Stuff and Nonsense: nonfiction

Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts
Showing posts with label nonfiction. Show all posts


Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World

Read by the author, Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World is a thoughtful account of how two cats helped a readjusting country "girl" (she’s in her 40s when the book starts) come to grips with her anxieties and sense of isolation brought on by returning to rural Michigan after years in San Francisco. The book is as much about her life and experiences as it is about the cats and might appeal to anyone looking for a cat-centric, feel good, vaguely spiritual memoir.

Pros: I found Kit Kat and Lucy to be a pleasant listen, but not necessarily a compelling one. As a certified cat lady I found many similarities between Kit Kat and Lucy and cats I have known. I especially liked that DuPont’s stories span the cat's entire lives, not shunning the bittersweet moments at the end.

Cons: The audio book could not hold my attention. I found the story slow going at points and DuPont's reading was not as emotive as I'd have liked.

Kit Kat and Lucy: The Country Cats Who Changed a City Girl's World by Lonnie Hull DuPont (ChristianAudio, 2016)


Nature Guides to Your Backyard

A year or so ago, a friend moved to a more rural part of Connecticut and, ever since, has been very "What's this bird?" and "Do you know what this plant is?" and so I thought I'd talk about two of my favorite nature guides I use to identify "weird shit" I find in my yard or neighborhood, because we didn't all grow up in nature-knowledgeable families or do scouting.

Birds of Connecticut Field Guide is my go-to book for bird identification. I recommend it whenever I hear someone is looking for a good, local bird book and I've even bought copies to give as gifts. It's a small book, perfect for carrying in your handbag or coat pocket, with lots of full color photographs identifying 120 of the most common birds to live in or visit Connecticut. The book groups birds by color -- "birds that are mostly brown" for example. Skim through the section until you find a picture of the bird you're looking for. Every entry for every bird is accompanied by a little map of Connecticut, showing where you are likely to find that bird in the state as well as dietary information, descriptions of nesting habits, etc. But, really, it's the photos that make this book. I see a lot of "birds that are mostly brown" in my area and many are similar-looking, but the Birds of Connecticut Field Guide has made their individual identities clear to me.

Birds of Connecticut Field Guide by Stan Tekiela (Adventure Publications, 2000)

I love the National Audubon Society Regional Guide to New England because it handily identifies such a variety of things -- birds, trees, insects, etc -- that I am likely to encounter in my part of the country, removing a need for multiple guidebooks. The photos are very good and, plant-wise, I've never had a problem mapping what I see in the woods or yard to what is depicted in the book. The descriptions, while explanatory, are succinct so sometimes I do require supplementary information in the form of a library book or journal article. I don't usually carry this book with me when I go out -- it's a bit larger than the Birds of Connecticut Field Guide and does not fit so nicely in my coat pocket, but I tend to take a lot of photos with my cellphone of whatever looks interesting and the guide helps me identify the plants/trees/insects when I get home.

National Audubon Society Regional Guide to New England (Knopf, 1998)


Under the Paw by Tom Cox

Earlier this week, when I awoke from yet another post-op nightmare, all sweat-soaked and heart pounding in the wee hours of the morning, I knew the only remedy was a hearty dose of The Bear, Ralph, and company.

I'd read Tom Cox's 2013 The Good, the Bad, and the Furry a little over a year ago and loved it so much I ordered his Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man and Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond from Book Depository. And then I kept putting off reading them. Not because I suddenly found I was sick of cat stories (is such a thing possible when you home four cats?) but because I'd enjoyed The Good, the Bad, and the Furry so much that I wanted to save the others up for when I most needed a funny-but-sometimes-poignant-and-always-gentle read.

Under the Paw is an engaging memoir of the author's life with cats -- from the cats of his childhood to the seven cats of the Upside Down House. Cox has thrown in a fair bit about his parents, work, and love life to balance out the pure catcentricness of the story, but the cats are still very much the meat of it. If you're already a Cat Person, you're going to want to read Under the Paw. If you're not a Cat Person ... go read one of Cox's golf books (how about Nice Jumper?) and come back and tell me about it.

