Monday, August 11, 2014

How to Talk Like a Politician

by Tom Haushalter 

American voters like their even-numbered years. These are when our elections, either presidential or mid-term, seem to matter most, when billions of dollars are thrown at candidates to elevate them to seats in the U.S. House or Senate—and one (un)lucky soul to the Oval Office.

In odd-numbered years, in which we hold "off-year" elections, we install governors and state legislators and mayors, and mercifully most of those campaigns aren't steered by special interests or dragged to CNN levels of uber-analysis. Accessible and tangibly specific, local elections tend to restore our faith in democracy.

But who are we kidding? Even-numbered years rule. We're crazy for the bloodsport of our national electoral process. We hover on the edge of our seats for what seems like months (and may in fact be that long), refreshing Politico and Nate Silver and Twitter every minute, living and dying by the newest poll results, cringing when our candidate gaffes, hoping for the other guy soon to do the same.

And election seasons like the one we're heading into are prime time for politician soundbites—those condensed talking points designed to lure us into a way of thinking while also providing us with prepackaged catchphrases to redistribute freely! Not only the messaging itself, but the style of the message, the sorts of filler words and prefatory phrases you might learn in a book called How to Talk Like a Politician (which surprisingly doesn't exist).

We're all familiar with what a "maverick" is. And a "wing nut." And "bridge builders" who "reach across the aisle." And in the weeks leading up to Election Day, we brace for that "October Surprise." But in the lexicon of politician-speak, these are pretty rudimentary. How well can you call out the subtler and even more patronizing terminology of our elected officials?

Authors Chuck McCutcheon and David Mark, both longtime Beltway journalists, have written the guide to understanding the coded language of American politics and its punditry. Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes is an annotated—and very entertaining—glossary of the things these people get away with saying, while most of us sit back and second-guess none of what they really mean. McCutcheon and Mark are here to tell us what they really mean.

Here are a few shining examples to program into your personal B.S. detector (excerpted from the book):

"The American People"

Every politician, even the ones in complete disagreement, claims to speak for the people. It's invoked often enough to have achieved drinking game status. Vanderbilt University communications studies professor Paul Stob says "the people" has become "the keyword for all populist discourse." Other subsets to describe political audiences: hardworking Americans, American families, the good people of [fill in blank with any state or city], God-fearing Americans, "real Americans," and so on.

"My good friend"

Politician-speak for somebody they often can't stand. "My good friend" is used commonly on the House or Senate floors when addressing a colleague. Usually it's a thinly veiled way of showing contempt for the other lawmaker while adhering to congressional rules of decorum. Sometimes it's not even clear that a lawmaker (especially one in a chamber of 435 members like the House) even knows his or her supposedly "good friend."

"Let me be clear"

A frequent expression of exasperation from a politician who believes he or she isn't making a fully understood argument. It's the rhetorical heir to Richard Nixon's famous "Let me make one thing perfectly clear." "Let me be clear" is President Barack Obama's most common verbal tic. "It is his emphatic wind-up for, well, everything," the AP's Ben Feller wrote in 2009. [I would also add President George W. Bush's standby "Make no mistake" to the repertoire of rhetorical wind-ups.]

"The most important election of our lifetime"

A cliche that partisans from both sides trot out before each presidential election, warning ominously of effects if the other side were to win.

"I'm sorry if I offended anyone"

A classic non-apology apology that makes it clear the public figure is sorry for being caught, not for what he or she actually said. Any time "if" is included in an "apology" it's safe to say the person isn't particularly sorry. Adding it "or any other conditional modifier to an apology makes it a non-apology," author John Kador writes in his 2009 book Effective Apology: Mending Fences, Building Bridges, and Restoring Trust [a book subtitle rather overflowing with politician-speak, I might add].

And if I were to wager a guess as to the favorite adverb of elected officials, I would say, unequivocally (though that's not the adverb, but close): "fundamentally." How easily it rolls off the tongue—and softly, like a feather pillow of tough talk—when the senator from somewhere twangs "My good friend from the great state of Kansas and I fundamentally disagree on what is best for the American people."

Want to suggest your own piece of political jargon? Go to, and maybe it'll end up in the next book!

