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text 2018-07-09 00:28
Reading progress update: I've read 150 out of 288 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I only meant to read chapter 4 yesterday, but didn't remember that until I was half-way through chapter 5.  The two chapters really go hand-in-hand though so it made sense.

 

These chapters discuss the fact that cats are considered to be only semi-domesticated by people who consider these things (scientists, I presume) and what that means for the humans who share their lives and homes with them.  This is where behavioural issues are discussed - not in depth, but still informatively.  He spends some time in chapter 4 discussing - in a refreshingly frank and balanced way - two of the more 'famous' cat ... whisperers. (Ugh. That term.)  Both seem just this side of snake oil salesman, but as McNamee points out, it's hard to argue with some of their results.  By far, this was the most practically informative chapter in the book for me yet.  

 

The good news is I have two beautifully adjusted cats and one semi-adjusted cat.  The bad news is that the only tool offered to combat a yowling cat is shaking a can of loose coins, which is problematic on a number of levels for us, not the least of which is the effect rattling a jar of coins will have on all our sanity at 4am.

 

Chapter 5 discussed truly wild cats; the feral cat populations around the world.  Can I just say, I love Italy.  You can keep their pasta and pizza, I am in love with their cat laws.  It's illegal to euthanise cats in Italy; the government pays not only for a spay/neuter program country-wide, but also has programs set up to feed and care for the feral populations.  Now that is a country I'd willing pay taxes to.  The other incredible thing is the number of volunteers that watch over these colonies and really care for them.  The whole thing is amazing beyond belief.

 

Unfortunately, it's not the cure all we need for controlling the feral cat population, as McNamee is honest enough to point out.  Italy's program will never be truly successful (though it sounds more successful than any other to date) without a complete re-education and cultural shift of the human population.  If people don't take responsibility for the cats in their lives and neighbourhoods, there will always be a fresh infusion of feral cats.  And if Italy, with it's already fabulous philosophy and dedication requires that much more work, you can imagine how impossibly steep the curve is for the USA, where compassion for others of any species is thin on the ground, and for Australia, where if your not a marsupial they don't want to know about you.  I had to do a lot of skimming in this chapter because after Italy, the facts and stats are horrible.

 

This chapter also includes a brief discussion on the stupidity of breeding our house cats with wild cats (the possible exception being the Bengal, which was done for scientifically valid reasons; the cross breeding failed to meet the primary objective, but did result in a beautifully docile hybrid).  This, with the exception just mentioned, never ends well and is hell on both the cats and the people.  This stupidity is compounded by those that try to actually keep wild cats as pets.  There's a special place in hell for people who do this, and I hope it involves a cage.  This section was almost impossible for me to read.

 

There are three more chapters left, but there's not a chance in hell I can read chapter 7; flipping through and just catching a sentence choked me up, so I'll be pausing a bit until others in the group catch up.

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text 2018-07-08 04:37
Reading progress update: I've read 81 out of 288 pages.
The Inner Life of Cats: The Science and Secrets of Our Mysterious Feline Companions - Thomas McNamee

I'd read the first 3 chapters on the official 1 July start date, but put it on hold because there were a couple of people who still hadn't received their copies.  Now that it seems everyone who is participating has a copy, I'm going to skim back through those chapters so I can do better updates, but so far my overall impression is favourable. 

 

The narrative is a mix of anecdotal, which is centered on the author's cat Augusta, and the hard science of what we know about cats so far.  The anecdotal is both delightful and stressful to me; a few of the stories he relates hurt my soul (although there's one that ends with the most delightful twist).  A section in chapter 3 I had to skim with extreme prejudice because he relates - as briefly as possible, all credit to him - a few lab studies I couldn't cope with.  But so far, I'm getting more out of it than I'd hoped for and it's obvious this man loves cats, and I like the forthright style in which he writes.

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text 2018-07-03 11:47
The Flat Book Society: September read announcement
Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA - Martin Jones

Our group has chosen, and by popular vote, the book for September will be Unlocking the Past: How Archaeologists Are Rewriting Human History with Ancient DNA - Martin Jones  

 

I've been told this is a revised and updated edition of The Molecule Hunt: Archaeology and the Search for Ancient DNA - Martin Jones  

 

In Unlocking the Past, Martin Jones, a leading expert at the forefront of bioarchaeology—the discipline that gave Michael Crichton the premise for Jurassic Park—explains how this pioneering science is rewriting human history and unlocking stories of the past that could never have been told before. For the first time, the building blocks of ancient life—DNA, proteins, and fats that have long been trapped in fossils and earth and rock—have become widely accessible to science. Working at the cutting edge of genetic and other molecular technologies, researchers have been probing the remains of these ancient biomolecules in human skeletons, sediments and fossilized plants, dinosaur bones, and insects trapped in amber. Their amazing discoveries have influenced the archaeological debate at almost every level and continue to reshape our understanding of the past.

Devising a molecular clock from a certain area of DNA, scientists were able to determine that all humans descend from one common female ancestor, dubbed “The Mitochondrial Eve,” who lived around 150,000 years ago. From molecules recovered through grinding stones and potsherds, they reconstructed ancient diets and posited when such practices as dairying and boiling water for cooking began. They have reconstituted the beer left in the burial chamber of pharaohs and know what the Iceman, the five-thousand-year-old hunter found in the Alps in the early nineties, ate before his last journey. Conveying both the excitement of innovative research and the sometimes bruising rough-and-tumble of scientific debate, Jones has written a work of profound importance. Unlocking the Past is science at its most engaging.

 

As always anyone interested is encouraged to join us

 

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review 2018-07-01 17:58
+1 for my collection of Christie Heroines I Would Totally Get Drunk With
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I actually finished this a few days ago, but haven't yet reviewed it because I somehow managed to schedule the buddy read during my trip to Disneyland. I don't know what I was thinking.

