Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Selfless Gene: Living with God and Darwin by Charles Foster

Though this book can be rather tedious reading at times, it is an excellent affirmation for those who chose to believe in a higher power but still want to keep a logical view of science and the world around them. Those who believe in God but also believe in evolution. With a recent political polarizing of the Creationist and Evolutionist camps, people naturally feel the need to consider themselves one or the other. The reality is that the majority of people fall somewhere in the middle and are a bit confounded by it all.

Foster does a fairly good job of flashing the scientific facts that disprove young-earth creationism. True believers have never been hindered by facts so if you are one of them... this book is not for you. The majority of his facts are ones that I have previously read from textbooks or noted authors so I didn't bother to check on the ones that I hadn't already been aware of. He did bring up a few that I had never thought of and it gave me more to ponder.

Foster then turns his sites on the Neo-Darwin camp - the atheists who believe that there is no creator and that all things can be explained through evolution. He doesn't do as stellar of a job pointing out their errors, mainly hanging his hat on altruism and community and asking where in evolution did altruism come from. An interesting point, but not as strong as I would have liked to support and even lashing for each elitist extremist side.

Then he gets to his conclusion... it's an interesting idea to contemplate but it just seems that there should have been a stronger more palatable conclusion that marries in the middle of the ideas. People come to this book because they are in the middle and want to know how to reconcile their faith with their logic.

In all this was a good book and many thought provoking points are brought up. The reading is rather dry and it will be easy to put this book down though if you read it the ideas will stick with you and rattle around in your head for days.

Real People Don't Own Monkeys: And Other Stories of Pets, Their People and the Vets Who See It All by J. Veronika Kiklevich

I was really looking forward to this book, being a Vet student and a voracious reader, I try to read as much as possible on my future profession. Compared to many of the other books written by vets that I have read, this one seems a bit less structured which gives an almost stream of conscious vibe to what you are reading. The problem with stream of conscious in this book is that there are many times when the author changes direction and you feel that some threads are left unfinished, some things don't seem to flow with a lot of logical sense, and many of the stories left me scratching my head wondering why the author elected to include them.

I guess I was hoping for more on the actual animals, or more actual reality in what I felt I was reading. I wasn't looking to hear about her calling an owner every night in the middle of the night and hanging up on them because they had woken her up once with a concern (granted it was probably drug induced) for their animal. Some of the book comes across as a bit snarky, some of it meaningful, but sadly very little of it really came across as heartfelt. There is an almost visible wall between the author and the reader, where it felt like she was trying to hard to be funny and never really delved into the truth. Perhaps the intent was to keep it light hearted, but when discussing vets who harm animals or blowing up a bird or microwaving a dead cat so the owner wouldn't know it had been thrown in the freezer... it all just felt hollow.

Don't get me wrong, I didn't hate this book, I just had hoped for so much more.

Some We Love, Some We Hate, Some We Eat by Hal Herzog

This book is by no means a perfect book. Herzog is not a "great" writer... many chapters are clunky, some points are over drawn while others seem glossed over... many times I wished someone with a little more writing muscle had stepped in to help out.

But you have to read this book.

This is one of the most fascinating books I have read in a long time. The type of book that causes you to get up and do some of your own research on things. This book is not about animals really - many people will mistakenly pick this book up under those pretenses. This is a book about humans, and how they perceive and handle the complex relationships we have with animals. How do we deal with the fact that we don't want chickens used in cockfights, but then stop at KFC on the way home. How to we scream about the rights of lab mice but then put out kill traps in our own homes. The psychology is truly mind boggling. I especially enjoyed the sections on Hitler being one of the first leaders to enact animal rights... right before the creation of the concentration camps - if there was a more poignant example of human contradiction I don't know what it is.

The facts are interesting, the ideas will have your brain whirling - Hal doesn't really go into a lot of preaching he's more pointing out things for us to ponder over - a tactic I prefer to heavy handed information jamming. I LOVE this book and hope many others read it.

2 B R 0 2 B by Kurt Vonnegut Jr.

I bought this for two reasons -
1) I love Vonnegut and
2) at that price even if I didn't like it, at least I didn't spend much.

