Apr 26, 2016

TBR 60

books books books books books books books!
Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates- So Many Books
Vegetable Literacy by Deborah Madison- Commonweeder
Being Mortal by Atul Gawande- Bermudaonion's Weblog
We Love You, Charlie Freeman by Kaitlyn Greenige- Reading the End
Headcase by Cole Cohen- Caroline Bookbinder
The Book of Speculation by Erika Swyler- Bermudaionion
The Penguin Lessons by Tom Michell- Bermudaonion
Dreamsnake by Vonda McIntyre- Opinions of a Wolf
The Atomic Weight of Love by Elizabeth Church- Caroline Bookbinder
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren- Sophisticated Dorkiness
The Cabaret of Plants by Richard Mabey- So Many Books
Mort(e) by Robert Repino- Caroline Bookbinder
One Thousand White Women by Jim Fergus- Caroline Bookbinder
Hit by a Farm by Catherine Friend
Smile by Raina Telgemeier- Melody's Reading Corner
The Portable Veblen by Elizabeth McKenzie- So Many Books
Icefall by Matthew Kirby- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tales
Memoirs of a Midget by Walter De La Mare- James Reads Books
Under the Influence by Joyce Maynard- Bermudaonion

Home Ground by Allen Lacey
Findings by Kathleen Jamie- Read Warbler
The Essential Earthman by Henry Mitchell
The Fate of Mice by Susan Palwick- Snips and Snails
Gone to Croatan by James Koehnline
The L-Shaped Room by Lynn Reid Banks- Shelf Love
We Took to the Woods by Louise Dickinson Rich
The Subversive Stitch by Roszika Parker - The Indextrious Reader
Maxwell's Ghost by Richard Frere- Vulpes Libris
Out in the Midday Sun by Elspeth Huxley
Counting Sheep by Phillip Walling- Farm Lane Books Blog
Wild Heart by Anne Neimark
Dragon Trials by Ava Richardson- Snips and Snails
Joy Adamson: Behind the Mask by Caroline Cass
Too Late the Phalarope- Alan Paton
It's All in Your Head by Suzanne O'Sullivan- Farm Lane Books
Being a Beast by Charles Foster
Everything is Teeth by Evie Wyld- Farm Lane Books Blog
Exotic Aliens by Valmik Thapar
Off Leash by Daniel Potter- Snips and Snails and Puppy Dog Tails
Fox Tossing, Octopus Wrestling and Other Forgotten Sports by Edward Brooke-Hitching

Apr 25, 2016

The Curse of the Good Girl

Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence
by Rachel Simmons

This book is about teaching girls to be true to themselves. The first half shows examples of learned behavior patterns that can be problematic because girls use them to diminish their feelings, avoid confrontation, deny culpability, sidestep real issues between friends and so on. All in the name of being "good"- nice, apologetic, demure and selfless. At first I thought it was ridiculous, the idea of good behavior becoming a negative thing, but the author makes the case that it's about putting on a good appearance at the cost of everything else that can be a problem. Which leaves girls unable to resolve issues, communicate effectively, speak up for themselves or even recognize when relationships need improvement. She sees serious trends of girls unable to accept and build upon criticism, girls who apply all-or-nothing rules to their friendships and then carry those on into professional settings later in life, which only hinders them. The author systematically examines the "good girl" ways of being that are problematic, and then describes how to go about learning different patterns of behavior that enable girls to be more forthright, confidence and sincere. Using examples from real situations that came up with girls who attend her workshops (often with their mothers) she shows how to work through it. There's no perfect answer, but there are better ways of finding them. I saw myself a lot in this book. And my daughter. I hope I absorbed enough of it to attempt making some changes of my own for the better.

I borrowed this book from a friend.

Rating: 4/5        278 pages, 2009

more opinions:
A Striped Armchair
Betty and Boo Chronicles

Apr 19, 2016

Biomimicry

Inventions Inspired by Nature
by Dora Lee

I picked up this book at the library just because the cover and title caught my eye. It's a book about human inventions that were inspired by things present in the natural world. Some of them I already knew about, even if when the book was written they weren't actually made yet, just being researched. There are robotic hands now, that move realistically. Tiny machines that mimic the flight mechanism of insects. I knew about the observation of cockleburs that inspired the invention of velcro, and I'd heard of nanobots that can carry information into the body the way viruses invade. But I didn't know before that wind tubines have bumps on the leading edge of the blades, like a humpback whale does on its fins to avoid stalling in the water during sharp turns. I didn't know of this building in Zimbabwe which has an air-conditioning system inspired by termite mounds (this interesting article refutes some of the science behind it), or that bullet trains were quieted by modelling their noses after a kingfisher's beak- so very streamlined they enter the water with hardly any splash. I'd never heard of a device that collects energy from the motion of ocean waves, even though it was conceptualized before 2008!

That's just a small sampling of the material in this book. There's a lot to spark curiosity and admiration. I didn't mind that the examples were brief- after all, it is a kid's book. I did wish that they were identified more clearly, or had a listing in the back of where the sources came from. However all the things I wanted to know more about, I found easily enough with a brief search online.

