Book Reviews

Here is a page in which I review books that I am currently reading.  Many of the books are naturalist themed, but there are also several fiction books in the mix.  Most the fiction books that I have been reading over the last few years are old classics which I download for free from the Project Gutenberg website.   The bulk of the naturalist books are a collection that I got from the nature center when it was cleaning out storage areas, and the rest of the books that I've been reading were either gifts or picked up along the way.

I would be happy to include your thoughts of these or other books on this page.  Just send me an email with your ideas.

Some of my favorite authors include: Charles Dickens, William Bebee, Sally Carrighar, C.S. Lewis 

This year I've read- A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm, The Purple LandAnne of Green Gables, Down and Out in Paris and London by george orwell, The Red Pony and Of Mice and Men, Da Vinci Code 
Books from previous years-Little Dorrit, King Solomon's Ring, Owl, The Odyssey (again you can't read it too many times), Sherlock Holmes,  Deja Dead, Sand County Almanac, Oliver Twist, A Day on Beetle Rock, Exploring with Beebe, the first Harry Potter (for Haley), Our Search for a Wilderness, Silent Springs


Summer reads 
Down and Out in Paris and London by George Orwell is semi-autobiographical, and as you can guess from the title it is about his experiences in Paris and London as a destitute person.  His experiences describe going days without food, pawning possessions, sharing the little he got with friends, working like a slave in a hotel kitchen, and living in public houses for the homeless.  They are a harsh and eye opening stories that make me wonder how much of these experiences shaped his most famous books, 1984 and Animal House.  I intend to go back to the high school required texts with fresh eyes into the mind of the author.  I enjoyed the book that I picked up for a dollar at a library book sale and would recommend the quick read. 

The Purple Lands by W.H. Hudson is a novel unlike most of his other books which are accounts of bird exploration trips in Argentina and England.  This book is an adventure story of a recently married Englishman as he looks for work in Uruguay.  The hero, Richard, runs into a slew of crazy characters that either try to kill or seduce him.  From a remote rancho of barbarians to friendly yet flea infested farmers, from revolutionary generals to lazy english gentlemen, and from beauty to beauty the the hero runs.  It was a fun, silly read full of colorful characters.  The story wasn't my favorite, but it wasn't bad.  Sadly, my favorite thing about the book are actually the illustrations by Keith Henderson, lithograph prints of some of the story's characters.


Here is a copy of a posting from April 7th reviewing A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm, and A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm.

In the last few months, I've read two books about two naturalists buying farms with accounts of the animals, plants, and experiences on those farms.  Both books were written by famous naturalists who dedicated vast hours to naturalist observation.  Both farms are also now animal sanctuaries that you can visit.  The subject of the books are similar, but the writing styles are pretty different; one leans toward flowing short stories from the heart and the other more toward a series of essays of thought.  I enjoyed both books and was inspired to do my own observations. 

The first book I read is by a local author, Edwin Way Teale, and the old farm is in Hampton, CT which is only about 8 miles from my house.  I enjoyed reading A Naturalist Buys an Old Farm because it is about the area to which we have just moved, and it has given me an idea of what I might expect to see in my own backyard. Teale is the author that uses stories to describe life on the farm and surrounding rural community.  He tells of birds migrating, woodcocks displaying in the spring, ferns and flowers, of all the extra animals that come to the bird feeders in winter, and many more experiences.  Teale also includes the history and people of the rural area with funny analogies.  I found the writing style easy to read and could sense Teale's love of his home.  I think I would have enjoyed this book even if I did not live in the neighborhood of his old farm because Teale's earnestness for nature is infectious. 

The farm is now owned by the Audubon Society where several nature programs are hosted each month.  I enjoyed an outing to see the farmhouse, Teale's study, and some of the trails mentioned in his book.  When I was there in February the snow was deep, but there were thousands of small insects called springtails!  And springtails were mentioned hopping around on the snow in the book! 

