Wednesday, May 28, 2014

The Art of Bird Identification by Pete Dunne

The Art of Bird Identification: A Straightforward Approach to Putting a Name to the Bird, Pete Dunne. Mechanicsburg PA: Stackpole Books, 2012. e-book, 108 pps.

     I had a couple of friends who weren't druggies when I finally decided to change my lifestyle. They were birders. I knew that people watched birds but I never really thought about it. It was wintertime and we'd decided to hike up a small mountain one day.
I showed up in an old pair of canvas sneakers. "I always hike in these," I told the two astonished people as we were standing around in their kitchen. They insisted that I put plastic baggies over the sneakers and lent me a set of ski poles to aid in the walk up. 

     Yeah, there was some snow. The trail and the mountain itself was snow-covered. Maybe six or eight inches of the stuff, maybe a foot. We arrived at the top of the mountain. Something was drumming against a tree somewheres. "Pileated," one friend said and the other nodded. "Huh?" I asked. They explained their avocation. "We're birders." Then they had to explain that.

     I was fortunate that the first two birders I knew [and the ones who got me into birding] used sound identification as well as field marks. By time the three of us got to a bird sanctuary that summer, I could recognize some birds by their calls and songs. From these two I learned also about the importance of habitat and even trees in identifying the feathered avians among us.

     I had over a hundred birds on my life list when I decided to throw out the list and just concentrate on studying birds and their actual behaviors. I understand that some percentage of birders can keep a life list and also study the behavior of birds. I don't regret my decision because that was when I learned how to pull together the shapes, sounds, and behaviors of birds into families and individual identifications.

     Such is the stuff of Pete Dunne and his books. The Art of Bird Identification is not a field guide as such. It is rather a heap of information about how to take one's bird identification skills to a more advanced level. Examining birds-- which usually will not pose to our satisfaction in order to present us with precise field marks-- and then comparing their colors to a photograph in a bird book is not where birding is at. It never was.

     The first birders had a solution for those pesky birds who would not stand still. They shot them and killed them and had them stuffed. The next generation of birders now have fancy apps and gadgets on their too-smart phones and other fancy devices that they carry on birding trips with them. Oh, and a fancy camera too. But I don't belong to either generation. I think that is just fine.

     Someday, bird field guides will be obsolete relics, just as typewriters are now. The folks coming up after me may not recognize the greatness of a Pete Dunne or ever attend an Audubon Society meeting. That is their loss. I am happy to be the birder that I am. Pete Dunne inspires a bit of pride in those of us who observe birds.

sapphoq reviews says: Pete Dunne is outstanding in what he does. He knows birds. He knows the answers to questions like: What sounds does a particular species of bird makes when taking off, on flight, landing? Does it hop or walk or both? What trees does it use for nesting? What does the alarm call of a particular species of bird sound like? What is the shape of a bird in flight? What environment is the bird typically found in? The Art of Bird Identification points out correctly that true birding is a synthesis of senses and environmental clues. Highly recommended to all birders who are yearning to improve their observation skills in the field.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Never Fall Down by Patricia McCormick

Never Fall Down, Patricia McCormick. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. e-book, 139 pps.

     Arn Chorn Pond was a boy in a small Cambodian village when the Khmer Rouge came calling. It was a vicious time in history to have lived through. The village emptied out. Everyone was forced to march to fields far away where they grew rice and didn't have enough to eat. Conditions were inhumane.

     Arn was one of the "fortunate." He was adopted [his family died in The Killing Fields] and came to the United States to live. Other kids and adults, not so much.

sapphoq reviews says: Patricia McCormick relates a true story in Never Fall Down. Although characterized as a novel, the book has Arn's memories stamped in it. Highly recommended lest we forget the horrors of the Khmer Rouge.

The Hypocrisy of Disco by Clane Hayward

The Hypocrisy of Disco: A Memoir, Clane Hayward. San Francisco: Chronicle Books LLC, 2012. e-book, 215 pps.

     Clane Hayward grew up in the sixties with several siblings and a mother who was disposed to picking out awful lovers and gross places to live. Her mother and the adults around here were doing the hippy trip. Unfortunately for Clane and the other kids around her, the grown-ups weren't very adult-like.

sapphoq reviews says: Clane Hayward's autobiography leaves off at age thirteen when she left her family for good. Her writing is competent. She relates her memories without going into neurotic fits of blaming her parents for their irresponsible ways and poor choices. I liked this book. Highly recommended for those who like memoirs in which the folks remembering are not embedded in victimhood.

Stuff by Gail Steketee and Randy Frost

Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things, Gail Steketee and Randy Frost. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2010. e-book, 246 pps.

