concept to publication

Month: October 2019

Finally, the Brexit discussion is getting serious

Best American Essays 2019 coverA bit of personal news: My essay “La Vie en Rose” was selected as a notable essay of 2019 in Best American Essays 2019, edited by Rebecca Solnit.

“One morning in 2016, keepers at the National Aquarium of New Zealand arrived at work to discover the institution’s inventory of octopuses unexpectedly halved. Mild-mannered Blotchy remained in his tank, his expression revealing nothing. But Inky, his bold erstwhile companion, was nowhere to be seen…. “

The Nature of Plants: An Introduction to How Plants Work, by Craig N. Huegel


University Press of Florida
April 1, 2019
6 x 9 in., 274 pages
ISBN: 978-0-8130-6408-6

Plants live their lives just as we do, surrounded by loved ones, competitors.and enemies; seeking to find harmony and health; and hoping to leave behind a legacy of well-adjusted progeny capable of carrying on after their demise. Like us, they have evolved complicated pathways and behaviors to accomplish this. We are not really that different …

Craig Huegel’s The Nature of Plants is a thorough introduction to the features and functions of plants (with an emphasis on flowering plants). Though Huegel has been a professor of plant biology, he says he is “a gardener first and a biologist second.” Consequently, his aim in this book is “to teach gardeners and others who love plants how to apply plant biology to make their work with plants more successful and to unlock some of the mysteries in a practical way so that more gardens thrive and fewer plants die.” He hopes, along the way, to also give “a deeper appreciation for how intricate and interesting plants are.” While he may be more successful in the latter aim than the former, this is a brilliant book that deserves a place on any gardener or plant lover’s shelf. (I got the copy I used for this review from the library, and after reading it I ordered a personal copy for the permanent collection.)

The most striking thing about Huegel’s approach is the agency that he attributes to plants. He sees plants as actively making decisions about how to deal with their environment (even suggesting that these decisions may be directed by a sort of brain in the rootball). “Plants,” he says, “are far more complex than we have traditionally perceived them to be; in some ways they are even more complex than animals…. Plants must do everything animals do while remaining in the same location for the duration of their lives.” At times the tone may come across as anthropomorphizing, but readers should be able to decide for themselves to what extent to interpret such views of plant behaviors as metaphors.

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