Month: December 2013

by Mark Phillip Smith

This is one from the Barron\’s series, and follows the usual format. The first half of the book introduces the family of fish- which has a wide variety of forms, so that was a bit confusing. Then there is the obligatory aquarium setup and fish care information. The second half of the book is a listing of many many species, with nice pictures and little descriptions. Most just have scientific names listed, not the familiar terms I know. Some were new or undescribed species when the book was written, so they don\’t even have a common name. Maybe they have one now, I don\’t know. There are a lot of attractive species in here, but I\’ve realized I am not really interested in these kinds of fish. Although I might get a few for my tank they probably won\’t be the featured species. Thus about halfway through the book I just didn\’t want to read it anymore. The first part all felt redundant to me, so I was bored and skimming. The second half might have been more interesting, but it simply wasn\’t. I pretty much just looked at the pictures.

I borrowed this book from the public library.

Abandoned    95 pages, 2002

Pet Owner\’s Guide
by Mary Bailey

This book was surprisingly good. It covers all the basics, but doesn\’t just describe how to do stuff. Instead, the book focuses on the underlying principles regarding everything from water chemistry to filter choices to feeding the fish. I appreciated this, as I always like to know the why of things! Plus, she points out that you don\’t need fancy expensive equipment- old stuff often works just as good if you know what you\’re doing with it. There are helpful details in here about things like choosing and preparing decor for your tank, or adjusting new fish to your existing water parameters, that I haven\’t seen covered as well before. For example, I knew that fish need plants or rocks to hide among, for a sense of security. But I never thought that having a background on the tank will affect their \”psychological health\” as well. It gives the fish a sense of direction, the author says- open water and exposure to the front, shadows and security to the rear. Interesting. The pictures are all decent, explanations clear, and best of all, the author has a sense of humor. I actually found myself chuckling and reading passages aloud to my boyfriend. How often does that happen with a pet manual? This one\’s staying on my shelf.

I got this one from BookMooch.

Rating: 4/5   79 pages, 1998

ha ha ha
your suffering will never end
poor readers of my currently fish-obsessed-blog

Just kidding! But really, I do have a new influx of fish books. I requested some from the library that are housed in other branches, and then ordered a handful off Book Mooch with excess points I\’ve had floating around for ages. Because I thought I ought to have some reference on my own shelves, you know. And then yesterday my boyfriend surprised me with a gift of books (mostly about fishkeeping!) from a used book store he found just half an hour away. He said it\’s a wonderful place and he wanted to stay longer and he promised to take me there someday. I\’m so tickled!

See the books! (Two top left were swaps; I have three more to come)

You can see the subject matter easily. A few demand mention. My boyfriend is Dutch and he knows I like plants, so there\’s this book on the history of the tulip craze in Holland called, appropriately, Tulipomania which looks very interesting. Also, he found this Gray\’s Manual of Botany. I doubt this will be actual reading material, it\’s more of a reference- over 1,600 pages of identification in the form of detailed written descriptions and the occasional line drawing. Quite a tome. This one has a sense of discovery with it, as someone used it to press newspaper clippings and colored foil candy wrappers. I\’ve removed forty-six small papers from its pages so far. Not sure I\’ve found them all yet!

But the one I really treasure (and I haven\’t even read it yet) is this little red book with a lovely embossed illustration of a male swordtail on the cloth cover: Aquarium Fishes in Color.

