Most garden books are packed with pictures, so it’s brave of both author and publisher to put out Grow the Good Life by Michele Owens (Rodale), a gardening book with no pictures at all. I find myself both cheering and becoming slightly apprehensive. After all, good pictures often carry garden books by writers whose writing skills are, how shall we say, not so very finely tuned.
I have a pretty low tolerance, I have to say, for bad writing – in any kind of books. That doesn’t mean I restrict my reading to highbrow literary fiction, far from it. Though it was a relief to fall on the recent Alice Hoffman a couple of days after another book had hit the wall as I expressed my, errr… displeasure.
So I was delighted, after just a few lines, to realize that Michele Owens can write and we don’t need to worry about the lack of pictures. What’s more, she writes well in a style which can be a trap for the unwary: dealing with important issues in a relaxed and conversational manner. “There be dragons”, as the stormy corners of the old maps used to remind us; no dragons snapping bites out of this prose.
This is a book for people who like the idea of gardening, and who like a good read – but who haven’t actually turned much soil. Michele wonders why so few Americans grow food, or grow anything. And then devotes a whole chapter to my personal top reason: soil. Americans don’t like dirt. In a generation we’ve gone from kids eating worms to kids not being allowed even to touch the soil because it’s “dirty” and “full of germs”.
No. As seed sowing season and planting season approach, read this book and enjoy discovering the many many reasons why growing food is… well, not worthy, not important, not a noble achievement determined by some high philosophical ideal (though of course it’s all those things too). It’s just, well, normal. (As is, of course, growing flowers.) And the other thing that so many Americans hate, apart from dirt, is being thought weird. So get to it.
Oh, and don’t be put off by the cover price, which at $24.99 is pretty steep for 200 pages of text and no color pictures. But I reckon it’s priced high so that the amazon.com price, $14.69 - a 41% discount! - looks such a bargain.