Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Armin

Elizabeth and Her German Garden by Elizabeth Von Armin

From Goodreads:
"May 7th—There were days last winter when I danced for sheer joy out in my frost-bound garden in spite of my years and children. But I did it behind a bush, having a due regard for the decencies..." In this novel, Elizabeth's uniquely witty pen records each season in her beloved garden, where she escapes from the stifling routine of the indoors—servants, meals, domestic routine, and the presence of her overbearing husband.

I came upon this title when I was listening to one of NPR's weekly book podcasts. It was presented in the segment Cowslips to Kingcups: Finding Joy in the Garden and I was won over immediately. I downloaded the audio version from Audible and listened to it. What hooked me in about the book was the presenter's claims that the book represents happiness in solitude and overall contentedness in a way that virtually no other book can.

I was disappointed with the book possibly because of my high expectations. Elizabeth and Her German Garden has no plot which for my intents and purposes is fine but may be difficult for others. The book is a year in the life diary and reads more as slice of life than as a complete story. It's a semi-autobiographical tale of a woman named Elizabeth who lives in a country side abode in Germany and has a delightful garden. She lives simply and in happy solitude. It's the presence of her misogynistic husband the Man of Wrath, her children who are all referred to by the months they were born in and her two visitors that poke a hole in her bubble of happiness. If they would just let her alone to be with her garden, her birds, her salads and her solitude, she would be the most content.

What made me unhappy while reading this was the Man of Wrath's proclamations of what he considers the ineptitude of women. He basically thinks we are all morons who can't form intelligent thoughts and only want to gossip, sew and cook.  It's comforting to see that the three women who are listening to the Man of Wrath's rant are horrified and know that what he is saying is based on male chauvinism rather than accepted ideas. Also, it greatly disturbed me that Elizabeth would capture a family of owls just because she can (they eventually come to a tragic end). It shows the mindset of the 19th century (the book was first published in 1898) in which man plays god with nature.

I love 19th century books and can usually place ideologies in context but this book was plain boring. I wanted it to be poetic prose about the solitude and splendor of living in the country than about the year in the life of Elizabeth and her motley crew.

On the audio version: I listened to the Blackstone Audio version narrated by Nadia May. I was disappointed in the narration. There were many (many many many) pauses in between sentences. It felt as though they recorded the book sentence by sentence and pieced it together. Nadia May does a good job with the German accents but otherwise it was a poor narration overall. This is one of the few times that I think it would have been better if I read the printed version instead of the audio.

The Language Instinct by Steven Pinker

The Language Instinct: How the Mind Creates Language
by Steven Pinker
Audio CDs
Brilliance Audio
December 2011

Language is a very complicated thing. How do we learn it? Why are there so many languages? Is it from nature or nurture? Or a bit of both? Are our brains hard-wired to learn language from birth? Is language an instinct?

Steven Pinker is one of the world's leading experts on language and the mind. In The Language Instinct, he seeks to prove one thing: that language is an instinct we are born with.

Pinker draws from various sources including Noam Chomsky but relies a lot on his own studies. He explores the complexity of grammar and speech and demonstrates in many, many ways how these are just too complex to be simply taught and that we must be hard-wired to be able to develop an understanding of the rules of grammars and the various exceptions. He also explores the way in which language learning can be altered or partially lost due to mental illness, brain injury or other unfortunate circumstances.

This book is an excellent source of knowledge especially if you are interested in linguistics. I took a Linguistics course in college as an undergrad and always wished I could study it more. Hence, why I decided to read this book. However, the book was so very dry. It barely kept my interest. I think there were a few factors at play. Pinker tried too hard to be funny. Sometimes so hard that it became uncomfortable. He made a joke about those people who correct others for using "hopefully" in an incorrect manner. He said it's like telling someone Cleveland is really Cincinnati and Cincinnati is really Cleveland. I'm one of those people so I felt pretty insulted. He also made several jokes at the expense of Red Sox fans which I thought were completely unnecessary. Other times Pinker makes really interesting observations like comparing different languages to different species of animals. For example, fox and wolf and English and German are of the same ancestor/origin but are different species/languages with a long list of differentiating characteristics. I also enjoyed little trivia bits like the fact that "orange" was really "norange" but the "n" dropped off. I had hope for more of that and less of the sad jokes.

