General Catch-Up…

With the arrival of December comes the end-of-the-semester projects such as grading and finishing up some work writing and looking forward (very looking forward) to the holiday break.

I’ve been so lucky this semester in terms of having some really hard-working students who are willing to learn what I’m trying to teach, so I think it’s safe to say that I’ve learned as much from them as they have from me. I’m only in my second year of college teaching, and I want them to have the best college writing experience that I can possibly give them, so I’m always reading how to improve my teaching, both in and out of the classroom.

Finals Week starts this Friday, so that means that classes are all wrapped up for the most part now. No more power-points (which has been the name of the game this semester); now, I just need to get them organized in files on my computer ready for next semester, finish up the grades, and hopefully, have a much more relaxed schedule.

Plans over Christmas mean not much, really. Superhero and I have quite a few days off work, so we’ll be putting up the decorations (nothing too crazy but it’s fun), and then just hanging out until the new year. May be some small travel, but it’s up in the air right now, but if we stay or if we go, it’s fine either way.

This last time last year I was about to have surgery on my ankle which rather put a damper on things, so no surgery this year means a much more relaxing time off (for both me and for the Superhero – he won’t have to drive me around everywhere!)

I’ve been reading, and so here’s a couple of reviews of two titles that didn’t make it on to the blog proper just yet. They’re both good reads – just haven’t had the time/energy to compile a proper review. (I must admit that I had a better read of one more than other.)

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung. Just like it says on the tin, this is a graphic novel about a young woman coming to realize (and accept) her introvert tendencies. It’s like a more personal Quiet (SusanCain), but with lots of pictures. I’m torn about these “quiet books”.

Yes, I might be more of a quiet person than other people, but I don’t consider it to be a pathological weakness (which is sometimes the feeling that I get from some authors about the topic). I’m not weird (others may disagree!), I think that there are plenty of people like me, and luckily, I think the world is becoming a lot more accepting of us non-noisy folks.

I do admit that I may feel like this perhaps because (a) I’m old enough to not be that concerned about what other people think about me, and (b) the world knows more about how different people view the environment and the people who surround them. When Cain’s book first came out, was she the first author to really focus on this aspect of people? I seem to remember there being quite a kerfuffle about her non-fiction book at the time.

The second title that I’ve finished was a charming nature-focused book by Sy Montgomery called How to be a good creature: A memoir in thirteen animals. This was a shorter read, wherein Montgomery recalls thirteen animals with whom she’s had friendships of one sort or another. What was really good about this read were the lithographic illustrations by Rebecca Green. Just a sweet book to read, really.

I’ve also just finished a great non-fiction read about Joseph Lister and his impact on Victorian surgery, which was great. However, I’m going to put together a longer review about that…

Speaking of longer, I’m currently reading Alex Haley’s Roots, which is close to 1,000 pages. For some reason, I’m not hyperventilating about the length of this book, but I must admit that it would probably be easier to read on a Kindle. 🙂

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September 2018 Reading Review…

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So another month has passed, and let’s check in with how my reading is doing (just out of interest).

The reads for September included:

Ongoing project: Reading the AP Style Book.

So to the numbers:

Total number of books read in September6

Total number of pages read1,639 pages (av. 273).

Fiction/Non-Fiction2 fiction / 4 non-fiction.

Diversity1 POC. 5 books by women.

Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode): 3 library books, 2 owned books and 1 e-book.

Future plans include instituting a book-buying ban until December, finish up the AP Style Book, and read more off TBR. 🙂

 

Unforgettable Behavior – Rosemary Kidman Cox (2017)

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When I saw this photo (above) of a monkey creature holding a cell phone in a hot pool of water on the cover of this large-format book, I just had to pick it up to look at what was inside the pages. And there, I found a great collection of fantastic award-winning photographs of wildlife from around the world, from tiny spiders in South Africa to giraffes and turtles.

These photos had been recent entries in England’s Natural History Museum’s Wildlife Photographer of the Year competition, and the book’s author/compiler happens to be the editor of BBC Wildlife Magazine for the past 20 years or so, and the long-time judge of Wildlife Photographer of the Year since 1981.

Each two-page spread has an example of astonishing wildlife photography combined with well written and informative text, both explaining what the action in the image represents for the species in question but also delving a little deeper into the background about the animals and insects represented.

It was a feast for the eyes – really. I enjoyed looking at each of the coffee-table sized pages, and even learned a lot about creatures that I’d never heard of: honey pot ants, anyone? 😉

Interestingly, last year a different set of award-winning images were making the rounds of various museums across the U.S., so you may have seen a few of these before if you made it to that exhibition. If not, no worry. The photos here are just as good.

One thing was curious though – there was no image credit for photographer who took that photo of a monkey playing with a phone in the hot tub on front of cover. I searched every page and combed through the index for any mention, but nada. Poor photographer person. Front cover photo and no credit. 😦

Don’t let that deter you though. This was a really fun book to read and look at, and I’ll bet you’ll learn a thing or two about some creatures you don’t know right now. Plus – the photography was delightful!

Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brien (2008)

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Subtitle: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl.

I had seen this book mentioned somewhere on-line as a good read, and so when I came across it at a book sale, I snatched it up with glee. However, it was not as filled with glee as I had anticipated. Let me explain…

The story is true and a lovely narrative – girl adopts baby owl and they live together having significant effects on each other’s lives. However, it was the writing that I felt downgraded the experience somewhat. I don’t mean to be a picky reader, but when you spend a lot of time reading really good writing and then you come across some that’s not, it’s rather a stark contrast.

To the author’s credit, it was her first book, I don’t think she has a strong writing background, etc etc. I just wish that someone along the publishing path had helped O’Brien edit it to make it a stronger document. It would have been shorter, but it would have been more robust.

owl_babyIt would also help the structure and the general organization of the book – the lack of enough material manifested itself in some pretty awful recounted dialogue between the human and the owl at times and reading this was, at times, similar to having to listen to a teenager stringing some rather random facts together about an event that’s really important to them, but not to anyone else. Eek.

 

A hilarious review by someone called Caris on Goodreads describes the ending like this:

“And, lastly, she spends a few pages anthropomorphizing the owl’s various hoots and feather rufflings. I’ll leave it to you to assume how annoying that was.”

(See “weird bird lover” comments down below. Compare with “Crazy Cat Lady/Man.”)

It’s not that there were painful grammarian problems or issues or typos (thankfully), but more that the story was not enough for a book-length feature. As I said, it’s a great story – who wouldn’t love a story of a baby owl who needs to be rescued and ends up with a lifelong family? That’s all good. It’s just that I am not convinced that it had enough story to make it a full-length book, and I think the book suffers from it.

(I don’t mean to be mean. O’Brien seems to have a heart of gold here about wild bird rehabilitation etc., but it just makes me cringe to see a new writer put out a product that perhaps does not show her potential to its fullest. Did I mention that she needed an editor? Perhaps two or more?…)

(Also the author crosses the line a bit lot in terms of being a weird bird lover – there are a few rather border-line situations described that are more than a little strange when you read them….)

Oddness aside, you can tell that O’Brien feels passionately about this creature, and I’m glad that they found each other as they seem to have had a good life together. She just crosses the line into weirdness more than one or two times, that’s all.

And I did learn that owls lay eggs. (Perhaps this is a widely known fact for most people, but it never crossed my mind that owls would lay eggs. Makes sense when you think about it, but I think I had not really thought about it before.)

Also about eggs: the owl lays one egg a day for about five days straight, and then the eggs hatch one a day in the order that they were laid.

And this struck me as very cool: owls can heard a mouse’s heartbeat under three feet of snow and will accurately dive down and dig through the snow to get it. Impressive.

So, great story — not such a great read.

 

Black Beauty – Anna Sewell (1877)

Black Beauty coverA book of four distinct parts, this was Sewell’s first and only novel and was written in the final years of her life. Various sources report that more than 50 million copies have sold worldwide, but despite that and despite the fact that I was/am a huge animal-lover, I wasn’t that into horsey books and hadn’t ever read this one.

And this is a very horse-y book with a heavy message of treating horses (and thus, by extension, all animals) well. In return, they will treat you well. Absolutely nothing wrong or dated about that message.

So – this is the story of Black Beauty, a horse who is relating his life and adventures in very short chapters. It’s written rather simply with basic sentence structure and although it’s Victorian in age and spirit, I think young and fairly confident readers would do fine with it today. (It’s also good to keep in mind that Sewell did not write this as a “children’s book”, but more of a tool to bring attention to animal mistreatment.)

SPOILER AHEAD:

I quite enjoyed this read and was pulled into the story, although I do imagine that should I have read this when I was a child, I would have been haunted by the description of the death of Ginger, one of Black Beauty’s horse friends.  I also would have felt awful reading how badly horses and other animals were treated by cab drivers in industrial London and by farmers who only work to the bottom line, and it would have been quite likely for tears to have been involved for this particular reader at some point.

SPOILER DONE.

Not a fabulous read, but not a bad one, by any means. I always enjoy a good animal-based book, and this had a happy ending which was a relief. (I was unfamiliar with the narrative arc of the story and so wasn’t sure whether to expect a fatal ending or not. Thank goodness it all ends up ok for Black Beauty, although I hope I didn’t give you a spoiler about that if you haven’t read it.) However, fair warning in that there are some hard-to-bear descriptions of animal cruelty earlier in the story.

So – pretty good and if I was a horse-mad child, I would have been interested in reading this during my childhood. I went through my Pullein-Thompson horse book stage and also read lots about fell and mine ponies, but just not this one.

Warning to sensitive animal-lover readers: be aware – if you’re sensitive about animal treatment, this will not be an easy read, but it is historically accurate. Thank goodness times have changed for the most part.