Memoirs, Old and New

My father loved to tell a good story and what made a story good for him was if it was about someone’s life: where it started, what happened, how the person reacted and how it all ended. It was so interesting to hear these stories as a child around the dinner table, but what is equally fascinating is to read someone else’s story of their life in their own words- in their memoir.

indexMany people interchangeably use the terms ‘autobiography’ and ‘memoir,’ but they’re different.  An autobiography is factual and is typically written by famous people. The thing that sets a top memoir apart from other literary works such as biographies or autobiographies is that it includes the personal experiences and first-hand accounts of the author. It feels more personal and can be written by anyone. For example, Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl only discusses key experiences she lived through during the Holocaust, and the effects it had on her as a child.

Some of my favorite books have been memoirs. To me they seem to be divided into two categories: the really funny and the sad, but meaningful. Let’s look at both groups and also some of the latest memoirs published just this year.

index (8)A very gritty but ultimately uplifting memoir written by Liz Murray is Breaking Night: A Memoir of Forgiveness, Survival, and My Journey from Homelessness to Harvard. This is the story of a young girl born to loving but addicted parents who finds herself homeless in New York City. She somehow manages to complete high school even though she must ride the subway at night for a safe, dry place to sleep–thus the title: ‘breaking night’.

index (9)I loved Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight: An African Childhood  by Alexandra Fuller. She was just three when her parents moved from England to what was then Rhodesia. They bought a farm and fought to eke out a living in an environment hostile in more ways than one.
Her prose is simple and compelling, addressing with equal clarity the richness of growing up in Africa and the instability brought on by having hard-drinking, openly racist parents who were fighting on the losing side of Zimbabwe’s war of independence. She gives us a unique view into a moment in history, made accessible and almost normal-seeming from the perspective of a child.

index (12)The Diving Bell and the Butterfly by Jean-Dominique Bauby is a beautiful book. Letter by letter, the Editor-in-Chief of French Elle, dictated his life story with winks despite being totally incapacitated by ‘locked in syndrome’ following a stroke. The diving bell and the butterfly are powerful metaphors that bespeak the triumph of the human will over physical disability of the highest order.

index (13)The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls is a widely read story that illustrates the resilience of children. In the beginning I truly loved the way her parents looked at life, and how the family dynamics were endearing even if life was tough. Later on, when both the father’s alcoholism and mother’s obvious mental illness progressed, things went from bad to intolerable. The sheer tenacity of the kids is amazing. It’s hard to understand the hardships others may have endured, yet reading about it puts you into their shoes. This is an incredible read and I loved it.

index (14)Now for the Funny! I loved The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid by Bill Bryson because it is, after all, Bryson! He is hilarious! He tells of his childhood growing up in the middle of the American century (1951) in the middle of the United States (Des Moines, Iowa) in the middle of the largest generation in American history (the baby boomers). As one of the funniest writers alive, he is perfectly positioned to mine his all-American childhood for memoir gold and here he strikes it rich with this memoir.

index (15)Have you read A Girl Named Zippy: Growing up Small in Mooreland, Indiana by Haven Kimmel? I read it years ago and still smile when I see the cover. I love the narrator’s clear-eyed child’s view of the people around her, and the fact that her memoir tells the story of a different world than most of us know: the mostly idyllic small town of many years ago. Serious issues are hinted at, not avoided, but neither are they dwelled upon. I loved the characterization of Zippy’s family, particularly her father, and also that of her friends, since friends are such a huge part of the universe to a kid in grade school. This book is laugh-out-loud funny and sweet, just like Zippy herself.

index (16)I recently listened to Amy Poehler read her funny memoir called Yes, Please! and that’s the way to ‘read’ this one if you ask me. She is just so funny and hearing it in her voice makes it all the more delightful. If you’re feeling blue and need a lift, or want some good life advice delivered with humor, this’ll do it. This is one of the best comedian-bios I’ve read/listened to yet. Yes, please!

index (1)Clothes, Clothes, Clothes, Music, Music, Music, Boys, Boys, Boys is by Viv Albertine who was in the British punk rock band The Slits. Not only is this a great reflection on an influential moment in time, but there are so many great bits about being a woman, artistic inspiration, and how to keep your identity intact while having a family. My heart was kind of breaking for girls in the first part – the expectations heaped upon them, and the boxes they are expected to stay in. It was a real delight to see her break out of that and bust some stereotypes. When she comes to the realization that she doesn’t need a man to believe in her but rather can inspire herself, it is just a real delight. Read it.

