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Monday, October 20, 2008

Books, Plants and Plant Books

Starting into a new novel on Saturday night, I was stopped cold on page 10 when a character was said to have "gripped the podium as if without it he'd collapse into a pile of colored laundry...." I pictured the professor in question bent at the waist, hands gripping the platform on which he stood. Surely the author meant to say that he gripped the lectern, don't you imagine? But to imagine this we must also imagine that no one at the major publishing house responsible recognized the error. A sad state of affairs. I plowed through a few more overwritten, self-conscious pages before sleep rescued me but will probably bail out of that particular book. Why not mention book and author by name? For the same reason a friend of mine, a painter, says she will no longer provide negative criticism about the work of her fellow painters: she knows the time and effort and hopes and dreams that went into the work. I do give my candid opinions to people buying books in my bookstore, some of whom decide to chance the book I didn't like, others grateful for the warning. Ater all, reading tastes differ--to put it mildly! One book I dragged myself through, a very good friend adored, while another that is in my all-time top 100 list she "couldn't get into."

When my friend Jeanie was here last week from Massachusetts, I really wanted to show her my closed gentians in bloom. Ethereal blue and bizarre in form, they bloom so late in the year that I've usually either lost hope of seeing them or forgotten them altogether. Yesterday I learned from my friend Richard, over Liberty Hyde Bailey's LESSONS IN BOTANY, of another botanical oddity, the cleistogamous plant. It is self-pollinating in the extreme, producing seeds although it has only non-opening flowers, chasmogamy (opening flowers) being the rule, cleistogamy (closed flowers) the exception. I'm not sure but think that the closed gentian, also known picturesquely as bottle gentian, is technically (and nonintuitively, going by its name) a chasmogamous form. Does that adjective look correct?

Richard formally introduced me--insofar as one can be introduced to the deceased--to an illustrator whose work I had seen before in Bailey's book without paying attention to the name or realizing that Holdsworth was a native of Traverse City. Bailey himself was born in South Haven, making LESSONS IN BOTANY a collaboration of Lake Michigan native sons. I appreciated the charm of Holdsworth's detailed, shaded drawings, and Richard agreed that Bailey was a beautiful literary stylist. We talked about the vast difference between botany confined to the laboratory and "botanizing" (as the serious amateurs used to call it) done in the field. Later at home, outdoors again with Sarah, I paid closer attention to the seedheads of the little grey coneflower and even the lichens on the bench of our old, weathered picnic table.

A new book on northern Michigan plants is due out in December. My good friends Ed and Connie Arnfield of Northport are the perpetrators (they will take that identification with good humor, I'm sure), and if the book arrives on time from the printer (Arbutus Press in Traverse City is the publisher), we will have our first signing party at Dog Ears Books on Wednesday, December 17, with another event in late spring 2009 for returning snowbirds. Ed and Connie focus on common wildflowers and trees in our little corner of the world, providing both drawings and color photographs to aid in identification, as well as a graph along the bottom of each page highlighting the months in which each plant would be most noticeable. We can hardly wait to have this book in our hands! That is not the royal bookseller "we" but the "we" of Ed and Connie and me, along with many other Northport friends and readers and nature lovers.


Anonymous said...

You may know this, but Liberty Hyde Bailey was a professor at Michigan State, and identified a lot of native plants in this area. Bailey Street and the Bailey neighborhood are named in his honor.

Missed seeing you this weekend - we were up for the Haunted Lighthouse, and you were closed when we went by. Oh well, there's always May ...

P. J. Grath said...

Sorry to have missed you, Dawn. I was open Saturday, 10-5, and it was a very busy day! Took Sunday off.

Glad to hear you are familiar with Bailey's contributions. I added more about him and about Holdsworth on today's (Tuesday's) post. Hope my friend Richard sees it, too!