Monday, July 31, 2017

The Lark

The Lark, by E. Nesbit

I'd never heard of this novel by E. Nesbit until it started making the blog rounds several months ago.  It's not a children's story; it's more for adults or adolescents.  Perhaps it would have been a YA novel if such a category had existed 100 years ago.  Anyway, I've always been a big Nesbit fan, so I was excited to see this book, and it's so easy to get, $3 on Kindle.  Even I, cheap as I am, am willing to shell out $3 for a Nesbit book I've never read.

Cousins Jane and Lucilla have spent the entire Great War sequestered away in school, despite being quite grown up by the end.  Now, in 1919, their guardian has finally sent for them to leave school -- only for them to find that he has lost nearly all their money, and having scrammed out of the country, has left them with a cottage and 500 pounds to live on.  Jane firmly announces that this whole thing is going to be A Lark, and they set out to earn their living.  Next thing they know, they have their eye on a much larger house in the neighborhood, they've made friends with half the village, and they're getting into awkward scrapes with regularity.

This story has several standard Nesbit features; like the Bastables and the railway children, Jane and Lucilla are very ordinary girls with distinct personalities.  They meet and make friends with ease, frequently tromping in where anyone else would fear to tread.  They come up with oddball plans that mostly don't work, and they get into terrible pickles even when trying to do their best to do the right thing. 

The difference is that Jane and Lucilla are not children any more, though they almost are; having missed the war, they are fresh and naive, lacking the tragic experiences that every other character has had.  These are all adults, pretty much, and they have adult problems to deal with.  But they try to meet everything with a sense of adventure and fun, and that makes the book a lovely pleasure to read.

If you're a Nesbit fan, or an Anglophile, you should definitely get hold of The Lark.  It is just wonderful fun.

Saturday, July 29, 2017

The Long Earth

The Long Earth, by Terry Pratchett and Stephen Baxter

I've been meaning to read this series for so long, and somehow just never picked up a copy.  But then The Long Earth came to me -- somehow or other -- and I put it on my TBR shelf and finally got to it.  I love it!  It's great stuff!  I can't wait to start the next one, which I just checked out of the library.

Twenty minutes into the future, instructions appear online for a gadget that appears to have no purpose or meaning -- and its power source is a potato.  Kids promptly start building their own gadgets, and the startling result is that they are transported sideways, to another Earth in another dimension.  Pretty soon everyone has a 'stepper' and is experimenting with dimension-hopping; there appears to be an infinite number of pristine Earths, each ever so slightly different than the last, and all uninhabited by humans.  Suddenly resources are infinite, as long as you can get to them.

As groups of people start leaving the original Earth to settle elsewhere, we get to know certain people well.  Joshua is a natural stepper, used to having Earths to himself, until he's hired to explore as far as anyone can go.  Monica is a police officer and one of the first people to have to deal with the fallout, starting with inexplicably disappearing children and ending with a terrorist, a kid whose family left him behind when they stepped away to start new lives.

I'm really looking forward to the next book!  This is a great SF novel.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

The Foundation Pit

The Foundation Pit, by Andrei Platonov

I've had this novel floating around on the edges of my mental TBR list for years, and last year I acquired two different translations of it -- my brother had them.  I eventually chose to read the Mirra Ginsburg translation on the rationale that I have previously read her translation of Zamyatin's We, and I have a couple of her picture books; she has worked a lot with Jose Aruego, whose work I love.  So Ginsburg it was.

Platonov was a Russian writer of the 1920s and a disappointed Communist.  He wanted a world where people shared willingly with each other (as in the days of early Christianity) and he got oppression and violence.  When he wrote about his disillusionment, he was of course banned, and he then remained a pretty obscure writer for a long time.  Long after his death, he was 'rehabilitated' and eventually venerated.

Voshchev, fired from his factory job because of his overly-thoughful habits, walks down the road until he comes to a town where everyone is working on digging a foundation for a huge 'general' building, where everyone will live happily and in silence.  He joins the work crew, but every time they think they've gotten the pit large enough, the engineer decides it had better be larger yet.  Everyone is working hard, but all they ever get out of it is a hole.
Everything surrendered itself to unquestioning existence, Voshchev alone was apart and silent.  A dead, fallen leaf lay near his hand, brought by the wind from some distant tree; now this leaf was destined to find peace in the earth.  Voshchev picked up the dry leaf and hid it in a secret compartment of his sack where he collected all sorts of lost, unfortunate objects.  You did not know the meaning of your life, Voshchev thought with careful sympathy.  Lie here; I'll find out why you lived and died.  Since nobody needs you and you are lying uselessly in the middle of things,  I will keep and remember you.

