Dory L.'s blog

The Kingdom of Rarities

ISBN: 
9781610911955

In another life, I would love to become a wildlife biologist; it combines things I loves such as working with animals, walking, observing deeply, and travel. This book does all of the above plus makes you more curious about the flora and fauna around us. Why are robins common and not Kirtland’s warblers? Why are deer abundant and not jaguars? Eric Dinerstein, the author, started his scientific career studying tigers and later rhinoceroses. He is now Chief Scientist at the World Wildlife Fund. In The Kingdom of Rarities, he travels to many continents to explore the rare creatures and plants living there.

One of the places he and his scientific team visit is Irian Jaya, a remote island on the Indonesian archipelago. It combines two aspects of places that often give homes to rare creatures: remoteness, and being situated on an island. Another factor that makes Irian Jaya home to rarities is its geology—its steep mountains and gorges serve as barriers to invasive species which have become common on many other islands. The description of Dinerstein’s flight to this research spot is compelling; it was incredibly risky just to land a plane there. But well worth it because the scientists found many rare creatures quite close to them and not shy at all with humans. The scientists were amazed by how many species divided their habitats vertically. Read more »

A Guide to the Birds of East Africa

ISBN: 
9780547152585

Every Tuesday at 830 a.m., a group of ardent birders meets at the Nairobi Museum to search for some avian wildlife together. Mr. Malik, a retired businessman and owner of the Jolly Man Manufacturing Club, squeezes bird-watching into his schedule though he does “have other commitments.”

The leader of the group is the beautiful and charming widow, Rose Mbikwa, who came to Africa from England and never left to her parents’ great consternation. Her husband was arrested for political activity and later died in a mysterious light plane accident.

On this day, Rose announces that she is leaving for England for an eye operation. Also a new birder has joined the group, an old school acquaintance of Mr. Malik’s from long-ago. Harry Kahn keeps calling Malik by old nicknames, ones Malik did not like in the old days and likes even less now. Complicating the plot--both really like Rose. Read more »

Next Booksplus Meeting on Sunday July 7

ISBN: 
9780812993295

Booksplus, a library book discussion program for adults, will be talking about Rachel Joyce's first novel The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry. It's a book about a long journey to help a friend. One morning shortly after he retired, Harold received a letter from Queenie Hennessy, his love from long ago. She informs him that she is in a nursing home and dying. He writes a bland message on a card, yet on the way to the mailbox, he decides that he must deliver it to Queenie in person. Thus, Harold begins his pilgrimage where he encounters many interesting people who teach him--old as he is--about life. And what about his wife, Maureen, whom he left at home? She too is jolted and changed by Harold's journey. Read more »

Parenting to the Very End

ISBN: 
9781594205125

Imagine being told that your baby has a disease that will kill him, most likely before he turns three. Emily Rapp and her husband Rick were given that news when their lovely boy Ronan was only nine months old. He seemed to be having vision problems, and the eye doctor discovered cherry-red spots behind his retinas--a tell-tale sign of Tay-Sachs disease.

Emily, who had been tested for this disease, immediately knew the worst. Her husband did not. “Well, what can we do about it?” Rick asked the doctor. “Nothing,” was his reply. Soon the parents learned that the genetic test only checks for the nine most common mutations.

So begins their journey. Emily describes in detail what it is like to parent a child that she knows will die soon. When they see the specialist, they discover that babies born with Tay-Sachs progress until they are six-months old, then start to regress, eventually losing all sight, hearing, movement, and even ability to swallow. Read more »

The Perfect Family Until--

ISBN: 
9781400065745

When this compelling novel starts, Mary Beth Lathem’s biggest problem is taking sass from her truculent teenaged daughter, Ruby. The narrative starts at the beginning of Mary Beth’s busy day as she goes through the house waking up her three children, the eldest daughter and two twins, Alex and Max. Mary Beth owns a landscape business but soon you can tell that her family is the center of her life and passions. 

Alex is a soccer jock, immensely talented and popular while Max, his fraternal twin, is a computer nerd with social anxiety problems.  Glen, Mary Beth’s husband, is an extremely practical and thoroughly unromantic eye doctor--solid as hardwood--though Mary Beth is not necessarily aware of that. Read more »

Pick up a Book of Poetry

ISBN: 
9780393086447

If you’re new to poetry and find it difficult, you may want to try the work of Gerald Stern. At eighty-eight, he’s one of the grand masters of poetry still composing poems. He’s won lots of awards but writes in understandable language about everyday things: travel, frogs, New York, cafeteria (spelled with a k as are all of the c words in this poem), his childhood, flowers, and love.  What I like about his latest collection In Beauty Bright and all of his work is that he celebrates living in an almost ecstatic way--most of his poems could be songs. Check out these lines: “Like fools we waited to hear the tomatoes;  we knew / what greenness means to the vine.” or “Take a dog to the vet’s, he knows what you’re doing, / a cat becomes a muscle, she leaps from your arms.”

