Books: The Bees

May 7, 2016

The Bees by Laline Paull was our book club selection this month. It’s not quite a page-turner, but still a very interesting story. It’s hard to categorize – which is not a bad thing for a book – but it makes it harder to describe to someone.

The protagonist in the novel is Flora 717, a member of the lowest caste in her hive. They are the sanitation workers, keeping the hive clean by removing dirt and the bodies of dead bees. The rest of them seem content with their lot, but not Flora.

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Books: Sparrow Migrations

June 19, 2014

The premise of Sparrow Migrations intrigued me – “a 12-year-old boy with autism, witnesses the ‘Miracle on the Hudson’ from a sightseeing ferry and becomes obsessed with the birds that caused the plane crash.” Other characters are on the ferry or the plane that landed in the Hudson, and while they seem to have nothing else in common with each other, their lives intersect over the course of the novel.

In an author Q&A, Cari Noga explains that she wanted to write about “ordinary people transformed by an extraordinary event –and by each other.” Furthermore, she wanted to make it a “braided narrative” – “multiple story lines that intertwine.” So once she had an initial idea for the novel, she had to find some other characters and conflicts to form the other strands of the braid.

I was not at all surprised to learn that the idea for the story started with Robby, the boy with autism. He is the most fully-developed character. The parts of the story dealing with him and his parents, and their struggles in parenting someone with autism, draw the reader into the characters’ minds and emotions in all their complexity as they deal with a variety of situations. Since the author and her husband have a boy with autism, it is hardly surprising that she can portray their experiences so well.

The other characters, in contrast, were add-ons created for the sake of the “braided narrative,” and their conflicts are those that the author thought would be interesting to deal with. Noga presumably does not have the same personal experiences to draw on with a couple dealing with infertility or a pastor’s wife dealing with homosexuality, and these characters do not come across with the same depth. Read the rest of this entry »

Bird in my garden

June 17, 2013

my pix 048I don’t have a telephoto lens on my camera, and birds rarely sit still as I approach. So I rarely have a close-up like this. But for whatever reason, this bird just sat there above my garden this morning, long enough for me to walk the dog and come back and fetch my camera.

So now that I have the picture, I’m wondering – what kind of bird is it? I tried but didn’t figure it out. Of course, I know the male and female often differ in appearance, and I have no idea whether this is a male or female.

Books: Dinosaur Summer

March 16, 2013

I was in the library, looking for another book by Alan Bradley, when the name Greg Bear caught my eye. I knew he was a science fiction writer, though I’m not sure if I knew that from anything other than the science fiction logo on the blue stickers on the spines of the library books that bore his name. If I hadn’t yet read anything by him – and none of the titles looked familiar – I decided I probably should. (I’m not sure why, the name just rang a bell, somehow.)

After looking at several books, I selected Dinosaur Summer. Unlike so much science fiction, it is not futuristic. It is historical fiction, but not a time travel novel. The basic premise is that The Lost World by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle was history, not fiction, and that dinosaurs have been circus exhibits for long enough that now people have gotten tired of them.

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Turning science fiction into science

March 9, 2013

I read recently about a number of scientific advances in 2012 that would once have been possible only in science fiction. None of them seem especially surprising, considering previous scientific advances I already knew about.

Today, however, I was surprised to read a discussion of the pros and cons of bringing an extinct species back to life. I knew that cloning techniques had continued to develop since it first made big news. But I wasn’t aware that there was serious work on recovering DNA from extinct species for the purpose of creating live animals.

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Dog brains and cat brains

February 2, 2013

In yesterday’s post (Art to make you think), I mused about different ways of thinking. But I was thinking only about human brains. An article in the Wall Street Journal has some interesting insights into the brains of cats and dogs.

I’d never given much thought to the relative intelligence of cats and dogs. In cartoons, cats certainly are more likely to be portrayed as clever, while dogs continually fall for the same tricks the cats play on them. I know it can be pretty easy for my husband to trick our dog; I haven’t had a cat in so long that I don’t know whether they are less easily tricked.

