The Summer Book Club

I joined a summer reading club at the invitation of my dear friend Misch, who is a librarian by profession. The club is made up almost entirely of librarians and other folk who make a living from words or books, a category that occasionally includes me. This is the second summer I’ve participated, and it’s a lot of fun–even if it is entirely online. This is a club for people who looked forward to writing book reports in school. And HERE is my first entry:

Review #1: Early Pleasures: Tales from a Biologist’s Garden by Roger B. Swain

Published 1978 (mine is from 1981)    ~    ISBN # 0-684-166657-7    ~    188 pages    ~    Challenge book #1

I really liked this book. It has 21 short chapters, each devoted to a specific garden or wildlife phenomenon. Like parsnips.

The main worry I always have about nonfiction books is that they will be dry, boring, too-clinical, etc. This one struck the perfect balance between informative and entertaining, with lots of slightly folksy anecdotes and observations. Some chapters, like “White Life”, lean a little heavier on the biology aspect…which led me to read them slightly less attentively than the chapters with more personality. All, however, were enjoyable.

I liked the self-reliant tilt of “Time, Energy and Maple Syrup”, which also showed up in “The Attraction of Wild Bees” and “The Cultured Cabbage”. Making maple syrup is just the type of thing I would do, so I felt a kinship to Mr. Swain. He reminded me a bit of Barbara Kingsolver at times, as they both have writings that intertwine science with humanity.

In “Salting the Earth” and “The Squirrel and the Fruitcake”, Swain portrayed some challenges to agriculture and horticulture that are due (at least in part) to the choices of mankind. The possible solutions he suggests are both amusing and realistic.

The chapters of the book follow the cycle of nature, beginning in late winter/early spring and wrapping up just after the Christmas mistletoe. My favorite chapter of all was the final: “Ex Familia”. In this chapter, Swain looks with honesty at all the ecological challenges we face and presents his own optimistic point of view. I won’t spoil it, but…it made me feel better.


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