Showing posts from January, 2018

Death at La Fenice by Donna Leon: A review

In 1992, Donna Leon's first mystery featuring Commissario of Police Guido Brunetti was published. Since then, she has written twenty-six more, the twenty-seventh one due for publication in March. That is remarkable prolificacy of more than one book a year. If they all provide as pleasurable a read as the first one, Death at La Fenice , I can certainly understand the popularity of the series.  This was recommended to me because I enjoy reading mystery series and several of the series that I have been following for years are ending, or else I am overtaking the writers and waiting impatiently for them to produce their next book. So I have vacancies in my reading schedule that need filling. Enter Guido Brunetti/Donna Leon. All of these mysteries are set in Venice where the author, born in America, has lived for many years. The city itself is a major character, or at least it was in this first book. Some of the best parts of the book are the writer's descriptions of the city,

Poetry Sunday: Exit by Rita Dove

I was peddling my stationary bike and looking out on a gray, dreary January day while listening to music by the Eagles, when the lyrics from one of their songs sent my mind veering off on a tangent, considering the life of a certain famous woman who shall be nameless.  The song was "Lyin' Eyes" and the lyric that started me thinking goes, in part: "She wonders how it ever got this crazy...  Ain't it funny how your new life didn't change things? You're still the same old girl you used to be." She's a woman whose life, at least from the outside, looks sad, tangled, and humiliating. Maybe that's not a true picture; for her sake, I hope not. But I was pondering how easy - or how hard - it might be for her to escape her situation. What she needs is a visa granting her passage out of the life she currently inhabits and into a new beginning. And then I sat down to pick a poem for this week and this is the first thing I saw. Karma! Exit by

This week in birds - #290

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Little Blue Heron posing for the camera. (Photo by Bob Borders.) *~*~*~* It's all very well to say that the planet is getting warmer, but, of course, the important thing is what it's like where you live. Did it get warmer or cooler in your city last year? Find out with this database from AccuWeather.  *~*~*~* We know that our cast off plastic has become a major pollutant of our oceans, but now it turns out that those bits of plastic can also carry infections . And those diseases are helping to destroy the coral reefs.  *~*~*~* It has long been known that animals living in colder regions of the world tend to have larger bodies. But does a warming planet mean that animals will adapt by getting smaller? That is one conclusion of a new study published in The Auk which theorizes that birds may become smaller as an adaptation to hotter climates. *~*~*~* The latest Red List of T

1984 by George Orwell: A review

In 1984 , the world has been carved up between three superstates: Oceania, Eurasia, and Eastasia. In Oceania, which includes the Americas and Great Britain, there is a province called Airstrip One and in that province (formerly Great Britain) is the city of London where the action of the novel takes place. The three superstates are essentially identical in their societies and forms of government, and so, of course, since they have no differences, they are perpetually at war with the aim of controlling all the face of the Earth. Oceania's foe may be Eastasia this week and Eurasia next week, but the war itself never ends. Oceania's political ideology is called Ingsoc in Newspeak, the English language as reinvented by the government. The government is overseen by an entity called Big Brother, whom no one ever sees, and the ruling class is the Inner Party which seeks to stamp out individualism and independent thinking with their Thought Police whose duty is to root out and pu

Recommended reading

I do read other things besides books. Here's a bit of what I've been reading lately, some of which you might find interesting. Philip Roth announced his retirement from writing in 2012. He was near 80 at the time. Six years later he has stuck to his retirement pledge, but that doesn't mean he's stopped observing with the eyes of a writer or that he's quit having opinions about what's happening. He shared some of his thoughts with The New York Times . More from The Times : I always look forward to Gail Collins' columns, at least partly because she usually manages to find some humor in things even at the darkest times. In a column this past weekend, she argued that even though Hillary Clinton lost, the future is hers : "It’s 2018, a big election year, and  women are going to be running everywhere . We’re sort of astonished by the numbers, but not by their ambition. They’ll be elected to city councils, state legislatures and Congress and hardly anyone

The Written World: How Literature Shaped Civilization by Martin Puchner: A review

In the beginning was the word and the word created everything that came after. Today we live in The Written World , a civilization shaped by literature. In this fascinating book, Martin Puchner takes us on a trip through time to show us how the world that we know today was brought into being by story-tellers. The stories that they told were first shared through an oral tradition, handed down from one poet/singer, such as Homer, to another. The need to preserve the stories and pass them on helped lead to a system of writing and finally to methods of printing and distributing those printed texts. Inexorably, step by step, the first texts printed with wooden blocks have led us to digital "printing" and the Kindle on which I read this book. More than four thousand years of world literature have brought us to this. Puchner explores the ways in which literature has created our modern civilization by introducing us to the foundational texts and the visionaries that have been c

