Tagged: 2014

Grow a Little Fruit Tree

Grow a Little Fruit Tree: Simple Pruning Techniques for Small-Space, Easy-Harvest Fruit Trees by Ann Ralph, 5/5

I wouldn’t even think about buying a fruit tree without first re-reading this exceptional book, which makes a very convincing case for using aggressive (but surprisingly simple) pruning techniques to keep fruit trees in the 5- to 6-foot height range. These trees may seem ridiculously tiny at first glance, but anyone who has faced the prospect of caring for larger trees while perched atop a ladder, in addition to coping with an overabundant harvest of sub-par fruit, will appreciate the practicality of Ann Ralph’s philosophy.

Since pruning is such a hands-on activity, I had some doubts about how much help a mere book could offer. For this reason, I had already taken a series of virtual Master Pruning classes through PlantAmnesty. Unfortunately, I found that organization’s overall pruning philosophy to be a bit fanatical and somewhat discouraging. They have a very PETA vibe: picture taking a hair styling course to cut your roommate’s hair and being told that your main focus should be on not disturbing the hair’s glorious natural potential and if you still really want to cut it, maybe you should consider just getting a different roommate. To be fair, their fruit tree class was more practical than the others, but I was left a little depressed and stressed out by the whole experience. In contrast, Ann Ralph’s approach to pruning encourages joyful, fearless experimentation and this little book gave me back the enthusiasm that I originally had for the art of pruning.

Not only is Grow a Little Fruit Tree informative and encouraging, its design and illustrations are exceptionally beautiful. I think it’s a shame that designer and hand-letterer, Lana Lê, and artist Allison Langton are not credited on the cover! It took a little research, but I was happy to find that their online portfolios (see links) contain samples from the book that are well worth checking out.

We only got one nice apple from our big, old tree this year, but at least it was a beautiful one!

All My Puny Sorrows

all my puny sorrows miriam toews mcsweeney's 2014All My Puny Sorrows by Miriam Toews, 5/5

All my words are insufficient to convey how exquisite this semi-autobiographical novel is; I am reduced to a string of mere adjectives…raw, beautiful, funny, insightful, uplifting, bittersweet…none of which can fully capture this story of two sisters, one a struggling writer with a history of failed relationships and the other a beautiful concert pianist who possesses everything happiness requires…except the will to live.  Intensely personal, defiantly human, undeniably humorous, this book is a masterpiece and a privilege to read.

Why I read it: The first chapter is in McSweeney’s No. 48.

McSweeney’s No. 48

mcsweeney's no 48 2014McSweeney’s No. 48, 4/5

I tend to have a difficult time enjoying modern literature, but this curated collection of writings was just light and varied enough to be interesting.  Sure, there were the dark, unsettling, claustrophobic stories and the bafflingly artistic tales that I am apparently not smart enough to understand, and the gross story by the enlightened author who thinks writing about sex is soooo avant-garde.  Thankfully, though, there were also a selection of entertaining, skillfully written pieces that kept me interested and appreciative.

Why I read it: Stumbled across it in the library and recognized the name from their website, where I remembered reading some funny open letters.

Confessions of a Casting Director

confessions of a casting director jen rudin harpercollins 2014Confessions of a Casting Director: Help Actors Land Any Role with Secrets from Inside the Audition Room, by Jen Rudin, 3/5

This book provides an interesting perspective into the more prosaic side of glamorous showbiz.  I really enjoyed the variety of personal anecdotes, not just from the author, but from a variety of people associated with the entertainment industry.  The whole audition circuit sounds intense and I’m amazed how much rejection aspiring actors can endure while still maintaining the will to live.  I guess it helps that the focus seems more on finding “the one” for each role than on weeding out bad actors.  So even if you’re not “the one,” it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you.  The author’s attitude is very positive and encouraging overall, giving all-purpose advice that emphasizes the importance of professionalism and self-confidence.

Why I read it: thought it looked interesting while wandering around the library.

