Mary's Library

Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Thank You, Jan

Wilhelm came home yesterday with a present for me from his mom’s pal, Jan Polek. Jan is a columnist for the Spokesman-Review.

Now it takes a lot of moxie to give me a book. Most people see an interesting book and figure, “Aw, she’s already read it.” But Jan has done the impossible; she has given me a book I want - I need - that I hadn't heard of. (I didn’t subscribe to Publisher’s Weekly for a while and there’s a resulting lacuna in my book knowledge.)

Emma Brown (©2003) is based on an unfinished manuscript by Charlotte Bronte, who died in 1855. It's about a young girl, brought to an English boarding school by her apparently wealthy father. "But when the school term ends and it comes time to make arrangements for the Christmas holidays, Matilda's tuition goes unpaid, and the headmistress is shocked to find that the identity of the father . . . like the address he left behind -- is a fiction. Before long, it becomes clear that the little heiress herself is not who she seemed.

"So who is the mysterious Matilda? When the girl refuses to reveal her true identify and then disappears, it falls to a local gentleman . . . and a childless widow who briefly takes the girl in, to unravel the truth." (From the book jacket)

The book was completed by an Irish novelist, Clare Boylan. I can't wait to read it. In fact, I'm going to start on it right now . . . .

Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Shark Attack!

“Travel thirty miles north, south, or east of San Francisco city hall and you’ll be engulfed in a landscape of thick traffic, fast enterprise, and six-dollar cappuccinos. Venture thirty miles due west, however, and you will find yourself on what is virtually another planet: a spooky cluster of rocky islands called the Farallones, battered by foul weather, thronged with two hundred thousand seabirds, and surrounded by the largest great white sharks in the world.” (From the book jacket)

Well, now. That grabs one’s attention.

“That so many of these magnificent and elusive animals lived in the 415 area code, crisscrossing each other under the surface like jets stacked in a holding pattern, seemed stunningly improbable – and irresistible” to Susan Casey, who joined two biologists who live on the islands and study the sharks.

She tells us about it in The Devils’ Teeth (©2005), which is one of those books you must not read after 2 PM or either sleep will be impossible or one’s dreams will be thronged with 18-foot monsters. Brrrrrrrr!

Monday, May 29, 2006

What I'm Reading

Over the weekend I've been reading Mrs Gaskell’s Ruth (1853)

I’m becoming very interested in Mrs Gaskell. Unlike many Victorian writers (Trollope for one) she addresses unpleasant social problems. North and South was about the appalling condition of factory workers and Ruth is about an unwed mother. This was a hot topic in the mid-19th century and most novelists wouldn’t touch it. Mrs Gaskell’s book was actually burned by some and her husband wouldn’t allow it in the house.

I’m also reading The Prime Minister (1876) by Anthony Trollope, and Belinda (1883), by Rhoda Broughton. Broughton is a lesser-known novelist of the period and I haven’t made up my mind about this book yet. It annoys me because it’s written in the present tense, which was terribly advanced for the time, by the way. Now we take it for granted.

I have a handful of other books on my night stand and coffee table, but I’m so wrapped up in the troubles of Ruth and Belinda and the Duke of Omnium and Gatherum that I can’t seem to find time for the rest.

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Book of the Month - May

The Death and Life of Great American Cities (1961), by Jane Jacobs.

Certain books change the way we see our world, and Jane Jacobs’ book about what makes a city great is one of them.

I posted about this important book and its author on 25 April. This is what I said then:

Jane Jacobs was a prophet. In 1961 she published a revolutionary book for which she became famous. In those days “urban renewal” was in fashion, a theory that said we needed to bulldoze the sometimes crumbling neighborhoods in our cities and build high-rise apartment buildings instead, or alternatively, to move folks out to the suburbs.

