Books, Cats and Yarn

Hi faithful readers!

Not having internet at home has been awful, keeping me from watching deep-sea footage, monitoring volcanic eruptions, and updating my blog and social media sites. But, the weather is getting nicer again, and at least my blog can be done at the library during the day. So, hopefully this month will see some updates on Ravenmount, not just as a books and music site, but as a blog covering a bit of crochet and updates about my foster kittens and the outdoor cats I look out for. I still HATE living in Pueblo, and am still itching to move back north to the Boulder area, but with no money and with my 2 cats moving to Boulder is still a daunting challenge for now.

So, in the meantime I am in Pueblo, reading (or trying to read) 365 books this year, and taking care of needy kittens till they are ready to be fixed and adopted. Right now I am still working with a small rescue/shelter called Steel City Alley Cats, doing a couple days of in-shelter volunteering most weeks, and anxiously awaiting the shelter’s annual inspection. After all the chaos of the failed attempt at doing no-kill city-wide in Pueblo, a lot of folks here are pretty frustrated and discouraged, and I am hardly immune. I love fostering kittens, and it is so much easier to help kittens when one has a shelter or rescue to provide medications, supplies, and a system for getting them fixed and adopted. I’d love to be more of an independent ‘Kitten Lady’ sort of rescuer, eventually, but setting oneself up to legally rescue kittens as an individual can be tedious, apparently.

Steel City Alley Cats is up for their PACFA inspection very soon, and this is a VERY stressful time for just about any shelter, since failing these inspections can shut down a shelter or result in hefty fines. The local inspector is very professional and seems interested in helping make animal rescue better, so most likely she is not ‘out to get’ the shelters she inspects, but PACFA leaves a lot of the inspection standards up to the discretion of the inspector, so it is often hard to know what the standards are ahead of inspections. This issue was brought up in a ‘sunset review’ of the PACFA program a few years ago, and no doubt efforts have been made to make PACFA standards less arbitrary and mysterious. Still, everyone connected to small shelters like Steel City is probably a bit nervous about how inspection will go each year. If things go very badly, maybe I’ll be looking into what it takes to be an independent kitten rescuer sooner than I’d hoped.

I did discover over this past year that I am actually pretty good as a kitten foster mom for weaned kittens. So, whatever happens, expect that this blog will include kittens. My mom cares for a cat colony with a few as-yet-unspayed cats, so even without working with a shelter I may be tapped into socializing some feral kittens this season and getting them set up somehow or another as adoptable housekitties. So- fair warning- as the year progresses I’ll be making it easier for me to accept donations (money, kitten-care stuff) to support my efforts in this area. I know a bunch of people who like to be able to help kittens even though they can’t foster them or adopt them, after all, and even when working with a small shelter/rescue, my kitten rescue work is fueled entirely by donations in one form or another.

Books

I am trying once again to read 365 books this year. Last year I took on far too many long books that made it hard to get past 300. I did finish over 300 books in 2018, but nowhere near 365.  I already took on a few long books this year, too, but not quite so many so far, so I am still close to being on track. I plan to post my finished books in groups of 10, till I catch up to what I am currently reading, and then post once a week about what I have been reading.  I can’t do anything online from home, but I can get to the library at least once a week to post a weekly update. I am still working on reading all of the books on the various editions of the 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die lists, and I am checking out several library books each week, which along with my own book collection make for some very diverse book lists.

Crochet

The other hobby that takes center stage in my current lifestyle is crochet. I run the facebook page for a group I help host on Sundays, the Knit and Crochet Table Gang. I also attend a couple other groups at libraries around town, and might try out a few non-library groups as well this year. I am participating in the 2019 Stash Busting CAL this year, from the Unraveled Mitten site, and will probably also be starting soon on the Spring Garden Afghan CAL via Joann and Crochet Crowd. I am also making mandala-type throw-sized blankets to sell as fundraisers for kitten rescue using acrylic yarn scraps, and I make hats for the homeless out of non-acrylic scraps. (Yes, I am always happy to accept yarn donations towards these charity oriented projects. I never refuse gift yarn of any sort, really. If I can’t use it I can always regift it to people I know ‘need’ it.)

I may draw up a few original crochet patterns this year, and I’ll certainly try to blog more about what I am making.

I would love to get back into music blogging on here too, at least a few music posts per month, so that may happen. Pueblo is not as safe for a woman wandering around alone at night, compared to Boulder or Fort Collins, so I have not felt safe doing live music blogging the way I did it in Fort Collins, so far, but despite appearances to the contrary there is a lot of music in Pueblo. It just needs more visibility, the sort independent blogs can provide.

