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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Zoo Stories

With last week’s release of Betty White’s Betty & Friends: My Life at the Zoo and the upcoming film version of the memoir, We Bought a Zoo, starring Matt Damon, our nation’s menageries are in the news. USA Today recently interviewed White on her longtime relationship with the Los Angeles Zoo and Botanical Gardens as a trustee, benefactor and volunteer ("For Betty White It's Still Happening at the Zoo" Nov. 29, 2011). She told writer Bob Minzesheimer that she once had a friend named Gita – an Asian elephant, “who liked to have her tongue slapped,” and she was happy to oblige her.

We Bought a Zoo: The Amazing True Story of a Young Family, a Broken Down Zoo, and the 200 Wild Animals that Changed Their Lives Forever by Benjamin Mee relates the trials and tribulations of attempting to restore a dilapidated zoo and the comfort the project brought when tragedy struck the family.

If zoos intrigue you, here are a few more books (and one eVideo) to enjoy:

Life at the Zoo: Behind the Scenes with the Animal Doctors by Philip T. Robinson

Zoo: the Modern Ark by Jake Page

Zoo Story: Life in the Garden of Captives by Thomas French

Babylon’s Ark: The Incredible Wartime Rescue of the Baghdad Zoo by Lawrence Anthony

The New Zoos by PBS (eVideo)

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Jane Austen: A Suspicious Death?

A British crime novelist, Lindsey Ashford, suspects Jane Austen’s early death at 41 may have been due to arsenic poisoning, according to The Guardian ("Jane Austen Died From Arsenic Poisoning," Nov. 14, 2011). Several years ago Ashford moved to Chawton, where Austen once lived, and became interested in old volumes of her letters. In one, she recognized Austen complaining of skin discoloration that sounded like symptoms of arsenic poisoning. As a crime writer, she had researched poisons. Arsenic was widely available in Austen’s era, used to treat everything from rheumatism, which Austen complained of, to syphilis.

But, Ashford doesn’t rule out a more nefarious conclusion. "I don't think murder is out of the question," she said. "Having delved into her family background, there was a lot going on that has never been revealed and there could have been a motive for murder.”

An editor for the Cambridge edition of Jane Austen disagrees, reports The Guardian. "I doubt very much she would have been poisoned intentionally. I think it's very unlikely. But the possibility she had arsenic for rheumatism, say, is quite likely," she said. "It's certainly odd that she died quite so young. [But] in the absence of digging her up and finding out, which would not be appreciated, nobody knows what she died of."

If you would like to read more about Austen, here are a few good biographies:

Jane’s Fame: How Jane Austen Conquered the World by Claire Harman

Becoming Jane Austen: A Life by Jon Spence

Searching for Jane Austen by Emily Auerbach

Jane Austen: A Penguin Life by Carol Shields

Jane Austen: A Life by David Nokes

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

The Best of 2011?

It’s only early November, but Publishers Weekly has released its list of the Best Books of 2011. It includes everything from Tina Fey’s Bossypants to great fiction from Ann Patchett and Jeffrey Eugenides, as well as biographies of Hemingway and Catherine the Great. Below is just a sampling. Let us know what you consider your best reading this year:

The Marriage Plot by Jeffrey Eugenides

The Devil All the Time by David Ray Pollock

Catherine the Great by Robert K. Massie

Hemingway’s Boat by Paul Hendrickson

One Day I Will Write About This Place by Binyavanga Wainaina

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

The Irresistible Sherlock Holmes

The first new Sherlock Holmes novel authorized by Arthur Conan Doyle’s estate, The House of Silk, was released yesterday, writes USA Today. (Sherlock Holmes: Alive and Well, Nov. 1, 2011).
Penned by Anthony Horowitz, author of the popular Alex Rider books for teens and the public television series “Foyle’s War,” it is but one of several new Holmes-inspired books either just published or in the works.
When Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Holmes’ creator, died in 1930, he had written four novels and 56 stories and didn’t realize he was creating an industry.
My favorite Holmes-inspired mysteries are those by Laurie King. The first in the series is The Beekeeper’s Apprentice, which introduces 18-year-old novice sleuth Mary Russell, who assists the retired Holmes in a new series of mysteries.

Here are a few others that feature the popular Victorian detective:

Sherlock Holmes: The American Years by Michael Kurland

Dust and Shadow: An Account of the Ripper Killers by Dr. John H. Watson
by Lindsay Faye

Ghosts in Baker Street by Martin Greenberg

An Opened Grave: Sherlock Holmes Investigates His Ultimate Case by L. Frank James

Of course there is nothing like the original: The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.