Wednesday, June 12, 2013

The Hidden Life of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher

In [this book], wildlife filmmakers Jim and Jamie Dutcher present an untold story as intriguing and unique as the animal it profiles, sharing a panorama of human attitudes about wolves, from myths of ancient times to misconceptions of today to the new understanding they advocate. With their extraordinary photography of the Sawtooth Pack, personal observations, and thoughtful analysis, they present an engaging story of their experiences living among wolves.

Detailing the emotional and social lives of the Sawtooth Pack, the Dutchers recount wolf behavior rarely documented: grief at the death of a pack mate; exuberant play and friendships; excitement over the birth of pups; and the shared role of raising young pack members, teaching them needed skills.

In the larger picture, they describe the reintroduction of wolves into Yellowstone National Park and the cascade of positive results that followed. The return of wolves has helped revitalize the park's ecosystem, influencing elk, birds of prey, pronghorn, aspen trees, and even trout.

But the demonization of wolves continues as they struggle to reestablish their foothold in the American West. Ranchers, hunters, and biologists work to adapt to innovative solutions that encourage coexistence and reduce conflict. Providing vital information that can change misguided perceptions, The Hidden Life of Wolves opens a fascinating window into the unseen lives of wolves by two people who lived in their midst.

There's really nothing I can say about this book except FIND YOURSELF A COPY. Seriously. I've been recommending it to pretty much everyone I know. It's gorgeous, and full of very interesting/important information. The text isn't all "wolves are awesome!", which tells me the authors really did do as much research as they claim to have done. The facts are presented well, the good with the bad, the challenges, the disappointments. And if you already have a soft spot for wolves, then you'll want to not only find a copy to read, but most likely want to buy a copy to keep. I know I'm toying with that idea myself; if nothing else, I'm hoping to get a copy for my library branch (we only have one in our library system at this time).

There's a plethora of amazing pictures, and quotes from several different sources help illustrate the authors' point about the necessity of wolves to the environment. My favorite was this quote by Aldo Leopold, from A Sand County Almanac:

"We reached the old wolf in time to watch a fierce green fire dying in her eyes. I realized then and have known ever since that there was something new to me in those eyes - something known only to her and to the mountain. I was young then, and full of trigger-itch; I thought that because fewer wolves meant more deer, that no wolves would mean a hunters' paradise. But after seeing the green fire die, I sensed that neither the wolf nor the mountain agreed with such a view."

Highest regards for the authors, their book, and anyone who seeks it out.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Uncommon Reader by Alan Bennett

When her corgis stray into a mobile library parked near Buckingham Palace, the Queen feels duty-bound to borrow a book. Discovering the joy of reading widely (from J. R. Ackerley, Jean Genet, and Ivy Compton-Burnett to the classics) and intelligently, she finds that her view of the world changes dramatically. Abetted in her newfound obsession by Norman, a young man from the royal kitchens, the Queen comes to question the prescribed order of the world and loses patience with the routines of her role as monarch. Her new passion for reading initially alarms the palace staff, and soon leads to surprising and very funny consequences for the country at large.

I can't tell you how many times I've looked at this little book and thought "I should read this". It's a novella, so it's a nice length when looking for something that won't take a month or more to slog through. I like the British, and I'm fond of the royal family, so that was another plus in it's favor. And what's not to like about someone discovering the love of reading? Sadly, this title has shown up more than one in my pile of "should I weed this book or not?" pile. I'm very thankful that I never pulled it from our inventory in my little branch, and now that I've read it, I'm going to be recommending it quite often to patrons.

It's an interesting idea, the Queen borrowing books from the public library, and a "mobile library" to boot (what we call a bookmobile here in the States). I love that it was someone from her own kitchens that really introduces her to some great authors, proving that books are a great equalizer. If you can read, the whole world is at your fingertips, and a public library means that money is no obstacle to that world.

What I thought was interesting, and even kind of sad, was that the Queen always refers to herself as "one" - as in "one must not have opinions about what one is reading" or "one must, one supposes, take out a book". What must it be to go through life not thinking of yourself as "I" or "me" or even "insert-your-given-name-here". But as the Queen reads, you see a bit of that attitude changing, which is very interesting.

Some of this is humorous, although I'm not sure I'd call it laugh-out-loud funny. The staff trying to hide her books was good for a chuckle, as was the Queen becoming quite irked at having to go out to some function or other when all she really wanted to do was stay in and read. I get that, and I'm sure all you bibliophiles do, too. Perhaps the most interesting comment was a thought the Queen has after meeting several authors at a party she's put together. Even though she has enjoyed their books, she becomes quite tongue-tied and finds she can't really think of anything to say to these people who have opened up her world. Of course, not every author is nice or what she expects them to be like, resulting in this thought: "Authors, she soon decided, were probably best met within the pages of their novels, and as much creatures of the reader's imagination as the characters in their books."

A wonderful find, and one that is highly recommended by yours truly.

Monday, June 3, 2013

The power of information

I'm sitting here, doing my usual morning computer time (check email, book sites, Facebook) and listening to the news. "Good Morning America" is playing on the TV, and the newscasters are talking about the people that lost their lives in the latest round of storms/tornadoes in Oklahoma. Sadly, many people were killed in their cars trying to outrun the twisters. Why did they believe they could do such a thing? I have no idea. As someone who grew up in the Midwest, I was always taught that you should never get in a car and try to drive away/run away from a tornado; they are too fast, and also, too unpredictable.

This destruction and loss of life has me thinking about how many lives could have been saved if they'd just had the right information. And where does one find such data? Many places, but of course I'm going to mention BOOKS. And I'm not even going to recommend a huge 400+ page tome on weather and weather phenomenon. Nope. I'm going to suggest heading into any children's section and pick up a basic book on weather, or tornadoes, or what have you. Should be in the 551s (plus you can find other cool stuff there like earthquakes, volcanoes, hurricanes, etc).

Why would I suggest a "kid's" book? Because it's the best source for basic information. Children's non-fiction books are awesome for adults looking for the basics. You know it's not going to take more than an hour to read it cover-to-cover (maybe a bit longer, but you're usually not looking at weeks). They almost always have an index, so you find exactly what you need. And if it's a responsible publisher/bookstore/library, the information should be the newest and most relevant possible.

Knowledge is power. And where weather is concerned, especially severe weather, knowledge can literally mean the difference between life and death. My heart goes out to those families who lost love ones, and to those who will have to literally start all over again. My hope with this post is that, in the future, people know what to do in these sorts of storms, so that we're not watching another sad scene on the morning news.