As with The Good, the Bad, and the Furry, there are plenty of laugh-out-loud funny bits and a pleasing lack of mawkishness. Cox's cats aren't romanticized Disney-esque cuddlykins, but proper cats who pee in inconsiderate locations and leave bits of prey around. They are cats I feel I know (most likely because I see some of my own cats' behaviors in them).

My only complaint is the same complaint I had with The Good, the Bad, and the Furry -- reading would have been improved by the inclusion of large (preferably, color) photos of the cats. Edie Mullins' illustrations are charming and I especially enjoyed the one of Ralph hissing at the swan, but a book about cats (imho) needs lots of pictures of those cats.

Talk To The Tail by Tom Cox (Simon & Schuster UK, 2011)


How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life

I’m a sucker for day-in-the-life books that set down the minutiae of everyday life in times – the more detailed the better. (My teenage discovery and subsequent serial re-readings of What Jane Austen Ate and Charles Dickens Knew is very much to blame for this).

No surprise then, that I snatched up a copy of Ruth Goodman’s How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life as soon as I clapped eyes on it. And it was delightful. For me, it is the perfect bedtime read – right up there with Flora Thompson's trilogy Lark Rise to Candleford -- in that while it is full of fascinating, delicious detail begging to be shared it is nicely broken up so that I can easily put it down and take it back up again without feeling I need to reread previous pages. (Although I do reread, because reading about morning calisthenics is just as good as doing them, right?).

I regret that the continuous desire to share excerpts of How to be a Victorian with The Husband as he lay in bed with me trying to read his book put a strain on our marriage ... but that did not deter me. And he eventually learned to put down his book (with poor grace) and be regaled with the history of public baths and wash houses or the development of marble-stoppered carbonated drinks (Victorian marble soda! Fabulous!).

How to be a Victorian is a delicious blend of research, analysis, and actual experience. Goodman is a British freelance historian who performed/prevented in several historical docudramas (which I now need watch) and as such has tried many of the activities and behaviors she writes about -- giving an already fascinating book an added layer of interest. It’s one thing to read that hair oil could be made of fats like lard or beef-marrow and perfumed, it’s another thing altogether to read that the author had herself created a perfectly functional product using a simple recipe calling for olive oil, alkanet root, and bergamot oil. (Yes, I was half-tempted to go out and try this).

For all that How to be a Victorian is fun and fascinating it does not romanticize the era. Almost everyone was cold and hungry and poor. People believed seemingly improbable things about hygiene and disease. But it’s how the world was and it’s good to know, if only so we can feel smug about the germ theory of disease and modern plumbing. Most likely people living in the twenty-third century, reading about daily life in the United States in the twenty-first, will feel equally smug.

Go, read Goodman's How to be a Victorian. And then come back and talk with me about it!

How to be a Victorian: a Dawn-to-Dusk Guide to Victorian Life by Ruth Goodman (Norton, 2014)


The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow

Martin Windrow, smitten with his sister-in-law's owl, chooses to adopt an owl, Wellington, of his own and keep it in his south London flat. Perhaps unsurprisingly, that doesn't go well and it comes as some relief to Windrow when Wellington escapes. There's also some guilt and sorrow at the loss, understandably, but none of that stops Windrow from optimistically adopting another owl some time later.

This time he does it "right" by adopting a very young owl who has been hand-reared by humans since hatching and so thinks humans are pretty okay. This owl is Mumble, the owl who liked so much to perch on the bust of Caesar (Germanicus not Augustus). Her story is charming. Funny. Sad. And a little ... disgusting.

Yes, The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar has "awwww" and "ewww" in equal measure. And even the "ewww" is oddly delightful. It's clear Windrow dearly loved Mumble and spent a good deal of time learning not just about her and her foibles, but all about owls in general. Throughout the book, Windrow interweaves the natural history of owls with his personal observations and day to day experiences with Mumble, and its fascinating stuff.