Dog Whistles, Walk-Backs, and Washington Handshakes: Decoding the Jargon, Slang, and Bluster of American Political Speech releases in September—but pre-order now!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

As Dog Is My Witness: On Charles Wright

Charles Wright, photo by Michell Cuevas, via
by Tom Haushalter

The recent news of Charles Wright's appointment as the next U.S. Poet Laureate arrived like the low and loamy wind that moves through so much of the Virginia poet's work. That is, the news was welcome and not altogether unexpected, but no less gratifying.

Wright, author of more than two dozen collections of poems and translations and two books of essays, winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award (among many other accolades), and a longtime professor at the University of Virginia, is celebrated as a poet with a keen sensitivity to his natural surroundings (there in Virginian Appalachia) and its ancient, sacred undercurrent.

Wright's poems have been called secular prayers. His lines are strewn with images of his close-by pastoral vantage point, are languid and sinewy, spruce-sweet and dew-laden—but not in the sentimental way you're thinking. The transport of the reader is often enough to a bone-cold solitude among the naked elements, that meeting in which Wright's truths reside.

In an interview with NPR about his newest honor—although he admits, "I really don't know what I'm supposed to do"—Wright expands on his sources of inspiration:
It's always been the idea of landscape that's around me, that I look at; the idea of the music of language; and then the idea of God, or of that spiritual mystery that we doggedly follow, some of us, all of our days, and which we won't find answer to until it's too late—or maybe it's not too late. Maybe it's just the start, I don't know.
The dogged existential pursuit, whether looking forward or behind, has been central to his poetry from early on. And in the 1983 National Book Award–winning selection of his first four collections, titled Country Music (proudly published by Wesleyan University Press, a UPNE Book Partner), quite literally are there dogs nosing through for answers, as in the poem appropriately titled "Dog":
The fantailed dog of the end, the lights out,
Lopes in his sleep,
The moon's moan in the glassy fields.
Everything comes to him, stone
Pad prints extending like stars, tongue black
As a flag, saliva and thread, the needle's tooth,
Everything comes to him.

If I were a wind, which I am, if I
Were smoke, which I am, if I
Were the colorless leaves, the invisible grief,
Which I am, which I am,
He'd whistle me down, and down, but not yet.
In his foreword to the second edition of Country Music, David St. John acknowledges the meditative power of Wright's work, that it "often serves as a kind of prayer book, a kind of poetic hymnal or speculative field guide we might carry with us on our own metaphysical journeys." And indeed, he writes later, in Country Music we find "the same explosive imagery, the same dismantled and concentric (or parallel) narratives, the same resolutely spiritual concerns" that have become hallmarks of Wright's poetry ever since.

In honor of Wright's career—or, as he once told an interviewer, his "reason for living"we're pleased to offer a 30% discount on Country Music if ordered through

Incidentally, another UPNE partner press, Oberlin College Press, has published an armful of Wright's translations of Italian poets Eugenio Montale (here and here) and Dino Campana, and a book of essays about Charles Wright's work, titled High Lonesome, edited by Adam Giannelli. All these titles are 30% off, too.

At checkout, the discount will automatically be added to your purchase. Not as timeless as the poetry of Charles Wright, this special offer expires August 31, 2014.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

7 Beach Reads for the Winter of the Soul

No Lifeguard on Duty (3053980143)
Photo by Benson Kua from Toronto, Canada
by Tom Haushalter

I've never bought the progression of logic imposed on so many of these "summer reading lists": that books which are read in the summer must a) be read on the beach and b) constitute a vacation (within a vacation!) from the heavier, morose themes that apparently dominate the books we read when we're out of direct sunlight.

As if by virtue of warmer days, all readers want breezy and easy, delicious and dishy, nothing to make them think too hard about themes of mortality or, say, the reality of melting polar ice caps, rising tides...and vanishing beaches.

Or winter.

Summer makes it easy to be taken in by your own carefree delusion, and takes credit for your happiness. But be warned. As the narrator in Icelandic novelist Sjón's book, From the Mouth of the Whale, observes:
In the perpetual light of high summer one has leisure to contemplate the terrible black chill that is the season we call winter, and all the evil that it brings. After such thoughts one sits and turns one's face to the sky, closing one's eyes and letting the blueness fill one with the illusion that it will always be so, or at the most the sky will flush like the cheek of a bashful boy but never grow dark again.

