Book 103: An Explorer’s Notebook by Tim Flannery

An Explorer’s Notebook by Tim Flannery

Rating: 8/10

Giant rats, dwarf elephants and hobbits – those are the keywords that I remember first when thinking about this collection of essays by Tim Flannery.

Some of the essays describe his expeditions to find out more about certain species of mammals that live in Australia or New Guinea.

Animals… living in a small city (or a village, as called by my charming boyfriend who ‘s from a city with almost as many inhabitants as my whole country does) I rarely come across any other animals besides cats and the horrible bicyclist-for-dinner-“he-wont-bite”-dogs, you tend to forget that some places in the world actually have more animal species than those two. Even I see some, but rarely, when I happen to be out late, and see a fox or a rare rabbit cross the road, even rarer are sightings of roe deers and other animals I see so rarely that I haven’t even had to look up their names in English. Where I’m trying to get at, is that animals don’t usually cross my mind (with the exception of dogs at night-time…brr), so Flannery’s descriptions of different animal species, who obviously live far-far away, are an interesting view into wilderness. Also who wouldn’t want to find out about the giant rats that inhabit some islands of New Guinea, or fruit bats, tree kangaroos and other creatures.

Climate change is another theme that creeps up in this collection quite a lot, and with it using renewable energy sources such as solar and wind energy. A lot of these essays might probably be best appreciated by Australians, as they are mostly based on Flannery’s life and experiences there. However some can be appreciated also by others.

How do the parks in your city look like? Are the trees and plants native to the area or not? Apparently in many cases in Australia, foreign plants are preferred, although the variety of plants and trees in Australia might at least make you think they’d be Australian.  I guess it depends on the climate, as the trees from Europe would grow just fine given enough water. Here… well there are few introduced species, as probably the opposing extremes in the winter and summer would wreck havoc with some species, although there’d be quite enough water…

What I liked about this book, was that it makes you think more about the environment in which you live (and Australia is similar to Estonia in it’s energy policy, as most of electricity here is also produced in plants using coal).

Some of the writings that I liked best were Flannery’s book reviews, as they made me want to read those books, since his descriptions were exciting and in-depth views of the topic.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 102: The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

The Secret Life of Sleep by Kat Duff

Finished reading on January 23rd, 2014

Rating: 7/10

Sleep is something that I’ve always had strange feelings for, so reading this book was in some ways a reminder and an eyeopener about one of the activities that takes up a lot of our time in life.

This book covers almost all aspects of sleep, but only almost.

It starts naturally enough with falling asleep and staying sleep and waking up. So in a way it was quite interesting to read about how for example people are trying to reduce the time spent in a state that’s somewhere between being awake and being asleep – the drowsiness or sleepiness – a time when you either don’t want to really wake up, or just can’t fall asleep. For example sleeping pills to make you fall asleep (but apparently don’t really make you sleep much longer, only about 12 minutes – seriously who’d pay for sleeping 12 more minutes? Apparently a lot of people, but the main point is the falling asleep faster part…) And coffee – helping to get rid of the drowsiness and make you happier…for a while.

I’ve been cutting back on coffee for a few months, and I actually feel it’s easier to wake up and fall asleep without having coffee…

And then you can read about dreaming – what’s it for anyway. It’s suggested in this book that dreaming has a learning or practicing function – you can practice how to act in different situations or dangers, without hurting yourself, but if it would really happen to you in real life, you’d be able to act faster, as your unconscious has been in a situation like that before – that was something new, that I hadn’t read about before. It was quite interesting.

Actually there were several curious things in the book – for example how the sleeping arrangements of a person when they’re a baby influence their personality. It made me feel sad for all the people who sleep alone at night…

Overall I think it was a really interesting book for most parts, but it did make me sleepy in others (though reading about sleeping should have that effect)

I’d recommend reading it, as you’ll find out a lot about those hours spent asleep – what’s really going on.

