Books Read in December 2015 + My 2015 Reading Stats

I read 11 books in December 2015.  Also, just for fun, I’m including some of my 2015 reading statistics at the end of this post.  (I’m a bit late posting this, but I plan to start getting back to a regular blogging schedule soon.)

Lord Brocktree, The Taggerung, Triss, and Loamhedge by Brian Jacques

You’re probably tired of seeing these books on my “books read” lists, but, yes, I am still reading through Brian Jacques’s Redwall books.  I don’t have much to say about them this month that I haven’t said already, but I think The Taggerung was the best book of these four.

Birds of America edited by T. Gilbert Pearson

This book was originally published in 1917; my copy is unfortunately a later edition from 1936, but it’s still one of the older books in my collection.  It’s a reference book to the birds of North America, but is also an interesting book to read.  The authors frequently quote Thoreau, and describe how easy or difficult different bird species are to shoot.  It is obvious that this book was written at a time when our attitudes to wild animals and our relationships with them were different from what they are today.  The book also contains many beautifully illustrated colour plates, as well as black-and-white photos.  It’s quite long (nearly 900 pages) and it took me much of November and December to get through it.  I doubt that many people other than myself would be crazy enough to read through the entire thing, but if you are interested in the birds of this continent, I would recommend it.

Sir Gawain and the Green Knight translated by Marie Boroff

I’ve written about Sir Gawain here before, and as I said then, this is a book I like to read around this time of year (although Marie Boroff’s translation was new to me).  It’s a long Arthurian poem originally written in Middle English, but don’t let that turn you off, as it’s also a good story, complete with a brave hero and a villain who is not quite who he appears to be.

Lud-in-the-Mist by Hope Mirrlees

This is a book I’ve been wanting to read for a long time.  It’s an early fantasy novel (originally published in 1926) about Fairyland and the people of the city of Lud-in-the-Mist – people who have decided that, according to their law, Fairyland, and anything to do with it, no longer exists.  Fairy fruit, which makes ordinary mortals mad, is not to be talked of in polite society, even though law-abiding citizens have been curiously unable to prevent it from being smuggled into the city for years.  Fairyland, in this book, is a place of inhuman, inexplicable, and yet alluring danger.  I have read few modern books that manage to capture that so well (with the notable exception, I think, of Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell).  I think it was fitting that this was the last book I read in 2015, as it was one of my favourite books of the year.

Local Books

Many of the books I read are about my local region (British Columbia and the Pacific Northwest, and surrounding areas), and therefore might not be of interest to someone who lives on the other side of the world.  From now on, I’m going to group all of these books together in one section called “local books”, and if you’re not interested, you can easily skip over it.

Glacier Country: Mount Revelstoke and Glacier National Parks by John G. Woods

This was a relatively short book about two of Canada’s national parks that are located in British Columbia’s mountains.  I thought it was an excellent introduction to the natural and human history of the parks, and it even gave me some ideas of places I would like to visit in the parks.

Birds of Coastal British Columbia by Nancy Baron and John Acorn

(You may also find this book published as Birds of the Pacific Northwest Coast.)  This is an introductory field guide to birds of the region.  It doesn’t include all species, but focuses on the most commonly seen birds and groups similar species together to simplify things for someone who is new to bird identification.  I thought this was an excellent book: the illustrations were large and clear, and the written descriptions interesting.  Even though I don’t live on the coast, most of the species are ones I’m familiar with, and I found this book particularly helpful because it focused on the key characteristics that you can use to distinguish related species.

Wild Flowers of Western Canada by William Copeland McCalla

Published in 1920, this is one of the oldest books in my collection.  It’s a field guide to some of the wild flower species of western Canada.  The illustrations are black-and-white photographs, and McCalla’s descriptions of the flowers are rather charming.

2015 Reading Stats

I read 144 books in 2015.  This is more than I read in 2014 (103 books) or 2013 (112 books), but less than in 2012 (171 books).  I read the most books in April (23 books) and the fewest in August (4 books).  Of the books I read in 2015, 62 (43%) were fiction and 82 (57%) were non-fiction.  42 of the books (29%) were books that I re-read.

