Category Archives: Book Reviews

{Book Review} The Backyard Homestead by Carleen Madigan

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Rodale offers a free trial of this book, click on the pic

The Backyard Homestead, edited by Carleen Madigan

I got this book because I wanted a nice, well-rounded introduction to producing food, livestock, and other edibles on my property, regardless of the size of my property, and I wanted it to appeal to someone who really didn’t know much about the topic.

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[Naturalist Notebook] March Reads

Do any of you ever have that experience where you’re looking at your amazon.com wishlist and you’re so overwhelmed because there’s so much to READ and LEARN and DO and TRY that you have to just walk away and take a deep breath because how can you possibly accomplish it all in one measly lifetime?

No? Okay, well, it doesn’t happen to me either, I was just being hypothetical. Tooootally hypothetical.

Books are, for me, one of the greatest things mankind ever came up with, next to cars, the post office, and waffles. To be able to disseminate such vast amounts of information so easily and widely is priceless, even in the age of Google. I haven’t taken the dive into the Kindle or tablet reader yet – have you? (I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.) There is something so intimate and tactile for me about sitting down with a new tome and folding the corners of pages I want to remember. And really, it even starts before that: there are few more kid-in-a-candy-shop experiences for me than buying myself something at a bookstore and excitedly rushing it home to put it on the dresser. Or, as is more common, pouring through webpage upon webpage of books to select the exact one I want to order, and then checking the mail every day (even though I know it will take many days) until it arrives.

Books are like people I know. They have things to tell me. They stay with me. Sometimes I share them with others. Sometimes I read them so much that their pages wear and their spines wither, but they always forgive me.

Okay, I’m starting to anthropomorphize inanimate objects, so let’s get to the point of all this rambling before I float off into space. Really, I just felt like sharing a few from my library with you.

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To be fair, I’ve only read two of them. Weed ‘Em and Reap: the weed eater reader by Roger Welsch is one I bought forever ago and never got around to reading, so it’s been pulled out and placed in the “Time to Read This Now” pile.

The other two are strong favorites.

Making an Impression by Geninne Zlatkis is an instructional book about carving your own stamps and producing a wide variety of items or art pieces with them. This of course appeals to me greatly as a printmaker, but even more so because of Geninne’s deeply individual style. Her nature sketches are simple but evocative, and she encourages the reader to go on their own journey in finding a style. She gives you lots of projects and patterns to try on your own, and just looking through her photos is like perusing an art catalog. I love her work. In fact, this book has been a huge influence in my stamp-making and printing recently and whenever I’m feeling stuck in the mud creatively, I can pull this one out and refresh instantly. I don’t want to give away too many goodies, but if you’re artistically or craftily inclined, I highly recommend this book. (You can also check out what Geninne is up to at her blog) You can click on the photo to go to Amazon, where you can actually flip through some of the pages and see what I mean.


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stamps

I went on a bit of a stamp carving bender recently. Above are some test prints as I carved away, and below are some pieces I’ve made for my Etsy shop. What do you think?

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Greeting cards with a variety of natural curios.

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Mini-envelopes for seed sharing, small treasures, for hiding love notes in lunch pails and coat pockets, scrapbooking, business cards, and whatever else your imagination can come up with!

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Thanks Geninne! You have officially rocked my socks.

The other book I wanted to share with you is called Li: Dynamic Form in Nature by David Wade. Holy cow, you guys. I could not put this little gem down. It’s produced by Wooden Books, which is a UK company, and most of their books follow a similar formatting: small, simple designs, and enough info and illustrations to get you excited about the topic. Some of those topics are little known in the Western world, like the study of Li, or the Golden Mean (which will be my next Wooden Book purchase).

So what’s “Li,”  you ask? Well, let’s see if I can explain it without completely butchering it. So there was this Confucian scholar named Zhi Xi who lived in the 1100s. He brought the idea of Li from the I Ching, and taught it as being the underlying organizational principles of the universe. These principles show up in nature as patterns, mostly that we take for granted but that actually are related and have particular causes. (I hope I got that right – if any of you out there know more about this topic, please comment, I would love more information!)

I had heard about this idea briefly while watching a video on our magical universe, and then got to work looking for books about it. I either broke the internet or it’s just not a thing here, but David Wade’s book was the only book I could find solely on the idea of Li without diving too deeply into Chinese history.

I’ve snatched two sentences from the Introduction in hopes of summarizing what this book is about:

What we are dealing with here then are graphic expressions of a great range of archetypal modes of action, whose traces may be found throughout the natural world. They present, in a traditional Chinese view at least, an order that arises directly out of the nature of the Universe.

Still confused? That’s okay, here’s a picture to make it all better.

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I don’t want to give away all the goodies in this book (as Wade has both written the book and illustrated it) but hopefully this little peek will intrigue you. This chapter is on the “Rivas,” or river-like drainage systems, which, Wade writes, “are representations not of mere conduits but portray the most active part of the earth’s hydrological cycle, and as such are important energy distribution patterns.” (p. 38) So it’s not just about lines – it’s about energy, movement, and the constant not-sameness of the planet. It’s pretty amazing stuff, and if you aren’t into the ethereal part of it, that’s okay: if you’re a naturalist in any sense, you will love seeing nature’s patterns pulled out of context and how they associate with one another, or what causes them. Each image is unlabeled on its page (Wade tells you what each image is in the text), so I had a great time trying to guess what was represented in each illustration before reading the text.