Jacobs, looking around at her complex and lively neighborhood, Greenwich Village in New York City, proposed that we did not need more sterile Bauhaus buildings and acres of streets faced with blank garage doors. She was an advocate for high density and diversity. This is now called mixed-use.She lived above a candy store and she recommended that we scuttle the single-use zoning then being rigidly enforced even as sprawl ate up our open space and made our suburbs less livable. She recommended combining commercial and residential components in a single property.

This is now mainstream theory, the heart of the new urbanism that is creating places like Seaside, Florida, and reviving places like Clarendon, Virginia.

If you haven’t read The Death and Life of Great American Cities, it’s time to do so now, to honor the memory of this remarkable woman, who died today in Toronto, the livable city where she had resided for many years.

Saturday, May 27, 2006

The Cynicism of Dorothy Parker

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Rumania.
--Dorothy Parker

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Flu (correction)

ALEX sent me a comment regarding yesterday’s flu posting. He chastises me for “blogging about false yet alarming news” and points out that there is currently no bird flu being spread person-to-person in Romania.

He’s right, the outbreak mentioned on Wednesday’s CBS Evening News is in Indonesia.

However, CBS does say that the cases are suspected to have been spread person-to-person. This is from the story at the CBS News site:

“The WHO has said it is possible the disease may have spread through limited human-to-human transmission in the latest cluster of cases [in Indonesia], but it doesn't appear to have spread outside the family. Earlier, health officials said they had no evidence that anyone in the cluster had contact with poultry infected with the H5N1 bird flu virus, and tests on birds in the village of Kubu Sembelang, where the family lives, all came back negative.”

And this is from CNN, dated yesterday:

“PETER CORDINGLEY, WORLD HEALTH ORGANIZATION: They can't find an animal source for this infection [the one that’s in Indonesia, not in Romania] and that worries us. And in the absence of a known animal source, we have to treat this as possible human-to-human transmission of the virus.”

So the alarming news was true, but its geographical location was false.

And where did I get the idea this was going on in Romania? The only mention of Romania I've come across lately is a Spokesman-Review AP report that the so-called Dracula Castle, said to have been that of Vlad the Impaler (which it was not), is being given back to the family from whom the Communists confiscated it in 1948.

Once owned by Queen Marie of Rumania, the castle is being returned to the current owner, Dominic van Hapsburg (yes, those Hapsburgs.)

Here is ALEX’ email:

This is preposterous! The Avian flu virus while easily transmissible from birds to humans, is NOT yet in a form that that would allow person-to-person contamination. Of more than 120 deaths worldwide on account of the virus, only ONE report of human-to-human contamination is known, which is hardly grounds for generalization. I don't know whether you misunderstood CBS or rejoice in blogging about false yet alarming news, but please check your facts. Need sources? Try this one for starters:


Sorry, Alex. Mary’s Library regrets the error.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

The Flu

Last weekend the Washington State Department of Health enclosed in Spokane’s newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, a brochure called, “Preparing for Pandemic Influenza: A Personal and Family Guide.” The Spokane Regional Health District threw in a leaflet, “We’re Preparing, Are You? Pandemic Flu, SARS, E coli.” This is a timely alert, what with the report of person-to-person spread of bird flu in Romania on last night’s CBS Evening News. [Correction: The outbreak is in Indonesia.]

The DoH explains why avian flu (H5N1) is different and more dangerous than the flu your kids bring home from school in the fall. They tell some of the history of the 1918 flu, describe how a flu pandemic today would differ, and list “What to Expect” (difficulty getting medical care, travel problems, delay before a vaccine is available, school closings), and “What to Do” (wash your hands often, stay home when you’re sick, learn basic care-giving, learn how to recognize and treat dehydration.) All very sensible and useful information and advice.

I’m a virologist wannabe, and I’ve been reading about all this for decades. It’s good to see government recognizing the potential for disaster here, if somewhat alarming that the possibility of another serious epidemic is so obvious that even the bureaucrats in the other Washington have felt the need to address the situation.

