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Okay, so this isn't exactly a review. It's more like a recommendation. It's a recommendation to buy a betta fish for the next little kid on your gift list.

Shown at the left is a picture of one of my first bettas.

His name was Princess Fancy Pants. Because he was... well, fancy. All pink and purple and pretty.

But most importantly, he was incredibly easy to care for.That's why bettas make such good little-kid pets.

This past weekend, Nathan and I bought two new fish for two very cute little girls. We got a red one for his little cousin Ella, who was turning six, and a teal one for my neice Katherine, who was turning four.

Don't worry, we asked their parents first.

Anyway, I highly recommend you go right out to get a betta. And if you do, here's what you need to know:

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Creative Commons licensed blue betta by tarotastic from Flickr.
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Creative Commons licensed red betta by Chlorine26 from Flickr.

How to Buy and Care For a Betta of Your Own
A good betta, complete with habitat and food (which, as a gift-giver, I think you should provide) will cost a minimum of about $20. The fish itself will cost about $5. They're available at all major pet stores. And while I'm not crazy about supporting the pet store industry, buying a fish from a pet store means rescuing a little guy who is living in a tiny beer cup and a couple of inches of dirty water. It's hard to squelch the desire to rescue a creature in such a bad situation.

Next, you'll need a home or habitat. I like a traditional glass fish bowl, but any large glass vessel will do. A big ol' vase, for example. Get one at Goodwill if you want. Or at the dollar store. That would be fine. You'll also need food, a tap water treatment solution, a bit of aquarium gravel, and a plastic aquarium plant. (Or a real plant, but that will result in more work.)

Approximate Prices
Betta Fish - Approx $5 (with good care, he should live 2+ years, easily)
Tap Water Treatment Solution - About $5 (a tiny bottle will last well over a year)
Betta Pellets - About $5 (will also last well over a year)
Freeze-Dried Blood Worms (alternate food) - Less than $10 (will last for years)
Aqua gravel (any colour) - Less than $10
Habitat or Vase - $0.99 + (depending on what you go for)
Plastic Plant - $2.99 to $10 (depending on what you get)

Strong Little Guys
Bettas are very hearty (unlike goldfish), and they come in a huge variety of colours (red and blue being most common). They are able to breathe both through their gills and by taking gulps from the air like a mammal. That's why you can house them in bowls instead of proper tanks. They are also very tolerant of odd feeding patterns. If you need to go away for a weekend, don't worry about it. You won't need a betta baby sitter. That's why they're great for kids.

Be Kind
That said, a fish is a living creature and deserves good care. I like to give my bettas five pellets a day. I fast him one day a week (usually Sunday), because he tends to become constipated and fasting helps. And I give him a treat of freeze-dried blood worms every once in awhile, just because the pellets can get pretty boring. I change his water every 3 - 4 weeks.

There are lots of other bits of care information online, and if you decide to buy a kid a betta I advise you to do some reading first, but even if you don't, I highly recommend this pet.

Betta are awesome.
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Bettas I have know. (Some of my old pets, from when I lived in Vancouver.)

* Disclaimer: I'm not a fish expert or anything and I'm not saying this is the BEST way to deal with a betta. It's just what's worked for me. Don't sue me if your betta dies, okay? They're fish. They're not going to live forever. It's not my fault.
 
 
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I really wanted to like this book. The premise seemed cool. A grumpy, lefty, anti-mainstream post-punk writer delves deep to explain seveal suicide attempts and the emotional impact of going blind. I was all ready to sympathize, all ready to feel.

But I didn't.

I didn't feel anything but irritated with Jim Knipfel. The dude just seems like... a jerk. A whiny jerk! And the book is about how he went slowly blind.

He attempted to kill himself numerous times, went slowly blind, and I STILL couldn't make myself care about the guy.

Don't you think that's a pretty bad sign?

There's nothing particularly  wrong with the prose in Slackjaw. It's clean and accessible. It's also boring. Reading it is sort of like listening to the ramblings of a fuck-up friend who's always complaining and who you don't like very much, but who you feel obligated to keep seeing. In other words, it's a drag.

Anyway. If you see this book around and you're lured by the fun substitle and the rather impressive blurb by Thomas Pynchon, don't be fooled. Slackjaw is a stinker.