So, for now, keep your fingers crossed that the shelter my foster kittens should be coming from this year will pass its inspection and stay in business, and if anyone comes across the perfect solution to allow me to return to Boulder, please let me know. And stay tuned for posts about books, cats, crochet, and music throughout the rest of this year.

-Jamie

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The First 250 Books

I am working on making my own ‘1001 Books’ list, reading all the books on the various editions of Boxall’s 1001 Books lists, and on the Guardian’s 1001 Books list, and reading lots of additional books, and putting the ‘deserving’ ones together into a grand list of books I personally can attest to be worth reading.

That will of course take a few more years. In the meantime, I made a short list of 250 books that will probably be on the final list. Here they are, with some explanations.

Established Classics

Classics provide us with a common cultural language, since so many people read them, across all generations. They may not be the best of their respective genres, but they are the ones our parents and maybe even their parents read, and that our kids and their kids will probably also read or at least know about. Such connections help to keep us as a society from fracturing along generational lines when politics, economics, and other divisive forces pop up.

Science Fiction

I included several science fiction genre books, because we live in a world where many of the tech ideas from classic science fiction are no longer futuristic, but simply oddball variations on what we take for granted as everyday technology. The point of sci-fi as a genre is to imagine possible futures and possible alternatives to the world we live in, and reading books in this genre helps us imagine the future, and prepare for it.

My List vs. Boxall’s

The 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die lists edited by Dr. Peter Boxall are excellent for what they are. Thousands of readers refer to these lists for reading suggestions, and some of us ‘super-readers’ actually focus of reading all the books on these lists, checking them off as we complete them. But they tend to focus on canonical ‘classics’ of Western traditional education, and as a result these lists are heavily male, heterosexual, and conservative. I see no reason to avoid these lists, by any means; in fact, for the reasons I gave above for reading established classics, it is vital that many of us in all generations read and discuss the books on Boxall’s lists. But there are many modern and recent authors left off these lists and many topics and perspectives that are very relevant now, but hardly acknowledged by the books on Boxall’s lists. I started with a combined list of all the editions to date of Boxall’s lists, weeded out all the ones I haven’t read yet, and removed all the ones I have read and would not have included in such a list. Then I added in a few books that are particularly deserving of inclusion in a 1001 Books list. I marked the books I added with an asterisk, for this post. I have particular reasons for including each of those titles.

This is only a list of 250 books, so it cannot include all the good books in any genre or on any topic, but I do think these books merit reading, for anyone and everyone. This particular list is still heavily skewed towards male authors, with only 23% of these titles written by women, but it also includes many well established classics, which tend to be almost exclusively male-authored. For the next 3 segments of my 1001 books list I will be paying close attention to the diversity of those list segments, and as I read more great books, some of the books on this first list will probably be bumped to make way for even better/more relevant/more inclusive/??? books.

