Wednesday, April 22, 2020

Recommendations for Pandemic Stay-at-home Reading, by Don Orth

During my stay-at-home time, many things have changed, but reading at home is still a welcome escape. There is only so much binge-watching of Grey’s Anatomy and Bosch that I can take.  I have a stack of books to read when I’m not in a zoom meeting, writing papers, teaching online, reviewing student work, and shopping online. Here I share some books that might be of interest to you.

I realize the precarious nature of small, independent booksellers as I often rely on Amazon to deliver books. In 2011 Amazon was estimated to have sold around 22.6% of the books in the U.S. and today is likely higher (Minzesheimer 2011). If the loss of independent booksellers concerns you, try and find an independent bookstore near you. 

Reading Shelf April 22, 2020.
The following are among the top non-fiction books on my reading list:

Flaws: Shark Bites and Emotional Public Policymaking, by Christopher L. Pepin-Neff (2019).  
If you are interested in the tragic accidents of shark bites and how politicians respond in the name of public safety, then read this account. He develops an emotion-policy framework that is applied to three case studies of policymaking. The human-shark relationship is changing in a post-Jaws era and much more attention is being placed on “Save the Sharks” efforts.

Vaquita: Science, Politics, and Crime in the Sea of Cortez, by Brooke Bessesen (2018).
The small vaquita porpoise, first described in 1958, is the world’s most endangered marine mammal. Banning gill net fishing was its last hope — until illegal fishing for swim bladders of totoaba, a large drum, doomed recovery.  The book chronicles the many people and places engaged in this last-ditch effort.  

Vaquita porpoise  Photo Natural History Magazine CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Being Salmon, Being Human: Encountering the Wild in Us and Us in the Wild, by Martin Lee Mueller (2017)
A story of how salmon influence people, cultural and tribal lore, honoring nature, and why wild caught salmon change us. This book reminds us of our essential humanness as one of many strands in the world. Mueller provides a thoughtful narrative on the human-salmon relationship and interpretations from major philosophers as he contributes to a growing literature on ecophilosophy.

Reef Life: An Underwater Memoir, by Callum Roberts (2019)
Callum Roberts is a scientist who spends his time studying tropical coral reefs.  To pick up and read this is to listen and watch as he details life on a coral reef.  He begins with his earliest recollections exploring waters of the Red Sea of Saudi Arabia and takes the reader to many remote marine parks detailing what makes these reefs special.  A world without coral reefs is considered in the final chapter.

Swarthy Parrotfish Scarus niger is one of several herbivorous fishes that Roberts studied in the Red Sea during his doctoral studies.  Photo CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Matter & Desire: An Erotic Ecology, by Andreas Weber (2017)
Andreas Weber is a biologist, philosopher, and nature writer who believes the root cause of environmental problems is the alienation between people and nature. He argues and demonstrates that feelings and emotions are the foundation of life.  Hence, being alive is an erotic process. This book continues to explore his thesis that meaning, expression and emotion helps us understand the basic framework of life.  Read this is if you can be convinced that living beings should not simply be natural resource.

Why Fish Don't Exist: A Story of Loss, Love, and the Hidden Order of Life, by Lulu Miller (2020) 
This book is about one of the most prolific and influential early ichthyologists in North America. David Starr Jordan (1851-1933) will be a familiar person to any serious student of the fishes. However, this story explores many aspects of his life and struggles that have not previously been revealed.  While I had heard about the catastrophic loss of his fish collections in an earthquake, I never knew of the darkness of his personality, his dismissal from Stanford, his views on eugenics, and a possible murder coverup.  Miller writes about struggles that Jordan endured and reveals much about her own struggles to remain creative in the face of adversity.     

Fishing: How the Sea Fed Civilization, by Brian Fagan (2018)  
 Fishing is the last major source of food from the wild. Brian Fagan reviews over a million years of fishing in the wild, from subsistence to commercial overfishing.  You will find this of interest if you care about the significance of fishing in our cultural development.  Fagan draws from many contributions from archaeological research and discussions with modern fishers to explore past and present patterns of exploitation.  Read this to appreciate the complexities of conserving ocean resources while fishing depleted oceans.

