Books for the Global Pandemic
Not books about the global pandemic, mind you. God forbid. Rather, books to get you through the unexpectedly substantial amounts of free time that some of us are experiencing lately.
Here’s what I’ve been reading recently.
Life in the Garden, by Penelope Lively. Lively is a noted British writer and an avid gardener. Life in the Garden is a collection of essays that draw on her immersion in both literature and gardening. The point of this book is the prose – there is no luscious garden photography. The writing is gentle, sometimes with a bit of wry humor, at other times sharply perceptive.
She writes about how gardens themselves are characters of a kind in literature as diverse as The Secret Garden and Paradise Lost. She discusses influential garden writers, their contributions and limitations.
My favorite essays deal with gardening as fashion statement and as marker of social status (sad to say, my love of masses of brightly colored flowers are considered terribly unsophisticated by many). She writes about her own gardening life and her mother’s – and gardeners of all kinds, from the proprietors of grand estates to those growing cabbages and peas in sidetrack allotments.
Planting: A New Perspective, by Noel Kingsbury and Piet Oudolf. This is a book I read a few years ago, but I read it again just now because I couldn’t remember hardly anything from reading it the first time. It is geared primarily to professionals working with gardens on a scale far beyond what is available to the average homeowner.
However, there are gorgeous pictures of gardens designed by Oudolf in Europe and North America. I’m not embarrassed to admit I can spend a lot of time swooning over such photos. There is a useful discussion of plant combinations. In addition, this book helps the reader to consider plants systematically in their many dimensions – maintenance requirements, longevity and aggressiveness, structure and color, stars and supporting cast.
Those of us who are not professional garden designers can get at least a taste of how all those qualities can be woven together to create sustainable beauty in the garden.
Bulb, by Anna Pavord. This is a fun book – if you love bulbs, that is. It’s 500 pages of delicious photographs and the author’s practical and opinionated prose. Allium christophii, for example, “looks like a geodesic dome … extremely showy … still attractive at the end of summer.” The leaves, however, “are a disaster”, and actually A. schubertii is “much more interesting”.
The author dispenses succinct advice on cultivation and companion plants. I’ve gotten as far as Cautleya, and have already learned a good deal. For example, I now know what a Cardiocrinum looks like, and that Anemone coronaria ‘Mr. Fokker’ is sadly not hardy in my garden.
This is really a reference book, not something you plow through for hours at a time. However, it’s an excellent book to pick up every day in order to read about a particular genus or two.
Acqua Alta, by Donna Leon. This is the latest detective series that Judy and I have discovered. The hero investigates cases of all kinds in Venice, Italy. The author seems convincingly familiar with the setting and the sorts of people who live there. This particular book tells of a case from the world of stolen antiquities. Very diverting, as long as you don’t think about what’s going on in that country at the moment.
What have you been reading lately?