Tag Archives: San Francisco

The Language of Flowers by Vanessa Diffenbaugh

23rd August 2011

*I received this book at BEA, courtesy of Ballantine Books, an imprint of Random House. Buy it from Indiebound here.

For eight years I dreamed of fire. Trees ignited as I passed them; oceans burned. The sugary smoke settled in my hair as I slept, the scent like a cloud left on my pillow as I rose…. The sharp, chemical smell was nothing like the hazy syrup of my dreams; the two were as different as Indian and Carolina jasmine, separation and attachment. They could not be confused.

Separation and attachment. Victoria Jones has had much of the former and not much of the latter in her young life. Abandoned at the age of three weeks, Victoria was left to fend for herself with only her social worker Meredith to stand for her as family after family tells Meredith a different variation of “it’s just not working out.” Victoria’s final chance with Elizabeth, a woman who has suffered in her own way, gives her a glimpse of what having a mother is like, but Victoria, afraid to lose the only relationship she has ever valued, ends up in a group home anyway, only to be emancipated on her 18th birthday.

Without a support system, Victoria sleeps in the park, tending a small flower garden until she stumbles upon Renata, a florist in need of part-time help. Renata recognizes Victoria’s skill, and slowly Victoria’s skittishness dies away, until she meets a man at the flower market, a man who also knows the language of flowers and the secret of her past.

The Language of Flowers is a beautiful book, and once I picked it up, I could not stop reading. Motherhood is such a strong theme, but here is no story of glowing mothers-to-be; instead, motherhood is painful, full of sacrifices and hurts, which we glimpse as the 15 months Victoria and Elizabeth were together are told in flashbacks. Victoria is stunted in many ways, yet she understands far beyond her years, and in a sense, she is mothered by half a dozen women, younger and older, and she thrives because of this community.

Victoria’s story, and the way Diffenbaugh unfurls it, is intoxicating, as is the Victorian use of flowers and the messages Victoria weaves into her bouquets: jonquil for desire, hyacinth for constancy. Her only voice is in her flowers, and once she gives herself over to them, she comes into her own, rearranging her life and making space for Elizabeth when she needs her the most. And honestly, by the end of the book, if she and Elizabeth had not reconciled, I was fully prepared to bundle her up in a quilt (why a quilt??), cart her home, and feed her hot chocolate and cookies every day for the rest of her life.

Read: with a bit of dark chocolate and maybe a pear blossom branch (for comfort) by your side.

P.S. Here’s the link for the flower dictionary. I will definitely put more thought into my flowers in the future.

Tales of the City by Armistead Maupin

10th August 2011

Have you ever had a book on your radar for years and years before you finally picked it up? Not one you are hesitant to read, but one you just seem to always miss out on? Armistead Maupin’s Tales of the City is that book for me. I absolutely love the cover on this book and remember spending time in Barnes & Noble as a broke undergrad, reading the first couple chapters of this book. The wonderful Erica from Harper Perennial who also runs the blog The Olive Reader sent me a copy of this book for her Tales of the City Read Along, and I enjoyed every minute of reading it.

Tales of the City is a look at San Francisco in the 70s. Maupin introduces his cast of characters with Mary Ann, the naive, quiet young girl who leaves Cleveland to visit San Fran and decides to stay when she finds an apartment at 28 Barbary Lane, where most of the characters live or have lived at some point. Then there’s Michael “Mouse,” a young, closeted gay man, trying to find love in the ever-changing gay club scene. Anna Madrigal is the landlady at 28 Barbary Lane, and she’s fun and a bit odd, leaving joints on the tenants’ doors when they first move in and caring for her pot plants, fondly naming each. Every short chapter is told from a different perspective, and Maupin often leaves a chapter with a surprising revelation. As Tales of the City was originally a newspaper serial, I can tell readers probably stayed hooked.

Even though it deals with death, sexuality, parent-child relationships, and infidelity, Tales of the City is a really fun read. It feels familiar in the telling, and there’s a mystical element to it as well, as 28 Barbary Lane seems to pick its tenants, but I think I’ll have to read on to find out more. In a sense, it’s kind of like really good (but harmless) gossip seeing who is dating whom and who is cheating, loving, drugging, drinking, and all sorts of other scandalous things.

Plus, if you like Tales of the City, there are plenty more books where that came from: More Tales of the City, Further Tales of the City, etc. Don’t you just love it when that happens?

Read this: like really good chocolate. You won’t want to stop at one piece.