by Maeve on March 30th, 2011
Ever by My Side : A Memoir in Eight Pets by Dr. Nick Trout, is the third book by the Angell Animal Medical Center staff surgeon. The Iowa City Public Library was fortunate enough to have Nick read here as part of his 2010 book tour for Love is the Best Medicine. That book was delightful and focused on the animals he had as patients at Angell Medical in Boston. His current book, Ever by My Side, is an autobiography told through his pets. He grew up in a working- class British suburb and his first pet is Patch, a large German shepherd. He and his father, Duncan, developed a strong bond with Patch. This bond ultimately lead him to explore the idea of becoming a veterinarian.
The book follows Nick through his studies at Oxford and then to the United States where he falls in love with veterinary surgery and the United States. He makes the decision to stay stateside and it is very hard for his father. In fact, his parents had moved to the Yorkshire Dales, James Herriot-land with hopes that Nick would join them there. His father desperately wanted Nick to become a large and small animal vet, like Herriot. But it wasn’t to be. Nick starts his professional career in the desert southwest but eventually moves back to the Boston area. Along the way we learn about the cat and dogs in his adult life as well as the dogs in his parents lives. Like all pets, they do not live forever and the poignant stories he tells of relationships with the animals and his family is touching and often amusing. His family grows to include a daughter with cystic fibrosis and her quest for a yellow Labrador is one of most special parts of the book.
If you love stories about animals and humans, you will not be disappointed by Ever by My Side. The only thing better than reading it would be to have the author here again to read for us.
by Maeve on December 21st, 2010
Deep Nature is a beautiful book. The Scraths, Robert and Linda, have captured Iowa at its smallest and most exquisite. The book opens with an moving essay by ecologist John Pearson and then follows with seventy-five amazing photographs – photographs that seem so real you find yourself, or at least I did, reaching out and touching the page.
The photographs are of plants, animals and insects you may have never seen or seen and not realized they were there. There are photos of orchids and frogs, spiders and grasshoppers and butterflies. I have been lucky enough to attend a book lecture and signing by the Scarths at Prairie Lights. They shared with a rapt audience their method and showed photographs that weren’t included in the book.
Deep Nature is a magical book. It is a University of Iowa Press title and is just one of the many fine books the press has published in the last year. It is book to own and cherish and would make the perfect gift for anyone who appreciates Iowa, nature or photography.
by Maeve on October 6th, 2010
At first I wasn’t sure I could read a book about Michael Vick’s dogs. The world of dog fighting is a dirty rotten place, but the reviews for Jim Gorant’s book were so compelling that I decided to try. I am glad I did. Just as the subtitle states it is indeed a story of dog rescue and more importantly, redemption. The Lost Dogs chronicles the story of Vick and the Bad Newz Kennel, the raid on the kennel and then follows what happens to the dogs after they are taken from the rural Virginia location. Along the way readers learn about Vick, his friends and dog fighting and how they all came together and then all fell apart.
The story includes the detective work that leads to the arrest, trial and sentencing of Vick, but the main focus is really on the dogs. Fifty-one dogs were impounded during the raid. No one knew what would happen. Would they all be euthanized? In the end forty-seven of the dogs were saved and while not all are family pets far more than anyone originally thought are succeeding in a home situation. Gorant, a senior editor at Sports Illustrated, has written a book that will change peoples minds about pit bulls. It will also make the reader ask questions about why dog fighting continues to thrive and why there isn’t more done to stop it. It isn’t an easy read, but well worth it. The story, especially for the 47 dogs with new lives, is inspirational.
by Maeve on February 17th, 2010
Settled in the Wild: Notes from the Edge of Town by Susan Hand Shetterly is a lovely book. Shetterly chronicles the three decades she has lived in Maine. She moved to a rugged, seafaring part of Maine as a young woman. She and her husband were going “back to the land”. They lived without electricity and plumbing, had two children and experienced life close to nature.
