Braille Monitor                                                 December 2010

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Featured Book from the Jacobus tenBroek Library

From the Editor: With some regularity we spotlight books in the tenBroek Library. Here is librarian Ed Morman's description of a recent acquisition:

Fragrance and Fragrant Plants for House and Garden, by Nelson Coon. Grandview, Mo.: Diversity Books, 1967

In this woodcut two blind students of the Royal Institute for Blind Youth, the Parisian school with which Louis Braille was associated, are depicted operating a printing press. Printing was one of the professions blind people in France were often trained in during the early nineteenth century.During the past year each of the three successive Monitor editors has welcomed monthly contributions from the tenBroek Library staff. Among the books that have been discussed in this feature are one on sight (May 2010) and one on sound (April 2010). In this issue we look at a book about smell.

Although Fragrance and Fragrant Plants for House and Garden was not specifically written for the blind, its author was well qualified to write about plants in relation to blind people. An accomplished gardener and author of several other books on horticulture, Nelson Coon was also a staff member at the Perkins School for the Blind for more than a quarter century. He was aware that blind people can appreciate gardening and plants in many of the same ways as the sighted, but it was the fragrance of plants that struck him as most interesting when he came to work among blind people.

The first nine chapters of this book constitute Part I: “Scents and How They Are Used." Here Coon looks at the sense of smell and how people have tried to categorize odors. He discusses the importance of smell first to nonhuman animals and then to humans--as sexual creatures, as religious believers, as patients and healers, and as merchants and legislators. He concludes this part with two chapters on blindness and the sense of smell. In chapter eight he cites the Bible, Helen Keller, and a friend who reported paying greater attention to the olfactory environment after becoming blind. In chapter nine, "The Invisible Garden"--a short treatise on fragrance gardens for the blind--Coon points out that not every blind person enjoys plants and that creating gardens specifically for the blind can become an unacceptable form of segregation.

Part II, "Fragrant Plants for Every Garden," describes plants that will please the nose as well as the eye or fingers. Each of the twenty chapters in this part is about a category of plant: trees, shrubs, vines, herbs, and so on. Coon includes a chapter on "the malodorous garden" and concludes with some recipes for garden-based food and potpourri.

Federationists and other disability activists talk about universal design for technology: devices that are usable by the disabled, but equally useful by the general population. Here we have a book published more than forty years ago that is likewise of universal application. Surprisingly, though, Fragrance and Fragrant Plants for House and Garden is listed in neither the NLS catalog nor the APH's "Louis" database of accessible books. If any Monitor reader is aware of a source for accessible editions of this book, please let us know.


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