So what should you read to get up to speed on this important topic? I’ve already recommended Mike Davis’ 2005 book, The Monster at Our Door: The Global Threat of Avian Flu. Let me add Gina Kolata’s Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus that Caused It (©1999).

But the very best book on the topic is John M Barry’s The Great Influenza: The Epic Story of the Deadliest Plague in History (©2004).

Barry outlines the social, political, and military situation in the US as the 1918 flu began to emerge and mutate, where it broke out first, and what made it spread so quickly. He describes the desperate plight of many families when all their members were stricken and the dismal situation in many cities where government abdicated and was able to offer no help to its citizens.

In the last American cities to be affected by the epidemic Barry tells us, women’s volunteer organizations stepped in when government failed, got useful information to people, performed a sort of triage, and saved many lives that might have been lost without them.

The Great War exacerbated the problems of an epidemic that was horrific to begin with. Despite public health doctors’ warnings, soldiers were housed too closely in crowded barracks and tent camps. Some politicians wouldn’t admit there was an epidemic at all, censored the press, and were unwilling to tell people how to ameliorate the situation. President Woodrow Wilson had funneled so many medical professionals, including nearly 75% of US nurses, into the armed services that there was sometimes no one at all to help people who were sick and dying from the flu.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006


I finally did it. I subscribed to Zooba.

Wilhelm told me about this a while ago, having read about it on a blog he reads regularly, Lone Prairie. (Check out the 10 Lists of 10.)

Zooba is an online book club that sends you a book of your choice every month. Cost $10. No shipping. You can also order a book at any time for the same $10 with no shipping cost.

You create a list of books and they send you the book on top of the list. You can move the books around, delete them, add more, and otherwise manage your queue, much as you do with DVDs on Netflix.

My first book? Rough Crossings: Britain, the Slaves and the American Revolution (©2006) by Simon Schama.

Monday, May 22, 2006

The Theology of Savage Chickens

Sunday, May 21, 2006

What I'm Reading

Two days ago I was re-reading The Prime Minister (1876), by Anthony Trollope, the book my online trollope group is studying at the moment. We read about five chapters a week, but I find it very difficult to stop when I’m supposed to.

Yesterday I spent much of the day reading two biographies, George Eliot: The Last Victorian (©1998), by Kathryn Hughes, and George Eliot: Voice of a Century: A Biography (©1995), by Frederick R Karl. The latter was a gift from Clint in my trollope group.

Both bios are excellent, with Hughes putting a little more emphasis on the social aspects of Eliot’s life and Karl giving us a psychological interpretation, relying on the parallels between Eliot and Maggie Tulliver in The Mill on the Floss (1860.)

I am in theory re-reading Madame Bovary (1857), by Gustave Flaubert, but I don’t like the translation in the book I own, which was done by Joan Charles. My French isn’t good enough to read Flaubert in the original – at least not without a lot of time and much concentration.

So I’m faced with a decision. I could struggle on with this inadequate translation, buy a new book with another translator, or leave Emma Bovary to get on with her dismal fate without me. I’ll probably opt for the last for now.

But I will have to buy a new copy of Flaubert’s novel someday. I can’t go through the rest of my life never re-reading Madame Bovary. Fay and Lisa have both recommended the Norton Critical Edition, with a translation by Eleanor Marx Aveling, updated by Paul de Man, and “modernized” by Margaret Cohen. Unless somebody else has a better edition to recommend I’m going to go with that.

Today I’m re-reading Beloved (©1987), by Toni Morrison, the book recently selected by authors and reviewers queried by The New York Times as the best American fiction written since 1980.

I recall the first time I began reading it, not liking what the author was saying, finding the supernatural offensive, being confused about the characters and the time line.

But Morrison is one of those writers who walks slowly backwards, crooking her finger at you, beckoning you along, with a sly smile on her face. By the time I was half through with the book I was living it and nothing could have made me stop reading. I'm going to read slowly today and savor every syllable.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Jumping the Summer Reading Gun

It’s been pretty hot in Spokane lately so I think it’s time to break out the summer reading.

