Tag Archives: Tigers

Curiosity/Satisfaction: Notes From A Reading Life

‘curiosity killed the cat.’ A very familiar proverb that seems to have been recorded only as far back as the early 1900s. Perhaps it derived somehow from the much older (late 16th century) care killed the cat, but there is no proof of this thus far.” — The Facts on File Encyclopedia of Word and Phrase Origins, 4th ed.

I

I am a mediocre poet who lives in a city of very good poets, some of whom sit next to me at the reference desk on a regular basis.  Despite my inability to craft a suitable sonnet or a voluptuous villanelle, I find myself drawn again and again to the poetry section; if I cannot create this particular brand of magic, I can, at least, drown myself in it, hoping I will gain something from repeated dunks.  Gills, maybe.  A mermaid’s tail.

So, too, I devour David Orr’s Beautiful and Pointless.  It’s a guidebook for the uninitiated, everybody who fears that s/he’s just not cool enough for poetry.  Orr’s essays soothe me, make me snicker; who knew the New York Times‘s poetry critic could be so darned frank and funny?  I want to give this book to everyone who has ever felt they weren’t smart enough to read or write poetry, so we can tear down our misconceptions and misgivings together, start all over again.

“As everyone knows, all the best poets eat at Taco Bell,” Orr assures me. I smile, and believe him.

II

Vampires are sooooo ’97 (by which, of course, I mean 1897).  It is, however, hot, and a little fluffy fiction would not be amiss.   I pick up By Blood We Live and fall into a plush, posh, well-written collection of short stories culled from masters of the horror genre.  Neil Gaiman and Stephen King are here, and rightly so.  There are, however, many new-to-me authors, such as Barbara Roden, Nancy Holder, Carrie Vaughn.  Gleefully I scribble authors and titles into my to-read notebook, marveling at how one good short story anthology can lead to hours of further entertainment and discovery.

III

Because I’m usually reading multiple books at once, serendipitous moments frequently pop up.  I learn, for example, that both Téa Obreht’s The Tiger’s Wife and Jonathan Lethem’s Chronic City contain tiger symbolism.  One is telegraphed, the other covert; both are delightful surprises.  It is, however, Obreht’s interweave of medicine and magic, nested as it is in a narrative reminiscent of those cunning Russian dolls-within-dolls, that keeps my attention.  As much as I pity Lethem’s tiger, I have far less sympathy for his wealthy, indolent characters, and I cannot wait a few hundred pages for their redemption, no matter how well-written and charming they are.

I parcel out Obreht’s novel slowly, in paragraphs, to make it last longer.  The delicious suspense is killing me, but I do not want this book to end.  I will probably stay up late to finish it the night before it is due, imagining the impatient toe-tapping of everyone else on the waiting list.  “Relax,” I want to tell them.  “It’s worth it.  You’ll love this.”  Like a mother reassuring her children that the long night’s sleep before Santa will, most assuredly, be worth it in the morning.

IV

My best friend and I are getting pedicures; I have never had one, so I’m a little embarrassed about my feet.  In fact, I’m pretty sure that they are the ugliest feet ever seen in North America, so to hide my embarrassment over what I’m convinced will be inevitable ridicule and banishment from the spa, I turn to the table next to me, grab a random book and hide behind it, mortified.

Said book turns out to be I Love Your Style by Amanda Brooks.  It’s a how-to-dress guide for those of us who could use a little help, fashion-wise, and  unlike other books in this oeuvre I’ve furtively glanced at, the author actually appears to be on my side.  Rather than foisting a list of dos and don’ts on the hapless reader, Brooks gently makes suggestions about how you can create your own signature look based on what makes you feel pretty.  My reservations about this whole girlie-girl thing lift somewhat.

As I flip through the pages, I read random tidbits to my more stylish friend, who listens indulgently.  “Look, minimalism is TOO a style,” I crow, pointing to pictures of the black-clad, no-nonsense Sofia Coppola.  An hour later, purple polish drying, I teeter home on flip-flops and verify that I can indeed check this book out of the library.  Haute couture, for the win.

