Onward and Upward in the Garden is a delightful compilation of essays written by the fiction editor of the New Yorker starting in 1958, who also happened to be the wife of EB White, of Charlotte’s Web and The Elements of Style fame, who collected the works and writes an endearing introduction to the book.
If you are a gardener, prepare for a treat beyond the two stars to which I feel compelled to limit myself for a general audience. White starts by reviewing seed catalogs as if they were books, with highly entertaining results, although it is a relief when she switches over to garden books of all kinds since seed catalogs are quite repetitive. Since the author writes at length about her beloved garden in Maine, the book reads like fiction to this and other California readers, who have not seen a drop of water in months and very little of it during our supposed rainy winters — but no matter, we can all learn about how the lawnmower was invented (from machines used to shear carpets!) and smile about plant names influenced by technology trends (Satellite petunias and Radar calendulas, so fifties) And of course, as an editor, she comments about typefaces, spelling, and badly thought-out indices. There’s rather too much carping, in general in the essays, and not just about book mechanics, but some of the rants are idiosyncratically hilarious, as when she explains that ruffled snapdragons are just a mistake. I quite agree with her there.