Books of June

This month in nonfiction:

Animals in Translation: Using the Mysteries of Autism to Decode Animal Behavior — Catherine Johnson and Temple Grandin (2006)

Ms. Grandin has a unique per­spec­tive on ani­mal behav­ior that is informed by her own autism. She is very opin­ion­at­ed but you have to trust the opin­ion of a woman who has spent so many years care­ful­ly watch­ing ani­mals. It is inter­est­ing to see some of the folk­lore  of ani­mal train­ers and man­agers (such as the loca­tion of hair whorls on the faces of hors­es and cat­tle cor­re­lat­ing with flight­i­ness) backed up by expe­ri­ence and exper­i­ment. The ref­er­ences are some­what dat­ed but the book is full of insights that are now being proven in sci­en­tif­ic exper­i­ments. I will be very inter­est­ed to see how she expand on these ideas in her lat­er book “Animals Make Us Human.”
* shift your per­spec­tive for a while *



Train the Dog in Front of You — Denise Fenzi (2016)

The best piece of dog train­ing advice I’ve got­ten this year. Maybe ever. Train the dog you have. In order to do that you have to pay atten­tion to your dog’s par­tic­u­lar per­son­al­i­ty and learn­ing styles. Fenzi offers a hand­ful of modes/aspects/facets that you can use to begin to orga­nize your thoughts as you observe your dog. Well worth the rather steep price.
* there is no point in wait­ing for the per­fect dog *

This month in essays:

We Are Never Meeting in Real Life — Samantha Irby (2017)

Ah, this one caused me a good deal of grief as I tried to for­mu­late an opin­ion. Angry POC women are a com­mon essay buck­et at the book store these days. It’s about time that they got a chance for their voic­es to be heard and yet. And yet. POC, queer, and dis­abled is no guar­an­tee of interesting.

A lot of peo­ple loved this book. I just did­n’t find it that fun­ny; fun­ny requires orig­i­nal and a glimpse of human­i­ty that is tru­ly dar­ing. There is a guard­ed­ness about her rev­e­la­tions — a sense that she is dar­ing me to not find the sit­u­a­tions fun­ny that –under­cuts these essays. Her overeat­ing, pover­ty dri­ven mon­ey fetishiz­ing, trash tele­vi­sion lov­ing life does­n’t speaks to me of larg­er human con­cerns in a new way.
* TMI isn’t the same as imi­tate — it just isn’t *

This month in fiction:

The Shipping News — Annie Proulx (1993)

Yeah, late to the par­ty. I’d nev­er read it. The Shipping News is much more dark­ly com­ic than I was led to believe. I enjoyed it, even the weird writ­ing style. The jux­ta­po­si­tion of all those frag­ments with the long lists of things. I was also impressed by how much she knew or learned about Newfoundland, fish­ing, and boats — espe­cial­ly build­ing boats. The excerpts from the knot book at the begin­ning of the chap­ters were inter­est­ing on their own and added nice­ly the sto­ry. All in all I found this rather to my taste even though I hat­ed Brokeback Mountain. So, do I dare to read anoth­er of her books?
* Weird, eerie, and dark­ly comic *



Camino Island — John Grisham (2017)

Great engag­ing plot. A caper involv­ing the theft of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s man­u­scripts and a block­er writer recruit­ed very much against her will to entrap the man who may have bought the man­u­scripts from the thieves. Grisham’s prose is dry and thin. Lakes are pret­ty. Girls are tall. Buildings are old. Some peo­ple claim that it’s taut; I think it’s just unimag­i­na­tive. The char­ac­ters aren’t all that well-rounded either. The woman from the insur­ance group who recruits the pro­tag­o­nist is such a stick fig­ure that I can have torn her out of a fash­ion mag­a­zine. Widely reviled by the Grisham faith­ful. But as a non-Grisham read­ing fan of both the capers and that genre of mys­tery known as the cozy it worked well enough for me.
* a beach book for the fan of both capers and cozies *


Gwendy’s Button Box — Steven King and Richard Chizmar (2017)

This novel­la about of a girl giv­en a gift by a mys­te­ri­ous man in a bowler hat cir­cles the rim of out­right hor­ror but nev­er quite dips into the whirlpool. The man in the bowler hat gives Gwendy a box that will deliv­er two gifts (choco­lates and sil­ver dol­lars) when­ev­er she asks. But there oth­er but­tons on the top whose use is left unex­plained. As time goes on Gwendy begins to devel­op a the­o­ry about their pur­pose. Only once does she use one of the but­tons on the box and at the same time an ene­my is van­quished in a prop­er­ly hor­ri­fy­ing man­ner. Did Gwendy cause this or was it coin­ci­dence? She nev­er quite sure but becomes con­vinced that the box is dan­ger­ous and its actions fraught with unin­tend­ed con­se­quences. How should Gwendy deal with the box and it’s pow­ers? Can she stay on the right side of good and evil?
* what if some­one gave you Pandora’s box with­out an instruc­tion manual? *


The Book of Polly — Kathy Hepinstall (2017)

Another child nar­ra­tor — as the book begins the 10 year-old Willow is pre­oc­cu­pied with the idea that her moth­er Polly will die. As well as telling out­ra­geous lies about her moth­er, she is obsessed with a secret that her moth­er is keep­ing. The rela­tion­ship between moth­ers and daugh­ters is explored in the con­text of an old­er moth­er, well estab­lished in her sar­cas­tic know every­thing per­son­al­i­ty, and her equal­ly uncon­ven­tion­al late-in-life child. As Willow turns 16, Polly is indeed dying. With the help of her miss­ing broth­er’s odd ball friend , Willow sets out to get a mir­a­cle for her moth­er and in the process to dis­cov­er her secrets. I am par­tic­u­lar­ly impres­sive is Hepinstall’s cre­ation of a unique voice for the teenage Willow.
* south­ern goth­ic with a heap­ing side of humor *