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review 2017-08-25 07:46
The Informed Gardener
The Informed Gardener - Linda Chalker-Scott

This book is a collection of columns that were originally written from 2000 for Washington State nursery and landscape professionals.  It's aim to to bust the myths gardeners have been swearing by for decades using hard peer-reviewed science.


It's a good, easy, quick read and it pretty much makes the average gardener writing this review shake her head over the sheer number of things I've beein doing wrong, thereby proving the miracle that is life.  Because after reading this it is truly a wonder anything lives in my garden.


Each column is immediately followed with citations; all of which are peer reviewed scientific resources.  The columns are short and each has a "bottom line" summarising the take away points and a couple of times there are step by step instructions for certain tasks.


The only reason I didn't got the full five stars is that I took exception to her attitude about what is commonly called organic gardening.  Her facts are dead on - I don't question those - but in her effort to 'straighten out' those misconceptions about organic vs. synthetic, she completely fails to address other benefits of avoiding synthetic chemicals; benefits that also have an army of peer reviewed research behind them.  She leaves the impression that anyone eschewing RoundUp and MiracleGro are ignorant and foolish.  The information is solid, it's just the attitude I found distasteful.


But everything else... well, I'll be changing most everything about how I transfer plants and care for them from now on.

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review 2017-08-06 06:16
If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't)
If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't) - Betty White

I couldn't get this in audio here in Australia - which was my first choice - but I did run across a used copy of the hardcover at a sale, so I was finally able to read this.


It's a very fast read, made up of individual essays covering what is, I'm guessing, the most popular topics she's asked about.  Her stories regarding her career and her celebrity were interesting and sometimes laugh out loud funny, but I was really in it for the stories about her involvement with animals.  I was not disappointed.


I admit Betty White didn't interest me one way or the other until she became the fully employed actress in her 80s that she is (was - she's in her 90s now); she has become the poster woman, along with my mom, Betty White's contemporary, for how to age with grace and independence.  I hope I'm lucky enough to have my mom's health and Ms. White's humour and enthusiasm for life when (if) I hit my 80th decade and beyond.

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review 2017-07-31 02:10
Take the Cannoli
Take the Cannoli: Stories From the New World - Sarah Vowell

A collection of Vowell's essays culled from several magazine/newspaper columns and This American Life, this is one of those books that is difficult for me to rate.


On the one hand, I found her dry humour entertaining, but on the other, I'm not a fan of cynicism in general, and Vowell's weaponised form often taxed my patience.  


She and I are the same age, but our childhoods did not share much in the way of common experiences, and we definitely don't share a common political view.  I was, in fact, incredulous that she referred to perjury on the part of a president as a "fib".  But we do share a deep, abiding love for our country even when it disappoints and horrifies us.


The essays I connected with, or enjoyed most were the ones where she was able to put her disaffected persona to the side (or at least mute it) and talk about those experiences common to most everybody: battles with insomnia, her experiences at the rock and roll camp, learning to drive.  There's an essay about Chicago that is brilliant and even though I think she let herself get in her own way, her piece on the Trail of Tears was devastating and moving.


So even though I can't say I loved this work, it's only because I was unable to find enough common ground to do so.  But I do think Vowell is an excellent writer and I'd happily read more of her work; she has a book on famous assassinations I've had my eye on for some time now that I'm definitely going to hunt down.


I read this book for my final Free Friday read; it was 209 pages.

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review 2017-07-05 06:16
Lincoln as I Knew Him
Lincoln as I Knew Him: Gossip, Tributes, and Revelations from His Best Friends and Worst Enemies - Harold Holzer

My problem with history books, generally speaking, until recently, was the most of them tended to focus on statistics in one form or another (dates, battles, treaties, laws, etc) and very rarely about the people, the culture.  One without the other is history without context and as such either put me to sleep or went in one ear and out the other.


But I've always had more than a bit of hero worship for Abraham Lincoln.  Just looking at his portraits, there is something compelling to his visage, something that implies the hidden depths are deep indeed.


So when I heard about this book, it sounded like just the thing I was looking for: mostly contemporaneous anecdotes of Lincoln, told by those that loved him, worked with him, or worked for him - and a few by those that worked against him.  Short of asking Lincoln's cat what he thought of him, I can think of no better way of really learning the true quality of the man himself than from what his friends and opponents thought of him.


Holzer puts together a slim but comprehensive volume of such anecdotes, groups by relationship to Lincoln: family, friends, press, etc.  In the introduction and at the end in the author's notes he is clear that the collection is but a drop in the bucket, but is representative of the whole, and that he has left each alone save for editing for readability (i.e. swapping em dashes for periods to comply with modern grammar).


By far the most eloquent of the pieces, and likely my favourites on first reflection, are those written by Harriet Beecher Stowe, Sojourner Truth, and Frederick Douglass.  Beecher Stowe for her beautiful writing, Truth for her passion and grace, and Douglass for his honesty.  My least favourite, although Holzer gets credit for avoiding bias, are two excerpts from John Wilkes Booth; it brings balance to the work, but feels blasphemous somehow, to include his assassin's memories.


The number one thing in common amongst all these anecdotes - whether the writer admired or reviled Lincoln: that he was honest, kind and moral.   How many historical figures have the respect of their detractors?  


I read this for the Optional 4th of July Main Street Read for space #13.  Pages: 262

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review 2017-05-17 09:40
Of Cats and Men
Of Cats and Men: Profiles of History's Great Cat-Loving Artists, Writers, Thinkers, and Statesmen - Sam Kalda

The illustrations save this book.  It's a really attractive books and the illustrations and drawings are colourful and joyful.


The writing is... so-so.  First, it's solidly aimed at men: Kalda doesn't even pretend that women might read this, and he often breaks the fourth wall to talk to the reader man-to-man about the hidden manliness of preferring cats over dogs.  Kalda is an illustrator by profession, and perhaps that accounts for writing that attempts to be chatty and witty but fails just short so that there are moments that feel awkward.


The profiles don't really share anything new or even biographically informative, but they are somewhat interesting.  Nonetheless, as I said, the illustrations and quote typography are the thing here.  The book shines from this perspective, which is why my rating ends up at 4 stars.

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