 

Anyway, I went into this book prepared for a repeat of my Passenger to Frankfurt experience. Imagine my surprise when it was more of an Anne Beddingfield crossed with Emily Trefusis experience. I loved Victoria Jones, even if she did make the preposterous mistake of crossing continents for a man that she'd just met. She amused me greatly, and I loved the part where she broke herself out of captivity after being kidnapped. I'm a great fan of women saving themselves - not so much a fan of men saving women.

 

The story was even somewhat believable for the first 50%, and had a delightfully campy feel to it. I do feel like Agatha always tries to go too big in her spy thrillers - it's always an attempt to take over the world, instead of just something small, like trying to assassinate a secret agent, or get some government secrets handed off to Russia. She goes so small with her murders - so many of them are just the narrowest of family homicides, where the motive is something of middling value, or a small slight, that her spy thrillers are jarring. I just can't take them seriously, so when they are obviously not meant to be taken seriously, they work for me. As opposed to the ones that are seemingly serious, which just come off as strained and sort of embarrassing.

 

I've really enjoyed reading the updates of my fellow readers! I agree with Lillelara that Christie may have been drunk while she wrote this. It was also definitely written before she lost her sense of humor and became the "Get Off My Lawn" Christie of her later books. And I loved reading BrokenTune's comparisons with Ian Fleming's James Bond.

 

Now that I've read this, I am even more excited for the proposed adaptation. It could be great fun! Let it be great fun, please.....

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review 2018-07-01 15:40
They Came to Baghdad
They Came to Baghdad - Agatha Christie

I have about 10 books left to read of Dame Agatha's canon of fictional work, and I must admit that this was one of the ones I was not looking forward to. 

 

Knowing from previous experience that Christie did not excel totally sucked at writing international espionage thrillers, and still suffering from some sort of PTSD following my reads of Passenger to Frankfurt, Destination Unknown, Postern of Fate, ... I expected that this book could only be approached with the help of: 

 

1. A Support System

 

2. Gin

 

So, imagine my surprise when the book turned out to be a romp with a fabulously delightful young female lead character - Victoria Jones - who stands up for herself and, as is unfortunately rather unusual in a Christie novel, does not completely loose her mind to a sapless idiot of romantic interest...well, ... it's a long story...just read the book.

 

I loved the setting of the story in Baghdad, even tho it is littered with the ex-pat cliches of its time. I loved the inclusion of the archaeologists...especially Dr. Pauncefoot-Jones (whom I simply had to call Dr. Jones in my head all the way through...even if he did not resemble our fedora-wearing favourite at all), and I even did not mind the ridiculous conspiracy plot. 

 

Now, you may ask why I didn't mind the ridiculousness here in They Came to Baghdad when I have so often on this journey through Dame Agatha's canon complained about the sheer idiocy of similar plots?

 

I honestly have to say that it is because They Came to Baghdad opened my eyes even more to the overrated status of Ian Fleming's James Bond series, which to date I had considered the epitome of ridiculous espionage thrillers. 

The fact is that I recognised a lot of the really cool elements from the Bond series (of which there are very few elements in the entire series, imo) in this very book, written by Christie, years before Fleming even published his first spy thriller - Casino Royale.

 

The "similarity" that stood out most for me was a scene where a character checks her/his hotel room to see if anyone has been snooping while they were away. It is one of the most memorable scenes in Casino Royale and was also one of the scenes that made it into the movie franchise (in Dr. No, I believe...one of the Connery ones anyway). 

So, it came as a shock to me to see the exact same scene written by Agatha Christie is used in They Came to Baghdad, which was published 2 years before Fleming's first Bond novel. 2 years before!!!

 

There were other elements, too. For example, Christie dreams up a conspiracy in this book that resembles an organisation that features in the later Bond novels ("SPECTRE" anyone?).

 

I mean, I know that Fleming basically copied the entire plot of Casino Royale from Phyllis Bottome's book The Lifeline, and I had great fun in researching this claim earlier this year and compiling a comparison of both books after seeing for myself how much Fleming "borrowed" from Bottome.   

What I had not expected, tho, is that there are other elements of the iconic classic that is the Bond myth, that may have not originated as such with Fleming, but that may have existed prior to Fleming's canon.

 

Least of all, I expected to find these elements in Christie's work! I love her mysteries. I love her writing even tho her sometimes antiquated views drive me nuts. 

And now I have to yet again salute Dame Agatha for the very thing I had not thought her capable of - I have to salute her for being able to create an international espionage romp that has all the hallmarks of a Bond novel, mocks the entire essence of the Bond novel, and simultaneously improves upon it - and all of that before the blasted Bond novel even became a thing!

 

But never mind my weird obsession with Bond and Fleming's plagiarism thievery. They Came to Baghdad does not need the comparison to work as book. Christie dreamt up a hilarious adventure and it is obvious that she had great fun writing the story. 

Nearly every chapter starts with a tongue-in-cheek comment, and the characters themselves - including a celebrity sporting a cloak and a large, unusual hat - are so much fun to watch. 

 

Some of Christie's comments and descriptions are dated, of course, but They Came to Baghdad seems positively enlightened when compared with that other, slightly more famous, series of spy adventures that was to be created two years later.

 

 

Previous updates:

 

Reading progress update: I've read 5%.

Reading progress update: I've read 7%.

Reading progress update: I've read 11%.

Reading progress update: I've read 24%.

Reading progress update: I've read 38%.

Reading progress update: I've read 46%.

Reading progress update: I've read 74%.

Reading progress update: I've read 86%.

Reading progress update: I've read 88%.

Reading progress update: I've read 93%.

Reading progress update: I've read 100%.

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