Monday, November 14, 2011

The Language of Flowers

Best book this year, hands down.


1. Takes place in the Bay Area. If you have lived there, you will know the streets, the neighborhoods, the parks and the flower markets in San Francisco. You'll be able to picture the vineyard north of the City. You can feel the sun, smell the air, everything... It adds so much to your reading experience.

2. Lots of flowers. I'm a sucker for flowers. I loved this book, devoured these, and love my plant identification guides on my home bookshelf. Not only is this book about growing and selling flowers, but it's also about flowers on another level.

3. Nearly dead languages brought back to life--in the book, it's the Latin names of plants and the Victorian language of flowers. Witness the ongoing symbolism of the various flowers and names throughout the novel--you'll be constantly flipping to the dictionary of flowers and their Latin names that's conveniently tucked at the end of the novel.

4. A heroine who does not follow the rules of society. Way more interesting to read about than ordinary, law-abiding folks. And she's flawed in ways that are recognizable and inspire empathy.

5. A touch of the fantastical. An apartment with a half-sized door, a midwife with an eerie sense of what is about to happen...

6. Love. [sigh] No explanation needed.

The Borrower

Lucy Hull is a twenty-six year old Russian-American woman who graduated from Mount Holyoke with an English degree. At the end of college, she broke up with her boyfriend and systematically worked her way down a list of connections provided by the Career Development Office. That's how she ends up as the unlicensed children's librarian in a town in Missouri, working for an alcoholic director and feeling utterly alone.

p. 8: "At twenty-six I was the head children's librarian only because I was willing to work more hours than the other two (much older) women, Sarah-Ann and Irene, who seemed to see the library as some kind of volunteer work, like a soup kitchen.
'We're so lucky they give us their time,' said Loraine. Which was true, as they were often busy remodeling entire rooms. I was four years out of college, had started biting my nails again, and was down to two adult friends. I lived alone in an apartment two towns over. A simple maiden lady librarian."

Good, but I found I enjoyed the first third of the book far more than the remaining two thirds. Something about what could have been her standoffishness came across as a lack of character depth. She was so unknowing about why she was doing what she did that I had trouble following her actions with empathy--along the lines of, "if she doesn't know why she's doing what she's doing, then how can I understand her motives?" I spent time wishing that there was an omniscient narrator who could shed light on her views.

But still, it's definitely a good book and well worth the reading. Enjoy!

The Egypt Game

Have you read The Borrower yet? If not, stop now and I'll wait for you to go out and read it.
So now that you're back (or if you're one of the lucky few who's already read the book), then you know that the Rebecca Makkai weaves dozens of children's books into the story's narrative--The Phantom Tollbooth, Charlotte's Web, Matilda, the Narnia series, Madeline, If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and Choose Your Own Adventure series are just a few examples. The references are often subtle, unnoticeable if you don't know the books themselves. Sometimes, though, Makkai specifically mentions books by name, and The Egypt Game was one of them. I had never read this book before, so I had no time to waste.

It's a perfectly good book about children creating an imaginary world in the fenced-in yard behind the city antique shop, but reading the book now showed me how important it is to read children's book as a child. No matter how many children's books I read now, my viewpoint and imagination is that of an adult. I'm struck by things like the lack of description and the gaps in time and character complexity. But that's less important to a child. Then, I didn't want to be bogged down with details, and my imagination was eager to fill in the gaps left by the author.

Making an Apartment into a Home!

Recently I and my cat became the sole dwellers in my beautiful 1200 square foot apartment. Imagine tall ceilings, big windows and sun-drenched hardwood floors. I love it. I'm especially loving the feeling of freedom that comes when you alone get to choose your environment--how you decorate it, how and when you clean it, and how you use it. I'm finding myself choosing to be spare with tchotchkes, heavy on comfort and practicality, and I like not bringing in anything new to the space until I know what purpose the object will serve and where it will "live."

Both these books are a great inspiration in this mission. Isn't it exciting?

The Big Book of Preserving the Harvest

Good for step-by-step directions for canning--both water bath and pressure--but I've been primarily using this book to learn about freezing fruits and vegetables. Wet packs, dry packs, and tons of recipes to cook before freezing.