Posts Tagged ‘Garden Lunacy: A Growing Concern’

In sharing the favourite bits from what I read during staycation, I also share a form of autobiography because what we take for keeps from a book has everything to do with who we are.  Apologies in advance for the text being wonky in some of the photos.  It’s hard to get a flat page with one to three cats on one’s lap.

1-3 January 2015


On the recommendation of Kathleen Shaw.

I thought I was pretty well read on the topic of racism, but I learned so much more about the migration from the south.


The book is long, and I can but advise that especially if you live in the USA, you would benefit from reading it.  It is dense with information imparted in a readable way with lots of personal stories.

4 January, 2015


Short stories, going back to the beginning of the career of one of my favourite authors.

 I was moved this passage in “The Mightiest Mornings” about a man who moved to small town.  He has fallen under suspicion because of taking walks with Freya, a young girl from the wrong side of town (walks that seemed innocent to me, the reader).  Early in the story, he had rhapsodized about his happiness in his daily routine of feeling welcome at his boarding house and the small town shops and Mac’s café.  Now he has come to know the perils of small town gossip and how being shunned can alter a person’s self image.  He had given up and is moving away:

His thoughts foundered in an emotion he could not at once identify.  It felt like guilt,  But what was he guilty of?  Why had he not been good enough? Why was so wrong with him that  his best efforts had not made him fit in the town?  His mysterious fault seemed to date further back even than New York, and to be something over which he had no control, and could never grasp and cast out of himself.  Then, in an instant, his half  vision was cut off, and he felt the guilt and its cause both sealed in him once more.

He faced about and began walking with fast weak steps.  He went back to the quiet dirt road that led almost to the factory before it turned and went northward beside the river, away from Clement.

What hurt was the sense that it had been almost avoidable, the sense of the destruction in the very act of his leaving.  The town was crumbling at every step, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard, the Dandy Diner, all the fine trees that grew among the houses, Mrs. Hopley’s [boarding] house and his room, all the fine things he had somehow ruined.  ….The river, the railroad, the men climbing in slow steps up the slope from the factory, the noonday whistle, the good meals served by Mac’s hands, the mornings in his big room and with them the joy in his existence and the sense of the eternal potential.

He walked until he had lost the river, until the sun changed its position, not knowing where he walked except that the town was at his back.  His feet swished dismally through high grass.  Then he tripped and was too tired to catch himself.  The stillness was delicious.  The river, the railroad, the facade of Trevelyan Boulevard passed in pictures before his eyes.  The grizzled old men, the church and the hymnals. the railroad, Freya, the knife factory, the bud on the rosebush, the mornings of the eternal potential and the eternal nothing. 

There was a time last summer and fall when I would have walked away from Ilwaco were it not for my garden, and the city and port and post office gardens, which keep us here.

5 January 2015


Kate Llewellyn’s Playing with Water had been recommended to me by blog reader Rebecca of Scene in Our Garden.  Unable to find that one, Allan had got me The Waterlily for Christmas.  I was completely smitten with Kate Llewellyn upon reading it and began tracking down all of her books and ordering them from Australia.  She will get her own blog post after I have read all her memoirs.  (As I write this, I have read seven of them and have two to go.)  Here’s a sneak peek, the moment when I fell madly in love with this author:


6 January 2015


I had fallen behind on the books of another favourite author.  This was a quick read with a theme of one of the topics I think about sometimes, especially during attacks of hypochondria: death and the possibility of an afterlife, and what happens when a loved one dies.  When the main character observes his  Tom Petty and U2 vinyl recordings in his childhood room, I realized I was old.  Stories did not used to use the music of my 20s as childhood memories for characters.  The fact that I seek out large print books from the library when I used to eschew them is another sign.

