loulamac’s #CBRV review #44: White Fang by Jack London

Croc Blanc

Jack London’s classic novel tells the story a wolf-dog cross, from his early life in the wild, to his lasting passion for the man who befriends him. When we first meet White Fang’s mother, she is leading a pack of wolves that is tracking and picking off the sled dogs of pair of men who are travelling across northern America. She herself is part dog, and has been domesticated after a fashion, but this doesn’t stop her from luring the dogs and one of the sledders to their deaths. In the course of the winter, she mates with one of the older wolves in the pack, and the following spring has a litter of pups. The feisty White Fang is the only one to survive, and learns to hunt and fight at his mother’s side. He is a few months old when they chance upon an American Indian settlement, and White Fang’s mother is claimed by her old owner. This is White Fang’s introduction to men, and his life is never the same again. He is later traded to a vicious dog-fighter called Beauty Smith, before being rescued by young prospector named Scott. This is where White Fang’s life changes again, and while never quite losing his wild streak, becomes a faithful companion of Scott, and leads a happy domesticated life.

I have seen London’s novels described as ‘morality tales’, but I don’t think that’s the case here. Without any moral judgement or opinion the novel presents a bleak and harsh world, where it is a case of kill or be killed. As a pup, White Fang learns the reality of survival of the fittest, and once in the realm of men has further harsh lessons in obedience and loyalty.  It is true that the nature of some men is touched on, and drawing a comparison between the ‘good’ of Scott and ‘evil’ of Smith, and the way White Fang reacts to them, is inevitable. However this is White Fang’s story, and he knows nothing of morals.

As you would expect, the bulk of the novel is presented through the eyes of the dog. He knows fear, courage and even love (the scene where a ‘teenage’ White Fang meets his mother, who of course doesn’t remember him, is particularly touching), and London manages to do this without anthropomorphising him in any way. Nor does it feel like conjecture or some kind of nature documentary. He really manages to put you inside the head of this wild animal, showing you how he changes and grows with experience. I enjoyed getting to know White Fang, and was completely immersed in the cold, harsh landscape he inhabits.

HelloKatieO’s #CBR5 Review #22: Still Life with Elephant by Judy Reene Singer

[Spoilers abound in this post, beware]

Half of this book I hated, because it felt contrived, and didn’t add anything original to the women’s fiction genre that I truly adore.  Neelie’s husband has an affair with the chipper female co-owner of his veterinarian practice and gets her pregnant. He doesn’t even have the guts to tell Neelie himself; his mistress tells her. And then Neelie discovers that he (a) dated his mistress in vet school, which makes her feel like her marriage is null and void and (b) he had drained their accounts, mortgaged their home and basically stolen all of her money.

So, in the grand tradition of a thousand chick lit novels, Neelie must decide what to do with her marriage.  I hated this part, because Neelie was frustrating and oblivious and needed to be saved.  Ultimately, she meets a rich, handsome man who loves animals as much as she does and he saves her from the wreckage of her failed marriage and a sad tragedy in her past. Of course. I just hated that she didn’t really end up fixing her own life. Her friends, family and new lover fixed it for her.

But the other half of this book, I loved. [hint: it involves elephants!]

KimMiE” ’s #CBR5 Review #1: The Animal Dialogues: Uncommon Encounters in the Wild by Craig Childs

Image

In his introduction to The Animal Dialogues, author and naturalist Craig Childs invites his audience to read the book out of sequence. He hopes, in fact, “that you. . .might come upon this book by accident. . . left open to a passage on mountain lions, or flipping through its pages until you are caught in the stares of fifteen sorcerous ravens.”

Each of the essays in Animal Dialogues focuses on an encounter between author and wildlife: from grizzly bear to mouse, bald eagle to hummingbird, blue-finned shark to smelt. They are snapshots of time in which the author captures his impressions of the natural world and ponders the existence of the animals he happens upon for as long as each creature will allow. Each essay is infused not only with the author’s personal reactions, but also interesting details about the species and the natural world in general—an essay on mountain goats, for example, takes a side trip into the world of olfaction, perhaps the least appreciated of our senses.

Every encounter in the collection is a grab-bag of emotion and the reader never knows whether the result will be comical, as when the author suspects his cat of having made a side deal with the mice to let them run wild; tense, as his standoff with a mountain lion, a scene with enough dramatic tension to rival Argo; or poignant, as when he and a group of beach campers contemplate the death of a shark. The book is full of surprises, too: malaria aside, who knew that the essay on mosquitos would be the most horrifying of the lot?

For all Childs’ wonder and respect for nature, some of the most memorable portraits he sketches are of other humans. In “Camel,” one of my favorite essays, he describes an archaeological dig of a Pleistocene-era cave, where he meets a wonderful array of humans, from twelve-year-old Kate, who works so seriously and intensely that she is put in charge of one of the dig rooms, a job she embraces without flinching (“I will need three people at least”), to Dennis, a 17-year-old genius who makes our hardened author feel like a fool in the wilderness. One of the most touching essays in the collection is “Rainbow Trout,” which is as much about the author’s admiration for his father the fisherman as it is a celebration of the fish: “He is a person whom people meet along the stream, and they will talk about this stranger and his fishing for years afterwards.”

In a sense, I suppose I let Mr. Childs down by reading chronologically, but my experience as an English lit major years ago has left me with a compulsion to read books cover to cover, at least the first time—anything else feels like cheating. But the beauty of this collection is that one reading won’t be enough. Now that I’ve had my taste of all the critters within, the book will sit on my shelf, waiting for me to get that urge to revisit the mountain lion or the raven or yes, even the dreaded mosquito. While I recognize that not everyone will want to read this book front to back as I did, I believe that there is a little something in it for everyone—who among us couldn’t use a little rattlesnake in our day to keep us humble?

Ashlie’s #CBR5 Review #4: Alex and Me by Alex Pepperberg

Alex and Me is the interesting story of Dr. Irene Pepperberg and the life of Alex that parrot, a remarkable bird that proved that birds could do much much more than previously postulated in the scientific community. I found this particularly interesting as it was a relatively current event, as Alex passed away in 2007.

This was a fast and easy read, and learning about Alex that parrot and his capabilities was interesting; however, I can’t give the book a strong recommendation. Pepperberg came across as very preachy and for my taste spent too much time explaining about her own life, and not enough time talking about Alex. It is clear from the writing that she is rather scientifically minded as the book doesn’t flow well and ends a bit abruptly and is structured oddly. It also seems to lack a heartfelt poignancy you might expect from a memoir about an animal. In addition, it was helpful to understand the skepticism of the scientific community but felt like this book was more about Pepperberg’s struggles in the scientific community than Alex. I might not have minded the imbalance except her reflections came across as stilted and heavy handed.

Despite these failings, I still encourage giving it a look, as it is an easy read and thought provoke regarding the treatment of animals, and how we evaluate them in our society.