     I remember the first time I walked on goat trails. It was from the back door through a small kitchen to a seat near the television set. From the outside, the house looked average. Friend and I grilled steaks. Friend did not prepare me for the catastrophe inside. I was shocked. Friend had been a roommate and decided to return to the family home after several months. After seeing the downstairs, I decided that I must have been the world's most horrid roommate. 

     I don't live in house beautiful for sure. I am disorganized ["thanks so much, T.B.I."] but I have yet to develop goat trails in my living space. Stuff is a series of snapshots of what could be. I don't want it and I keep striving to toss the stuff that I haven't used and to impose at least minimal order at home. Throwing stuff out is easier now that I no longer remember where I got it or why I wanted it. So I keep striving.

     I remember the first time that I heard the word "hoarder." It was several decades ago-- before my experience on the goat trails-- with an old friend who is now dead. We had to stop at someone's house for a reason that I do not recall now. I could see the sun room from the car. There was a refrigerator to one side and piles of crap all over. "She's a hoarder," my old now dead friend said. We did not go in. That was probably okay.

     Housemate used to have a co-worker who was/is an animal hoarder. Specifically cats and kittens. She belongs to some stray cat and kitten society. Her collection is sanctioned by her position as a volunteer. Her clothing smelled like cat piss constantly. Still does. I don't know how she managed to hold on to her job until retirement. She was a social worker too. Go figure.

     Far be it from me to make light of hoarding problems. Hoarding is serious stuff. Some cities have special task forces to address the problems created by hoarding. We need one of those here in the middle of nowhere. Perhaps if this town ever gets out of the sixties, we can get one of those task forces here.

sapphoq reviews says: I learned a lot from Stuff. I learned that there are three kinds of hoarding and that hoarders need a skilled approach in order to help remedy eye sores and public health problems created by the piles. Although at least one book reviewer thought that the case studies veered too much towards entertainment, I did not find this to be so. The vignettes were shared with compassion. Stuff is a great book which families of hoarders may want to get. Highly recommended.

Good Birders Don't Wear White by Lisa White and Pete Dunne

Good Birders Don't Wear White: 50 Tips from North America's Top Birders, Lisa White and Pete Dunne. Boston: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2007. e-book, 220 pps.

Good Birders Don't Wear White is a collection of tips for aspiring birders. Suggestions include when to wear white, when to question authority, focusing on the birds themselves rather than another check-mark on the life list, and others.

sapphoq reviews says: This is an easy-to-read book of fifty short essays by various birders. Beginner birders will be able to take away practical suggestions and the rest of us are sure to enjoy reminiscing with the essayists about their field experiences. Good Birders Don't Wear White is aimed at readers who enjoy birds. Highly recommended for this select audience.

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Finding Casey by Jo-Ann Mapson

Finding Casey, Jo-Ann Mapson. New York: Bloomsbury USA, 2012. e-book, 256 pps.

     I really enjoyed Solomon's Oak and I was excited to discover the next book which continues the story of the family. In the beginning of Finding Casey Glory, Joseph, and Juniper are living in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The family continues to thrive happily-- with occasional glitches-- in everyday living. Juniper has matured into a college student. Glory and Joseph have married. 

sapphoq reviews says: The presence of "The Farm," a dysfunctional sort of commune run by a violent man felt especially real to me as did the description of the Santa Fe market and the woman in crisis. Finding Casey is a heart-warming story written with Jo-Ann Mapson's fine lyrical style. I absolutely loved this book. Highly recommended.

Si-cology 1 by Mark Schlabach and Si Robertson

Si-cology 1, Mark Schlabach and Si Robertson. Brentwood, TN: Howard Books, 2013. e-book, 186 pps.

     I love the Duck Dynasty crew and that's a fact. I don't care that their worldview-- especially as concerning religious practices-- is different than mine as an atheist/ non-theist. I lived in Louisiana for almost a year [many years ago] and I do miss the people. The show Duck Dynasty makes me laugh. And the show also reminded me of the importance of family. I've had duck twice and I didn't care for it. Perhaps I would like Miss Kay's duck gumbo, I don't know. I don't hunt but I am certainly not opposed to hunting that provides foods. And I am pro-gun. 

 sapphoq reviews says: I've noted several books by individual Robertsons recently on the market. Of all of them, I liked Si-cology 1 the best. Uncle Si [Phil's younger brother] on the show tells the best stories. His style is captured in the book rather well. I chuckled out loud. The color photographs of Silas scattered throughout Si-cology 1 added to my enjoyment. Highly recommended. 