A country clock hung on the wooden wall and ticked patiently, worked by its dead weights.  A pink flower was painted on its face to give cheer to everyone who looked at the time.  The workmen sat down in a row along the table.  The mower, who did woman's work in the barrack, sliced the bread and gave each mana piece, adding a chunk of last night's cold meat.  The workmen began to chew earnestly, ingesting the food as a duty, but not enjoying it.  Although they had knowledge of the meaning of life, which is equivalent to eternal happiness, their faces were gloomy and emaciated, and instead of peace they showed weariness.
We get to know several of the workers, and a little girl, Natasha, whose mother has died.  There are few children here and she is the hope of the future for all of the workers, but despite all their love and care, she dies, taking the dream of Communism with her.

It's a surrealist and tragic novel; strange things happen and it doesn't necessarily make sense, but then the Five-Year Plan was like that too.

Although it's short, it's not an easy novel to read.  I won't claim to have understood it very well, though I did like it very much.  It's one to work up to, and then to read several times over a lifetime.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Half A Crown

Half A Crown, by Jo Walton

This must be the longest, most put-off mystery trilogy in the history of my reading.  I really liked Farthing years ago -- pre-Howling Frog -- and then, a few years later, discovered the existence of Ha'penny and enjoyed it too.  I then got hold of a copy of Half a Crown, but I got maybe a third of the way in before stopping because it was getting so tense.  I kept meaning to pick it back up...and now, five years later, I've done it.

It's 1960, a good ten years after the events of Ha'penny.  Fascism is well entrenched in Britain and the Axis rules the world.  Carmichael is now commander of the Watch, which is really the British Gestapo.  He is good at his job and nicely blackmailable, but he's also secretly using Watch resources to help Jews escape to Ireland.  When his ward, Elvira, is accidentally caught up in a street riot and arrested on the eve of her debut in London's social elite, everything threatens to unravel.

All this is going on as a massive peace conference is about to take place; Hitler and Japanese officials, and the doubtfully loyal Duke of Windsor, are all descending upon London, and Carmichael finds himself trying to foil a possible coup -- thus defending the rule of his hated dictator....

Most of the story is told from Elvira's point of view, and she is both sympathetic and clueless.  Brought up to be a proper fascist debutante, she hasn't really got a clue.  Meanwhile, Carmichael is walking this tightrope where he tries to figure out how much he can get away with while simultaneously feeling himself erode away, one compromise at a time.  I understood why I put the book down the first time; the tension gets to be unbearable and I had to make myself keep going in the hope that the resolution would be worth it.

Happily for me, the resolution is worth the read and I'm glad I finished the trilogy, even if it did take me about a decade to do it.  The Small Change Trilogy is excellent.

This is my 7th book from my "20 books of summer" challenge list, and I have two more to write about.  Of course, I've read a few others that popped up and demanded to be read right away, so I suppose I'm up to 13 or 14 if you count those too.  I'm going to try to hit 20 off my original list but that seems a bit unlikely, since I'm not quite halfway through!  Getting sick really didn't help at all.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017


Rashomon, and 17 Other Stories, by Ryunosuke Akutagawa

Akutagawa is one of the great modernists of Japan, so when I came upon this very neat Penguin edition of his stories, I snapped it up.  (I have a small pile of Japanese classics to get to...)  Isn't it fun looking?  The 18 stories are arranged by the chronology of their settings, so first there is a set of stories set in the Heian period (which ended in 1185), then several in the Tokugawa Shogunate (1600 - 1868), and finally a few set in Akutagawa's own early 20th century.  A final set of pieces are semi-autobiographical, fragmenty sort of things that often reflect Akutagawa's struggle with his mental health.

Since most of us have heard of Kurosawa's film Rashomon, the two stories that inspired it are first in the collection.  One story only contributed its title (the plot is illustrated on the book cover), and the second, "In a Bamboo Grove," is the actual source of the murder mystery shown in the film.  My daughter and I really liked Throne of Blood last year, and now our ambition is to watch Rashomon too, so I haven't seen it yet.  The other Heian-period story that I liked best was "Hell Screen," which is quite the shivery tale.