Ofcourse since everyone (mostly) is familiar with sleep, then I spent a lot of time thinking about how I sleep or whether I remember my dreams or get drowsy in the evening or don’t want to get out of bed in the morning, and about how sometimes you can’t really remember what day it is and where you are and what you’re supposed to be doing when you wake up at a strange time – I always feel kind of lost, when I take an afternoon nap and wake up a little later – it feels as if life is different in a way and I’ve missed something and I’d feel totally lost.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 101: The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

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The Book Thief by Markus Zusak

Finished reading on January 18th 2014

Rating: 6/10

Do you ever feel like you are criticizing something a lot more than you usually would just because something’s really popular among people?

Maybe I’m just a vogon (hint: Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy), but I didn’t seem to enjoy it as much as I might have if I wouldn’t have been hearing all the people on booktube talking about how great this book is.

The likelier explanation is that I’m a heartless vogon…

The Book Thief tells the story of a girl who gets sent to another family together with her younger brother, because their mother can’t feed them. Unfortunately the boy dies on the way to the new parents, the girl sees it, funeral etc ensues and a book gets stolen.

And then there’s the whole rest of the book telling you about the girls’s life, how she learns to read and how her parents hide a Jew in their basement, end what books get stolen.

For me the characters seem a bit shallow, or empty inside – yes it’s well enough explained why they do things, but there’s just something missing, they could easily have not done it…

It’s a little dream-like – you see people do things, and talk, but it all happens in silence (yes, even when the characters in the book talk, it seems as if there’s only silence).

Although given how much praise the book has gotten, maybe I just wasn’t really seeing the book, and it was me that was shallow, and I wasn’t really interested in the characters in the first place….

I do see why people like it – kind of milder, not-so-violent and not-so-Jewish, no concentration-camp another Anne Frank story with a semi-happy ending…

 

Book 100: Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

PIMG_8424Swami and Friends by R. K. Narayan

Finished reading on January 14th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

“Swami and Friends” is another great work of the South-Indian author R. K. Narayan, it was his first published novel (1935). It was Narayan’s first semi-autobiographical novel in a trilogy (second is “The Bachelor of Arts” and third is “The English Teacher”).

It’s an interesting story about childhood and friendship from the perspective of a boy who’s about ten years old and constantly seems to get into trouble by being in the wrong place at the wrong time (or not being in the right one).

I really liked this novel, because it reminded me of the attitudes and thought of childhood – what exactly is important when you’re a child, and what isn’t – for example cricket is important, and drill is not. Also it showed the relationships between friends and ends with a friend leaving, and the ending was the reason why I liked it so much – although a good friend moving away is not as tragic as  someone dying, then for a child it is quite awful, and even for adults it’s not easy, so the final chapter is one of the sadder parts of this book.

I like how Narayan uses language and how Swami, the main character seems to think and feel, and why he does certain things – there’s never malice behind his actions that get him in trouble, it’s always his childish way of looking at things or not understanding what’s happening or just plainly imagining things that aren’t there.

Although it was written 80 years ago and about a fictional town in India, then it felt relevant to me, and I think it might be so for many people – despite being already in history, it feels modern.

“Twice he had gone up to the gate of Rajam’s house but had turned back, his courage and determination giving way at the last moment. He was in this state, hoping to see Rajam every tomorrow, […]” p180. R.K. Narayan “Swami and Friends”

“Every tomorrow” – doesn’t that just strike at you? Hoping of something that could happen tomorrow, and when it doesn’t then it will happen tomorrow…

In order not to spoil the book – here’s what it’s about – switching schools, making friends and keeping them, childhood, getting lost in your way, getting mixed up in greater things, and physical violence in school.

Book 99: Nearest Star by Leon Golub & Jay M. Pasachoff

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Nearest Star: The Surprising Science of Our Sun by Leon Golub and J. M. Pasachoff

Finished reading on January 7th, 2014

Rating: 9/10

“Nearest Star” is as the title suggests (surprise – surprise!) about the Sun. In the past few months I’ve read two other books about the sun Christopher Cooper’s “Our Sun” and Pal Brekke’s “Our Explosive Sun”, which are both visually very good books and the content matches the visual sign and is good.