The book is divided into two parts and twenty nine entries. Shetterly details the changes in the land and the changes in the community as development encroaches and climatic and environmental changes force the fishermen from the seas. Some of the pieces are wrenchingly sad, while other offer vivid descriptions of the land and animals surrounding are achingly beautiful. Settled in the Wild is nature writing at its best. Enjoy!
by Andrea on June 14th, 2009
When Mark Obmascik’s twelve-year-old son came back from summitting a Fourteener and wanted to climb another Fourteener with his father, Obmascik couldn’t resist. The realization that he could still climb mountains led to a greater challenge. He decided to summit the 54 14,000+ foot mountains of Colorado within a year. Each climb is chronicled in varying degress of detail, but the richness of the book comes from his integration of other aspects of climbing culture and the mountains themselves. His wife insists that he never climb alone so his quests for “man-dates” to climb with and the interesting personalities he climbs with provide many an entertaining anecdote. Obmascik also fills out the life stories of the summits’ past with stories of explorers, photographers, climbers, miners and ornery landowners.
Aside from the lack of photographs, I had one other problem with the book. Obmascik is self-deprecating to an extent that I was a little confused about the difficulty of climbing the Fourteeners. While he makes no attempt to romanticize the difficult portions, he also puts down his own fitness and skill level so frequently that I fear I was left with the false impression that if he could do this so could I. Halfway to Heaven is entertaining, interesting and inspiring. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off on a misguided quest for climbing partners.
by Anne on May 18th, 2009
How does a community measure progress? Is progress the growth and development of residential and commercial properties? The number of roads? An increase in population? In The Unforeseen, these notions of community progress are questioned in Austin, Texas as a popular swimming hole and fresh water resource, Barton Springs, is threatened by real estate developer Gary Bradley and the corporation Freeport-McMoran. The documentary follows the battle between the developers and the community. Long city council meetings, referendums, protests, state laws, Gov. Ann Richards’ veto, and Gov. George W. Bush are all involved. The film includes interviews with Robert Redford, Willie Nelson, Ann Richards, and a reading of Wendell Berry’s "Santa Clara Valley."
I found the story of the community’s struggle with protecting the land powerful and I wished the documentary focused solely on that. The Unforeseen could have provided more information about the creek and spring, facts about the pollution from the developments, and its impact on the wildlife. Apparently there is a rare salamander that lives in Barton Creek, but the film did not discuss any effects on the amphibian. Instead, the documentary contained too many metaphors, such as suburban development is like a cancer. The actual story of the spring is compelling enough! However, the film does raise questions on what is important to communities in the long run.
by Maeve on December 30th, 2008
Alex & me : how a scientist and a parrot discovered a hidden world of animal intelligence — and formed a deep bond in the process by Irene Pepperberg is my second blog post about parrots. What does that say? I guess I would really like to have a parrot, but after reading Alex & Me I realize my lifestyle is not right for a parrot. I already feel guilty about leaving Calvin, the cat and Nellie, the dog alone all day and to throw a parrot, who needs the freedom to fly and have the stimulation if would find in the wild, into the mix just wouldn’t work, alas…
Pepperberg recounts the 30 years she spent with Alex, an African gray parrot. Pepperberg studies animal cognition and through her story of Alex she shares the resistance of the scientific community to her ideas that parrots are intelligent animals and possess much more than a "bird brain". Birds are smart, just watch a crow sometime. Pepperberg and Alex lead peripatetic lives. With a doctorate in chemistry from MIT, Pepperberg decides she does not want to be a chemist and changes course. Instead she decides to study language acquisition and animal cognition. Initially there was skepticism and a lack of acceptance and Pepperberg struggled to find secure funding. I recently heard heard Dr. Pepperberg interviewed on Fresh Air, take a listen, it will make you want to read the book even more. Pepperberg has a foundation Alex & Me where you can learn more about her research and see some spectacular photos of Alex, Griffin and Arthur. African grays can live a long time and the most difficult part of this book is that Alex dies at only 30.