Rating: 3/5      40 pages, 2011

Apr 17, 2016

The Camel Bookmobile

by Masha Hamilton

An Irish-American librarian promotes a project that will take books to remote, semi-nomadic tribes in East Africa. More than that, she travels to Kenya to see the project first-hand, and accompany the books into the bush. The mobile library travels by camel, the only reasonable mode of transportation in the area. I kind of hoped this story would be about culture and place, but it is mostly about people. How the arrival of library books in the dusty village of Mididima affects distinct characters in very different ways. To the American woman it is a way to spread literacy and bring the modern world to a 'backwards' area. The African librarian from Nairobi (who is in charge of the actual books) is a lot more skeptical about the program's success. While the children of the village see the arrival of foreign books as something new and exciting, many of the adults in Mididima view them as a threat to their way of life and culture. Or merely as ridiculous for their lack of application to the situation (what good is a cookbook to a tribal villager, who doesn't even know what most of the ingredients listed are, much less have access to them? what good to their children a book about pop stars in England?) While the American woman realizes a lot of the books are useless or inappropriate in context, she still insists on the importance of the literacy program. One village woman uses the bookmobile's arrival time for clandestine meetings with a man who is not her husband- as nearly the entire village is then gathered around the camels. A young girl sees the library as an avenue for her to escape to Nairobi and further opportunities. The village schoolteacher, the drum-maker, the elders who lead the tribe, they all feel the implications of foreign ideas introduced via the camel library. But there is another person in the village who sees the books as a tool for something quite different. This boy was mauled by a hyena as a child, and is feared and shunned for his disfigurement. One day when the camels come to retrieve the library books, he does not return the two he had borrowed. This would seem insignificant, but to the Nairobi librarian it is a great offense, and to the villagers possibly calamitous, as it brings shame and fault upon them, and they expect severe retribution from the elements... Due to the (fictional) quotes at the head of some chapters, I really thought mosquitoes (or some disease brought by them) would figure in some key event in the story, but that never happened. I suppose they were merely symbolic.

An interesting story. Of course I liked the bookish aspect and the wide view of the very different things a mobile library could mean to so many people. I was surprised and pleased at what turned out to be the boy's use of the books, even though it meant they were destroyed. And the reactions that got. And the ending- it was not a pat, feel-good ending like I expected, but fairly realistic. I enjoyed the story and its implications, but the author's light writing style is not quite my thing. So while I liked it for an easy read, I won't be keeping this one (it came from a thrift store).

There is a real travelling camel library in Africa that inspired this novel. You can read more about it on African Library Project and at the Camel Book Drive.

Rating: 3/5       308 pages, 2007

more opinions:
Book Chase
Jenny's Books
Book Clutter

Apr 8, 2016

American Girls

Social Media and the Secret Lives of Teenagers
by Nancy Jo Sales

This is one of those books that gets a high mark form me not because it was an enjoyable read, but because it is an important one. The author reports on what she found after crossing the country interviewing girls ages thirteen to nineteen. She sat with them in public places or in their homes, with groups of friends or with their parents by their side. She went to parties and beaches and bars with them. She talked to kids in middle school, high school and college. Mostly she asked them questions and listened to stories regarding how social media is affecting their lives. It is definitely eye-opening and disturbing.

This book makes me feel old. I never was part of the larger social scene at school, but even I can tell that things have changed drastically from when I was a kid, to what is portrayed in this book. It sounds like kids no longer really go on dates, they no longer hang out to just get to know each other or have fun. They do most of their communicating online, and it a constant thing. Its a constant competition, with girls involved in posting pictures of themselves in a heightened striving for popularity. Boys viewing porn at a very young age and assuming what they see is what girls want in terms of intimacy. This really screws up their understanding of what relationships should be like, and from all reports, it is terrible for girls' self-image. There's a lot more in this book, about substance abuse and underage drinking, about obsessions with appearances and the number of 'likes' received on social media platforms. But most of all the large message that leaped out was: kids are exposed to way too much, way too early and it is changing their lives in ways we don't really understand yet.

What's really confusing to me are some opinions the author reports finding among women. That they feel like exercising their right to show off their own bodies and be 'confident' in how they look is feminist. But it sounds like they wind up objectifying their own selves- and when boys treat them in a degrading manner in response to that, they either end up with crushingly low self-esteem (leading to suicide attempts) or train themselves to not care, making the experience of casual encounters even more meaningless. They sound dissatisfied, bitter, cynical, unhappy, stressed, lonesome and even wistful for the past they see depicted in movies made in my day- when kids asking each other out and dating (not just 'hooking up'), was the norm.

It's all very sad and distressing, and electrifies me with urgency to talk with my kids about the dangers of getting caught up in this kind of vicious online battlefield of compromising pictures and comments- all the backstabbing, blackmail and reputation smearing that can happen. Once you put something out there, you can never take it back. I just don't know if telling my kids will be enough.

Rating: 4/5       404 pages, 2016

Apr 2, 2016

end of the Dare!