V

Curiosity killed the cat; satisfaction, they say, brought that cat back.  However, I am still sifting through the murky backwaters of the internet–and kicking up heaps of dust in print resources–trying to find a derivation for this phrase that will satisfy the librarian part of my brain.  This chunk of grey matter insists, despite our brave new content-creation world, that there are still certain standards for what is true in any given situation.  A bunch of people on the web saying something is true does not necessarily make it so.

[And yet, I have, as of right now, nothing better to go on, and precious little time to devote to what is currently a matter of interest to me and me alone.  Then again, if somebody should call the reference department tomorrow and want to know “the truth” about the origin of this phrase, I would have a reason to go on.  Hint hint.]

On a grander scale, curiosity is what brings us to the written word, and satisfaction is what brings us back. We read for all sorts of reasons: to lose ourselves, to learn new things, to kill boredom or its variants, which include “time in airports” and “waiting in line at the coffee shop.”  We read to satiate our hunger to know, even if it kills us, the things we do not know.  We come back, again and again, because the only thing knowledge truly kills is ignorance, and the satisfaction we feel–learning the facts, exploring the new subject, discovering the unfamiliar genre–is more than enough to counterbalance any pain that takes place during the process.

What are you curious about today?  What brings you back to the library, again and again?

–Leigh Anne

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Anyone for the Zoo?

01_29_54-elephant_webWith all the warm weather we have been having  in the past week or so, I got the child-like desire to rush off to the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium to see the animals awaken from their winter slumber. While on my journey, I noticed that we have some of the most fascinating animals residing at the zoo, many of which I knew little about. So I searched at the library and found some very informative books. Here are some of my favorites:

Sea Horses and Sea Dragons

Although this is  a children’s book, it is very informative about one of the zoo’s most exotic creatures – the sea dragon. While there are few books about sea dragons themselves, you can find plenty of information by researching sea horses, since they are members of the sea horse family.

Sea Otters

There isn’t a shortage of books written about these lovable sea mammals! In this particular book, John Love offers a wonderful introduction to the behavioral patterns of the sea otter along with an excellent outline of the trials and tribulations they face in the future.

The Elephant’s Secret Sense: The Hidden Life of the Wild Herds of Africa

The Pittsburgh Zoo is practically littered with elephants these days, which makes knowing so little about them almost  criminal! In this book, Caitlin O’Connell paints a detailed picture of elephant behavioral patterns in the wild. Also, she introduces a unique theory about the communication patterns of elephants.

Track of the Tiger: Legend and Lore of the Great Cat

Tigers, much like sea otters, have a plethora of books written about them. This particular book, however, stood out. Maurice Hornocker provides the reader a collection of essays written by a variety of  tiger lovers who describe their adoration of and  personal encounters with these  magnificent cats. Each provides a new insight to their behavior as well as the need for heightened conservation.

Komodo, the Living Dragon

The Komodo Dragon at the Pittsburgh Zoo, or No Name, is one of the more fascinating characters housed between the Asian Forest and the African Safari in warmer weather. Like the Sea Dragon, there was little I could find about the animal aside from a children’s book. Then, I stumbled across Richard Lutz’s Komodo, the Living Dragon in the Non-Fiction section and found it to be an incredible read. Not only is the nature of the Komodo Dragon described, but also their unique habitat. A great mix of travelogue with excellent insight.

Other great general books about zoos:

We Bought A Zoo by Benjamin Mee:  This is a fascinating read for anyone who ever fantasized about having  a zoo filled with exotic animals! Giving excellent insight into the financial, geographical and physical hurdles that come with undertaking such a task, Mee opens your eyes to the reality of being a zoo owner.  

And for anyone curious about the history of the zoo:

Zoo: A History of Zoological Gardens in the West

and

The Pittsburgh Zoo: A 100-Year History:  Probably one of the more nostalgic reads that has passed through my “to read” pile, this book is great for anyone who has been a longtime zoo goer and would like to see just how much it has changed over the years. 

Happy discoveries!

MA

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