Monday, May 3, 2021

Close encounters of the bovine: Recollections of a rural veterinarian, by Rosalie Cooper-Chase


When I was growing up, I was determined to become a veterinarian. After reading All things great and small, by James Herriot, I read every memoir by a veterinarian that I could find in the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh. These included both zoo and rural vets; I volunteered at the Pittsburgh Zoo, so the zoo vet memoirs were very interesting to me as well. I really enjoyed this account. Dr. Cooper-Chase worked primarily with cattle, horses, dogs, and cats, but this book focuses on her experiences with cattle. Many of the stories she recounts have to do with birthing difficulties, although some are about other common dangers. She shares her observations about the ranchers as well, and her stories show the wide variety of people who go into ranching. This book would be of interest to anyone interested in animals and their care.

Sunday, May 2, 2021

Copycat, and a litter of other cats, by David Yow


This is a really fun collection of drawings by David Yow, otherwise known as the vocalist for the bands Scratch Acid and Jesus Lizard. Yow draws in his spare time, and he created this collection of cats, along with their pun-filled names. All of the cats in his drawings are named with a word or phrase that has the word cat in it. For example, the image of the cat named Catastrophe is of a cat sitting in front of a trophy labeled "1st prize Ass." The cat named Catholic is sitting in a cathedral with a bishop's mitre on his head. All of the images are cute and clever; it's very fun to look through, especially for cat lovers.

The perfect storm, by Sebastian Junger


I appreciated this account of the October 1991 storm that caused so much havoc and tragedy, later made into a film starring George Clooney and Mark Wahlberg. I saw the film when it came out, and remember being so shocked by the tragic ending. I hadn't read the book, and since the film related the last moments of the people who died, I assumed most of the way through the film that they had been rescued. I bought the book not longer after having seen the film, but just got around to reading it now. It's a well-researched and compassionate account of the storm and how it affected so many: the fishermen, other boaters, rescue swimmers, and all of their families. The jobs these people do are so dangerous that it makes me question the ethics of supporting the fishing industry at all. Not to mention that one of the things that makes the job so dangerous is that they have to fish so far away from port because of centuries of over-fishing. A storm can brew in just days, but it takes a week to get from the fishing ground to a safe port, and sometimes it's just impossible. I know the money can be good, but do I really want people risking their lives so that I can have a swordfish steak at a restaurant? This is a very well-written and researched book; it's a shame Junger hasn't written many more long form non-fiction (I believe he only has one other).

Tuesday, April 27, 2021

Micro fiction, edited and introduced by Jerome Stern


Edited by Jerome Stern, a former Florida State University professor of English and popular culture, this is a fun collection of very short short stories (most with fewer than 250 words). These stories are culled from the thousands submitted to a short story contest that Stern oversaw for many years. Although short stories aren't my favorite form of fiction, I really enjoyed many of these. Some are funny, some sad, and some made me wonder what they were supposed to be about. Wha? 

Jerome Stern is also known for his short essays that he read on NPR published as Radios: Short takes on life and culture, which I read a few weeks ago.

Into the wild, by Jon Krakauer


I really enjoyed this book, although it's a very sad account of Chris McCandless' trek into the Alaskan wilderness and ultimate death. Author Jon Krakauer tries to make some sense of Chris' decision to spend the summer by himself in Alaska, but in the end, everyone is just guessing about his motivations. What is known is that Chris gave away all of his money after he graduated from Emory University, and took off on a two-year odyssey around the country, mostly in the west. He abandoned his car after a few months, and hitchhiked the rest of the way, working odd jobs to earn enough cash for the next leg of the journey. There isn't much that's known about these last two years of Chris' life, but the outlines have been pieced together by his diary, postcards that he sent to people he met along the way, and interviews. Krakauer bolsters these thin pickings with chapters that compare Chris' exploits with similar happenings in the past and with his own solo trek to climb Devils Thumb, a mountain in Alaska. It's a compelling story that left me with a lot of questions.

Sunday, April 25, 2021

Another side of Bob Dylan, by Victor Maymudes and Jacob Maymudes


I picked this book up a few years ago at a Book Expo or ALA conference, and just got around to reading it. Based on recordings made by Victor Maymudes in the year or so before his death from an aneurysm, it tells about his years working with Bob Dylan at the beginning of Dylan's career and from the mid-80s to the late 90s. Interspersed with Victor's memories are recollections by his son Jacob, as Victor was never able to complete the memoir he was planning, and Jacob took up the challenge many years later. I found the book interesting as an account of what it was like to travel on road tours. It's a fast read and covers many years, so I think it's a worthwhile read if you're interested in popular music of the 60s and later. But I don't really think it shows us "another side of Bob Dylan," as the book doesn't share much that was not previously known. But it does reveal the lopsided relationship between these two men, one highly admired and holding the reins of power and money, and the other doing the admiring. I think that if Victor had lived and if he had a co-author or ghost writer who could really delve into the project and question him about his experiences with Dylan that this might have made a more valuable contribution to the history of Dylan, but without Victor's further input, the skeleton of the recordings that he left weren't substantial enough to provide significant insight. This is primarily a collection of anecdotes about work that Victor did for Dylan, not breaking new ground but still interesting. And neither men come away looking admirable.

Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Great Hanoi Rat Hunt, by Michael G. Vann and Liz Clarke


I loved this graphic history of a time period that I don't know very much about: the French colonial period in Vietnam. The artwork is very well done, with a lot of detail. The book tells how the author became interested in the period and conducted his research. The book is organized into five parts, with the graphic history being the first part, followed by primary sources, historical contexts, the making of the book, and how to use it in the classroom. This is a very creative and enjoyable way to learn about and study history.

Saturday, April 17, 2021

Satan says, by Sharon Olds


Once in a while I dip into a little poetry. I recently read something that referenced Sharon Olds, so I decided to give her first book of poetry a try. In this volume, Olds focuses on her roles as a daughter, lover, and mother. She writes very intimately about her and their bodies, bodily functions, desire, need, and yearning. I have to admit that it's not my favorite genre to read, and this didn't sway me very much. But I believe that I'm an outlier here; I think prose just speaks to me more.

When elephants weep: The emotional lives of animals, by Jeffrey Moussaieff Masson and Susan MCCarthy


I really enjoyed this book about the feelings and emotions of both wild and domesticated animals. Published in 1995, I expect that some of the evidence has been bolstered even further in the past 25 years. The book is organized in eleven chapters that address a variety of emotions, such as fear, hope, love, grief, sadness, joy, rage, compassion, shame, and more. The author cites many studies and observations by biologists, zookeepers, and others who work closely with animals.

Sunday, April 11, 2021

The Eiffel Tower and other mythologies, by Roland Barthes


As I was browsing the shelves in my library, I came across this collections of short essays, most running 3-4 pages, with only a few longer. I was not familiar with Roland Barthes prior to this, and thought it would be interesting to read these brief pieces about French culture, history, art, theater, and more. I have to admit that, for the most part, I came away disappointed. Barthes' essay topics were fairly obscure (to me, anyway) and for the most part didn't catch my interest. One essay stood out to me: "Billy Graham at the Vel' d'Hiv'." It included Barthes' observations about Graham's speech and compared him to a stage hypnotist, basically no better than a carnival barker. The essay includes this line: "If God is really speaking through Dr. Graham's mouth, it must be acknowledged that God is quite stupid: the Message stuns us by its platitude, its childishness." I suppose it's not surprising that the one essay which I appreciated was the only one in the book that discussed a topic and person with whom I'm familiar. This book is also good for challenging one's (or at least my) vocabulary.

Wednesday, April 7, 2021

One of these things is not like the other, by D. Travers Scott


While I was rooting around looking for a quick, fun read, I came across this book that I must have picked up at a Book Expo, maybe 15 years ago. I was intrigued by the premise: a father of (grown) quadruplet sons commits suicide, leaving a note to his sons that one of them is not really their brother. The father and sons share a single name: Jake Barnes, but the sons have rebelled against the father over the years by changing their appearances and taking on nicknames. The now go by names based on their place of residence, such as Holly for Hollywood, Dal for Dallas, Ally for Alaska, and Enwiece (for NYC), although he's recently changed his name to Jacob. After their father's death, the four begin a project to find out who the outsider is, each secretly hoping that it's himself. What unfolds is akin to a mystery story, told from four perspectives, with each son tracking down key information about their origin. One of the charming things about this book is the parallel universe-type anachronisms: they travel by blimp, not airplanes; people carry 8-track players, rather than CD players; the phones are still rotary-style, and payphones are still common. This book got very mixed reviews on Amazon, by the all of 10 people who reviewed it; I enjoyed it, although my head is still spinning and I'm not 100% sure that I know exactly what happened at the end.

Monday, April 5, 2021

Radios: Short takes on life and culture, by Jerome Stern


I found this collection of short essays (2-3 pages) while perusing the shelves at work. The author was a faculty member at Florida State University, and this book collects short pieces that he wrote for a series that he did on NPR. The pieces range from humorous memories of his childhood to fairly mundane topics to his experiences learning that he has cancer and going through both chemotherapy and radiation therapy. This book was published posthumously. I thoroughly enjoyed these essays, although the ones addressing his illness are particularly poignant, given that he didn't survive. I don't remember him from his time performing for NPR, but I can see why he was popular. He also wrote Making shapely fiction (well-reviewed on Amazon), and edited Micro fiction: A collection of really short stories.