In this spirit of disillusionment and reluctant embrace of the inevitable winter of the soul, here's a summer reading list that, if anything, reminds you how nice it is to be lying on your back in the sand...while you still can.

Barren Grounds: The Story of the Tragic Moffatt Canoe Trip, by Fred "Skip" Pessl
In 1955, Arthur Moffatt led a group of college students on an expedition to the Barren Lands of Arctic Canada, a trip that has since been described as "an excellent example of how not to conduct a canoe trip." The exhaustion of the adventurers as they made their way, their dwindling food supplies, and the harsh conditions forced them to be less cautious, which led to the fatal mistake that caused two canoes to capsize in the frigid waters. Moffatt, the leader, died of exposure, leaving these college kids to find a way to safety. Barren Grounds comprises passages from the journals of two of the young party members, as well as entries from Moffatt's own journal, in which we all learn a few hard lessons in recreational travel.

At the Point of a Cutlass: The Pirate Capture, Bold Escape, and Lonely Exile of Philip Ashton, by Gregory N. Flemming
This book has beaches and palm trees, but imagine you've been exiled to an island in the Caribbean, having escaped a pirate ship where you'd been held captive for months. This is the vivid portrait of fisherman Philip Ashton in the 18th-century "golden age of piracy," a time when threat of being kidnapped and tortured by pirate captains like Edward Low was anything but rollicking good fun on the high seas. If you were Ashton, that is. A Publishers Weekly starred review says Flemming "adds a welcome depth to the history of piracy with this engaging and harrowing account of 'America’s real-life Robinson Crusoe.'"

 Killer Show: The Station Nightclub Fire, America's Deadliest Rock Concert, by John Barylick
It's all there in the title. The tragedy of the roadhouse fire in West Warwick, RI, in February 2003, set off by a lethal combination of the heavy-metal act's pyrotechnics and the flammable foam sound insulation on the club's walls, killing 100 people in less than 10 minutes, was in fact a crime. And Barylick, a lead attorney who prosecuted wrongful-death cases related to it, writes of his painstaking search for evidence to hold the band, the club owners, promoters, building inspectors, and others fully accountable for the cause of the fire and its aftermath. A horribly riveting read.

Night Flight to Dungavel: Rudolf Hess, Winston Churchill, and the Real Turning Point of WWII, by Peter Padfield
For decades there has been no clear answer to why Hitler's #2, Rudolf Hess, in May of 1941, flew a German fighter across the channel and crash-landed in Scotland. He was imprisoned in England, later tried at Nuremberg, and imprisoned at Spandau in Berlin, where he would remain until his death (possibly suicide) at age 93. Padfield investigates the many mysteries surrounding Hess' flight: what actually happened, whether he acted alone, the role that Churchill and British MI6 played, and why this episode was a real turning point in the war.

Fetch the Devil: The Sierra Diablo Murders and Nazi Espionage in America, by Clint Richmond
In 1938, Hazel Frome and her 23-year-old daughter, both San Francisco socialites, were on a cross-country drive when their car broke down in El Paso, TX. Making the most of a bad situation, they passed over the border into Juarez for some shopping and dining, and a week later their battered bodies were found in the Texas desert, with few clues as to circumstances of their abduction, days-long torture, and brutal murders. Richmond relies on long-forgotten archives and declassified FBI files to draw a haunting connection to a Nazi spy ring that operated through El Paso—and was run by spymasters at the German consulate in San Francisco.

A Murder in Wellesley: The Inside Story of an Ivy-League Doctor's Double Life, His Slain Wife, and the Trial that Gripped the Nation, by Tom Farmer & Marty Foley
It became a national story in 1999, when the investigation of the murder of Mabel Greineder in well-heeled Wellesley, MA, turned its focus on her husband, Dirk Greineder, a prominent physician and family man suddenly revealed to have been leading a double life involving prostitutes, pornography, and trysts solicited through the Internet. Farmer and Foley revisit this chilling story, interviewing key figures and showing how investigators pieced together a case against Greineder, culminating in one of the most dramatic courtroom spectacles in recent memory.

