Showing posts from July, 2019

Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind by Yuval Noah Harari: A review

Israeli writer Yuval Noah Harari's book about the history of our species has been on the best-seller list for some 62 weeks and counting and for most of that time, it had been my intention to read it. I finally got around to it this week. Better late than never, or maybe better late, full stop. Now that the initial hubbub about the book has died down, perhaps it will be easier to approach it clear-eyed without prejudice.  The first thing to be said about the book is that Harari writes engagingly. He writes for a general audience and he manages to make millions of years of history and development of our species understandable. He has his theories about how we came to be the dominant species on the planet. Are they correct? And are we really the dominant species on the planet? That's something the reader has to decide for herself, but it's always best to keep an open mind and realize that there are other possibilities. Most of Harari's book is devoted to Homo sapie

Poetry Sunday: The Road by Dana Gioia

Do you ever feel that you have missed your life by being too busy looking for it? We sometimes are so busy looking to the future that we forget to live in the present. And then one day we look up and all that time has passed us by. We have passed the milestones unaware. Dana Gioia knows that feeling. The Road by Dana Gioia He sometimes felt that he had missed his life By being far too busy looking for it. Searching the distance, he often turned to find That he had passed some milestone unaware, And someone else was walking next to him, First friends, then lovers, now children and a wife. They were good company–generous, kind, But equally bewildered to be there. He noticed then that no one chose the way— All seemed to drift by some collective will. The path grew easier with each passing day, Since it was worn and mostly sloped downhill. The road ahead seemed hazy in the gloom. Where was it he had meant to go, and with whom?

This week in birds - #362

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : An American Bittern at Aransas National Wildlife Refuge hides in plain sight by pretending it's just another blade of grass. It will even sway in place to give the illusion of being moved by the wind.  *~*~*~* The temperatures in southeast Texas have been surprisingly moderate for July this past week. We even had one night when the low temperature was 66 degrees - unheard of at this time of year. But elsewhere in the world, the temperatures have not been moderate at all. Europe is experiencing a record-breaking heat wave . Paris recorded its hottest temperature ever on Thursday at nearly 110 degrees Fahrenheit and the heat was no less intense in much of Europe.  *~*~*~* In spite of the federal government's denial of the reality of climate change, many states and cities are forging ahead with plans to combat it. California is the leader in the effort. This week it was announced that they had struck a

City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert: A review

“After a certain age, time just drizzles down upon your head like rain in the month of March: you’re always surprised at how much of it can accumulate, and how fast.” (From City of Girls .) When we first meet Vivian Morris, a considerable amount of time has drizzled down upon her head. She is in her nineties and she is in the process of giving an account of her life to someone named Angela. Who is Angela? We have no idea and don't learn the answer to that question until near the end of the novel. We only know that she is a woman who has asked Vivian for an explanation of her relationship with the woman's father. To give that explanation, Vivian goes back to what is the beginning for her: New York in 1940 when she was 19. Nineteen-year-old Vivian had proved to be a great disappointment to her parents. She had flunked out of Vassar, having never attended her classes and failed every one. Sent home in disgrace, her parents soon weary of her and she is sent off to New York t

Poetry Sunday: Personal Effects by Raymond Effects

This poem was brought to my attention by my Facebook friend, Bill Gould, who had heard it on Writers' Almanac on NPR. I looked it up and was captivated. Those last three stanzas are just perfect and priceless. I hope you agree. Personal Effects by Raymond Byrnes The lawyer told him to write a letter to accompany the will, to prevent potential discord over artifacts valued only for their sentiment. His wife treasures a watercolor by her father; grandmama’s spoon stirs their oatmeal every morning. Some days, he wears his father’s favorite tie. He tries to think of things that could be tokens of his days: binoculars that transport bluebirds through his cataracts a frayed fishing vest with pockets full of feathers brightly tied, the little fly rod he can still manipulate in forest thickets, a sharp-tined garden fork, heft and handle fit for him, a springy spruce kayak paddle, a retired leather satchel. He writes his awkward note, trying to dispense with

This week in birds - #361

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : Monk Parakeet image from . Monk Parakeets were brought to this country for the pet trade, but as so often happens, they escaped from captivity and have now made themselves quite at home in many areas of the country. They are very interesting and charming birds. Several years ago, two of them turned up in my neighborhood. I was never sure if they were a pair or just two individuals, but they lived here for well over a year, frequently visiting my bird feeders during that time. Eventually, one disappeared and then the other one was gone. I don't know if they moved on or if a predator got them. There haven't been any others colonizing this neighborhood. Yet.   *~*~*~* Earth just experienced its hottest June since records have been kept and is on track to break the record for July. The global average temperature for June was 1.7 degrees Fahrenheit above the norm. *~*~*~* The U.S. st

