In this edition I wanted to delve a little deeper. Just because books are like plants for us botanophiles, it doesn’t mean that they can’t have meaning. Here are some of my favorite plant books, and hopefully they will become some of yours.
The Grace of Kings by Ken Liu- Recipient of the Hugo, Nebula and the World Fantasy Awards, this sweeping fantasy reminded me of Game of Thrones but with an Asian feel. I’ve added it to this list because a primary character is a talented herbalist, and she subtly influences the plot with her plants. I have heard rumors that the next book might feature my favorite character, and her story. A great start to a series, I can’t wait till the next one comes out!
The Signature of All Things by Elizabeth Gilbert- Written by the author of the popular memoir Eat, Pray, Love. Gilbert does fiction just as well. Set throughout the 18th and 19th centuries we follow the lives of the Whitaker family and the fortune they make procuring and selling plants for the pharmaceutical trade. The majority of the story is devoted to an extraordinary woman, Alma Whitaker. Who not only inherits her father’s fortune, but his scientific mind in a time when women scientists were rare. Alma’s story draws you in and paints a picture of a very different life beautifully.
The Orchardist by Amanda Copeland- When a solitary man with an who cares for the apples and apricots in remote Washington state takes in runaway teen girls all of their lives are changed forever. Considered by many to be one of the greatest works of Historical fiction, it is poetic, powerful and inspiring.
State of Wonder- Ann Patchett- Here we meet another female scientist, this time researching a potential source of a new drug in the Amazon. State of wonder is full of vivid details, from the buzzing of the mosquitos to the intense emotions Dr. Marina Singh experiences. If you enjoy reading adventures set in exotic locales, you’ll enjoy this one.
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton- Haven’t we all dreamed of finding a hidden garden somewhere to call our own? There’s something magical about that idea, and Morton tells us a story within a story all inspired by the romance of a secret garden. Part family saga, part fairy tale all intricately woven together perfectly. Frances Hodgeson Burnett (author of The Secret Garden) even makes an appearance!
When we talk about books about plants we cannot leave out the category of non-fiction. There are hundreds of thousands of books on topics like gardening, foraging, botany, plant collecting, horticulture, and farming. Though it was extremely difficult to choose, I wanted to just highlight a few of the ones I think might be most enjoyable to many tastes and interests.
Lab Girl by Hope Jahren- A new bestselling biography, part love story to plants and part moving memoir. Hope’s enthusiasm for science really shows us a new perspective into the life of lab work
The Drunken Botanist by Amy Stewart- Includes plant profiles as well as the history of many types of alcoholic beverages. Check out the great cocktail recipes!
The Orchid Thief: A True Story of Beauty and Obsession by Susan Orlean – The fascinating story of a Florida man caught illegally stealing orchids from national forest land. Delve into the complex world of fervent orchid enthusiasts.
Beatrix Potter's Gardening Life: The Plants and Places That Inspired the Classic Children's Tales by Marta McDowell – A childhood favorite brought to life with beautiful pictures and a glimpse into a different life in a very different time.
What a Plant Knows by Daniel Chamovitz shows us the ways in which plants use senses similar to our touch, smell and sight. This fascinating book shows us that they are more similar to us than we may think.
Wild Edibles: A Practical Guide to Foraging, with Easy Identification of 60 Edible Plants and 67 Recipes by Sergei Boutenko- Get outside and expand your culinary choices by incorporating wild foods!
Flora: An Illustrated History of the Garden Flower by Dr. W. Elliott- Beautifully illustrated and full of information and history on gardening and garden flowers.
Tales of a Shaman's Apprentice: An Ethnobotanist Searches for New Medicines in the Rain Forest by Mark J. Plotkin – This book full of plant lore, adventure with an overall ecological mindset. It really explores the use of plants from different areas of the world and how that may impact the environment and the people of the region.
Garden Princess by Kristin Kladstrup – Have you ever dreamed of becoming a flower? This book may change your mind.
The Secret Garden by Francis Hodgson Burnett- A must for any serious gardener or garden lover, this classic tells the tale of a sickly young girl, an unexpected friendship and a hidden garden that makes life a little bit magical.
The Princess Curse by Merrie Haskill – An imaginative retelling of the twelve dancing princess from the point of view of a young herbalist’s apprentice. Of all the books I know with herbalist characters this is the one I found to be most historically accurate.