index (19)A fellow librarian recommended Bettyville by George Hodgman who writes about taking care of his 90-year-old mother, Betty, in his hometown of Paris, MO. Hodgman grew up in middle America during a time when the word gay was never spoken aloud. The message he received from everyone but his parents was that he was wrong. His parents avoided the subject altogether. As an adult, he escaped to New York City where he began his career as an editor. But now, years after his father has passed, his mother needs 24/7 care. This book would foster a good discussion in a book club and will be of interest to even those without aging parents.

index (20)Leaving Before the Rains Come is the new one by Alexandra Fuller and has already been highly acclaimed. She writes of her marriage and divorce from Charlie, an American rafting guide. Filled with wise gems like: “The problem with most people is that they want to be alive for as long as possible without any idea how to live,” and “There are no bad words, only bad ways to use good words,” this memoir was powerfully written and inspiring. Alexandra Fuller, both as a woman and as a writer, is a force to be reckoned with.

For these and other great stories to tell around your dinner table, come visit the Everett Public Library!

I Didn’t Expect the Spanish Inquisition!

In one of the greatest Monty Python skits, Cardinal Ximinez of Spain pontificates, “Amongst our weaponry are such diverse elements as fear, surprise, ruthless efficiency, an almost fanatical devotion to the Pope, and nice red uniforms…”

Perhaps this bit of comedy has influenced my books-to-read list. I find myself thinking, “Amongst my reading objectives are forays into such diverse categories as non-fiction and YA, ruthless non-stop reading, an almost fanatical devotion to new books, and snazzy high tops…”

And then I forget everything and read another Perry Mason novel.

Dave BarryBut slowly I am expanding my choice of reading materials. After compiling a list of non-fiction titles I would like to attack, I promptly ignored it and read Live Right and Find Happiness (Although Beer is Much Faster): Life Lessons and Other Ravings from Dave Barry. By Dave Barry. As I ponder the world of non-fiction, it seems odd that humor is classified as part of it. One can certainly write a true story in a humorous style, but conversely, humor can just be made up stuff. This sometimes bothers me at night, interrupting much-needed sleep, but Dave Barry is funny and seldom bothers me (since the restraining order). And sure, there’s not much new under the sun in his approach to writing, but each of his books makes me laugh out loud, which is no mean feat. This collection of essays, ranging from teenage insecurities that never go away to the stupidity of refrigerating mustard and ketchup, kept me figuratively on the edge of my seat rolling on the floor with laughter, and then signaling for help up off the floor.

TinseltownTinseltown: Murder, Morphine, and Madness at the Dawn of Hollywood by William J. Mann
I don’t seek out true crime unless it is exceedingly well-written (In Cold Blood by Truman Capote), educational and fascinating (Breaking Blue by Timothy Egan), or both. I chose to read Tinseltown because I’m starry-eyed about early Hollywood, a time when southern California was still a bit rural, when the status of movie stars and the content of movies were being defined. Here we find the true story of the murder of William Desmond Taylor, president of the Motion Pictures Directors Association. Not a household name in this day and age, nor perhaps during his lifetime, but an important person in Hollywood none the less. This tale is as vivid as any well-penned novel, bringing century-old events to life. We learn a tremendous amount of history, of the growth of the film industry, the control that studios exerted over theatres, and the extreme power wielded by Adolph Zukor. And, somewhat surprisingly to me, of the drug and sex-crazed lifestyles of many of the early movie stars, which of course brought backlash from conservative religious groups. Be warned, this crime remains unsolved. I was looking forward to a nice wrap up with the detective in charge solving the crime some 30 years later, but it was not to be. The author does offer a solution, and it is plausible, but it is still guesswork rather than closure. However, that aside, this is one of the most entertaining, educational and enjoyable non-fiction books I’ve ever read!