My reading goal for 2016 is to re-read more books.  I own over 800 books, and I would like to cut down on that number as I am running out of space for my books.  I want to keep only those books that I want to re-read or use for reference (or that are part of my growing collection of field guides and related books).    By focusing on re-reading books this year, I hope that I will be able to identify more books that I am not interesting in reading again and that I can eliminate from my library.

What good books did you read in December and 2015 as a whole?  Do you track the numbers of books you read?  And do you have any reading goals for 2016?

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Books Read in November 2015

As I was focusing this month on writing more blog posts, I did not do as much reading in November as compared to October.

The Pearls of Lutra, The Long Patrol, Marlfox, and The Legend of Luke by Brian Jacques

I continued reading Brian Jacques’s Redwall books this month.  I have mixed feelings about these books.  On one hand, I love the detailed world that Jacques created in them: the world of Redwall has a lengthy history and rich geography, and each of the different groups of animals (mice, shrews, otters, moles, etc.) has its own distinct culture and dialect.  But on the other hand, the stories themselves feel repetitive and I do not like how certain animals (rats, weasels, foxes, etc.) are always portrayed as evil, while the others are nearly always portrayed as good.  I am determined to read the entire series, though, just because I like to complete things that way.  My favourite of these four was probably The Legend of Luke, as I tend to find the books set earlier in Redwall’s history to be more interesting.

The Mammals of Canada by A.W.F. Banfield
The Birds of Canada by W. Earl Godfrey

These are a pair of reference books on Canada’s mammals and birds, originally published in the 1960’s and 70’s (I think new, updated editions have been published more recently).  As I mentioned in my post on the books I read in October, I do collect field guides and related books, but I think these ones are excellent books for anyone interested in Canada’s wildlife.  They are not overly technical and they contain a lot of interesting information, which makes them fairly good reading.  The colour plates also contain some lovely illustrations.  I found my copy of The Birds of Canada in the free box at a local used book sale.  I felt surprised and a bit sad that someone thought that this book was not worth anything, but happy to find it, as I had been looking for it ever since I bought The Mammals of Canada earlier this year.