  1. One Thousand and One Nights – This is why the golden number for super-long booklists is 1001. The number taps into this aesthetic of neverending storytelling, and turns each book in the list into one of Scheherazade’s stories.
  2. Animal Farm
  3. 1984
  4. Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
  5. Through the Looking Glass
  6. Wuthering Heights
  7. Jane Eyre
  8. Emma
  9. Little Women
  10. Sense and Sensibility
  11. Pride and Prejudice
  12. Persuasion
  13. Middlemarch
  14. The Lost Honor of Katharina Blum
  15. The Awakening
  16. The Scarlet Letter
  17. Rebecca
  18. Anna Karenina
  19. Madame Bovary
  20. Tess of the D’Urbervilles
  21. Moll Flanders
  22. Therese Raquin
  23. The Great Gatsby
  24. Great Expectations
  25. Lady Chatterly’s Lover
  26. One Hundred Years of Solitude
  27. To Kill a Mockingbird
  28. The Color Purple
  29. I know Why the Caged Bird Sings
  30. Their Eyes Were Watching God
  31. The Hobbit
  32. Lord of the Rings (trilogy)
  33. Lord of the Flies
  34. Of Mice and Men
  35. A Christmas Carol
  36. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  37. Frankenstein
  38. Brave New World
  39. The Little Prince
  40. The Old Man and the Sea
  41. The Time Machine
  42. The Fall of the House of Usher
  43. Dracula
  44. The Call of the Wild
  45. The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyl and Mr. Hyde
  46. Aesop’s Fables
  47. The Grapes of Wrath
  48. Robinson Crusoe
  49. Catch-22
  50. Treasure Island
  51. Heart of Darkness
  52. Slaughterhouse Five
  53. The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes
  54. A Tale of Two Cities
  55. The Hunchback of Notre Dame
  56. Gulliver’s Travels
  57. The Invisible Man
  58. Crime and Punishment
  59. A Clockwork Orange
  60. The Trial
  61. Around the World in 80 Days
  62. The War of the World
  63. Oliver Twist
  64. David Copperfield
  65. The Three Musketeers
  66. Uncle Tom’s Cabin
  67. Don Quixote
  68. Journey to the Center of the Earth
  69. The Island of Dr. Moreau
  70. The Count of Monte Cristo
  71. Ivanhoe
  72. Silas Marner
  73. Tarzan of the Apes
  74. On the Road
  75. The Once and Future King
  76. Cannery Row
  77. One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich
  78. Tender is the Night
  79. The Plague
  80. Things Fall Apart
  81. War and Peace
  82. Steppenwolf
  83. Walden
  84. Les Miserables
  85. Le Pere Goriot
  86. Doctor Zhivago
  87. The Jungle
  88. Babbitt
  89. A Town Like Alice
  90. Germinal
  91. The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy
  92. The Alchemist*
  93. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime
  94. The Stand*
  95. The Giver*
  96. The Five People You Meet in Heaven*
  97. Beloved
  98. The Godfather
  99. A Prayer for Owen Meany
  100. American Gods*
  101. Good Omens*
  102. The Unbearable Lightness of Being
  103. Something Wicked This Way Comes*
  104. Firestarter*
  105. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep
  106. I, Robot
  107. Neverwhere*
  108. The Poisonwood Bible
  109. A Confederacy of Dunces
  110. Like Water for Chocolate
  111. The Brief and Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao
  112. The Murder of Roger Ackroyd
  113. Franny and Zooey
  114. Stranger in a Strange Land
  115. Foundation
  116. 2001: A Space Odyssey
  117. The Shipping News
  118. The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie
  119. The Thirty-Nine Steps
  120. Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency
  121. We Need to Talk About Kevin*
  122. A Pocket Full of Rye*
  123. The Bluest Eye
  124. The Maltese Falcon
  125. For Whom the Bell Tolls
  126. Beowolf, by Caitlin R. Kiernan* – This retelling is excellent, true to the classic story but better.
  127. Veronika Decides to Die
  128. The Sense of an Ending
  129. Night Watch, by Terry Pratchett*
  130. A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius*
  131. Midnight in the Garden of Good and Evil*
  132. The Bridge of San Luis Rey*
  133. Mila 18*
  134. Smilla’s Sense of Snow
  135. Hawaii*
  136. Murder Must Advertise
  137. The Namesake
  138. A Canticle for Liebowitz*
  139. Brighton Rock
  140. Jingo, by Terry Pratchett*
  141. Contact
  142. Song of Solomon
  143. The Satanic Verses
  144. Cancer Ward
  145. Pamela
  146. The Girls of Slender Means
  147. Truckers, by Terry Pratchett*
  148. Main Street
  149. Gaudy Night*
  150. The Shepherd’s Crown*
  151. The Museum of Extraordinary Things*
  152. Americanah*
  153. The End of the Affair
  154. Fingersmith
  155. The Fox
  156. 1Q84
  157. The Rainbow
  158. The Way of All Flesh
  159. The Quiet American
  160. The Heart of the Matter
  161. The Razor’s Edge
  162. Silence
  163. The Nine Tailors
  164. The Pilgrim’s Progress
  165. The Devils
  166. The Woman in the Dunes*
  167. Jazz
  168. Billy Budd
  169. Bless Me Ultima*
  170. Invisible
  171. A Million Little Pieces*
  172. The Moon is Down*
  173. Nectar in a Sieve*
  174. A Map of the World*
  175. The Winter of Our Discontent*
  176. The Painted Bird
  177. Zorba the Greek
  178. White Noise
  179. The Thin Man
  180. A Long Fatal Love Chase*
  181. The Life and Times of Michael K
  182. The Scapegoat*
  183. Tom Jones
  184. The Power and the Glory
  185. Momento Mori
  186. Dandelion Wine*
  187. The Trouble With Goats and Sheep*
  188. The Translation of Love*
  189. Bimbos of the Death Sun*
  190. Green Mansions*
  191. Wool*
  192. The Fourth Protocol*
  193. The Glass Bead Game
  194. Solaris
  195. The Joke
  196. Rickshaw Boy
  197. The Music of Chance
  198. London Fields
  199. The Known World*
  200. Pirate Latitudes*
  201. Empire of the Sun
  202. The Mambo Kings Play Songs of Love*
  203. Eugenie Grandet
  204. The Manor
  205. There’s No Place Like Here*
  206. Shikasta
  207. Deep River
  208. City Primeval
  209. The Unconsoled
  210. Kokoro
  211. Alaska*
  212. So Long a Letter
  213. Mornings in Jenin*
  214. The Night Watch, by Sarah Waters*
  215. The Panopticon*
  216. The Beautiful Mrs. Seidenman
  217. The Hangman’s Daughter*
  218. Lincoln’s Dreams*
  219. What Came Before He Shot Her*
  220. The Beautyful Ones Are Not Yet Born*
  221. Simple Prayers*
  222. The Bridge of Beyond*
  223. Embers
  224. I Thought of Daisy
  225. Train to Pakistan*
  226. The Heike Story*
  227. One Night in Winter*
  228. The Buried Giant*
  229. The Unexpected Mrs. Pollifax*
  230. Thirsty*
  231. Tortuga*
  232. Hell’s Gate*
  233. Unnatural Acts*
  234. Seed*
  235. Of Things Gone Astray*
  236. The Farming of Bones*
  237. Snow Hunters*
  238. The Stone Raft*
  239. Marshlands*
  240. Mexico*
  241. The Six*
  242. The Corporation Wars: Dissidence*
  243. The Book of Lies*
  244. Flawed*
  245. Beggars in Spain*
  246. Brain Jack*
  247. Casting Off*
  248. Clockwork Angels*
  249. The Enchantress of Florence*
  250. Anathem*
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My Bookbag: 3 Good Nonfiction Audiobooks

