Audio book: Fox and I

by Catherine Raven
Read by Stacey Glemboski
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Or listen on Libro.fm
Content: There’s some intense moments. It’s in the biography section of the bookstore.

Catherine is a biologist by education, but mostly she’s a naturalist: she enjoys being in nature, having worked as a park ranger and currently lives mostly off the grid outside of Yellowstone National Park in Montana. The book is basically a memoir of her life, but more its more than that: it’s a reflection on our relationship with nature, and whether or not it’s “appropriate” to befriend a wild animal. In her case, a wild fox.

This is an odd book, reminding me very strongly of Lab Girl. Raven struggles with her feelings of friendship towards something that “supposed to” be an object of her study. It’s most interesting when she”s analyzing literature — most notably Frankenstein, Moby Dick, and The Little Prince — or maybe that’s what I found most interesting. Even with it’s oddness, I found the story compelling possibly because the narrator is really good. She kept the book interesting and entertaining in spite of its oddness.

Not my most favorite book this year, but an interesting one.

The Elephant in the Room

by Holly Goldberg Sloan
First sentence: “What SilaTekin would remember about that afternoon was that she had been wearing her favorite shirt.”
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Content: It deals with heavy subjects, but on an accessible level. It’s in the middle grade (grades 3-5) section of the bookstore.

Sila Tekin has lived in Oregon all her life, but her parents are immigrants from Turkey. They’re in the United States legally, but one day, Sila’s mom gets deported because her paperwork is not “correct”. It was supposed to be short deportation, but turns into nearly a year as Sila and her dad become more and more depressed. Enter Gio – an older man whose wife passed four years earlier and who recently won the lottery. The three of them – and they add a school mate of Sila’s, Mateo, later – make a sort-of family, helping each other through the process of healing. And then there’s an elephant.

The elephant is a rescue from a family circus, and brings more healing for our characters. I think Sloan was trying to advocate not only against circuses but in favor of humane animal treatment in captivity. She also had a strong case for elephant-human bonding. I just think Sloan really likes elephants.

The story itself was… okay. I think it’s good for a picture of immigration — and as a reminder that not every immigrant comes through from the southern border — and to help kids deal with tough situations. I’m just not sure Sloan was the best person to tell this story. Sloan says she has been profoundly affected by her time in Turkey, but I think this story may have been told better by someone who has had the experience of being an immigrant.

It’s not a bad book, but not my favorite by her either.

Why Peacocks?

by Sean Flynn
First sentence: “The reason to have a peacock, I would have thought, is self-evident.”
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Release date: May 11, 2021
Content: There is some talk of violence, animal death, and mild swearing (with about four instances of f-bombs). It will be in the Creative Nonfiction section of the bookstore.

Why have peacocks? That’s the question that Flynn ends up asking when — kind of unexpectedly — he and his family ends up with three peafowl (two cocks and a hen). This book is the exploration of his experiences owning peafowl, the good, the bad, and the fascinating. There’s a bit of history, of how peafowl ended up here in the states, a bit about the learning curve for taking care of the animals, and a bit about the breeding and obsessions with them (both positive and negative).

It’s a delightful little book. Nothing deep or life-changing, but it’s a lot of fun. Flynn’s a good writer — he usually writes about death and disasters, so the birds are a welcome distraction from all that — and balances memoir with history and animal nonsense quite well. I enjoyed spending time with Flynn and his birds, and hearing the stories about them.

It’s a fun read.

The Bees

by Laline Paull
First sentence: “The old orchard stood besieged.”
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Content: There is exactly one swear word used. There is some graphic violence, but nature is graphic, I guess. It’s in the adult section of the bookstore.

Flora 717 isn’t your normal, average sanitation worker bee. She can speak, for one, and she’s incredibly curious. So, she breaks the norms of the hive and instead of working in sanitation, drearily cleaning up after more important bees, she goes to take on the jobs of several other of the kin clans, working in the nursery, serving the male drones, foraging for pollen and nectar, and even serving the Queen herself.

This book was simultaneously really really weird — anthropomorphizing bees is not something I’d ever think needed to be done — and also really really compelling. I was fascinated by the way that Paull depicted the hive (do bees really act like that? — not the speaking and everything, but the actions — How much, exactly, is rooted in science and observation?) and the interactions between Flora and the different classes of bees. For not a lot happening — it basically follows Flora through the year of her life (how long do bees live, anyway?) — it was incredibly captivating to read about.

Weird as all get out, though.

When I was telling the family about it, they mentioned that it sounds a lot like Watership Down and I think that’s a super apt comparison. Which is also a pretty good marker for whether or not you’d like a book about an odd little bee in a beehive.

Running with Sherman

by Christopher McDougall
First sentence: “I knew something was wrong the second the pickup truck pulled into our driveway.”
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Review copy provided by the publisher.
Release date: October 15, 2019
Content: There’s some mild swearing. It will be in the sports section of the bookstore.

When our Random House rep came and pitched this book, he said (something to the effect of) he didn’t think that a book about burro racing would be a good read, but that this was fantastic. Since we all love him, we took him at his word, and I picked it up. And you know what? He’s right. This IS a fantastic read.

Chris McDougall and his wife ended up in Amish country by choice. They liked the idea of a simpler life, and so chose to get out of Philadelphia and live next door to people who shun most of modern technology. And so, when one of his neighbors (a Mennonite, not an Amish) begged Chris to take a neglected donkey off of a hoarder, Chris didn’t blink an eye. They christened the donkey Sherman, and had to figure out what to do with him. Another one of his friends mentioned that donkeys need a job, and Chris got a harebrained idea: he had heard of (and attempted to run, once) burro racing in Colorado and maybe, just maybe, that would be a goal for Sherman.

So, Chris and his wife Mika and some friends set about attempting to train Sherman for the World Championship Burro race. And the trip is SO worth the ride. Chris takes us through the ups and downs of healing a donkey — and a few people, as well — and prepping and how everything got figured out. And along the way, I was reminded that 1) connection with animals is important for humans (it’s a good thing we have a dog!); 2) connection with community — friends and wider than that, if possible — is important; 3) exercise and being out in nature is important; and 4) fear the thing, do the thing.

And the ending? The chapter in which Sherman got to run the burro race? I legit cried. It’s such a heartwarming and special and wonderful book!