Deluge: Tropical Storm Irene, Vermont's Flash Floods, and How One Small State Saved Itself, by Peggy Shinn
Such a sinister summer reading list should conclude with a book that opens at the golden end of a typically delightful Vermont summer. But by the close of August 2011, in the southern gulf region, hurricane season had already begun, and yielded a storm that charted a path up the Atlantic coastline, through New York, and into northern New England. Downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it reached Vermont, Irene's massive store of rainwater was no less severe. And in a matter of a few hours, on August 28, the rains that the mountains absorbed were wrung out like water from a sponge, turning babbling village brooks into raging torrents, washing out roads, destroying bridges, and crippling access to and from several towns throughout the state. Thousands were left homeless. As the storm passed and waters finally subsided, a national emergency declared, Vermonters didn't wait for outside help. Townsfolk pulled one another from the wreckage and quietly performed every manner of good deed to save lives and rebuild communities. This book captures the heartbreak and the heroism.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

The Superiority of the Ivy League Athlete

by Tom Haushalter

Amid the bloat and spectacle of the National Collegiate Athletic Association—an industry that spends billions each year, earns billions in revenue, the lion's share of it funneled in and out of football and basketball programs, none of which, of course, its 400,000+ athletes (Division I-III combined) see a penny of—it's easy to forget that intercollegiate sports began as an idea that nobody thought would catch on.

That was 1852, football and basketball still yet to be invented. A kid named James Whiton, Jr., a 3rd-year Yale student and the bow oarsman for the Yale Boat Club, on a train ride through New Hampshire that passed right alongside legendarily gorgeous Lake Winnipesaukee, had a thought: Wouldn't it be something if we got a bunch of people up here to watch a race between Yale and Harvard?

Whiton got his crew on board with the idea, then Yale uttered college sports' first-ever fightin' words: that Harvard get up to Lake Winnipesaukee "to test the superiority of the oarsmen of the two colleges."

It would be nice to say, as they say, the rest is history. It might also be nice to say that Yale backed up their talk. But Harvard's one boat, Oneida, against Yale's two, Undine and Shawmut, beat them both. And it would be another three years until Yale got up the nerve to issue another challenge. Harvard won that one, too.

After that first race in 1852, regardless of the hundreds of spectators who crowded the hillsides, the notion of teams from different colleges competing in games was dismissed by presidents and deans, even by the New York newspaper that reviewed the race, predicting it would "make little stir in a busy world." Nor did campus life in those days much allow for idle, ostensibly meaningless activity, when there were serious texts to master, which the world depended on.

It bears repeating: this was before football and basketball.

Nowadays, about 48 million people pass the turnstiles at NCAA events each year, the ticket sales for which underwrite sizable percentages of university's operating budgets—to say nothing of the intake from merchandise and television contracts. If the Harvard-Yale race of 1852 was the boutique outlet of sporting competitions, then surely March Madness and the Bowl Championship Series are the big-box retailers of athletic entertainment, hocking brands like Duke, Florida State, Alabama, Ohio State, and UCLA. 

Nowadays, although Ivy teams and athletes can—and do—still command national respect in sports like hockey and (appropriately) rowing, by and large we remember when they were great. It's for this reason that the Harvard-Yale football rivalry and annual broadcast of The Game invariably includes a black-and-white montage of leather-helmeted heroes past.

And if an Ivy does turn heads, such as when the 2012-13 Harvard men's basketball team, earning only its second berth in the NCAA tournament since 1946, upset 3rd-seeded New Mexico in the second round, everyone is gobsmacked at how a bunch of smart kids without athletic scholarships even manage a layup.

Which is exactly what they should be wondering.

In a new book from Northeastern University Press, called Ivy League Athletes: Profiles in Excellence at America's Most Competitive Schools, author Sal Maiorana follows nine student-athletes from seven Ivy League campuses through the 2011-2012 season, and shows how they balance extraordinary effort in the field with even more extraordinary effort in the classrooms of America's most prestigious, arguably most challenging colleges.

Among the students, we meet Melanie Baskind, a pre-med senior at Harvard and captain of both the soccer (fall) and lacrosse (spring) teams—who deserves a citation under any definition of an overachiever.

