Saturday, May 10, 2014

Love, Life and Elephants

Book: Love, Life and Elephants
Author: Daphne Sheldrick
Edition: eBook from library
Read:  May, 10, 2014 - unfinished
629 pages
Rated: 2 out of 5

Autobiographical on Daphne Sheldrick's life in Keneya. Her husband was the head of the Tsavo National Park.The book tells of her upbringing in Africa and then her subsequent marriage to a game warden in Kenya. There she meets her future husband, David Sheldrick. The story continues on with how she started raising elephants, rhinos and other assorted orphaned animals in the park.

 How do you look at a book where the content should be compelling, but the writing is not? That is the problem with I had with this book. No matter how hard I tried, I could not get into this book, consequently I did not finish it.

I think she could have done better by either having a professional writer write the book or hiring a ghost writer. Her telling of her childhood was to establish the basis for her life-long love of animals. But what I read started out as interesting, but rough, and then degenerated into the minutia of a childhood. This type of writing continues on throughout the book. It seems like whatever orphaned animal crosses her path, she becomes inseparably attached to. She probably was, but after reading how she was specially attached to a number of animals, one gets the feeling that there was no special relationships because they were all special. I suspect this is the fault of the writing, not what she was trying to describe.

One criteria which I have for looking at a book or any other piece of writing is could I have written this book? If so, the writing is not very good, consequentially the storyline behind it needs to be extremely compelling. I think the story could have been, but after a month of trying, I could not get more than halfway through it. I think that to someone with a strong interest in animals, particularly Africa, this would have been a good book to read.

(I should note that my book group enjoyed this book. Guess that makes me the old crumudgeon.)

Notes from my book group:

May have been a Smithsonian pick.
Reliving the period of the Mau Mau uprising.


      Wednesday, May 7, 2014

      Call of the Canyon

      Book: Call of the Canyon
      Author: Zane Grey
      Edition: eBook from Gutenberg
      Read:  May 2014

      259 pages
      Rated: 3 out of 5


      New York socialite Carley Burch's finance arrives home after World War I, a wreck of a man, both physically and mentally. Glenn Kilbourne has been gassed and seen the horrors of war. He feels that his country has deserted him and his comrades. He has never been comfortable with the New York scene and so decides to move out West-probably to die.

      As Carley starts to get letters from Glenn, the letters continue to get more mysterious. Finally after a year, Carley decides to pay a visit to where Glenn is living in Arizona, along Oak Creek and its canyons, close to what we know as Sedona today. Carley expects to trundle Glenn back to New York, but quickly realizes there are complications. First Carley herself begins to see what the attractions of Oak Creek. Second, Glenn is on the road to healing and is in no frame of mind to leave. Third, Carley realizes she is a city girl. So she breaks the engagement.

      But a strange thing happens when Carley comes back to New York. She sees her life through new eyes. Eyes which are now discontent with the shallowness of the New York high life. After awhile, she cannot take it anymore and heads back to country above Oak Creek Canyon and to what she hopes will be her reunion with Glenn.


      In describing a New Years Eve celebration, Grey describes the scene in Hew York as a "gay and thoughtless" crowd. This is the impression which Grey gives of New York. People who are trying to escape knowing about their own shallowness. Rather than growing depth, the people Grey talks about build a productive shell around themselves. Some do it with mindless activity, others through alcohol, and still others by putting on blinders. Glenn recognizes this by saying before the war, his love was  “selfish, thoughtless, sentimental, and boyish”. Grey's solution is to go out West.

      What Grey illustrates is notion that people out West are more forthright. He records an exchange between Carley and a hotel clerk, where the clerk says to an impatient Carley that people out here usually ask for what they want. Is this true today? Probably a bit more true as Americans are known for being more bold in their speaking.

      But Grey's thoughts on the West is even more than that. It is the West is some kind of Nirvana which will either correct what is in a person or kill them. But it will mostly correct them. The West's almost magical powers to heal and cleanse the soul is a theme throughout the book. I wonder if this is true anymore? Has the West, particularly in California, become more like the New York of Grey's story? All is meaningless, all is play? Even Sedona, close to where the story is set, may be on the path to the commercialism which leads to meaninglessness.

      In the end, Grey puts the thoughts in Carley's mind, the lesson of the West is to face an issue, not hide it. No dispute here. We can avoid some issues, but most hit us, usually between the eyes.

      When this book was written, World War I had been over for six years. Zane Grey saw how the returning soldiers had been treated, even those who had been crippled by the war. He threads two lines through this book. First, there was the sons of the rich who avoided the war. Grey paints them as cowards, getting rich at the expense of those who fought. Those who either field due to the riches greed or were wounded, gassed, whose protection did not stand up due to inferior quality. The rich danced while soldiers died.

      But even more disturbing is how returning soldiers were treated. The healthy could not get their old jobs back. Even more of concern was the men who were wounded were leftover survive on their own, without even being given thanks, let alone aid.

      Carley says “I love people, not places”. Glenn's response is that is what is wrong. How so? I think as a Christian, Christ seemed to love a person more than possessions. But reading in the Old Testament, there is definitely something special about certain places, particularly where God has been. So I think his is a false dichotomy. It is an either or, but we are to understand the roles of each. What tole does a place have in God's creation? What role does a person have in His love? 