My only quibble with this book is a small but persnickety one. Simply put, the title is misleading -- there's no mention of Mumble sitting on the bust of Caesar until well toward the end of the book. Mumble isn't even shown sitting on Germanicus on any of the cover variants. Why this title, then? Unless it was to appeal more to the readers of the Windrow's military histories? Or maybe the title just gave Windrow a warm feeling and that's quite enough for anybody so stop being so critical, you horrible woman?

The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar: Living With A Tawny Owl by Martin Windrow (Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2014)


Top 10 Tuesday: For The Birds

This week's Top Ten Tuesday is a freebie! As I have become quite obsessed with the birds that visit our feeders, I've created a list of nonfiction books for bird lovers. I've actually only read three of the nine books on the list, but the other six are books I do want to pick up. Eventually. When my TBR pile isn't already threatening to consume the house.

  • The Bluebird Effect: Uncommon Bonds with Common Birds by Julie Zickefoose
  • Bright Wings: An Illustrated Anthology of Poems About Birds ed. by Billy Collins
  • H Is For Hawk by Helen Macdonald
  • A Hummingbird in My House: The Story of Squeak by Arnette Heidcamp
  • The Owl Who Liked Sitting on Caesar by Martin Windrow
  • The Penguin Lessons: What I Learned from a Remarkable Bird by Tom Michell (out in October)
  • Providence of a Sparrow: Lessons from a Life Gone to the Birds by Chris Chester
  • Red-Tails in Love: Pale Male's Story -- A True Wildlife Drama in Central Park by Marie Winn
  • Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O'Brien


The Good, the Bad, & the Furry by Tom Cox

That wee daisy just gives The Bear a certain je ne sais quoi, you know?
My cats would freak out … and then eat the flower.

I don’t know how long I followed @mysadcat on Twitter before I realized there was a “proper person” behind it or that person was Tom Cox, columnist for the Guardian, but when I did I (of course) went hunting down his books. The Good, the Bad, and the Furry was the first one I stumbled across and the cover alone was enough to make me snatch it off the library shelf and start gobbling it down at lunch.

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is a delightful episodic collection of misadventures in catpacity. Some of the episodes are poignant and sad (Janet!), but most are just absurdly funny. Indeed, I found myself laughing aloud quite often while reading this book and I took to reading it, a section at a time, just before bed (with one or two cats snoozing beside me) as mood-booster and guarantee against bad dreams.

Mind you, I currently have four cats and am, therefore, strongly inclined to enjoy feline-theme nonfiction like The Good, the Bad, and the Furry and James Herriot's Cat Stories. Obviously, if you aren’t that keen on cats, then your level of enjoyment may vary. Which is not to say The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is 100% cat. No, it’s just as much about parents (his weird-but-wonderful dad TALKS LIKE THIS and keeps a toad in his shoe), his falling-apart house in Norfolk, and love. But the cats knit it all together.

My only complaint about The Good, the Bad, and the Furry is that I wish the publisher had splashed out a bit for glossy, full color photos. The black-and-whites are, frequently, too small and grainy for good detail. Surely handsome, condescending Ralph deserves a high-quality fashion shot?

Cox has written two other books about his cats, Under the Paw: Confessions of a Cat Man and Talk to the Tail: Adventures in Cat Ownership and Beyond, but neither are available at a Connecticut public library... and they’re already out of print in the US. You know what that means, right? My January 2016 end-of-the-no-book-buying-challenge Book Depository shopping binge just got that much bigger. Hooray.

The Good, the Bad, and the Furry: Life with the World’s Most Melancholy Cat by Tom Cox (St. Martin’s Press, 2013)


Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe

1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)


Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, & GPS Technology by Caroline Paul

As much as I love cats, I usually avoid kitty lit as I tend to find it mawkish and twee as all get out. While Lost Cat is a genuinely moving, Paul’s voice is more tart than treacly and there’s a thick thread of humor running through her account of Tibby’s wanderings. MacNaughton’s illustrations are whimsical and fun without being cute. Charming, I think, is probably the best word to describe Lost Cat.