AtlantisMeet Me in Atlantis: My Quest to Find the 2,500-Year-Old Sunken City by Mark Adams surfaced next on my random unplanned reading list. I have no particular interest in Atlantis, but this book seemed to be about the people who are interested in Atlantis. Now that I’m nearly finished I find that it’s also about theories, possible locations of Atlantis, and whether or not it was a real place. Amazingly, the only ancient reference to Atlantis was an extensive one made by Plato in two of his later works. As a kid watching cartoons, fictional shows and even documentaries, I thought that Atlantis was a widely documented lost continent, even though its authenticity was in doubt. Now I find out it was mentioned by one person in all of antiquity! Adams interviews philosophers, scientists, and Atlantis enthusiasts in an attempt to find out what’s the hubbub, bub? The author seems to vacillate in what he believes as he encounters one plausible theory after another.

After a year trapped in fiction I am excited to re-encounter the world of reality. The breadth of topics is astounding, and if one can find a good writer, learning becomes fun. I’ll be posting more new non-fiction reads as I continue my quest, so stay tuned!

Erik Larson’s New Book

I’ll read anything by certain non-fiction writers. Timothy Egan has gotten me to read about the dust bowl era in The Worst Hard Time and forest fires in The Big Burn. Susan Orlean has fascinated me with orchids in The Orchid Thief and a German Shepherd dog in Rin Tin Tin. It’s not really the subject, but the writing that captivates.

index (1)

And hey, you guys, the writing of Seattle author Erik Larson really captivates! I have a hold on his newest book Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania and haven’t read it yet but couldn’t wait to share it with you. When a new Erik Larson book arrives, I drop everything and read it. In my opinion, he’s one of the few authors who can make history positively come alive. And his opening note held forth a big promise: “I give you now the saga of the Lusitania and the myriad forces, large and achingly small, that converged one lovely day in May 1915 to produce a tragedy of monumental scale, whose true character and import have long been obscured in the mists of history.”

The book is filled with questions worth asking: why did the Admiralty not provide an escort to the Lusitania, given that the ship carried nearly 2,000 passengers and a vital cargo of ammunition and artillery shells? Why did British intelligence obsessively protect the HMS Orion and provide no protection to the Lusitania? Why did they not divert the Lusitania to the newer and safer North Channel route? And most of all, “why was the ship left on its own, with a proven killer of men and ships dead ahead in its path?” Did the British deliberately set up the Lusitania to force America’s hand to enter the war? Read Dead Wake and find out!

index (2)If you’re stuck in the hold queue for Dead Wake, why not try one of Larson’s earlier books? The Devil in the White City: Murder, Magic, and Madness at the Fair that Changed America reads like a murder mystery, full of suspense, creepy characters and scary settings. It tells the dual tales of the 1893 World’s Fair in Chicago (mostly through the eyes of lead architect Daniel Burnham), along with the sordid tale of H.H. Holmes, one of the first-ever modern serial killers. Holmes built a block-long hotel across the street from the fair which turned out in reality to be a massive multi-floor torture chamber, including secret passageways, dissection tables, and a body-sized gas oven in the basement. He used this location to kill up to perhaps as many as 200 young good-looking single women before he was finally caught. It’s an utterly fascinating, well-done and easily readable book that deserves its reputation and awards.

index (3)In Thunderstruck Larson again weaves a fascinating story of two men, an inventor named Guglielmo Marconi (who raced other inventors and scientists to be the first to find a way to transmit signals wirelessly) and a doctor and murderer named Hawley Harvey Crippen who married an overbearing gold digger in England and then met his true love. Parts of Crippen’s wife’s body were found buried in his basement and he fled with his mistress by boat to Canada. He was captured due to a trans-Atlantic wireless transmission and was tried and hanged in England. The key connector between these two men comes from the critical use of Marconi’s technology in the pursuit of our murderer on the lam.

index (4)In the Garden of the Beasts: Love, Terror and an American Family in Hitler’s Berlin tells the story of Hitler’s consolidation of power in his first year as chancellor of Germany. William E. Dodd was the seventh or eighth choice of candidates FDR proposed for the post of US ambassador to Berlin in 1933. Dodd, in his 64 years, had been a professor of history at the University of Chicago and amateur farmer, and was known for his impeachable integrity and forthrightness, traits that would distance him from the courts of diplomacy. Daughter Martha was 24 years old and estranged from her banker husband. Initially seduced by the resurgence of Germany’s vitality and intellectual and political pursuits, Martha was involved with Rudolph Diels, the first commander of the Gestapo and other Nazi officials who even tried to fix her up with Hitler. Drawing on the diaries of father and daughter, Larson creates what it was like to live in Berlin: to shop, lunch, attend galas and absorb news of Hitler’s maniacal hatred for the Jews and his terrorizing of all who questioned his absolute power.

