Katie′s #CBR5 Review #23: Under the Tuscan Sun by Frances Mayes

Title: Under the Tuscan Sun
Author: Frances Mayes
Source: library
Rating: 
Review Summary: This is a wholesome, lovely, refreshing read with lyrical prose describing a beautiful location but it is a little undirected.

First let me tell you what this book isn’t. It’s nothing like the movie; it’s not a romance; and it isn’t even a book with much of a plot. Instead, it’s a beautiful collection of anecdotes loosely tied together by the progression of time. The primary focus is on the author’s experiences restoring a Tuscan villa, but her focus on food is a close second. Some of her experiences as a tourist remind me of a travel memoir, but I particularly enjoyed the other parts that describe the experience of actually living in Italy.

Read more at Doing Dewey….

Katie′s #CBR5 Review #20: The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan

Title: The Botany of Desire: A Plant’s Eye View of the World
Author: Michael Pollan
Source: library 
Rating: 
Fun Fact: A tulip grown from seed doesn’t flower for 7 years!
Review Summary: This was one of the most fun non-fiction books I’ve read, because of both the content and the author’s enthusiasm.

The author’s starting premise in The Botany of Desire has two fascinating parts. First, that plants benefit greatly from domestication, so our relationship with them could just as easily be viewed as them domesticating us. And second, that domesticated plants have evolved to meet some basic human desire, making plants of the past a great way to learn about what previous civilizations valued. The bulk of the book is devoted to stories of particular plants that illustrate this point. Although I expected more of a history of the plants in question (the apple, the tulip, marijuana, and the potato), I very much enjoyed the collection of anecdotes presented instead.

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Katie′s #CBR5 Review #12: The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Nature Photography by Jim Miotke

Title: The Betterphoto Guide to Digital Nature Photography
Author: Jim Miotke
Source: library
Rating: 
Review Summary: A great practical guide to taking better pictures, very well organized and with useful tips for any photographer.

There were so many things to love about this book, I’m almost not sure where to start. I suppose what jumped out at me the most was how practical the advice was. There are checklists of the most important things to remember from each section; little boxes with advice on practical concerns such as bringing camera gear out into the elements; and “assignment” sections that suggest ways to practice new techniques right away. I was most excited about the assignments so I was especially pleased that these were all included in the index, making them easy to refer back to.

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

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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?