Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser (1900)


Reading Dreiser’s Sister Carrie, which is great and rather L-O-N-G. So in the meantime, I came across this lovely quote during my reading it:

How true it is that words are but the vague shadows of the volumes we mean. Little audible links, they are, chaining together great inaudible feelings and purposes.




Wesley the Owl – Stacey O’Brien (2008)


Subtitle: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and his Girl.

I had seen this book mentioned somewhere on-line as a good read, and so when I came across it at a book sale, I snatched it up with glee. However, it was not as filled with glee as I had anticipated. Let me explain…

The story is true and a lovely narrative – girl adopts baby owl and they live together having significant effects on each other’s lives. However, it was the writing that I felt downgraded the experience somewhat. I don’t mean to be a picky reader, but when you spend a lot of time reading really good writing and then you come across some that’s not, it’s rather a stark contrast.

To the author’s credit, it was her first book, I don’t think she has a strong writing background, etc etc. I just wish that someone along the publishing path had helped O’Brien edit it to make it a stronger document. It would have been shorter, but it would have been more robust.

owl_babyIt would also help the structure and the general organization of the book – the lack of enough material manifested itself in some pretty awful recounted dialogue between the human and the owl at times and reading this was, at times, similar to having to listen to a teenager stringing some rather random facts together about an event that’s really important to them, but not to anyone else. Eek.


A hilarious review by someone called Caris on Goodreads describes the ending like this:

“And, lastly, she spends a few pages anthropomorphizing the owl’s various hoots and feather rufflings. I’ll leave it to you to assume how annoying that was.”

(See “weird bird lover” comments down below. Compare with “Crazy Cat Lady/Man.”)

It’s not that there were painful grammarian problems or issues or typos (thankfully), but more that the story was not enough for a book-length feature. As I said, it’s a great story – who wouldn’t love a story of a baby owl who needs to be rescued and ends up with a lifelong family? That’s all good. It’s just that I am not convinced that it had enough story to make it a full-length book, and I think the book suffers from it.

(I don’t mean to be mean. O’Brien seems to have a heart of gold here about wild bird rehabilitation etc., but it just makes me cringe to see a new writer put out a product that perhaps does not show her potential to its fullest. Did I mention that she needed an editor? Perhaps two or more?…)

(Also the author crosses the line a bit lot in terms of being a weird bird lover – there are a few rather border-line situations described that are more than a little strange when they are described….)

Oddness aside, you can tell that O’Brien feels passionately about this creature, and I’m glad that they found each other as they seem to have had a good life together. She just crosses the line into weirdness more than one or two times, that’s all.

And I did learn that owls lay eggs. (Perhaps this is a widely known fact for most people, but it never crossed my mind that owls would lay eggs. Makes sense when you think about it, but I think I had not really thought it before.)

Also about eggs: the owl lays one egg a day for about five days straight, and then the eggs hatch one a day in the order that they were laid.

And this struck me as very cool: owls can heard a mouse’s heartbeat under three feet of snow and will accurately dive down and dig through the snow to get it. Impressive.

So, great story — not such a great read.


Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 32 (Ongoing Project)

Things on Cowboy's Head. No.31: Cup.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No.31: Cup.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)
(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

Introducing some new lovelies….

Some new books have arrived...

Some new books have arrived…

(Bottom to Top):
Dirt: The Erosion of Civilizations – David R. Montgomery
Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing – Ted Conover
Ten Years in the Tub: A Decade Soaking in Great Books – Nick Hornby
An Astronaut’s Guide to Life on Earth – Chris Hadfield
Ogilvy on Advertising – David Ogilvy

Lots of good readin’ ahead, I think…

(And I promise an individual book review is coming very soon!)

Lubbock Home and Family column — April 2014


Each month, I write a book review column for a local magazine here in town. In collaboration with (and with permission from) the publisher, thought it might be fun to read here. So – here you go:

Wild Garden JKTPlanting the Wild Garden – Kathryn O. Galbraith and Wendy Anderson Halperin

A gorgeous nature book with a light touch, this explains how seeds and nuts get dispersed in the wild when there is no human to plant them: through wind, rain, animals… A really charmingly illustrated book with lots to look at, the story uses a few short sentences in a lyrical and poetic way that makes it a joy to read aloud to younger listeners. The colored pencil and water color illustrations make it a gentle book to look at, and there is a list of book titles at the end for further reading for both parents and children. A great way to introduce the idea of the nature cycle and how important it is to the world around us.

Heroes for my Son/Daughter – Brad Meltzer

With an edition also available for daughters, both of these volumes list quite an eclectic selection of men and women from all over the world and from different times – ordinary people who have done extraordinary things to make the world a better place. Examples of heroes include Sojourner Truth, Jackie Robinson, and numerous others from the worlds of sport, literature and science, from people who have planted trees and studied the environment to those who have saved people’s lives and changed the way of life of whole nations. As any list would be, the selections are debatable but they would be good springboards to digger deeper to find out more about these fascinating people who have changed their worlds. Optimistic and motivational, these are good choices for further discussion for almost any young readers.

fashionFashion: A Definitive History of Clothing – Smithsonian Museum

This is a HUGE book which is packed with beautiful illustrations and photographs about how clothes have evolved over the past 3,000 years. Published by the Smithsonian Museums, it is stuffed with details about clothing and textile history, which can become a bit overwhelming if you take it all in one bite. However, if you break it down into smaller sections, it’s a treat to read and a sumptuous feast for your eyes. I’m not a fashion maven by any description and I rarely keep up with the latest trends, but I do appreciate good design and photography, and an interesting topic. This hefty book has all of those in large quantities. What a treat. (Another similar good title for delectable design: 100 Dresses by the Metropolitan Museum of Art.)