You can tell from his work that he’s the kind of quirky writer that does weird things on occasion to discover his latest poem; for instance, “Day of Grief” begins: “I was forcing a wasp to the top of a window / where there was some sky and there were tiger lilies…” Another insect poem starts this way, “I lost my rage while helping a beetle recover / and stood there with precision, balancing / grass with stone.”

And see how immediate and tactile this poem simply titled “Love” is, “I loved your sweet neck but I loved your shoulder blades more / and wondered whether I should kiss your cheek first / or your hair.” Read more »

Voodoo, Blues, and Wandering after the Great Flood

ISBN: 
9780062225009

This first novel by an Asian-American has already created a lot of buzz.  First, it has an intriguing topic: Mississippi after the great flood of 1927. Secondly: the main characters are compelling--they are very poor African-Americans under the yoke of the white inhabitants. Finally, it shows exquisite writing.  William Ferris said, “Bill Cheng embraces the region’s 1927 flood, voodoo, blues, and race with breathtakingly beautiful prose.”

Southern Cross the Dog starts with a group of black children playing “Little Sally Water” in the rain—the rain that caused the great flood. Soon the story focuses on the character of Robert, the second born child of Etta and Ellis. Before long, you discover that his family has just suffered an immense tragedy. White vigilantes had hung the oldest son Billy for loving a white girl.

Bill Cheng captures the chaos and hardship after the flood. Dead bodies floated past.  Men with boats offered rides but also stole the food and valuable keepsakes of the displaced families. Robert’s family began this journey together, but ended up in a refugee camp. Because Etta has lost her mind over Billy’s death, she needs constant care. Ellis makes a difficult decision: to send young Robert off with someone to work in another town. Ellis thinks this is the only way all three of them will survive but he mistakenly does not tell his son why he is sending him away. Read more »

Parenthood, Birth, and Other Transformations

ISBN: 
9781594487958

In A Guide to Being Born, Ausubel’s narrative voice is strong and unique.  She takes chances in her fiction yet unlike some modern authors, she still includes distinct narrative threads. You can tell she is an independent-minded author just from the layout of her collection--four sections titled: Birth, Gestation, Conception, and Love. Notice the order of her subjects, the reverse of what you might expect.

I fell in love with the first story “Safe Passage.” It begins this way, “The Grandmothers—dozens of them—find themselves at sea.” This boat full of older women find themselves adrift with hundreds of crates; they open them to see if any of the items will allow them to save themselves. The story is funny, whimsical, and fantastical all at once. Plus, it conceals a deeper level that you won’t discover right away. The grandmothers find shipping containers full of yellow roses, and they fill their arms with them despite the fact that the thorns leave blood tracks on their hands.

Another fantasy-rich story is “Chest of Drawers.” Toward the end of the wife’s pregnancy, her husband suddenly grows live drawers on his chest, a problem that necessitates many medical appointments and tests. Yet, the compartments come in handy for carrying things such as his wife’s lipstick and a bunch of tiny diversity dolls. Read more »

Photographing Loss

ISBN: 
9788857215570

Some books break your heart with their beauty; others break your heart with their sadness. Mighty Silence: Images of Destruction does the latter. In these days immediately following the highly destructive Oklahoma tornadoes of 2013, ripped homes, buildings, and schools are on our minds. This beautifully-produced book showcases many striking photographs of the Tohoku region of Japan where the massive tsunami struck two years ago.

The photos are large, some even opening into more than a two page spread. But the main thing that struck me about them is how seldom they include any people. I noticed only one person in the whole collection, a solitary utility repairman high in a crane over demolished houses and smashed cars. Animals are mostly missing also, except for one murder of crows crisscrossing the wires of one empty city, and a strange cat with radioactive-mutated whiskers near Fukushima. Read more »

Afoot and Lighthearted

ISBN: 
9780870716836

It's spring, the weather is warming fast, and when you can't go hiking, what could be better than reading about the world's best walks? In Walking Distance you'll find trails you may never be lucky enough to traverse yourself, but you can still image and enjoy the photographs. The locations are gorgeous: Peru, New Zealand, Australia, the Alps, Alaska, and Sweden among others. The book also shares many inspiring quotes such as this one from Thoreau, "It is a great art to saunter." Walt Whitman wrote in a poem, "Afoot and lighthearted / I take to the open road," which I used above for the blog title.

Also included is a history of walking where the authors describe how the Romantic writers adopted walking and hiking enthusiastically as Europe turned increasingly polluted and gritty due to the Industrial Revolution. Did you know that it's estimated that Wordsworth walked over 180,000 miles in his lifetime? Dickens, too, spent no less than four hours on most days walking - this is how he filled his novels with such interesting characters and authentic details. Read more »

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