I liked all three of the Tokugawa-era stories, two of which were about the government's persecution of Japanese Christians.  The other was a tragic story of a young lord's insanity and his retainer's dilemma.

Two of the stories in modern settings were ghost stories, and I liked "The Story of a Head That Fell Off" best.  The autobiographical pieces were sad and somewhat confused.

I believed that I had committed every sin known to man, but they went on calling me "Sensei" whenever they had the chance, as if I were some sort of guru.  I couldn't help but feel in this the presence of something mocking me.  "The presence of something"?  But my materialism could only reject such mysticism.  Just a few months earlier, I had written in a small coterie magazine: "I have no conscience at all -- least of all an artistic conscience.  All I have is nerves."
I enjoyed reading most of these stories, and I'd like to get hold of the short novella "Kappa" someday; it is not included in this volume.  Most of these are not too hard to understand, so compared to many longer or more difficult works of Japanese literature, these are pretty good if you're looking for a good introduction.  Several of them are also standard classics that most students read in school.

Monday, July 24, 2017

The Durrells of Corfu

The Durrells of Corfu, by Michael Haag

Hey folks, I have missed blogging so much lately!  I had a tiny little finger surgery (the most minor ever) a couple of weeks ago, and I thought I would be able to write again after a couple of days off.  Ha ha.  This is the first time I've felt capable of typing properly; I've been able to write the odd comment here and there, but first it hurt too much, so I would type funny to accommodate, and then I could hit the keyboard, but the big ol' bandage meant that I always hit more keys than I meant to.  Either way it was a huge hassle and I just didn't try very hard.  I also got sick with a nasty bug, so I forgot about a lot of my more ambitious reading plans and just read straight through most of the Anne of Green Gables series.  Even so, I now have a pile of books to write about, and I thought about doing a large multi-book post, but with two or three countries represented, I just can't.  I want individual posts for the Reading All Around the World list, and thus I shall just take my time....

Well.  I have probably mentioned many a time that one of my all-time favorite books is Gerald Durrell's My Family and Other Animals, and I've tried to collect as many of the rest of his books as I can.  The rest of the world has caught up with me, and there's now a TV series about the Durrell family adventures on Corfu; so far I've only seen a couple of episodes, but it's pretty fun.  And to top it off, Michael Haag wrote a book explaining the family's background, how they ended up on Corfu, and approximately what actually happened there.  An old buddy of mine actually moved to the island of Jersey a little over a year ago, and he told me about the existence of this book (since I kept bugging him about reading the Corfu books).  Thanks, dude!

Haag puts in a lot of great family background.  The Durrells were originally an Anglo-Indian couple; Louisa grew up in India and it was her home, and that was where the children were all born.  It was the tragic early death of Mr. Durrell that precipitated their departure and nearly wrecked Louisa; they moved to England and were miserable for a while before Larry suggested moving to Corfu as a cost- and sanity-saving measure.

My Family and Other Animals puts a comedic gloss on all this stuff, and renders the other siblings as caricatures more than as human beings, so I liked finding out more about who they really were.  Gerry messed around with events, people, and the entire timeline quite a lot; he never mentions, for example, that Larry was married at the time and mostly lived in a different house, and he erases Theodore's wife and daughter (one of his best friends) completely.  Some events actually happened to other people, and he just lifted them; it was a family habit anyway.   The nice thing about Haag is that he loves this family, too, and manages to tell us a more accurate version of history while refraining from ripping our dreams to pieces.

Haag also includes plenty of information on what happened to everybody afterwards (something I always want to know!).  Gerry ignores history and implies that the family moved to Corfu on a whim, and then left again the same way, but in fact it was the war that forced them to leave -- at various times.  Some of them only barely got out.  We get to learn about everybody's war experiences and what happened after that, and it's often great stuff.  Larry moves around a lot and starts writing in the big time (someday I have really got to read some of his work).  Margo has a lot of extremely exciting war adventures and hosts Gerry while he writes his book to fund a zoo.  And Leslie, well...poor Leslie has a bit of a difficult time.

