Nightstand Reading: Amy Stewart on plant books, and planting books.


Most authors who write about plants are only of interest to the green thumbed, but Amy Stewart’s books are for everyone. Her latest – Wicked Plants: The Weed that killed Lincoln’s mother, & other botanical attrocities – might even save your life, or your pets’. Amy will be appearing around the area next week, including an evening at the Washington Park Arboretum, and will be tweeting from the Central Library. Here’s some of what she’s been reading and, yes – er – burying!     ~ Editor

So last year we bought a bookstore – Eureka Books. I was surprised to find out that when you own a bookstore, people bring you books.  I thought it would work the other way around—I was sort of hoping that people would take books with them when they left.  But this works, too. 

amystewartredsmThe other day a customer brought me a battered copy of The Roots of Evil:  Weird Stories of Supernatural Plants, edited by Michel Parry and published in 1976.  It’s an anthology of evil plant tales by Nathaniel Hawthorne, H.G. Wells, and others. I know Hawthorne’s story, but some of the others are new to me, so I’m looking forward to checking it out. 

I also just finished Algonquin’s latest smash hit A Reliable Wife by Robert Goolrick, a dark tale of poison and intrigue that had me shouting to the murderous wife, “Try hemlock!  Feed him monkshood!”  It is a dark and gothic story Continue reading “Nightstand Reading: Amy Stewart on plant books, and planting books.”

Novels by the numbers

housekeeper-and-professor-book-coverBeing the unreconstructed English major that I am, I never suspected I could delight in a novel about a mathematician, but that was before I read The Housekeeper and the Professor by Yoko Ogawa (thank you, Lillian, for the recommendation!).  In this little gem of a book, the housekeeper must re-introduce herself every morning to the elderly, retired mathematics professor, whose memory lasts for only 80 minutes, except for everything that happened prior to an auto accident in 1975.  He tries to cope by pasting reminder notes all over his tattered clothing, and he spends long hours in his study working out mathematical challenges.  Eventually he and the housekeeper find a kind of shared solace in prime numbers and amicable numbers and other mathematical ideas, and he and the Continue reading “Novels by the numbers”

Book Groups Read My Jim

Seattle Reads - 2009I have had the pleasure now of facilitating two book group discussions of this year’s featured work for Seattle Reads, My Jim by Nancy Rawles.

What I have seen (and heard from others) about the reactions of readers to Rawles’ book is that it makes a powerful impression.  My Jim also gives readers plenty to talk ab0ut.

Yes, for some readers the dialect in which it is told can be difficult to grapple with; in some cases, it took reading it more than once to become accustomed to the cadences and rhythm of the language. But more readers that not commented on how the language and the oral tradition that it embodies drew them in and made Sadie’s story more real.

If you haven’t read it yet, My Jim is the story of Sadie Watson as told to her free-born granddaughter Marianne, in which she recounts Continue reading “Book Groups Read My Jim”

Want to read more African American historical fiction?

image-of-nancy-rawles-my-jimOnce you read Nancy Rawles’ My Jim, a compelling slave story about Sadie (the wife of Huck Finn’s friend Jim), who chose to remain a slave and stay with her family on the plantation, you will likely want to read other stories like it: narratives that sweep you back in time and make you think. Most slave narratives, unlike My Jim, are the stories of men and women who strove to escape. Some African American historical fiction reveals slavery’s cruelty and harsh conditions, but very few novels feature strong, admirable slaves who chose to stay together rather than attempt personal escape.

Another painfully lyrical family story is J. California Cooper’s The Wake of the Wind, in which a homestead settled by freed slaves provides the backdrop for the story of another strong family determined to survive. Mor and Lifee struggle through the Reconstruction period — the obstacles of racial hatred and their resulting poverty— and leave strong, capable children who value their freedom and strive for justice, to keep the family together. Continue reading “Want to read more African American historical fiction?”

Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Part II

Here is a continuation of the Writers of the Harlem Renaissance post from Tuesday:
jesse-redmon-fauset Jessie Redmon Fauset
Though she is not very well-known today, Fauset was, along with Zora Neale Hurston, one of the most prolific African America writers of the Harlem Renaissance. Two of her four novels, There is Confusion and Plum Bun: A Novel without a Moral, deal with the issue of light-skinned Blacks “passing” as whites. The Chinaberry Tree features two heroines struggling with illegitimacy and personal identity in a middle class Black community. Comedy, American Style portrays a female protagonist who wishes to be white, and her husband and son who are proud of their African American heritage. Often accused of having middle class idealized values, Fauset is nevertheless one of the main Black writers of her time and her work is well worth exploring.

Nella Larsen
Imagine an African American librarian in New York in the 1920s: quiet, intelligent and insightful. These are the qualities Larsen brings to her Continue reading “Writers of the Harlem Renaissance, Part II”