On Edge by Andrea Petersen (Review)

IMG_0001A courageous and engaging mix of personal account, scientific information, and historical background about anxiety and related disorders.

As someone who has experienced an anxiety disorder first hand, I found this book highly accurate, relatable, and encouraging

Although the author’s journey with anxiety is much more extreme than mine has been, it was vindicating to read about this condition from such a reliable and respectable source (The author is a reporter for the Wall Street Journal covering neuroscience and mental health).

This book resonated with me because much of the author’s experience lined up with my own, and because it ultimately has a positive and encouraging message.

I would recommend this book to anyone who has struggled with anxiety or who is close to a person experiencing this struggle.

[I received my copy of this book from bloggingforbooks.com in exchange for an honest review.]


January Reading Recap

At the beginning of the month, I set my 2017 reading goal as reading one nonfiction and one fiction book each month. Since this turned out not to be very challenging, I decided to add two more goals – reading one book that was written before I was born (BIWB) and one book of a different genre or form each month. This month I selected The Plague by Albert Camus as the BIWB book, and a book of poetry – Notes on the Assemblage by U.S. Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera for the “other form” category.

Here’s what I read this month:

  • Nonfiction –
    •  The Gene: An Intimate History by Siddhartha Mukherjee (Scribner, 2016)
    • Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void by Mary Roach (2011)
    • Zika: The Emerging Epidemic by Donald G. McNeil Jr. (2016)
  • Fiction –
    • The Children’s Home by Charles Lambert (2016)
  • BIWB –
    • The Plague by Albert Camus (1947)
  • Other form / other genre
    • Notes on the Assemblage by Juan Felipe Herrera (2016)

Favorite book:  The Plague by Camus. It reminded me of why I loved literature as a teenager and young adult, and why, when I give myself the chance, I still do. Perhaps fortuitously, Camus’s book is mentioned in The Gene. This excerpt captures what I liked about both books quite well:

We need a manifesto – or at least a hitchhiker’s guide – for the post-genomic world. Historian Tony Judt once told me that Albert Camus’s novel The Plague was about the plague in the same sense as King Lear is about a king named Lear. In The Plague, a biological cataclysm becomes the testing ground for our fallibilities, desires and ambitions. You cannot read The Plague except as a thinly disguised allegory of human nature. The genome is also the testing ground of our fallibilities and desires, although reading it does not require understanding allegories and metaphors. What we read and write into our genome is our fallibilities, desires, and ambitions. It is human nature. — Siddhartha Mukherjee, The Gene: An Intimate History




2017 Reading Goals

It’s been awhile since I wrote anything, but I hope to post more consistently in the coming year.

My reading goal for 2017 is to read at least one nonfiction book and one fiction book each month. For January, my selections are “The Children’s Home” by Charles Lawrence for fiction and “The Gene” by Siddhartha Mukherjee for nonfiction.

Since earning my undergrad degree in literature, I’ve hardly read anything that could be classified as “literature.” Most of my fiction reading has fallen into the categories of horror, sci-fi, and (dare I say?) paranormal romance. While “The Children’s Home” is classified as horror, it’s described as literary horror, which is supposedly superior to other categories. I’m looking forward to “The Gene” because I loved Mukherjee’s 2010 work, “The Emperor of All Maladies.”

Happy New Year, and happy reading!


New Brighton & Natural Bridges State Beach

I recently visited Capitola and Santa Cruz with my family. Our favorite beaches to visit are New Brighton State Beach, where we camped, and Natural Bridges State Beach.

Natural Bridges has a small sunny beach, tide pools, and a fun visitor center. It’s known as a site where swarms of monarch butterflies pass through on their migratory routes. A short distance away (10 to 20 minutes on a bike), is the famous light house / surfing museum. There used to be a number of “natural bridges,” but most have eroded over time.

Images: top left: view along shore from bike trail, looking towards Natural Bridges (not visible); bottom left: the lighthouse; right: the remaining “natural bridge.”

New Brighton State Beach is farther down the coast. It’s characterized by steep bluffs and exposed cliffs. It’s at the very north end of Monterey Bay, and you could walk unimpeded just about as far as you pleased down the beach.

