Posts Tagged ‘books’

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.


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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