Ulysses by James Joyce: A review

You know how writers sometimes seem to fall in love with a word and they use it over and over again? For James Joyce, that word was snot. In the first section of his magnum opus where we meet Stephen Dedelus and Buck Mulligan, that ugly word appears incessantly. People are snot-nosed, they carry snotrags, objects are snot-colored. Suffice to say if I had been playing a drinking game with snot as the trigger word, I would have been thoroughly soused by the time I finished this section. It's not like I didn't know what I was getting into. I first read this book back in 2008 and the first sentence of the review that I wrote at the time was, "This was one of the most difficult books I've ever tried to read." The only change I would make to that assessment eleven years later is that it is the MOST difficult book I've ever tried to read. I did rather enjoy it that first time around, especially the last section which I think of as "Molly's soliloquy&quo

Mrs. Everything by Jennifer Weiner: A review

I read this novel just after reading Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69 and found myself occasionally mixing the two up, ascribing one of Hilderbrand's characters to Weiner. No doubt both authors would have been appalled, but there are actually some common themes. Both books could be said to be "women's stories"; the main characters are all female and the essential thrust of the stories is about young women coming of age, about coming to accept oneself, and about women's empowerment. And both books were very, very good. Mrs. Everything tells the story of two sisters, Josette (Jo) and Elisabeth (Bethie) Kaufman. We first meet them as they are children growing up in the 1950s in Detroit and we follow them as they end up at university in Ann Arbor during its hippie period. From there Jo moves on to the oppressive atmosphere of suburban Connecticut and Bethie makes her way to a feminist collective in Atlanta, but it is what happens to these young women to

(Belated) Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day - July 2019

We had internet problems yesterday and so I was not able to post an entry for Garden Bloggers' Bloom Day. Internet restored, so here it is a bit belatedly. Full disclosure: Not all of these pictures are current but all of these plants are currently blooming in my southeast Texas (zone 9a) garden. Crinum: Milk and wine lilies.  Dahlia.  My dinner-plate-sized hibiscus.  Joe Pye weed, which isn't a weed at all but a native plant that pollinators love.  Anisacanthus wrightii , flame acanthus.  Crocosmia.  Echinacea: Purple coneflower. Lantana.  Duranta erecta : Golden dewdrop.  Almond verbena: Unobtrusive flowers with a heavenly scent.  'Pride of Barbados,' one of my favorite summer bloomers. Hamelia patens , aka Mexican firebush: Blooms for most of the year and is much favored by hummingbirds and all kinds of pollinators, like this bee.  Crinum: 'Ellen Bosanquet.' The ubiquitous crape myrtle - wouldn't b

Poetry Sunday: No Name by Emily Berry

Scrolling through a collection of poems, looking for one to feature in this week's post, I came across this one that I had never heard of by a poet with whom I was unfamiliar. I was intrigued by the poem's name and I read on. I liked what I read and so here it is without explication or commentary. I hope you like it, too.  No Name by Emily Berry What can I tell you? It was a summer that seemed to be making history — their personal history — almost before it began, and they stood back slightly, still in it, but observing it, saying “the summer this,” “the summer that,” all the while it was going on. They became obsessed with a fountain, for example, one they walked past each day, how abundantly it would reach upwards and yet be pouring back down itself the whole time — all winter this fountain had been dry, not saying a word. What more can I tell you? Oh, everything — like how they would walk home in the evenings when the light was soft, a

This week in birds - #360

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : This is a Black Vulture , one of the two species of vultures that I see circling in the skies over my neighborhood every day. The other is the Turkey Vulture . The two are differentiated by the color of the skin on their heads. The Black Vulture's is black, as you see, and the Turkey Vulture's is red. These are part of Nature's clean-up crew. They perform a valuable service in keeping the Earth clean and preventing disease. *~*~*~*  One of the features of tropical storms and hurricanes in this era of climate change is that they are a lot wetter . Barry, the storm that is now bearing down on the Louisiana coast, is expected to dump 10 to 20 inches of rain on the already saturated land and that could cause some extreme flooding. Of course, our area dealt with this issue when Hurricane Harvey hit and dumped up to 50 inches of rain in some places. Some of those places are still recovering from that storm.

Summer of '69 by Elin Hilderbrand: A review

I actually remember the summer of '69. I remember the excitement of watching on a black and white television screen as Neil Armstrong took his "one small step" into history, fulfilling President Kennedy's promise that we would go to the moon in that decade. I remember it and so it's hard for me to think of a novel about that time as "historical fiction" and yet I suppose that is what we must call Elin Hilderbrand's Summer of '69 . It was, in fact, fifty years ago this summer. In addition to being historical fiction, this is what I would call a great summer read, a great beach book even. After all, much of its action takes place on the beaches of Nantucket and Martha's Vineyard, places about which Hilderbrand seems to write instinctively. One feels that she knows them well. Kate Levin, the wife of Boston lawyer David, takes her family to her mother's Nantucket beach house every summer for three months, but in '69 some members of