7 January 2015

A Christmas present from Kathleen

A Christmas present from Kathleen

There is something disconcerting in how this novel contrasts the peace of a Japanese garden and seaside landscape with just hints of the atrocities that the Japanese army was inflicting on China at the same time (1937). I stopped in the middle of the book and read some horrifying articles about the war. It made the peacefulness of the village seem more like a dream. Perhaps the idea is that the average citizens of a country are not the ones who hate each other, as the young Chinese man staying in a Japanese village is for the most part treated with great kindness.  And the garden and nature descriptions are beautiful:


8 January 2015

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

A Christmas present from Montana Mary (the book, that is)

inscribed by the author

inscribed by the author

The book was good. Very good indeed, suspenseful and witty. It is self published which surprised me because it is much better than some commercially published books I have read. I also love the inscription.  I’ve only read two other self published books. One was dreck, one was….adequate. Both were one offs, the only ones said authors published. I’ve read some cosy-type commercially published mysteries that I could not even plow through.  I think this man could get a book deal.  He is clearly able to edit himself well, a trait other self published authors seem to not have.

9-12 January, 2015

It took me several days to get through my next book.


The good weather allowed for some gardening…and the book was over 600 pages long and small print.

She is a favourite of mine, as a section of my bookshelf shows:



Highsmith was difficult and intense.  I wonder if she would have written such dark material had she lived now when she could have been more out as a lesbian.  She was brave and did not hide much of her life but was definitely a recluse in some ways.  For awhile, she lived “in a village so small that a visit to the post office lumbered her with unwanted attention.”


Even I am not that reclusive.

“She drew, she sketched, she made sculpture.  She handcrafted furniture and carved out little statues.  Her notebooks and diaries are punctuated with charts, symbols, line drawings and thumbnail sketches.  She pasted up her own Christmas and birthday cards and decorated the covers of all fourteen of her fat press books with cutouts and letterings of her own devising.  At the end of her life, she tried oil-painting lessons, but quarreled with her teacher.  The teacher said Pat had her own way of doing things.

‘I dabble in all the arts’, Pat wrote in a 1961 quatrain, ‘And make a mess of each./I’m a person of main parts,/With a goal beyond my reach.'”

And I couldn’t even make myself take a watercolour class.

An insightful review by “Jessica” on Goodreads pointed out something about the book that I had not quite been able to put my finger on, even though it bothered me:  “Hence, something as simple as the fact that Highsmith loved to iron her clothes, that some of her story ideas came to her while she was ironing, is met with lots of speculation about Highsmith’s penchant for creased, sharp clothing, and yet (I paraphrase) “Highsmith’s villians were never murdered with an iron as a weapon…”
Schenkar seems oblivious to the fact that many writers get their best ideas while engaged in some mundane chore, be it dishwashing, driving, showering, lawn mowing, as the body is engaged but the mind is not… Any writer could have told her this.
Highsmith, of course, is not just any writer, but Schenkar too often looks for murderous impulses, treating her as if she is evil, practically homicidal.”  True, the book tends to treat everything Patricia does with a dark suspicious eye, probably the same way that Patricia turned a suspicious eye on the motives of her characters.  That’s really why the book was 600 pages long.

I was glad to finish it as I had an enticing selection of books to read next.

Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail!

Four memoirs: Three more Llewellyns had arrived in the mail all the way from Australia, and I had purchased a book by Nick Jaina (a Sou’wester performer) and had another memoir through interlibrary loan.   Dear You might claim to be a novel but I do believe it is a memoir based on knowledge I gained later in my Llewellyn saga.

17 January 2015

After reading four Kate Llewellyn books in a row, I had two easy reads in one day.

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

a quick read, but poignant, of a mother who has dementia

All Gone has many memories of a childhood rich with delicious food.  Recipes included.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.

a cute garden humour book, even though I did not like the scarecrow on the cover.  Too clownlike. Probably on purpose.

The funniest garden humour books I’ve read are Crazy About Gardening by Des Kennedy, Mrs Greenthumbs by the late lamented Cassandra Danz, anything by Dulcy Mahar, The Opinionated Gardener by Geoffrey Charlesworth, and The Gardener’s Year by Karel Kapek. Oh, and Elizabeth and her German Garden.  Even though Garden Lunacy is not as sharp edged as my other favourites.  I think any gardener would enjoy it.  Examples:



Art Wolk opens the world of garden show madness with suspenseful chapters about competitions for best plant.