Poetry Sunday: Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats

The book that I was reading last week referenced this poem and so I had to go back to the source and read it once again. I had first read it long, long ago in another lifetime in my English literature class. It didn't have a lot of meaning for me then; it was just words. These days it is a lot more relevant to me. Yeats wrote it when he was around 60 years of age and he was, perhaps, beginning to feel some of the aches and pains of "old age." He was writing metaphorically about the spiritual journey of one seeking eternal life and the work of the imagination that is required to continue as a vital individual even when the heart is "fastened to a dying animal" (the physical body). He says that aging is "no country for old men," or as a modern philosopher has stated it, "Aging is not for pussies  the fainthearted!"    Sailing to Byzantium by William Butler Yeats I  That is no country for old men. The young  In one ano

This week in birds - #289

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : We don't get Pine Siskins  (seen with one lone American Goldfinch) here every winter. Last winter I didn't see a single one. But this week we have had some unusually cold weather with temperatures in the teens on a couple of nights, and all of a sudden there they were! Pine Siskins at my bird feeders along with all the other finches, sparrows and warblers. In fact, before this week, I had not had very many birds at my feeders this winter, but with the super cold weather, they were looking for an easy meal where they wouldn't have to expend energy to obtain it. And I was happy to provide it. *~*~*~* On Thursday, NASA scientists ranked 2017 as the second-warmest year since reliable record-keeping began in 1880, trailing only 2016. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which uses a different analytical method, had ranked it third, behind 2016 and 2015. T he numbers were somewhat unexpec

The Rat Catchers' Olympics by Colin Cotterill: A review

Dr. Siri Paiboun and his posse are on the loose again, headed for another adventure. This time in Moscow at the 1980 Olympics. Dr. Siri and his wife Madame Daeng, nurse Dtui, and Siri's best friend Civilai are all drafted to accompany Laos' Olympic athletes as managers, medical personnel, or chaperones and to travel with them to the great event. Laos had never competed in the Olympics before, but, in 1980 when the games were held in Moscow, many countries, including the United States, boycotted them because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan; consequently, the Soviet Union had invited many smaller countries to participate and fill out the bill. Laos enthusiastically agreed. Not that the little nation had many Olympic-caliber athletes or even the smallest hope of taking home a medal. They were just delighted to be asked. In the end, they were able to put together a rifle team from their military, boxers, and a track and field - well, mostly track - team. T

Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - January 2018

Zero. That's the number of blooms in my garden this month. In my zone 9a garden in Southeast Texas, it is definitely Garden Bloggers' No Blooms Day.  Much of the garden looks very much like this clump of lemongrass. It isn't dead; it's only sleeping. But it is sleeping very soundly at the moment. The reason for all this brownness is that we've actually had winter this winter. In our last winter, we had two days of below freezing temperatures. The winter before that we had NO days of freezing temperatures. So far in the winter of 2017-18, we've had THREE TIMES as many days of freezing weather as we had had in the last two years combined. And we are expecting more temperatures in the 20s Fahrenheit this week. All of that and we actually had snow on one day in early December. This qualifies as a harsh winter for us. (Don't laugh, all you Northerners!) This is all I can show you in the way of "blooms" this month. The white yarrow by the

Poetry Sunday: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost

It just seems the perfect poem for the middle of January when much of the continent is covered in snow. We are well past the "darkest evening of the year" now, or at least the darkest evening of the season. Every day the light lasts just a bit longer, but still we have "miles to go" before spring arrives. And let us not be distracted by the lovely woods - we have "promises to keep." Let us resolve to keep them. Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening by Robert Frost (published 1923) Whose woods these are I think I know.    His house is in the village though;    He will not see me stopping here    To watch his woods fill up with snow.    My little horse must think it queer    To stop without a farmhouse near    Between the woods and frozen lake    The darkest evening of the year.    He gives his harness bells a shake    To ask if there is some mistake.    The only other sound’s the sweep    Of easy wind and downy fl

This week in birds - #288

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A couple of Snow Geese foraging for food at Anahuac National Wildlife Refuge. *~*~*~* 2017 was the third warmest year for the contiguous United States since record keeping began in 1895, behind 2012 and 2016, and the 21st consecutive warmer-than-average year for the U.S. (1997 through 2017). The five warmest years on record for the contiguous U.S. have all occurred since 2006. *~*~*~* Moreover, with three strong hurricanes, wildfires, hail, flooding, tornadoes and drought, the United States tallied a record high bill last year for weather disasters: $306 billion.  The U.S. had 16   disasters  last year with damage exceeding a billion dollars, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric  Administration  said Monday. That ties 2011 for the number of billion-dollar disasters, but the total cost blew past the previous record of $215 billion in 2005. *~*~*~* Noise pollution from oil and gas drilling in western de