There's Greg Zebrack, a senior baseballer who transferred to Penn as a junior, coming from the University of Southern California, where he had been recruited to play for one of the best baseball programs in the country—only to tear it up on the east coast and turn the heads of Major League scouts.

And Sheila Dixon, whose life story—from an infant abandoned by her mother at the hospital to an adopted child who realized how truly fortunate she was—propelled her to work harder than most kids, leading her to Brown and to becoming one of the key members of the women's basketball team.

In any discussion of present-day Ivy student-athletes who exemplify the best of the NCAA, it's impossible not to steer the focus to the preternaturally gifted long-distance runner who's spent the last few seasons shattering records and stacking up national titles. Dartmouth senior Abbey D'Agostino, who was just beginning her ascent when Maiorana was researching his book (and isn't one of the nine athletes profiled), has been so successful in her sport as to transcend not just ideas of Ivy greatness but of greatness on any level. (She's determined to compete in the next Olympic Games.)

Last year Runner's World featured D'Agostino and her "unlikely domination," charting her path from freshman whose coach saw a quiet potential to NCAA champion by her junior year. Apart from her typically intense training regimen, it's something of a mystery how swift and steep her mastery of running has been. Keeping in mind that D'Agostino, like a true student-athlete, allows herself no slack when it comes to completing coursework before she heads to the track—what is her secret to winning? According to those who know her:
Her greatest power . . . is what's going on inside, a psychological strength and running IQ of undetermined origin. "She's very smart; she thinks during races," [coach Mark] Coogan says. "She's patient. A lot of people can't run a 5K; they are wasting all this energy, zigzagging in and out, instead of just running for 2 miles to get where you belong. She's really good at that. She trusts that it's all going to happen. . ."
Abbey D'Agostino (Photo: Dartmouth Athletics)
Is it worthwhile to wonder, as we consider mental fortitude of "undetermined origin," if Ivy athletes are uniquely capable of equating athletic challenges with intellectual challenges? In other words, for they who cannot afford to skip class for practice, on which no athletic scholarship rides—thus have little expectation of one day going pro—do the qualities that make them our brightest minds have anything to do with how they approach their sport? Advanced calculus or a four-minute mile: a game is a game.

NFL quarterback and Harvard grad Ryan Fitzpatrick, in his foreword to Maiorana's book, adds: "[In the Ivy League] a certain purity exists because each athlete is competing out of a love and passion for his or her sport." And he goes on to say about his decision to attend Harvard:
The recruiting pitch didn't revolve around the state-of-the-art athletic facilities or the athletic dorms or the preferential treatment you would receive being an athlete at the university. The recruiting pitch was the challenge. It was the fact that . . . the classroom always came first. And it was the fact that, with all the exogenous pressure that came with being a student . . . you were still expected to perform on the field. 
For Fitzpatrick, D'Agostino, and all the student-athletes in Maiorana's tribute, the point of these collegiate sports is not obscured by inordinately bright stadium lights, nor by money thrown at them or trophies promised (though winning is never a bad thing). Since that first crew competition on the lake in 1852, each game is a display of agility and endurance all in pursuit of its own form of perfection.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Tell Us About the Time You Fell Off the Monkey Bars—and Enter a Book Giveaway!

ForeEdge and University Press of New England are basically thrilled to finally be able to say: Brenda Biondo's gorgeous photographic tribute to the bygone playgrounds of our youth, Once Upon A Playground: A Celebration of Classic American Playgrounds: 1920-1975, is available now!

The video above is just a taste of the images that will put your Americana nostalgia engines in overdrive. And it features a recent interview that Biondo did with the inquisitive hosts of "For Your Ears Only." Listen to Biondo explain what inspired her to immortalize these disappearing playground structures and find out how you can help the non-profit organization, Kaboom, build new playgrounds for neighborhoods that need them.

But wait, there's more.

We're in a good mood lately, so we're giving away THREE copies of Once Upon A Playground to three different winners. See the contest entry form below.

To better your chances of winning, share this post with your friends, and leave us a comment about a memorable playground moment of yours—what jungle gym you were the king or queen of, what merry-go-round you got pretty banged up on, maybe that first kiss underneath the coiling slide?