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Ripper by Isabel Allende

Ripper, Isabel Allende. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. e-book, 426 pps.

     Having read Maya's Notebook, I looked forward to reading Ripper and I was not disappointed. Ripper is set in San Francisco, an area of the country that I am quite fond of and know well enough. A teenager and her internet cohorts who play an online game called Ripper use the game to figure out who is leaving a trail of bodies in San Francisco.

sapphoq reviews says: Isabel Allende did an excellent job penning this serial killer novel. There was a twist at the end that was unanticipated. The scenery was spot-on. The characters were believable, especially Amanda the teen, her leftover hippie mom with poor taste in men, and her grandfather. And Save the Tuna was especially endearing. I like abandoned buildings in real life and in the novels I read. Highly recommended.

Savage Harvest by Carl Hoffman

Savage Harvest: A Tale of Cannibals, Colonialism, and Michael Rockefeller's Tragic Quest for Primitive Art, Carl Hoffman. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. e-book, 301 pps.

     In 1961, Michael Rockefeller [a son of Nelson] as a young man set off to the wilds of New Guinea to collect tribal art from the Asmat peoples. This art is on display today. But the catamaran that he shared with anthropologist René  Wassing got in trouble. René
stayed with it and was rescued. Michael Rockefeller was not so lucky. He swam to seek help among the Asmat along the shore. He was invited to stay for dinner.

     Although the "official" version of what happened to Michael Rockefeller was cleaned up quite a bit according to the whims of the Roman Catholic Church and a Dutch politician, that wasn't at all how he met his death. The Rockefellers are not talking. The art that Michael Rockefeller is on display but also does not reference the true events. Nor does the court documents that declared him to be deceased.

sapphoq reviews says: Carl Hoffman set out to discover exactly how Michael Rockefeller met his death. He lived among the Asmat and discovered the indigestible truth. For those of us who relish historically accurate tales which warn against colonialism, highly recommended.

Friday, May 09, 2014

A Garden of Marvels by Ruth Kassinger

A Garden of Marvels: How We Discovered That Flowers Have Sex, Leaves Eat Air, and Other Secrets of Plants, Ruth Kassinger. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2014. e-book, 326 pps. including thorough notes.

A Garden of Marvels is all about plants and their secret lives. Discoveries about how basic botany works took several centuries of time and not a little bit of conflict. This book is full of interesting tidbits, anecdotes, and tales of scientists who studied plants. A few short centuries ago, we did not understand how various plants reproduced. We did not even think of flowers as having anything to do with reproduction. Nowadays, companies are studying how to convert the photosynthesis cycle of rice from the inefficient C3 to the more efficient C4 via injection of D.N.A. from another plant in order to increase the yield so more people will be fed. The true hope of bio-fuels is not in corn or grease as a few Americans have experimented with but in a specific kind of bacteria which Europeans have concentrated on. Botany is fascinating and useful. A Garden of Marvels testifies to that.

sapphoq reviews says: Ruth Kassinger has written a masterpiece in A Garden of Marvels. For those who like plants and science both, highly recommended.

Thursday, May 08, 2014

Not Without My Sister by Celeste Jones, Juliana Buhring and Kristina Jones

Not Without My Sister: The True Story of Three Girls Violated and Betrayed by Those They Trusted. Celeste Jones, Juliana Buhring and Kristina Jones. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2012. e-book, 342 pps.

     I knew a couple of teens who had gotten involved with the Children of God, now known as The Family of Love or The Family International. One committed suicide. The other eventually went to Puerto Rico as a C.O.G. "missionary." I heard she got out. I hope that is true.

     Rebekah [not the Rebekah in the book] took me along to visit the commune in a rundown section of New York City. I've forgotten now what borough it was in. The adults who lived there-- I didn't see any children or teens-- appeared to be happy. While we were there, someone arrived with some food "donations" for the day. There was bits of singing and speaking in tongues. I remember that distinctly. The commune itself was located in a rundown dark warehouse, not anyplace that I would want to live. 

     I knew about Flirty Fishing from Rebekah but I was not interested in being involved with anything that promoted "winning souls" through sex. Rebekah claimed that sex with prospective converts never resulted in pregnancy because god made sure of that. I didn't think that could possibly be true. [It wasn't]. I'd seen a few of the Mo letters too. The ones that I saw must have been rather tame. I don't recall anything striking about them other than lots of Bible verses. I did not see the comic books or any films.

     High school life went on and I lost track of Rebekah sometime after her enforced transfer out. I'd forgotten about her until I ran across the ex-COG websites. I'm glad that I didn't get involved with the C.O.G. Reading Not Without My Sister made me even more happy. What held me back was my dad. I could not and would not leave him behind.

