Wednesday, January 12, 2011

The Scent of Spring 2011

The first day I smelled the scent of spring in 2011 was Monday, January 10.

In the past I've always associated it with an unusually warm and sunny winter day but Monday it was snowing in Seattle: soft, clumpy flakes drifting down from the sky on and off all day long, leaving a frosting of white on the grass and car windows.

Still when I left work in the afternoon, there was that piercing sweet scent that I immediately identified as sweet box (sarcococcus humilis, I believe, though I am a little confused by my sarococcus species).

The scent is hard to describe but almost everyone describes it as piercing. For instance, I found this blog post by Barbara Wilde who gardens in Paris and found it wafting out of Parc Monceau. She describes it as powerful and piercingly sweet.

Another common description, and one I have used in the past, is the sensation of being stopped in your tracks, as described by Sue Taylor in an article at Dave’s Garden. She compares the scent to honey.

This year my first thought was of violets. Mary Robson at Muck About describes the fragrance as vanilla and honey. She brings in branches in November and “forces’ them to bloom indoors.

I have tried this myself as a way to extend this delicious scent but it really loses its charm after a few hours in a warm house and becomes cloying. I prefer that elusive, piercing, evasive scent that surprises me on a winter day with its promise of spring.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Top Ten Books of 2010

I wanted to list my Top Ten Books of 2010 as I did in 2009 (and I will—see below, if you’re impatient). Then I realized I wanted to write more about each of these books and what they mean to me.

I’m making a commitment to blog more frequently in 2010 and I plan to blog each week about a book I am currently reading. I could post these reviews on Library Thing or Good Reads, the sites my friends are using to keep track of books they’ve read and are reading, and I probably will post there as well.

I read about 104 books last year and I didn’t finish about a third of the books I began this year. I follow famous librarian Nancy Pearl’s rule. She says that up to the age of 50, you should read 50 pages of any book before deciding if it is worthwhile or not. After the age of 50, you can subtract one year for every year you age, so that by the time you are 90 you only have to read 10 pages. Life is too short to waste time reading bad books!

When I made my Top Ten list this year, I noticed that most were non-fiction. Only two novelists made it onto my list. That got me thinking. I realized I go to novels for entertainment and story-telling and these days, I get a lot of those desires satisfied by watching TV. Yes, I am about to come out of the closet about my plebian tastes!

When I want short stories featuring a character with a problem, some conflict and a resolution, I turn to court TV and get two or three of these stories in an hour. If I want to experience a longer journey--about a character on a quest, struggling against obstacles, finding allies and mentors, learning lessons and eventually achieving a goal--I watch reality TV shows, like Survivor or America’s Next Top Model or Top Chef. And finally if I want a really good dramatic show, something with the density of a Dickens novel with complex characters, multiple plot lines and layers of theme, I can watch dramatic series like Mad Men or True Blood or Big Love. So maybe next year I will have to write a top ten list of my favorite TV shows. I didn’t even keep track of them this year.

My reading tastes have shifted in the direction of non-fiction and most of the books on my top ten list are books that changed the way I live or the way I think. I also notice that three out of ten have the word “home” in the title. Not sure about the significance of that but it was a year when I stayed home a lot.

Here’s my list. I’ll do a countdown starting with #10 and working my way up to #1, in the tradition of all Top Ten Lists, over the next ten weeks. By then I should have read enough good books to keep me posting reviews every week all year long.

Fox Woman by Kij Johnson

The Chet and Bernie mysteries by Spencer Quinn: Dog Gone It, Thereby Hangs a Tale and To Catch a Thief

Eating Animals by Jonathan Safran Foer

Goat Song: A Seasonal Life, A Short History of Herding and the Art of Making Cheese by Brad Kessler

The Thoughtful Dresser: The Art of Adornment, the Pleasures of Shopping and Why Clothes Matter by Linda Grant

Reading the Mountains of Home by John Elder

Let’s Take the Long Way Home: A Memoir of Friendship by Gail Caldwell

Circumference of Home: One’s Man Yearlong Quest for a Radically Local Life by Kurt Hoelting

Naming Nature: The Clash Between Instinct and Science by Carol Kaesuk Yoon

Wesley the Owl: The Remarkable Love Story of an Owl and His Girl by Stacey O’Brien