And thanks for liking the new ForeEdge Facebook page—like raising a playground, there are fun things in store. More ForeEdge giveaways! News and reviews about other new releases! Even more exclamation points!

This giveaway closes May 16 at 5:00 PM EST.

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Thursday, May 1, 2014

6 Reasons a Knish is Better than a Bagel

And now for a fight we're pretty sure nobody asked for. But a fight that simply can't go unpicked.

Already you're shaking your head. There's just no way the bagel takes a back seat to the knish. Right?

We've thought about it, and we're so convinced the knish is the better of the two Jewish baked goods, we've decided that the entire month of May shall be dubbed Knish Month. (Ahem, #knishmonth.) The delicious designation is, of course, in honor of the May release of Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, by Laura Silver, a lovingly written paean to the humble, hearty knish., undisputedly the world's leading expert on knish, uncovers the popular history and cultural impact of this potatoey pastry—not to be confused with its cousins the blintz, pierogi, dumpling (which we'll cover in a later post), and certainly not the bagel.

Lest you think we're crazy, read these reasons why the knish is having its moment. Then go get a knish. (Eat the knish.) Then find and fall for Laura Silver's Knish. Then tell us we're crazy.

1. Knish is an acceptable meal.
No one's saying a fresh-baked, pillowy, crispy-on-the-outside bagel is a bad thing, but don't fool yourself into thinking that's a smart way to start your day—it has zero nutritional value. But a knish? Stuffed with potatoes, it's an excellent source of potassium and Vitamin C. If you go with a meat-filled knish, there's your boost of protein! And you know what: with a knish you still get to have something fresh-baked, pillowy, and crispy-on-the-outside.

2. Knish has standards.
Whereas a bagel doesn't care if it's a day old, cold, tied up in a plastic sleeve and marked down for clearance, a knish simply demands to be eaten piping hot, straight out of the oven—and at least once in your life sears the roof of your mouth so you'll always be able to say it was worth the pain.

3. Knish is a welcome change of pace.
Knishes have been made and sold in New York City for well over a century, but like most things worth their weight in gold, you've got to know where to find them—from the legendary Yonah Schimmel's on the Lower East Side to Knish Nosh on Queens Blvd. Unlike the bagel, whose ubiquity makes it almost as easy to find a meh one as it is to find a good one.

Who's the more insulted, the bagel or the pizza?
4. Knish remembers from whence it came.
A bite out of a knish is—and always will be—a bite out of tradition, a nod to the strivers of the Jewish community on New York's Lower East Side in the early 1900s, as well as a loving gesture to the old world of the knish's origins. In her book, Laura Silver travels to Jerusalem, Paris, and parts of Poland, tracing not only the enigmatic roots of the knish, but a lineage of Jews for whom this pastry symbolizes the bonds of family. Silvers writes, "In Aramaic, 'a knish,' or rather aknish, meant a coming together, a joining of people, a community."

Now, the bagel's history is no less inspiring, but look at what we've done to it. "Old world" and "handmade" are the furthest things from our minds when we're made to wait in a line at Panera, trying to choose between sesame seed and pumpkin-spice-walnut-crunch or whatever else is in that thing.

5. In a 'food porn' face-off, knish always wins.

All right, the bagels do look pretty good.

6. You can put mustard on a knish.
And mustard beats cream cheese every day. (Lox is cheating.) 

Be sure to head over to Laura Silver's website,, a working shrine to everything you ever wanted to know about the knish—a knishipedia, if you will. Find knish recipes, contribute your own personal knish story, locate U.S. knisheries on a map, see where Laura will be promoting Knish this summer, and weigh in on the only other knish debate that matters: round versus square!

Knish: In Search of the Jewish Soul Food, by Laura Silver is on sale now.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Is Your Garden Made in the Shade?

Iris reticulata, via Wikicommons

by Susan Sylvia

I promised I wouldn't say anything about the inhuman length and fierceness of this past winter, and how perfectly sublime it is just to see last season's dead grass in my yard. And I would be too embarrassed to mention how spotting the little nubbins of crocus and iris reticulata poking up through the remaining snow in my garden yesterday made me jump up and down like a six-year-old with a new puppy.

Since I'm not commenting on any of that, let's talk gardening.