Larson’s body of work makes for fascinating reading, so don’t hesitate to check out these great books for yourself.

It Came from the 300s

You may have an image of the library, and library workers, as lovers of order and method. While there is definitely some truth in that (it is handy to actually know where a book is located after all) there is also a surprising amount of chaos just underneath the surface.  Take the vaunted Dewey Decimal System for example. The idea is a noble one: assigning all non-fiction work a simple number code based on subject so similar books are grouped together and easy to find on the shelf. Sounds simple, no?

As it turns out (spoiler alert!) it is actually quite difficult to categorize all knowledge into a numbered system. I was reminded of that fact when I recently started ordering for the 300s Dewey range which has the broad subject heading of ‘the Social Sciences.’ While the Dewey Decimal System gets it right more often than not, I was surprised how many times I would scratch my head when faced with a possible purchase and think ‘That book is in the 300s?’ Instead of bemoaning the weirdness, though, it is probably best just to embrace it. Order is great, but chaos can be fun as well. Here are a few of the curious subjects and titles I’ve come across so far.

When History isn’t in History:
Usually history books are safely tucked away in the 900s range. Oddly though, if a book is about a specific ‘group’ it can wind up in the 300s. How or why this distinction is made has never been clear to me, but the important takeaway is for history buffs to keep the 300s in mind. Here are a few examples:

Women’s History & the Suffrage Movement

criminalconversationwheneverythingchangedwomensvotes

African American History & the Civil Rights Movement

redsummerhalfhasneverdowntothecrossroads

Business History

chocolatewarsbeyondthepaledrivinghonda

Military History

lordsoftheskyhistoryofwarlastfullmeasure

History of Crime & Outlaws

tinseltowngentlemenbootleggerslostcause

Spies:
Spies themselves are often out of place in a strange land so maybe it is appropriate that they have a home in the 300s. Whether you like 007 or have been watching The Americans, here are a few titles that might intrigue you.

spyamongfriendslordsofsecrecyspymaster

Recovery from Substance Abuse:
It has always seemed like these titles should be in the health section to me, but hey, the important thing is that we have the books on this important topic.

recoveringbodycleaninsiderehab

Tattoos & Body Art:
Tattoos are a cultural phenomenon so maybe they are now a social science. In any case, we have lots of great books on the subject.

tattootattooartartonskin

Wedding Planning:
Luckily a colleague tipped me off that all things wedding are in the 300s. Who knew? Clearly not me. Keep your eyes peeled for these titles and more to come.

bridalbibleweddingetiquetteweddingceremony

Miscellanea:
No specific topic headings, just a few unique titles that took me off guard.

noiseseveredhowtoreadagraveyard

So, clearly the 300s are more complex and harder to define than I first thought. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship.

Meet Everett’s Boy in the Boat

If you’re like me, you accepted the challenge of reading this year’s Everett Reads! selection, The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. If you’re like me, you became emotionally involved in the story that unfolded during a bleak time in our country’s history. And, if you’re like me, you were surprised to discover that learning about this sport was both exciting and refreshing.

Since we’re so alike, you will be thrilled to read about another boy in the boat. Clinton Seal, teacher at Olivia Park Elementary, heard we were going to ask the community to read a book about his favorite sport. Clinton generously contributed his own memorabilia to be displayed at the Evergreen Branch Library, where his friend Margaret works.

Clinton Seal display

Clinton was kind enough to let me ask him a boatload of questions about rowing and how reading The Boys in the Boat brought him back to the sport he loved after a short hiatus. Everett, meet Clinton Seal.

When did you start rowing?
I started rowing back in the spring of 2001 at Everett Community College. I did track and field at Cascade High School (I was a graduate of the class of 2000) and always thought rowing would be a great sport to try, but both sports overlapped so I never had the chance to row. At the time, there wasn’t a Track and Field team at EvCC, so I joined the crew team. After I graduated, I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s adult masters team and rowed with them for another 8 years before I took a break from rowing in 2011.

