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Books Read: 2007, #4-7 - Body by Henson, brain by Seuss. [entries|archive|friends|userinfo]
Kelly J. Cooper

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Books Read: 2007, #4-7 [Feb. 17th, 2007|01:34 am]
Kelly J. Cooper
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4. Evenfall - Volume I: Lay Me Down by Pete Stathis
5. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick
6. The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven
7. Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener by Dominique Browning

My thoughts:

4. Evenfall - Volume I: Lay Me Down by Pete Stathis is a creepy little graphic novel.

I think I read most of this before, but it's a tough book to understand. The are two realities, the regular one and the other one. And we don't know if the main character (a 19-year-old girl named Phoebe) is experiencing something nightmarish or if she's going nuts. The alternate reality is by turns terrifying and comical and weird and random.

Volume II is out, and maybe that'll help make some sense of what's going on. Or not. The art is lovely and horrid. I'm not sure what's going on but I like it.

5. The Situation and the Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick

I talked about this book before. It was a Christmas gift from ceciliatan. I really enjoyed it. It was an interesting and absorbing exploration of the persona that autobiographical authors create to tell their own stories. She gives examples of writers who are too close to their work and ones who are too distant from their work and explains how the best writers create the perfect distance and whittle down their own voice to the perfect narrator persona.

It's a slim little book and a seemingly easy read, but it's not a simple read. I mean it's not a tough read, but it's very thought provoking. So I would read bits and then put it aside and think about stuff for a while, then go back to it. Very VERY interesting. I suspect there will be an impact on my writing, but I don't know if it'll be perceptible.

6. The Draco Tavern by Larry Niven

I mentioned Niven's stories a couple weeks ago. I read the entire set. There were a bunch I hadn't read before and it was fun to re-read the rest. This format is definitely a way for Niven to explore ideas. There's a lot more telling than showing, but it works. The stories are interesting. A couple of them, I'm not quite sure I actually got the point. But fun nonetheless.

The only quibble I have with the book is that the order of the stories doesn't seem to quite follow the order of time passage in the version of reality Niven created for the Draco stories, especially the last few stories.

But otherwise, I really enjoyed the collection.

7. Paths of Desire: The Passions of a Suburban Gardener by Dominique Browning

This book was also a Christmas gift, from kimberlogic, and it was an intriguing read. Browning's been the EIC of House & Garden since 1995, so you sort of expect her to be an expert. So it's weird when she's not. Or not exactly. The books is a retrospective on the life of her garden and its intersection with her own life. It's also a meditation on the surburban garden (as opposed to the country or city garden).

Unfortunately, she's got a bad habit for being very twee. She gets divorced early in the book and shortly after begins to refer to her new boyfriend as The True Love. Her three closest female friends are The Three Graces. And the people she brings in to do the professional work on her garden she calls The Helpful Men and she defers to them considerably. There's a lot of helpless female stuff there that's pretty annoying.

On the other hand, the books is absolutely inspirational. She works through her process of design, re-design, experimentation, long-term care, and disaster recovery. She admits to failure, which is wonderfully freeing. She talks about how hard it is to manage getting continuous bloom (where you plant flowers such that every day of every week of every month in the growing season you've got flowers in bloom - that's really hard). She talks about pulling out plants, rearranging whole sections of plantings, getting sentimental about pretty weeds and old trees.

I think the most important realization I got from this book is that gardening is both utterly simple and really hard. To make things look like you want them to, to bend nature to your will, to simply learn the names of things, to figure out where the shade is and where the sun shines on your property, to know your soil (its pH, its coarseness, its content), to recognize any weird wind or local factors and THEN to correlate all of that information (much of which changes with the season and shifts over the years) back to the tens of thousands of plants there are in the world and just PICK a couple that'll work in a given spot is damned hard.

So it's ok if I'm not good at it. It's ok that despite trying to figure this stuff out for a couple of years that I'm still lost. IT IS OK. Anybody can put a plant in the ground. Most plants will survive. But to get things to look outside of your head like you imagine them inside of your head is a challenge that can take decades to learn (although it can be quite a nice way to pass the time).

And there's a certain occasional shrillness in the beginning of the book that mellows a LOT by the end. She has laid out her process and gotten to that place of near perfection that leaves a person almost giddy with satisfaction. She definitely nails that perfect distance with the voice of her persona, per Gornick.

Let's end with a quote from Browning:
    Landscape designers sometimes talk about "desire paths": the paths traced by people's habits of movement from one place to another, the paths that make clear where we want to go, and how we want to get there. Regardless of the paths laid down by the professionals who have designed a park, say, or a public garden, people will cut their own convenient, or pleasurable, ways through yards and meadows and fields, leaving behind trampled grass or dirt footpaths that indicate the route they insist on taking. The professional designer, setting out to reorganize a landscape, ignores these markers at his peril. You can see paths of desire everywhere: slicing across the grassy median strips in parking lots; traversing playing fields; wending through city parks. Our own footsteps etch our desires into the ground.

Good stuff!

[User Picture]From: lillibet
2007-02-17 11:52 am (UTC)
Twee! You said twee! :)

Sounds like you've been doing an interesting mix of reading. Thanks for sharing your thoughts on these.
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[User Picture]From: kjc
2007-02-18 02:49 am (UTC)
I said twee! I love twee. It's much better than cutesy, which doesn't have the right edge.

And you're welcome! Thanks for reading.
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