A botanical garden of literary delight

botanical sketch

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I’ve never read Eat, Pray, Love, but I’ve seen the movie, and was underwhelmed. So when one of my book club friends suggested we read Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, The Signature of All Things, I was not enthused. It was definitely not a book I’d have chosen to read myself.The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert

But, as often happens, I absolutely loved it! It was the type of book that I found myself carrying from room to room, unwilling to put it down. It even made its way into my dreams at night.

There are at least six reasons that this book captivated me:

(1) The beautiful botanical sketches on the inside and outside of the covers, and throughout the book (not unlike the one in this post, although it’s actually from Atlas de la Flore des environs de Paris).

(2) The language! Here are a couple of phrases that stood out for me:

His spelling was several degrees beyond arbitrary, and his punctuation brought reason to sigh with unhappiness.

She dressed in the full spectrum of colors that one associates with common house sparrow.

(3) It talks about the pharmaceutical industry in the late 1700s, selling remedies when liquids and rest would have been more effective treatments. I’ve long suspected this to be true, but didn’t realize it had been going on for hundreds of years.

(4) One description of the world in the 1820s sounds very much like life today:

… there were too many new inventions these days, and too many new ideas, all so complex and far-flung. One could no longer be an expert in generalities, making a handsome pudding of profit in all sorts of fields.”

After making that discovery in my own business several years ago, I made the decision to get really good at a few things and to turn away work requiring me to learn yet another program. Once again, I was surprised to learn that this feeling goes back so many years!

(5) For the most part, I felt I had little in common with the main character, Alma Whittaker, but her experience working with her father was very similar to mine, in some of my past jobs:

… soon enough Alma’s efficiency became her enemy. She carried out her tasks for the Whittaker Company too well and too quickly. Soon, having learned everything she needed to know about botanical importing and exporting, she was able to complete Henry’s work for him in the matter of four or five hours a day.

(6) Alma had a dream which featured people and places from various parts of her life all jumbled together. This happens to me a lot!

The more I read, the better it got.

Have you ever been surprised by your response to a book? What was it?

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Janet Barclay

I eliminate stress for my clients by hosting, monitoring, and maintaining their WordPress sites so they don’t have to worry about security, downtime or performance issues. When I’m away from my desk, I enjoy reading, photography, cooking, watching movies, drinking tea, and spending time with my family.

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  1. Kathy Stinson on November 17, 2015 at 8:30 pm

    Wonderful to come across a book your feel that way about, especially when it’s so unexpected. I was surprised by my response to the book I’m currently preparing to read at the CNIB Recording Studio.

    I’ve never been drawn to graphic novels, although friends have recommended a few, so when CNIB staff offered me The Outside Circle by Patti Laboucane-Benson and Kelly Melling, my initial impulse was to turn it down, to wait for a book more to my taste in reading. But I was intrigued by its subject matter, and it has proven a most satisfying read — for its character development and its insights into aboriginal rehabilitation programs. It will be a privilege to narrate this book for those who use the CNIB library. http://www.cbc.ca/radio/thecurrent/the-current-for-may-26-2015-1.3087566/the-outside-circle-rethinking-rehabilitation-for-aboriginal-offenders-1.3087673

    When I first saw the visual for this post, Janet, the book that immediately came to mind was The Paper Garden: Mrs. Delany Begins Her Life Work at 72 by Molly Peacock. It’s a book I expected to like and absolutely loved. http://www.nytimes.com/2011/05/15/books/review/book-review-the-paper-garden-by-molly-peacock.html?_r=0

    I think you’ve given me an idea for a blog post of my own, Janet. Not for the first time, as you know. Thanks!

    • Janet on November 18, 2015 at 6:02 am

      I’m intrigued by the concept of making a graphic novel into an audio book, when the imagery plays such an important role. I’d like to hear more about that some time.

      It sounds like there are some overlaps between The Signature of All Things and The Paper Garden, as they both include references to Kew and Captain Cook’s voyages as well as botany. I’m going to have to read it now too!

      • Kathy Stinson on November 18, 2015 at 6:13 am

        I’ll be happy to lend you The Paper Garden whenever you’re ready to read it and to chat about narrating a graphic novel.

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