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1 Challenge Books 003

I have been thinking about all the different types of books there are to enjoy.  
From those thoughts came the image of a garden.  In my book garden of the mind, I see a row of books of essays snaking up twine to a pole to be easily picked when ripe.  I see the low shrubs of memoirs and biographies standing around the fountain.  Fiction stories have large leaves that spread above the hidden veggies and have to be pulled aside to harvest the treasure.  Non-fiction books stand tall and are ever-bearing.  Mysteries sit in pots on the patio handy for picking.  Science fiction and fantasy stories are frost hardy and can be dug up in the winter.  Romance is easily pickled and delicious with steak.  Poetry is like an herb that smells good in the kitchen.  

In the kinds of books I read gardens are often mentioned.  People often walk there to share private conversations or meet a loved one secretly.  When the protagonist heads for a garden we get to share the sunlight beneath the grape arbor or the moonlight on the stream that runs under a little bridge.  I love these times.  Gardens can be dangerous places, but not usually.  The description of the garden gives us a little break in the action or it lets the main character breathe and reflect.

Some gardens have very little beauty and yet they are memorable.

In E. E. Cumming’s memoir The Enormous Room about his imprisonment during WW I for supporting his friend who wrote letters critical of the war, the men’s small yard had a dozen mangy apple trees whose fruit was prized and often dislodged by pieces of wood or stone.  The trees weren’t much, but a man could sit beneath them for a tiny symbolic bit of shade and with his back against the trunk, he could cry.   A small active imp climbed one and fell.  His father picked him up saying complacently, “Don’t be sad, my little son, everybody falls out of trees, they’re made for that by God.”  These little trees will haunt me for a long time.

A little inarticulate man in an Orange Cap was lonely until the Zulu came who would play with him.  

Pages 105, 106, 107

He was always chasing the Zulu around trees in the cour; dodging, peeping, tagging him on his coat, and sometimes doing something like laughing…  

Until the Zulu came…The little person was snubbed and affronted at every turn.  He didn’t dare the littlest personal bit, beyond being quietly lonely so far as his big, blue, expressionless eyes were concerned, and keeping out of the way of fights when fights were on.  Which fights he sometimes caught himself enjoying, whereupon he would go sit under a very small apple-tree and ruminate thoroughly upon no-existence until he had sufficiently punished himself…

Once I did see the Orange Cap walk shyly up to The Silent Man.  They looked at each other, both highly embarrassed, both perhaps conscious that they ought to say something Austrian to each other.  The Silent Man looked away.  The little person’s face became vacant and lonely, and he tip-toed quietly back to his apple-tree.


In Poul Anderson’s books there are many lovely descriptions.  Who can resist the special lake in “Outpost of Empire” from Captain Flandry.  It is a wild landscape not a garden, but it remains in the reader’s mind as a reason for the right people to win.

Pages 50, 51

Moon Garnet Lake was the heart of the Upwoods: more than fifty kilometers across, walled on three sides by forest and on the fourth by soaring snow peaks.  At every season it was charged with life, fish in argent swarms, birds rising by thousands when a bulligator bellowed in a white-plumed stand of cockatoo reed, wildkine everywhere among the trees…Wavelets sparkled clear to the escarpments, where mountaintops floated dim blue against heaven.

It is a land where the reader can walk in his mind as two moons rise.

Page 148

Beyond the ring of vehicles, the meadow rolled wide, its dawn trava turf springy and sweet underfoot, silver-gray beneath heaven.  Trees stood roundabout, intricacies of pine, massivenesses of hammerbranch, cupolas of delphi.  Both moons tinged their boughs white; and of the shadows, those cast by Creusa stirred as the half-disc sped eastward.  Stars crowded velvet blackness.  The Milky Way was an icefall.

In Vikram Seth’s book The Golden Gate it is not a garden, but a description of the area around the bridge that is wonderful.
Page 103

It’s dark.  He drives.  The street lamps glimmer
Through cooling air.  The golden globes
By City Hall glow, and the glimmer
_Like sequins on black velvet robes-
Of lights shines out across the water,
Across the bay, unrolled daughter
Of the Pacific; on the crests
Of hill and bridge red light congests
The sky with rubies.  Briskly blinking,
Planes-Venus-bright-traverse the sky.
Ed drives on, hardly knowing why,
Across the tall-spanned bridge.  Unthinking,
He parks, and looks out past the strait,
The deep flood of the Golden Gate.

One of the most memorable gardens is in The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett.  The garden beloved by the dead wife and mother is brought to life again by a little girl who is an orphan. Her fragile cousin Colin is restored by playing in it.  The movie and musical are wonderful, visual treats and yet our mind also was able to create the garden when we read about it in the book.

Ellis Peter's Cadfael mysteries lure us into Cadfael's garden where he is working quietly and bring us a sense of peace.

The garden in The Samurai's Garden by Gail Tsukiyama is important to the story and memorable.

Books are gardens of the mind.  We let our imagination go free with the help of the author.  When we are tired we can relax in these mental gardens.  They are more than metaphor.  They are part of us.

What stories have you read that feature gardens?  

Diaries of the Week:

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Special Note:  I just received a copy of john keat's new book (thank you!!).  It is gorgeous!  It is titled The Chains of the Sea.  John put up some excerpts in the comments here:

He has faith in us at Bookflurries and says:

It's damn funny and packed with jokes and allusions readers like you will get.  The true account of the election!
NOTE: plf515 has book talk on Wednesday mornings early

Originally posted to Readers and Book Lovers on Wed Jan 16, 2013 at 05:00 PM PST.

Also republished by Progressive Friends of the Library Newsletter.


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