Really Great Bookends – Part I

February 25, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 7

This week I have read two really great books, one non-fiction and one fiction, and I felt like they both deserved their own post.  So today, I’ll be posting my review of my non-fiction book and you can check back tomorrow for my fiction read. (Update: now available here)

Non-Project Non-Fiction

This morning, I finished reading The Eye of the Elephant, one of the extra books I picked up in the 639’s.  Although I occasionally think about the fact that I could be doing this until I die if I pick up multiple books for every number, I don’t think that would be so bad, especially if my digressions always lead to such great books!  As the subtitle says, this was truly “An Epic Adventure in the African Wilderness.”  This story of Mark and Delia Owens’ efforts to save the elephants and other wildlife in a Zambian natural park was without a dull moment.  In the first few chapters, Mark had gotten lost in the dessert and both authors had encountered a cobra and a pride of lions.  The book continues with awe-inspiring encounters with wildlife and more frightening encounters with poachers.

Despite the action-packed nature of the book, both authors found time to describe the natural beauty and majestic animals surrounding them.  Their love for nature made these poetic descriptions incredibly moving.  Each chapter in the book was written by either Mark or Delia and I suspect their editor deserves a ton of credit because their distinct personalities come through without ever disrupting the flow of their narrative.

Even though the point of a book like this is to raise awareness of a problem, I really appreciated that they wrote the book at a point where most parts of the story have a happy ending.  While it’s definitely important to alert people to the plight of endangered animals, you get too close to specific animals they describe to deal well with an unhappy ending.  The struggle they face with corrupt officials is also incredibly frustrating, so it was nice to see that things were moving in the right direction at the end of the book.

Alison at The Cheap Reader was just discussing the pros and cons of having a happy ending, and I mostly thought about this in terms of YA books, where I favor happy endings because I like to feel happy after reading a book.  In the case of a book like this, I was still glad of a happy ending, but for a different reason.  I hate for a book discussing a big problem I care about to end unresolved because I don’t feel like I can do anything about it.  Unlike A Spring Without Bees which discusses a problem everyone can contribute to from their own bee-friendly, pesticide-free garden, poaching is not a problem I feel equipped to deal with.  But I think part of the message of this book is that that’s not true – it is possible for very few people to have a huge impact.  In that spirit, I’ve donated to The Owens Foundation already, to do my little bit for conservation, and I hope you’ll consider doing the same for them or for any other cause you care deeply about.  Even as poor college students, we can spare a little 🙂

Summary

The Eye of the Elephant  – 5 stars – Great, action packed story with a positive message about conservation and the difference a few people can make.

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Photography Friday

February 24, 2012 Photography Friday 0

Although my post is quite late in the day, I actually took this picture very early this morning.  I got to campus shortly after 9 (alright, very early for me :-P) and everything was beautiful, sparkly and coated in snow.  I’ve been thinking about trying to get a nice silhouette of these plants for a while and as soon as I saw how pretty the campus was, I knew this was the day.  I wasn’t a huge fan of the lens flare I ended up with, but the pictures without just didn’t do justice to the snow on the plants.

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Iowa Bird Watching

February 23, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 3

As I mentioned in my Monday Musings, I’ve already started to have birds show up on my balcony!  In hopes of attracting more I’ve decided to prioritize getting a feeder up, although I don’t know if it will get much use until I have some plants out there to provide shelter for more cautious birds.  This week’s book, Iowa Bird Watching, was a great introductory resource for a beginning Iowa bird-watcher or for someone like me who is mostly hoping to watch birds from home.  The book includes lists of the best places to go birding and of the top ten must-see birds in Iowa.  In addition, there are beautiful pictures provided for the 100 most common birds in Iowa.  The sections I found most helpful were the bits on what to feed different birds and a list of bird-friendly plants. Read more »

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Monday Musings

February 20, 2012 Monday Musings 3

This week the Monday Musings question is the following: What is the last book that you learned something from? What book was it, and what did it teach you?


