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.