Month: June 2014

by Ernest Thompson Seton

I thought this book was awfully familiar when I started reading it on my kindle on the plane; it wasn\’t until halfway through that I realized I had read it before in a different collection. It contains four stories selected from Wild Animals I Have Known. So it was an unexpected re-read; and I think I actually enjoyed it more the second time around.

The first story is about the wolf leader of a pack that preys on cattle, and all the ranchers\’ attempts to shoot or poison him. The wolf is finally brought down when they manage to kill a female from the pack and Lobo comes looking for his dead mate. The second story is about the lives of a grouse family, how the mother raises her young and the adventures of one grouse cock when it grows up. I was piqued by an apparent error: the story recounts how one by one young partridges are lost, only a few of the original twelve survive into adulthood. But after telling how the first three are lost, the number of chicks is suddenly seven. I kept thinking- wait, did I miss something? what happened to the other two? O well. A similar survival story is presented in Rags, about a young rabbit and how its mother teaches survival skills, the many ways to evade enemies. The final story is about a fox family, how the parents raise the young foxes until the male fox is shot for killing chickens. Then the den is discovered and most of the cubs killed; the last cub is chained in the farmyard where the mother brings it food and tries in vain to free it. The final, sad scene shows the mother fox killing her cub when she cannot release it from the chain- better it die than live a prisoner.

Reading the kindle edition I missed out on the illustrations, but found a sampling online. Here is one from each of the stories: the wolf Lobo and his mate Blanca, the baby grouse all in a row learning to drink, the rabbit Rags with its mother, the fox (delighted in watching a dog trying to unravel its trail I think).

Rating: 3/5    pages, 1899

by Ernest Thompson Seton

A hunter kills a sow grizzly bear and captures her two cubs. Passing fellow buys them and takes them to a ranch where they live in dull captivity, tormented from time to time by dogs urged to fight. For a show when the bear is larger he is put to fight against a bull but breaks loose and runs off. Learns to survive in the wild by preying upon sheep. One shepherd sees the bear\’s shadow thrown large in the firelight and is convinced it is a monstrous beast, a giant of all bears. His tall tales and the bear\’s predation on flocks bring various men to track him down, those efforts are all related. Finally the bear is hunted down by the very man who once kept him as a cub. The man doesn\’t recognize the bear, but something vaguely familiar in the man\’s scent causes the bear to turn away from the moment of conflict and do no harm. By now stories of the bear have spread far and wind, inciting interest and furor; through it all the bear just wants to be left alone. Men come out hunting him again and finally after many attempts they trap him. Caged in heavy iron, the book closes on a dull, hopeless scene of his misery. Better he had never encountered men at all, was my final impression.

It seems this bear actually existed (although Seton probably made up the events of his early life) and lived his final days caged in Golden Gate Park; this blog post has some drawings by Seton and a photo of the bear. I found more photos and information about the bear on this site as well. I read this book on my kindle.

Rating: 3/5      214 pages, 1904

by Elizabeth von Arnim

I had always wanted to read more von Arnim since loving her Enchanted April, and held off for a while after being disappointed with her dog memoirs. Similarly, I did not find Her German Garden quite as good as Enchanted April, but it was still very enjoyable. It was just not quite what I expected.

It starts out well enough, her lovely words about the beauties of the garden and musing on why no one else seems to appreciate it so much. Others pity her for being left alone in the very place she loves -they just don\’t understand. How she thrives on solitude and books and dearly loves her plants, would rather not even have visitors. She loves lilacs (so do I) and once filled the house with armloads of the flowers, so that the household staff were convinced she must be planning a party or at the very least expecting some guests. They were put out to find nothing of the sort! I enjoy all this very much. There is an oddly amusing passage where she sneaks into her cousins\’ garden to see what they have done with it since she was last there- it is apparent she doesn\’t like these cousins much, and is afraid of being found there, while reminiscing about gardens from her childhood. And of course there are all her efforts to compose a beautiful landscape with the plants, full of learning errors- although she doesn\’t actually get her hands dirty, merely directing the staff where to put plants she has selected.

There\’s another longer section about an English girl who comes to visit, a houseguest somehow forced upon Elizabeth; it becomes an extended stay lasting several weeks, even though no one in the household seems to like this girl much. She purports to be studying German culture in order to write a book, but her inquiries are either ignorant or insulting by degrees. Amusing all that, but not much about the garden. There there\’s some odd attitudes towards her own children expressed, and about women- her own gender! which reminded me that I was reading a book from a very different time. It was oddly disconcerting and uncomfortable for me, as I admired von Arnim so much before. I guess I don\’t know her very well at all. She also refers to her husband as The Man of Wrath- I was never sure whether this was in jest, or if they really had a bad relationship.

