Much of my life that remains analog is abetted by the internet. If I want to cook old-school braised short ribs, I can order all of the ingredients online for doorstep delivery. My shelves are groaning with paper books that I’ve ordered from web sites.
I can also order seeds and plants online for that most analog of activities: gardening. Yes, there are tools for gardening, both hi- and low-tech, including lawn mowers, trowels and software to organize your annuals and perennials. But eventually, every gardener has to get her hands dirty. Thank goodness! Talk about connecting with something elemental.
So my frontlist pick for you this week is Mister Owita’s Guide to Gardening: How I Learned the Unexpected Joy of a Green Thumb and an Open Heart by Carol Wall. Wall’s memoir of her slow, enriching friendship with a neighbor’s Kenyan gardener is the kind of book that sounds too sweet but winds up being just right. Giles Owita has more to share with Wall than plant advice, and Wall has more to give than she thinks. Giles and his wife Bienta form a deeply rooted source of wisdom for Wall, who is recovering from cancer and recently had to relocate her aging parents to a nursing home. But their words are never couched as quaint or folksy by the author.
In fact, the book reminds me of a classic backlist pair, Home Cooking: A Writer in the Kitchen and More Home Cooking: A Writer Returns to the Kitchen by Laurie Colwin. (Ha! And you thought I was going to talk about another gardening book…) Why does Mister Owita’s Guide remind me of Colwin’s memoirs with recipes? Because these books about food are also about a life transformed at a crucial stage. Colwin (sadly lost to us in 1992 from a heart attack at age 48) was morphing from a singleton with a tiny circle of friends to a married wife and mother in the time she covers, and like Wall, she shows us her steps without fear of judgment. Read either woman’s work (or read both!) and you’ll rejoice in the hands-on, heartfelt processes that they experience — even if you read them in electronic form.