Sex on Earth

As a kid, I was always interested in the ways things worked.  I was always wondering about the patterns of life and how they work together.  One of the careers I pondered as a lad was being a marine biologist.  Thanks to living near the ocean I always wanted to make a living out of being in one of my favorite environments.  But, that’s not where I ended.  I still have that inner scientist in me and even though I don’t work with animals, teenagers count in my book.  These days I tend to focus more on psychology rather than biology, but I still have an interest in the field. So all of this is a preamble as to why I picked up a book about animal reproduction.

Let’s be honest, if you saw the title Sex on Earth on the “New Books” display at your library you’d probably be interested in it too.  So I decided to see what this was all about.  Plus I was trying to determine what pandas had to do with the sex.  Then when I realized it was written by a zoologist and his year-long journey to discover some of the hidden sex lives of everyday animals I thought, why not?  It didn’t dawn on me until half-way through the book before I realized that I’d have to blog about this.  And then it made me wonder how many people would immediately begin to question where I landed on the perv-spectrum.

SexSex on Earth by Jules Howard was actually quite far from a bawdy drawings and lurid descriptions of animal copulation.  Instead, it actually revealed that we know very little about the animals we all assume we know.  And yes, he does address animal sex.  But using humor (high brow enough not to stoop to Jr. High levels) he’s able to take a scientific subject and make it palatable for the masses.  In another scientist’s hands this would’ve been a cure for insomnia.

Instead, what Howard achieves is challenging the reader to reexamine our relationship to the creatures we live with everyday.  The number one concern for most animals is survival.  The second concern is survival of the species.  Since we are not limited to these concerns, we tend to project our higher thinking onto to our animal neighbors.  For example, who doesn’t like feeding ducks?  Who doesn’t think ducklings are cute?  But would you look at mallards the same way if you knew that during the mating season, gangs of mallards will sometimes forcefully copulate, in aggressive groups, with females which may end up in drowning or injury for the she-duck?  Or that pandas aren’t as bad at sex as we tend to give them credit for.  It’s that when placed in artificial settings such as zoos, it kills the mood, so to speak.  Clearly they’ve survived for millennia, so they must know something about how to procreate.

These are the sorts of questions that Howard answers in his journey to discover the intimate side of animal.  It’s surprising how much we don’t notice about animals, but that in knowing may alter our perceptions of them.  And also, he addresses why dogs will hump random objects.  Because you know we all wonder why when we see it happen.

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The Glass Castle

Several of my students had read The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls and hearing them talk about it made me curious.  They were flabbergasted at the life the author led.  Then, for my book club, the pick for March was none other than The Glass Castle.  This is a memoir that takes the reader from Ms. Walls’s childhood up through her early adult years.  It’s full of crazy adventures, selfish parents, and overcoming the odds.

Glass CastleSometimes what keeps me from liking nonfiction especially autobiographies and biographies is that I can’t relate to the subject of the book.  Not to downplay Ms. Walls’s childhood or dramatize my own, but there were some shocking similarities.  She moved around the Southwest and even spent a stint in the Bay Area, never staying longer than a few years in each location.  Every time her parents would pull up stakes they would call it, “going on an adventure.”  Mind did the same.  As kids this worked for my brother and I.  We moved between Washington, California, and Nevada so like Ms. Walls we saw a lot of the American West.  But you reach a certain age and you don’t want to go on new adventures; you want stability.

Luckily for me my parents realized they needed to stick it out a let my brother and I grow up in one place.  Sadly for Ms. Walls, this was a hell hole called Welch, West Virginia.  And while my parents were just looking for adventure, her parents were usually driven out of town due to their lack of taking responsibility and finding excuses for being lazy.

That’s the part of the memoir that is hard to read.  As a child, Ms. Walls sees them as bohemian full of joie de vivre.  But as she gets older she realizes her parents are out to find their own happiness and everyone else has to fight for themselves.  They basically starve and live in squalid conditions because her father is a lush, gambler, and con man while her mom sits on million dollar properties because she doesn’t want to sell, it’s against her family’s code.  For me it was hard not to get angry and frustrated at the way the parents were so wrapped up in their own lives that they basically let their children suffer terrible lives.

The redeeming factor is that the kids are tenacious, you’d have to be in this family.  And most of them make a good name for themselves by moving away and distancing themselves from their parents destructive behavior.

I highly recommend this book because it shows us that our parents and how we are raised don’t always determine our futures.  Yes we will always be tied to our families but their downfalls don’t have to be ours.

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Green Arrow: Year One

As a kid I missed out on comic books.  I don’t know if it’s because the culture had changed and most us were watching our superheroes in cartoons or because my parents didn’t think it was proper reading material.  But that didn’t stop me from liking super heroes.  It just limited the ones I knew about.  The first super hero I was interested in was Batman.  And frankly, he’s still one I like to read about from time to time.  I didn’t like Superman or Spiderman, however; just not my cup of tea.  I did like X-men, but that’s mostly because of the movies.  When the terrible Green Lantern movie came out, I thought I’d get into him, but school started and I got distracted.  Then the show Arrow premiered and I encountered a new super hero to obsess over.  I’d never heard of Green Arrow before and I liked the story and the self-made hero motif.  Which is pretty close to Batman.  But what I liked about Green Arrow is he’s pretty much a modern Robin Hood which, incidentally, is one of my favorite childhood films.  So it seemed like a match made in heaven.

