The Monday Book: WICKED PLANTS by Amy Stewart

I enjoyed this way more than my friends enjoyed watching me read it. Made them nervous for some reason.

Scare your friends!

The book is a catalogue of plants, categorized in a fairly random order that makes for great reading. Each plant or family of plants has descriptions and short stories about how people found out they were poisonous and/or what they did once they found out.

Not all the plants are deadly. At the small tabs at the top of the page one finds categorizations of dangerous, illegal, invasive, and intoxicating, among others.

My personal favorite was probably Jimson Weed, which grows around here. Apparently when the colonists first arrived and didn’t have good enough sense to ask the indigenous people what was good to eat, they ate Jimson Weed leaves, plus roots pounded into flour. This gives you one very interesting high before it either kills you or renders you incoherent for a few days.

So once they figured out which leaves they should not eat, well, knowledge like that should not go to waste when the next invaders show up… yep. Colonists fed Jimson Stew to the British soldiers housed in their homes. Poor sods went crazy more than went lights out, though. Perhaps the colonists were merciful, or maybe they couldn’t find enough to finish them off. But the soldiers were recalled for medical reasons.

Many other stories are included. This is not a narrative book, but a series of short stories wrapped in information. Also, I had no idea how many wicked weeds grow in desert climates. It’s true that everything out there is trying to kill you.

Highly recommended – and if you want to scare people, leave it on your kitchen table when you have friends over.

The Monday Book – The Last of the Tinsmiths

The Last of the Tinsmiths – Sheila Douglas

Jack gets to do the Monday Book this week –

I should start by saying that I knew both the author and subject of her book. Sheila Douglas was an academic expert on the life of Scottish Travellers and their culture. Her house in Scone was a meeting place where Travellers were frequently brought together with visitors from all over the world.

Willie MacPhee was one of her favorite source singers and interviewees; I met him many times, sometimes at her house, often at traditional music festivals and also at his trailer outside Perth. When he passed away I attended his funeral at a small Church on the banks of Loch Lomond.

The book grew out of Douglas’s research for her PhD, but there’s nothing dry or academic about it. It’s very obviously a labor of love. Willie was a singer, a piper, a tinsmith and a storyteller and closely related to many other notable carriers of those traditions. The author pays due attention to them as well throughout.

Included are a number of his stories. Douglas has been careful to set them out exactly as he told them. She also describes his life in his own words and keeps her observations quite separate.

I first met Willie at the parking place on the road to Fort William where he entertained the tourists dressed in full highland costume and playing his pipes while his wife sold bunches of white heather. Every time I’ve been back, since his passing, I still see him in my mind’s eye.

I enjoyed this book and can recommend it without reservation.