Month: March 2011

by Jerry Baker

This is one of those books I picked up from a swap site when I had a green thumb itch. The Impatient Gardener is full of concise, simple gardening advice, about nearly anything you\’d want to grow or keep green- your lawn, shrubs, flower boarder, trees, rose bed, vegetables, even houseplants. There is information on how to establish perennials, recommendations for plant species that are relatively easy to care for and do well in different mini-climates of your yard, timelines on when to do certain work in the yard, info on how to layout your flower bed and veggie garden, what to feed your roses, how to keep your trees happy and much more.

But I had a few doubts about the book. First of all, it\’s rather dated. Secondly, even though the guy recommends some organic methods like feeding with compost, treating plants with homemade tonics (including things like mouthwash and baking soda!) and companion planting in the veggie garden to deter pests and promote plant health (the chart here seems really invaluable) he also constantly recommends the use of chemical pesticides, some of which I discovered by looking them up (not being familiar with their names) are no longer sold, they are so dangerous (like Diazinon). Another thing that kind of threw me was that in the section where he talks about keeping pests out of your yard and garden- deer, moles, squirrels, etc. He starts off by saying you should never kill an animal but find other ways to get rid of it; yet most of his recommendations move quickly from deterrent measures or trap-and-release to using gas, poison and other methods to kill the critters you want to get off your property. Hm.

So… I think I might keep this book around for some reference, it has lots of easy-to-find and understand guidelines for when to plant things, how to prune etc. and I\’m curious to try a few of his homemade plant tonics. I looked for other reviews of this book online but all I could find was a handful of Amazon reviews- all of which raved about the results of following his advice, by the way. I didn\’t think much of this until the other day I saw a guy in our neighborhood mowing his lawn- when the grass has barely turned green, it\’s not even over an inch high in my yard! Personally I\’ve never given my lawn much care beyond mowing when it starts looking scraggly, so I was wondering about starting up some regular lawn care. And then I looked at this neighbor\’s lawn compared to the others around it- his was fuller and greener. And one of the first things this Jerry Baker recommends doing with your lawn is cutting it as low as you can in the spring when it first begins to turn green. So maybe he has something there. I just might try following some of his advice, but I sure am going to steer clear of the chemicals and pesticides. They make me nervous.

Rating: 3/5 …….. 228 pages, 1983

Myth, Magic and Birth
by Suzanne Arms

 This book (engaging and very easy to read) looks at childbirth practices in modern Western culture, particularly how hospital doctors treat women and what historically led them to use so many interventions routinely. In some ways a lot of the historical information repeated what I recently read in Get Me Out, but there were quite a few new angles here, too. Arms focuses a lot on why men have overpowered women in the field of childbirth care, not only looking at how physicians shouldered out midwives in the recent past but also the role the Catholic Church played in discouraging the practice of midwifery. That chapter got a bit dull to read (it often felt like she was veering off the subject of childbirth and more into religious stuff), I was glad to move on from it. There are a few chapters that each give a fictional scenario illustrating how women typically gave birth in different periods of history. One shows a woman in a tribal culture, another a woman in Victorian times. They felt rather conjectural to me; I wondered exactly how she could know of the attitudes and practices surrounding childbirth in prehistory?

The latter part of the book is all about how childbirth is approached in our times-  how drugs are used, the rise of cesarean sections, use of ultrasounds (she considers them unnecessary), babies being put into intensive-care units more than ought to, the presence of midwives and doulas in hospitals, why our culture causes so many women to fear childbirth, how babies should be treated immediately after birth, etc. etc. In pretty much every case she is pointing out how intrusive hospital policies are and advocating midwife-assisted homebirths or in birthing centers. Birth is a natural process that need not be treated like a disease and almost any woman can get through it without drugs or interventions, seems to be her overwhelming message. Needless to say, I found Immaculate Deception II to be very one-sided, mostly anti-hospital in nature, yet at the same time it was very encouraging. I was able to set aside her negativity about hospital settings and instead focus on the empowerment of women, the assertion of their strength and ability to trust their bodies and birth their children without fear or tension.

At the very end of the book is a collection of interviews and stories about birth, showing many different opinions and circumstances. I liked the fact that it included not only stories of mothers giving birth, but also the viewpoints of various midwives, obstetricians, physicians,  fathers, even an interview with an eight-year-old girl who was present at the homebirth of her baby sister.

My original intent was to read the first version, Immaculate Deception, but I couldn\’t find a copy available. Probably for the best, as I\’ve since read that it has quite an angry (possible more negative?) tone towards the medical establishment. I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 290 pages, 1994

translated by Marion Wiesel

by Elie Wiesel

Years and years ago in high school I went through a period of reading lots of books about the Holocaust- mostly personal accounts. I can hardly remember what any of them were now, but they held a kind of horrified fascination for me. After some time, though, the subject just got too depressing. I couldn’t take it anymore and quit approaching those books. This one has been sitting on my shelf for ages and I’m not quite sure what made me pick it up now. It says something that it took me quite a few days to get through such slender text, though.

