January Come Lately

I try not to think about white rabbits running around with time pieces muttering about being late. Whenever I do I am reminded this is being written three days behind schedule. Nevertheless, here are the books:

Fiction:

  • Foundation by Isaac Asimov – in honor of Asimov’s birth month.
  • Lamb in Love by Carrie Brown – this is a stretch…All Creatures Great and Small first aired as a television show in January and there is a creature in the title.
  • The Good Times are Killing Me by Lynda Barry – in honor of Barry’s birth month.
  • A Cold Blooded Business by Dana Stabenow – in honor of Alaska becoming a state in January.

Nonfiction:

  • Daisy Bates in the Desert by Julia Blackburn – in honor of Australia’s National Day on January 26th.
  • The Turk by Tom Standage in honor of Wolfgang Von Klempelen’s birth month.
  • Freedom in Meditation by Patricia Carrington – in honor of January being National Yoga month.
  • Sibley’s Guide to Bird Life and Behavior by David Allen Sibley – in honor of Adopt a Bird Month. I read that somewhere…

Series continuations:

  • To Lie with Lions by Dorothy Dunnett – to continue the series started in August in honor of Dunnett’s birth month.
  • Amber Spyglass by Philip Pullman – to continue the series started in November in honor of National Writing Month (Fantasy).

Early Review for LibraryThing:

  • Well-Read Black Girl by Glory Edim – I know what you are thinking. I am neither black nor a girl. I am a middle-aged white woman who barely remembers being a girl. I requested this book because I work in an extremely diverse environment and let’s face it, I want to be known as well-read, regardless of color.

For fun:

  • Sharp by Michelle Dean – my sister gave this to me as a Christmas gift. I wonder if she is trying to tell me something.

“Birdland”

Knight, Michael. “Birdland.” Goodnight, Nobody. New York: Atlantic Monthly Press, 2003.

Raymond, the protagonist of “Birdland,” knows how to capitalize on the African parrots that migrant every fall to his tiny town of Elbow, Alabama. The parrots have brought Ludmilla Haggarsdottir (aka The Blond), an ornithologist from New Hampshire. Having nowhere to stay, The Blond rents a room with Raymond and becomes his girlfriend. His second source of income is wood carvings of the parrots for all the tourists who “flock” to Elbow (pun totally intended). Elbow in and of itself is an interesting little community of less than 12 souls, all fixated on the game of college football. I fell in love with Raymond and his band of misfit neighbors. They live the simple life without telephones or tvs. The Blond is the most colorful thing he’s seen since the arrival of the parrots.

Quotes I loved, “The African parrot can live up to eighty years…and often mates for life, though our local birds have apparently adopted a more swinging sexual culture due to an instinctive understanding of the rigors of perpetuation in a non-indigenous environment” (p 5) and “I want to tell her that the past is not only for forgetting” (p 14).

Reason read: June is national short story month. Are you tired of me saying that?

Author fact: In 2003 Knight taught at the University of Tennessee. The sad thing is, when you do a Google search for “Michael Knight” the first thing that pops up is the television show “Knight Rider.”

Book trivia: I’m going to sound like a broken record saying this but most of Knight’s short stories appeared in magazines (like Playboy) before they were published as a collection.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the very simple chapter called “Parrots” (p 104).


Going Wild

Winkler, Robert. Going Wild: Adventures With Birds in the Suburban Wilderness. Washington, D.C.: National Geographic, 2003.

Winkler is an exceptional writer especially when it comes to the art and science of birdwatching. What makes his book, Going Wild, so interesting is that each chapter is independent of another. As he puts it, “readers can dip into chapters as they please with little sacrifice of coherence” (p x). I preferred to read the whole book straight through as a story, but I could see what Winkler meant. Another pleasure of Winkler’s writing is when you read his words you can actually feel him smiling, warming up to his subject and actually happy to be going on and on about his birding life. There is real humor in his tone.

The other element I enjoyed was the locality of most of his essays. I live near, and have visited nearly all of the locations Winkler mentions.

Quotes I enjoyed, “Cold profound enough to freeze the hair in your nostrils is something to experience” (p 19).
As an aside, I would have thought Winkler’s book would include photographs or illustrations of some sort. I was disappointed when it didn’t.

