Books on GIF #11 — 'Onward and Upward in the Garden' by Katherine S. White


Books on GIF is a weekly review and discussion of random books told with the help of GIFs. We'll cover fiction, nonfiction and the occasional graphic novel.

This Sunday's book is 'Onward and Upward in the Garden,' by Katherine S. White.

Onward and Upward in the Garden

This is a book about an obsession with gardening.

Katherine White was The New Yorker's first fiction editor* and she launched many famous writers. But she also applied her critical eye for literature to gardening catalogues — yes, literal catalogues listing all manner of seeds, flowers and plants one could have shipped to them — and myriad printed materials about things that grow in soil.

She critiqued these books, catalogues and pamphlets not only for their information, but also for their style and prose, as if she were assessing the latest work from, say, Thurber or Nabokov.** Her essays were published in The New Yorker in the late 1950s and throughout the 60s, and were republished in this collection.***

You need to be REALLY into gardening to fully appreciate this book. White's reviews do get into the weeds.****

Still, I learned a few things. For example, I didn't know there was a type of rose called the American Beauty. So this finally made sense:

I was inspired to bring more plants and flowers into my home and workplace, and learned ways to not let this happen:

And there was some lively prose. I loved this floral critique of Pop Art:


Even so, this book was tedious. I found myself skimming a lot because there's only so many gourds and forsythia and seeds and references to a seedman with the Dickensian name W. Atlee Burpee and flower drawings and catalogues and lawns one without a green thumb can take.

I read this book so you didn't have to.

'Onward and Upward in the Garden,' by Katherine S. White was originally published by Farrar, Straus and Giroux in 1979, and by The New York Review of Books in 2015. 362 pages. 

My rating:

What's next? In the coming weeks, I'll review 'H is for Hawk' by Helen Macdonald, 'Outline' by Rachel Cusk and 'What We Talk About When We Talk About Love' by Raymond Carver.

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Thanks for reading!


* She was also married to E.B. White.
** Two authors she discovered, according to the back cover of 'Onward and Upward.'
*** She briefly mentions a really interesting book I read years ago that I would recommend to anyone who finds this stuff interesting: 'Zen and the Art of Flower Arrangement' by Gustie Herrigel.
*** Sorry not sorry.