by Maeve on October 15th, 2011
Dr. Jeff Wells, a veterinarian in rural Colorado, has written a follow-up to his All My Patients Have Tales. What is it about stories about animals that make books on the topic so popular? Do they give us a way to increase our interactions with animals beyond the one or two pets we can have at home if we are lucky enough to share our lives with companion animals? I don’t know the answer, but I find myself borrowing many books from the 636 (animal husbandry) section of the library.
All My Patients Kick and Bite while not set in North Yorkshire has much in common with the stories recounted in the James Herriot books. Wells operates a small and large animal practice and makes visits to his patients at their ranches or farms and answers emergency calls at all hours at his clinic. He patients range form llamas to bulls to lambs many with unique personalities. The human companions to the animals Dr. Wells helps are sometime even more interesting and challenging than the ailing animals. If you enjoyed All Creatures Great and Small you might want to give All My Patients Kick and Bite.
by Maeve on April 25th, 2011
The author, Martin Kihn had me at Bad Dog. How many times have I thought and maybe once or twice even said the very same thing? Bad Dog : A Love Story is just that, a love story.
Kihn and his wife his wife Gloria get a dog, a very big and energetic dog, Hola, a Bernese Mountain Dog. Hola is more than they can handle, probably more than anyone with few dog training skills can handle. She is strong willed and smart, very smart. Her willfulness leads her to problems with Gloria. Those problems compounded with Kihn’s growing issues with alcohol lead Gloria to leave. Kihn is in a downward spiral with not much left but his job with a tough boss who offers him some excellent dog advice and his support group at AA. Kihn seeks out help for his drinking and for his dog. Along the way we travel with him from one trainer to another and learn the various strengths and weakness of each technique and of Bernese Mountain Dogs. Kihn’s journey with Hola is a rewarding one and the arduous climb is worth it. Hola and Kihn achieve the CGC, the Canine Good Citizen rating but discover so much more.
If you like dog stories, you will enjoy this. I give it four barks out of four.
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.