Thursday, September 30, 2010

The fuddy duddy and the garden books

I read today that an enzyme catalyzes the hypothesis of starch*. Not that long ago I read "week ones get ait first" as a description of evolution. It's been reported to me that members of Kingdom Animalia differ from members of Kingdom Fungi in that, "Kingdom Animalia is 97% alive."

Being inundated with errors, both of logic and editing, is an everyday part of my job, and has been for many years. Something has changed in the last several months, however, and suddenly I've become one of those cranky editor types both in and away from school. Errors now bother me in my pleasure reading. I circled and crossed-out words on the paperwork I had to complete for my new doctor. When the receptionist entering my data apologized for the "if it if" where "if it is" was intended, instead of assuring her it was no big deal, I pointed her to the line where I was to report any past "insuries"**. I refrained from asking how much longer it would make my appointment if I answered "Has anyone ever hurt you emotionally?" truthfully.
This post is emerging very slowly because I have a karmic sense of the universe. I can't imagine how a post criticizing editing won't lead to future personal humiliation. I am a bad editor of my own work. I am a worse speller. Yet somehow, reading gardening books over the summer, what I noticed was the editing, and I'm going to tell you about it.

The very beautiful coffee table book, The Garden Design Book by Cheryl Merser and the editors of Garden Design magazine, is, like the magazine that inspired it, fun to flip through. It was probably my mistake to try to read it cover to cover. While doing so I found that several sections had no point, that the "lessons" did not much match the "plans" they accompanied, and several (okay, at least two), unexplained and awkward Gertrude Jekyll references.
The table of contents lists chapter titles and a sub-head for each. The first chapter is, "who is the new gardener?" accompanied by, "Hint: It's not Gertrude Jekyll anymore"***.

So a possible convert to gardening opens up the book and sees gardening is not for Gertrude Jekyll anymore and thinks, "I don't even know who the person they're making fun of is, the book must not be for beginners like me," and closes the book. The odd person who thinks, "Gardening is not for some woman I've never heard of, I'm intrigued," will find a vague description of the new gardener (not necessarily old or English, who I assume that Gertrude Jekyll was to represent) but no further information about GJ other than she would be amazed by the people who now garden. Those of us for whom Gertrude Jekyll is a paragon of garden design get defensive about her and wonder what else the author is missing if she thinks that Gertrude Jekyll is the antithesis of modern gardeners.
Take home editing lesson: if you are going to set someone up as a foil, particularly as an attention grabber foil, they should both be immediately recognizable to your audience and actually represent some sort of opposition.
Aside: Gertrude Jekyll (1843-1932) was a fabulous English garden designer and planter. She used color and texture in "painterly" combinations that still feel fresh to me. Her name supposedly rhymes with treacle and her younger brother was a friend of Robert Louis Stevenson.
The revised edition of the Oklahoma Gardener's Guide by Steve Dobbs has both editing and editorial problems. One of six different Oklahoma climate maps is in the introduction. The other five are in the back matter. The index lists several plants that don't make the book. The sod chapter (smack dab on the page where Chilopsis is supposed to be) was cut and paste from a different book for a different region without local adjustments. Of real concern, Dobbs profiles several plants that are invasive thugs as being good garden plants for Oklahoma.

So that should give you an idea of the things that are bugging me recently. Suffice it to say there are similar examples from many other books.

To help my editing karma, I'll end on a high note. Cutting Edge Gardening in the Intermountain West by Marcia Tatroe is fabulous. Well, I did have an issue with Marcia's decision to use "intermountain" to define an area that's not between any mountains (See what sort of stickler I'm becoming? Put "Intermountain West" in your title and I expect you not to use the Denver metro area for most of your examples.) but other than that the book is beautiful, inspiring and had just enough practical information in the text that it is well worth reading instead of just looking at Charles Mann's gorgeous photographs. I would think it a great book, even if I didn't know Marcia Tatroe personally (meeting her was nice a perk of working at a renowned garden in the near-mountain West, even if I haven't spoken to her in ten years) but it wouldn't have occured to me to buy it.

Okay, all this crankiness in making me tired and I'm afraid of all the errors I've made myself. Oh well, time to post. And then maybe this weekend I'll actually put the gardening knowledge to use.

*I believe the students intended "hydrolysis". I would be more sympathetic except it was a take home assignment and the word hydrolysis was in the instructions.

**I actually thought insuries was some sort of insurance-claim-worthy injury at first. I do like the word.

***That the "who" is not capitalized and the "Hint: It's" is also irks me a bit, but then I've just established that I'm a fuddy duddy who like parallel construction, at least in other people's work.

Garden image of Crathes Castle in Eastern Scotland by Kathy Collins. Crathes is not actually a Jekyll design, but directly a Jekyll-inspired garden. I'm not sure how that works, but it is a stunning garden.