Night recounts how the author lived through and survived being shuffled between ghettos and several different concentration camps during WWII. Luckily he was able to stay with his father almost the entire time, but it seemed a heartwrenching thing, too, that they had to watch each other suffer. He tells about all the awful things: brutal treatment, starvation, forced marches, seeing infants and young children killed, people hanged for no good reason, etc. etc. Near the end his father becomes very weak and ill, and their roles are reversed as he must protect and care for his father, often with resentment. He also talks a lot about how his faith in God was shaken, about deep despair and hoplessness. It’s all told in a very sparse, poetic style that really doesn’t give a lot of detail. On the one hand, I was glad of that. Sometimes the details can just be too harrowing, especially in this case. On the other hand, I often felt detached from what I was reading, as if I was viewing it all through a telescope turned the wrong way. What most saddened me was reading about how some of the people turned on each other- a son fighting his father over a scrap of bread, men in a transport car beating up a woman among them who kept screaming about seeing flames, to silence her… I can easily see why Night is among the classics. It’s a very personal, direct account of the horrific things that happened during the Holocaust. It just makes your heart ache.

Wiesel has written many many other books; he was a favorite author of one of my friends in high school. Has anyone read some of his other works? I’m curious about them…

Rating: 3/5
120 pages, 1958

I feel like I haven’t been doing much reading or posting here, lately. Instead I’ve been getting things reading for the coming baby, and trying to plant some of my garden (much less ambitious there than usual). But I have been managing to follow along with all your reading adventures in my google reader, even if I don’t comment as much as I used to… and thus also adding to my TBR pile! Several of these books I’ve seen about time and time again, but the reviews linked to here are the ones that finally convinced me I want to read it too.

Mountains Beyond Mountains by Tracy Kidder
The Emperor of All Maladies by Siddhartha Mukherjee – books i done read
Made From Scratch by Jenna Woginrich from You’ve GOTTA Read This!
Robert Frost: Farmer-Poultryman edited by Edward Lathem- Garden Rant
Riding Lessons by Sara Gruen from BermudaOnion’s Weblog
The Woefield Poultry Collective by Susan Juby- The Literary Word
One Bird’s Choice by Ian Reid- Reading Through Life
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith from The Zen Leaf
Let the Right One In by John A. Lindqvist from You’ve GOTTA Read This!
Wither by Lauren DeStefano- Bookfoolery and Babble
Welfare Brat by Mary Childers- Shannon’s Book Bag
Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn- Ready When You Are, CB
Merry Hall by Beverley Nichols- A Work in Progress
Down the Garden Path by Beverley Nichols- A Work in Progress

I notice that I’ve been adding to my lists even more books about gardening and self-sufficiency. I’ve really been wishing more and more that I could keep chickens or bees in my backyard. Think of it! Fresh eggs, bug control and wonderful fertilizer, all from a handful of hens. Wouldn’t that be great? O well. I think my next subject of focus is probably going to be books about backyard chickens, or any of these farming/gardening books in general.

by Dr. Kevin Nugent and Abelardo Morell

I first saw this book on SMS Book Reviews, and thought it looked just lovely. So I added it to my list of \”pregnancy and baby\” books to read. I\’m so glad I did, it was just as wonderful as I expected. It\’s a collection of beautiful photographs, the type you\’d expect to find in a book that just features photography as art. I don\’t think I\’ve ever seen such cute infants before! (even the ones that are upset or crying look adorable) The photographs all nicely illustrate and compliment the text, which discusses different behaviors and emotional responses the newborn has, ways in which it can communicate with its loved ones. There\’s the obvious- the baby crying because it is hungry, wet, tired, uncomfortable, etc- and the not-so-obvious. Such as: when you are having a wonderful, face-to-face moment talking and cooing to your little one and the baby yawns or turns away, she might just be telling you she\’s had enough interaction and needs a break! There are sections on fussing, sleeping behavior, feeding, imitation (even an hour-old baby can mimic your facial expression), reflexes, touch and more. All of it informing you on just how much a newborn baby is taking in and what they are learning about the world around them. I love the gentle, thoughtful prose in this book. A sample:

Your baby is learning simply by watching you and by paying attention to all that is new and unexpected in the world around him. However, he is able to learn only because he can rely on you to protect him and meet all his needs. Whether he is asleep, wide awake, or in distress, it is the consistency and reliability of the care you provide that allows him to take in all the information he needs to understand his world. Love makes learning possible; and then learning provides its own momentum. 

