Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Education of a Gardener, by Russell Page

Russell Page was one of the premier landscape architects and designers of the 20th century, and created gardens throughout Europe, the United Kingdom, and the United States. As my family has some history in this area of concern, including our own English gardener, I grew up knowing of Mr. Page and his unique style, and had the privilege of visiting some of the exquisite gardens he created.

Perhaps it's this shared history or knowledge that made the book so profoundly appealing to me. For someone who does not know plants by their Latin names, this book may be a bit of a muddle trying to picture what he means when he talks of drifts of this interspersed with islands of that. As I have the almost-useless party trick of recalling the horticultural lexicon safely stored away from earliest youth, I was able to picture the gardens in beautiful technicolor, imagining the progression of bloom and scent just as he described. The book has runs of pictures, all in black and white, but as the gardens were created before color film was common, these are likely the only pictures extant of his creations at their finest.

Page was an artist of the first order. He painted with trees, flowers, shrubs, and hardscape, but he created art as surely as any of the great masters. He wrote as beautifully as he planted; the final chapter in the book acknowledges that he ought to have called the book "Other People's Gardens" had the name not already been taken, and he proceeds to reward the reader with the most lovely creation of all as he poetically imagines a personal garden which his peregrinations had never allowed him to have. One finishes the book hoping that he had the opportunity to create the garden of his dreams.

Friday, August 15, 2014

An Illustrated Guide to Soccer and Spanish, by Elliott Turner

An Illustrated Guide to Soccer & SpanishAn Illustrated Guide to Soccer & Spanish by Elliott Turner
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Charming short e-book on the intricacies of soccer, but explained partially in English and partially in Spanish. That makes it nearly perfect.

So does the Brian Phillips foreword. Brian Phillips wrote one of my favorite web articles of all time on the USMNT fashion photo shoot done at the home of my local soccer club, and I've been one of his readers ever since. Elliott Turner has a similar sense of humor, so I'm pleased to have discovered him.

Turner takes us through the team positions, the coaches, referees, fans, stadium, field, and equipment in both languages. The intent of the book isn't just humor, though-- he's looking to grow the game in the US through bringing the Latino fútbol culture closer to the growing US soccer mania. If the two fan groups could understand each other just a little bit better, we could become another great force in the world of soccer.

At under 100 pages with at least a quarter of those as a glossary, this is a quick read and a rather important one for anyone who follows the game here and south of the US border. The terminology is fascinating; you'll pick up a bit of Spanish through the words and the charming illustrations. Elliott Turner: más, ¡por favor!

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Thursday, August 14, 2014

Gap Creek, by Robert Morgan

My part-time job the last couple years in college was reshelving books in the main campus library. I remember coming across a series in the "how to write books" range that was very fascinating; it was something like THE REAL 1870s, THE REAL 1910s, etc. and its intention was to give period-piece writers authentic details of life during the eras of which they were writing. I remember checking out several of them and being far more fascinated with the details than I would have been any fiction written from them.

I don't recall the actual series name, but I'll bet Robert Morgan does, because GAP CREEK contains at least 40% pure source detail from THE REAL 1890s volume. Want to know what death from intestinal worms looks like? How to butcher a hog? How to birth a baby without help? Hand-wash a load of clothes? Scald, pluck, and dress a turkey? Morgan has you covered, excruciating detail by excruciating detail, leaving absolutely nothing out. If he had, this would have been the shortest of short stories.

The blurb indicates that this is "the story of a marriage," but it's really the story of one baffling 17-year-old girl who marries a fellow she's met twice, moves off the family mountain to the scary valley, and keeps on working hard despite flood, fire, and pestilence. Literally. She battles all three in excruciating detail, some more than once.

There's something of a plot, but it doesn't come to much. I think we're supposed to sympathize with the main female character through all her troubles, but it's hard to even understand what motivates her because she is written so woodenly. The supporting characters are little more than paper dolls-- the husband's behavior is so irrational that he's almost robotic.

The author is from the beautiful western North Carolina Appalachian area where this takes place, so the setting is very true-to-form, but this is the only part of "write what you know" he's taken to heart. I'm sure he enjoyed researching 1890s Appalachia, but when it comes to writing fiction about it, I would much prefer THE REAL 1890s.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Fútbol: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America, by Joshua H. Nadel

Fútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin AmericaFútbol!: Why Soccer Matters in Latin America by Joshua H. Nadel
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Everyone who follows soccer knows that it's a really big deal in Latin America. But why, and why there?

I attended a reading by the author, who is local to me, the week this book was released, and knew at once that this is not a run-of-the-mill sports book. Nadel is a university professor of history, and his book contains as much Latin American history as it does soccer. You'll learn about the stadium in Chile used as a concentration camp, how soccer stabilized and destabilized governments, and how classism and racism were defined and defied by the game.

His writing is excellent, and while there is a lot of information here, a good history instructor knows to emphasize the story. You will learn more about how soccer caught on in Latin America and changed the narrative for Argentina, Uruguay, Brazil, Honduras, and Mexico. Vignettes on notable players past and present run through the text; you'll learn a bit more about some of the great names in the game.

Speaking to the author, his next project is on the history of women's soccer, to which he devotes a chapter in this book. I look forward to it.

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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

How to Learn a New Language With a Used Brain, by Lynn McBride

How to Learn a New Language with a Used BrainHow to Learn a New Language with a Used Brain by Lynn McBride
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

This very short, practical guide to adult language learning had most of the advice I've read before, but with some new resources to try.

The author moved from the US to France some years ago, so the skew in the book is toward adult learners of French; though the techniques are applicable to any target language, the examples are French. The advice is not new: take a class, don't be afraid to talk, expose yourself to the language on television and print as often as possible, tune the radio to the language you're trying to learn, etc.

Some of the online resources were new to me, which made it worth the book to discover them. Because I already take a class, listen/watch television/read papers and books in my target language, the more advanced resources were very helpful to me toward my goal of getting from textbook to fluency.

This book can be easily read at one sitting, then kept by the computer to start looking up resources you may find helpful. It was encouraging to have the many stories of adults who have successfully added to their languages; if you plan to be one of them, this short read may help you as well.

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