The Daily

This Week's Reading

What We’re Loving: Gardens, Riches, and Kidneys

June 15, 2012 | by

The classical novel exists, in large part, to teach us how to imagine money—the more than we’ll ever have, the more than we’ll ever lose. Nobody today writes more convincingly about lucre than Jonathan Dee. You glance up from The Privileges thinking, Sure, I can imagine how it would feel to be that level of mega-filthy, godalmighty rich—it’s like grasping some exotic theorem—then you dive back in to watch the Moreys make even more. (For a round-up of moneycentric novels, check out Christian Lorentzen in the new Bookforum.) —Lorin Stein

I’m not a gardener—I can hardly tell tulips from forget-me-nots—but I have many friends who are, and I’ve just come across the perfect book for them. James Fenton’s A Garden from a Hundred Packets of Seed is short, witty, and useful. If you were starting a flower garden from scratch, Fenton asks, what flowers would you choose to grow in it? The names themselves are a pleasure to read: the Shoo-Fly Plant (also known as the Apple of Peru), the Pheasant’s Eye, the Iceland Poppy, the Blue Pygmy. Fenton also gives sound advice: “When handling seedlings, always hold them by the leaves, not by the stem”; and, “Forcefully remind your cat about the difference between seed trays and litter boxes.” —Robyn Creswell

Every June, in anticipation of Bloomsday, I consider rereading Ulysses; often I get as far as flipping through and pausing on favorite passages (and the accompanying college-era marginalia). A few years ago I even toyed with throwing a Bloomsday party, the menu composed exclusively from the novel’s food descriptions. But at the time, still a vegetarian being slowly wooed by the scent of bacon, I wasn’t ready for “inner organs of beasts and fowls … thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes … grilled mutton kidneys” with their “fine tang of faintly scented urine.” —Emily Cole-Kelly

While historians may not always have the time to pause and take a proper look at history’s B hits, the rest of us do. This collection of design records for non-ceramic Victorian household items, part of an online exhibition put on by the National Archives, has some excellent examples of quotidian bits of history, systematically organized with only the gentlest curatorial touch. Who knew that there was such demand for novel umbrella/parasol/sunshade/walking-stick strap designs in mid-nineteenth century Britain? Or impossibly uncomfortable shoes? And what the hell is a spherical sweetmeat? These bits of historical marginalia only survived the ages by sheer chance. But the point is that they did survive, and for that we should be grateful. —Arthur Holland Michel

With the government’s counterterrorism agenda increasingly under discussion, we’ve seen a recent focus on the ethical ramifications of drone attacks—and rightly so. But Francine Prose’s recent blog post for the New York Review of Books, “Getting Them Dead,” takes on the topic from a less-discussed angle by examining the significance of the language with which these policies are discussed. Though Orwell’s famous statement that “political speech and writing are largely the defense of the indefensible” is perhaps too strong for the current context, his point—and Prose’s—is nonetheless increasingly relevant: euphemistic doublespeak in all its forms distorts not only our language but our thinking, and in the messy business of politics and national security, it is precision—in word and in deed—that we need most. —Anna Hadfield

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