Friday, October 31, 2014

Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist and Daniel S. Licht

My travel list gets longer. I have just finished reading Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks: A Seasonal Guide by Gary W. Vequist and Daniel S. Licht, another fine nature book from Texas A and M University Press. I already knew before reading that I wanted to go to the Everglades, though I am more interested in the birds than the alligators. I now know about the Theodore Roosevelt National Park in North Dakota for viewing bison. I also now know that if I am ever in Minneapolis-St. Paul in February (which is likely) that I should bundle up and go look for bald eagles and waterfowl along 75 miles of the Mississippi River which administered as a National River and Recreation Area.

The authors selected 12 national parks to highlight in separate chapters, one for each month. For each park, they selected a key species to feature, such as gray wolves in Yellowstone and prairie dogs in the Badlands. They describe the parks, point out key viewing spots, and identify species behaviors. They then list other national parks at which visitors may see the featured species.

I read Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks as an ebook downloaded from eRead Illinois on my MacBook Air using Adobe Digital Editions. I discovered it while preparing to teach an ebook class at the library. I see that no libraries in my library's consortium have added the title in print, but it can be found through our catalog which now includes our ebook holdings. I enjoyed reading it on my MacBook as all the illustrations were in full color and I got to choose my own comfortable font size. It is probably even better on a tablet, as I did tap the down key a lot.

Vequist, Gary W. and Daniel S. Licht. Wildlife Watching in America's National Parks: A Seasonal Guide. Texas A and M University Press, 2013. 246p.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature by Jonathan Rosen

"Some days, of course, there's nothing but starlings." Jonathan Rosen 

Sometimes I come upon books without seeking, just finding them, similar to Gene Spandling spotting an ivory-billed woodpecker (he thinks) when he was just enjoying a outing in a cypress swamp. I came across a positive reference to The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature and borrowed it. For some reason, I expected the book to be more scientific, detailing what can be found in the atmosphere. Instead, I found it to be a literary history of birdwatching infused with Rosen's own story of becoming a birdwatcher (a term he seems to like better than birder).

The Life of the Skies is also a travel memoir. Rosen describes outings in the swamps of Louisiana, the woods of Central Park, and the valleys in Israel, all places with important environmental stories. Often in the company of local experts, he sought birds of note. His essays about these outings explain how global geopolitics and individual efforts for conservation have determined what birds birdwatchers see. He also populates his book with stories about famous birdwatchers, including John James Audubon, Henry David Thoreau, Walt Whitman, Emily Dickinson, Alfred Russell Wallace, Theodore Roosevelt, Robert Frost, Roger Tory Peterson, and E. O Wilson. He also quotes songwriters Lucinda Williams, Chris Hillerman, and Gram Parsons.

Rosen is an essayist for the New Yorker and the New York Times and has written other books that examine current life in philosophical, religious, and ethical terms. This book continues his diverse scholarly interests. In it I found many quotable passages, like one above.

In the world of books, The Life of the Skies is not common like a starling. It is also not an ivory-billed woodpecker of a book, for you will successfully find it in some libraries, if you look. I will call it an indigo bunting, an uncommon and delightful find.

Rosen, Jonathan. The Life of the Skies: Birding at the End of Nature. Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2008. ISBN 9780374186302.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Dear Committee Members by Julie Schumacher

Upon hearing an interview with Julie Schumacher on an NPR Books podcast, I knew that I wanted to read Dear Committee Members. I like offbeat academic satires, such as Moo by Jane Smiley and Portuguese Irregular Verbs by Alexander McCall Smith. I was not disappointed. Schumacher is an inventive and witty storyteller.

Dear Committee Members is not your common comic narrative. Schumacher has instead written a long series of letters of recommendation from unpredictable English professor Jay Fitger of Payne University. Many are written for students of his creative writing classes who are seeking employment to either pay for their educations or to get their first full time jobs. Some are aimed at getting grants or scholarships. Not all are for the benefit of students, as he writes LORs for his colleagues trying to escape the underfunded and disrespected English Department. What makes these letters funny is Fitger's total lack of tact and over-sharing.

About five letters into the book, I was not sure if I was going to like it much. There were many characters, and I had not yet seen who mattered. I am happy that I continued because several story lines became clear and I became very interested in Fitger, who is a very complicated man.

After reading Dear Committee Members, you may wonder whether anyone will ever again ask the author Schumacher, who teaches at the University of Minnesota, for a letter of recommendation. She told NPR that her students know about the book but they still ask for letters

Schumacher, Julie. Dear Committee Members. Doubleday, 2014. 180p. ISBN 9780385538138.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole by Irene Latham

When you go to Africa for camera safari, (which you should - don't let the fear of malaria, yellow fever, or ebola stop you) visit water holes. Almost all animals have to drink water at some point in the day or night, and water holes are where they find water in the drier seasons. These low pools are gathering spots for many species. Watching the wildlife traffic is entertaining and exciting, as Irene Latham attests in Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole. This bright children's book is illustrated by Anna Wadham.

