Gentle Gardening: A Low-Energy Guide for Uncooperative Bodies by Erin Alladin

I bought this book on a whim when someone on a chronic illness support board suggested it. I’ve been gardening for years, but both my physical ability to keep up and my time available have been flagging, leaving me with really horrible gardens.

This book supports bringing joy to having a garden, and having even a little slice of time to garden, instead of hitching your joy to the expectations of bounty.

It also offers a lot of suggestions for how to garden in ways that take some of the strain off. The author introduces many gardening methods, from square-foot gardening to “lasagna gardening” to straw bale gardening. Some of these I’ve tried and others I’ve heard of. She also suggests different tools and approaches to physical or neurological issues that might prevent us from gardening.

The book is short, illustrated, and well-researched, with a bibliography and a glossary.

You don’t want to know by James Felton

If you’ve listened to the podcast No Such Thing as a Fish or watched the tv show QI, well, You Don’t Want to Know by James Felton  is their grosser cousin. Fortunately, that’s what I was looking for when I put this book on my wish list. Reading weird shit makes for better writing of weird shit.

Some of these stories you may know, especially if you’ve been around the internet for a number of years. Oregon’s experiment in blowing up a beached whale is here. Our buddy Ea-Nasir’s angry letter to Nanni regarding the quality of copper is here. And of course the emu war.

But also there are lots of amazingly gross facts about surgery, animals, masturbation, animal masturbation, ways to die, science, ways to die using science, and tons of situations that could have been easily solved by humans learning to communicate.

I don’t predict it will age incredibly well due to a running set of jokes and commentary referencing current events, but then again, Ea-Nasir probably didn’t think his letter of complaint in cuneiform would last almost two thousand years either.

Good collection of vignettes, some stories of animal and human cruelty, will definitely turn off some readers. Buyer beware, this may not be the book for you.

Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire

Like many people, I was attracted to Once Upon a Tome by Oliver Darkshire through the Sotheran’s twitter account. I’m a former (retail, not rare) bookseller, though, so even if I hadn’t found it through the tweets, I suspect it would’ve found me.

Selling retail books is not the same as selling rare books, and selling retail books before the internet was a thing (as I did) is certainly not the same as selling anything today. Still, I recognized the various kinds of customers Darkshire describes pretty much instantly, as well as what it was like trying to prevent a bookstore from turning into a death trap of obstacles and oddities.

(The best bookstores are death traps, but manageable so.)

Darkshire’s descriptions and explanations are both well-crafted imagery and tightly-written, two things as a writer I struggle to achieve simultaneously as he does. It made me simultaneously miss the book selling trade and grateful that I got out when I did.

Definitely recommended for fellow booksellers, and fellow book lovers.

Epidemics and Society by Frank M. Snowden

I picked up a copy of Epidemics and Society  in November of 2019, having no idea it had just been published, nor any hint of what would happen in China only a few weeks later. I thought that, well, I was trying to write a pandemic in my current NaNoWriMo novel and maybe some research would help…

Epidemics and Society is the best book on understanding the intersection of medicine and history I’ve ever read. When I took history classes in high school and college, public health was treated like a thing separate from historical events. This book shatters that illusion and shows that many points of upheaval took place during or directly after an epidemic of some sort.

It starts early with explanations of our understanding of disease and moves through history, epidemic by epidemic, around the world. Each is explained in context of the politics, public health policies, epidemiology, and even economics that impacted the response to the pandemic.

Ultimately the lesson is simple: all this has happened before, and all this will happen again. The best we can do is make public health a critical priority both in times of low concern and times of epidemic.

Also, hug your healthcare workers (consensually) because they’ve been through a hell of a ride for centuries now.