Saturday, April 3, 2021

Hellboy, Volume 1: Seed of Destruction


Because I do enjoy the occasional graphic novel, I thought I would take advantage of our Libraries' collection, starting with Hellboy, having read positive reviews of the series as well as the film. Hellboy is a creature brought into this world as a child by a Nazi sorcerer or wizard; however, Hellboy has no intention of doing his bidding. A standoff results in the destruction of the sorcerer who brought him to Earth, and Hellboy manages to save his two friends from death as well. While the concept is fairly charming, the book itself left me indifferent, so I don't think I'll be reading further in the series. I'm still contemplating whether to watch the first film, though.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Maid, by Stephanie Land


I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, it demonstrates how difficult life can be for someone who doesn't have much of a support system (family, friends), while they're struggling to survive and raise a small child. On the other hand, I was frustrated about the decisions she made throughout the book, including squandering a $4,000 tax refund when she clearly needed to find another apartment to rent (as an example). And one thing that horrified me was how she wrote about her clients' personal lives and belongings. She tries on their clothes, sits in their bathtubs to cry, brings toiletries to their homes so that she can use their lighted mirrors, and much more. Her customers must know that she wrote this book, and if they read it, they would see what she writes about their lives and the things she did in their homes. I can only imagine their feelings of betrayal, especially the ones who were kind to her. A lot of her complaints are about the unreliable work schedule and the long commute to customers' homes, so why didn't she try to get a job with no commute? There's a lot to think and talk about in this book, and it's a quick read, so it would be good for book clubs that are interested in non-fiction, memoirs, and social issues.

The looking-glass war, by John Le Carré

Le Carré's fourth book was meant to be a satire, and apparently it didn't go over well with his fans. It tells the story of a small, unnamed intelligence unit that tries to pull off an intelligence-gathering operation in East Germany. After several bungled attempts, they finally recruit a Polish immigrant who had done service for their department during WWII, and try to retrain him for a mission to collect information about a reported missile site. Everything that can go wrong does, and the unit pulls out, leaving him behind. A pretty grim outcome, but meant to show the impact of inter-agency rivalry, and (I think) the expendibility of someone not British. Very well written, but again, tragic.

The spy who came in from the cold, by John Le Carré


I had read this book decades ago, but I'd forgotten most of the details. I really enjoyed reading it a second time. I love his writing, and the ending is just perfect, if tragic. I read in a review that Le Carré was disappointed that many thought of his main character Alec Leamas as a hero, not learning the lesson that Le Carré was trying to impart about the pointlessness of much of Europe's Cold War intrigues.

Art in the blood, by Bonnie MacBird


Entertaining imitation of a Sherlock Holmes mystery; a quick read with lots of twists and turns.

Sunday, March 21, 2021

A murder of quality, by John Le Carre

John Le Carré's second book is a murder mystery that features George Smiley. Ailsa Brimley is the editor of a magazine and friend of Smiley; she's received a letter from a subscriber who wrote that she's afraid that her husband is trying to kill her. Brimley asks Smiley to investigate, but before he begins, the woman is found dead. Apparently, this is the only Smiley book that is not a spy story, but it's every bit as intriguing, with lots of twists and turns.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Dear Martin, by Nic Stone


This YA novel tells the story of Justyce McAllister, a young black man in his senior year at a prep school, but bound for Yale. When he experiences racial profiling first hand, he begins a project to explore racial injustice by writing about his experiences and feelings in a journal addressed to Martin Luther King, Jr. Justyce experiences casual racism among his classmates, but also has good relationships with his debate team partner, S.J., his best friend, and a teacher in whom he confides. A scuffle at a party leads to a series of events that quickly turn tragic for Justyce's best friend, and Justyce struggles to deal with his emotions. With this book, Nic Stone addresses the very real issues facing so many of our young people today.

Amnesty, by Aravind Adiga

Amnesty is about a Sri Lankan man named Danny who has overstayed his student visa in Australia. He has a Vietnamese girlfriend, and works for a shop owner who allows him to live in a storeroom and takes half of his pay as a house cleaner. Danny worked for a time for two Indian immigrants, a woman and her boyfriend. They treated him like their pet or a mascot, but he left their employ more than six months ago. When he learns that the woman was murdered, he quickly began to suspect her boyfriend. This begins a day-long odyssey during which Danny tries to decide whether to report this to the police, in the process risking his own illegal status, or letting someone get away with a brutal murder. This book takes place during a single day, with flashbacks that reveal their tangled relationships. This is a riveting story, with the reader guessing how it will turn out until the end.

February 2021 Films


This is an interesting alien invasion story in which something strikes a lighthouse in the first moments of the film, then continuously expands to encompass the nearby environs, continually growing. Lena's husband returns from a year-long quest inside the perimeter, but he's changed, and she's recruited to go in as well to try to determine the source of the phenomenon. This movie kept you thinking the whole time, guessing what's going on. Nice ending, too.

Based on a story by Georges Simenon, this tells the story of Monsieur Hire, sort of a misfit whom everyone misunderstands, but whom no one likes. When a woman's body turns up in the park, those guilty conspire to frame him for the murder, and the townspeople go along because of their dislike for him.

I only watched the first half of this animated film because I disliked it so much. It tells the story of Luis Buñuel's filming of a documentary in a poor section of Spain. Apparently, he didn't hesitate to recreate scenes to make them more dramatic, and these included ripping the head off a rooster, shooting goats to show them falling from a great height, and causing a donkey to be stung to death by bees. We quit watching in the middle of the goat scene. I don't know what would make someone want to make an animated film of such an unappealing set of events. This was based on a graphic novel (the appeal of which also escapes me). The animated film was interrupted by film from the original documentary, showing the rooster and goat scenes as well; it was very jarring, and quite unpleasant.