A Naturalist on a Tropical Farm was written by a famous ornithologist, Alexander F. Skutch, co-author of A Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica.  Skutch's style of writing seems to be closer to essays than stories, and is thoughtful and personal.  He dedicates several chapters to describing wild birds of his farm in Costa Rica, and the time he spent observing their nesting and general behavior.  Even if you didn't know that Skutch wrote the Guide to the Birds of Costa Rica, you would soon realize that he was a dedicated naturalist keen on the details of bird behavior.  He also writes about the farm work from planting crops and harvesting, to dealing with crop thieves both animal and human.  Each domestic animal on the farm gets it's own chapter, but the chicken chapter is my favorite.  Skutch also voices his concern for the future not in a loud preachy way, but with insights and thoughts gained over the years.   He expresses concern about the changes to rural Costa Rica that he saw since first arriving on his farm.  Skutch's essays not only introduce one to an amazing natural world, but also to philosophies that give value to nature.

Costa Rica is a naturalist's wonderland and is a popular destination for people who enjoy birds, frogs, butterflies, and tropical plants.  The Farm, Los Cusingos Neotropical Sanctuary, is a stop on many birder's vacation tours.  Here is a link to one blogger's visit to the sanctuary with nice photos.   I would like to visit Costa Rica someday, but for now I enjoyed reading about the tropical farm especially this winter with all it's snow.

Jan 2nd- Born Free and One Day at Teton Marsh 

Born Free by Joy Anderson was a really refreshing quick read, and good story to read with kids!  A sweet story about a lion who is raised by people and then reintroduced to the wild.  It is fun to imagine having a giant kitten/lion around the house, and to go for walks.  It is also nice that the story has a happy ending which isn't always the case with wild animal - human interactions.  I got a paperback copy for free at the local elementary school. It is also a well know movie, and even has a theme song.  This story wasn't life changing, but I did enjoy my trip to the African Savanna during the cold of winter with a lion as my guide.

One Day at Teton Marsh is the second book by Sally Carrighar that I have read.  Both this book and A Day on Beetle Rock are wonderful windows into the life of an ecological community.  Each chapter is from the perspective of a different animal all of which live at Teton Marsh.  Each animal's mini story is woven, like a food web, with the stories of the other animals.  You are shown how all the animals are interdependent, and how complex the place is.  Sally really gets you inside the animal's body, and personifies the animal with emotions and what might drive it's behaviors.  The story is set at the Fall equinox, the transition between fall and winter as some animals prepare for migration, for hibernation, life in the harsh winter, and the end of it's short life, and is a fun interpretation of the effects of the transition on individual animals.  My favorite thing about this book compared to Beetle Rock is that Mrs. Carrghar included a few aquatic invertebrates: a mosquito larvae, a leech, a snail, and a few more.  I believe this would be a good book for a young naturalist as well as adults.  A enjoyable read!

Dec 1st-  Little Dorrit, by Charles Dickens

Little Dorrit, also the name of the story's heroine, follows the rise of Little Dorrit's family out of poverty to riches and the fall of the hero, Arthur, when he loses everything.  Little Dorrit was born and raised in a debtor's prison, but remains good and devoted to the needs of her family throughout her life.  Her family, on the other hand, do not deserve her devotion as they are lazy and take advantage of her and others in poverty. and then exhibit pride and snobbery when they gain wealth.  The story seems to say that people never change; the good are good, and the corrupt are corrupt no matter their status and wealth.  The story also has a large amount of social commentary on the inefficiency of  government bureaucracy and people's idolatry of the wealthy.  The story shows that its what's in your heart that makes a person deserving of admiration, and Little Dorrit does earn our admiration.

Like the several other Dickens stories I've read, I enjoyed Little Dorrit.  I like the way Dickens weaves the several side stories and the many characters together at the end.  The endings have a big climax and there is often a surprise to the reader (unless like me you watched the PBS special:).)   Dickens has such vivid characters with the good angelic and the bad horrid.  The characters are almost cartoons in the extremes they portray.  The biggest thing I don't like about Dickens is the way he uses outward appearance to show how evil a person is for example the bad guys are usually dark haired, dark eyed, dirty, sometimes disfigured, and all the stereotypes that we know to be unacceptable.  I've read Great Expectations, Oliver Twist, Old Curiosity Shop, and I think David Copperfield is next on the list when I'm ready for another English tale.
Have you read Little Dorrit?  What do you think about Charles Dickens?

Some previous reviews I wrote as posts: You can read what I thought of A Day on Beetle Rock, Silent Spring, and books by William Beebe here, Sand County Almanac here, and an accounting of how I got several of my naturalist books here.