mini-reviews: mozart’s starling and the rise and fall of the dinosaurs

Even though I’m not necessarily a “science” kind of person—much more artsy fartsy—I still like reading narrative non-fiction about some science topics. I listened to these two very different science-based audiobooks about animals in May and found them both really fascinating:

Naturalist and birder Lyanda Lynne Haupt was inspired to research the story of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s pet starling, which he took home from the pet store after hearing it sing a version of a melody from his Piano Concert No. 17 in G Major. The bird served as a muse and companion for Mozart for three years. To aid her research, Haupt decided to adopt a starling of her own. She was totally charmed by the creature’s personality, affection, and intelligence, and could see how Mozart likely felt the same. Mozart’s Starling is part biography, part memoir, and part natural history of these animals. I didn’t know starlings are considered pests and an invasive species in the United States, while they’re nearly extinct in Europe. There is definitely a lot more about the bird than about Mozart and his music, but lovers of birds, nature, history, classical music, and also specifically Mozart will enjoy this interesting book. [Listened to audiobook in May 2018.]

Who isn’t fascinated by dinosaurs? I was really excited to borrow this narrative history on audio before the latest Jurassic World movie installment came out. Steve Brusatte‘s The Rise and Fall of the Dinosaurs walks readers through their evolution and ultimate demise, from roughly the Triassic period to the end of the Cretaceous period. His description of the asteroid that obliterated millions of years of the natural evolution of these animals is violent and disquieting (I loved it). Part of this book is background on Brusatte’s career. He name-drops people in archaeology and paleontology he’s met a bit too much, but it’s not overwhelming—the dinosaurs are still definitely the stars of the book. I really loved learning about all the newest dinosaur species discovered around the world. I’m just blown away by all that can be learned from some unearthed bones. You don’t need to be a science or dinosaur buff to enjoy this book. [Listened to audiobook in May 2018.]

jurassic park

Hold on to your butts… I just re-read Jurassic Park by Michael Crichton! From Goodreads:

An astonishing technique for recovering and cloning dinosaur DNA has been discovered. Now, one of mankind’s most thrilling fantasies has come true. Creatures extinct for eons now roam Jurassic Park with their awesome presence and profound mystery, and all the world can visit them—for a price.

Until something goes wrong…

Thanks to the new Jurassic World movie coming out this summer, I was inspired to find my old copy at my parents’ house during a recent visit and give it a reread. When the original 1993 Jurassic Park film was released, my mother wouldn’t let me see it until I had read the book. Fair enough, but then she actually ended up reading the whole thing to me on a road trip from Wisconsin to Quebec and back! And then after the movie came out, maybe a year or so later, I decided to read it again and I distinctly remember being in the “little bedroom” at my grandparents’ house in Green Bay, which was at the front of the house on the first floor. I remember the compys making an impact on me—I read and imagined compys getting in through the window and biting my toes. Reading Jurassic Park again just now transported me back to those times; I love how books do that!

Anyway, there was a lot that had stuck with me (like Grant having a beard, the compys being more prominent in the book, the lengthy science-y scenes, and some deaths) but a lot that felt fresh again. The first quarter of the book is a lot of build up, but once the action starts it really takes off—thrilling and tough to put down! Some scenes were so exciting and suspenseful (the river, hatchery, and raptor nest, to name a few) I wonder why they weren’t included in the film. It was great to come across dialogue that made it to the film verbatim.

Of course, it’s impossible not to compare. As far as the characters go, they are all so much better in the film. Grant comes off as smarter in the movie than the book, if you can believe it (everyone kinda does…) Malcolm on film is iconic and has an appropriate attitude shift when the [ahem] hits the fan; Malcolm on paper is all snotty arrogance and an unfazed “just as I predicted” to every terrifying event right to the very end. The kids! They were THE WORST in the book. I remembered they were flipped for the movie (so that Lex is the older computer “hacker” and Tim is the younger sib), but I forgot how relentlessly annoying they both are in the book. Lex, ugh. I so badly wanted a raptor (or anything) to bite her. Jurassic Park is an awesome film for girls to watch—you get to see Ellie be a kick-ass brilliant feminist just as intelligent, strong, and vital to the story as the men and Lex basically saves the day at the end with her computer smarts.

I’m glad I went back and read the book again. It was perfect for summer, a lot of fun action and adventure, and brought back great memories. Because the world building and story is so incredible and memorable, I can overlook the characters being less than stellar in the book, especially when I have their endearing, fleshed-out film portrayals to enjoy.

Read from July 28 to August 2, 2015.