Elidor by Alan Garner

This is a fantasy novel about four siblings who accidentally stumble into the magical country of Elidor.  Children going to a magical, alternate world to save it from some evil force is a common theme in fantasy, but in this book the visit to Elidor is over in the first few chapters, and the most interesting things happen after the children return home and Elidor’s power continues to make itself felt in the mundane world.  Garner has a deceptively simple and spare writing style, with a focus on dialogue rather than description.  He builds up a truly ominous atmosphere that is only partly relieved by the quick ending.  Alan Garner’s books always make me feel that there is a lot more going on, just below the surface, than is apparent in a single reading, and I look forward to re-reading this one.

~~~

What good books did you read in November?

 

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My 10 Favourite Books: #8 A Trail Through Leaves

A Trail Through LeavesHannah Hinchman’s A Trail Through Leaves: The Journal as a Path to Place is part instruction on how to keep a nature journal, part memoir, and part contemplation.  Hinchman has kept illustrated nature journals since the age of 17, and when this book was published (in 1997), her journals filled over 50 volumes.  A Trail Through Leaves is illustrated with pages from her journals, and I think the book is well worth reading for that alone.  This was one of the first books I encountered that showed me that art does not have to be perfectly finished drawings and paintings, but that it can also be rough, imperfect sketches.  I love Hinchman’s sketches more than many “finished” drawings I’ve seen, and this book helped to inspire me to try sketching, even though I had long believed that I couldn’t draw.

One thing I love about A Trail Through Leaves is that it is never just about one thing.  Hinchman seems like someone who is interested in and curious about almost everything, and this book reflects that.  In one chapter, she discusses her favourite pens, pencils, and other tools for writing and drawing; in another, she reads Thoreau’s journals and contemplates what she calls “unmeasurable phenomena” (a term I happen to be particularly fond of); in others, she writes about her garden, quotes a Roethke poem, or describes her experiences in teaching journal-keeping.  Her writing may at times feel a bit rambling, but I prefer to think of it as like the trail or path referred to in the title: it meanders from topic to topic, always following a thread, however thin, that connects the topics together.

At the end of each chapter Hinchman includes a practical exercise that you can work on in your own journal.  These exercises are not boring writing prompts, but exercises that will help you to observe and remember more carefully.  For Hinchman, journal-keeping is not just for self-reflection, but for fully experiencing the place in which you live.  A Trail Through Leaves reveals how keeping a journal is always about more than just writing or drawing, and how, in Hinchman’s words, “the act of recording a life, in healthy solitude and active connection to loved terrain, is also the act of creating a life.”

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Spotted Photo Theme: Walking

I love walking.  It’s one of my favourite activities, and my favourite way to get from one place to another.  It’s a way to explore, breathe the air, and simply be in a place.  When walking, my mind naturally becomes quiet and I focus on what is around me.  My body settles into a rhythm, a smooth pace that is not hurried, but brisk enough to be invigorating.  I like a good walk to leave me a bit out of breath, but not gasping for breath, and with plenty of time to pause, observe, and perhaps take a few photos.

Trail to the peak

Mountains are among my favourite places to walk, even though mountain-walking can be a challenge. The trails are often steep, narrow, and uneven, with dangerous drop-offs. The air is thin and makes breathing more difficult. But the view from the top (and the feeling of accomplishment from having reached the top) always makes it worth it.

The last Spotted Photo Theme was vehicles, a theme I thought I was not going to participate in because I could think of no vehicle that particularly appealed to me.  But then I thought that if vehicle can be loosely defined to refer to any means of transportation, then I do have a favourite vehicle – my own two feet.  In fact, the word vehicle is derived from the Latin word vehere, which means “to carry”, and that is exactly what my feet do as they carry the rest of my body over the ground.  So this photo theme post will include photos of my favourite trails and places that my feet have carried me to (but thankfully, it will not include many photos of my feet!).

Subalpine trail in Manning Park

Another mountain trail, this time in the Cascade Mountains.

The hill

While I was in university, walking was usually my only means of transportation. This hill on campus was one of my favourite places to walk to. I would walk up the hill and then sit on the rocks at the top, gazing out over the valley. It was a good place to get some perspective on my life – both literally and figuratively.

Grassy labyrinth

I love walking labyrinths whenever I come across them.  (This one is in a local provincial park.)  Labyrinths intrigue me, and they’re a way you can focus on walking as a form of moving meditation.  Sometimes I even dream about building a labyrinth in my own yard one day.  (If you want to find a labyrinth near you, try the Labyrinth Locator.)

Most of the places I enjoy walking in are ones with little human presence, and walking in an urban area is a completely different experience.  While I have enjoyed walking in town (usually on quiet back streets with little traffic), I find it difficult to relax in the same way that I do when in a forest or on a mountain.

Rainforest boardwalk

A boardwalk in one of the rainforests of the Pacific Northwest.

Forest trail in winter

I also enjoy walking in winter, especially when the trees are all covered with snow. It helps to wear snowshoes, though.

Snowshoeing

Okay, I had to include at least one photo of my feet! Just be glad they’re well covered in snow, snowshoes, boots, and thick socks…

Perhaps my favourite part of walking is how it encourages exploration.  If you’re in a car, you go whizzing by on the road and you can only glimpse what’s out the window.  And with the car’s heat, air-conditioning, and radio or music system, you’re well insulated from the heat, cold, sounds, and smells of the outdoors.  A bicycle is better, but you’re still restricted to certain places and paths.  On foot, you can go nearly anywhere: clamber over rocks, wade through a stream, climb a fence, duck under low-hanging branches.  You can bend down to take a closer look at that rock, insect, or wildflower that caught your eye.  You can sit and rest whenever you want to, or you can keep walking just a little bit further, just to see what’s around the next corner or over the next hill.

Walking

Who knows where this trail might lead, or what might be over the hill?

