Book City: Dan Brown is formulaic tripe

A world-class horticulturalist and founder of Heronswood Nursery, Dan Hinkley avoids garden writing in his off-time and won't touch Dan Brown.
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Dan Hinkley, founder of Heronswood nursery.

A world-class horticulturalist and founder of Heronswood Nursery, Dan Hinkley avoids garden writing in his off-time and won't touch Dan Brown.

Dan Hinkley is a gardener, designer, consultant, writer, and lecturer who has been the recipient of every award and medal in the horticultural pantheon. Along with his partner Robert Jones, Hinkley founded Heronswood, a mail order nursery and destination garden that put the Northwest on the global horticultural map. Dan and Robert live at Windcliff in Indianola, with their two English Springer Spaniels; Dan keeps busy writing, reading, traveling and cultivating a bluff-side garden published around the world.

Valerie Easton: For years and years now, we’ve talked about what we’re reading whenever we get together …is this a life-long conversation for you?

Dan Hinkley: I have always been a reader, but unfortunately in fits and starts, as time in an uber-busy life tends to take its toll on what is truly enjoyable.

What book is open on your nightstand right now?

After seeing the movie Lincoln, I’m reading Team of Rivals by Doris Kearns Goodwin. Truly an excellent read.

Any book you’ve read lately that really caught your imagination, inspired you, or changed how you look at the world?

Every (good) book I read tends to inspire me. Haruki Murakami's Kafka on the Shore is one of the most visual novels that I’ve ever read and one of the best books I’ve read in months.

Have you read any other truly great books lately that you’d unhesitatingly recommend to friends and colleagues?

After years of having known of it through TV and film, I finally read Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  I savored every word and every moment, written in an accessible language that is no longer spoken. Last week, I downloaded the audio version from the library read by Jeremy Irons, and was equally entranced. (I’m a committed fan of the Kitsap Library System via my iPad).  I could not recommend it more, especially to hopelessly romantic anglophiles with a bent for charming, anachronistic turns of phrase. 

Sounds like you’re a downloader. Why and what kind of device?

I like my iPad, because I can read at night without turning the light on; good for a marriage. I can travel with 100 books at once, and have access to the ones I’ve read and the passages or words I like and have highlighted. The battery life is amazing on the iPad, and I can download from the library, or Amazon, wherever I happen to be in the world.

Any well-reviewed or popular book you didn’t feel lived up to the hype?

Don't get me started on Dan Brown. I’ve had sigmoidoscopys that are less painful than reading formulaic tripe like that. I actually kept reading it to the end to test my abilities in edging nausea.   

What are your favorite gardening books and authors?

Since you’re a garden writer, I tread lightly. But to be completely honest, I don’t read about gardening. I read endlessly about plants, but it is not literature, rather liturgy in Latin. My apologies. 

As a plant explorer, you do so much traveling. What kinds of books do you take with you when you head to the wilds of the world?

As it turns out, I am perpetually out of sync. I read Memoirs of a Geisha while in Chile, The Thorn Birds in Vietnam and Stanley, The Impossible Life of Africa's Greatest Explorer while in Tasmania.

Any favorite travel authors?

Paul Theroux artfully blends the sense of adventure with great curiosity and comprehension of the human condition. 

How does your reading influence your writing?

I love the cadence of Jamaica Kincaid’s writing and it has impacted my own. Likewise, Jonathan Franzen's play with words has inspired me to be better when I attempt to write.

You and Robert are accomplished cooks…do you have favorite cooking authors? Any cookbooks you turn to often?

We filter through them and then back again. Todd English and Nigella Lawson seem to get what good food is about, Martha Stewart always seems to work out. However, for PNW inspiration we use Jerry Traunfeld’s and Greg Atkinson’s cookbooks. 

You were very involved in the last election – are there any political books or authors you’d recommend?

How Hillary Clinton Won the 2016 Presidential Election; not yet published, but I will certainly be reading it in the near future.

What were your most cherished books when you were a child? Can you name a childhood favorite that influenced you?

I remember The Pond by Robert Murphy had a powerful impact, but I need to go back to read it again to figure out why.   

Can you think of a particularly powerful passage from a book that’s stuck with you?

"But as the years passed I began to mourn the loss of something I had known in my youth and once or twice since, the intensity and singleness and the belief that it was not all done by hand - in a word, the inspiration."  Brideshead Revisited, Evelyn Waugh

Do you have a book or two that you’ve re-read over the years and will no doubt read again?

Kipling's Kim and Tolkien's Lord of the Rings

Are you a fast or slow reader? Do you write in the margins/take notes?

I am ridiculously slow and even more so when I like a book and digest the language slowly. I am that irritating guy sitting next to you on the plane who mouths the words he is reading. 

When and where do you settle down to read?

In front of the fire on Sundays with a ballgame on and the volume turned down, every night as we turn into bed and our annual reading vacations on a beach somewhere warm. 

Do you read poetry? Any favorite poets?

I love Billy Collins and fear that my appreciation for good poetry doesn’t go much beyond that.

What book would you most like to unwrap on Christmas morning? (Robert…are you reading this???)

There is a brand new book out on the distribution of woody plants in China…however, it’s $500 so I’m afraid it’s unlikely I’ll be unwrapping it.

What Val’s Reading This Week:

Valerie’s working her way, slowly and with great pleasure, through Always Rachel: The Letters of Rachel Carson and Dorothy Freeman. She’s almost finished the thoroughly enjoyable novel Emily Alone by Stewart O’Nan that Nancy Pearl recommended in last week’s “Book City”.


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About the Authors & Contributors

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Valerie Easton

Valerie Easton started her career as a librarian shelving books at Lake City Library when she was in high school. Now she writes full time, and has authored five books, includingThe New Low Maintenance Garden and her newest title Petal & Twig. She writes a weekly column and feature stories for Pacific Northwest magazine in the Seattle Times.