It\’s from the sixties, and full of hand-painted color plates. I just love looking at it. A few samples:

by Norah Berg and Charles Samuels

Norah Berg lived in Seattle in the 1940\’s. She tells of her childhood in Montana, her move to Seattle, her life in boarding houses surrounded by various interesting neighbors. She became friends with a retired Marine, and their friendship grew into love. But they both struggled with alcoholism and eventually things became difficult so they took an offer to work in an oceanside resort and left Seattle for the beach. They dreamed of starting a new life, but things didn\’t turn out quite as expected. The resort was in shambles. Undaunted, Norah and her Sarge rolled up their sleeves and went to work. When eventually the resort work disintegrated, they found they had fallen in love with the ocean beaches and their new neighbors. Ocean City, at the time, was something of a shanty town. Shacks built of driftwood. Most of the people lived more or less off of the land, scavenging items off the beach to build and furnish their homes with, digging clams, fishing, occasionally hunting game in the lush, damp forest. There were lots of seasonal migrants who spent most of their time picking fruit in other Washington states, then came to winter on the beach. And plenty of ragged characters who had come there for the freedom to live how they liked. Norah slowly settled in and learned how to live comfortably enough, even though most of her homes over the years lacked modern conveniences (picture wood-burning stoves and outhouses at best), and of course there was always the rain and mud.

Besides the vivid picture of how the author made her life in a small, isolated community on the beach, there are lots of little stories about the various people she knew. Funny as well as sad. Norah and her husband tried very hard to overcome their drinking problem but for many years it caused a rift between herself and the ladies who lived in town (proper houses, not shacks!) I was pleased to read how she helped run the first public library Ocean City had. She eventually lost her position (too many hangovers). Years later she took up letter writing as passtime, writing in to radio stations and winning an astonishing amount of prizes. Eventually her letters got noticed by no less than Time magazine, and the fame that brought her flooded her little home with gifts from other readers- mostly books and magazines (she had written of how important reading material was to her neighbors in their poverty and isolation). Once again Norah opened a library, this time freely lending materials out of her own home. I liked that. I also really liked reading how she discovered gardening, and her wild, unplanned flower gardens attracted notice. The ladies in town finally deemed to befriend her then. Most of all, I appreciate how her story tells that even when they had little in way of possessions, Norah and her husband still loved life and felt themselves rich in many other ways. Her description of the wild beauty of the forests and beaches are wonderful.

While it is a lively story of a very particular time and place, this book is more than just that to me, because I also have family history in the very area she described. This book is a treasure to me even more than The Egg and I in that regard. I\’ve been to the beaches she talks about, driven through those little towns, have relatives in some of the areas she mentions. My father tells me that some of my relatives even know some of the people in this book.

My father so very kindly gave me this book, which I really appreciate as it\’s hard to find a copy.

Rating: 4/5     251 pages, 1952

more opinions:
Sara Ryan
anyone else?

by John Ajvide Lindqvist

This  was intense. I saw the movie version a few years ago (subtitled). The first thing that struck me about the book was that it goes into far more detail (of course) about the characers, and there are lots of minor characters whose lives weave into the storyline, which the movie left out entirely. I liked that. The book also, aside from the bloodiness involved in a vampire story, shows the plain ugliness of human nature- especially those who are lonely, desperate, bored- much more than the movie did. Not far into it I was about to set it aside, not wanting to read about lonely, drunken men who are pedophiles or kids who beat each other up- but there were other parts of the story that interested me so I kept reading. There is a prominent thread in the story about bullying, for example. The main character, Oskar, is a lonely bitter kid with divorced parents and few friends. He gets picked on mercilessly at school and dreams of revenge, has a fascination with serial killers. After striking up a tentative friendship with the strange girl next door he learns how to stand up to the bullies. But they don\’t back down, they just come back at him harder…. meanwhile a series of mysterious murders are happening more and more frequently, and the whole neighborhood becomes tense and suspicious. By the time Oskar realizes what is going on he feels more inclined to protect his new friend than anything else. There\’s all kinds of subplots going on here- the teenager whose mother\’s new boyfriend is a policeman involved in searching for the murderer. The handful of drunken men who hang out together doing practically nothing- they get roped in when one of their gang disappears. I don\’t really know how to say more about this, but that the look at a lonely and dysfunctional society was more interesting to me than the vampire aspect of the story. In the end it got too brutal for my taste and I doubt I\’ll read this again. Definitely creepy.

This is a pretty famous book, and a lot of reviewers have done it more justice than I. See the links below for just a few.