For Durrell fans, this is a book worth reading.  It mostly won't ruin your dreams, and it's got plenty of interesting information that rounds out the people you know -- and they benefit from it.  If you have never read My Family and Other Animals, or at least seen the TV show, then you have no business reading it and have some other reading to do first.

Monday, July 10, 2017

The Burning Point

The Burning Point: A Memoir of Addiction, Destruction, Love, Parenting, Survival, and Hope, by
Tracy McKay

First, I want to tell you that this is a truly well-written book.  Tracy McKay can write, people.  Even if you're not a parenting/tragedy memoir sort of person, take a look at Tracy's writing, because wow.  (I have a link to the first chapter at the end of the post.)  I am completely unable to tell you how really good this memoir is; it's not sensationalistic or angry, it's just honest and insightful and true.

The Burning Point starts with Tracy's moment of decision, when she knows it is time to get out.  Her husband, once a wonderful and caring man, has been spiraling down in the grip of his drug addiction  long enough, and she takes her three small children and leaves.  From then on, Tracy weaves together the story of how she survived the divorce, poverty, and attendant difficulties with flashback sections of her relationship with her husband.  A few particularly harrowing scenes are written in third person.  And, she also writes some wonderful stuff about her middle child, who has autism, and about his challenges.

Tracy writes with great (and hard-won) insight; anybody could learn some things from her.  The really amazing part, though, is how she writes about her former husband, with no bitterness at all.  Of course she was angry at the time, but she describes that and then how she figured out that she had to forgive if she was going to be the person and the mother she needed to be, not to mention for the sake of her children.  It's pretty stunning.

A few of these scenes were familiar to me from reading them on Tracy's blog back then, which I particularly remember because I had a real-life friend going through a nearly identical situation at the same time.  Just for that, it was nice for me to be able to read the whole story and see her come out the other side, which my friend also did.

I read the whole book in one day, on the Fourth of July, in between other stuff.  Once I started, I couldn't put it down unless I had to.  You can read the first chapter here.  I do advise you to do so, but I also warn you that you will promptly find it necessary to buy the book to find out what happens.  Kindle for choice, because then there's no wait.


In other news, it seems like my whole state is on fire this week.  We have a wildfire up here that has gotten some homes -- it's nowhere near me; in fact it's the very same area that was evacuated a few months ago when they were afraid the dam's spillway would fail.  They're calling 2017 the year of hell and high water now.  And a week ago, I was in my hometown, enjoying the cool coastal breezes, but now there's an absolutely huge wildfire up in the hills there.  My friend says they can see the flames from town now, and it's snowing ash.  Orchards and ranches are burning.  It's been pretty awful, and there are plenty more wildfires right now.  It's going to be a rough fire year.

Friday, July 7, 2017

Halfway Through 2017: Top Ten

Right about the time that I was packing up my car to hit the road, everybody posted lists of top ten books so far in 2017.  So I'm a little late to the party, but I really have had some great reads in the last few months and I'd like to share them...the trouble being, of course, that it's hard to choose just ten.  In fact, I'm not going to choose ten; I'm jolly well going to choose eleven.  But they're in chronological order, not in order of 'the best' or anything.

1. Eneas, an Old French romance.  Hard to find, but a must for anyone interested in medieval romances, because this is the first time anybody blended adventure with romantic love.  It's the story of Aeneas translated into the French chivalric mode, and it's crammed with wonders too. 
2. When Books Went to War, by Molly Guptill Manning.  I've been lucky to find some great non-fiction reading in the last several months!  This is about how the US got books to its soldiers, who needed them badly.  They loved A Tree Grows in Brooklyn best of all!

3. Stasiland, by Anna Funder.  Another great history read, Funder explores the vanished world of East Germany, where every citizen was surveilled.

4. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston.  I can't believe I'd never read this jewel of American literature before.  Wow.

5. Bovo-Buch, by Elia Levita Bachur.  Another knightly romance...but this one is Yiddish.  And very fun to read.

6. Germania, by Simon Winder.  A 'wayward' exploration of German history, full of odd bits of treasure.

7. The Biggest Estate on Earth, by Bill Gammage.  An astounding account of how Aborigines managed the entire continent of Australia as a game park.  Plus, many many tree names.

8. The Heart of Midlothian, by Sir Walter Scott.  The story of Jeanie Deans, my new favorite heroine.  Slow start, great novel.

