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Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on…
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Ghosts in the Garden: Reflections on Endings, Beginnings, and the…

by Beth Kephart

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332523,442 (4.25)1
National Book Award nominee Beth Kephart's new book is an enchanting midlife meditation on aging, identity, and memory set against the backdrop of Chanticleer garden in Pennsylvania. On the morning of her forty-?rst birthday, Kephart - a mother, a wife, and a writer pressured by deadlines - finds herself at Chanticleer, one of the world's most celebrated pleasure gardens. She knows little of the language of flowers. She cannot name the birds in the trees. She is a stranger among the gardeners and the people passing by. And yet she understands that she has somehow found her way to a place that can teach her about life and growth, about the past and the future. Week after week, she returns to Chanticleer - recalling her childhood self, mulling over legacy and soul, striking up friendships with gardeners and conversations with other visitors. Succored by the seasons and the weather, she finds the grace in approaching middle age. There are lessons in seeds, and she finds them. There are lessons in letting go. Kephart writes about questions we all ask ourselves: How do we remember who we used to be? How do we imagine who we'll become? Have we lived our lives as we set out to? What legacies do we wish to leave behind? The book spans a two-year cycle, and each chapter is accompanied by a gorgeous black-and-white photograph of Chanticleer by William Sulit. Ghosts in the Garden pulses with possibility and purpose, with wisdom that is ageless and transcendent.… (more)

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My last post was about an anthology of pulp mysteries from the 1920s-1950s. What, you are wondering, does this have to do with a Beth Kephart book? A good question. One of the things you realize as you read pulp mysteries is the authors' abilities to tell a story in a small space. Some of the stories are 10 pages, some 20. But they all have one thing in common. Through the spare use of words, the right words, they've told their tale and captured the readers imagination.

And so it is with Beth Kephart's works. Every word is thought out, is necessary. In a spare 120 pages, Beth has transmitted to us her musings as she wanders the Chanticleer Gardens near her home. But first, a word must be said about the photos in the book. As you as gaze at them, some are vividly clear. Some have a focused foreground with a blurry background and some, vice versa. But, isn't that life? Some things in our life are crystal clear, some have moments of clarity amidst a misty, blurry background. As I read Ghosts in the Garden, I felt that that's part of what the author was trying to say. William Sulit, her husband, has created a wonderful counterpoint to Beth's words. (I won't tell you about the poem he wrote to her which is included in the book!)

But onto the words themselves. Who would have described a garden as a symphony? Certainly not I. But, in Beth's hands, "After that, to the right, are the strut and tempo of the cut-flower and vegetable garden. The flowers in rows. The vegetables in an enclosure. The upraised arms of espaliers--apples, pears--because something has to conductd this orchestra." Can you not picture the branches raised, holding a baton?

Or "Now when I went to the garden I'd sit at the bottom of the hill with a book on my lap--sometimes reading, sometimes just looking out on things: a gathering of bees, the sleepy drooping of big leaves, the geometry of the pebble garden that cascaded away from the so-called ruins, down toward the pond." I can't count the times I've stared at 'nothing' while sitting under a tree.

There's the old cliche about 'taking time to smell the roses' and while we all agree its a necessity, here's someone who did, the result of which is this marvelous book...and hopefully a clearer picture of the life she wants to lead. Ghosts in the Garden is a must read.

P.S. Beth. You say you "...would like to write a book (a page) that is an acorn only. That ripens from green to brown and supposes a tree, yielding something like a garden." I think you have. ( )
  EdGoldberg | Oct 11, 2012 |
Hard to believe I am the first to review this excellent little book. The lead up to, and the poem by her husband are worth the price of the book. Beautiful writing, beautiful sentiments, thought provoking and meditative book. I bought this as gifts for other people. Just great. ( )
  LeeHallison | Sep 4, 2010 |
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