Waking Up: A Guide to Spirituality Without Religion, by Sam Harris –

This is a sort of memoir and exploration of spirituality as a concept divorced from religion. The audiobook is read by the author, and is easy to listen to. The text is probably more likely to appeal to non-religious people, but I suspect most open-minded religious folks can also benefit from this one.

“There is now little question that how one uses one’s attention, moment to moment, largely determines what kind of person one becomes. Our minds—and lives—are largely shaped by how we use them.”
― Sam HarrisWaking Up: A Guide to Spirituality without Religion

The Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well, by Meik Wiking-

This short book offers a nice introduction to hygge, a currently trendy idea in many countries. Wiking offers a definition for the term, and walks readers through what hygge looks like, and how it works- essentially … candles, slow food, blankets, good company.  As a recipe for happiness this aesthetic may not work all the time for everyone, but especially in winter hygge may be a welcome concept for many people. The reader for this audiobook is also the book’s author, and I especially liked this book as an audiobook, because the author knows how to pronounce the Danish words in his book.

“Happiness consists more in small conveniences or pleasures that occur every day, than in great pieces of good fortune that happen but seldom.”
― Meik WikingThe Little Book of Hygge: The Danish Way to Live Well

 

The Hoarder in You, by Dr. Robin Zasio-

This is one of the disorders common within my family, so I picked a book on hoarding for this month’s audiobooks. Even without personal connections, this is a fascinating disorder, and the more you learn about hoarding, the more easy it is to imagine how it develops out of normal behavior. Given the right trauma and the right time, and a lot of ‘normal’ people could wind up with hoarding or cluttering tendencies bad enough to require help. I thought this book was quite good, sensitive to the experiences and concerns of people with hoarding issues and informative for everyone, hoarder or not. The author also recognized the fact that most hoarders never seek out treatment, and many cannot afford meaningful therapy. Her book is geared towards offering guidance for those who may not have access to therapy, not just those who after reading her book could go out and find a therapist.

“To the extent that clutter gets in the way of living in the kind of environment we’d like to be living in and leaves us feeling stressed or remiss, we can all improve our relationships to our possessions.”
― Robin ZasioThe Hoarder in You

 

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Graham Greene- novels and short stories

Several of Greene’s books are on the 1001 Books You Should Read Before You Die lists, though I started reading his books before I started focusing on those lists.

The first book I read by this author was The End of the Affair. I am currently reading The Heart of the Matter.