Well you know what? It was still a ripoff. I spent 2 dollars and change for 17 pages of text... text that was available online for free, there are more blank pages in this book than there are pages with writing on them. I am highly disappointed.

As far as the short story itself... it's not one of his better works, it's about a world where there is no more death or aging and the effect that has on people. It's very short and belonged in a larger collection rather than a few folded in half pieces of paper labeled a "book."

How to Survive a Garden Gnome Attack by Chuck Sambuchino

Unless you are buying this for a garden gnome enthusiast, I would have to say that this is a leave it sort of book. I had hoped for something funny, or some dry wit... but when reading this cover to cover - it comes across very bland, like a college creative writing assignment that was churned out over too much coffee and just enough bong hits that the author thought it was funny. In the end the funniest part was the pictures. I didn't laugh at all, though I could see where it was Supposed to be funny... it just wasn't. Perhaps it's part of the "You can't spoof a spoof" problem that happens. It just comes out not funny. I'm sorry, I wanted to like this, but I can't think of anyone that I would honestly recommend this to.

I don't want to go into a lot of detail because I don't want to come across as author bashing, but let me simply say, the idea was good, the pictures were good, but the execution of the idea falls flat.

Boom! by Mark Haddon

This is an adorably funny book, that builds to laugh out loud funny by the end. Jim and Charlie, two best friends are concerned with the possibility that Jim will be expelled from school. They decide that the best course of action is to bug the teacher's meeting to see if they are planning to expel Jim. What they hear instead is a conversation in a strange language by teachers who don't know each other - a mystery is afoot! Soon they are searching for clues worried that their teachers are spies. But the truth is much stranger.

This book is good for the 9 and up age groups provided they are strong readers. I gave it to my 8 (almost 9) year old who was able to read and understand most of it, only asking about the British slang. I think the greatest enjoyment will be around the 12 year old age group.

This book contains creepy teachers, men in black, laser weapons, nasty older sisters and their even nastier boyfriends, perplexing parents, and well I wont spoil it for you. For a fun filled trip into the scifi realm, give this book a try, it's well worth the read.

And yes - there was one part of this book that actually triggered a verbal giggle from me.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Mirrormask - Neil Gaiman

I love Gaiman's works, Corilane was one of my favorite children's books. I had high hopes for Mirrormask, we own the movie, and though it's a bit dark for the younger children, it's still a very creative and visually stunning film.

After reading the book I'm glad that the movie was visually stunning. For some reason the book does not flow, or hold together well. Had I not seen the movie I would be completely lost in attempting to follow this book. The concept of standing on the books to cross the gorge, or the giants locked together, or the darkness and what it is doing - is all lost. Now you can say that it was for the simplicity of making it a children's book - but I don't buy it. The concepts involve possible death, a brain tumor, and an evil girl willing to sacrifice the entire world she lives in to try something new (not our main character - the bad guy).

The book follows a young girl who has grown up in a circus, she want's to live a normal life and gets in a argument with her mother about it. Her mother then collapses and is hospitalized with a brain tumor. Feeling quilty, Helena withdraws into a world of her strange artwork. That night she wakes up to find herself drawn into a world of her own creation - someone has stolen the mirrormask and traded places with her. Now she has to travel through a strange and hostile world ruled by a Queen of Light and a Queen of Darkness, to find the only way home - the stolen mirrormask.

The artwork was good and the concept is great - but to read it without having seen the movie will leave the reader a bit perplexed. If reading to children, go with one of Gaiman's other works before this one.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Of Mice and Men - John Steinbeck

I have hated Steinbeck since the tender age of 15 when I was forced to choke down Grapes of Wrath. I was then forced to sit through the movie version of Grapes of Wrath, and was re-assigned to book to read by a crazy teacher I had at the age of 17. I liked it no better on the second go round, however at least by then I was able to pick out the "Christ Figure" that my teachers had always babbled about.

Because of this terrible set of experiences I had sworn off of Steinbeck for the rest of my life. If you see a copy of Grapes of Wrath on fire, you know that I'm probably near by. So when I started reading the list "1001 books to read before you die" I was glad that I could already check off Grapes of Wrath and not touch it again - but to my dismay, there were other books by Steinbeck on the list. I admit I panicked... there was no WAY I was going to torture myself like that again. Every word of that last attempt had been a struggle.