The Outlaw Ocean: Journeys Across the Last Untamed Frontier, by Ian Urbina, August 20, 2019
The Outlaw Ocean introduces us to many bad players in the world of fisheries as it reviews maritime and fisheries laws. It’s not an easy read as Urbina reveals the scope of illegal fishing, modern-day slavery, dumping, murder, and gun running on fishing vessels. His journeys reflect the unsettling reality that modern laws do not apply in many places in the ocean.  I came away with a deeper knowledge of the real cost of cheap seafood.

What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins, by Jonathan Balcombe (2017)   
 We know so very little about fish cognition, emotion, and perceptions.   Do fish play?  Do moray eels plan their hunting excursions? Do wrasse learn?  Can fish suffer?  Do bass recognize faces? These and many other questions are not explored in Ichthyology texts.  Increasingly, researchers are exploring fish behavior with more rigorous methods.   Jonathan Balcombe is a behaviorist who makes our current knowledge of the fishes easier to understand.  As a result, we have a newfound respect for the capabilities of fish.

Prophetic investigations of conditions leading to past pandemics in book by David Quammen.  Photo by Bernard Goldbach CC BY 2.0
Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic, by David Quammen (2012)  
 Written before the emergence of COVID-19, this is a timely read. David Quammen examined outbreaks of SARS, MERS, AIDS and visits the experts. We learn that a virus can become pathogenic in a nonhuman animal and then jump to humans. We learn that a relatively harmless version of virus can jump from bats to another animal and then to humans.  More than one intermediate animal species could be involved in transmission.  Human are expanding and living in closer proximity to wild animals. Once in the human population, a virus can evolve to become potentially dangerous.  Spillover was a prophetic book and foreshadowed the emergence of a deadly pandemic, in this case COVID-19. 

The Curious Death of Peter Artedi: A Mystery in the History of Science, by Theodore W. Pietsch (2010)  
Peter Artedi is often referred to as the father of Ichthyology. Unfortunately, Artedi died before his life's work was completed.  His studies on fish were eventually published by his friend and colleague, Carl Linneaus.  This book is a fictional account of the events before and after Artedi's untimely demise. 

I also recommend some fiction to help you avoid the news of the day.

Razor Girl, Bad Monkey, or Double Whammy, by Carl Hiaasen
Carl Hiassen writes of quirky characters centered in south Florida.   Double Whammy is one of the most memorable. One of the quirky characters is a private detective who investigates a suspected cheater in bass fishing tournaments. The double whammy is a bass fishing lure, found on a dead body in the beginning of the story. Double Whammy was also on a list of books banned in Texas prisons—I’m not making this up!  Hiassen’s reaction to hearing the news was  I confess to feeling flattered that I made the Texas list.”

The Guardians, by John Grisham (2019), follows innocence workaholic attorney-and-Episcopal-priest named Cullen Post as he attempts to free a convicted murderer on death row.

Blue Moon, by Lee Child (2019). Jack Reacher has no particular place to go and all the time in the world to get there.  Reacher says "once in a blue moon things turn out just right.”  This wasn't one of those times when Jack Reacher helped an elderly man who turned out to be paying his loan shark.  Reacher, never off duty, cannot leave that one alone.  

The Night Fire, by Michael Connelly (2020), is the latest crime novel that features detective Harry Bosch.  Even if you haven't read previous novels by Connelly, you can pick up this book which pairs
the now retired and ever stubborn Harry Bosch with Detective RenĂ©e Ballard. Even in retirement, Harry lives by his credo that "Everybody counts, or nobody counts.”  

Lyra and the Adventure of the Flying Fish, by Peter Emina, illustrated by Alice Ridley (2011), is a story inspired by and about Lyra McConnell.  Lyra was born premature at 24 weeks, 5 days, and weighed only 1 pound and 10 ounces. The story is a fictional account of the adventures of Lyra  that demonstrate a sense of adventure and determination in this little girl that must have started in her incubator.  Lyra and her friend, W. Rabbit, explore many fishy worlds. It's a great story about a young girl and adventures with her snorkel.

Minzesheimer, B. 2011.  Is there hope for small bookstores in a digital age?  USA Today February 10, 2011.  Available at {accessed on April 22, 2020}