19-21 January, 2015

On the 19th, I read another memoir: Together, Alone by mystery writer Susan Wittig Albert, acquired through an interlibrary loan. I immediately realized that it would need its own admiring blog entry along with her next memoir (also an interlibrary loan), An Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days, which I read on the 21st..

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

The copy I got of Together Alone had a plain black cover, so I found a prettier one online.

On January 20th, I had finally acquired Playing with Water (from Australia!), the book that had first been recommended me to by my favourite author of this winter, Kate, who will also get her own blog post.  I spent the day in Kate’s world.


On the 21st, I began the excellent Extraordinary Year of Ordinary Days.  Then good weather forced me out into the garden for several days and in the evenings, reading took a back seat to starting up the blog again.  (And we were working our way through some boxed DVD sets of Ruth Rendell Mysteries.)

When I'm not in my reading chair, they are.

When I’m not in my reading chair, they are.

23 January 2015


I was thrilled to get, from the library, the latest Simon Serrailler mystery.  It was a dark one.  They all are.  I read them for the continuing drama of the repeating characters as much as for the mystery.

24-26 January 2015


This had been recommended in a pamphlet about books from the bookstore and library.  I was bored by the fantasy subplot.   I enjoyed the “real” parts of the story and until I realized the plot bogged down in fantasy, I thought it was going to turn out to be a favourite novel of mine.  It took me three days to get through the book (during a time of nice weather for gardening) and I almost gave up but had already put 400 pages (out of 600!) into it. Unable to slog through the “Horologist’s Labyrinth” chapters,  I found a synopsis of the fantasy plot line. I skipped ahead to the last dystopian section (“Sheep’s Head”) and enjoyed the end of the book very much.

27 January 2014


For my last book of January, I delved into a highly entertaining pop psychology book.  In the introduction, the authors wrote “…[in positive psychology], both of us were increasingly put off by the gung ho happiology we often witnessed.  Over the past fifteen years, positive psychology has been transformed from a reminder that “positive experiences are important” to a kind of smiling fascism.”


As someone who sleeps ascetically on a hard foam pad (and who has even worse insomnia in a comfy hotel bed), I was amused by this:


The philosophy of “gung ho happiogy”:


The effects of the struggle to be happy.


This was the passage I found most meaningful:


I was enlightened by the difference between the wanting/liking bias.  Here’s just the beginning of that passage in the book:


I also appreciate their paragraph about not feeling superior about what does make you happy…


…which is why I have recently tried very hard to avoid making snarky remarks about my dislike of football.  The authors are endearingly geeky about what they like, with references to Star Trek, Aquaman, and the number 42.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

They would probably like this poster over my desk.

Perhaps the most useful takeaway that I got from the book was the concept of turning anxiety into excitement:



That could come in very handy.  The second best takeaway I got, other than validation for how I feel about “happiology”, is using the word “takeaway” to describe my favourite bits from a book, as at the end of each chapter the author summaries the “takeaways” about that topic.

In a fascinating chapter called “Recognizing Your Positivity Bias” the authors point out the American habit of smiling.


(Since then, I’ve read two travel books by Kate Llewellyn.  In her memoir about New Zealand travels in 1992, she wrote about American tourists, “The American I hear have usually an immensely polite way of speaking.  In conversation, they are, or appear to be, deeply interested, even concerned, and flattering, while not being actually ingratiating (though I have known that type too) and profoundly hospitable….in the sharing of news, information, and the giving of the heart. I often feel anxious for them.  They seem so open, so unwordly.  I fear they’ll be taken down.”)

I’ve only touched on what The Upside of Your Dark Side has to offer, so have a go at it if you like that sort of book. It would make a good companion piece to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Bright-Sided .

I’d call that a worthwhile month of reading.

Next up: Enjoying two memoirs by Susan Wittig Albert

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