How Putting Fruit on Salad is Like ‘After the Blast’ by Eric Wagner

Try to remember the first time you had a salad with fruit in it. If you’re like me, you were probably in your twenties and were just discovering the culinary world beyond top ramen and frozen burritos. Usually, salads are for vegetables, and dressing and cheese are for hiding the taste of all those vegetables. When you put fruit on a salad, you’re showing your taste buds that hiding the “healthy” stuff behind the “good stuff” isn’t necessary because fruit is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. Reading ‘After the Blast: The Ecological Recovery of Mt. St. Helens’ by Eric Wagner is both the healthy stuff and the good stuff. It is the fruit in a book salad.

You might fear that fruit on a salad is pretentious and to this I say nay. What could be more pedestrian than an apple or a pear? And similarly if you think science writing is also pretentious, or at a minimum, out of your wheel house, fear not. What’s really satisfying about fruit on a salad is the way the fruit’s juice hydrates the whole dish. The juice is the joie de vivre of a salad. And there’s so much juice in Wagner’s scientific observations, the writing is downright refreshing.

Whether he’s interviewing scientists or describing the surprising ways that Mt. St. Helen’s landscape recovered after the volcanic eruption of 1980, you’ll appreciate the curiosity he displays that’s also tempered by the reverence he has for his subject matter. Sprinkled throughout, like a few walnuts on our book salad, Wagner incorporates self deprecating humor that keeps the writing from being too serious. These moments will also make you feel like he’s invited you to be a part of his special club of scientist friends.

The refreshing and reverent take on the subject matter evokes Kishi Bashi’s soaring song ‘Marigolds.’ While marigolds don’t make a prominent appearance in the book, this song definitely captures Wagner’s earnestness, one that’s transferred to the reader, in the lyrics “I want to see the world the way you do.”

This Book Might Be Your Next Read:

  • If you’re a nature lover/national parks lover/science lover
  • If you appreciate subtle surprises and humor
  • If you’ve ever marveled at the resilience of nature
  • If you subscribe to ‘The Atlantic’ and that long read just wasn’t long enough

photo credit: University of Washington Press (purchase the book here)

H/T: In Defense of Plants Podcast

Moody Defiance in ‘Mexican Gothic’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

The deep plum and emerald hues on the cover of ‘Mexican Gothic’ by Silvia Moreno-Garcia are the first hint of how rich this novel feels. The sentences will make you feel tipsy at first and then warm you like a thick red wine. However, this story is not for the hungry (that is, unless you hunger for flipping pages).

Be ready for stomach turning details that will make you want to clean your bathroom seven times and run a dehumidifier. This is definitely a horror story, but with an old-fashioned feel, like the horror of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre. Yet there are more modern elements too, despite being set in the 1950s.

The modern elements are reflected in the social attitudes of the protagonist, attitudes which hint at feminism, anti-racism, and anti-imperialism. The story’s modernity paired with its moodiness is aptly reflected in the tracks Moreno-Garcia has put together in the book’s playlist. Especially in songs like this one:

The repetitive rhythm depicts the frustration the protagonist feels as her beliefs conflict with the beliefs of her antagonists. The song has a sort of push/pull feel to its style that also alludes to the protagonist’s conflict. And the covers from the playlist, like “Tainted Love,” echo the way the story taps into the nostalgia of the gothic novels that came before it. If you’re at all on the fence about whether or not to read this book, listen to this playlist and let yourself read into the lyrics a bit. If you’re intrigued, get your hands on this book.

This novel might be your next read:

  • If you’re looking for a new take on old favorites
  • If you’re looking to be creeped out and filled with dread
  • If you’re looking for a satisfying resolution
  • If you’re looking to exist in the thin space between reality, history, the fictional, and the surreal
  • If you’re looking for a charming yet dissenting heroine

Photo Credit: Random House LLC via Amazon