Rating: 3/5    472 pages, 2004

more opinions:
You\’ve GOTTA Read This!
Novel Reflections
Avid Reader
Vishy\’s Blog
Book Monkey Scribbles
The Ranting Dragon

by Stan Shubel

Guppies are not really my thing- I think they look so flamboyant with the long flowing tail all out of proportion to the body- but they are definitely popular, a common beginner\’s fish and readily available. I can see why people find them beautiful. And there are so many varieties, I actually found a few I do like (from the photos in the book)- the snakeskin patterns and short-tailed ones I think are very pretty (especially the blues).

Well, so this book like all others tells you how to set up an aquarium and take care of the fish, a little bit about their biology and behavior. No news there. I find it interesting how each of these fish books has a slightly different focus. The last one was all about being methodical and scientific- testing assumptions to find out what was really going on, or how to best do something. This book places emphasis on how relaxing and stress-relieving watching the fish in the aquarium can be- good for our own health in that way! Also, how beneficial it is to get children involved in fishkeeping at a young age. Mostly though, its focus was on genetics and breeding strategies. It seems the book was aimed at those who want to breed their guppies, so there was a lot of info on how to select good stock, and how to get the colors and tail shapes you want, and problems that might arise. Also, there was an entire chapter about guppy shows- how to get involved in them, select your specimens, ship them to the show, etc. I found all that interesting just because I know nothing about fancy fish shows! A downside to this book is that its focus is so wrapped around fancy fish breeding that unless you\’re into that, you might not find it very useful. I found myself getting bored with all the genetics stuff.

One extra feature was at the back of the book- a glossary describing terms about fish and aquarium keeping. It was so informative I found myself reading those pages just to glean some information, but at the same time I found it puzzling. I read the entire book in one sitting, and I\’m pretty sure some of those terms explained in the glossary were never actually used in the text of the book.

The book\’s serious flaw is that the pictures are not good. In a book like this I expect at least decent pictures, especially when you\’re talking about how beautiful this fish or that one is. But a lot of the photos were out of focus or had glare. And many of the images that had been cropped out of their background to float on a page had some terrible editing going on. Pieces of the tail missing, but you could still see the outline, where it was supposed to extent to. Patches of the body with the color all gone, texture of scales still there. Maybe their printing is bad but someone made a serious mistake on the pictures in this book, and it annoyed me. Exactly like the few I found in Aquaruiums, but here far too many.

Rating: 2/5     112 pages, 2006

An Informative Guide
by Ed Stansbury

This was by far one of the most interesting reads I\’ve had about fishes so far. It\’s written by a man who runs an angelfish hatchery, raising them to sell. Topics include the importance of water quality and how to maintain it (stressed throughout the book), proper diet and nutrition for angelfishes, genetics and breeding practices, raising the eggs and fry, how to cull the young fishes for marketability and to improve the breeding stock, and the control of diseases. All of this stuff in much greater detail than I expected, and very informative. For example, he describes exactly how packaged fish flakes are made, why certain commercial foods have better nutritional value, all kinds of information on other types of available food and how to raise your own live food (the part on culturing whiteworms reminded me of a lot of stuff I\’ve read about worm bins, and I believe some of the information is equally applicable to both- particularly in how the worms behave when something is out of balance in their bin, and how to remedy that). Another thing I found interesting was that the author believes filters are often misused and not really necessary if water changes are done frequently and properly- in some of his breeding tanks he doesn\’t use filters at all. I had never encountered this stance before. In the disease section, he not only describes how to recognize and treat certain diseases, but what the causes are, how the pathogens live and spread, and thus why preventative treatment is better than any cure.

It was quite scientific compared to the prior books, and I appreciated that when the author didn\’t know the answer to something, he suggested the reader conduct their own experiment and add to the body of knowledge! He describes doing so himself, experimenting with how many young fish can fit in a certain tank size before crowding or other factors inhibit growth rate, what kind of treatment works best for certain diseases, and how the frequency of water changes affects fish health (too often will cause them stress), for just a few examples.