by Maeve on November 18th, 2008
I really enjoy animal stories. And Whatever you do, don’t run is an animal story and more. It spans 12 years of Allison’s life as a safari leader, first in South Africa and then in Botswana. The safaris he leads are not those of shooting animals, but of wildlife viewing and eco-tourism trips. His stories recount his fellow leaders and other staff, the clientele, and as you can imagine some of the clientele are quite a challenge but most of all his stories are about the animals that live in the Okavanga Delta. Allison’s love for the land and the fowl and fauna shine through the book. There is also a section of beautiful photographs. And for all of you who read Alexander McCall Smith’s Number 1 ladies detective series, there is a chapter devoted to Sir Seretse Khama, the first President of Botswana. Not only do you learn about Sir Seretse, but you learn the history of Botswana and why Botswana has been one of the few success stories of Africa and why Sir Seretse and his wife are still so revered today. If I ever get to take a safari, I want to have Peter Allison as my leader and yes, I want, like almost everyone else to see the lions up close.
by Maeve on September 24th, 2008
The Parrot Who Thought She Was a Dog by Nancy Ellis-Bell is the lovely story of the bond between humans and animals. Peg Leg, a one-legged, blue-and-gold macaw, joins Ellis-Bell’s already large menagerie of animals in her rural northern California home. Peg Leg, quickly renamed Sarah, was a rescued bird. She wasn’t the bird Ellis-Bell was hoping for – she had set her sights on an African grey she had met at a parrot rescue weekend, but that wasn’t to be. This bird desperately needed a home and Ellis-Bell had long been a rescuer of needy animals.
Sarah had issues, many issues. Her leg was lost when she was snared in a net as a wild bird in the jungle and her life hadn’t improved since her capture. She’s had several homes, the last in a pet store where the two-foot tall parrot with a four-foot wingspan lived in a cage that was five-by-four feet. She was ill and hadn’t had the opportunity to bath or fly in the four years. And along the way she had picked up a salty vocabulary. As Ellis-Bell did most of her work by phone this was not a desirable macaw trait.
Sarah was allowed to be free of her cage and soon took over the kitchen and then the house. She dominated everyone and everything. She ate the dogs’ food and made their lives miserable, she sent the cats running for the safety of the outdoors and she destroyed furniture. But Sarah was a very smart bird and Ellis-Bell grew more and more attached to her. A decision was made to let her spread her wings. You will need to read the book to discover the outcome of this decision and make up your mind whether it was the right choice.
by Debb Green on June 26th, 2008
"A good picture is equivalent to a good deed. For my part I know nothing with any certainty, but the sight of the stars makes me dream." (Vincent Van Gogh)
The days and nights of summer can bring us closer to the beauty of the natural world, even in these troubled flood recovery times. And no one has ever conveyed its splendor better than the haunted yet haunting artist known as Vincent Van Gogh.
A contemporary of famed impressionist painters, Van Gogh often found inspiration is the smallest and poorest of everday objects and places. Using his insights, he then envisioned and painted these in a new post-impressionist style that incorporated intense effects of light, colors, and forms with broken brush strokes and vividly distorted patterns. Sadly his life was short and troubled, as he suffered from both mental and physical illnesses and sold only a single piece of art. Yet the 2,000 paintings and drawings he created are a magnificent body of work that inspired the modern art movement. Certainly seeing and reading about them now can also help us all reconnect with our natural surroundings.
Children in particular find stories about art and artists interesting. And in recent years there have been a number of good picture books published about Van Gogh and other painters. Take a look at some of these titles with the young budding artists in your family. And dream together, under Iowa’s starry night.
The First Starry Night.
Camille and the Sunflower.
A Blue Butterfly: a Story About Claude Monet.
Katie Meets the Impressionists.