tom thinks

Ducks and Books, 2001/06/16:15:21

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Oodles of ducks are down at the harbor.

Many mother ducks with many more baby ducks of all ages--little fluffy yellow and black newborns and young drakes just shedding the last of their baby fuzz, and all ages in between. The mother ducks, who have presumably been sitting on eggs until quite recently, are very aggressive when it comes to food. People throw bread to them, and they snap it up before any of the babies can get close. The littler babies don't even realize that the bread is good to eat--they will shy away from it, pulling their beaks cutely into their breasts to avoid it. Even over the few minutes I watched, however, some of them seemed to get the idea that their was something interesting here, probably because they noticed that mom was charging through their midst to grab it.

There were a lot of seagulls around as well, cirling above. Mother ducks don't like gulls at all, and a few of the bolder gulls nearly lost tail-feathers to angry ducks. In one case there was quite a long back-and-forth between a duck and a seagull, with the gull swooping overhead and the duck standing up on its feet in the water and flapping its wings and squacking and snapping at the gull. The gull eventually gave it up as a lost cause and flew off.

The littlest ducks stuck close to their mothers, and to each other. But as they got older they spread out more, until thte oldest ones didn't seem to be associated with a particular adult at all. Just like humans.
On the plane down to San Diego I read Catch Me If You Can, the story of a con-artist in the 70's who flew all over the world posing as a Pan Am pilot. He also did stints posing as a doctor and as a lawyer. The whole thing is so improbable that I wonder if he isn't conning his readers, yet stranger things have happened. The book is fast-moving and entertaining, and yet doesn't really get very deeply into the mind of a con-artist.

On the way back from San Diego I bought The Unburried, which is a well-done, atmospheric Victorian ghost story about an academic who gets caught up in the politics and history of a small cathedral town when he goes to visit an old friend with whom he had a falling out long ago. The story is really one of the narrator's recognition that he has not been living his life for the past 30 years, and it shows us how he comes to terms with that and decides that it isn't to late to fully engage the world. As someone a dozen years younger who has some of the same feelings, I found it encouraging and interesting, and the Victorian gothic feel of the work is very well done.

I'm not quite finished Lady Chatterly's Lover and am stalled on Paradise Lost, mostly because the gyrations of my personal life have prevented me from giving them the concentration they deserve. But I'm still pecking away at them, and finding them fascinating and rewarding when I can muster up the concentration to deal with them. In the meantime, I'm reading Headlong by Michael Frayn, an instance of the shortlisted-for-the-Booker genre, with all the cliches and formulaic effects that entails. While not quite as rigid as the Harlequin Romance Formula (the sex scene doesn't always happen on or about page 139, and is often less interesting) the strict conventions of the shortlisted-for-the-Booker genre get a little tired after a while. Young academics presented with staggering opportunities that they lose through a combination of unworldy naivete' and general fecklessness are a hard topic to make fresh, but Frayn is doing a better-than-average job of it.
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