Showing posts from 2020

Favorite reads of 2020

It was the best of years; it was the worst of years.  I think we can all probably agree that this was the worst year in our memories for all the obvious and well-known reasons, but for me, it was also the best year in my memory and that is all down to the books that I read. I read 91 books this year, of which 41% received a five-star rating from me.  Now I'll be the first to admit that I may sometimes be too generous with my ratings. On the other hand, sometimes I take a dislike to a book and I may be hypercritical. So sue me!  Anyway, I say all that to explain that it has been extremely hard for me to narrow down a list of the best of the best of 2020. I've tried to limit my final list to books that were actually published this year or last year, even though that means I've left out a few terrific books. Here then, in the order that I read them, is a list of my favorite reads of 2020, with links provided should you want to look at my review. Djinn Patrol on the Purple Line

Poetry Sunday: Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye

If ever there were a year that was ripe for burning, it might be 2020. What a thoroughly disastrous year this has been in so many ways. The pandemic, of course, but climate change that has contributed to making Nature's storms so much worse, as well as fueling wildfires and raising ocean levels to threaten many coastal areas - all of that plus, in this country, an attempted coup by a disgruntled reality television personality, an attempt supported by the spineless and seditious members of one of our major political parties. We look forward to 2021 with the hope that the coronavirus vaccines will begin to do their work and that at noon on January 20, the government will again be in the hands of people who believe in the role of government in making people's lives better. As for 2020, burn it down! Happy New Year. Burning the Old Year by Naomi Shihab Nye Letters swallow themselves in seconds.    Notes friends tied to the doorknob,    transparent scarlet paper, sizzle like moth wi

Migrations by Charlotte McConaghy: A review

  “The only true threat to birds that has ever existed is us.” Charlotte McConaghy's Migrations  takes place at some time in the not-too-distant future when the sixth extinction has almost run its course. Most of Earth's animals are gone. The last known wild wolf has died. All the big cats are gone. The monkeys, the elephants - all gone. There are, however, a few survivors. Some birds, the ultimate survivors (just ask the dinosaurs), still fly. In the ocean, some fish still swim. And thereby hangs this tale. Among the surviving birds is what may be the last colony of Arctic Terns. These amazing birds are the Olympic champions of long-distance flight. Twelve inches long, with a wingspan of 31 inches, and weighing less than four ounces, these birds make the longest migration in all of the animal kingdom. Each year, they fly from the Arctic to Antarctica and then back again.   Franny Stone, a young Irish-Australian woman with a mysteriously damaged background, is fascinated by the

White Ivy by Susie Yang: A review

Ivy Lin was born in China and while she was still a baby, her parents emigrated to the United States, leaving her with her grandmother, Meifeng, to be raised. By the time she was five years old, her parents had become established enough to send for her. She joins her parents and a baby brother, Austin, in Massachusetts. A few years later Meifeng also joins them and starts teaching her granddaughter how to shoplift and to take things without paying for them and without suffering the consequences of her actions. Ivy becomes quite proficient in her newly learned skills.  In school, she develops a crush on a golden boy named Gideon. She follows him around, even though he never seems to notice her. Eventually, he does notice her enough to invite her to his birthday party. She attempts to shoplift a camera to give him as a present, but another boy, Roux, a neighbor with whom she had been romantically involved works at the store and sees what she is doing. He pays for the camera so that she c

Poetry Sunday: Christmas Trees by Robert Frost

When our kids were little, they looked forward to going to the Christmas tree farm to pick out a tree. I admit that made me a bit uncomfortable even then, but today it just makes me really sad to see a perfectly good tree cut down to serve as a few days' decoration. Yes, I know it is a legitimate business that brings joy to a lot of people. But in a world that is losing its forests and where trees, the lungs of the planet, are becoming scarce in some places, to see a bunch of dead trees waiting at the big box store to be taken home and decorated just seems so wasteful like so much else in our materialistic lives. That's what I thought of when I read Robert Frost's poem last week. What is the worth of a tree? Must everything finally come to a "trial by market"? Christmas Trees by Robert Frost (A Christmas Circular Letter) The city had withdrawn into itself And left at last the country to the country; When between whirls of snow not come to lie And whirls of foliage

This week in birds - #431

  A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment : A male Northern Cardinal shells a seed he just picked up from the feeder. Cardinals are without a doubt one of America's favorite backyard birds and, thank goodness, there are still plenty of them around. *~*~*~* On its way out the door, the current administration is rushing to do as much damage to the environment as possible. Here are twelve such actions that have been taken since the election. *~*~*~* The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service says it is underfunded and much too busy to take the trouble to add Northern Spotted Owls to the Endangered Species List, even though the birds are eligible for listing.  *~*~*~* The U.S. FWS uses the same excuse for rejecting a petition to give protection to Monarch butterflies, again even though the butterflies meet the test to need Endangered Species protection. I wonder where all the money appropriated for FWS has gone. It couldn't be that it has been channeled into buil

