Quirky Books Worth a Look

In case you didn’t know, “dawg” is good, “dog” is…not so good. This clarification comes by way of award-winning writer Donald Friedman and illustrator J.C. Suarès (The New Yorker, Time, Variety), whose charming, hand-sized little collection of canine-related vocabulary words and phrases, You’re My Dawg, Dog (Welcome Books), may well fill a gap you didn’t realize existed but may now want to act on by giving this little “Lexicon of Dog Terms for People” to pooch people you know, maybe for beach reading during the “dog days” of summer. Alphabetically arranged definitions, etymologies, idioms, proverbs and metaphors make it clear how much mondo cane has influenced everyday expression. The epigraph, from Groucho Marx, sets the whimsical tone: “Outside of a dog, a book is man’s best friend. Inside of a dog, it’s too dark to read.” Throughout—anecdotes abound (not to mention “shaggy dog” tales). It’s clear the book was a labor of love because the authors (“doggedly”?) invoke the names of some dogs’ “loyal [human] companions” they know.

Some expressions have persuasive origins, others evidence fanciful speculation (see “raining cats and dogs”), and where the info seems a bit dark—as in “Black Dog,” a reference that goes back to melancholia in the Middle Ages, and which Winston Churchill used to describe the depressive side of his bipolar disorder—cartoons enliven. Thanks to the U.S. Army, by the way, for “dogface,” “dog tag” and “pup tent.”

The volume is attractive, thick-stock crisp, certainly not pages you would

“dog ear,” as in:

“Sally gave Herb her copy of Ulysses and, given that he’d never seen her read anything more challenging than Cosmo, he was dumbstruck when he opened it and found it dog-eared, underlined, and filled with her marginalia.” It may come as a shock to learn this is not a “doggie dog” world, though some folks likely got into it by way of coitus more ferarum (begetting, “doggie style”).

As for “salty dog,” we can’t go there, here, but old-time Sag Harbor denizens may well remember this old Sag Harbor haunt. Cat owners, incidentally, can also enjoy the book’s light lore while taking comfort in the fact that only dogs “bark up the wrong tree.”

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Shamanic Gardening: Timeless Techniques for the Modern Sustainable Garden, (Process Media) by Melinda Joy Miller delivers a familiar but heartfelt message about gardening for joy and health. A feng shui master and Keeper of the Medicine Wheel teachings of the Senecas, she has been engaged with permaculture techniques and shamanic healing for decades, which she defines as an “organic approach” that goes “beyond a sensory experience with your garden toward a relationship with the earth energies of the garden.” Though the volume may be a bit too intuitively spiritual or touchy-feely for some, it nonetheless contains valuable information and lays out its case with simple text and lovely line drawings.

Wisdom here includes learning about ancient cultures and indigenous peoples of Africa, Asia and South America as well as about American history—the gardens of George Washington and Thomas Jefferson, not to mention Native American culture, the author’s own heritage. Early on she celebrates her “good fortune growing up” with a father who was an environmentalist, a past president of the American Nut Growers Association,” and being tutored by “Grandmother Twylah Hurd Nitsch of the Senecas and Mormah Simeona” (a kahuna from Hawaii). With over a decade of experience as a “sensory integration and environmental therapist working in a major state hospital, and decades more studying, she writes with both confidence and sensitivity. Her theme is that a nurturing attitude toward edible plants can impact one’s “mental, emotional and social development.”

She talks to plants, as she tries out where they might like to be, but everything she does relates to promoting sustainability, such as planting the “three sisters” because they are excellent companions—corn, beans and squash.

A neat, alphabetical appendix/glossary of “high-nutrition” edible plants includes soil and light requirements, health benefits and suggested special uses. Did you know that dill-seed oil may help heal chapped hands and split nails; that ginger (like rosemary, said to be an aphrodisiac) can relieve nausea; and that hibiscus is great for salads, stir fries, slaws and smoothies? And do freeze that fresh parsley if you want more taste and more vitamin C than oranges—not a bad idea, considering the devastating news about the citrus virus in Florida.

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