Anyway, I have four indoor-outdoor cats (although several are definitely more indoor than outdoor at this point in their lives) and I can happily (and quite obliviously) bore the pants of people talking about the shenanigans they get up to, so I can totally get Paul’s need to obsess over Tibby’s first disappearance and then engage in a long course of espionage when Tibby continues to wander.

Indeed, Lost Cat really made me want to start tracking my own cats and so I’m working hard on coming up with a reasonable explanation for spending all our monies on a GoPro -- especially as I know our cats will never tolerate a harness for it. (If you want to mount a GoPro on your cat(s), then watch Chuck Green tell you how to make a harness).

Lost Cat: A True Story of Love, Desperation, and GPS Technology written by Caroline Paul w/ illus. by Wendy MacNaughton (Bloomsbury USA, 2013)


Furry Logic: A Guide to Life’s Little Challenges by Jane Seabrook

Utterly charming volume of beautiful watercolor illustrations paired with some real eye-roll worthy adages. The expressions on the animal’s faces and their body language redeem them adages somewhat and, indeed, I think I’ll go so far as to say that the book would be completely forgettable without the illustrations.

Seabrook, in her “Artist’s notes” at the back of the volume, writes that she used a tiny single-hair sable brush to paint each watercolor, building up layers of color and detail as she went. It’s astonishing to think of the amount of work that must have go into rendering each animal! It makes me wish the illustrations were bigger or that Furry Logic came with a magnifying glass so that I could more closely examine them.

I read this at lunch on a Monday and I freely admit that, not only did I laugh out loud at some of the animals, my afternoon seemed much better than it should have. Note to self: start adding a little cute to Monday lunches.

Furry Logic: A Guide to Life’s Little Challenges by Jane Seabrook (Ten Speed Press, 2004)


Shackleton: Antarctic Journey by Nick Bertozzi

Shackleton: Antarctic Journey was an excellent, albeit slim, introduction to Sir Ernest Shackleton's 1914-1917 trans-Antarctica expedition. Rather than telling the story step-by-step over hundreds of pages, Bertozzi has chosen to tell the story through a series of short scenes which stress not the patriotic majesty of the expedition but rather the smaller, more intimate personal stories -- forced to abandon ship, they discard their scientific equipment (too heavy to carry), but keep a banjo; one of the crew members goes bicycling among the penguins; they kvetch about rations, etc -- that create a sympathy for and interest in the crew, that a broader story might not.

What I still find fascinating was that, despite the hardships and travails, no-one from the Endurance was lost on the expedition! Yes, the expedition utterly failed to attain its goal of traversing Antarctica, but everyone came back alive. That is no small thing. And, it was quite depressing, upon reading the afterward, to then discover that several of the men returned home only to be killed in World War I. (Also, I now require a companion graphic for the relief ship, the Aurora, because Shackleton barely touches on them but the Afterward suggests they had a wretched time of it, too).

If you're looking for a meaty work full of biography and background, Shackleton isn't it. And that's fine, because there are already lots of Big Books on Shackleton to choose from. It's an excellent introduction and will, no doubt, lead many curious readers on to larger works. Certainly, if I'd read this when I was twelve, I would probably have cleaned my school library out of books on Shackleton and Antarctic explorations.

Shackleton: Antarctic Journey written & illus. by Nick Bertozzi (First Second, 2014)


Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, & Birutė Galdikas

Primates is a graphic nonfiction recounting the experiences of three great primatologists -- Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas. I admit I was completely unfamiliar with Galdikas' work with orangutans, which is deeply embarrassing as orangutans are some of my favorite primates (and not just because of the Librarian).

Wicks' illustrations are lovely -- clean and uncluttered, but rich in emotional depth and nuance. One of my favorite illustrated moments was when Fossey sees mountain gorillas for the first time. Wicks' handling of such an emotionally charged moment is perfect.

