Friday, February 19, 2010

Wicked Plants - Amy Stewart

What a charming and interesting book.  I had no idea that so many common plants were so freaking bad for me and might possibly be able to kill me or my cat (this is imagining that I have a cat of course).  For instance, did you know that tulip bulbs can cause blisters on the hands of people who package them because they are slightly poisonous?  I mean, I always knew that tulips could inspire murder and ruin economies, but blisters?  Now that's crazy!

The book isn't all poison though.  It also highlights plants that are destructive, and illegal, intoxicating, unpleasant, and dangerous.  Apparently Stewart's opinion is that tobacco is the most dangerous plant of all.  I'd have to say I agree with her on that one, though the Australian Stinging Tree sounds excruciating.

There were so many little tid bits about the plants I see every day or even keep in my house.  The book isn't set up in a way that is meant to be shocking or scary; it's interesting and fun.  The author includes fun little facts and stories about most of the plants, which makes it more fun to read.  It's also such a nice size and comes with a ribbons attached to use as a book mark.  Why don't all hardcover book come with ribbons damn it?

I had mixed feelings about the art in the book.  The etchings, done by Briony Morrow-Cribbs, were very well done and interesting.  They were beautiful and eerie at the same time, very much in the spirit of the book as a whole.  They also remind me of the art my friend Lisa does, which helps.  However, the little illustrations, done by Jonathon Rosen, were so poor that they actually annoyed me.  They look like hasty doodles.  I actually checked out his website because his bio in the book had some impressive commissions.  His work varies from the doodly things seen in this book, to some impressive illustrations for newspapers and magazines.  Go figure.

Basically, when I was done reading this book, I wished there was a poison garden somewhere around here to visit.  I have such a new appreciation for the scary power of the plant world.  I always knew dangerous plants existed, but I guess I didn't realize just how common they were, and just how dangerous they could be.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Generation A by Douglas Coupland

Douglas Coupland's writing is a little Chuck Palahniuk, without trying as hard to be clever, and a little Kurt Vonnegut, though not so cynical. This book is not his first novel, but it almost reads like one. It doesn't make me interested to read his other books anytime soon, which is a bummer because I had high hopes for this book.

The story is about the foreseeable future when bees have gone extinct. No one has seen them for at least five years. Suddenly 5 different and seemingly unrelated people get stung. The book is told from their individual perspectives. Coupland does a good job of giving them all different personalities, though the writing style for each voice is basically identical. I found myself having trouble believing that the perceptive introvert was perceptive at all in certain chapters. At times he told his story like an ignorant fool.

I had bigger problem with the pacing. The story was all beginning and end, with no middle to speak of. We start out with the 5 people getting stung and they are whisked away to underground labs to be studied for a month, without explanation as to why. Then they go home, but before anything can happen there, they are whisked away yet again to a remote island where they find out why they were stung and what the results of being locked away underground were. Why even have them go home at all? Coupland seemed to be in a rush, but nothing gets me into a book like a writer who savors the story.

But I don't want to be misleading, it's a fun book and Coupland has a smart writing style. It was an easy read and an enjoyable one. It simply wasn't my favorite and I won't be rushing to re-read this book. I still stand by it being an interesting story idea, I just wish there could have been more to it. In a way that's a compliment. It's not like I didn't finish the book; I liked it enough to want more from it.