Completed the TBR Dare yesterday! I read twenty books, but added quite a few new ones to my shelves, so it didn't really clear any space off. I still have several stacks piled on the floor. It was nice to get through them. They were not all keepers, but I didn't abandon any, so at least all were good reads. I think my favorites of the lot were My Weeds- very informative! and Cry, the Beloved Country- a book I'd had for a very long time and am glad I finally read it.

Mar 29, 2016

Mortal Lessons

Notes on the Art of Surgery
by Richard Selzer

This is so different from most other books I've read. It's a surgeon waxing eloquent on the craft and skill of his occupation. He talks about disease in the most interesting way, describes opening the body and moving into its depths to find ailments and organs as if navigating a landscape. Speaks with passion, and respect for the wonders of the human body. It's not really a book of case studies, more a selection of snapshots that show how the surgeon felt about his work, reflections on the meaning of it, looking at how his patients responded to treatment. Or didn't- some of them died under his hands. It is surprisingly, baldly honest- describing in detail many things that are hard to face- an abortion, an amputation, an explorative surgery that goes wrong, the process of embalming or autopsy. I've read a few books about medicine, hospital work, and the like, but never with things described the way they are here.

It's also an old book, and of course outdated in lots of things. Much of it admitting no understanding, no hope for cure, or putting forth mistaken ideas. I was surprised and kind of annoyed that he goes on and on in one chapter about how horrible alcohol is for the liver- and yet spends another chapter extolling his smoking habit. It's illustrated here and there with woodcuts, engravings and lithographs from the Yale Medical Library- they're not dated but give the work a feeling of more antiquity. I saw someone's comment online that this book is funny- but I guess you'd have to be a surgeon yourself to see the humor in it. I found it really interesting. Funny? not so much. The last part of it digresses from the main subject matter. Some short writings describing his childhood, his father's practice. There's an essay on being carsick- something he suffered a lot from as a child- and another rather weird one about birdwatching (which he apparently was not very good at).

And yet for all its flaws, the book was a thing I wondered at. It made me see the inner workings of the body in such a different way. Its words are so vivid, so alive.

Rating: 3/5       219 pages, 1974

more opinions:
Peter Morton's Website

Mar 20, 2016

Cry, the Beloved Country

by Alan Paton

This is one of those books I picked up at a used sale one day just because I recognized the title as being famous. Then it sat on my shelf for at least eight years. I chose it to read this weekend and was surprised at how intent the story was and how quickly I moved through it.

It is told in two parts. In the first half, a Zulu parson leaves his small, rural village and travels to Johannesburg in search of several family members who have dispersed there. His sister, his son, his brother. The great sprawling city at first bewilders the elderly parson, but even more bewildering and painful is what he discovers of his lost family members- they have each fallen into disreputable ways of making a living. Dispirited, he tracks them down, learning of their troubles and attempting to bring them back home. Some cannot be found, or cannot be recovered, or simply don't wish return. It is with a very heavy heart he returns to his village with fragments of his family and a burden of shame for the crimes his son, in particular, has committed.

Yet on his search through dark corners of Johannesburg and its skirting slums, he met with great kindness and help from strangers. And now, come home again, the parson struggles to help his village. The land is depleted, crops are failing, young people deserting the area, children dying. He carries the shame of his family back with him, and worse yet, discovers that a white man who owns farmland near the village was personally wronged by his son's crime. It is with the deepest sorrow that he admits this relationship to his neighbor. It seems that everything is falling to pieces, when help for the village comes from an unexpected source. I did wish this part of the story was fleshed out more- it interested me to read about the efforts to change farming methods, the villagers' resistance to change and new ideas even when it was obvious the old ways were failing. And while I enjoyed the simple clarity and lyrical writing, was deeply touched by the depiction of forgiveness and compassion between the characters of this story, I was also baffled at moments when the parson expressed anger. Maybe I did not read between the lines enough, but sometimes his responses seemed out of character to me.

It is a very good book, one that is difficult to put down, or stop thinking about.

Rating: 4/5      316 pages, 1948

more opinions:
Worthwhile Books
A Good Stopping Point
Embejo Etc
Vulpes Libres

Mar 14, 2016

Self-Portrait with Turtles

by David Carroll

Naturalist, author and artist David Carroll wrote this memoir telling how he became so passionate about turtles and where they led him. He caught his first turtle at eight years old, wading through creeks and ponds in scant woods near his home, and was enthralled by the reptiles from then on. At first he just spent his time looking for turtles, in later years he learned to identify them and began keeping records of his sightings. He also describes his training in art school, early directions his art took, and how it finally became focused on nature subjects. Became a teacher and often had to move his family, each time searching for a place to live where he could be near unspoiled wetlands, for finding turtles. It seems this became more and more difficult as the years went on. He describes going back to his childhood home and dismay at finding so much changed, the farm he finally settled on, and how he worked to secure and protect habitat for wildlife (especially turtles) around his property and in other areas as well.

While this book wasn't quite as captivating for me because it doesn't have the extent of in-depth, detailed nature writing I so loved in Swampwalker's Journal and Trout Reflections, it is still a good read. I appreciate learning how other people's lives become involved with wild places, and how an artist saw and portrayed nature. And of course, the turtles.

Rating: 3/5           181 pages, 2004