I was, however, a bit disappointed by the text as Primates felt much too short and moved much too quickly, leaving out a lot of detail about the women's lives and research. Indeed, Primates sometimes felt like there was too much Leakey and not enough Goodall, Fossey, and Goldikas. I understand Leakey made a good linking character as he helped them all start out, but (considering the length of the book) he just seemed to get in the way of their stories and interrupt the rhythm of the book. Or, maybe, it's just that I didn't think much of Leakey.

(I shared Primates with The Husband and he said "It was cute! But, you know, very 'read this and learn stuff'").

Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Birutė Galdikas written by Jim Ottaviani with illus. by Maris Wicks (First Second, 2013)


Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969

After reading Ann Bannon’s Odd Girl Out, I wanted to know more about lesbian pulp fiction and ended up borrowing Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 through my library system.

The book presents 200 lesbian pulp paperback covers arranged into ten sections, including "Bi, Bi, Love," "Cleavage," "Sleaze," and (my favorite) "Cliterature." Obviously, the covers are generally quite trashy – sexy underwear, dishevelment, cleavage, longing looks. Delicious eye candy, really, and hard to take seriously … except I can’t help but presume they were read with some desperation by lesbians looking for hints of themselves.

And that makes me sad. But don’t let my sadness deter you from hunting down a copy! The book is overwhelmingly fun and entertaining. Not a book club book, obviously, but a great display book or conversation piece. To balance out the fluff, there’s a foreword by Ann Bannon (Odd Girl Out, etc.) in which she talks about how little the covers had to do with the works they contained or even the reality of the day.  For the publishers, of course, it was about moving inventory and making money. They simply weren’t interested in the reality of lesbianism or marketing to the ladies. But, obviously, lesbians managed to find them and buy them, anyway.
Because, despite all the care devoted to developing cover art that would activate male gonads, women learned to recognize what was a nascent literature of their own by reading the covers ironically. If there was a solitary woman on the cover, provocatively dressed, and the title conveyed her rejection by society or her self-loathing, it was a lesbian book … And if a lone male, whether looking embarrassed, hostile, or sexually deprived, appeared with two women, you had probably struck gold.

Perhaps even better than the frequently over-the-top covers are the blurbs:

"There are no men in a women’s prison, but there is plenty of sex. Laura found this out the hard way, as the Lesbian wolves began to stalk her." (Degraded Women)

"Every parent should read this shocking novel of adolescent girls who first tolerated vice – then embraced it – then could not live without it . . . !" (Private School)

". . . boldly probes the problem of the frigid woman, forced by her own desperation into unnatural paths!" (Warped Desire)

"A bold new look at an old transgression . . . portraying the frightening spread of lesbianism among the white women of modern-day America . . . !" (By Love Depraved)

"Marriage didn’t mean a thing to woman who bedded her friend’s husbands and feasted on lonely wives." (Deviate Wife)

*fans self*

There's also a small bibliography and list of resources in the back for those who are interested in collecting lesbian pulp or simply knowing more about it. Alas, the book was published in 1999, so ymmv with the online resources.

I wish someone would sell movie-poster-sized reprints of these covers as I would love to hang a few in my home! Until then, there’s hours to be frittered away at, an excellent archive of lesbian paperback artwork.

Strange Sisters: The Art of Lesbian Pulp Fiction, 1949-1969 by Jaye Zimet (Penguin, 1999)


The Roses of Elizabeth Park

Elizabeth Park, America's oldest municipal rose garden, is one of my favorite places to visit in the summer as its gardens are both beautiful and welcoming. Indeed, The Husband and I have passed many a happy hour on a sunny bench amidst the roses, watching small children romp and obsessive photographers fidget. No surprise then that I immediately snatched up The Roses of Elizabeth Park when I chanced upon it at my library. The spring has been a cool, wet, gloomy one and I desperately needed what this book could offer -- page after page of beautiful summer roses.

The Roses of Elizabeth Park is very much something you'd want to leave on your coffee table to browse through with a nice mug of tea and a rose catalog. If you're going to do that, though, it would probably a good idea to set a budget first as reading this book made me positively itch to dig up our entire side yard and turn it into a beautiful rose garden with arches and gazebo.