My top 3 so far from this author: The End of the Affair, Brighton Rock, Travels With My Aunt

Short Stories: Collections

  • Twenty-One Stories (1954) (originally The Basement Room [1935] with 8 stories; then Nineteen Stories [1947] adding 11 new stories; then Twenty-One Stories [1954] adding 4 new stories and removing 2 previous)
  • A Sense of Reality (1963)
  • May We Borrow Your Husband? (1967)
  • The Last Word and Other Stories (1990)
  • Collected Stories (1973) (including May We Borrow Your Husband?A Sense of Reality, and Twenty-One Stories)
  • The Complete Short Stories (2005) (adding or reinstating 4 stories to Collected Stories)

Stories

  • “The End of the Party” (1929)
  • “The Second Death” (1929)
  • “Proof Positive” (1930)
  • “I Spy” (1930)
  • “A Day Saved” (1935)
  • “Jubilee” (1936)
  • “Brother” (1936)
  • “A Chance For Mr Lever” (1936)
  • “The Basement Room” (1936)
  • “The Innocent” (1937)
  • “A Drive in the Country” (1937)
  • “Across the Bridge” (1938)
  • “A Little Place Off the Edgware Road” (1939)
  • “The Case for the Defence” (1939)
  • “Alas, Poor Maling” (1940)
  • “Men at Work” (1940)
  • “When Greek Meets Greek” (1941)
  • “The Hint of an Explanation” (1948)
  • “The Blue Film” (1954)
  • “Special Duties” (1954)
  • “The Destructors” (1954)
  • “Under the Garden”
  • “A Visit to Morin” (1960)
  • “Dream of a Strange Land”
  • “A Discovery in the Woods”
  • “May We Borrow Your Husband?” (1967)
  • “Beauty”
  • “Chagrin in Three Parts”
  • “The Over-night Bag”
  • “Mortmain”
  • “Cheap in August”
  • “A Shocking Accident”
  • “The Invisible Japanese Gentlemen”
  • “Awful When You Think of It”
  • “Doctor Crombie”
  • “The Root of All Evil”
  • “Two Gentle People”
  • “How Father Quixote Became a Monsignor” (1980)
  • “The Last Word”
  • “The News in English”
  • “The Moment of Truth”
  • “The Man Who Stole the Eiffel Tower”
  • “The Lieutenant Died Last”
  • “A Branch of the Service”
  • “An Old Man’s Memory”
  • “The Lottery Ticket”
  • “The New House”
  • “Work Not in Progress”
  • “Murder for the Wrong Reason”
  • “An Appointment With the General”
  • “The New House” (1989)
  • “The Blessing” (1966)
  • “Church Militant” (1956)
  • “Dear Dr Falkenheim” (1963)
  • “The Other Side of the Border” (1936)

 

Sources: lists- wikipedia

 

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Review: Pok Pok: The Drinking Food of Thailand

33911026I received my copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.

Pok Pok: The Drinking Food of Thailand, by Andy Ricker

I don’t normally read cookbooks, but I love experimenting with non-Western ingredients and cooking techniques, and this book looked pretty readable. In fact this book was clearly intended to be read, not just used for its recipes. The recipes all use a small set of ingredients, so readers who want to try cooking the dishes in this book only need to find sources for a few unusual items to be able to try most of the book, in some form or another. And, while it may be awkward for modern apartment-dwellers to deep-fry anything at home, the instructions provided do seem to make even deep-frying seem less of a daunting task for a small, limited apartment kitchen like mine. And, whether I make any of the specific dishes in this book, I did come away with a decent shopping list of spices and other ingredients to keep an eye out for, to recreate a Northern Thai flavor, at least to augment Ramen noodles. In fact, there is a dish in this book that is essentially fancy Ramen noodles.
The only gripe I had really with this book is that it is not at all vegetarian-friendly. I could imagine while I was reading how I could adapt some of the recipes to use less meat or no meat, but not knowing what the ‘authentic’ foods taste like, it may take a lot of experimentation to work out how to use substitutes like tofu or particular vegetables without making the flavors no longer at all ‘Northern Thai’. I am sure poor households in Thailand have developed low-meat or meatless versions of classic dishes, including drinking-food dishes, out of necessity, and I would have appreciated at least brief notes as to how such adaptations might best be worked.
Still, for what it is, this is a fun book for anyone who likes reading about food or experimenting with world cuisine.

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Immersive Reading as a Lifestyle

I love how ‘immersive reading’ adds to your awareness of details afterwards. Probably a lot of what makes my friends think I am an absolute genius is down to immersive reading (and the rest is due to my being an absolute genius, of course).

But, what is immersive reading, you ask?

Well…

When you read a book, how actively engaged are you in that book? If all you do when reading is read, then all you get out of the book is whatever is in its text, augmented by whatever background knowledge you bring with you to your reading. But, if you take the book as a central thread around which to explore, not only do you stand likely to get more out of the book itself, but you might find that you learn a bit about the real world that you retain long after you forget much of the original book. This approach to reading is occasionally mentioned in advice to college students, but it works just as well for everyone.

