An Orchard Invisible

If you're blessed with a patch of ground, or at least a windowsill where you can perch a pot or two, then now is the season to plant a garden. And there's no better companion for your labors than Jonathan Silvertown's thorough yet eminently readable history of seeds, An Orchard Invisible, out from University of Chicago Press. Silvertown has written an accessible volume that nonetheless touches on everything from Ovid's Metaphorphoses to a corn fungus eaten as a vegetable in Mexico. Silvertown manages to keep the history, and the science, digestible. He has wisely structured the book so that a nonsequential perusal is as enjoyable as a straight read. Moreover, he has an ear for the elegant phrase. Explaining the vagaries of seed dispersion, he notes, "Dormancy is time travel" -- and cooking, he argues, is "evolutionary subversion." As with the best of any scientific history written for the lay audience, Orchard Invisible gives a sense of the inextricable connections between living things. Fruit, with its nutritive allure, helps explain the evolutionary development of three-color vision in humans. The practice of masting in oak trees, when bumper crops of acorns are followed by fallow years, contributed to the rise of Lyme disease. He quotes Thoreau: "I have great faith in a seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders." An Orchard Invisible is a veritable wonder-cabinet.

April 19: "What you see first, after the starting gun's crack, is a column of bobbing runners, thousands of them, surging downhill..."

Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch is the winner of the 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. James Parker calls this Dickensian coming-of-age novel "an enveloping…

advertisement
Books, CDs, DVDs to know about now
Poems That Make Grown Men Cry

And women too.  Luminaries from Colin Firth to Nick Cave and Jonathan Franzen chose the poems that bring them to tears, and the result is a stunning collection of poignant verse from writers like Auden, Whitman, Bishop, Larkin, Neruda and many others.  Warning: choking-up hazard.

The King of Pain

Trapped beneath his entertainment system, reality TV mastermind Rick Salter reflects on his life and tries to piece together the events of the previous evening. Seth Kaufman’s romp is an outrageous meditation on pain and entertainment in a deranged world in which the two are often interchangeable.

The Good Inn

Frank Black, frontman for the Pixies, has written a transgressive historical fiction with shades of Thomas Pynchon (focused as it is on the history of explosives and cinematic pornography), all set in a hallucinatory Edwardian Europe.