Thursday, January 20, 2011

Book Blitz! Volume 1

I don't know about the rest of the world, but in this house the New Year always starts off with a lot of new books. Christmas here is definitely book-giving season, and so is my birthday. I'm something of a book pack rat: if I don't have a backlog of reading material several months long I feel insecure. What if our bank account was hacked and emptied and I couldn't buy books? Better have several dozen waiting to read just in case...

One book that I only just got around to is Swimming in Stone: The Amazing Gogo Fossils of the Kimberley by John Long. My husband and I saw Dr. Long speak at Cal Tech University several months back and I was impressed enough to pick it up.

Although "Gogo fossil" sounds like some sort of 70's slang it in fact refers to amazingly well preserved Devonian era reef remains in Western Australia. This area was once covered in a shallow warm sea, and, lucky for us, many of the details of the ecosystem that thrived here have been preserved. Unlike many sites where long-dead animals have only left impressions in the rocks, here whole skeletons still exist. This is important because it was during this time that fish were making many of the evolutionary steps that would someday lead to us. Steps like jaws, for instance. Not to mention limbs, and lungs.

Dr. Long does a nice job of outlining the importance of the fossils, the infighting that can stymie research, and the personalities of the major players. I find myself awed by the shear weight of the ages that separate us from these amazing animals and amazed that we can still learn so much from them. It must caution you, though: if you have no interest in fossils, fish, or evolution you may find the going a bit dry. Dr. Long does not shy away from technical terms or latin labels.

A completely different reading experience can be found in the pages of Jason Little's Motel Art Improvement Service. It's the rare graphic novel that isn't afraid to depict banal settings, trusting that the protagonists will make the story interesting. And here they do. Motels both cheap and slickly corporate are imbued with suspense and pathos through Little's clean art and masterful narrative structure.

I should issue a warning here too: this is not a kiddie comic. Anyone too young to understand the menstrual cycle as a plot device should definitely stay away: if they persist they will only be met with sex, drugs, and complex ideas about the role of art in society. Folks old enough to enjoy coffee should find it a definite lark though.

So, that's what I've read so far this year. What's on your bedside table?


  1. Menstrual cycle as a plot device? Okay that's intriguing. I love the title too, and heaven knows I can geek out on books about animal evolution. Ooooh I shouldn't have read this post - I have at least seven months worth of books to read already, and seeing as how half of them are library books I really have to stop adding to the pile!

    I do want to add, though, I like the sound of the author addressing the negative impact of infighting on research. It's always so frustrating when you hear about fascinating debates and researches stalling at a political level.

  2. Ahahahahaah. What am I currently reading? I am *hiding* from my to-read pile. Hiding from it.

    Here's what I've started:

  3. Wow, sounds like two very different books! The Gogo fossil book sounds very interesting - I try so hard to read books like that. Sometimes I succeed (Stephen Jay Gould, Bernd Heinrich) and sometimes I fail (John A Livingston).

    Christmas is a time of book-giving in our household too - this year I added to my James Herriot collection, my John Le Carre spy collection, and a book by Temple Grandin.

  4. Tatty, I know the feeling! As to reading about science, I love it when authors throw in a bit of the back room trading that goes on. Fascinating and often frustrating!

    Sigrid, wow!! Now I know why you always have such insightful tweets at least! ;)

    Victoria, I love Gould, and Heinrich too. Some ravens have recently moved into our neighborhood, and watching them is really enhanced by knowing a bit about them. And may I say that I'm envious of your Temple Grandin book? I haven't read any by her yet.


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