Where the Lilies Bloom by Vera and Bill Cleaver – A young girl is forced to care for her siblings after the death of her father by surviving off the land. It gives a glimpse into the lifestyles of professional foragers, and where many of the plants we buy really come from.
Green Angel by Alice Hoffman- A beautifully written account of a young gifted gardener as she descends into and again back out of the grief that consumes her after a tragic event turns her life upside down.
Keep an eye on this space. In our next installment of Books for Botanophiles we will explore Books like Vegetables: (non-fiction) Practical, satisfying and oh so many varieties.
Be it in books, movies, music, magazines, blogs or even the different sections of the newspaper, our daily intake of art, entertainment and information is divided up into more categories than I care to count. In fiction alone, there’s Mystery, Romance, Horror, Adventure, Literary Fiction, Science Fiction, Fantasy, Historical Fiction, and many more besides. To be more specific, we often include subgenres, so there are Cozy Mysteries, Hard-Boiled Mysteries, “Who-Dun-It” mysteries, Historical Mysteries, and even a host of mysteries to be solved by various pets. There are blended genres such as Vampire Romance and Space Western. The list goes on.
Genres are important. They help us to find the sort of story that we’re looking for. A favorite genre may feel like home. But sometimes you want to branch out. You’ve spent so much time in your own genre that you’ve become a little too familiar with it. It’s been predictable lately, and you need to venture on to something new. Where do you even start?
The big umbrella genres you already know, but if you’re feeling adventurous, I’d like to introduce a few you might be less acquainted with. There’s a lot of great stuff out there waiting to be discovered. And you never know what might become a new favorite. Here are some suggestions for a few magical genres that won’t make you think of Tolkien.
This one isn’t too mysterious, but it’s really fun. And odds are, you’ve read or seen something that fits in here. The recipe is simple. Preheat your oven to 350°. Take all the magic and goblins and unicorns and such from your favorite fantasy books and drop them into a (relatively) modern urban setting. Voila! Superstar authors of Urban Fantasy include Jim Butcher with his Dresden Files series and Patricia Briggs with her Mercedes Thompson books. The lead characters of each (a hard-boiled sleuthing wizard and a shape-shifter who spends a lot of her time as a coyote respectively) deal with all the modern problems of making rent, finding decent wifi and handling car repairs, but with the addition of necromancers, sadistic faeries, vampires, werewolves and other things that go bump in the night.
At least one lightning-scarred Urban Fantasy hero has become a household name. So if you’ve read even one of the Harry Potter books or seen the movies, you are not a stranger to this genre. What’s appealing about these stories is that they are as magical as a trip to Narnia, but with characters who are more relatable than ye ol’ knights of the round table. If that sounds like the book that was written for you, here are some staple titles you might try:
Storm Front by Jim Butcher
Moon Called by Patricia Briggs
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J. K. Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany
The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman
Hounded by Kevin Hearne
The Night Circus by Erin Morgenstern
Magical Realism can be tricky to pin down. Chances are, you’re more acquainted with it than you know. Perhaps it is more of a style than a genre, but it is the subtle blending of fantasy elements in an ordinary world. Daniel Wallace’s novel Big Fish, made into a movie in 2003, is a great example of this in that it is the story of an ordinary man, but told through the stylistic lens of wild folk tales. The classic example is Gabriel García Márquez’s One Hundred Years of Solitude which is historical fiction, but containing impossible elements along the way that highlight the experience of the characters. Rather than spells and incantations, the magic in these stories comes from the mundane ordinary things in life. Magical Realism tends toward literary reading, and it is a popular choice for book clubs. Some Magical Realism titles you may want to try are:
This genre has similarities with Urban Fiction in that it draws elements from fantasy and places them into real world settings, modern day or other. The difference here is that the fantasy elements are drawn from real world myths and folk legends. Consider that the movie O Brother Where Art Thou, is a retelling of The Odyssey in the historical American south, and you’ll have a good idea what this one is all about. Not all stories are retellings or the myths, themselves. Many of them act on the premise that mythical figures are alive and well, and making their way in the modern world as found in the popular Percy Jackson series by Rick Riordan. Mythic Fiction titles run the gamut as for literary or pleasure reading. So, maybe you haven’t heard from Beowulf for a while, and you want to catch up. If this sounds like your cup of mead, then some titles you could look into are:
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