Torie recommended a book a while back that is just right. It’s what Sarah calls non-challenging non-trash. As it’s about a historical figure, so you can tell yourself that it isn’t just a romance; it’s instructive.

The book in question: The Other Boleyn Girl (©2002) by Philippa Gregory. The protagonist is Mary, the sister of the unfortunate Anne, who was the wife (briefly) of Henry VIII. I like the idea of approaching her life at a tangent, so to speak. And Gregory does it very well.

Perfect summer reading. (Also spring and autumn reading. For winter reading I require something a little more substantial.)

Friday, May 19, 2006

What Not To Read

I think I’ve just ruined my relationship with my goddaughter, Torie. She’s a bright, lively teenager who loves to read and who from infancy has been one of the best movie reviewers I’ve known. She couldn’t even talk when she started showing a marked preference for really first rate movies and a blasé ho hum attitude about bad ones. It’s uncanny.

Tonight she is going to see the movie, “The Da Vinci Code,” and she sent me an email to ask if I liked the book. She loved it.

I suppose I could have said I hadn’t read it, because I got only a third of the way into it when I gave up in bored disgust. Or was it disgusted boredom? Whatever.

However, I think honesty is best in these matters. And I am her godmother. So I told her it’s heretical crap. Alas, I fear the child will never ask my opinion about a book again.

The objectional novel in question is Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code (©2003.) You may have heard of it. I urge you to give it a pass.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

Heat Wave

Spokane has had record breaking high temperatures for the last three days. Average for this time of year is about 65 but it's been in the 90s since Wednesday. The weatherguessers say it will be in the low 80s tomorrow and the low 70s for the coming week. I hope so.

I had an appointment for a hair cut today with Christy at 14th and Grand Salon. In view of the heat I told her to cut it all off. So I have gone from a suburban soccer mom behind the ears bob to a sassy razor cut.

To read about weather records in the Western US, see Tye W Parzybok’s Weather Extremes in the West (©2004), which has loads of information and great photos.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Roderick Hudson or Watch and Ward?

I was in my library reading earlier today when I heard a thud from the other room. In the bedroom I found Miss Woodhouse sitting next to a volume of Henry James novels (1871-1880), which she had obviously just pulled off the shelf.

How did she do it? I haven’t a clue. Why did she do it? Well, clearly she wanted to read something in the book. But what?

That Library of America volume contains James’ first five novels:

Watch and Ward (1872)

Roderick Hudson (1875)

The American (1877)

The Europeans (1878)

Confidence (1879)

Does anybody have any idea why a cat would want to read any of those books?

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Keeping Appointments One Never Made

Harold Bloom is one of those writers whose work is almost infinitely dense. He wastes no words and sometimes packs two or even three new and striking ideas into a single short sentence. I never find myself asking, “Why am I bothering to read this?” when I’ve got one of his books in my hand.

And so reading his book, How to Read and Why (©2000), is taxing. He fits so many motives and justifications for reading into the nine pages of his prologue that it would take me 25 pages to try to explain them all.

We read primarily, Blooms says, to learn how to live, and to die. “One of the uses of reading is to prepare ourselves for change, and the final change alas is universal.” We learn, if we read well, how to live with confidence and detachment.

Bloom quotes from Chaucer in “The Knight’s Tale”: “It is a good thing for a man to bear himself with equanimity, for one is constantly keeping appointments one never made.”

Monday, May 15, 2006

Emily Dickinson Is Dead

When I was in graduate school I took a course called American Literature of the Mid-19th Century, taught by Clarence Ghodes, a gentleman who saw the world from his distinctly Southern viewpoint.

One of his lectures was called Emily Dickinson, Civil War Poet. He made a pretty good argument for his theory, though I no longer remember what it was. Since then I’ve been very fond of Emily Dickinson.