Some how with each next book I find that there’s something else that I did yet not know about (hmm… maybe that’s why you can’t be an expert on something that you’ve read just one book about? There’s something there…).

One of the important parts in this book is observing the sun – how to go about doing it, what methods there are, etc. Although it’s a standard part to have in a book about the Sun, I didn’t know before that several solar telescopes have interiors that are basically vacuum chambers because otherwise the air in the telescope would heat up and cause the air to move about hence ruining the image. Somehow I’ve never come across that before.

But what else can one find out in this book?

Well naturally there’s an introduction to the physical aspects of the Sun and you can read about different ideas that astronomers had about how the Sun produces energy.

Then there’s the observational part – what can be observed and from where and why it should be observed?

Then you can find out a bit about the structure of the Sun, about eclipses and finally different space missions like Hinode, IMAGE, SDO and others that are observing the Sun, but also about space weather, how it’s important and whether or not changes in the Sun are causing Earth’s climate to change or not.

So all in all it’s a comprehensive guide to the Sun, and what is known about it and what is left to be found out.

I enjoyed this book in it’s e-galley format, so it didn’t have many of the figures and schematics, which will probably give a lot more to the book.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 98: Time One by Colin Gillespie

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“Time One” by Colin Gillespie

Finished reading on January 6th, 2014

Rating: 5/10

“Time One” is a book with a great task – it’s trying to bring to the reader the real beginning of the Universe mixing in it together modern physics, history of philosophy and a detective story that is the foreground.

The physics part is well and good, although whenever you’ve got so many scientific concepts in one place, it’s good to have some schematics….

However for me the book was confusing, because there are fictional characters who are doing the research and talking about it, but there isn’t really anything interesting going on, yes, so if the fiction part would have been left out, it would have made a better book in my opinion. There was just something missing.

I received this book for review purposes via NetGalley.

Book 97: Divergent by Veronica Roth

PIMG_8396Divergent by Veronica Roth

Finished reading on January 5th, 2014

Rating: 5/10

Sometimes everyone make mistakes, even usually rather intelligent beings might succumb to peer pressure and read something like Veronica Roth’s “Divergent”.

These kinds of mistakes are not altogether bad and useless, but they show a clearer path to good literature and how to really spend your time….

Divergent is a dystopian young adult novel – meaning the characters are teenagers and the world is in some or other disarray. In Veronica Roth’s world there has been a war, after which humans have divided themselves into factions according to the reasons what they thought were the ones behind the horrible wars (that reminded me of the national socialist movement in Germany after the first world war, as they were anti-semitic and blamed the jewish people for making Germany lose the war).

Not too surprisingly the factions are distinguishable by the way they dress and the way they act and what they think is most important in life.

The book follows a girl named Beatrice (Tris) Prime, who was raised in the faction Abnegation, where people are selfless and are supposed to put everyone else ahead of themselves.

Every year the then sixteen-year-olds have to go through tests to find out to witch faction the fit and then have to choose one. Hmm… tests…. choosing… do we have to fight a dragon? It seems these kinds of situations where a choice is made that divides the teenagers or children into recognizable groups that don’t necessarily get along, is a must-have for any young-adult novel….

And there the problems start. But you can read about that in the book if you’re that way inclined.

However you won’t miss much if you don’t pick this book up, as it’s a standard – training/learning situation, some teenage romance and violence and a war in the end of the book. Yippee!

For me the book just didn’t not even feel believable, even the factions – what exactly must happen to humankind so that they’d think there’s One reason behind the past war/wars????

So why is it such a hit among teenagers? Because it does keep you reading, and as long as you don’t have high standards for the books you pick up and read – it’s as good as anything published in this century. However if you’d prefer to read something similar, but critically acclaimed – read Golding’s “The Lord of the Flies” if you want to have kids fighting and killing, and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World” or George Orwell’s “1984” or Ray Bradbury’s “Fahrenheit 451” if you want a good dystopia.