Monday, September 27, 2010

And the little buggers are hard to zest, too

As I've mentioned before, I'm big into birthdays. I also like to bake, although I don't do it often. I view the Mister's birthday at the end of September as an opportunity to demonstrate how very much I like him while convincing him that birthdays are worth celebrating and simultaneously doing something I enjoy.
Based on some long-ago, not-intended-to-be-remembered comment of his, I planned to bake a Lady Baltimore cake for his birthday this year, seven minute frosting and all. Figs, alas, are not available locally. I certainly wasn't going to bake a Lady Baltimore cake with just raisins, so I had to resort to the dessert he actually wanted, key lime pie.
The problem with key lime pie is that it is super-easy. Something with only three ingredients hardly demonstrates how very fond of I am of the Mister. I worried about this enough that I also baked chocolate chip cookies (something I just don't do because I bake cookies at Christmas and chocolate chip are not Christmas cookies). Maybe pie and cookies and a nice dinner with candlelight and flowers (and marrying him, having his child and putting up with him on a daily basis) might demonstrate the depth of my affection.
Our local grocery then provided me the opportunity to substantiate my adoration. The store may not stock any dried figs, but it does carry actual key limes. Itty-bitty key limes. Thirteen of them yielded a half cup of juice.
He must know I like him now. Nothing says "love" like squeezing lots of little limes.
Happy Birthday Mister! I'd have baked it for you if it took a full cup of juice.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Who is Gertrude Jekyll? Please Comment

I'm (very slowly) working on a post about my recent editing mania (and related hypocrisy. I am, after all, a poor speller and someone who recently sent out resumes saying that I taught "conversation biology"*). In that post I mock a book that reads "Who in the new blanker? Hint: It's not Gertrude Jekyll anymore."
But then it occurred to me that perhaps I am mistaken. Perhaps it is snobbery on my part that I assume most readers of that book won't know who Gertrude Jekyll is. So I'm gathering evidence. Please note in the comments if you know who Gertrude Jekyll is (or was) and, if not, what you would envision when you read, "it's not Gertrude Jekyll anymore"
Thanks for participating.

*My conversation biology class would be great. Conservation biology class was good, but biological conversations-- I'm really well trained for those.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

BBAW Notes

It's Book Blogger Appreciation Week and I'm somewhat saddened that I have no great finds to add to my comments of last year. I do, however, still read three great book blogs regularly, and very much appreciate them.
Wuthering Expectations focuses on 19th century literature. Amateur Reader, the author, does such a great job discussing the writing, rather than his opinion of it, that I was pleasantly surprised when he stopped by Sparkling Squirrel just to encourage others to read what "may be the most charming science fiction novel every written," Little Fuzzy.
Raych at books i done read takes a wholly other approach, she reads "books so you don't have to" and she never shies away from an opinion.
Anthyrium's Marieke takes a middle approach. Her book posts are certainly personal reviews, rather than a discussion of the writing, but she finds contextual support for her opinions. She also happens to live in a place I love and shares my fondness for gardening, fiber arts and small town newspapers.
Book Blogging Universe, I appreciate you!
Amatuer Reader, Raych and Marieke, keep reading and writing.

Monday, September 13, 2010


"There's a reason it's taught in high schools," commented the Mister upon his recent completion of Pat Frank's Alas, Babylon.
"And there's a reason Puddn'head Wilson isn't," I added.

Mark Twain's social commentary does have a lot going for it: a fabulous opening with wonderful horticultural description*, a memorable character named Puddn'head, scathing social commentary, lots of potential Mark Twainisms, and crime scene detective work so exuberantly presented the concept seems sweet. It also has a jumble of other characters who don't fit into the story, subtle racism perpetuated in the attack on overt racism, ill-suited shifts in focus and lots of use of the n-word.

I haven't read enough Twain to know if Puddn'head is just a clumsy lesser work of a great writer, or if Twain's greatness can fully be sampled in his little bits: the fabulous description here, the satirical aside there, and the quote just waiting to be made into an epigram, rather than as a writer of whole books. I'm reading The Prince and the Pauper now to collect more evidence.

*In 1830 it was a snug collection of modest one- and two- story frame dwellings, whose whitewashed exteriors were almost concealed from sight by climbing tangles of rose vines, honeysuckles,and morning glories. Each of these pretty homes had a garden in front fenced with white palings and opulently stocked with hollyhocks, marigolds,touch-me-nots, prince's-feathers, and other old-fashioned flowers;while on the windowsills of the houses stood wooden boxes containing moss rose plants and terra-cotta pots in which grew a breed of geranium whose spread of intensely red blossoms accented the prevailing pink tint of the rose-clad house-front like an explosion of flame.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Fuzzy Books

I've waited long enough to write about H. Beam Piper's* Fuzzy Trilogy (Little Fuzzy, Fuzzy Sapiens and Fuzzies and Other People) that I have much less to say than when I first finished them. This is probably not a bad thing, as I was wanting to babble about topics ranging from the role of corruption in government to the importance of cocktail hour to authors in the 1960s. Now enough time has passed that I'll just give a two line summary and make my recommendations.
The Fuzzy books are delightful short books about the discovery of a new species, Fuzzies, on a planet inhabited by (and being exploited by) Terran Humans. Each book has a plot that, more or less clumsily, pushes forth the action. However, if I were to say what the books were "about", I'd say that the first is about what it means to be sapient, the second about how all governments have problems and I'm really not sure about the third.
Despite that lackluster description I have several friends that should definitely read them: SalSis because of her interest in "classic" science fiction and because she will spend the whole time comparing the fuzzies to her pets and her friends' babies. She and TucTrek will both want to live with some fuzzies. Irene and Beth will enjoy the books for the same reasons, and also because the science/legal interface is fascinating to note.
Other friends should read them simply because they are fun and thought provoking, if awkwardly paced and plotted.

*Author of Space Viking, my thoughts linked to here. The Fuzzy books are much more fun.
Image from Amazon.