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Archive for the ‘Books’ Category

Audiobook Recommendations

trevor noah.jpgGulp-cover-350.jpg

I have been listening to a lot of audiobooks lately, mostly in an attempt to avoid being immersed in the news all day. These are two recent favorites, available on audible.com

Born a Crime is a memoir by Trevor Noah, read by Trevor Noah, about his childhood in South Africa during and following apartheid. Firstly, you should read the audiobook just to hear Noah speak Xhosa, which is one of those amazing African clicking languages. He also does great accents.  Secondly, the book is just full of stories that are both so foreign yet familiar. The racial politics of post-apartheid South Africa are dicey, and Noah being of mixed racial origins gets the best and worst of it. His mother is really the main character of the book, and she does seem like a true character. Interestingly, Noah does not venture into his rise to fame even to discuss much beyond a few references to working in comedy clubs. This is truly about his childhood.

Gulp by Mary Roach, read by Emily Woo Zeller– another monosyllabic title from this taboo-breaking author. I like her consistency. Honestly the parts of Packing for Mars (wait I guess not all of her books have one-syllable titles!) that I remember best are about pooping in space. This book encompasses a multitude of digestive interests, but let me just get down to the real nitty gritty: there is a whole chapter on Elvis’s megacolon.. Emily Woo Zeller won an award for her reading of this book.

Other recommendations: Lincoln in the Bardo by George Saunders is the best audiobook I’ve read this year; the cast of characters is incredible, and it was just 1,000x more fun than reading it. Chris O’Dowd reading Fantastic Mr. Fox is a lot of fun also.

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I think a lot about advice that I wish I had received as a young person, or things that I would tell my younger self if I could go back in time.

This book made me realize that I should be keeping track of those things to compile for my kids and my niece and nephew (I harbor some doubt that they are secretly wishing for more advice from their aunt).  Hey  I’m going to add a new tag for it so I can compile them right here on this blog. I have a lot of love for self-help books that are actually helpful, this seems like a good one.

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Happy 2012!

We had a fabulous New Year’s Eve. We went to see the American version of Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, and watched the fireworks on Lady Bird Lake from the theater right after we got out. Perfect timing!
And lest you worry, I finished my one last book and made it to 50 for 2011. Whew! That was the most recreational reading I have done in a long time. But I’m going to try to be realistic about how much reading I’ll get done with a baby due in February.

2012 Reading Challenge

2012 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 0 books toward her goal of 20 books.

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Here’s to fresh starts!

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One more day of 2011!

2011 has had its ups and downs… some family illnesses that were close calls, and our sweet Coaly is sick. But we had a lovely vacation in Chicago and I had my last hurrah in Europe. We are definitely looking forward to 2012 and the new baby who will be joining us! So amazing. But where is my real focus in these last hours of 2011?

2011 Reading Challenge

2011 Reading Challenge

Sue has read 49 books toward her goal of 50 books.

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Finishing just ONE. MORE. BOOK. And yes, I have been cramming in some short ones here at the end of the year, but that is fair, right?  The thing that is really irking me is that there is a cookbook in there, I might have to finish two books by tomorrow just to make up for that.  I’m thinking that next year my goal is 10, including cookbooks. Going from one a week to one a month seems about right for my expectations. Or maybe I should just read all 10 in January? Happy new year! May we all reach our goals for 2012.

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I have been on a streak with the popular science books, and I am happy to say it continues with this book. Full disclosure: I grew up watching Jacques Cousteau, I went to Marine Biology camp, I went to Marine Biology campus in college, and were it not for a wicked tendency to seasickness and an awesome ornithology professor I would probably be a Marine Biologist today. I love the ocean and the animals in it.

Wendy Williams (such name confusion! Between China Miéville’s new book by the same name and several famous Wendy Williamses, whew!) gets me, but she gets the squeamish people too. So if you don’t automatically love squid that is not on your dinner plate, don’t give up. (But don’t look for sympathy from me. I don’t get you, squeamish people!) She follows the history of squid in popular culture, art, and writing, and finds them and their octopi brethren thoroughly vilified. She takes time to dispel rumors, and even to touch some critters herself.

Williams tackles the GIANT SQUID that has fascinated artists and scientists for years. Their carcasses have popped up randomly, confirming stories of their existence though some were overblown. And they EAT PEOPLE! No, not really. But they look super-cool and they live really deep in the ocean. She follows scientists studying the weedy Humboldt squid, and she also spends a lot of time with neurologists using squid nerves as models for human nerves. Fascinating! I loved the section on animal intelligence, where she notes the anthropocentric attitude that invertebrates as stupid and considers the ways that WE would be stupid to a squid.