Reason read: October is a great time to watch birds, especially off the coast of Maine. The migration is underway Sept-Oct.

Author fact: Robert Winkler has been a National Geographic corespondent in additional to being a journalist published in the New York Times, Los Angeles Times and USA Today.

Book trivia: Winkler mentions many different places he has observed birds. His self proclaimed favorite is Upper Paugusset State Forest in Newtown, Connecticut. I think I just might have to check that out.

BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Nature Writing” (p 174).

Edited to add: there are two more comments I need to make about this book. First, Winkler and the movies. I am guilty of pointing out flaws in movies. I love it when I can spot an inconsistency so I have to say my favorite chapter was when Winkler pointed out the “bird” errors in different movies, especially when it comes to their songs. And speaking of bird songs – I will listen closer for the Wood Thrush since Winkler praised it so highly.


Brushed By Feathers

Wood, Frances. Brushed By Feathers: a Year of birdwatching in the West. Golden, Colorado: Fulcrum Publishing, 2004.

On the very first page of Brushed By Feathers you are warned by Bob Righter, “Be careful when you read this book – your life could be forever changed.” You could just become a bird watcher is what he meant. Somehow I doubt that. After growing up in the migration path of thousands of the flying species and having to endure the rapture of the many Audubon societies that have flocked to my hometown I don’t think I could become one of them. I don’t know what it is about some birders but they lose all sense of reality when witnessing a rare or even an infrequently seen bird. On one occasion my husband and I were marveling at the storm pounded surf, worrying about a boat that bobbed too close to the shore. A group of birders thought we gaped at a pair of herring gulls screeching over a dead crab.

Having said all that, I loved Wood’s book! There are certain books that appeal on a level beyond words, sentences and chapters; books that feel good in the hands or evoke some kind of deep down feeling. While Brushed By Feathers didn’t turn me into a birding fanatic I was moved by it by appearance alone. With its journal-like pages and illustrations it is a book that goes beyond simple content. Its presentation is near perfection. Had it been bound with a soft cloth cover, one that would feel good in the hands, I would have said this is one book to hold onto – literally.

I also loved the presentation of the content. Each chapter is a different month of bird watching in the Pacific northwest region of the Unites States (Wood lives near Puget Sound). Wood begins each chapter with an overview of the sights and sounds one might expect to find during that particular month and then chooses a bird to detail (eagle, hummingbird, etc). She adds personal stories to connect with her audience and not be completely didactic. Also included in the beginning of each chapter is a checklist of the new birds  introduced each month with room for notes about each species.

I guess my only complaint would be that it’s very specific to the area in and around Puget Sound and Whidbey Island. If I ever get to that part of the country I’ll know what birds to look for!

Most interesting line, “During the non-breeding season, the section of a songbird’s brain that controls singing actually shrinks, making ti unable to sing, even if the urge arose” (p 167). Okay, I did not know that.

Reason read: Oddly enough, I heard that February is bird feeding month. Not watching, but feeding. Go figure.

Author fact: Frances has her own website here. It’s pretty cool.

Book trivia: Brushed By Feathers has beautiful illustrations. Wood is responsible for those as well.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “A Holiday Shopping List” (p 116). Pearl would have given this book to an avid bird watcher. I hope he or she lives in the northwest!


Feb ’11 was…

February was a strange, strange month. On the one hand, my birthday (which was good), yet on the other hand, many different family dramas (not so good). Other oddities include getting robbed, the roof leaking, a mysterious flat tire, and lots of great PT (what’s different?). My list of books for the month included some behemoths – two over 700 pages long. It took me longer than expected to get through my list because I also got an Early Review book from LibraryThing and I decided to read a few “off-list” titles. February was also a month of personal challenges (yay for physical therapy and the return to running for real). I can’t forget to mention that!

  • Carry Me Home: Birmingham, Alabama: The Climactic Battle of the Civil Rights Revolution by Diane McWhorter ~ in honor of National Civil Rights month. This was a nice blend of didactic and personal.
  • Big Year: a Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession by Mark Obmascik ~ in honor of February being a bird feeding month (as apposed to watching). Funny, funny, funny.
  • Night Soldiers by Alan Furst ~ in honor of Furst’s birth month. This was really heavy, but I actually got into it.
  • Belly of Paris by Emile Zola ~ in honor of Charles Dickens (writing style is similar). Word to the wise – don’t read this when you are hungry. The food descriptions are amazing!