This book also makes a great gift for your loved ones that enjoy art, design, mathematics, physics, printmaking, geology, etc. The list could go on. I love this book, have I mentioned that already?

I’ll get back to you on the Weed ‘Em and Reap book, but in the meantime I hope you’ve enjoyed these two. Do any of you out there have either? I’d be interested to know if you’ve ever heard of the Chinese concept of Li, too. Thanks for stopping by and have a great day! :)

{Book Review} Animal Dialogues by Craig Childs

Let me start off by saying that this is one of my favorite books of all time.

Feel free to cross the jump if you need more of a review than that.  Read the rest of this entry

{Book Review} Interpretation by Design

Long, long ago, when I was but a sparkly-eyed college student, I wanted a career in graphic design. No one told me to make sure the college you select HAS the career you want – I just assumed all colleges carried the same majors. (Yes, it’s quite a miracle I achieved a degree at all, isn’t it?) Well, none of that mattered anyway, because I took an Anthropology class elective in my first semester and immediately changed my major (and then later took an Ecology elective and realized I had, yet again, chosen incorrectly, but it was too late by then).

I’m not sure how I keep ending up with embarrassing personal stories for you guys when I try to make a point, but what I’m getting at is a very cool book and a very cool blog that you might enjoy if you have an inclination towards graphic design but don’t want to get a degree.

Put this book in your library.

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{Book Review} Of Wolves and Men by Barry Lopez

I’ve been wanting to dive into the topic of the Gray Wolf for some time now, and I’m starting by reading Barry Lopez’s Of Wolves and Men. It is an excellently researched and thorough book on the history of the relationship between man and wolf. I want to be up front: this post is mostly a representation of what I’ve learned from the book, not necessarily a formal review, but my hope is that you’ll learn, too, and be encouraged to pick up the book to seek more.

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{Book Review} Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat

Rarely does a book skyrocket into my top 5 favorites within the first twenty pages or so, but Never Cry Wolf certainly did. Farley Mowat is a Canadian-born author of several tomes, and Never Cry Wolf was written based on his purported experiences as a biologist for the Canadian government. In the late 1940s, Mowat was sent into the Arctic wilderness to research the relationship between wolves and caribou, against claims that wolves were decimating caribou populations.

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{Book Review} Whatever You Do, Don’t Run by Peter Allison

This is a review for both of Peter Allison’s books, because they’re both hilarious and there’s no reason to review one without the other. His books are called Whatever You Do, Don’t Run, and Don’t Look Behind You.

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{Book Review} A Natural History of the Senses by Diane Ackerman

If you’re anything like me, you have trouble fitting all the books you own into your home in a manner that says, “I’m intelligent and organized,” and not so much, “I don’t care how old they are or if I’ll never read them again, they’re mine, they’re my babies, and you can’t make me give them up.”

I suffer, as one could guess, from the latter.

I like to blame it on the fact that I enjoy books with lots of pictures (which take up more space and make for larger books), but the truth is that books are knowledge – when you want to learn something, you read a book. (Or use Wiki, but you get my point.) Books allow people to transcend boundaries, and there’s something unbelievably gratifying about carrying a ratty old tome around with you, turning the bookstore-scented pages as you absorb word after word. Sure, a Kindle would be convenient, but I’m positive it wouldn’t give me the feeling that I’m spending time with a friend I don’t get to see as often as I’d like – which is how a book makes me feel.

So, to honor my book addiction, I’d like to review books for you. The first in this series is one that I admittedly spent more time reading than I meant to, but thoroughly enjoyed.

 

Ackerman talks history, culture, and physiology when it comes to our human senses: touch, smell, taste, vision, and hearing. I wonder if some of her scientific data may be out of date now, but the vast majority of her book is still full of facts that had me raising my eyebrows and mumbling, “Wow!”

For example, in the chapter on our sense of smell (my personal favorite), Ackerman reports that many of the first perfumes developed by humans were actually derived from animal parts: ambergris from sperm whales, castoreum from beavers, genital secretions of the civet, and musk, a secretion from the gut of an East Asian deer. Why did we lust after such bold scents? Ackerman says it’s because these chemicals’ molecules are of similar shape to human hormones and affect us the way human pheromones might. In essence, these four animal secretions are similar to our own steroids, and we therefore respond to them with arousal. Thus anyone wearing the bum juice of a beaver becomes instantly more attractive, even if the smell isn’t exactly floral.

Ackerman also tells us that we can smell animal musk in as little as 0.000000000000032 of an ounce. Which, to me, is cool because 1) we respond to a different species’ chemicals and 2) because that says something about how our sense of smell is still somewhat sensitive. (Say that five times fast.)

In the chapter on touch, Ackerman tells us that in a study performed in Oxford, Mississippi, waitresses lightly and unobtrusively touched their customers on the hand or shoulder. The diners that were touched didn’t necessarily rate the food or the experience any better than untouched diners, but consistently tipped the waitresses more money.

If you’re interested in learning more about why humans behave the way we do, put this book on your To-Read list immediately. We tend to think of ourselves as thoughtful and emotional creatures, but our experiences are completely informed by our senses; some of these we are aware of, and others we don’t even realize we have. (When was the last time you remember smelling testosterone? Right, but you did smell it.) Ackerman is a sense-driven person and so often her writing reads like a poem written in an opiate stupor, but if you too are a sensual person, than you’ll love this book!

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More?

Diane Ackerman has also written these books that are on my To-Read list:

A Natural History of Love

An Alchemy of the Mind: The Marvel and Mystery of the Brain