Take, for an example, a novel I am currently reading, The Enchantress of Florence, by Salman Rushdie. This book, which reads like a fantasy, is equally reasonably shelved as historical fiction. It is set during the High Renaissance, when bits of science were becoming well established, but only among the learned elite, so that a conjurer could still do ‘magic’ by use of science. The borders and people that form the fabric of this novel are otherworldly enough that for modern readers it certainly feels like high fantasy, and I am sure some readers are content to enjoy this book just as a genre-bending fantasy/historical fiction work.

But, a book like this lends itself nicely to a more active, ‘immersion reading’ approach. My reading of this novel will incorporate Youtube videos on the history and archaeology of places mentioned in the novel, videos on the High Renaissance in general, music from that era, and whatever else I come across that ties into this thread. I will be browsing Pinterest for images of people, places, and objects mentioned in the novel, making a pinboard for the book as I read. I might also add a few other books to my TBR that relate in some way to this book, so that in the near future I can revisit some of the subject matter from other angles. I also occasionally use my Tumblr blog to post about topics related to what I am reading, an ongoing reading journal that I ought to use more, I suppose.

All of these activities increase my understanding of what I read in Rushdie’s novel, but it also builds a web of knowledge and context that lasts in my brain after I finish reading. I may not consciously focus on it again for a while, but when I encounter future novels or anything else that connects to this web of information, it triggers my memory to bring up the whole web. Instead of just remembering vague information from Rushdie’s novel, I can access a decent mass of background context that I can use anywhere it seems useful. I need not memorize names and dates and fine detail, since I am not studying for an exam, but if I needed to take and pass an exam related to the High Renaissance, my background from immersively reading Rushdie’s novel gives me a context to fit names, dates, and fine details into.

For any subject having a context web already in your brain makes learning testable facts easier, because we remember stories a lot better than we remember isolated facts. If you are a student you can use this technique to make school easier. If you are in a class you struggle with, you can try immersively reading your textbook, one chapter at a time, finding videos, novels, and other materials on the stories and people mentioned in the text. It might not make memorizing trigonometry or calculus formulas, or those awful mechanisms in organic chemistry, but even in these subjects there are human stories behind every factoid in your textbook that can add context and make their subjects easier to relate to and remember. And, once you graduate and are back in the real world, this same reading approach can keep your brain active and add many layers of meaning and complexity to the world around you, whatever job you pay your bills by.

 

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Introducing ‘Jamie’s Reviews’ book review form posts

Starting soon, I’m putting up form-style reviews of all the books I’ve read. I’ll post the full form-reviews (book-review worksheets) on tumblr, which provides a nice, searchable interface and a format that makes more sense for posting lots of non-prose or semi-prose items. On this blog I’ll stick to topical posts that bring together a handful of books that address a particular theme, with links in those posts to the reviewsheet posts on tumblr.

I’ve been toying with this idea for a while now, but the logistics of organizing what will become potentially thousands of book reviewsheet posts made my seemingly trivial blogging idea a lot more complicated to actually make work. I review a lot of books on Goodreads, not always long, insightful reviews, but at least some ideas about what I think of each book I finish reading. I’m not sure I’d want to write out a full multi-paragraph review for every book I read- not all of them warrant such treatment, and I’ve read 119 books so far just this year, which would mean 119 different book review posts, a daunting amount of writing, most of it not benefiting anyone. But, I’d love to provide basic information on each book I’ve read that might help my readers select great books to read, give as gifts, or to recommend for book clubs. It seems a shame to let my knowledge of thousands of books go to waste.

I am still finalizing my worksheet, but so far I have the following:

Author- [name], [gender], [notes about race, nationality, disability, or other characteristics that contribute to ‘diversity’]

Fiction/Nonfiction/Other (poetry, memoir, ?)

For Fiction:

Basic story/set-up [ ] – I always try not to tell too much of the story in fiction reviews, since that ruins the suspense for a lot of novels.

Setting(s) [ ] – time, place

Themes- [ ]

Trigger Issues and related ‘warnings’- Does this book depict sex, violence, rape, strong language, magic, religion, etc.? This section and the themes section are sort of the ingredients list for the novel.

Science? History? – Will you learn some science or history while reading this book (or at least be inspired to learn more)?

Other nerdy topics? – some novels deal with math, or linguistics, or other nerdy fun stuff

Non-English languages? – a lot of novels in English have phrases in French, or Latin, or Swahili, etc., mixed in with the English, which I really enjoy, but which annoys some readers.

Age- Would I have enjoyed this book as a kid? Are there adult situations in this book that I would have found hard to relate to as a kid? Is there an optimal age range for this book? I personally think young adults can handle most of these topics, and that as young adults these are important topics for people to read about, to develop a well-rounded understanding of the world they are starting to launch themselves into. But, every reader ought to make her own decisions about whether to read books with these sorts of elements, and kids like me, who start reading adult-level books in grade school, are not mature enough to be reading graphic sex scenes or pages of gruesome violence.

