Wednesday, March 13, 2013

2013 Reading, Books 25-27

I'm overdue to respond to Veronica Scott's tagging me for a Five Favorite Books post, but it'll have to wait until I a) finalize and submit a manuscript that's due on Friday and b) write my next Risky Regencies post, also due on Friday.

Meanwhile, I've managed to squeeze in a few reading hours--nonfiction, because that's what my library holds list has been hitting me with of late:

25) Rick Steves' Portugal.

As with other travel books I'm counting toward my total this year, I didn't read this one cover to cover. I figure I'll have about a week, maybe a little less, for Portugal on my big 2015 trip, and that I'll therefore have to focus on Lisbon, Porto, and the Douro Valley, so those are the parts I read about in detail. Rick Steves was my go-to writer for figuring out where to visit in Britain and Ireland the year I lived in England, mostly because he assume you're not rich (correct!) and therefore provides a lot of budget options, and also because he's thorough without being encyclopedic. Anyway, I now feel like I know where to begin planning the Portuguese leg of the trip, which is all I need two years in advance. Once it's six months away I'll buy the most current guidebooks and start booking hotels.

26) The Wild Life of Our Bodies, by Rob Dunn.

A wide-ranging survey of the current state of the science about how humans evolved as part of an ecology that still impacts us today--from the more-or-less beneficial bacteria that live in our guts to having a fear response more suited to our ancestral status as prey than to our current role as ultimate apex predator to the speculative, but suggestive, theory that the reasons humans, along with other African primates, see so very well and in such a wide, discerning range of color relative to most mammals is that the African forest where those primates evolved teemed with a wide variety of poisonous snakes. (Sounds wacky, I know, but think about it--unlike, say, a lion or leopard that you might smell or hear coming from a distance, the primary defense against snakes is being able to see them in time. And the primates with the best color vision are the ones from the snakiest environments--there are no poisonous snakes native to Madagascar, for example, and lemurs have poor color vision compared to primates from the African mainland.)

Anyway, this is a fascinating, thought-provoking book I'd recommend to anyone interested in evolutionary biology or ecology.

27) French by Heart, by Rebecca Ramsey.

This memoir of an American family spending four years in France after the husband gets a job there is fun, though I wish there'd been a bit less focus on one irascible neighbor with a heart of gold and a bit more, well, France.

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