Dreams From My Father by Barack Obama
Technically I didn’t read this book. Rather, I listened to it while walking the twenty minutes home after dropping my boys at school. I am intrigued by other people’s lives: ordinary people and those swathed in the limelight. I enjoy listening to memoirs/autobiographies, especially when read by the author and Obama’s smooth baritone served to lull my nerves after the fracas that is the morning routine. It’s not a political tome, nor is it pushing any agendas. It’s simply a reflection, a recount of his formative years with the insight that one only has decades later. The 5+ hours were a welcome distraction and nearing the end, I found myself taking the long way home.
Bride of New France by Suzanne Desrochers
Laure’s story begins in Paris in the 1650’s. Paris of yesteryear was a gritty and dirty place. The streets teemed with poverty and sanatoriums overpopulated with the physically sick, mentally ill and destitute. A careful selection of young girls from these institutions were shipped to New France with the intention of marrying them off to the male settlers and populate the area thereby securing the land for France from the native people. Reading this novel transported me back to 7th grade history and the King’s Daughter by Suzanne Martel, however Desrocher’s account of life as a filles du roi is more suited for adult eyes.
Turtle Valley by Gail Anderson-Dargatz
I can’t start a book by Gail Anderson-Dargatz if there is anything pressing I must attend to because once I read the first few pages I am committed. In this case, I followed Kat on her agonizing journey of self-discovery while she put out fires, both literally and figuratively, while re-awakening a fire deep within. Kat returns home to care for her dying father and support her mentally ailing mother while coming to terms with the end of her marriage to her stroke-ravaged husband. To complicate things, the neighbour is her recently divorced former lover with whom she shares a sorrowful secret. While the drama runs high, the characters are real and lack any of the histrionics you’d expect from a soap opera.
Paradise Lot by Eric Toensmeier is an account of two young men who buy a small, barren urban lot in Massachusetts and set about creating a “permaculture paradise” featuring more than two hundred edible plants, many of which you and I have never heard of. I plowed (ha!) through this book, which was made more interesting by revealing parallel exploration and growth in the protagonists’ lives (they meet lovers and settle down). So much of the literature on permaculture and growing food assumes one has and needs swaths and swaths of land; this book shows how much is possible anywhere and encourages its readers to do what they can, where they are.
A bit counter-intuitive maybe, given the subject matter, but Urban Farms by Sarah Rich is like a coffee table showpiece for this particular kind of farm. A good-looking book that profiles 16 forward-looking farms thriving in city environments, there’s more of a reporting quality to this book than a heartfelt one, but the featured farms are so innovative that they can almost speak for themselves. Fascinating overview of what is possible, especially for the reader new to urban agriculture.
Well, I have officially gone down the rabbit hole. After my wonderfully fun book club, I’m perfume-obsessed. I’ve spent the last four nights with Tania Sanchez and Luca Turin’s Perfumes: The A-Z Guide. It is more than 600 pages long; it reviews 1800 fragrances; I have ordered more than a few samples from Lucky Scent. The A-Z Guide is a hoot. There is no pretense of objectivity. This is entirely a subjective, first person and opinionated account of the authors’ encounters with all perfumes, great and small. The fact that some of my favourites appear on their five star list was no small source of pleasure. They, too, love Dzing!, The Breath of God, and Cuir de Russie.
After reading The Perfect Scent, I went back to re-read The Emperor of Scent, Chandler Burr’s book about Luca Turin. Not only is Turin an eloquent perfume aficionado, he’s a maverick scientist who, out of his love for perfume, comes up with an entirely new theory of how smell works. He is subsequently vilified and demonized by perfumers and scientists alike, and Burr tells what could easily be a conspiracy theory fairy tale so compellingly and so carefully that it’s hard not to fall in love with both of them. Absolutely fascinating. Even the second time around.
While I’m at it, I might as well tell you about Patrick Suskind’s Perfume, a novel that I liked more for its detail about how perfume is made than for its plot. An orphaned child has an uncannily sensitive sense of smell. He learns the perfume business, makes his employers rich and famous with his genius, then embarks on his own life’s work: to make perfume that smells like innocence. He does not do it innocently. If, like me, you are tired of the CSI/murder mystery/Cold Case plot that pits a psychopath against anonymous virginal females, consider yourself warned. Worth reading for the perfume stuff, though!