What got you into rowing in the first place?
I was walking around the campus at EvCC one spring day and saw a sign on one of the doors that said “We need you on EvCC Crew!” I really wanted to give it a try and had high school friends who rowed, so I thought I’d join the crew team. It was a very small team, and wasn’t even considered a sports team; we were a club. In fact, we didn’t have our own boats or our own boat house. All we had were our own set of 8 oars, which we bought through some fundraising and local car washes. EvCC rented boats from the local Everett Rowing Association located on the Snohomish River and Langus Riverfront Park.

I rowed with the college for two years. I was able to compete in local regattas at Seattle’s Green Lake and Tacoma’s American Lake, as well as Lake Stevens. We also traveled to Dexter Lake near Eugene, Oregon, and I was able to travel to the Pacific Coast Rowing Championships in Sacramento, CA on Lake Natoma while I rowed at EvCC. We won a few races, but rowing with EvCC crew wasn’t about winning, it was more about the camaraderie and friendships made while belonging to the same team and working towards the same goals.

After I graduated from EvCC in the spring of 2002, I still wanted to row so I joined the Everett Rowing Association’s Master’s crew team. This adult team ranges in ages 21 and above. I rowed with ERA masters for another 8 years, rowing in local and regional regattas, traveling to Boston for the Head of the Charles Regatta, and the highlight of my time with ERA, winning 2 gold medals at the 2006 US Rowing Master’s National Championships at Seattle’s Green Lake. Our mens 8+ won both the Club 8+ and A 8+ races that year.

What seat did you have, and with whom did you row?
The EvCC team was a pretty small team. I think at the most we had about 10 rowers. We were lucky to get out in an 8+ on those foggy spring mornings. Mostly we were in 4+s.

When sweep rowing, I’m a starboard, so I usually rowed seat 7 if I was in an 8+ and seat 3 if I was in a 4+.  As I continued on with my rowing career with the ERA masters, most of the time I was in the bow. I’m a skinny guy and have decent technique, so my coaches put me in the bow (seat 1) of our mens 4+ and our mens 8+. You want a lighter rower to be in the bow so it can sit up and slice through the water.

Did it change over time, like it did for Joe Rantz?
I’ve seen a few changes in rowing over the years. The boats I rowed in at the college were nice, but heavy. As the years went by, Everett Rowing Association got some amazingly light and beautiful Pocock racing shells. With their carbon fiber winged riggers, they were modern and fast! As I continued in crew I also picked up sculling. I rowed sweep probably 4 years before I was introduced to sculling with 2 oars. It’s a completely different style and feeling, but I really do enjoy it..

How did you hear about The Boys in the Boat?
I’ve known about The Boys in the Boat for years. I’ve seen its cover on rowing websites, heard fellow rowers talking about it, and recently, my mom read the book last year for her book club. She shared with me a little bit about it and how she thought I would love it and how inspiring it was. To be honest, I don’t do very much reading at all. I’m so active and usually riding my bike in my spare time, that I can’t honestly remember, beside the Bible, what the last entire book I read was. Then, last year, a wonderful family friend, Margaret Remick, gave me a copy of the book and I knew that I needed to finally sit down and read it. The first day I opened the pages last July, I sat in my back yard reading for 7 hours straight! That’s a record for me…I’ve never been so passionate about reading a book as I was “The Boys in the Boat.”

When you read The Boys in the Boat what particularly inspired you to get back into rowing?
Being able to go on this trip with Joe and the rest of those Husky rowers and hear their stories helped me relive my own career as a rower. As they suffered through the pain, the weather, and the mental battle that you face in a rowing race, I instantly thought back to all of my rowing experiences over the last decade, and it reminded me how proud I was of those experiences and the people I shared them with. Some of the best moments of my life were spent in a racing shell. Some of my fondest memories of accomplishment were when I was up on a podium with my crew, accepting our medals.

I really appreciated Mr. Brown’s attention to the art and technique of rowing. It’s such a unique sport, incorporating, strength, skill and artistry; there’s nothing like gliding over water and feeling that connection with your oars and then the run of the boat beneath you. The Boys in the Boat reminded me how special rowing is. It’s hard to describe what it feels like when you and your crew row as one, if you’re describing it to someone who doesn’t row. For those of us who have, it’s a feeling that fills you with wonder and makes you want it even more.  Through Joe’s story and his crewmates’, I remembered what that feeling was like and it inspired me to want it again by returning to crew.