Emily Dickinson died on this day in 1886, which brings to mind a mystery I read a while back, Emily Dickinson Is Dead (©1984), by Jane Langton. It’s set at a poetry symposium in Amherst and among other things it describes the 1939 flooding of the towns of Dana, Enfield, Greenwich, and Prescott to create the Quabbin Reservoir.

Do read the mystery. Even if you don’t like Civil War poets.

Sunday, May 14, 2006

The Charging Elephant

Because the future is uncertain and the past has disappeared, some thinkers have inferred that the present has no reality at all. It is said that Shankara, the teacher of Advaita Vedanta, who taught that the world is only an illusion, was present at a parade in India one day. As an elephant charged into a crowd, Shankara ran behind a tree. "Why do you run from the mere appearance of an elephant?" sarcastically asked a man. "I only appear to run," replied the philosopher.

– Andrew Tomas, Beyond The Time Barrier (©1974)

Saturday, May 13, 2006


Fay, from my not-trollope group today mentioned Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Housekeeping (©1980), reminding me of how much I liked it when it was first published.

It’s about two girls who are raised by an aunt who lives in the American Northwest on a lake where their grandfather died in a train wreck and where their mother drove off a cliff to her death. The aunt’s housekeeping is eccentric – I remember particularly that she leaves a spider to live in his little web in the corner of her room.

Housekeeping is a short novel but it's full of meaning. I appreciated the clarity of Robinson's prose and the many connotations beneath it.

After more than 20 years of silence Robinson published another novel, Gilead, in 2004.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

The Great American Novel

The New York Times has announced today that Toni Morrison’s Beloved (©1987) is the Great American Novel of our day. I couldn’t agree more.

The editors of the Times sent a letter to “a couple of hundred prominent writers, critics, editors and other literary sages, asking them to please identify ‘the single best work of American fiction published in the last 25 years.’”

Morrison’s novel received the most votes. I don’t think much of the runners-up, except for John Updike’s Rabbit novels. Read the Times article here.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Fame is a bee –
It has a song –
It has a sting –
Ah, too, it has a wing.

--Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

What I'm Reading

Last night we watched a video of the first part of Elizabeth Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters (published 1866) with Francesca Annis as the annoying Mrs Kirkpatrick.

Wilhelm’s reaction was, “I’ve ODed on the 19th Century.” In the last couple of weeks he has watched Anthony Trollope’s Palliser Series (14 episodes down, 10 to go), AT’s The Way We Live Now, and Mrs Gaskell’s North and South. I mentioned this morning that we have the DVDs of Madame Bovary, but from the look on his face I’d guess he’s not going to be watching that with me.

My reaction to Wives and Daughters was very different. I find myself in the 19th century for at least part of every day so I was delighted with it. This is exceptional TV and even more exceptional Gaskell.

After we watched the video I went immediately to the book and discovered from the introduction that 1) the novel was left with one chapter unfinished when Gaskell died, and 2) it is considered her masterpiece.

So I dropped all the other things I’ve been reading and am now engrossed in Mrs Gaskell's masterpiece.

The many books I’ve put aside to pursue the career of Molly Gibson:

Miss Marjoribanks (1866) by Margaret Oliphant
The Doctor’s Wife (1864) by Mary Elizabeth Braddon
Madame Bovary (1856) by Gustave Flaubert
The Prime Minister (1876) by Anthony Trollope
(You see what I mean about the 19th century.)
I, the Jury (1947) by Micky Spillane
The Cold War (2005) by John Lewis Gaddis
Peonies (1999) by Jane Fearnley-Whittingstall
Outside the Bungalow: America’s Arts and Crafts Garden (1999) by Paul Duchscherer
Creating Walkable Places: Compact Mixed-Use Solutions (2006) by Adrienne Schmitz and Jason Scully (Urban Land Institute)

Monday, May 08, 2006

White Guilt

Back in the 1950s President Eisenhower purportedly used the word “nigger” in private conversations. In the 1990s President Clinton was caught in an affair with a White House intern.