9. Last Things, by Marissa Moss.  A graphic novel of her husband's ALS.  Heartbreaking.

10. Mrs. Miniver, by Jan Struther.  A farewell to the sane world of pre-WWII England.  I did recently get to watch the movie, which is almost entirely different and takes place during the war, with Dunkirk and bombing and so on.

11.  The Accusation, by Bandi.  A collection of short stories smuggled out of North Korea.

There are a bunch of great things I didn't put in, though, like the entire Lord of the Rings cycle and Octavia Butler's Xenogenesis trilogy (I just realized that I meant to!) and Stolen Words, yet another history book about WWII and Jewish literature, and Connie Willis' Crosstalk.  But it's too late now, I have to stop somewhere!

Thursday, July 6, 2017


Alamut, by Vladimir Bartol

This book has so much backstory and explanation involved that I feel like I'm going to bore you stiff -- except that it's all so interesting!

In the 1930s, Vladimir Bartol wrote this novel, which was a pretty weird novel by the standards of his day and thoroughly annoyed his fellow writers.  Bartol was Slovenian, and the fashion was to write realistic portrayals of the struggles of Slovenians.  It certainly was not to write long, elaborate, highly-researched historical novels set in 11th-century Persia that were in fact kind of allegorical meditations on the rise of fascism across Europe.  But that is what Bartol did, and then he wanted to dedicate his book to Mussolini; but his publisher talked him out of doing such a dangerous thing.  Although nobody quite knew what to do with Alamut at the time, it became a beloved classic to Yugoslavians and then to the rest of Europe, but was only translated into English in 2004.  It even inspired the Assassin's Creed video game series (which I know virtually nothing about).

The historical root of the novel is taken from the life of Hassan-i Sabbah, who really did take over the fortress of Alamut in 1088 and was a famous leader in the Ismaili sect of Islam (a splinter group of Shia).  He trained elite soldiers called Hashshashin, or as you know them, assassins.

OK, now we can get to the actual plot of the novel, which has two main threads.  We have Halima, a young teenage girl sold into slavery and taken to a mysterious, beautiful garden, where she lives with other girls and is rigorously educated.  Then there is Ibn Tahir, a teenage boy whose father orders him to go become a soldier at Alamut; he is educated to be a fedayeen, an elite soldier who will fight for the Ismaili cause (that is, against the Seljuk dynasty in Persia and anybody else their leader Sayyiduna considers an enemy).  Eventually, Sayyiduna's plan becomes clear; he cultivates fanaticism in his soldiers, and feeds them on dreams of attaining Paradise upon death.  He 'proves' the reality of Paradise by allowing a select few achievers to actually visit, aided by careful drugging, where they meet enchanting houris living in a fantastic garden.  Thus the fedayeen become entirely willing to carry out dangerous political assassinations....

All on its own, it's a novel of adventure and pathos, rooted in Persian history.  But really, the reader needs to be thinking about Bartol's world and the rise of several flavors of totalitarianism, the nature of fanaticism in human nature, all sorts of things.   It's quite a novel, and would repay more than one reading.

Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Mount TBR Checkpoint #2

We're halfway through the year and it's time for another Mount TBR Checkpoint.  I must confess that my TBR pile has not been shrinking lately; I have slowed down and need to get myself together!  I've been focusing more lately on my giant library pile of books for the Reading All Around the World project, but that's no reason not to read some TBRs too!

Bev wants to know two things:

1. Tell us how many miles you've made it up your mountain (# of books read).  If you're really ambitious, you can do some intricate math and figure out how the number of books you've read correlates to actual miles up Pike's Peak, Mt. Ararat, etc. And feel free to tell us about any particularly exciting adventures you've had along the way.