     Not Without My Sister describes the horrific abuse of teens, children, toddlers, and babies under the guise of "love." The C.O.G. had evolved into the Family of Love. Under Mo's dictatorship-- and later his second wife's-- disciples were ordered to "date" each other on a rotating basis. This included children with adults as well as children with children.

sapphoq reviews says: The three siblings who authored Not Without My Sister did an excellent job of exposing the sexual and other abuse as practiced by the C.O.G./ The Family of Love/ The Family International. The book also exposed bits of the practices of the higher-ups which co-incidentally included developing dossiers on people who are brave enough to leave the cult, a practice borrowed directly from Scientology.
     This book is not for the faint-hearted or the easily triggered. For other adults, highly recommended.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Wild Hunger by Bruce Wilshire

Wild Hunger: The Primal Roots of Modern Addiction, Bruce Wilshire. Oxford UK: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, 1999. e-book, 337 pps.

     Wild Hunger argues that addiction rises out of humanity's primal need for connection with nature. Because we are deprived of feelings of ecstasy and oneness with other animals and life-forms, we seek false remedies in what Bruce Wilshire refers to as "scientism" and vapid consumerism. We have lost the distinction between ritual and addiction. Nature is viewed in a circular fashion. Technology is not an adequate substitute for face-to-face encounters with wilderness.

sapphoq reviews says: Bruce Wilshire is a well-qualified philosopher. His writing was technically adequate although I had difficulty grasping some of his ideas. I am not sure that there is any evidence that the etiology of addictive behaviors has anything to do with losing touch with nature or with serpent power. Even so, I appreciated much of what Wilshire has to say about the lack of connection with nature that many people suffer from in these modern times. 
     I strongly disagree with the characterization of science as an "ism". I also have had many delightful feelings connected with technology e.g. altering my digital photographs into digital art. Technology is a way for some of us to connect with others. Science is responsible for saving my life. A couple hundred years ago, the appendix attack I suffered in the eighties would have meant a death sentence. I also thrill in science because it is science that has given me a way to describe the stories that I find in the woods. Knowing the formal names of and habits of the living organisms in the woods has added immensely to my enjoyment. Science and logic are both necessary to evaluate various claims of individuals and organizations. Without the ability to figure out the accuracy of some forms of "knowledge," I would not be able to make informed decisions about issues that have come up in my adult life.
     Wilshire quotes from several renown "New Age" folks. I did not enjoy that so much. I found his insistence upon capitalizing some words to be annoying and the asterisks placed before the word "spirituality" to be irritating as all get-out. I did enjoy the quotations from Emerson and the stories about his dog.
     Highly recommended for those with more of a philosophy background than I have and for those readers who fall into the category of "admirers" of William James.
     For the rest of us, some of Wild Hunger will be interesting and some will feel a bit like chaotic strings of words.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee by Carolyn Brown

The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society Jubilee, Carolyn Brown. Naperville ILL.: Sourcebooks Inc., 2013. e-book, 274 pps.

     Marty and Cathy Andrews are adult twin sisters who run Miss Clawdy's Cafe. Their best friend is a woman named Trixie Matthews whose mother Janie is in the local nursing home with Alzheimer's. Jack Landry is a next door neighbor. He is on the local police force and has known the trio their whole lives. Agnes is a feisty older woman who lives nearby. She is full of piss and vinegar. Darla Jean-- Jean is her last name, really-- is an ex-hooker turned preacher. She runs the Christian Nondenominational Church downstreet from the Baptist Church where Agnes is a member.

     Then there are the women of the Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society. Cathy's peppers have won numerous prizes throughout the years. By decree, the Society membership is limited to twenty-one women. Violet is the chief officer. [She has a son who is an aspiring politician]. Agnes is not in the Society. She and Violet have some difficulties with the idea of being civil to each other.

     Men in Cadillac, Texas are [mostly] hot cowboy types. [There are no descriptions of sexual rendezvous but the reader is aware of who is paired off with who]. Not everyone is worth having a relationship with, in spite of individual financial circumstances or degree of steaminess in the bedroom.

     The women in the novel go through changes. Friendship prevails.

sapphoq reviews says: This review is fairly boring but the book isn't. Extramarital sex renders this tale unsuitable for most teens. The Blue-Ribbon Jalapeno Society was a light read and had me laughing out loud. Those who cannot endure any mention of Christianity should steer clear. Those who object to mild cursing also should stay away. For the rest of us, the tale is delightful. Recommended.