The cliffs, which stretch from New Brighton towards Capitola City Beach for about 3,500 feet, are part of the “Purisima Formation,” and feature layers of fossil shell deposits from 3 to 5 million years ago. If you visit the Santa Cruz City Museum, you can purchase an informative little pamphlet (cited below) that explains the composition and natural history of the cliffs.

Images: top: view from end of beach looking south-east into Monterey Bay; Images of the cliff face with my dad offering comparison for scale; close ups of various fossils.

The Monterey Bay National Marine Sancuary encompasses this area, making it a wonderful place to view marine wildlife. We spotted a pod of dolphins and sighted whale spumes. Other commonly seen animals include sea lions and sea otters, and a wide variety of sea birds.

Image: least sandpiper.


Perry, F. A. (1988). Fossil invertebrates and geology of the marine cliffs at Capitola, California (pamphlet). Santa Cruz, CA: Santa Cruz Museum Assoc.



Back, and finally finished with school (almost)

I finished my ePortfolio, which I guess means that now I just have to wait for my degree to arrive in the mail. I won’t lie — it was a lot of work. I felt like all I was doing was regular work and school work since… well, since the last time I posted anything here. I still have a bit of school work to do before I’m all the way done. My “children’s literature” class isn’t over until the first week of May, and I still have one minor and two major projects to complete by then. I will be happy to be done with official school, but I don’t want to slack off. I want to keep reading professional literature and studying things on my own, for professional development, you know.

I bought an air rifle the other day. Z had got one for us to “share” the Christmas before last, but he keeps it in his room all the time and I don’t want to go in there and just take it, because I doubt he’d like that. I got it to shoot rats with. It’s extremely accurate (so far), but I don’t know if I will ever actually shoot a rat.

The rifle is a Gamo Whisper Silent Cat. It doesn’t seem any quieter than Z’s rifle, and most reviewers on Amazon said the silencer didn’t really do anything. For my purposes, the scope is fine, although many people complained about that as well. Besides mentions of those two features, however, the reviews were extremely positive, which led me to choose this rifle over another I was considering: the Daisy 880 Powerline Kit, which came with ammo and protective goggles. Starter kits like that make you feel like you’re getting more, but the quality of what you get is usually less than if you choose and buy each component separately. I chose the Silent Cat because it was touted as being very accurate and effective for small game hunting and pest control. I haven’t killed anything yet, and I probably never will, but if I do I’m pretty confident this rifle can do the job. It shoots .177 caliber pellets at between 1000 and 1250 feet per second.

Review: The Soul of an Octopus: A surprising exploration into the wonder of consciousness, by Sy Montgomery

Audio edition published by HighBridge Company, 2015

Dewey class number: 594/.56

Library of Congress Subject Headings:

Rating: ★★★★

Summary: The author documents her experiences with octopuses at the New England Aquarium and in the wild. She records the profound, intimate, and emotional relationships she builds with these strange, fascinating, and intelligent creatures.

Thoughts: The book raises some intriguing issues and questions, some of which are scientific, some of which are philosophical or even metaphysical. What is consciousness? If some animals have it, do all animals have it? If animals are far more conscious and intelligent than we have heretofore recognized, what does that mean for us, ethically?

The author’s descriptions of octopuses and other marine animals were vivid and absorbing. The picture she paints of aquariums is glowingly positive, and I found it interesting that among all the discussion of animal intelligence, the issue of wild animals in captivity only came up once, and was quickly dismissed (they have better, longer lives at the aquarium). Perhaps it was beyond the purview of this book to address the issue on a wider scale.

The book isn’t long, and never got tedious or boring. For my personal tastes, I would have preferred more scientific descriptions and facts, and less speculation about things like souls. Maybe I should have paid more attention to the title. Nonetheless, the question that the author is asking the reader to consider is an important one. If it’s possible to experience kinship with, and recognize consciousness in, a creature as alien to us as an octopus — what about the rest? What about each other?

Note: I listened to the audio edition of this book. It was read by the author, who is a good story-teller. The production was of good quality, although you could hear the sound of pages turning, and the reader pausing for breath, which I found distracting. The author’s inflection was also, at times, a bit over-exuberant, but at least never boring. Overall, a good audio production.