Year OneBeing the literati that I am I decided that I wanted to read the comics/graphic novels from the Green Arrow oevre.  So I did a wiki search and made my chronological list.  I’m OCD like that.  No jumping in in the middle of a series.  Luckily, my friends over at DC had the same idea.  They’ve revamped their universe and have tried to restart many of the story lines that our parents and grandparents grew up on.  So that’s where we get to Green Arrow: Year One.  This is the a new origin story that’s helped readers like me get into the hero.

Having watched the show I knew about Oliver Queen and his playboy origins.  So I was worried that this origin story graphic novel was going to be a copy of the show.  I was wrong.  It was just close enough that I didn’t feel it was too different from the show or vice versa, but it gave a unique spin on the story that was creative and intriguing.

So if you’re in the mood to read something in a day and be entertained with a good story and great illustrations, then I recommend this graphic novel.  Well done and a great way to launch a franchise.  It’s certainly hooked me.

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Sailor Twain

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel has caught my eye for awhile.  One, because it was recommended by the 2014 Best American Comics and two, because I thought it was about Mark Twain, one of my favorite writers.  Alas, the second is not quite true.  There’s only a vague reference to Twain and two creepy boys are allusions to Huck and Tom.

Sailor TwainSo what’s it about?  Well it’s centered on a steamship that plys the Hudson river, captained by a Twain and owned by a Frenchmen.  The Frenchmen is stereotypical in that he’s a womanizer and somewhat graphically so.  The main thrust of the story begins when Twain rescues a mermaid.  A mermaid in the Hudson you ask?  Why yes.  Apparently she convinced her sisters to help her break sailors hearts so her father, the sea god, exiled them to freshwater rivers.  This sister was sent to the Hudson because she was the instigator.  (Frankly, if I were exiled to the Hudson instead of the Rhine or the Danube, I’d be pissed too).  And so she exacts her revenge by luring people on the river to their deaths.  I won’t say why I know this, it’s sort of a plot point, but apparently mermaids aren’t selective when it comes to gender.  It appears women are at risk to the mermaids song.

What happens if I hear the mermaid’s song?  Well according to this lore, you need to give your heart to seven lovers.  And don’t make her mad whatever you do.  She’ll only stalk you and sing her song at full volume whenever you can.  Words to live by, dear reader.

Sarcasm aside, I was disappointed in the plot.  I wasn’t connected to any of the characters and the plot didn’t grab me.  But that didn’t make it any less of an interesting read.  It was entertaining and the drawings were superb.  The detail and shadowing were among the best I’ve seen.  So from an art standpoint this is a home run.

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The Little World of Liz Climo

As I mentioned when I wrote about 2014 Best American Comics, I’m challenging myself to seek out new graphic literature.  I don’t remember where I first came across Liz Climo’s The Little World of Liz Climo, but it’s well drawn, hilarious musings of Climo.

Liz ClimoWhat stood out to me was that the animals (which are her characters in this work) seem so innocent, yet they aren’t naive.  One of my favorites was a scene with barnyard animals gathered around the barn door.  In the top corner is a spiderweb with “asshole” writing into the web and the caption reads something like, “When Charlotte and Wilbur have a fight.”  Who doesn’t love a good joke based on a classic children’s book?

Ironically, the day before I read this one of my coworkers showed me that horribly catchy “Narwhal Song” YouTube video.  And Climo apparently has caught on to narwhal fever.  In one scene, Dolphins are bouncing (with their snouts) a beach ball and one of them quips that they have to keep it away from the narwhal, for obvious reasons.  Then there’s the narwhal who thinks he’s Don Juan and has a piece of mistletoe hanging from the bottom of an iceberg.  A female dolphin happens by and the narwhal quips about his luck.  It’s left to us to understand the she-dolphin’s look of dismay.

Once again I’m glad that I’ve ventured into the world of graphic literature.  Pictures are worth a thousand words so how much more are those pictures that are accompanied by words?

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Down Size

I rarely read non-fiction, but when I do it tends to be health/fitness related type.  I’m always interested to see what new ways I can make myself healthy.  I pick and choose the advice and ideas that I believe work best for me.  I’m not into major workout or dietary changes.  Down Size by Ted Spiker was in my library’s “New Book” section so I thought I’d give it a try.  Dr. Oz wrote the introduction, and I like his ideas on healthy eating.  And Ted Spiker writes for Men’s Health and Runner’s World.   I like both magazines so why not give it a shot?

DownsizeDown Size is different, though, and it took me awhile to adjust my paradigm for fitness books.  What Spiker does is to make each chapter one aspect of healthy living.  Within the chapter he gives his experience, experience of others, and some expert advice.  Spiker’s experience was quite shocking.  I assumed that all writer’s who wrote for health magazines would be well-Adonises.  Apparently it’s true what happens when you assume; some writers, like Spiker, are normal people like you and me.  They struggle with eating healthy and working out.  This made Spiker very relatable and I didn’t think that the advice he gave at the end of each chapter was patronizing.  In fact, the way he delivers advice is very focused on not creating a right/wrong dicotomy.  He shares what’s worked for him and other options available out there for each individual to try out.  I like that.  I think that living healthy is very individualized.  Each of our bodies are unique so it’s way too generalized to think that one book can solve everyone’s health problems.  Sure, there are general rules that we can all live by, but beyond those I think that we all have the responsibility to seek out that which works for us.

Down Size is a great healthy-living book that I highly recommend.  Especially if you’ve not read many books about health.  The principles that he discusses are good to think on and develop your reactions and options to.  From there, it’ll be easier to know what works for you and where you can go in your search for better health.

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