The Eighth Detective by Alex Pavesi: A review

  This is a unique entry in the "murder mystery" genre. The idea is that a professor of mathematics named Grant McAllister had long ago devised a theory about the rules that must apply to a murder mystery. For example, there must be a victim; there must be a perpetrator, at least one suspect; and there must be a detective, someone trying to figure out and explain what happened. To illustrate his theory and all the possible permutations of it, he had written seven stories to go along with the theory part and the book had been published thirty years before. Since then McAllister has retired to the seclusion of a remote Mediterranean island. Then one day, his seclusion is interrupted by an ambitious editor named Julia Hart who had come across his book and who wants to republish it, possibly with more commentary. She wants to discuss the old stories with their author and prepare to edit them for the new book. McAllister, in fact, needs the money, so he agrees to the project. The

A Burning by Megha Majumdar: A review

  “If the police didn’t help ordinary people like you and me, if the police watched them die, doesn’t that mean that the government is also a terrorist?” This sentence is at the center of the plot of Megha Majumdar's first novel. It is a Facebook post that is written by Jivan, a young Muslim woman who lives in a Kolkata slum. Jivan had witnessed a horrible, unbearable act. A group of men had set fire to a stalled train and the fire burned alive almost 100 people. Perhaps the most unbearable part of the scene was that the police had looked on while it was done and did nothing to stop it. Jivan shared her outrage in the Facebook post and hoped that she would get a lot of "likes." The unintended consequence of the post was that it brought her to the attention of the police. Appallingly, she herself is arrested for the crime and her post is part of the evidence - in fact, the only evidence - against her.  Majumbar's story is set in modern-day India and it sounds only too

Poetry Sunday: Chanukah Lights Tonight by Steven Schneider

We are in the midst of the eight days of Hanukkah and so it seems appropriate to feature a poem about the holiday.  This may not be the first image that comes to mind when thinking of the holiday but Steven Schneider writes of Hanukkah on the prairie with " the wind howling over the crushed corn stalks."   Wherever it is observed, the Hanukkah, or Chanukah, lights drive away the darkness and offer hope. Chanukah Lights Tonight by Steven Schneider Our annual prairie Chanukah party— latkes, kugel, cherry blintzes. Friends arrive from nearby towns and dance the twist to “Chanukah Lights Tonight,” spin like a dreidel to a klezmer hit. The candles flicker in the window. Outside, ponderosa pines are tied in red bows. If you squint, the neighbors’ Christmas lights look like the Omaha skyline. The smell of oil is in the air. We drift off to childhood where we spent our gelt on baseball cards and matinees, cream sodas and potato knishes. No delis in our neighborhood, only the wind how

This week in birds - #430

A roundup of the week's news of birds and the environment :  A Sora searches for his dinner among the reeds. *~*~*~* The current administration has refused to tighten rules regarding soot, even though scientific research shows that particulate pollution contributes to thousands of premature deaths annually and has been linked as a contributing factor in covid deaths.  *~*~*~* Here are some ideas about how a Biden administration could do more than simply restoring the environmental rollbacks of the current administration. *~*~*~* The Environmental Protection Agency has been utterly decimated over the last four years. Restoring it to its former strength will require steadfast effort and staffing up an agency that has been allowed to languish. *~*~*~* A Red-cockaded Woodpecker sits on a biologist's hand as it is being released back to the wild.  The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service wants to upgrade the status of the Red-Cockaded Woodpecker from "endangered" to "

A Children's Bible by Lydia Millet: A review

Lydia Millet's book tells the story of twelve children - teenagers and some of their younger siblings - who are taken to a sprawling lakeside mansion for a summer vacation. The kids don't necessarily want to be there but nobody asked them, of course. The parents are a debauched lot who spend their time in a stupor of liquor, drugs, and sex. The kids are both neglected by their self-centered parents and suffocated by the parents' insistence on their being in this place all summer. They organize their lives and their time to be away from the parents as much as possible. Then an apocalyptic storm hits and everything changes.  The children have been thoroughly disgusted by their parents' behavior and now they decide that their best option is to run away. One of their number knows of a ten-bedroom house owned by his family that is apparently empty and where they might be able to find shelter from the apocalyptic chaos and so they head for it. They don't make it, however,

Poetry Sunday: I Refuse to Report Bugs to Their Creator by Brayan Salinas

 I maintain that you can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to six- and eight-legged creatures. There are those who reflexively smash them without thinking and without regret. And then there are people like my daughters and me who carefully gather them up and release them. I do admit that I draw the line at cockroaches and fire ants, however. There are limits to my benevolence!   I Refuse to Report Bugs to Their Creator by Brayan Salinas During roll call a black beetle wanders to the sink, near my toothbrush, and I say, “Poor thing, I better let you go.”                                  My father says,                                  “You better smash that thing                                  before it multiplies.”                                  I think he says the                                  same about me. I lie awake at night and think about crunchy leaves crushed in the autumn.                                  My mother sees                                  six re