Books Read: February 2021

Still reading, at times so focused on books I tend to forget other things. It may be, along with yoga, the thing keeping me sane and going as the days get longer and I wait for spring.

Second Nature: A Gardener’s Education

This is an older Michael Pollan book, with a series of essays broken up by the seasons where he talks about becoming a gardener. It’s quite lovely, especially if you have an inclination towards gardening yourself. But the ideas he has around wilderness vs nature vs gardens are really interesting and he also does a good job of tearing down some of what many garden books hold dear. I myself believe that the true successful garden comes from enjoying the process as well as the outcome, which I think Pollan would agree with.

But the discovery that time and chance hold sway even in nature can also be liberating. Because contingency is an invitation to participate in history. Human choice is unnatural only if nature is deterministic; human change is unnatural only if she is changeless in our absence. If the future of Cathedral Pines is up for grabs, if its history will always be the product of myriad chance events, then why shouldn’t we also claim our place among all those deciding factors? For aren’t we also one of nature’s contingencies? And if our cigarette butts and Norway maples and acid rain are going to shape the future of this place, then why not also our hopes and desires? (p. 184)

Because of his experience, the gardener is not likely to conclude from the fact that some intervention in nature is unavoidable, therefore “anything goes.” This is precisely where his skill and interesting lie: in determing what does and does not go in a particular place. How much is too much? What suits this land? How can we get what we want here while nature goes about getting what she wants? He has no doubt that good answers to these questions can be found. (p 194)

The gardener knows how tenuous his control of nature is, especially here in North America, where the land can seem so ungovernable. So why then does he go to such lengths to hide this fact, to clothe such recalcitrant land in so much lawn? Maybe it’s time we began to acknowledge, perhaps even evoke, that tenuousness in the design of our gardens. By leaving some parts wild, and by making a viture of their juxtapositions with more formal areas, we can introduce into our gardens a measure of doubt about our control of nature, and that might be a good thing to do. … It may be in the margins of our gardens that we can discover fresh ways to bring out aesthetics and our ethics about the land into some meaningful alignment. (p. 255)

The Warmth of Other Suns

I don’t even know how to talk about this book that justifies how good it is. Isabel Wilkerson’s work is one of the best history books I’ve read in quite some time. The way in which she weaves the story of the three people into larger themes and views of the wider migration is quite well done. I also got sucked in to the people’s stories so fully and completely it felt like reading a novel. This is a part of history that I knew about superficially but this book opened up the story and showed my how much I didn’t know and I’m grateful to Wilkerson for writing it.

The Darkest Evening

A new Vera mystery! It took a while to get from the library but I devoured it in a few days, it’s that good. I love the main character with all her flaws, but Cleeves also wove a great mystery. Small village life in England and all the secrets and stories that lay underneath the surface came to the forefront. It’s well done and kept me completely captivated.

Akata Warrior

The sequel to Akata Witch where we see more of Sunny’s story, along with her group of friends. Nnedi Okorafor weaves a suspensful story as Sunny is once again called upon to do the extraordinary with help from her friends, all while keeping her hidden life hidden from her family. Okorafor tells a great story and if you enjoy YA that centers around magic and secondary worlds connected to our own, this is a great series to read.

Funny Weather: Art in an Emergency

Olivia Laing has a way of writing about artists that draws me in and makes me want to go on a deep dive to find out more about them and in this collection of essays and columns she talks about art more than anything else. She’s introduced me to more interesting stories and also found interesting tidbits about artists I already knew something about than any other writer I’ve read to date. This book is a great one for dipping in and out of, mostly short pieces but many of them pack quite a punch.