The World of Laura Ingalls Wilder – Marta McDowell

b06xppyh47-01-_sx142_sy224_sclzzzzzzz_I distinctly remember my mother reading the Little House books to my sister and me before bed, over a longish period of time, as we got them from the library. It was before fourth grade, because it was in our original Portland house. There are only a few books I remember from that bedtime reading series- they had to have something fairly special about them to stick in my mind.

This book talks about Wilder’s connection to the natural world, and how she’d portrayed it in her books. I’d never thought very much about it, but that was definitely one of the things I loved so much about those books – the incredible sense of place she conveys throughout them. I’ve never been to a prairie – but I feel like I’ve experienced it through her eyes in her books.

McDowell breaks down the different landscapes covered by the books, and even certain intervals in the real Ingalls family life that didn’t make it into the more fictionalized version of their life in the book series. (If you want to see the difference – I highly recommend the annotated Pioneer Girl.) She talks about the actual plants and animals Wilder may have encountered, and gives ideas for doing a modern day pilgrimage to those sites. (You can visit the historic sites, but accurate representations of the landscapes are harder to find.) It’s a great book – very interesting for fans of the Little House series, but also an interesting tracing of the natural landscape over the life of a single person, and the wide variety of places she saw, and how much has changed since then. The book ships out at the end of August – I definitely recommend it.

A Sampler of Wayside Herbs – Barbara Pond

d031e9ef1d0afbf59374a616151434f414f4141This book was published out of Connecticut in 1974. I tend not to go for reference books that old, but when I saw this in a used bookstore on Cape Cod, I had to pick it up, since the name of my wildflower blog is Wayside Flowers. The serendipity was a little bit too much in evidence for me not to snag it.

The book has lovely plates of a number of flowers I’m constantly running into, that we now consider weeds, but were by and large brought over by the original New England colonists because they were useful. It’s a nice to see those old uses acknowledged.

It’s also somewhat of a hoot to see easy evidence of how much plant classifications change – probably half of the family names listed here are completely obsolete. (Actually, the general conventions are obsolete – family names now end in –aceae. In the book, they’re using the –itae format for a number of the families, though there are some –aceae’s.) I do get a kick out of seeing how much things are constantly changing.

The Elements – Theodore Gray

This is a neat little book – it’s got pictures of all the known stable elements.    (Well, he’s stretching a bit for a few at the far end of stability, but there are also little write ups with each element to tell you why.)

So I’ve really been enjoying having the Kindle app on my Ipad.   It makes packing for trips soooo much easier.   (I mean, I used to have to figure in a book allowance into my luggage space.    Seriously. )     And I’m up over 50 ebooks in my collection now.     On deals, they’re cheaper than most used books.     But, they’re definitely not a perfect book replacement.     The formatting of this book is a perfect example.    I suspect, in real life, the elements are in one or two page spreads, and all the photos are next to each other.   In the Kindle version, you get the write up, and then separate pages for each picture.    The result is a little disjointed.   Not enough to take away the general interest of the book, but enough to remind me of why I’ll always love physical books.

The Universe Below – William J. Broad

For the first book I actually started reading in the new year, I decided I really needed to pull the oldest book out of the Tote (er, Bookcase) of Shame – made very easy by the sorting ability of LibraryThing in the Collections view.

I picked this book up in my used book store travels because it dealt with deep sea exploration – if you didn’t know, I have a Zoology undergrad degree that concentrated in marine ecology – I even did an internship in the benthic studies department of a marine lab in Florida.   I really liked this stuff, once upon a time.

This book was published in 1997, so I’m sure (heck, I know) there are lots more interesting things in the field that have happened since then, but it does have an interesting overview of what had happened in deep sea exploration up until that point.   The author wrote (maybe still does – I’m too lazy to Google) for the New York Times, and was looking into the subject after doing some stories about the deep sea submarines.   Naturally, the finding of the Titanic figures into the story (I was in college during this time frame, and actually got to see Robert Ballard speak – you could tell he was beginning to regret finding it at that point).

What I didn’t realize (but probably should have), was how much of a role the Navy played in the early days of deep sea exploration.     Once again, the Cold War certainly did do wonders for technology advancement.    (I had a few morbid moments trying to figure out what kind of “advancements” would come out of the current war on terror – definitely a depressing train of thought.)

This really is a fascinating realm, and so very open for study.     It’s been a few years since the book was written, and I know we do know more, and have seen more in the deeps, but there’s still so much out there to find.   Definitely science at its best.    Because the author is a journalist, it’s written very understandably.   If you’d like a good overview of the field, it’s worth a read, even if the book is a little old.