Gardeners always dislike owning up to gardens that are like an opening scene of Plants Behaving Badly. Whether a plant has a proclivity for 1) covert underground infiltration of its unsuspecting neighbors, 2) startlingly promiscuous self-sowing, or 3) the kind of disdain for its environment that leads to an early demise, no gardener wants to waste time and money trying to encourage everyone in the garden to get along.

Gardening professionals know this about us, so for years we've been plied with lists of "reliable plants for the garden." There is plenty of information out there about shade-tolerant plants, and elsewhere recommendations for cold-tolerant plants. Unfortunately, we end up with an overwhelming, annoying gluts of non-specific information from many different sources, when all one really needs is a good idea for a plant to fill the hole left by poorly chosen specimen of last season (may he rest in peace).

This problem is never more evident than to the New England gardener. Many gardens in these parts feature expanses of unwelcome shade, because yards are so often carved out of the abundant forests in the region, and remain surrounded by tall trees. Add to this New England's four seasons to contend with—June, July, August, and Winter—and these challenges all dogpile on top of the basic reliability that we look for in a good garden plant.

It's a tall order to find plants that have all the qualities we want. Sort of like finding the right man.

Where the qualities of hardiness, shade tolerance, and reliability collide, we find The Shady Lady's Guide to Northeast Gardening, the horticultural equivalent of In it, author Amy Ziffer hones down all the excess generic gardening hoopla, weeding out plants that will be nothing but trouble around here, and leaving us with a selection of great plants that will actually work in the New England garden.

Ziffer, a Master Gardener and professional garden designer affectionately known as the Shady Lady, runs her own gardening business in Connecticut and lectures all over the Northeast on the subject. This puts her in the perfect position to vet a comprehensive, reliable go-to list for the average Northeast gardener who doesn't want to take the trouble.

Nodding mandarin (Disporum maculatum) © Amy Ziffer

A number of years ago, I installed a large deep-shade garden for a close friend, and I wish I had had this book—the plants Ziffer profiles would have been far better than some of the choices I made at the time, creating a garden that incited many skirmishes between warring factions and scads of random suicides. (By the way, don't plant the carniverously invasive Aegopodium Podagraria [goutweed] near anything, especially not small children.)

When I chose plants for that garden, Cimicifuga, Hosta, Aruncus (Goat's Beard), and Lungwort formed the framework, and Lamium and Lamiastrum Galeobdolon were the only good options that I knew of for the dry shade under those really inconvenient pine trees at the edge of the yard. These mainstay plants are, indeed, included in Ziffer's guide. But she goes way beyond that, recommending plants that I would never, otherwise, have the courage to try.

She begins by presenting a good-sized list of plants that can be used to create a backbone for your shade garden, both for deep shade and light shade—plants that she has worked with a lot and knows perform well. We see names like Kirengeshoma (Yellow Waxbells), Stylophorum diphyllum (Celandine Poppy), and Sarcococca hookeriana (Sweet Box), none of which I'd ever paid attention to before, possibly because I couldn't pronounce the darn names and didn't want to embarrass myself in front of my local nursery professional.

We learn about culture, light requirements, form, size, bloom time and all the other get-to-know-yous fore each plant. And she very kindly lets us know if a plant may have a teensy bad habit or two that can be forgiven. Armed with this thorough information, I can say that I would now feel confident marching right down to the nursery and giving some of these new plants a try.

Marginal fern (Dryopteris marginalis) © Amy Ziffer
From this basic backbone, Ziffer makes recommendations for "accent plants," bulbs, spring plants that go dormant in summer, plants for neutralizing, and even some native ferns that will actually behave in the garden and can be left in place for years. And—get this—she has unearthed an ornamental grass that will do well in light shade!

Ziffer loads her book with handy features, including index markers at the edge of each plant's page with its USDA zone, so you can flip through the book and stop at the plants that won't give up the ghost during their first winter in your garden. She lists her best picks for groundcovers, native plants, choices for moist areas and rock garden, and plants that will do well in either shade or sun.

All this great info-at-a-glance is good for my inner-adolescent needing instant gratification—without the fluff!

I'm adding this one to the shelf in the shed.

Follow the Shady Lady, Amy Ziffer, on Facebook and find out where she'll be speaking around New England this spring and summer.