Crap Taxidermy

crap taxidermy kat su ten speed press 2014Crap Taxidermy by Kat Su, 3/5

Equal parts gross, funny and WTF?  This small collection of images makes a fun novelty gift, but I think it’s more suited to its original website format: www.crappytaxidermy.com.

Why I read it: Came across it on Imgur and got a copy for my boyfriend’s dad (who does good taxidermy, not the crap kind).

Basic Ridercourse

Basic Ridercourse by the Motorcycle Safety Foundation, 5/5

This handbook has a straightforward, yet appealing layout and presents a lot of basic information about operating a motorcycle.  I appreciated how it focused on safety without being patronizing about it.

Why I read it: Lent to me by friends who ride.

Scary Close

scary close donald miller nelson books 2014Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy by Donald Miller, 3/5

Miller is an entertaining writer, but not a very convincing psychologist.  While it is fun to read the story of how he developed a healthier approach to relationships and gradually found love at a relatively late age, I felt like he spent a lot of time answering easy questions I didn’t have while skirting around the most important, mysterious, confusing aspects of the topic.  He claims to want to teach that “love is worth what it costs,” but the focus of the book is much more on how to pay the cost than the worth.  For me, the real question isn’t what caused his previous relationships to fail and his current one to succeed (that is fairly obvious–turns out that authenticity and vulnerability make a better foundation than insecurity and manipulation), the big question is why did he suddenly feel compelled to make it work with someone in particular?  Now that I’m thinking about it, this is the exact issue I had with the previous book on relationships I read.  Perhaps one day, I’ll find a book that focuses on the why, not the how, but until then I guess I’ll just hope they are as entertaining as this one.

Why I read it: a family member recommended it to me.

Good Food, Great Medicine

good food great medicine hassell lithtex 2012Good Food, Great Medicine: A Mediterranean Diet and Lifestyle Guide (Third Edition) by Miles Hassell, MD, and Mea Hassell, 4/5

This homey guide to healthy living contains all the information I imagine one could possibly need about the Mediterranean diet and lifestyle, including medical research, advice on nutrition, sleeping habits and exercise, and a large collection of recipes.  The authors’ approach is good-humored, unpatronizing and realistic–well-suited to the common-sense advice they give and the varying amounts of commitment they can expect from their readers.  I haven’t tried any of the recipes, which is why I give the book four stars instead of five.

Eat more simple, natural food that is close to its original form and eat less prepackaged, processed or sugary junk…thanks in part, I guess, to a relatively healthy upbringing, most of this book fit into the “well, duh!” category for me and it is the duh-factor that I find most convincing about the Mediterranean lifestyle.  This is no silver bullet, no gimmicky fad diet; it can’t be boiled down to “oh, I don’t eat carbs” or “I count calories” or “I fast intermittently” or “I only eat raw food,” etc.  Unfortunately, there’s nothing very sexy about a well-balanced, natural, sustainable approach to eating that requires lots of common sense and self-control.

Self-control–there’s the rub.  From both observation and first-hand experience, I’ve found that lack of self-control and lack of motivation, not lack of information, are at the root of unhealthy, excessive eating habits.  Knowledge may be power but it isn’t will power.  I can read a million studies about how doing x lowers your risk of dying by 35% and not doing y makes you 20% less likely to get cancer, but when I stop reading, it’s often because I need to put Nutella on my toast while it’s still warm.  Still, we all make decisions every day that affect our health, whether positively or negatively; for me, this book’s value is in helping me make a few better, more informed, eating decisions than I might have made before.  In this way, I hope to continue refining my approach to eating from merely counting calories to emphasizing those foods that are both good for me and make me feel good.

Why I read it: my dad had some heart trouble last year and his doctor recommended this book to him.

A picture quote I made:

A picture quote from Good Food, Great Medicine by Miles Hassell, MD, and Mea Hassell.  "Too busy to exercise? We understand. One reasonable approach is to exercise on every day that you do not want to have a heart attack or stroke."