New TBR Pile…


As usual, the caveats are as follows:
* I don’t have to read them if I don’t want to
• I can change the titles with other titles from TBR
• This is just a guide not a rule

Newjack: Guarding Sing Sing – Ted Conover (NF – prison memoir from perspective of corrections officer)
Ethan Frome – Edith Wharton
Dirt – David R. Montgomery (NF) – close look at dirt
Ten Years in the Tub – Nick Hornby – (NF) collection of book columns in magazine The Believer
Confessions of an Advertising Man – David Ogilvy (NF) – autobiography
The Known World – Edward P. Jones (F)
The Blackwater Lightship – Colm Toibin (F)
The Weight of Heaven – Thrity Umrigar (F)
Kaffir Boy – Mark Mathbane (NF) – coming-of age autobio of kid in Apartheid S. Africa
The President’s Hat – Antoine Laurain (F)
Homeward Bound – Emily Matcher (NF) – critical look at domesticity
Video Nights in Katmandu – Pico Iyer (NF) – travel
Lest Innocent Blood be Lost – Philip Hallie (NF) – WWII history (people side)
Going to Extremes – Joe McGinnis (NF) – travel – DNF. Too awful for words.
Embers – Sandor Marai (F)
Strength in What Remains – Tracy Kidder (NF) – biography
England, Their England – A. G. McDonnell (F)
Sister Carrie – Theodore Dreiser (F) – in progress.
Moonwalking with Einstein – Joshua Foer (NF) – how memory works type of read
Maximum City: Bombay Lost and Found – Suketa Mehta (NF) – travel/coming home
Saturday is for Funerals – Unity Dow and Max Essex (NF) – current look at HIV/AIDS epidemic in Africa

TBR Jan 2014 rev
Old TBR pile from January 2014  (L-R):
My Traitor’s Heart – Rian Malan (NF)
Where Men Win Glory – Jon Krakauer - DNF
Living Dolls (NF) – Natasha Walter (NF)
Video Nights in Katmandu – Pico Iyer (NF travel)
The Big House – George Howe Colt (NF)
Look at Me – Anita Brookner (F)  DNF
Strange Stories – Peter Hessler (NF travel) Strange Stones – Peter Hessler – READ
Death on the Nile – Agatha Christie (F) – READ
The Longest Journey – E. M. Forster (F) DNF
The Sugar Barons – Matthew Parker (NF history)
Homeward Bound – Emily Matchar (NF) (holdover from TBR last time)
Plain and Simple – Sue Bender (NF) – READ
Six Months in the Sandwich Islands – Isabelle Bird (NF history/travel)
For God, Country and Coca-Cola – Mark Pendergrast (NF) – Scary Big Book
The Emperor of Maladies – Siddartha Mukherjee (NF) – (L-R):
Anatomy of a Kidnapping – Steven Berk (NF)
Flow (or perhaps his Creativity title) – Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (NF)
Mariana – Monica Dickens (F)

So – perhaps not every title came from this selection, but there were a few others off the TBR shelf which, in my reckoning, still counts. (Annie Dunne/Barry, Orange is new Black/Kerman, The Secret Life of Grown-Up Brain/Strauch, The Red Carpet (short stories)/Sankaran)…

So, totaled up, TBR shelf reading for the year so far has been the grand total of…. 9 (out of 24 and including two DNFs …)

Things on Cowboy’s Head – Part 31 (Ongoing Project)

Things on Cowboy's Head. No. 31: Chocolate Flake.

Things on Cowboy’s Head. No. 31: Chocolate Flake.

Background Note: Cowboy, as you know, is one of our cats. She is big and friendly and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. She naps a lot. All of which helps with this ongoing project I have going on…

It’s called “Things on Cowboy’s Head” and I am just seeing what I can balance on the top of her head when she’s amenable to that. It’s been fun so far, and she seems quite happy to play along. (She just moves when she doesn’t want to participate.)

(Cowboy’s posts are all gathered in one spot on her own blog.)

March Reading Wrap-Up…

I read the following titles in March (with links to blog posts about said book where there is one):

Zahir’s Paradise – Amir and Khalil

The Magnificent Ambersons – Booth Tarkington

The Secrets of the Grown-Up Brain – Barbara Strauch

Whittington – Alan Armstrong

Going Clear: Scientology, Hollywood and the Prison of Belief – Lawrence Wright (DNF)

Annie Dunne – Sebastian Barry

Marling Hall – Angela Thirkell (no blog post)

The Wind – Dorothy Scarborough

Orange is the New Black – Piper Kerman (blog post to come maybe…)

Total number of books read in March: 8
Total number of pages read: 2179 pages (av. 245)
Fiction/Non-Fiction: 6 F and 2 NF
Library books vs. books I owned (and thus removed from the home abode):4 library books and 3 owned books, 1 e-book.