Mini-review – Did I like the book? Why? If I don’t own the copy I read, do I want to acquire my own copy? If I do own the copy I read, am I keeping it, or passing it on?

Library? – Do I recommend that this book be included in public library collections? University library collections?

Book reviews are always just the opinions, often strong, outspoken ones, of the reviewer, so you may disagree with my opinions on any of the books I review. Even so, I hope the information in my reviewsheet series will be useful.

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My 2017 PopSugar Reading Challenge

  1. A book recommended by a librarian – The Tropic of Serpents, by Marie Brennan
  2. A book that’s been on your TBR for way too long – The Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
  3. A book of letters – Silence, by Shusaku Endo
  4. An audiobook –  I Shall Wear Midnight, by Terry Pratchett
  5. A book by a person of color – This Is How You Lose Her, by Junot Diaz
  6. A book with one of the four seasons in the title – Wintersmith, by Terry Pratchett
  7. A book that is a story within a story – Mr. Gwyn, by Alessandro Baricco
  8. A book with multiple authors – The Mad Scientist’s Guide to World Domination, edited by John Joseph Adams
  9. An espionage thriller – Spy, by Ted Bell
  10. A book with a cat on the cover – A Cat on the Bus, by Lydia Adamson
  11. A book by an author who uses a pseudonym –Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, by Newt Scamander
  12. A bestseller from a genre you don’t normally read – Fifth Grave Past the Light, by Darynda Jones (paranormal romance)
  13. A book by or about a person who has a disability – The Sky Between You and Me, by Catherine Alene (severe anorexia)
  14. A book involving travel – The Buried Giant, by Kazuo Ishiguro
  15. A book with a subtitle – Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined, by Scott Barry Kaufman
  16. A book published in 2017 – Oathbringer, by Brandon Sanderson
  17. A book involving a mythical creature – Norse Mythology, by Neil Gaiman
  18. A book you’ve read before that never fails to make you smile – The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams
  19. A book about food – The Gingerbread Bump-Off, by Livia J. Washburn
  20. A book with career advice – Stumbling on Happiness, by Danial Gilbert
  21. A book from a non-human perspective – Cat Bearing Gifts, by Shirley Rousseau Murphy
  22. A steampunk novel – Clockwork Angel, by Cassandra Clare
  23. A book with a red spine – The Vegetarian, by Han Kang
  24. A book set in the wilderness – Wildwood, by Colin Meloy
  25. A book you loved as a child – The Marvelous Land of Oz, by L. Frank Baum
  26. A book by an author from a country you’ve never visited – The Hill of Evil Counsel, by Amos Oz (Israel)
  27. A book with a title that’s a character’s name- Babbitt, by Sinclair Lewis
  28. A novel set during wartime – Pastoral, by Nevil Shute
  29. A book with an unreliable narrator –  The Mask of Sanity, by Jacob M. Appel
  30. A book with pictures – Northlander, Vol. 6: Thor’s Daughter, by Brian Wood
  31. A book where the main character is a different ethnicity from yours – 1Q84, by Haruki Murakami
  32. A book about an interesting woman – Travels With My Aunt, by Graham Greene
  33. A book set in 2 different time periods – Shift, by Hugh Howey
  34. A book with a month or day of the week in the title – Black Friday, by James Patterson
  35. A book set in a hotel – Bimbos of the Death Sun, by Sharyn McCrumb
  36. A book written by someone you admire – The Meaning of Human Existence, by Edward O. Wilson
  37. A book that’s becoming a movie in 2017 – American Gods, by Neil Gaiman
  38. A book set around a holiday other than Christmas –
  39. The first book in a series you haven’t read before – Gilded Cage, by Vic James
  40. A book you bought on a trip – The House of the Seven Gables, by Nathaniel Hawthorne
  41. A book recommended by an author you love – Carrie, by Stephen King(recommended by Neil Gaiman)
  42. A bestseller from 2016 – The Trials of Apollo, by Rick Riordan(#62 on Amazon for 2016)
  43. A book with a family-member term in the title – The Hangman’s Daughter, by Oliver Potzsch
  44. A book that takes place over a character’s lifespan – Heike Story, by Eiji Yoshikawa
  45. A book about an immigrant or refugee – Mornings in Jenin, by Susan Abulhawa
  46. A book from a genre/subgenre you’d never heard of – Arctic Chill, by Arnaldur Indridason(Nordic Noir)
  47. A book with an eccentric character –  The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
  48. A book that’s more than 800 pages long – War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy
  49. A book you got from a used book sale – The Shipping News, by Annie Proulx
  50. A book that’s been mentioned in another book – Misery, by Stephen King
  51. A book about a difficult topic – Kindred, by Octavia E. Butler
  52. A book based on mythology – The Last Hero, by Terry Pratchett
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The Vegetarian, by Han Kang