One wonderful thing about reading non-fiction is that you nearly always learn something interesting.  Here are a handful of the fun/interesting things I’ve learned recently:

  • Golf-course landscapers are very highly at risk for cancer because of the pesticides they use.  For the rest of us, the take away is don’t use pesticides and don’t walk all over the house in your shoes, especially if you have small children! – from A Spring Without Bees
  • There are more darkly colored cats in the city than in less urban areas, even though humans tend to select for lighter colors.  This could be because the cats people adopt are often neutered/spayed or because cities provide areas where darker coloring serves as camouflage. – From The Character of Cats
  • There are five different categories of cheese: fresh, soft-ripened, semi-hard, hard, and blue.  Also, people actually order bacteria online in order to make cheese.  Who knew! – From The Joy of Cheesemaking
  • And most recently, the birds that have started visiting my balcony are House Sparrows.   – From my current read, Iowa Bird Watching.
  • Given that these birds have started showing up, I decided to prioritize getting some bird feeders out over planning a container garden for in the spring.  Although I’ve also recently learned that having sheltering plants available for birds will help convince them to visit 🙂 – From Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden
Feel free to answer the Monday Musing question yourself, either here or on the blog of the memes host, Should Be Reading.

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Bookends – The Week With All the Cats

February 18, 2012 Uncategorized 2

Despite being in the lab so much this week, I did have some time to read, mostly while waiting on reactions to happen.  So I decided to finish the alarmingly large pile of cat books I picked up while reading in the 636’s and for bookends this week I’ll be giving a brief review of each of them.
Read more »

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Photography Friday

February 17, 2012 Photography Friday 4

You know it’s been a busy week when you’re spending your Friday night taking pictures of your shower curtain because that’s really just all the excitement you can handle.  Well, that and the fact that this is the first chance I’ve had all week to even think about pictures.  Another busy week in the lab, the sort of week which has caused the boy to start telling his family that I’m doing “mad scientist stuff” and possibly “making zombie e. coli” (the second part, at least, is provably untrue, while the first part is… subjective).  Anyway, back to the shower curtain.  A while back, I took a picture of my shower curtain as part of my first few fumbling attempts at abstracts for the Ames Camera Club competition.  But the lighting was all wrong, so today I decided to move my own lighting in.  Unfortunately, it seems like there may be one interesting way to take a picture of a shower curtain and I just couldn’t find it again tonight.

Fortunately, I also have an awesome picture of my cat Maggie to share or I might feel pretty sad about my picture selection this week!  She thought I was paying way too much attention to the shower curtain and wanted to play, so I decided to try to take pictures of her while playing with her. Easier said than done! First, she would grab the yarn and sit up and look fierce – until the moment I got my camera oriented for a portrait shot, when she would roll on her back and look adorable and very horizontal.  She also did her absolute best to look at the string (and therefore the camera) for the minimum amount of time possible while still holding the string.  I swear, she was laughing on the inside.  In fact, the one non-motion blurred face shot I managed to get is the one you see here, and I’m pretty sure she’s singularly unimpressed with my picture taking speed.  If she could talk, I think she’d tell me that if I was trying to catch mice, I would be utterly hopeless 🙂

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Monday Musings and More Contests

February 13, 2012 Monday Musings 2

Hello all!  It’s time for this weeks Monday musing, and this week the question posed by Should Be Reading is: What is your favorite romantic book –or book that includes a love story?

My first thought when I read the question was “Romances?  I don’t read romances!” but that thought was quickly followed by the realization that there are definitely books I’ve ended up loving for the romance.  I haven’t read a book where the romance really jumped out at me in a while, but mentally browsing books I’ve read in the past one book really stood out to me.  It’s been a while, so I wish I had this book on hand to remind myself why it left such an impression on me, but I vividly remember loving The Silver Kiss by Annette Curtis Klause.  I think I might even have cried.  Although I don’t remember all the details, I do remember this being a very moving book and might have to re-read it now.