For the Early Review Program with LibraryThing I finally received and read My Korean Deli by Ben Ryder Howe. I’m still waiting for a second Early Review book from LibraryThing.

  • Runner’s World The Complete Book of Running: Everything You Need To Run For Weight Loss, Fitness and Competition by Amby Burfoot. I picked this up because someone had given me a gift certificate for B&N and I wanted to get something I would keep for a very long time.
  • It Must Be..(a Grand Canyon Trip : Drawings and Thoughts From a Winter’s Trip From Lee’s Ferry to Diamond Creek (December 19, 2010 – January 2, 2011).. by Scott P. Barnes ~ this was such a surreal read for me! I’ve always wanted to see this author’s name in print.

Big Year

Obmascik, Mark. Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession. New York: Free Press, 2004.

Have you ever tried to have a conversation with a birder when he or she can see, and be distracted by, the outside world? I have and in my experience it’s a lot like having a conversation with a new mother when she has one eye (and her full attention) on her runaway, get-into-everything toddler. It’s nearly impossible. Here’s an example – I was hiking with such a friend, a big time birder. He was explaining and detailing renovations on his house when all of a sudden he stopped in mid-sentence to listen to something my ears could not detect. Impulsively, he grabbed my arm and his eyes bugged out. “Did you hear that? That was a yellow-billed something-er-rather! Female!” Up whipped his binoculars while I stood there unsure of what I was missing out on. Awhile later he stopped again to whistle, listen intently, whistle again and smile, obviously forgetting he was interrupting himself. Again. To me it was like listening for a snowflake to land.
Even strangers try to rub their enthusiasm for all things feathered on our uninterested minds. My husband and I were hiking along the rocky coast of Monhegan. It was the day after a terrific storm had blown away so the waves were breathtaking. We met a pair of birders on the trail and paused to let them pass when suddenly a particularly large wave crashed upon the rocks behind them. The sound was thunderous and both Kisa and I gasped. “What?! what did you see?!” the birders eagerly asked scanning the tree lines, “did you spot a black-legged kittiwake? A great-tailed grackle?” Errrr, no. When we explained it was a rogue wave capable of dragging a tank out to sea the birders just stared at us. Luckily, they were soon distracted by the mating call of some brown spotted something-er-rather and we went on our way. This line from the introduction of Big Year illustrates this obsession perfectly, “There even were twitters about a new species of grouse…having sex in the sagebrush somewhere in the Utah high country” (p xi). Exactly.

Mark Obmascik likes birds, but he likes birders even better. In Big Year: A Tale of Man, Nature, and Fowl Obsession Obmascik chronicles a year of birding with several different hardcore birders and their quest for “the big year.” The Big Year, as explained by Obmascik, is a birder’s attempt to chronicle as many birds as possible within a solitary calendar year. There are many different strategies for obtaining the biggest “birds seen” list and competitors will stop at nothing to hone their strategies while sabotaging those of others. It’s cutthroat, surprisingly so. All for the sake of something so small. Competing birders will spend thousands of dollars, millions of minutes, and countless miles to trek across North America looking for elusive, rare, and unusual birds. To see one is an accomplishment, but to photograph one is triumph. To be known as the biggest list is the best of all. Obmascik delivers humor and respect when sharing these birding tales. You will never look at a common sparrow the same way again.

BookLust Twist: From More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Your Dream” (p 157).


Feb 2011 is…

February is a month of renewal for me. I haven’t put too many books on the list because I plan to do a lot more running and socializing this month. 🙂
Anyhoo, here are the books:

  • Carry Me Home, Alabama by Kathryn Stern ~ in honor of February being National Civil Rights Month
  • Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes ~ in honor of February being a National Bird Feeding month. I guess our feathered friends have a hard time finding food in February so someone made a month for feeding them.
  • Aint Nobody’s Business if I Do by Valarie Wilson Welsey ~ in honor of Black History Month
  • Belly of Paris by Emile Zola ~ in honor of February being the month of Dicken’s birth.

Maybe, just maybe I’ll get the EarlyReview books from LibraryThing as well. Who knows?