I appreciated that the book doesn\’t just tell you about the wonderful babies that are easily soothed and snuggle up to you, but also the fussy ones that cry a lot or are difficult to comfort. The book was a gentle reminder to me of some baby \”milestones\” (after all, it\’s been five years since I last had an infant in the house!) by three months they start having regular sleep patterns, for example. It was a delight to pore over these pages (in the space of just an afternoon) and remember how wonderful babies are, that even though they can\’t talk yet, they definitely have ways of letting you know their needs and making a deep emotional connection with their family. Beautiful.

I borrowed this one from the public library.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 106 pages, 2011

more opinions at:
Becky\’s Book Reviews
Escape in a Book

Unhappily, I didn\’t enjoy reading Our Horses in Egypt, but happy for one of you, this means I\’m passing the book on to one lucky reader!

I\’m also including in this giveaway two bookmarks I made featuring horses (brown, to match Philomena, maybe they\’ll help bring her to your mind\’s eye).

 All you have to do to enter is leave a comment on this post. I\’ll use to select a winner at the end of the month.

by Rosalind Belben

I thought for a long time that I wanted to read this book. I’ve had it on my TBR since I saw it reviewed three years ago on A Work in Progress! More recently, when Gavin at Page 247 read and wrote about it, I mentioned I’d been wanting to read it but my library doesn’t have any copies. So he very kindly sent me his.

I was so happy to get my hands on this book, and then so frustrated and dismayed when I discovered I didn’t like it. The premise really appealed to me. The story is about an woman who travels to Egypt searching for her horse. Thousands of horses were taken from the English countryside for the Army’s use in World War I. At the end of the war, the surviving horses meet two fates: those that were too injured or broken-down were destroyed. Many more were sold in Egypt for local use. Very few made it home again. The story of Our Horses in Egypt is told from two points of view; it switches back and forth between the mare Philomena’s wartime experiences and the travels of her former owner Griselda, who drags her daughter and Nanny along with her in the search throughout Egypt.

My problem was with the writing style; it’s very clipped and sparse, and uses a lot of terminology I’m totally unfamiliar with- especially military terms and words in other languages- half the time I didn’t even know what language it was. The setting was also new to me- so the mention of places and events didn’t really help me get a grasp on things. The descriptions were just not enough to give me get a sense of place without already having some background knowledge of it. Much of the story is told in dialogue without really describing what people are doing or thinking, which is also hard for me to follow. Events are mentioned in small half-sentences and then it moves on to the next thing. I found it all very hard to take in. I did get a vivid picture of all the horrific things the animals suffered both as warhorses in the heat of battle as as beasts of burden in Egypt’s streets. Hunger, thirst, sores, biting insects, wounds, beatings, etc. The military tactics and such were just a blur to me, as the myriad of people mentioned by name and little else, who moved in and out of scenes with little to introduce them. I hardly knew what was going on most of the time, or who I was reading about when it wasn’t Griselda or Philomena herself.

I was about ready to toss the book aside at eighty pages but then went back and read all these other reviews, every single one glowing and advising to stick it out despite the odd writing style, so I did. I made myself finish. I wanted to get the sense of greatness from this book. But it just didn’t work out for me. And I feel very sorry for that, I did want to love it so. Please take a look at some of the other reviews linked to in this post and below. I feel like I cannot really give this book justice, and there’s a lot of you out there who might appreciate what I failed to!

Rating: 2/5 …….. 304 pages

more opinions at:
Pages Turned
what we have here is a failure to communicate

A History of Childbirth
by Randi Hutter Epstein

One of the most interesting birth-related books I\’ve read yet, Get Me Out is about the cultural history of childbirth, from ancient times up to today. Each chapter takes a subject through its evolution- the one about cesarean sections begins in the 1400\’s when they were done only after both mother and child had died in childbirth, in order to baptize the baby before burial; eventually the operations became more successful (at least the baby lived) but were done only in extrememe emergencies; today some women request the surgery for convenience! Quite a change. Other parts of the book explore the advancement of birthing tools (like forceps), how women have moved from birthing at home to using hospitals (and back into the home again), the use of drugs (whether for pain relief or supposed prenatal benefits- often going awry), the first use of x-rays and then later ultrasound, and sperm banking. Some of the stories from the past can be quite horrific- as when a doctor in the 1800\’s did repeated experimental surgeries on slave women to learn how to repair fistulas. Lots of things in the book opened my eyes but probably the most surprising was when I read about twilight sleep. For some reason I had assumed that twilight sleep was pressed upon women by doctors who wanted complete control over unconscious patients during birth (from something I read before?) but this book tells the opposite: doctors were reluctant to use a drug they didn\’t know all the side-effects of, and feminists of the day demanded a pain-free birth when they saw it was possible.