So- I liked most of it, but other parts confused me some, even though I did enjoy them for other reasons. I learned this was her first published work; maybe that\’s why it feels a bit disjointed to me, the writing voice always lovely regardless. I\’m determined to read it again in the future, and see if a bit of perspective will improve my reading experience.

I read this one on my kindle.

Rating: 3/5      207 pages, 1899

more opinions:
So Many Books
The Captive Reader
The Book Snob
Small World Reads

by William Kamkwamba

A remarkable story about a boy from Malawi, a poor village in rurual Africa, who built a windmill out of junkyard scrap- producing enough power to put lights and a radio in his family\’s home. But it starts out telling the story of his circumstance, which really opened my eyes. The daily struggle of poor farmers tied to the land, suffering incredibly when rain and crops failed them. He lived through famine and disease, his family surviving but left with no money for school. Burning with desire to learn, to know how things worked, Willima devoured books from the small local library, and experimented with things, taking apart and repairing radios. When he learned that windmills could generate power, he was fired with the idea to make one, to bring electricity and irrigation to his family and their village. At first his efforts were ridiculed; then people realized what he had done and the community came to stare in amazement at his achievement. They lined up to charge cell phones at his rigged outlets and draw water from his new well, pumped with wind power. He got the attention of journalists, became funded, travelled to New York (having never left his village at all before!), attended and participated in TED talks, gained his education, and returned home to continue building and inspiring people.

I was amazed at William\’s ingenuity, how he not only built the windmill, but wired it to his house, made wall switches and a circuit breaker from scrap materials, and tried many other inventions- some of course didn\’t work. But he didn\’t give up trying. Also opened my eyes to see how primitively the people live in many parts of the world, very hand-to-mouth, belief in things like witches and magic still strong- when things went badly in his village, some people actually blamed the windmill for causing it! As far as the writing goes, it is not particularly polished, but the substance of the story was what made this book great for me. I\’ve seen other readers complain that it took too long to get to the windmill part- the first half of the book being about William\’s life and his family\’s struggles; but the context that gave for his achievement made the story all that more powerful.

I picked up this book from a free stack at the public library. I finished reading it on the airplane, then swapped with a friend I met on my trip, for a book that sounds most intriguing: The Golden Spruce.

Rating: 4/5        290 pages, 2009

more opinions:
Bermudaonion\’s Weblog
SMS Nonfiction Book Reviews

by Russell Hoban

Like many kids, Frances the badger doesn\’t want to go to bed. She finds endless reasons to delay- needs a song, needs a drink, needs a special doll or toy to hold. Then of course keeps getting out of bed when she hears strange noises, and her parents patiently deal with all these interruptions to their evening. When even later in the night Frances wakes her sleeping father he finally looses his patience and reminds her that everyone in the family has a job to do- he has to go to work in the morning, she has to go to sleep now, and if she doesn\’t, she\’ll get in trouble. This time Frances finally stays in bed, finds a way to distract herself with little songs, and succumbs to sleep. Darling as always.

Rating: 4/5     48 pages, 1960

more opinions:
Saved by the Nap

by Russell Hoban

Frances understandably feels confused when her parents bring home her new baby sister. She is frustrated that the household doesn\’t run as smoothly as it used to, and of course feels left out when the baby gets more attention. She decides to run away- announcing this to her family- and after packing a bag retires to a cozy spot under the dining room table (not too far away from the kitchen, in case she runs out of cookies!) There of course she can overhear her parents talking in the living room where they discuss Frances\’ good qualities, how important big sisters are, how much they miss her, that it\’s just not a family without Frances around. So she runs home to a hug and agrees how nice it is to be the big sister. Very cute story, including the little songs that Frances makes up about her situation.

Rating: 4/5    48 pages, 1964

by Christopher Fry

I read this one because it was mentioned by a character in Tam Lin and sparked my curiosity. I don\’t often read plays, it\’s quite a different format for me. This one was both fun and thoughtful. It\’s set during the witch-trial era of New England. The two main characters are a disillusioned ex-solider who wants to die – he claims to have killed two men and thus deserves to be hanged, but no one believes him. At the same time, there is a woman named Jennet accused of being a witch; the crimes stated against her are ridiculous but the townsfolk insist she is guilty. So the story is mostly a lot of talk and it all takes place in one room but in spite of that is quite interesting. The background characters never really change their stance of believing that Jennet is a witch and basically ignoring Thomas\’ desire for assistance to meet death. But through the conversations that occur the soldier realizes that he really does want to live and moreover he is now in love with Jennet, so together they flee the town. I liked the irony of the play, even though I had to read it rather slowly as the old-fashioned phrasing sometimes took me a moment to figure out. It\’s one I want to read again someday, or better yet, see performed in the theater.

Rating: 3/5     95 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Reading the End
anyone else?


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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