Then I noticed that one of the books was "Of Mice and Men." I had seen the play several times and the movie, and to be honest - they weren't that bad. So during a car ride to ATL under questionable circumstances, I read this 107 page book from beginning to end.

Now I'm sure there was a Christ figure in there somewhere, and I know that there was a lot of "deep meaning" and "symbolism enough to choke a badger" but I happily ignored all of it. I am excited to say that I read through the book - found it didn't change me, my thought process, or my lifestyle, and was able to move on.

Short Summary - George and his retarded pal Lenny are day workers who travel from farm to farm trying to earn a living. Lenny is huge, with the mind of a child, and George is small and quick witted. George keeps Lenny entertained with stories about how one day they will of their own land and work it themselves. George has told the story enough that even he's starting to believe it. Things go bad at their current job when a trampy woman hits on Lenny. That's about it.

Lots of themes, racism, tragedy, the way men treat one another, the lifestyle of the migrant worker in the 30's, the treatment of the mentally handicapped, etc. In the end, Steinbeck does a better job of not bashing the reader over the skull with his themes, and he managed to contain his desire to describe every grain of sand. I figure most people can make it through 107 pages of Steinbeck.

The Illiad - Homer

I'll be honest by stating that I have no idea which version I read - I read this online and it was translated into prose rather than verse.

Homer's Epic tale of the fall of the Trojans is more about the warrior Achilles and his battle within himself. True the tale begins with the great insult and ends with the funeral of Hector, but the story really revolves around Achilles.

Even through it was translated into English, I can't help but feel that there was something lost - perhaps it is the shifting from verse to prose, whatever it may be, there is a feeling of distance the reader has from the story. The tale itself is brilliant, brutal, heartbreaking, and epic, but the words in the version I read really didn't grab and pull me in as I had hoped. I spent much of the time I was reading this struggling to keep going. Specifically when the gods began their bickering.

I was also confused in this translation in that the God's names were changed to the Roman names rather than the Greek ones (I do own a copy of this in Verse and I recall the names being in Greek - I just hate reading verse so I thought I'd try it in prose first). I had to pull up a wiki to get the Roman to Greek name translations for some of the lesser known gods.

I have to admit that after watching and loving the movie Troy (which is based off of the Illiad) I was disappointed that Hector was less likable in the original tale then he was in the movie. Also Paris was only briefly mentioned.

I would recommend that everyone read at least some version of this story - it's such an incredible tale. Just make sure you check out the translation before buying it.

Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe - Susan Patron

Life as the middle sister can be tough, especially when your big sister is pretty and very very smart. It's even tougher when your Mom is a waitress and you have to teach everything you know to your little sister - even the things you don't know.

PK is the middle sister, between Megan and Rabbit. Even though Megan is now "almost-a-teenager" and Rabbit is starting Kindergarten, everything seems to be going fine - until their Mom decides that they need to move into a bigger apartment. Suddenly everything PK knows and relies on is going to be left behind. The Big Blue Chair that they loved as if it were a family pet is too big to fit into the new apartment with the new sleeper sofa, and the built in hamper where all of PK's magical stories come from - can't come with them either. How can a new wicker basket hold all of the stories? It's full of holes and all the stories would fall out!

"Maybe Yes, Maybe No, Maybe Maybe" is a sweet story about three little girls having to move and make what they consider a major life change. Told through the eyes of PK, we see how the girls learn not only to accept change, but also to learn how each of them is special in their own way. Though the voice of the story is young and the tale is geared toward 9-11 year olds, there are some large words that may require a lot of sounding out and some parental help defining. I don't know of many young children who know what "repast" is. Even though they may have some difficulty with some of the words, I believe that most children will be able to identify with the characters and enjoy the book. This book will appeal mainly to girls, though if they are able to look past the three sisters as the main characters, boys may enjoy it as well since PK is a bit of a tomboy.

There is some talk of hormones and mention of a uterus as a female body part and it's having to do with "becoming a woman" - though it is not fully explained. If you are against your child reading about that then you have been warned. There is nothing explicit nor will your child come away with any additional knowledge on that topic, but it may illicit questions that you will want to have answers for before they get to that point.

This is a sweet book that many kids can identify with and will enjoy reading.