Friday, July 30, 2010

Thank heaven Bunting lit the sign that night

The Lodger: A Tale of the London FogSome of my reading isn't reading at all - it's listening. I like to put audio books (many of which I download from the library) on my iPod for the hour each morning I spend at the gym. Of course, I suspect the people sweating on the treadmills around me would be surprised at what I was listening to, and one of the stranger books I've heard lately was The Lodger: A Tale of the London Fog by Marie Belloc Lowndes.

The Buntings are an elderly couple living in Victorian London. They're out of money and desperate when their fortunes are reversed by the appearance of a lodger. Mr. Sleuth is certainly eccentric and reclusive but he seems to be a gentleman, and the Buntings can't afford to be particular. But soon Mrs. Bunting begins to suspect that there might be some connection with their lodger and the mysterious murders reported in the papers. On nights when Mr. Sleuth quietly sneaks out of the house it seems that the next morning's papers announce another murder by "the Avenger."

Written in 1913 and based upon the “Jack the Ripper” murders, the book was also the inspiration for a silent film made by Alfred Hitchcock in 1927. And that's what drew me to read it, although I haven't yet watched the movie. But as it's nearly 100 years old, it's not as fast-moving as books today generally are, and I came very close to putting it down. But its strength is in the ability to develop and heighten tension and suspense (which, no doubt, appealed to Hitchcock). Having been saved from ruinous poverty and starvation by the lodger Mrs. Bunting becomes protective of her good fortune. She continually ignores her suspicions, even though the stress takes a serious toll on her health.

Perhaps the book is most interesting for the psychological profile of the Buntings as so totally dependent upon their lodger that they would ignore common sense (and a reward!). They risk the danger of harboring a murderer (and becoming "accessories to the crime") to avoid the shame that would come if their suspicious should turn out to be correct. Like I said before, it's not an especially gripping or fast-moving story like a Michael Crichton novel would be, but it's interesting... and a nice change of pace, too.

Monday, July 26, 2010

The limits of the sea

Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild FoodI recently finished an excellent book I received through Amazon Vine. I was very surprised at how much I enjoyed reading Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food.

Mankind has often looked upon the ocean as a bountiful place capable of providing a near-endless supply of food. We even sort of romanticize those who brave the elements, from Moby Dick and yesterday's whalers to today's "Deadliest Catch." And for reasons of abundance or convenience or perhaps just taste, we've settled upon four main fish which serve as our principal "seafood": salmon, bass, cod, and tuna. But, as fishing has become increasingly commercial and efficient, we're in danger of destroying the wild populations of these fish and the ecosystems that produce and depend upon them.

Paul Greenburg has written an excellent and surprisingly readable book about our relationship with the sea and its bounty. He does this not from a solely environmentalist perspective, but also as a fisherman and one who enjoys eating fish. He discusses the advantages of wild vs. farmed fish and the destructive practices of each which imperil future stocks. With farming, in particular, the four are very poor candidates for captive rearing although the lessons learned so far have been invaluable and can be applied to other species. He also explores potential replacement species against a checklist of qualities that should ensure greater success (the same qualities that have been proven in terrestrial farming).

I've never been a huge eater of seafood, although I've recently begun ordering it more often when we eat out. But I most appreciated the scientific aspect of the book that seeks to find the best possible balance, moving beyond the simple red or green seafood cards to maximizing a sustainable harvest while protecting resources. He acknowledges there are no easy answers, but perhaps leans a little too heavily on regulation as if illegal poaching wouldn't increase with such measures. Nonetheless, I think his suggestions are worthwhile and a good starting point. Overall, an important read for all those who are concerned about the future of the oceans and the "last wild food."

Friday, July 23, 2010


I never really expected to write a blog - it seemed too much hubris to think anyone would be interested in what I have to say. But I do like to write, and while writing reviews on Amazon is fun, it's also limiting. But, regardless of whether or not this blog will be of interest to anyone else, I'm interested in what I think (there's the hubris) so... I guess I'm mostly writing for myself.

Since Kate's blog is bookworm-kate, I figure I can be bookworm-dad and, like her, I'll post my thoughts on the variety of books I read. When it comes to history I'll read most anything but I'm especially partial to the American Revolution and World War II. With fiction I often prefer the Young Adult genre because it's usually a lot cleaner and more decent than a lot of grown-up stuff but also because it's probably nearer to my maturity level! Actually, I loved reading as a kid and reading YA books now brings back good memories (sometimes I'm right back in my bedroom or under a backyard tree and I can even remember what I was reading). Lately I've also been reading some "classics" that were assigned back in school, although back then I usually read the Cliff's Notes instead - but some of them are actually quite good!

I also plan to write about other stuff that family and friends might like to hear. But then again, maybe it'll just be me who's interested in what I think.