Between Finding Nemo (“You guys made me ink!” being one of the highlights of the film for me) and the adorable octopus with the coconut shell, cephalopods are moving up in popular opinion. Hopefully the kid fans of Sponge Bob and Nemo will grow up to read this book and discover the really amazing animals that inspired the shows. Williams’s humor and scientific curiosity are qualities you will enjoy in your tour guide into the cephalopod world.

Thanks to Abrams Books for providing a copy of this book via netgalley. My opinions are my own.

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Earth Day reading

The Death and Life of Monterey Bay by Stephen Palumbi and Carolyn Sotka


Loving nature can be exhausting. Constantly crises arise, reminding us of our ecological footprint, the impacts of what we eat and how much we drive. It can make a person crazy with guilt. This book is a refreshing perspective on environmental crises past, and the resilience of the amazing ecosystem of Monterey Bay. The authors count the impacts of the decimation of the otter population in the early 1800s, which caused a domino effect where the boom of otter prey items such as abalone and sea urchin munched the kelp forest down to nubs. They follow the impacts of harvest of whales, abalones, sardines, and bird eggs. Palumbi, one of those polymath ecology geniuses, describes how abalone larval recruitment and whale population biology are keys to these changes.

The local history is folded in to the ecology of the bay, with the fabulous story of 1930s Pacific Grove mayor and PhD marine biologist Julia Platt who shot chickens invading her garden and protected the Hopkins Marine Life Refuge. He introduces the intellectual group of Ed Ricketts, John Steinbeck, and Joseph Campbell whose lives intertwined in Monterey- Ricketts, who collaborated with Steinbeck on The Sea of Cortez, was portrayed as Doc in Cannery Row. Palumbi draws a parallel between the dustbowl that is the foundation of the Grapes of Wrath and the sardine overfishing in Monterey Bay.

The book is at its best when the focus is on ecology and key historical figures. Occasionally the authors’ efforts to include personal histories are clumsy and intrusive, including a couple dating in the midst of the sardine cannery accounts. But these are short interruptions. The big picture of a region that has survived threats from so many sides and emerged as an ambassador of ocean ecosystems is an encouraging story. The book finishes with the construction of the landmark Monterey Bay Aquarium on the footprint of the defunct canneries and its overwhelming success.

It is important to remember how much things have improved over time. It always seems like things are at their worst right now, but I’m going to try to imagine Monterey Bay over the last 200 years when I’m feeling discouraged. It has overcome the abuse, going from a wasteland stripped of otters and kelp to polluted with fish guts and cannery stench to an otter and whale-watching tourist destination. Thanks to Palumbi for showing us that the glass is half full. I can use the optimism right now!

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Mangroves rule.

Let Them Eat Shrimp originated as a story for National Geographic Magazine— the article is a great preview for the book. The slide show is amazing, of course.

Kennedy Warne visits mangroves from Bangladesh to Eritrea to Panama and Brazil. Though the title references shrimp farms, the book is centered on the ecology of mangroves, the cultures they support, threats to their continued existence, and ecosystem services. Culture? Yes–just like the rainforests referenced in the subtitle, mangroves support people who depend on them for shellfish, charcoal, fisheries, and even honey. Their exploitation by small groups of people may be sustainable, but mangroves are vulnerable to coastal development for tourism, timber, and shrimp farms. Warne travels the globe and finds that many governments protect mangroves on paper, but enforcement is lacking and development is often unregulated. It’s not all bad news though, there are some encouraging stories of innovative sustainable development and reforestation programs, mangrove restoration and mitigation. None of the policy or science is excruciating or boring, however. It reads more like a travelogue– I was reminded of Douglas Adams’ “Last Chance to See”, one of my favorite books. Tigers hunt the mangroves in Bangladesh, while monkeys in Tanzania use their tails to lure crabs. A humanitarian/cell biologist leads reforestation efforts in Eritrea, a traditional fisherman uses otters to funnel fish into a net in Bangladesh.  Warne tells fascinating stories that are linked by mangroves, linking ecology and humanity.  Warne does for mangroves what E.O. Wilson has done for ants– illustrates their importance not only in ecology but in society.

Warne says that he is interested in mangroves because “they’re maligned, they’re marginalized….Mangroves are underdogs.” He champions them well. Though not everyone may find them beautiful, they provide services that should easily win friends, such as nursery habitat for fish and shrimp, roosting and nectar for birds, storm buffer, silt trap, and carbon sink.

Based on the title, I was expecting more comparison between the costs of shrimp farming and wild shrimp harvesting, but the shrimp farms are one of many issues in the book. The book is refreshingly free of instructions on how to live our lives or condescension towards the first-world lifestyle. Warne does not talk down to the reader or preach.

Thanks to Island Press for letting me read this book through Netgalley .

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