What if it had been the other way around? Eisenhower, if he had been blatantly unfaithful to his wife, would have been forced to resign within days of the discovery of his behavior. Clinton, if reported to have used the word “nigger” in almost any context, would have been booted from office just as quickly.

In his book, White Guilt: How Blacks and Whites Together Destroyed the Promise of the Civil Rights Era (©2006), Shelby Steele explains this reversal of moral standards as the result of white guilt.

“As the civil rights victories of the 1960s dealt a blow to racial discrimination, American institutions started acknowledging their injustices, and white Americans – who held the power in those institutions – began to lose their moral authority. Since then, our governments and universities, eager to reclaim legitimacy and avoid charges of racism, have made a show of taking responsibility for the problems of black Americans.

“In doing so, Steele asserts, they have only further exploited blacks, viewing them always as victims, never as equals. This phenomenon, which he calls white guilt, is a way for whites to keep up appearances, to feel righteous, and to acquire an easy moral authority – all without addressing the real underlying problems of African Americans. Steele argues that calls for diversity and programs of affirmative action serve only to stigmatize minorities, portraying them not as capable individuals but as people defined by their membership in a group for which exceptions must be made.

“Steele calls for a new culture of personal responsibility, a commitment to principles that can fill the moral void created by white guilt. White leaders must stop using minorities as a means to establish their moral authority – and black leaders must stop indulging them. . . . the alternative is a dangerous ethical relativism that extends beyond race relations into all parts of American life." (From the book jacket.)

Sunday, May 07, 2006

"The gods wouldn't do that to me."

This morning I spent a couple of hours reading a novel I borrowed from the library on Friday. I never got to page one. I was reading the author’s comments on the situation in France in 1941 and 42, her plans for the novel, and a collection of her letters and those of her husband. These appendices are heartbreaking.

I’m reluctant to begin the novel because I already know the ending, and it’s a sad one. Not the ending of the story but of the author, Irene Nemirovsky, a Russian émigré from the Ukraine who was a successful writer living in Paris in 1939 when the war began.

She was also a Jew and in 1942 she was arrested by the Nazis and taken to Auschwitz, where she died a month later. The two sections of her novel that Nemirovsky wrote before she was killed were published for the first time in France in 2004, and have just been published under the title Suite Francaise in an English translation by Sandra Smith (©2006.)

The story begins with the flight in 1941 of Parisians to the unoccupied area of the country, and their struggle to face the annihilation of the world they have known. The second part of the book describes the difficulties of life in a German-occupied village.

As for the last three sections, as Nemirovsky wrote in her notebook, in 1942 they were “in limbo . . . it’s really in the lap of the gods since it depends on what happens. And the gods could find it amusing to wait a hundred or even a thousand years as the saying goes: and I’ll be far away. But the gods wouldn’t do that to me.”

Friday, May 05, 2006

We've Got Geek

In Virginia we appealed to Geeks on Call to repair our flat tires on the Internet highway. Our Geek was Nathaniel, a lad who once answered our call barefoot and whose jeans (he always wore jeans) dragged the floor and were ragged in the extreme. I think Geeks on Call requires their people to meet customer expectations in this regard.

But Nathaniel fit the geek stereotype in skills as well as sartorially. You break it; he’ll fix it. You got a computer problem? No, you don’t. We offered to adopt him and bring him to Spokane with us, but for some reason he prefers the family he already has.

If you live in Northern Virginia and are having computer troubles, phone Geeks on Call and ask for Nathaniel.

Here in Spokane our Geek is Scott, from Got Geek? Scott, pictured above working on my laptop in my Library, is sadly lacking in geekiness. He dresses neatly and cuts his hair more often than Wilhelm. He has fine social skills and a sense of humor.