There\’s a lot to learn in Get Me Out, not only about how medical science has advanced over the decades but also how societal attitidues towards birth have changed, often drastically so! There\’s enough disturbing details about what women suffered in childbirth in times past that I\’m not sure I would recommend this for pregnant women to read (I probably shouldn\’t have read it at the time, myself!) but otherwise, it\’s pretty intriguing.

Rating: 4/5 …….. 302 pages, 2010

more opinions at:
Elizabeth\’s Books

A Midwife\’s Memoir
by Cara Muhlhahn

Muhlhahn traveled the world as a teen and early on discovered she wanted a career in a medical profession, helping people in need. When she decided to deliver babies she first worked as an apprentice to a lay midwife, then realized she wanted more training and went through the schooling to work in hospitals as an RN. Eventually she became frustrated with rigid protocols and left the hospital scene to open her own solo practice as a homebirth midwife in New York City. While I found it interesting to see her insider\’s take on the politicking and other dynamics among medical personnel in the various settings- especially the hospital- I was a bit disappointed that this memoir focuses more on the midwife herself than on birthing stories, or the women she worked with. It got dull after a while reading about all the paths her education took; around page 60 I started skipping passages to read the more personal stories. But there weren\’t enough of them, and all too brief and on-the-surface to satisfy. The women she helped to give birth hardly have any presence in the stories she tells; there\’s more about her own birth (constructed from stories told to her) and that of her son than of any of her patients. It\’s all mostly about what she does at school, or in her various jobs, how she questions the status quo and thus eventually comes to make her own path. There\’s one chapter almost entirely about her frustrations with traffic and parking tickets, and the last chapter is about a documentary film she was in: The Business of Being Born. I\’ve not seen it, have any of you? As far as memoirs about birth go, I much preferred reading Baby Catcher, or more recently, The Midwife, to this Labor of Love.

Rating: 2/3 …….. 256 pages, 2009

more opinions at:
Superfast Reader

A Journal of My Son's First Year

by Anne Lamott

Rather like Great with Child, this book is gathered from journal entries the author wrote, from the time of her son’s birth until he was a year old. But that\’s where the similarity ends. Where Great with Child was full of introspection and nearly-philosophical musings, Operating Instructions is much more light-hearted, candid and often funny. It’s the voice of a single mom struggling to get by, weathering the bumps of new motherhood without the support of the baby\’s father. At first she feels very alone, often frustrated and fearful; but soon comes to realize that there are plenty of people around her willing to shower her son with love. Friends, family and church members are all there when she needs them. Her journal entries jump around a bit, often with big gaps of time- there’s almost nothing about the first few weeks, for instance- but then, who has time to write a lot with a new baby, colicky and up crying all night? It also seems like her insecurities, worries and surges of anger take over the pages- but when you think about it, that’s when writing is more cathartic, when you’re feeling blue, so I’m not surprised that a journal would be heavier on the negatives than the good days. And there are shining moments when she expresses her deep love for her son and her gratitude for her friends. This was one of my favorite passages, I read it several times:

He’s so beautiful, so funny, so incredibly dear, and he smells like God. When Mon or Dudu have to hand him back over to me when they are about to leave, they lean into his airspace and sniff one last time, trying to memorize him, maybe storing a little hit for later.

We all lean into him, soaking him up. It’s like he’s giving off a huge amount of energy because he hasn’t had to start putting up a lot of barriers around it to protect himself. He hasn’t had to start channeling it into managing the world and everybody’s emotions around him, so he’s a pure burning furnace of the stuff. This is my theory, anyway, that he radiates it; it’s probably affecting us all like a spray of negative ions, like being in a long hot shower or at the seashore.

For instance,  I notice that the kitty, who like all cats, is a heat freak, stands right next to him all the time. She basks in him…

Some readers might be dismayed at her frequent mention of a difficult past- before having the baby she used drugs, smoked and was an alcoholic. She bemoans missing the relief that drugs and smoking used to give her; it’s admirable to me that she managed to kick all those habits and do what was best for herself and her baby. As you might have gathered by now, the book is actually more about the author’s own ups and downs than the day-to-day miracles of watching her baby hit his milestones, per se- but I liked reading it all the same. It felt very honest.

I borrowed this book from the library. I feel like I tried to read it several times before, many many years ago; but none of the content was familiar so I must have given up really early way back then. Lamott also writes fiction but I’ve never read any. Can anyone tell me about them? I liked her voice in this book, so I’m thinking I might enjoy her novels, too.

Rating: 3/5
251 pages, 1993


All books reviewed on this site are owned by me, or borrowed from the public library. Exceptions are a very occasional review copy sent to me by a publisher or author, as noted. Receiving a book does not influence my opinion or evaluation of it


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