If you have been to savannah lands in Africa, you can vouch for Latham's descriptions of the animals and their behaviors. Impala do literally spring high into the air when frightened, as Latham says in "Impala Explosion"; it is quite a sight to see. Vultures, storks, jackals, and hyenas do squawk and snarl around the remains of dead animals, as she describes in "Calling Carcass Control." Drinking from a water hole is a risky necessity for giraffe, as she explains in "Triptych for a Thirsty Giraffe."

I thought "Oxpecker Cleaning Service" was the funniest poem. I'd enjoy reading it to a child.

An explanatory paragraph accompanies each poem. Latham includes a glossary of words that may be new to young readers in the back of her book. There was even a word that I didn't know (volplane), proving that this is a book that will benefit young and old.

Latham, Irene. Dear Wandering Wildebeest and Other Poems from the Water Hole. Millbrook Press, 2014. 33p. ISBN 9781467712323.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Yoko Finds Her Way by Rosemary Wells

I am about to take a flight on an airplane. It is good that I have read Yoko Finds Her Way by Rosemary Wells. Yoko teaches readers young and old how to watch for directional signs that help them get to the airport, through checkin and customs, and to the gate for their flights. With good signs, it might be easy to navigate through the big airport, but Yoko goes through one wrong door. Getting back to her mother is a little adventure.

We have been reading Rosemary Wells books in our house since my daughter was little. Our daughter has graduated from college and is living her own life in another state now, but Bonnie and I still like to bring home the author's brightly illustrated books. I particularly enjoy the oriental touches in Yoko Finds Her Way.

It is also good to know that there will be food at the airport.

Wells, Rosemary. Yoko Finds Her Way. Disney Hyperion Books, 2014. ISBN 9781423165125.

Monday, October 20, 2014

The Age of Vikings by Anders Winroth

Crime did pay. That seems to be one of the messages of The Age of the Vikings by Anders Winroth, a new history of the Norse warriors from Princeton University Press. Being from an academic press, the book is academic in tone, as you might expect, but there are interesting ideas and stories within its ten chapters. One is that the acquisition of booty from raiding coastal towns of Britain and continental Europe helped transform violent people of Denmark, Norway, and Sweden into mainstream European Christians. Winroth focuses on the 8th through 11th centuries during which the Scandinavians joined the European community.

Winroth describes Viking warfare, exploration, shipbuilding, trade, monarchies, religion, arts, and literature. There is sometimes not really as much detail as I would have liked, but there are many gaps in Viking story. Its warlords had skalds (poets), but they were
not concerned with written accounts, and the writers of rune stones were deliberately misleading. Scholars are still scratching their heads trying to sort out the truth about the Vikings.

Some readers will enjoy The Age of the Vikings because there are still some mysteries, such as just how did they make it to North America and why are there so many Arab coins found in Scandinavian digs? There is still something about which to wonder.

Winroth, Anders. The Age of the Vikings. Princeton University Press, 2014. 320p. ISBN 9780691149851.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian

How could I not read Beatles vs. Stones by John McMillian? I was in fourth grade when I first heard the Beatles singing "She Loves You" and "I Saw Her Standing There." In fifth grade I saw A Hard Days Night. I have had Beatles recordings in my possession ever since.

I did not pay much attention to the Rolling Stones until their single "Ruby Tuesday." I considered them as just part of the wave of British bands that included Herman's Hermits, the Animals, the Dave Clark Five, the Who, and the Hollies. Just a music fan, not a critic, I did not rank them in any way. I also liked the Stones' "Get Off of My Cloud" and "Jumpin' Jack Flash," but I never bought another of their records until middle age.

Growing up in the middle of nowhere, not reading rock magazines, I was never aware of a rivalry between the Beatles and the Rolling Stones. Even as an adult reader, not seeking gossipy publications, I rarely found stories of a conflict, so a whole book on the topic caught me by surprise. Its cover suggests a boxing match or sporting event, which in the end seems an appropriate suggestion. The story of Beatles vs. Stones is that of competitors, not enemies.

In the beginning, the Beatles helped the Rolling Stones with advice, contacts, publicity, and songs. There might never have been much conflict if it were not for journalists asking leading questions. Young men with inflated egos and desiring attention often then responded to sensational negative reporting with trash talk. Friendships between members of the bands warmed and cooled throughout the active phases of their careers. The disputes were relatively juvenile until Mick Jagger recommended a crooked manager to John Lennon.

Beatles vs. Stones is an interesting and entertaining account of the bands and their times that will appeal to Baby Boomers and their children who have heard so much about the good old days. It does not take long to read and may nudge some readers to get out the old albums.

MacMillian, John. Beatles vs. Stones. Simon and Schuster, 2013. 303p. ISBN 9781439159699.