young boys, but she sneaks near and listens anyways. She absorbs the old ways like no one else, but it goes practically unnoticed. When a group of whales becomes stranded on the beach nearby, the event feels catastrophic to the islanders, who see the whale as an important figure in their cultural heritage. They feel it is a sign of  impending doom and work frantically to return the whales to the water, but all their efforts seem to be in vain. Kahu steps forward against the voices of the men, and proves herself attuned to nature and the power of the Maori ancestors.

I liked this story well enough, although some parts were a bit of a stretch of the imagination (namely, the segments that showed things from the whales\’ point of view, and some of the things that happened when Kahu connected with the whales). But the great frustration for me was the frequent inclusion of Maori words in the narrative. There were so many words and phrases, it made my reading very choppy and I often misunderstood or just guessed at the meaning of entire conversations and fragments of paragraphs. I had the great misfortune to read an edition that has no glossary whatsoever. It is a must in this situation! I would not have minded at all to constantly flip to the back to find the translation of things; I actually enjoy the inclusion of foreign words in narratives about a different culture. But in this case I felt like I had to constantly read adjacent to a Maori/English dictionary online, and that was very annoying.

It\’s the whole reason I didn\’t enjoy this book. I have no desire to read it ever again, without a glossary included. Then I might be able to immerse myself into it more, and even like it.

Rating: 2/5 ……… 122 pages, 1987

more opinions:
the Book Coop
forest of paper
Fifty Books Project
Little Bonobo\’s Book Cafe
a strong belief in wicker

by Alan Weisman

Imagine humanity suddenly vanished from the earth. Wiped out by a virus, raptured up, abducted by aliens, whatever. How would the Earth recover? Would it, at all? How long would the effects of changes we have wrought here last, how long would edifices we had built remain (perhaps for future intelligences to discover and puzzle over)? Weisman explores all these questions in detail, including the variables between how things would differ if we had time to turn stuff off before we disappeared. In the process, he makes very clear how terrible the things we have done are, and thus it became one of those books that both fascinated, educated and absolutely horrified me.

I learned about vast storage spaces underground (some dug into salt domes!) that harbor extremely toxic and volatile waste. I learned about how huge the explosions and radioactive fires would be if our chemical production and nuclear energy plants were suddenly unmanned. How quickly the subterranean transport systems around the world would flood, how the tweaking we have done with animal and plant genetics would spread (or not) through biological gene pools. I have a new loathing of plastics, now. I never again want to purchase a plastic product that cannot be recycled onto something else. Because plastics are not part of nature. They break down smaller and smaller until you cannot even see them, but they never biodegrade. This means that in the ocean, the little plankton and microscopic filter-feeders are dying of constipation when they eat teensy plastic bits. And what happens when the base of the ocean\’s food chain ALL DIES? I am horrified. I think we should worldwide quit creating any new plastics right now and only reuse what is extant. My kids? I am buying them no more plastic toys, unless they are obviously recyclable. Wood, cardboard, even metals are fine. NO PLASTICS! *

I do have a new fondness for copper and sculpture, by the way. I have always been fond of copper, it\’s my favorite metal (um, how many other people have a favorite mineral?) And I\’ve always liked sculpture, but now that I know that bronze will far outlast (thousands of years) all the paintings in the world, my appreciation for this art form is even more heightened. Parts of this book are even encouraging. The sum conclusion is that even though we have overburdened and contaminated and poisoned and denuded our beloved Earth, it will eventually recover. Life will survive, even if we don\’t, and become something new and interesting again.

And all that is just barely scratching the surface. Read this book!! It has given me so much to think about and bolstered my resolve to even more environmentally conscious in my purchases and actions and eating habits that in my own small way, affect our Earth.

*After writing this little rant on plastics, I did a search and found several ways old plastic toys can be recycled. I can\’t just throw them in the recycling bin and there isn\’t a toy recycling center option here. Other than reusing for craft projects or donating those in relatively good condition, the most useful option seems to be downcycling, where plastics are used as filler in other materials. Even that doesn\’t seem to be the best thing either, though…

Rating: 4/5 …….. 416 pages, 2007

more opinions:
A Variety of Words
Green Fudge
Amateur Earthling
think or swim
Science Book a Day
book of joe


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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