Review: A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
Wednesday, January 21, 2009
A Field Guide to Surreal Botany
edited by Janet Chui & Jason Erik Lundberg
illustrated by Janet Chui
Two Cranes Press, 2008
76 pages, ISBN 9789810810177
These days you have to crinkle the map a bit to find any edges, but that makes the edges no less real. And still at the edges of the map lie not only dragons and other fauna, but quite curious flora as well, though in some instances the distinction is difficult.
"A Field Guide to Surreal Botany" begins with an elegant introduction to the world of surreal botany, and its move to the underground of science since the eighteenth century. But:
The publishers of this book believe that the time for remaining ignorant of surreal botany has come to an end. Personal safety alone would justify the information on some of these specimens coming to light, and readers will surely appreciate learning of the plants whose threats are lesser, or that are disappearing as the plants themselves become more rare. This book may be read and appreciated by gardening enthusiasts, paranormal investigators, and conspiracy theorists alike.
To that last list, I would add: the whimsically creative, the writer dry of ideas, precocious children, geneticists, and perhaps those very surreal plants themselves as are capable of assimilating information from this printed form. The guide delights with forty-eight detailed and researched (and in the case of the Big Yellow Flower of Unnecessarily Obvious Information, perhaps overly detailed and researched) plants (or plant-like beings, or vaguely plant-like things) that exist across the Americas, Europe, Africa, Asia and the Pacific, and in some cases "beyond".
That is not to say the book is without flaw--with so many contributors, the tone at times falls from the requisite scientific to more mundane turns of phrase; and some of Janet Chui's wonderful illustrations, for me, fall short of perfection. And while I'm wishing, I really could have gone for a more thorough set of indexes--it's frustrating to remember a plant and have to go scan the table of contents, where they're alphabetized per region.
Really, though, it is a beautiful book, and the humor and erudition is more than consistent enough to carry the bemused reader away--they do warn you about some of those plants! While the Forget-me-bastard merely causes itching, stinging, and rash, the Time Cactus can trick the unwary researcher or amateur botanist into a quite deadly trance (sending nutrients back along a wormhole to previous times of scarcity). I would recommend a copy of this book to be nestled in among any collection of its more prosaic ilk.
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