I suppose the stereotype of cats as more intelligent (among people who do think that way, that is – apparently which animal you think is more intelligent depends mostly on whether you are a cat person or a dog person) could be tied to cats being more aloof. I’m sure one can be aloof without being intelligent, but we tend to associate the two. Dogs, on the other hand, often seem to be ruled by emotion, which we sometimes associate with lower intelligence.

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Bigger than Giant George

September 14, 2012

Less than a week after I read about Giant George, the dog recognized in 2010 as both the tallest living dog and the tallest dog ever, Guinness World Records has announced a new tallest dog. Another Great Dane, Zeus, is an inch taller – though nearly a hundred pounds lighter.

Fortunately George is taking this well, according to his Facebook page. He congratulates Zeus on his accomplishment, and focuses on how his own Guinness achievement gave him the opportunity to spread the message that it’s OK to be different.

I can’t help wondering if there’s a trend here. Are big breeds of dogs getting bigger, just as people are taller today than in past centuries? Or does the internet just make it easier to hear about the most unusual cases?

Books: Giant George

September 8, 2012

I got this book from the library because I knew my younger son would enjoy reading it. He likes reading about animals, especially dogs. And I thought he would find it interesting to read a sort of real-life version of the story of Clifford, the Big Red Dog.

George is not red, of course, and he certainly is not as big as a house. But he was the runt of his litter, and went on to grow so big that Guinness World Records officially designated him both “tallest living dog” and the “tallest dog ever.”

I don’t usually read books about animals myself, but this morning I was looking for some easy reading. I had a sinus headache, and I had to take my car into the shop to get some work done. Giant George looked like good waiting room reading material.

It did turn out to be both easy and enjoyable reading. A lot of it is less about George than about Dave and Christie Nasser, his human “Mom” and “Dad.” From my point of view, that makes it even better – I don’t dislike reading about pets but it’s usually the people who are most interesting. And I wondered what it would be like to have such a big dog.

People often comment on Kyra being fairly large; at about 85 pounds, she is a pretty-good-sized dog. But George weighs almost three times that much. If we find it difficult to have her share our bed, what would it be like to have an enormous Great Dane?

George, it turns out, sleeps on his own queen-size mattress (not that he doesn’t like being on the bed with Dave and Christie). He can reach food left on kitchen counters (or pretty much anywhere else normal-sized humans can put it) without even stretching, certainly without having to get up on his hind legs.

I am very glad now that Kyra is as “small” as she is – especially when it comes to cleaning up her poop. I wouldn’t mind having a dog as laid-back and gentle as George apparently is – and he seems to be typical of his breed. But I wouldn’t like the much shorter life span that is also typical of such large dogs. George is six years old now, and seven is apparently as old as he is likely to get.

I’m glad George has brought joy into the lives of so many people. And I’m glad the book was written while George is still alive and happy – I was so not looking forward to reading about his death at the end.

Sightseeing in Dubuque

July 22, 2012

In lieu of planning a themed birthday party for Al this year, I suggested an overnight camping trip to someplace interesting. I had been looking at places to see in Dubuque when planning our anniversary trip (though we ended up going to Hannibal, MO instead), and found some that I knew Al would enjoy. Our older son was working, and Jon’s back would not tolerate sleeping on the ground, so it was just Al and I who set out for Dubuque Friday morning.

Our first stop, just south of Dubuque, was the Crystal Lake Cave. I forgot my jacket in the car (the 45-minute tour conveniently started only minutes after we arrived), but the 52 degree temperature underground felt surprisingly comfortable. Unlike the Mark Twain Cave in Hannibal, this cave has the stalactites and stalagmites I’ve always associated with underground caverns. Some of the formations are so beautifully formed, you would think they had been carved by human hand out of the rock.

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The latest in canine fashion

April 1, 2012

I don’t think Kyra cares what she looks like, considering her sleeping positions sometimes. (See candid shot at right.)

But if your dog is more fashion-conscious, you might want to check out the all-new Warby Barker website. They have the latest in canine eyewear, and even a blog where readers may contribute photos of their dogs modeling various styles.

I especially like the FAQ section, as well as all the cute photos (be sure to check out the Man’s Best Friend page). The Dogocle is also most impressive.