The Roses of Elizabeth Park starts begins with a brief explanation of how Elizabeth Park came to be -- how the land came to be bequeathed to the City of Hartford, how the garden was first designed and later extended, and how it continues to exist thanks to the City and The Friends of Elizabeth Park. This introduction is then followed by page after exquisite page of roses. If I had to pick a favorite, I think 'Camaieux' would be my choice but that's today. Tomorrow it might well be 'Orange Triumph.' And 'La Reine' the day after that.

Peppermint Roses

Raspberry & White Against the Sky

Roses & Arches

(Elizabeth Park isn't just roses -- there are also beautiful perennial, herb, rock, and annual gardens).

The Roses of Elizabeth Park by Alice Prescott Whyte (Blurb, 2009)


It's in the Bag and Under the Covers: Stories of Dating, Intimacy, Sex, & Caregiving About People with Ostomies

So you poop in a bag and you want to know if what you feel about that is "normal?" You're either going to end up on the Internet or at your public library, looking for information about what it means to be an ostomate. Not the nitty-gritty medical stuff -- doctors cover that pretty well -- but the messy emotional stuff about relationships and intimacy your doctor might have given you a not-really-helpful brochure about. (Mine had a middle-aged couple walking hand-in-hand on a beach. I was nineteen. It did not make me feel better about my new self).

Should you end up at your library, ask your nice reference librarian to interlibrary loan this book for you. Should you end up on Amazon, go ahead and buy it ... then donate it to your library when you're done with it.

Truly, I found It's in the Bag and Under the Covers to be a very helpful, informative, and encouraging book. The book is a compilation of true stories contributed by members of so you're guaranteed a healthy dose of real people talking about what it is really like to live with an ostomy. Some stories are funny, some are sad, and some had my nodding along saying "that! that is exactly how it happened for me, too!"

(Basically, we are all beautiful, sexy creatures and people who really like us and want to make beautiful sexytimes with us won't care about how we go to the bathroom).

It's in the Bag and Under the Covers: Stories of Dating, Intimacy, Sex, & Caregiving About People with Ostomies by Brenda Elsagher (Expert Publishing, 2011)


Day 30: Favorite Coffee Table Book

For a long time now, I've dreamed of growing a Shakespeare garden planted with flowers and herbs from the works of William Shakespeare -- poppies, pansies, primroses, violets, carnations, cowslips, roses, rosemary, rue, daffodils, irises, columbine, marigolds, etc. Alas, creating such a garden takes more energy, time, and money than currently available to me so I make do with the fabulous coffee table book, Shakespeare's Flowers by Frances Owens.

Shakespeare's Flowers consists of not much more than single or double page spreads of beautifully photographed flowers accompanied by a relevant Shakespearean quotations. "Nay, by my faith, I think you are more withholding to the night than to fern seed for your walking invisible" from Henry IV, Part I next to an exquisite closeup of a tightly coiled fiddlehead fern, for example. It's all beautifully put together and I can't see anyone not oohing and ahhing.

Here's flowers for you;
Hot lavender, mints, savoury, marjoram;
The marigold, that goes to bed wi' the sun
And with him rises weeping: these are flowers
Of middle summer, and I think they are given
To men of middle age.

-- The Winter's Tale (4.4.122-7)


Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss -- and the Myths and Realities of Dieting by Gina Kolata

In this fascinating and (dare I say unputdownable?) book, Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss, New York Times science writer Gina Kolata analyzes the history of popular diets and body-image standards in the United States. She concludes that, while the medical and diet industries are unlikely to cure The Death Fatz, a better understanding of why we're fat can teach us how to find and maintain our natural (versus a socially constructed unlikely “ideal”) weight.

Kolata frames the story of weight-loss in America with a two-year clinical weight-loss study she sat in on at the University of Pennsylvania comparing the low-fat, low-calorie LEARN (Lifestyle, Exercise, Attitudes, Relationships, Nutrition) diet with the low-carb Atkins diet. At the study's end in 2006, Kolata reports, the participants demonstrated a standard pattern of weight-loss -- initial success, followed by setbacks, with most participants ending up about as fat as when the program began.