I received my copy of this book free from the publisher in exchange for a fair review.
(I actually received my copy of this book a while ago, but it got mangled in the mail. I put it under a pile of books to help it flatten out, and found it again a few weeks ago, still a little rumpled, but much more readable. So it took a while to read and review this one, but I did eventually get back to it.)
This novel is about a Korean woman who has a dream and becomes a vegetarian overnight. Her family is bizarrely disturbed by her new diet, and she is oddly unable to be vegetarian without starving. As someone who grew up vegetarian I found it very hard to relate to this part of the story, because I know from experience how easy it is to be healthy while eating vegetarian. Also, as is very briefly mentioned in the story, there are Buddhists in Korea who are vegetarian, and restaurants that cater to their dietary needs. So, the family’s issues are with conformity, not food, I guess, but it seemed a bit too contrived.
The rest of the book reveals that this woman is maybe schizophrenic, or at least that is how mental health professionals see her, and certainly no one is interested in asking her about why she is vegetarian or why she is acting the way she does. If they do ask, it is just to elicit a response, not to actually try to understand. Perhaps she is actually schizophrenic, or maybe something supernatural is going on, and no one cares enough to see what is really happening.
For a short novel, this certainly is a story with a lot going on, and I could see it as a great book club book. I enjoyed it, though it is not one of my favorite books for this year, and I did appreciate the notions of conformity and individuality that the story brings up. The blurb on the back of the book suggests this story is allegorical and Kafka-esque, which I didn’t really pick up on in the text, but then again, I am not really into doing literary analysis when I am reading most books. I am sure there is plenty to analyze in this novel, for whatever poor college or high school students find themselves assigned to write papers on it in the future.

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Jack of all Trades, Master of None: Oceanography Edition

A lot of the professional academic folks connected to the deep sea ROV dives have areas of expertise, so that while they might not know as much about all the other critters on the screen, they really know sea stars, black corals, comb jellies, siphonophores, etc. As someone with plenty of time, and with a university library somewhat nearby where there are journals I might use to read professional, published literature, I figured I could pick a focus, as if I was in grad school (I do have 3 graduate ecology courses on my transcript, so that’s not such a crazy idea) and spend the next year becoming an armchair expert.

The problem is, I love them all. Actually, though, the more I think about what I zero in on during dives, I think I already do have a focus, just not one as simple to define and become ‘expert’ in.  One of my graduate courses in ecology was actually in what I suspect is my natural area of specialization- landscape ecology. I loved the subject matter of that course, and if GIS was easier and cheaper to play with on my sad little laptop, I would be spending a lot of my free time mastering it as a tool central to landscape ecology work.

The thing that makes landscape ecology so complex is that it requires some level of mastery of other scales of ecological and biological study. In order to understand whether the differences in species between this Channel Islands submerged slope

July 8-9 dive from the E/V Nautilus expedition to Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary

and this one

July 7-8 dive from the E/V Nautilus expedition to Channel Islands

are due to the overall shape and texture of the landscape (which are determined by currants, geology, etc) or whether the species on each slope are just chance-determined patchiness. The top photo is of a slope where there were no eels. The critters living on the wall were rockfish, white tube worms, basket stars, and a few other species; the bottom was dominated by red sea stars. The second photo is of a nearby slope, which was explored the previous night, and its walls were absolutely full of dogface witch eels(Facciolella equatorialis), a whole vertical city of them, while the bottom was dominated by pink urchins. The walls have different textures, but it is hard to say how much the eels’ habitat was altered by the eels over generations of their use of it, for example.

In order to know why these and other similar slopes vary so much, I need to understand the ecology of all the various critters that live on each slope and bottom area, and how those organisms interact in their local ecosystems. I also need to know more about the shapes of the surfaces these critters live on, the geology of the surfaces, the rough boundaries of each species, etc. Basically, in order to understand larger-scale spatial patterns of these places, I need to be a jack of all oceanographic trades. Mastering any one type of critter, while fun, would be too narrow a focus to really further my mastery of the landscape-level ecology of the ocean ecosystems.

Dogface Witch Eels on the July 7-8 dive from the E/V Nautilus expedition at Channel Islands Marine Sanctuary

 

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