I liked the book a lot because I used to keep a pair of angelfish myself, and even though they were in a twenty gallon tank I must have done something right, because once they attempted breeding. Of course I didn\’t know how to handle that and probably stressed the fish out with my intervention, but it was fascinating regardless. From reading this book I recall certain behaviors and other things about my long-ago angels, and understand them better now. They always bullied the few smaller fish in my aquarium (swordtails and cory catfish) which only makes sense- angelfish are a cichlid species, known for their aggression (even though they are so beautiful and peaceful looking!) Also, when my fish were older the eyes became red and I freaked out about this, I remember worrying that the fish was ill or infected and searching for information on a treatment. I shouldn\’t have been alarmed, red eyes are normal and vibrant color the sign of a healthy adult!

Rating: 4/5     142 pages, 2005

As I\’m reading lots of books about fish lately, it only seems appropriate to do a giveaway on a fish theme. So here\’s a pair of bookmarks featuring fish! Anyone want some free, custom handmade bookmarks? All you have to do is leave a comment. I will pick a winner at random next weekend. Happy reading!

by Claudia Dickinson

Yes, I\’m still reading books about fish! The more specific they are, the more interesting they get. Even though I\’m not planning on keeping cichlids yet, I wanted to learn more about them, so found this book at the library. The book went into more detail on things I hadn\’t read about yet, like how the aquarium hobby first started back in the late 1800\’s. There\’s discussion on hobbyist events and shows, and of course all things about cichlids. Their origins, biology, behavior, diet, environmental needs, personality, breeding and how they raise their young. I will never forget some of the unique physical characteristics of these fish- they have a double set of jaws and an interrupted lateral line, unlike most other fishes. (Now I look closely at every photograph of a cichlid to see if I can spot the break in the lateral line). I knew cichlids were renowned for their personality and interesting behavior, and learned a lot more about that in this reading. Of course the book also has basics on setting up a fish tank with a particular focus on the needs of cichlids. It went into more detail on the nitrogen cycle and proper establishment of good bacteria than I have seen before. A lot of the information on caring for sick fish, managing aggression, proper feeding and general husbandry can translate to other species as well, so I did learn some useful stuff. There are so many different cichlids the book could only highlight some of the more popular ones, but I think it a good introduction regardless. It would have been nice to know the names of the many others cichlid species shown in photographs earlier in the book. Overall it\’s a very well-written and informative guide on caring for these unique fish.

Rating: 4/5   112 pages, 2007

A Buyer\’s Guide to Tropical Fish
by Nick Fletcher, et al.

This is kind of a catalog of popular tropical fish (although a few can live in unheated aquariums as well). It\’s full of gorgeous photographs, a brief description of each fish species, an idea of its price, needs in terms of food, water parameters, habitat decor, companions (if any) and other helpful tips on its care. Most of the featured fish were by now familiar to me, although there were quite a few \”oddballs\” in the back I\’d never heard of before. At the very end of the book is a brief section outlining aquarium setup, fish introduction and water care maintenance. The authors include Mary Bailey, Ian Fuller, Nick Fletcher, Richard Hardwick, Peter Hiscock, Pat Lambert, John Rundle, Andrew Smith and Kevin Webb. I\’m sure I\’ve encountered some of them in prior fish books. Quite a lot of the text felt familiar to the point I think it was reprinted from another book I\’d already read (mainly the final section on setup- I recognized the pictures too).

I really only browsed through this book. The creatures are all so temptingly beautiful that early on I quit reading the details on every species and tried to focus my attention on just those that are suitable for my own aquarium parameters. After all the looking and reading, I find that I\’m still very fond of angelfish (I had them as a kid but my current tank isn\’t quite large enough) and my new favorite is the chocolate gourami. I love the way that fish looks! but it seems to be a delicate species so that one\’s not an option either.

Rating: 4/5    208 pages, 2006


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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