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 *