~~~

Spotted photo theme

The post Spotted Photo Theme: Walking is part of iHanna’s Spotted Photo Theme challenge.  If this post interests you, please consider joining in and sharing your own photo themes!

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My First Slime Mold

Our backyard is like no other backyard in town.  It’s somewhat of a liminal place, located as it is on the exact boundary where the town ends and the country begins.  On the country side, the lower corner of our yard is a tangle of wild hawthorn, snowberry, and Oregon-grape, where deer saunter along the paths and quail scurry in the underbrush, all presided over by two mature Douglas-fir trees.  One day, I was wandering in this part of our yard when I noticed something unusual on top of a fallen birch tree that had toppled over the fence separating our property from that of our neighbours.

Slime mold

This… thing… was unlike anything I had ever seen before.  It was a bright spot of unlikely yellow in a landscape otherwise dominated by dull greens and shades of brown.  It was a brilliant spot of colour in the shadowy undergrowth.  And I was certain that it was nothing that I had ever seen before in my life.  I knelt down beside it and peered at it closely, my nose only a few inches from its surface.  I was fascinated.  The thing had a textured, porous surface and parts of it appeared to be expanding outwards along the surface of the birch bark.  I felt slightly alarmed by it.  I feel comfortable identifying most of the plants and animals that I encounter in my local woods, but this was something different.  It wasn’t a plant.  It wasn’t an animal.  It wasn’t even a lichen or any kind of fungus that I had seen before.  Perhaps – I paused and thought back to a biology class that I had taken in university years before – was it a slime mold?

Slime molds are odd creatures; once considered fungi, they are now recognized as a unique class of organisms in and of themselves.  They are officially a member of the Kingdom Protista, which is something of a catch-all kingdom for anything that’s not a plant, animal, fungus, or bacterium.  Some slime molds (plasmodial slime molds) are basically giant cells composed of thousands of individual nuclei (in comparison to most cells, which have only one nucleus each).  Other slime molds (cellular slime molds) live as single-nucleus, individual cells most of the time but can join up to behave like a multicellular organism when conditions are right.  Slime molds typically live in moist environments, such as on rotting logs, or even in gardens and lawns, and ingest microbes such as bacteria and the spores of fungi.  They also show unexpected intelligence, being able to find the shortest routes through mazes and anticipate future changes in their environment.

I grew up in a forest, which makes it hard for me to believe that I had never seen a slime mold before that day.  But I’m sure I would have remembered if I had seen one before.  And I didn’t remember ever seeing anything even remotely similar to a slime mold.  In fact, I don’t think I had even heard of slime molds before that biology class.  And in that class, I had been excited to learn about an organism I’d never heard of before, but I don’t know if I had ever really expected to discover one in the wild, or if I did, that it would look the way it did.  So different.  So bizarre.  So alien, even.

I returned to the spot a couple of days later and my slime mold had visibly aged.  It was still fascinating, but I felt thankful that I had seen it while it was still in its prime.

Slime mold

I was thrilled when I stumbled across my yellow slime.  It was the perfect reminder of why I always try to be alert to any pieces of unexpected wonder that might cross my path.  I see so many people who are so wrapped up in their own lives that they rarely notice anything outside of them – but outside, in the real world, there is so much, much more.  My slime mold was also a reminder of how so much diversity of life can exist even on a mere acre of land on the edge of town.  I could likely spend a lifetime in our backyard and still not see or learn everything that is there.

As I watched my yellow slime, I wondered: where had it come from? where was it going? what – if anything – was it thinking? what does its universe look like?  In its unfamiliarity, it had an other-ness about it that I had never experienced before – an other-ness that awed and humbled me.

I’ve seen a few more slime molds since that first one, and I’ve even had a few opportunities to introduce them to other people.  While I can’t say that anyone else has been quite as excited by slimes as I am, I think they did feel a least a tiny bit of that awe and wonder that I experienced that first time.  After all, it’s not every day that you get to meet a slime mold.

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