On my Bedside Table

Saturday, February 07, 2009

The Snake Charmer

A Life and Death in Pursuit of Knowledge
by Jamie James

Picked this one up after a cursory glance -- it looked cool -- a guy stomping around Burma in search of rare species. I was about two pages in when I realized I'd heard the story before in an Outside magazine article a couple of years ago -- an excruciating account of a herpetologists fatal encounter with a many-banded krait, and the heroic but failed attempt of his colleagues to save him. I couldn't finish the article. Just couldn't bear thinking about that they went through (I'll admit I have issues with Outside magazine when they do things that to me almost border on snuff films).

I stuck it out though and made it through the book and I'm glad I did. It was good to know more about what kind of person and scientist Joe Slowinski was, more about his family and the people he worked with. It made it more of a eulogy and less a voyeuristic horror like that article. I also like learning more about the academic scene of the life sciences, what it's like to make your living (or not) doing something that crazy 19th centurey explorer/collectors did. I learned a bit about snake biology and taxonomy too. Definitely a worthwhile read, but not for the squeamish...

Friday, February 06, 2009

Fault Lines

by Nancy Huston

Wow. I almost didn't make it through the first section of this book, because of the incredibly unappealing, disturbing little boy who was our narrator. Fortunately, you don't see him through the rest of the book as it moves backward in time. It's an interesting conceit, each section goes back a generation through teh same family, telling the story from the point of view of a 6-year-old (who was a parent, grandparent, or great-grandparent in the sections before). It results in a multi-layered, multi-perspective view of each character. It's kind of tough to use 6-year-olds as narrators, though. Sometimes Huston gets it right, sometimes it doesn't ring true, but it definitely makes for a fresh way to view the action. Just work on suppressing the gag reflex in that first section.... oh, and at the end, too, where there's a list of book group questions for discussion.