In addition to answering the Monday Musing question, I’d also like to announce a few more challenges I found for 2012 (I’m a little slow, I know!) which fit particularly well with the reading I’ve been enjoying this year.  Reading through the Dewey Decimal system has made me really want to expand the sorts of books I read.  At first, I’d just wander through the non-fiction section and want to read everything, but now it’s gotten to where I wander the whole library feeling that way!  So, to indulge my desire to sample new genres, I will be participating in the Around the Stack in How Many Ways Challenge at the Palin-esque level, which means I’ll be trying to read books from 20+ genres.  For this to be possible, you’ll notice that the host Dog Ear Discus has defined genres pretty narrowly. I will also be completing the similar Eclectic Reader Challenge hosted by Book’d Out.

And last but not least, I will be starting the Book To Movie Challenge hosted by Para Junkee, because I enjoyed reading and than watching Percy Jackson so much.  I think it will be  a lot of fun to see how well (or not) different books are made into movies.  Feel free to join me!

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Bookends About Conservation

February 11, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 1

Non-Project Non-Fiction

After reading about ways to attract wildlife to the garden earlier in the week, I was ready to dive into a book about an actual conservation project – Nature’s Second Chance by Steven Apfelbaum.  In this book, Apfelbaum chronicles his thirty years working to restore the pre-farming ecosystem at Stone Prairie Farm in Wisconsin.  As the introduction points out, this isn’t a book about homesteading but does include a lot of the same elements.  In particular, the author learns about the wood on his property used for the construction of his house and lives a very green, self-sufficient life style with his family constructing some of their own furniture, using solar power, and canning many of the fruits and vegetables they grow. Read more »

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Photography Friday

February 10, 2012 Photography Friday 0

Unfortunately, this was another week when I didn’t have enough time to get out and take a new picture, but I’ve decided not to be too hard on myself as long as I’m doing something each week toward getting better at photography.  And this week, not only did I touch up the lovely photo above, I also participated in the Ames Camera Club abstract competition.  It was very informal, with no real winners selected, but the judge did pick 8 of the 30-ish pictures as good examples of abstracts, including one of mine (posted here).  Although we don’t always interact that much at camera club (when there are speakers, for example), last night was a lot of fun and everyone was really supportive of everyone else’s efforts.

I decided to work on this picture this week because I’ve had so much fun with taking abstract photos for the competition.  I think I’d like to try to keep looking for interesting shapes like this to photograph.  This particular picture is part of a wooden walkway at the top of the mountain containing the Mammoth Caves, near Hallstatt, Austria.  I had a great time visiting Europe with friends and am having fun attempting to sort through the hundreds of pictures we took too!

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A Great Wildlife-Friendly Gardening Book

February 8, 2012 Nature, non-fiction 3

This week I’ve been reading Welcoming Wildlife to the Garden and I can’t wait for warm weather so I can try some of their suggestions on my balcony!  The first thing I noticed about this book was that it had a lot more in common with A Spring Without Bees than I expected, even knowing they’re neighbors in the dewey decimal system, because this book was incredibly eco-friendly.  The authors counsel against using pesticides, suggest Integrated Pest management (using natural predators to get rid of unwanted bugs, as suggested in A Spring Without Bees), and clearly love all animals – even the creepy crawly ones.  Personally, I’ve always loved all animals and even think flies are cute when they wash their faces with their legs, kind of the way cats do.  So finding a book which seemed to see the best in all animals was like finding a kindred spirit.  They even explain how to attract snakes and spiders, which I think a lot of people really wouldn’t go for.  I was ready to draw the line when they started talking about Crocodilians, but fortunately the authors didn’t suggest attracting crocodiles and alligators to your yard!  Instead they observed that if these animals visit your backyard “that may be wildlife enough”, which made me laugh 🙂 Read more »

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