Wednesday, March 16, 2016

How Smart Is Your Cat?

I honestly don't remember putting this book on hold at the library, but I randomly got notification about it last week.  It seemed interesting enough, so I decided to read it.

How Smart Is Your Cat? says it's devoted to seeing how smart your pet cat is.  From the description of the book, there were going to be tests to check their IQ and some instructions for teaching them tricks. Unfortunately that wasn't the case.  How Smart Is Your Cat is for someone totally new to owning a pet cat, not someone like me who has had a few feline companions over the years.  The book goes through all the basics of what cats are like.  You check their IQ by seeing how they behave, quite often with somewhat arbitrary tasks using a 3 star system.  For example, you pet scores one star for playing with different toys, two stars for playing games that you start, and three stars for playing a game that they initiate (this particular example is super relevant because it comes up repeatedly throughout the book).  Oh, or my favourite one: your cat shows interest when you are cooking (they're dumb then, only 1 star), weaves around your legs while you're cooking (slightly smarter, two stars), or routinely appears when you're cooking meat (super smart!  3 stars).  This isn't cat smarts - they're attracted to your food and want some!  Wouldn't a better idea be something like: they're begging for food (1 star), they watch you cook but don't actively try to get anything (2 stars), and they don't care that you're cooking because they know they won't get anything from you anyway (3 stars)?  Yeah, a lot of the examples of cat intelligence were routine based and kind of silly. 

Another serious flaw with the book was the section on outdoor cats, as it advocates letting your cat roam free.  This is not a good idea in modern cities because cats can get into fights, run over, poisoned, or eaten by bigger predators.  I am a big proponent to letting my cats out on a leash (with supervision whenever possible!).  This book devoted two pages of the about 30 to leashing your cat, and that was only in regards to walking him or her.

So basically, if you're a total beginner, this book is fine.  But anyone who has owned a cat for a few months or more will probably not benefit from this book.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Sex Criminals: One Weird Trick

I was talking at work with a friend about awesome comics and she recommended Sex Criminals to me.  So I took out volumes 1 and 2 from the library, and finally read Volume 1: One Weird Trick today.  It tells of Suzanne and Jon, two people who, when they orgasm during sex, end up freezing time.  So they decide to use their power to rob a bank.  Suzanne's father died in that bank, and Jon works there (but hates his job and his boss).  They'e decided to rob it to save the library Suzanne works at.  But unknown to them, there are more people out there like them (the Sex Police), who want to stop them from committing any crimes (I think it was to stop others from finding out about people who can stop time through sex).  It's an interesting concept, but the story didn't really grab me (truth be told, I almost didn't finish it, but decided I might as well since I was already halfway through the book).  I'm sure that Volume 2: Two Worlds One Cop will be giving more info about the sex cops, but I don't think I care enough to keep reading. 

Edit: Looking on Goodreads 3 star reviews, looks like a lot of people felt the same way I did: this book was kind of meh.  The premise is intriguing, the pictures are beautiful, but it was hard to care, even though the characters were interesting enough (although they didn't seem to have any connection beyond "omg you can freeze time too?").  Someone also made a great point about how the book treats sex workers - there was a fourth wall breaking moment that gets shut down because of the porn star's name, which was very unfortunate.  All these reviews said they'd keep reading though because the premise was intriguing enough.  I'm still thinking I won't be because I really don't care enough about the story.

Thursday, March 10, 2016


Tracey Lindberg was coming to town to do a talk for CBC Canada Reads a few days ago, so I wanted to read her book, Birdie, before she came.  I started it before going on a work trip (and put it down in favour of travelling with my Kindle instead of a borrowed hard cover book from my brother).  Unfortunately, I didn't manage to finish it before her talk, but it was okay because I also wasn't able to make it to the talk (I had to work).  So I ended up powering through the rest of it last night and tonight.

Birdie tells the story of Bernice (Birdie), a young Cree woman who withdraws into herself.  She moves through her memories, going through a sort of vision quest as she revisits the hurts of her past, striving to move forward and change into whatever she is meant to become.  It's about family, both your blood relations and the family you make for yourself (specifically in Bernice's case, it is about Lola, her Aunt Val, and her cousin Skinny Freda who all take care of her and watch over her while she is having her vision quest).