I don't think it helped my case that I listened to the book on audio. The narrator was so-so and had a voice that was a bit monotone for my taste. It hurt the narration that the text was so dry and that it went on for 19 hours. It took me a few months to listen to this book just because I needed breaks on a regular basis.

If you are a linguistics enthusiast or a linguistics student, I do recommend this book. Perhaps in paperback or ebook and not audio. If you are just a person with a passing interest in linguistics, find something else.

Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. by Burt Boyar

This review originally appeared on Out of the Past ~ A Classic Film Blog

Photo by Sammy Davis Jr.
by Burt Boyar
ISBN 9780061146053
It Books
February 2007

"Jerry [Lewis] gave me my first important camera, my first 35 millimeter during the Ciro's period, early '50s... I met Milton [Greene]. He got me involved with serious photography and using available light." - Sammy Davis Jr.

We always see collections of images of the stars, captured by professional photographers for us to marvel at and enjoy. But it's very rare that we see images from the stars' perspective. Photo by Sammy Davis Jr. is a collection of photographs that the entertainer took of his friends, fellow Rat Packers, family and colleagues during the '50s and '60s. Sammy Davis Jr. had a way with a camera. He captured some of the most amazing people in the entertainment industry in the most intimate settings.

Burt and Jane Boyar were close friends of Sammy's. Jane helped Sammy with his autobiographies and Burt compiled this photo book after both Sammy and Jane passed away. However, the problem with friends writing about friends is that inevitably there will be some bias. Of course the author is going to want to portray Sammy Davis, Jr. in the best light possible. My husband didn't believe the author's claims that he left his family with a lot of money especially after he read from several other books and sources that Sammy had been in very deep debt at the time of his passing. The author pulls out figures and even bank names and deposit amounts to prove his point. Who do we believe? A friend, a family member or a third-party? It's hard to say.

The text of the book is not that great. The font is made to be pleasing to the eye to look at but it's actually hard on the eyes to read. The author discusses Sammy's relationship with some of the key figures in the book in one or two pages for each. The text rambles on, Sammy's words are paraphrased, quoted, sometimes both all at once. It's actually a bit boring and I found myself abandoning several sections of writing. Get this book for the images. Not the words.

Because the photographs are spectacular. Sammy had an eye for photography. And he was surrounded by some of the most fabulous people in show business and he captured them in both happy and vulnerable moments. His photographs give us a visual point-of-view that only a star like himself would have had during that time.

Stars include: 
Jerry Lewis (on the cover)
Kim Novak (lots of intimate picture of her from when they dated)
Kirk Douglas
Dean Martin
Lauren Bacall
Humphrey Bogart
Betty Grable
Shirley Maclaine
and many more

There are also pictures of Sammy's second wife May Britt, his daughter Tracey and his two adopted sons with May. There are photographs of Sammy's entertainer father, his mother, and a few of the girlfriends he's had a long the way. My favorite photographs are the self-portraits Sammy did with mirrors. Sammy Davis Jr. also liked talking photographs of people in everyday life but his celebrity made him too obvious to his subjects. So he often took photos from hotel balconies and windows or he went incognito into the streets to take pictures.

Sammy Davis Jr. was the epitome of a self-taught man. He never had any schooling and was raised in the entertainment business. Everything he learned he learned by himself or by the example of others. Including photography.

If you are a fan of Sammy Davis Jr. and of the stars of the 1950s and 1960s, get this book! It'll be a wonderful addition to your coffee table collection or to your home library.

Disclosure: I bought this book for my husband as a thank you present and he lent it to me for this review.

Image Source: Vanity Fair
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