What was your favorite part of the book?
I loved the whole book, especially the history of the era and Seattle at the time, the information about each rower’s family, but I really enjoyed seeing how the Huskies were able to pull through to win the gold medal in Berlin.  A rowing race isn’t over until you cross the finish line. There’s so much that can happen from the time that you start, settle, and then begin your sprint to the finish.  Just because another crew is ahead of you doesn’t mean that they are going to win. Joe’s crew showed how through incredible determination, strength, and focus, sometimes even the improbable can be possible.

Who in the book did you best identify with?
I identified best with Joe. I didn’t have his upbringing, but I felt that I could relate to his spirit of hard work, dedication, and persistence. Whether it was high school track and field, rowing, or cyclocross, I never have felt that any of the sports or activities I’ve chosen to do ever came easily to me. I really could identify with Joe in that I’ve had to work hard to make my reality what I wanted it to be. There’s been periods in my athletic career where I wasn’t the fastest or strongest athlete or the one with the best technique, but after years of dedication and persistence I was able to make my way to the top.

Are you currently rowing?
Yes, I just started back rowing with the Everett Rowing Association this February.

What seat do you have, and with whom do you row?
Now that I’m back at crew with ERA, I row in all sorts of seats. We do a lot of sculling, so the seat numbers don’t relate to starboard or port sides because you have two oars. We’ve done a lot of sculling in a quad and I alternate being in the stern and in the bow.

While rowing with the Everett Community College, my coach was Holly Odell. When I joined the Everett Rowing Association, I was coached by Matt Lacey, Ben Tweedy, Corrie McGrath, Carol Stern, and now recently, Scott Holmgren.

My 2006 National’s Mens A 8+ and Club 8+ crew were (from stern to bow): Al Erickson, Colin McKenna, Adam Van Winkle, Ben Tweedy, Alex Mazick, Aaron, Haack, Dan Morken, myself, and coxswain Michael Welly.

What’s your favorite part about rowing?
I think the best part of rowing is that it is the ultimate team sport. When you are rowing with your pair partner or your whole crew, you have to do everything in unison; your technique needs to be in sync and you need to even think the same way. I really enjoy working together with other people to make a goal possible. While rowing with your crew, you can push yourself to achieve goals you might not be able to push yourself to achieve. Knowing someone is counting on you makes a big difference; you never want to let them down.

Have you ever rowed in the same areas as The Boys?
Yes, I’ve rowed many regattas on Lake Washington and Lake Union. I always feel a sense of pride rowing down on those waters. There’s so much history and prestige associated with that area. It’s special to row through the cut and know all of the crews who have rowed through there over the years.

If you could give a piece of advice to anyone curious about taking up rowing, what would it be?
My advice would be to keep at it even if it’s physically and mentally challenging. There are so many aspects of rowing that even after years in the sport, there’s always more you can learn, more endurance you can gain, and better strokes you can take. It took me years of rowing until I finally got together with a crew of 8 guys to win a National Championship. Not everyone will go to Nationals, but whatever goal you have, whatever race you want to compete in, keep your eye on that goal. It may take a while to achieve, but rowing is a sport that takes total commitment.

What keeps you motivated when you are working so hard out on the water?
If I’m rowing in a single shell, I only have myself to think about: my own technique and my own power application. It will be my fault if I don’t do what I’m capable of and my own celebration if I achieve my goal with a win. But when you row in any other boat, you have your pair partner or your crew to think about. Knowing that other people are counting on me to help the boat go fast is what motivates me to work hard. I never want to let my crew down.

Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Thank you for your interest. I’m just so honored to have this opportunity to share some of my experience about rowing with the community. I never rowed for the UW, Cornell, Harvard, or any prestigious college back east. I’m just a local guy who happened to find a crew club at Everett Community College which led to me joining ERA, learning more about this amazing sport, and taking it to the National level.

Nationals2006

Thanks, Clinton, for taking the time to answer my multitude of questions, and for letting me feature you on the blog! As for me, I’m still an armchair rower (that’s like an armchair traveler, right?) but I do enjoy taking the kayak out occasionally. What kind of commitment can I make? How about saying I’ll see you all on Silver Lake, though don’t be upset if it’s just me waving at you from Emory’s.