Birdie is an interesting read.  Lindberg combines words (like "thinkfeeling") and gives a rather choppy narrative in places.  But this serves to bring you into Birdie's world so people who have never experienced her hardships (or those of her family) can better understand what she has gone through. 

I have to admit though, I ran into some trouble at the end of the book.  About 2/3rds of the way through, I felt like I was getting it.  And then something happened and I sort of lost it again.  I guess the story sort of moves into this almost folktale or myth space, which I just didn't see coming.  So that took away from my enjoyment of the book ("enjoyment" not being the right word because it does deal with such difficult subject matter).

Friday, March 4, 2016

The Jungle Book

So I inadvertently read my first book of short stories this year.  I had no idea that The Jungle Book by Rudyard Kipling was a collection of short stories; I totally thought it was one novel about Mowgli's adventures, much like how the Disney movie presents it.  But no, there are several stories and poems about Mowgli, then it moves to tales of other animals (I was really confused when that happened too because the book went from talking about the jungle to talking about seals!)

Mowgli is a little boy from India who is raised by wolves.  He is accepted by the Free People (the wolves) when Baloo the bear and Bagheera the black panther vouch for him (Bagheera provides the wolves with a fresh kill of meat in exchange for Mowgli's acceptance as vouched for by him).  Shere Khan, the tiger, is not at all pleased with this; Mowgli's adopted wolf parents stopped him from killing the man cub, and now his acceptance with the rest of the Free People further stops him.  So Mowgli grows up with the wolves and under the guidance of Baloo and Bagheera.

The stories about Mowgli do have a bit of an arc - they end when Mowgli has killed Shere Khan.  Although there is one story involving monkeys where Shere Khan doesn't appear.  This is where Kaa is introduced though (and unlike in the Disney movie, Kaa helps everyone save Mowgli; he does not try to eat the man cub).

From there, there is a story about Kotick, the white seal.  Kotick sees some of his fellow seals being slaughtered by seal-hunters.  So he spends many years first looking for a safe place for his people to live without fear of man, and later trying to convince his people to come with him. (they didn't want to change their ways.  For the most part they ignored the fact that people would come and kill them off by the hundreds while they were nesting).  It was an interesting story once I got over the fact that Mowgli wasn't going to appear.

Next was the story of Rikki-Tikki-Tavi, the mongoose.  I actually knew this story from when I was younger (we had a VHS version of the story which was almost exactly the same story as was written by Kipling).  Rikki-Tikki-Tavi is saved from drowning by an English family.  He then saves all of them from some snakes, most notably ridding the garden of the cobras Nag and Nagaina.

This was followed by Toomai of the Elephants, which was the story of a little boy who saw the elephants dance.  His family helped to catch wild elephants.  During this time he caught the attention of the English leader of the expedition, who told him he could join them when he saw the elephants dance (which was basically like saying "never").  But then that night his family's elephant breaks out of the picket and takes the boy with him (Little Toomai tells the elephant to bring him) to a clearing where many wild elephants (and a few other picketed elephants) join them.  They return to camp the next day where the boy regales everyone with his story (and trackers later verify is true because they find the clearing with many elephant tracks).

The last story was "Her Majesty's Servants."  This was a really weird one, where some animals of a camp are talking and some human overhears them (unknown to the animals, he can totally understand them all).  They talk about cowardice and how to fight, which is different for every animal.  Then at the end of it all they parade for a visiting Afghanistan Chief.  This was honestly my least favourite.

All of these were broken up by various poems and songs.  Some of them pertained to the different stories (like one gave the whole song that a mother sang to her child; only one part of it appeared in the actual story).

I remember hearing that Kipling had fallen out of favour because of the way he portrayed things (basically he's got a colonial narrative going through these stories showing how great Englishmen are).  I have to say, I was expecting it to be a lot worse than it was.  If you want to see a ridiculous colonial narrative, try reading Tarzan of the Apes.

So that, in a nutshell, was The Jungle Book.  There wasn't a lot of characterization happening because the actual book seemed rather didactic in tone (and for some reason older didactic literature seems to be all about the lessons and morals, rather than placing a moral into a well-crafted story).  I found it an interesting read to see what was done (and how the actual book differs from the story I was expecting thanks to Disney) but it wasn't an overly enjoyable read because of its purpose and tone.