And that is a point that is made over and over again in Rethinking Thin -- despite what the medical and diet industries may claim, most dieters will not lose a significant of weight and/or keep it off for a long time. While diet and exercise are frequently cited as the solution to The Death Fatz, studies discussed in Rethinking Thin show they aren't always effective and that fat people who attain their "ideal" weight frequently can’t maintain it. Not won’t, but can’t.

Rethinking Thin: The New Science of Weight Loss -- and the Myths and Realities of Dieting written by Gina Kolata & read by Ellen Archer (Tantor Audio, 2007)


Great Speeches on Gay Rights

Perhaps the Right is right about something. We stand for the end of the world as we know it. We call for the end of racism and sexism and bigotry as we know it. We call for the end of violence and discrimination and homophobia as we know it. We call for the end of sexism as we know it.

We stand for freedom as we have yet to know it. And we will not be denied.

-- excerpted from Urvashi Vaid's "Speech at the March on Washington," Washington DC, April, 25, 1993, as published in Great Speeches on Gay Rights (Dover, 2010)
Great Speeches on Gay Rights might not provide as thorough an overview of lgbtq rhetoric as, say, Ridinger's Speaking for Our Lives: Historic Speeches and Rhetoric for Gay and Lesbian Rights, 1892-2000 (Routledge, 2004), but is much more affordable and more easily acquired. Seriously, for a mere $3.50, you too can cry your way through over a century of lgbtq struggles and victories.

(What I'm really waiting for is the day Library of America publishes Reporting Gay Rights or Gay Speeches. I expect it to happen in my lifetime, but then I expect a lot of things to happen in my lifetime, cock-eyed optimist that I am).


Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester

I read a lot of Heyer's romances and regularly come across phrases or descriptions I must puzzle out either by sifting through websites or searching the reference section of my library. It's not a big deal -- I'm have a great love of useless trivia -- but I've frequently wished for a little guide I could quickly thumb through to find my answer. And, lo, my wish has been granted!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World is divided into fourteen chapters with many black-and-white illustrations scattered throughout. Chapters cover everything from the social ladder to postage to vowels and all points between. The appendix of cant and common phrases is very welcome as is the timeline of contemporary events -- as with Austen, I find it easy to forget that these stories do not occur in a bubble.

The index is very well laid and is arranged both by subject and, interestingly, by novel. Theoretically, you could read all the notes on The Black Sheep in one go before you even started the book! (I'm not sure why you would want to do this, but you could).

The book itself is a fairly attractive trade paperback designed, I presume, by Sourcebooks to blend with the Heyer Regencies it has already republished. It is, perhaps, a bit too pink for my taste, but I have never been very fond of pink.

And while, yes, much of the information contained in this volume can be found on the Internet or in your library, it is much more pleasant to have it all neatly arranged in one location!

Georgette Heyer's Regency World by Jennifer Kloester (Sourcebooks, 2010)


The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove

In 2006, Erway realized that much of the food she was eating out at NYC restaurants was nothing special (and rather wasteful) so she decided to save money and not eat out, anymore. For two years Erway ate, cooked, and then blogged about the experience at Not Eating Out in NY.

While this book is about not eating out, I wouldn’t say it is anti-restaurant. Erway isn’t saying no-one should eat out and all restaurant should be closed forever, but that we should be mindful of the food choices we make and eat as well as we are able. For many of us, I think, such a lifestyle would require cooking at home.

Anyway, if you’ve ever thought about modifying your eating habits to embrace a more sustainable or greener lifestyle, then this book may appeal. Certainly, I thought it was an inspiring book. I cook a lot , but after reading The Art of Eating In, I’ve been inspired to try new things like home pizza making (so much delicious fun). I’ve even thought about foraging -- I have a request in at my library for Foraging New England and, come spring, I will be dining on purslane and lambs quarters (or not, as I might turn out to be a big coward).

The Art of Eating In: How I Learned to Stop Spending and Love the Stove by Cathy Erway (Gotham Books, 2010)