His help has been invaluable in recent months, setting up our network, repairing problems with Windows, and replacing my keyboard. (I wore out half a dozen letters and flipped the top off the Enter key.) Until Scott rescued me I had to stop typing and press the little knob with my index finger every time I needed to hit Enter.

And today Scott has made me very happy by strengthening our network signal so that I can use my laptop in my Library. Until now these blog postings have been coming to you from the living room, which just didn’t seem right.

So if you live in Spokane and are having computer troubles, call Got Geek? and ask for Scott.

Thursday, May 04, 2006

Eudora's Living Room

One of my favorite writers is Eudora Welty, a local colorist of sorts from Jackson, Mississippi. She is most famous for her novel, Delta Wedding (©1946), but her best work is thought to be her short stories. My favorite of her novels is The Optimist’s Daughter (©1969), which makes me weep every time I read it, though it isn’t a particularly sad story, really.

Now I have another reason for liking Welty. Just look at that living room! It looks a lot like mine – all those books scattered everywhere.

Her house, which was built at the same time as our bungalow, has been renovated and opened to the public. The old wiring, like ours, badly needed updating and air conditioning was installed, though we are told Welty refused to have it during her lifetime. She liked to work in the heat.

Having lived in southwestern Georgia I can tell you the heat down there is truly oppressive. When it’s that hot the phone doesn’t ring because it’s too hot to dial, Welty said. The heat insulated her from interruption when she was writing.

Roger Mudd has written a little piece for the NY Times about a visit he and wife made to Welty in 1986. His words capture, for me, the informality and charm of Welty and her work.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Today Wilhelm and I went to Stanek’s Nursery to get some pots to put on the railing of the front porch.

The pots, of course, were only the beginning. We also needed plants to put in the pots, little trays to put under the pots, rocks to put in the bottom of the pots, potting soil to put into the pots along with the rocks and the plants, plant food to feed the plants, and a watering can in which to mix the plant food to feed the plants.

$150 later we got home with our geraniums and their accoutrements and they are now assembled and sitting atop the railing in the afternoon sun, doing us proud.

For a gift book your geranium-loving friends will enjoy, look for The Literary Gardener (©1997), by Walter Chandoha.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Things Bite Back

Why Things Bite Back: Technology and the Revenge of Unintended Consequences (©1997), by Edward Tenner

From the Publisher’s Weekly review:

“Even when used to better the world, technology fosters unforeseen, often unpleasant consequences that Tenner calls ‘revenge effects.’

“For example, air-conditioned subways raise platform temperatures by as much as 10 degrees F; some computer users get painful, wrist-numbing carpal tunnel syndrome; flood control systems encourage settlement of flood-prone areas, inviting disaster; 6% of all hospital patients become infected with microbes they encounter during their stay.

“In a thought-provoking study, Tenner . . . looks at revenge effects that pop up in medicine, sports, the computerized office and the environment. Oil spills, erosion of beaches, back injuries, athletes' illegal use of steroids and mass extermination of bird species on the world's islands by ship-hopping rats mark this saga of bewildering, often frustrating change.”

Monday, May 01, 2006

What My Friends Are Reading

Lynne is reading Adam Bede (1859), by George Eliot, or at least she was last time I checked with her. She reads fast.

Sarah is just finishing A History of the World in Six Glasses (©2005) by Tom Standage. She’s about to begin The Crazyladies of Pearl Street (2005), by Trevanian.

Tely is reading a biography of Shakespeare, Will in the World (©2004), by Stephen Greenblatt.

Wilhelm is reading The Merchants of Power: Sam Insull, Thomas Edison, and the Creators of the Modern Metropolis (©2006), by John F Wasik, and The River of Doubt: Theodore Roosevelt’s Darkest Journey (©2005), by Candice Millard.

Sandy’s reading, Kill the Messenger (©2004), by Tami Hoag. Sandy reads a lot of mysteries.