Northwest Flower and Garden Show Books

content_15_nwfgs_windermereIf you’re like me, you didn’t make it down to last week’s Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle and even if you did, it’s unlikely that you had time to attend all of the author seminars. Never fear because your local public library has your back. I was pleased to see that the library has almost all of the gardening books that authors were selling at the garden show. Why not just borrow them from the library? It’ll be like you attended the lecture and you can decide whether or not you’d like to purchase your own copy. Here’s a run-down of the hottest new gardening books.

index (5)index (6)Beautiful No-Mow Yards: 50 Amazing Lawn Alternatives and Hellstrip Gardening: Create a Paradise between the Sidewalk and the Curb are both by Evelyn Hadden. These books are your ticket to a wild and crazy front yard. Let’s shake it up, Everett!

index (7)Coffee for Roses is by Cynthia Fornari, a writer, professional speaker, radio host, and self-described “out-of-control plant person.” She looks at 71 common garden practices and uncovers the truth behind the lore. With humor and affection, she goes back in time to sort out the good, the bad and the just plain silly…and tells us why. This book combines gardening history and expert advice into one useful, time and money-saving package. Get those grounds from Starbucks and feed your roses.

index (8)Container Gardening for all Seasons by Barbara Wise provides a shopping list of materials and a helpful planting diagram for each of the more than 100 container options. Designed like a recipe book, the book offers even the most novice gardeners a no-fail, easy-to-follow instruction format for each container. This book includes all you need to know to plan, plant, grow and maintain a container garden.

index (10)Cultivating Garden Style by Rochelle Greayer shows ways to create outdoor areas that are charming, comfortable, appealing, and reflect individuality. It features twenty-three unique garden styles accompanied by advice on how to recreate the look. Simple step-by-step projects, like how to make a macramé plant hanger, help the reader personalize the space. And helpful tips and tricks, including how to pick the right tree and pick the right combination of plants and containers, offer essential lessons in gardening and design.

index (11)Epic Tomatoes by Craig LeHoullier offers everything a tomato enthusiast needs to know about growing more than 200 varieties of tomatoes — from sowing seeds and planting to cultivating and collecting seeds at the end of the season. He also offers a comprehensive guide to the various pests and diseases of tomatoes and explains how best to avoid them. No other book offers such a detailed look at the specifics of growing tomatoes. Savor your best tomatoes ever!

indexEveryday Roses: How to Grow Knock-Out and Other Easy Care Roses by Paul Zimmerman is a complete primer on how to purchase, plant, care for and maintain easy care modern roses. Aimed at gardeners who want the beauty of roses without the fuss, this book offers an approach that is more accessible and environmentally friendly than competing volumes–and no other book in the current market focuses exclusively on modern roses and getting the most out of them.

index (10)Gardening in Miniature: Create Your Own Tiny Living World by Janit Calvo is very, very fun! It’s full of great information for the complete novice in miniature gardening. Calvo gives detailed information on materials and plants and she also gives detailed information for both outdoor and indoor creations. I’m all inspired to see if I can create some of these projects in my own home and garden.

index (11)Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning techniques for Small Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph. I. Cannot. Wait. To grow a little fruit tree. This book makes fruit tree growing sound like a piece of cake. It has simple, precise directions that teach you exactly what and when to cut so that your tree doesn’t overtake you. I like Ralph’s idea that fruit trees are similar to pets – they must be trained if you want them to behave.

indexThe Know Maintenance Perennial Garden by Roy Diblik.  This book explains how knowing (get it?) your plants is the key to a beautiful, low-maintenance garden. This is your ticket to a gorgeous perennial garden packed with color, texture, and multi-season interest. Your yard will look like it was designed by a professional and maintained by a crew if you read this book.

index (1)The Layered Garden: Design Lessons for Year Round Beauty from Brandywine Cottage by David Culp. The author explains the design technique of layering: inter-planting many different species in the same area so that as one plant passes its peak, another takes over. The result is a nonstop parade of color that begins in spring and ends at the onset of winter. As practical as it is inspiring, this book will provide you with expert information gleaned from decades of hard work and close observation and will show you how to achieve a four-season garden.

index (2)Pacific Northwest Garden Tour: The Sixty Best Gardens to Visit in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia  by Donald Olson is a guide to take you to the best public gardens in the Pacific Northwest. Use this guide and its enticing photographs and easy to use format to discover  little-known gems or classic gardens. Everett’s own Evergreen Arboretum and gardens is one of the featured gardens.

