Second Nature by Michael Pollan

As a new gardener (seriously - aside from a few failed indoor window-pot plants, this is my first foray into the world of growing things) I picked up this memoir with the hopes that it would offer insight, sympathy, and the occasional Thing That Makes You Go Hm… I got all three. And some laughs.

Pollan begins his story where all memoirs begin: with childhood struggle. This struggle takes place between his father (who is happy to let the lawn go longer than he should) and his grandfather (who trucks to their house not only his own rosebushes but also his own soil.) It grows to encompass his own struggle with what is generally acceptable in suburban society against what he finds aesthetically pleasing and what still falls under the rigid guidelines set up by his grandfather.

He settles, with his wife, eventually in an old Connecticut dairy farm with offices above the detached garage and a rambling sprawling back yard - quickly being reclaimed by second-growth forests. He tells of his own trials and obsessions, his experiments, his failures...his first garden as an “adult” which falls desperately short in the eyes of the one man he’s trying to impress with it (his grandfather)...his attempts to get rid of a woodchuck (and since it’s on the back cover I’m not going to hesitate to tell you: he fire bombs its hole)...he vacillates between the Naturalists romantic view that the only beauty is natural beauty and anything “artificial” is forced and garish and the idea the you can bend the earth to your will, if only you have the knowledge to make it pliable.

He does inspire, in the midst of his pontificating, and I found myself perusing seed offerings online and making sketches of what the back garden could be if only I have the power to make it so.

Pollan winds up striking a nice balance within his garden life - the book is broken up into four sections for each season, but spans from childhood until it went to the editor so we get a nice umbrella view - somewhere between the complete lack of interest shown by his father and the iron (if also VERY green) fist of his grandfather...with emphasis the entire journey on how man interacts with nature: what is a “Weed” and what makes something “invasive” and if we were all gone tomorrow, what would nature do? The result is a garden in which I wouldn’t mind meandering...especially if at the end I got to sit down with Pollan and exchange ideas on the proliferation of pumpkins.

Ultimately, the idea that the reader is left with can be boiled down to one little quote: “A lawn is nature under totalitarian rule,” he says. And there you have it.


Repair to Her Grave, by Sarah Graves

If you remove the relative abundance of death from this installment of the Home Repair is Homicide series...what you are left with is very nearly a Cozy Mystery. Nearly. It all starts out simply enough: it’s summer in Eastport, which means it’s time for some projects around the house. Add in a wall that won’t stay plastered, a son spending his last summer before college getting SCUBA certified and diving for treasure, an ex-husband who is still painfully aware that the only reason he’s not still incarcerated is because of his ex-wife, a best friend/next door neighbor who will happily help with anything you need, an upcoming meeting of the Eastport Ladies Society (in Jake’s home, no less), and an unexpected houseguest...and you’ve got the start for a very interesting few months.

But you can’t forget the ghost. The one that has vaguely haunted the house since Jacobia moved in. The one whose every action can be explained by a draft or something equally innocuous. The ghost who is supposed to be the original owner of the house - a famous violinist who disappeared over a hundred years ago, leaving behind a handful of compositions and a minor mystery: a stradivarius... The ghost who is the reason for this new houseguest (who shows up humming one of the tunes that Sam unearthed in that last book.)

So of course people are falling off cliffs. Falling? Or being pushed? And because of the water, their bodies aren’t being found. There is lots of local turmoil as tourist season kicks into high gear (Lobster Festival, anyone?) amidst these unfortunate accidents. People are coming and going and it’s hard to keep track of just who might be sinister and who is merely odd...until, of course, it isn’t anymore.

Graves has a gift, people. I keep eeking these out so I don’t run out of new installments. They are multi-layered and filled with real-life drama - in addition, of course, to the amateur sleuthing that’s always going on. Graves acknowledges situations that other (lesser) writers take for granted: of course the small town would talk about how Jake and Ellie are almost better at solving murders than the police are. Of course life doesn’t stop just because some stranger wandered into town and fell (or was thrown) off a cliff. Those old ladies are still going to show up at your house exactly at the time on the invitation and they’ll want their tea hot and their sandwiches crustless, thank you very much.

This is the sort of thing, after all, that keeps us coming back for more.


Charlotte's Web by E.B. White

Charlotte’s Web...a Children’s Classic written by a man who specialized in Children’s Classics. I picked this up to re-read after exhausting all of my in-house unread books and waiting for the next group to arrive from the library and Amazon. Unlike a couple of the others that I remember fondly from childhood - this one aged very well.
In case you grew up on a commune or in a third world country, here is the basic plot: 8 year old Fern rescues a pig (the runt of the litter named Wilbur) from an almost immediate death and nurses him to piggy adolescence, at which point Wilbur is moved from Fern’s kitchen to the farm down the road to live out the rest of his life...which is going to be Christmastime until a clever spider named Charlotte steps in and creates a spectacle out of Wilbur by spinning praises of the pig into her web. All of the farm animals are anthropomorphized, which is a nice touch for any children’s book.

As a testament to its awesomeness, this is a book that has been made into (according to IMDB.com) two movies and seven video spinoffs. None of which I’ve seen.

There’s not really a lot to say about this little book other than to reinforce it’s solid place in every child’s library. And by “child” I mean in both the chronological and the figurative sense.


Private: The Series

Oh...my... I'm going to be sucked in. You know it. I read all the Gossip Girl and now I watch the show religiously...

Private is being made into a tv show.


Aunt Dimity Slays the Dragon by Nancy Atherton

The latest installment of Nancy Atherton’s cozy Aunt Dimity series starts off innocently enough. Ex-pat mom of twins, Lori Shepard, is finding herself bored with life in their small English Village, but is trying to throw herself into village life anyway in the hopes of making it slightly more interesting. Her husband is working away in his law-office, her sons are doing their five-year-old thing, and she’s coming off of a wedding-planning high.

Luckily, with summer comes event-season in Finch: The Tidy Cottage Contest, Best Garden, etc etc. Even more luckily, at the town meeting one of the nephews of a local farmer announces that on his Uncle’s land that summer will be held a Renaissance Faire of the type generally seen in America: historical accuracy isn’t as important as enthusiasm, come in costume for a more enjoyable time...and oh yes, a daily joust will be held.

Even incorporeal Aunt Dimity thinks it’ll make the summer slightly more interesting around town and encourages Lori and family to take part and report back. So costumes are made - the boys will be pages, Lori will be...well she can’t really decide what she wants to be, and her husband has put his foot down: over his dead body will he don a costume. They’re lucky he’s going, and that’s really only because the boys are in the daily parade.

But, because this is a mystery, shenanigans occur. Accidents happen during the opening ceremony, the town is trashed, and Lori’s imagination runs wild.

Admittedly, I read this months ago so some of the details have been pushed to the back of my brain (I was also deep in the throws of early-pregnancy grossness and so my retention wasn’t what it normally is) but I can say these things without a doubt: I do love this series. I love that it’s not generally gory. I love that the characters are at once familiar people and “characters.” I love that Lori is in a stable, very loving, long term marriage. I like that time passes as we read. When we first meet Lori (not in the first book) she is young, single, penniless, and casting about for something outside of her work and now she is a happily married mother of two who hasn’t lost who she is even though life has taken her places she never imagined.

This is a good rainy-day book. It’s good “I thought morning sickness was only supposed to last the morning” book. Or a flu book. Or a “it’s too cold, let’s sit by the fire with cocoa and a book” book.

If you haven’t read this series, pick up the first one (like I said, they move forward and build on the last) and enjoy yourself. If you have read the series, you won’t be disappointed with the latest installment.
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