I have made it more than halfway up!  I've read 15 out of my 24 titles, so I have 9 to go.  Considering the size of my pile, I ought to do better than that....
  1.  They Walked Like Men, by Clifford Simak
  2. Dirt, ed. Mindy
  3. The Best of Leigh Brackett
  4. Shakespeare's Planet, by Clifford D. Simak
  5. The Broken Citadel, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  6. Castledown, by Joyce Bellou Gregorian
  7. Their Eyes Were Watching God, by Zora Neale Hurston
  8. My Universities, by Maxim Gorky
  9. Germania, by Simon Winder
  10. The Heart of Mid-Lothian, by Sir Walter Scott
  11. Storm in the Village, by Miss Read
  12. Further Afield, by Miss Read 
  13. The Lottery, and Adventures of the Demon Lover, by Shirley Jackson 
  14. Steppenwolf, by Hermann Hesse
  15. The Histories, by Herodotus

2. Complete ONE (or more if you like) of the following:

 A. Choose two titles from the books you've read so far that have a common link. You decide what the link is--both have strong female lead characters? Each focuses on a diabolical plot to take over the world? Blue covers? About weddings? Find your link and tell us what it is.

Well, I've got two German titles: one about German history by Simon Winder, and one famous German literary work -- Steppenwolf.  

 B. Tell us about a book on the list that was new to you in some way--new author, about a place you've never been, a genre you don't usually read...etc. 

Their Eyes Were Watching God was a new author, and one of the best works of American literature I've ever read.  Definitely on my top ten so far this year!  Now I want to read more Hurston.

 C. Which book (read so far) has been on your TBR mountain the longest? Was it worth the wait? Or is it possible you should have tackled it back when you first put it on the pile? Or tossed it off the edge without reading it all?

My Universities, by Maxim Gorky, is the oldest book on this pile.  I bought the trilogy a good 20 years ago and then didn't get to it.  I'm glad I did, though I really have a hard time connecting this Gorky with the later one; I would like to read more about him in order to understand what his deal was.

Monday, July 3, 2017

I'm back!

I had a fun weekend, hanging out at the beach, attending a wedding reception, and trying (mostly uselessly) to help out with said reception, which was for my friend's daughter.  We also had some exciting moments, like when we were driving down I-5 and got a flat tire.  We managed to pull over okay, but we were at the top of an overpass, on a shoulder that was barely wide enough for the car, with an endless procession of giant semi trucks passing by -- inches away, shaking not only us but the overpass too.  We waited for about an hour before the tow truck came to rescue us.  Hooray for the CHP and AAA!

The view from our car, stranded on an overpass
We visited my home town, or at least, the town where I went to junior high and high school.  My family has long since moved away, but I still have some friends there and I like to go down once a year to see people and hit the beach.  This time, we visited the new branch library.  You should know that when I was a kid, my mom (also a librarian) sometimes worked at the teeny library branch near our house, and just a few years ago, it moved to a lovely new location which is much larger.  Well, I was browsing through the books, and in the YA section, I was amazed to see THESE:

These books (and more of the same series) were on the shelf of the old teeny branch when I was there, 25+ years ago.  They were old and ugly THEN, and effectively turned me off reading the Anne books (until the movie came out and I saw Jonathan Crombie and got my own new paperbacks).  I remember them because they were so awful.  Presumably, the generations of young readers who came after me also didn't want them, because here they are, 47 years old, and still holding together.

So, I hope you all had a lovely weekend and will enjoy your fireworks (where applicable), and I'll post again after the holiday.  Oh, and a bonus anniversary: my husband and I got -- unexpectedly -- engaged 22 years ago today, after an Oakland A's game and fireworks show.

Uncle Boris in the Yukon

Uncle Boris in the Yukon: and Other Shaggy Dog Stories, by Daniel Pinkwater

Anybody who has read my blog for more than a couple of minutes probably knows my love of Daniel Pinkwater.  Well, the other day, I was sorting donated books for the library sale (an exercise that will convince anybody that there are way too many books in the world -- unless you collect self-help books from the 80s and microwave cookbooks from the 70s), and this great little book came my way.

It's all about the dogs here; Pinkwater starts off with history, with Uncle Boris.  Boris and his brothers were Polish gangsters, but Boris got the call of the wild north, and off he went to the Yukon, where he had a favorite sled dog.  After that, we get a history of the Pinkwater family dogs, and of young Daniel's childhood too.  Most of the book, though, is dominated by his dogs in adulthood, mostly Malamutes and other tough Northern breeds.  He and his wife also ran a dog-training school and published a book (and their secret for house-training any dog quickly is included here).

I am not a dog person, but these stories are really fun to read and will convince anyone that dogs are great companions.  Also, it's really cheap on Kindle.  If you're prone to getting dogs, beware; you will want a Malamute before you hit page 100.