Thursday, November 30, 2006
A book review
Carol of May Dreams Gardens came up with the wonderful idea of doing an on-line book club with a bunch of us gardening bloggers. Great idea, sign me up! Then I heard about the first book selected. Oh no, I thought.
The ancient Romans had an expression that I re-remembered when I reread this book. (In point of fact, I thought of it when I bought the book, too, but more about that later.) It goes like this: "De gustibus non est disputandum." This translates to "In matters of taste, there is no argument." And I had to keep that in mind when the very particular Mr. Mitchell would tee off on one or another of my favorite growing things, or elevate one of my least-favorite.
About the book: Henry Mitchell was the beloved garden writer for the Washington Post for a time during the 70s-80s. His style was a bit revolutionary, and his yarns about his city and country gardens actually do travel very well. He's something of a curmudgeon, his humor is dry, his opinions (like I mentioned) are legion. In other words, he (normally) would be someone I would love. This book is a collection of his essays, and therein lies my problem with the book. As far as narrative structure, the book is something easily picked up, read, and put down again...it is the gardening dilettante's dream. Great for the bedside table, great for reading on the train to work.
One of my other favorite garden bloggers has this theory of her blog that I truly admire. She basically avoids giving advice because gardening advice is...boring! "Snoozy voice of God stuff," she says. And honestly? Henry Mitchell's voice is quite in my head, thank you; and yes, he, to my ears, is prone to sermons, and tendentious, even when (especially when) I agree with him. I frankly think this is ONLY because this book is structured the way it is, i.e., as a series of narrowly-connected articles. Quite fun to read in the newspaper, yes; as a whole book? no.
Considering Henry Mitchell is something of a sacred cow in gardening circles, I do feel bad that my review of this book is so harsh. My review of him? He's great. In small doses.
But remember the Romans. In matters of taste, there is no argument.