      Grey's thoughts on the weakness he sees in our nation in the 1920's, and I would assume now as well, is rather simple, and some would say outdated. His solution is work and children. Later, he enlarges upon this when he says, The things you were born to are love, work, children, happiness.”  These are words given to Glenn as he talks to Carley. Carley is a modern independent women who thinks this is too domestic, too outdated. But Glenn's thoughts are that  we need to go basic, to get back to meaning. Finding purpose through raising our young and providing for them. Later on he talks about marriage in the same light. That New York socialites view  marriage as a means of escape, an escape from the life of boredom.  Instead a Grey views it as a response to the responsibility to progress the American way of life. I think the argument is a bit shallow, not because it does not have some merit, but because why does this give you purpose? In a lot of ways, it only leads you to filling time. The basic question is what gives work and children meaning?

      I think this is not a modern book, so what Grey presents would not sit well with very many feminists.

      I've found out here that I want to do things well. The West stirs something in a man. It must be an unwritten law. You stand or fall by your own hands. Back East you know meals are just occasions—to hurry through—to dress for—to meet somebody—to eat because you have to eat. But out here they are different. I don't know how. In the city, producers, merchants, waiters serve you for money. The meal is a transaction. It has no significance. It is money that keeps you from starvation. But in the West money doesn't mean much. You must work to live. (67-68) several interesting things about this section. First the remark about wanting to do things well. Some of the context is just survival. But even more so,Glenn is saying that your work shows you what kind of a person you are. The pride of your work, vs the partying mentality.

      I find it interesting the emphasis Grey places on a meal. It is not merely to fuel your body, or as a social engagement. To Grey, it is part of the pride and reward. A good meal is the reward of doing your work well.

      Flo talked eloquently about the joys of camp life, and how the harder any outdoor task was and the more endurance and pain it required, the more pride and pleasure one had in remembering it. I suspect that is true all the way around. The harder the task, when accomplished, the better you feel. Maybe that is why I like backpacking. As I walk and ache, the rest that night feels so much better.

      He might have been failing to do it well, but he most certainly was doing it conscientiously. Once he had said to her that a man should never be judged by the result of his labors, but by the nature of his effort. (147).  Today it is all about results than effort. What can you. Do for me rather than did you do your task to the best of your ability. While the results must be there eventually, results are not the only thing.

      Let me begin by saying, this was my first Zane Grey book. My wife and I were visiting Sedona, AZ. As hikers, we enjoy walking around and seeing things. We quickly learned that Sedona's fame owes a lot to Zane Grey's book, The Call of the Canyon. So I quickly downloaded the book from Gutenberg and started reading. It is always interesting reading a book at the place where the setting is.

      Grey's description of the area around the Canyon was spot on and I enjoyed comparing the book descriptions with the hike we took up the West Fork of Oak Creek. The romance between Carley Burch and Glenn Kilbourne was a bit dry, and pretty much unexplained. How did a rich girl meet a working class man? When Carley returns back to Arizona after breaking off the relationship, what kind of reception was she thinking about when she returned?

      But I was surprised with the social commentary which Grey had about the returning WW I veterans. Also he spoke a lot about the social life and values of the New York upper class, particularly in comparison with the life lived in Arizona.

      All in all, it was an enjoyable book, particularly since we are in the area.  Will I read more of Grey's books? Well, I will not turn it down, but I may not actively seek them out-I have a pretty good backlog right now.

      As I am writing this review, the Slide Fire of 2014 is burning right where this book takes place. I wonder what will be left of it?

      New Words:

      • Lunger(15):  a primitive neandrathal-like creature known for its muscular build and four legged running ability.  Also may mean a person with a lung disease
      • Spoon(39): behave in an amorous way; kiss and cuddle
      • coquette(40): a woman who flirts lightheartedly with men to win their admiration and affection; flirt.
      • Trencheon(67): the club carried by a police officer; billy; a staff representing an office or authority; baton.
      • cognomen(71): a distinguishing nickname or epithet;
        the third of usually three names borne by a male citizen of ancient Rome
      • alacrity(72): cheerful readiness, promptness, or willingness:
      • hydrophobia(76): another name for rabies; fear of drinking fluids, esp that of a person with rabies, because of painful spasms when trying to swallow.
      • petrifaction(79): the act or process of petrifying; the state of being petrified.
      • Souse(104): liquid, typically salted, used for pickling; drunken
      • miasmas (154): a dangerous, foreboding, or deathlike influence or atmosphere.
      • Resurgam(156):  Latin for I shall rise again.
      • Boches(190): a German, especially a soldier.
      • Ken(200): one's range of knowledge or sight.
      • fin-de-siecle(206): of, relating to, or characteristic of the close of the 19th century and especially its literary and artistic climate of sophistication, world-weariness, and fashionable despair
      • sloe-eyed(227): having soft dark bluish- or purplish-black eye;  having slanted eyes
      • stentorian(252): loud and powerful.
      Book References:
      • Tennyson, The Lotus Eaters

      Good Quotes:

      • First Line:   What subtle strange message had come to her out of the West?
      • Last Line:  Lee Stanton was the lucky bridegroom.... Carley, the moment I saw you I knew you had come back to me.
      •  Jealously was an unjust and stifling thing.  Pg 33
      • ...misery, as well as bliss, can swallow up the hours. Pg 88to know the real truth about anything in life might require infinite experience and understanding. Pg 90
      • Money is God in the older countries. But it should never become God in America. If it does we will make the fall of Rome pale into insignificance. Pg 137