index (6)Small Space Vegetable Gardens: Growing Edibles in Containers, Raised Beds, and Small Plots by Andrea Bellamy tells you how to grow your own incredible edibles. This book covers everything you need to know to get growing, from choosing and planting containers, to designing show-stopping edible container displays. It also covers small-space techniques such as succession sowing, vertical gardening, and season extension. This summer you’ll be harvesting a bounty of edibles.

index (4)Timber Press Guide to Vegetable Gardening by Lorene Forkner is a growing guide that truly understands the unique eccentricities of the Northwest growing calendar covering Oregon, Washington, southeastern Alaska, and British Columbia. The month-by-month format makes it perfect for beginners and accessible to everyone – you can start gardening the month you pick it up. Here’s my own advice: plant your peas on President’s Day. Soak them first!

index (7)The Wildlife Friendly Vegetable Gardener: How to Grow Food in Harmony with Nature by Tammi Hartung offers insights into different wildlife issues that commonly arise in the garden, and effective but peaceful ways to address those problems for gardeners wishing to co-exist with wildlife rather than “ban” wildlife. Discover which plants, tools, and remedies can be used to discourage or re-direct critters, repel or distract wildlife, and ways to totally prevent access, without causing harm, to wildlife as a last resort when all else fails.

This is just a smattering of all of the fabulous gardening books available at the library where we bring the Northwest Flower and Garden show to you!

Morbid Curiosity

It’s not that I’m afraid to die, I just don’t want to be there when it happens.  ~ Death (A Play) by Woody Allen

Most of us are fans of denial when it comes to thinking about shuffling off the mortal coil. The idea of dying is at best depressing and at worst terrifying so not thinking about it seems like the healthy thing to do. And yet, if you’re a mass of contradictions like me, you can’t help being morbidly curious about the people whose professions have them dealing with death all the time. Happily, well maybe not happily, there is a small subgenre of memoirs that are from coroners, undertakers, doctors and others that deal with ‘death issues’ on a daily basis. Here are three recent ones that I found particularly illuminating. Do be forewarned though, they contain realistic descriptions of procedures and situations that are not for the faint of heart.

Working Stiff by Judy Melinek and T.J. Mitchell
workingstiffThis is the tale of Melinek’s rookie year as a New York City medical examiner. From suicides, accidents, murders and the much more common ‘natural causes’, the author lays out the particulars of how the bodies she performs autopsies on reveal the manner of death. Despite the gory details, this is not just a cold and calculating CSI type memoir though. She gives everyone involved, both the living and the dead, humane and complex portraits. As she describes her duties you really get a sense of what it must be like to work in a profession where you are confronted with mortality on a daily basis. Layered throughout the book is the classic attitude of realism, gallows humor and humanity that is required to survive in ‘the city’ and that comes in particularly handy in the medical examiner’s office.

Smoke Gets in Your Eyes by Caitlin Doughty
smokegetsinyoureyesWritten by a practicing mortician and host of a popular web series titled Ask a Mortician, this book is an entertaining memoir but also a serious and thought-provoking examination of how society tries to deal with death and the dead. The author recounts, in admittedly gruesome but humorous detail, her introduction to the ‘death industry’ working at Westwind Cremation and Burial in Oakland. As she encounters the methods and tools of the trade (cremation, embalming and the horrifying trocar to name a few) she uses the opportunity to examine the history and social context for each practice. Many interesting conclusions are reached, but a central one is the great lengths we go to as a society to separate ourselves, both physically and emotionally, from the dead and the damage this separation causes.

Being Mortal: Medicine and What Matters in the End by Atul Gawande
beingmortalWhile this book is far less gruesome than the previous two, I found the ideas it presents the most disturbing. Gawande is a practicing surgeon but this is not a memoir about his profession. Instead it is an examination of the disconnect between the medical profession’s view of death as a failure and the inevitable fact that we all die. He cuts through professional jargon such as ‘end of life care’ and ‘assisted living’ by interviewing and telling the stories of those facing the indignities of aging and death and modern medicine’s response to the process. These stories include his father’s decline and they are touching, instructive, and difficult to deal with all at the same time. By confronting the experience head on, however, Gawande gains important insight into how the medical community, and all of us, can actually serve the needs of those facing their final chapter.

Well, after reading these books I guess there is no denying the fact that I’m going to die someday. Wait, I refuse to accept that. I’m sure we will all be fine.