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Success Story: Ruth Kassinger

This is a photo of Ruth Kassinger, an author of Where Books Begin

The author Ruth Kassinger has received accolades for her latest botanical history book, Garden of Marvels (ISBN: 9780062048998). A reader on Amazon says "I think that the best way to explain most any aspect of science is to follow the chronology of discoveries and the people who made them. The author does a wonderful job at that, she brings these characters and their discoveries to life. I learned more about botany than in any class I ever took." The esteemed library review medium Booklist praises it with a star. Ruth Kassinger's previous book Paradise Under Glass, earned a starred review in April's Library Journal describes her new book as "informative and extremely entertaining." Carol Haggas in Booklist says this indoor garden memoir is inspirational and instructional, while LJ calls it "a surefire antidote for a midlife crisis or the winter blues. Highly recommended." Subtitled Amateur Creates A Conservatory Garden it is a memoir of the author's unlikely desire to build, stock and tend to a small conservatory in her suburban Maryland home, interwoven with the history of conservatories from Renaissance orangeries to Victorian glass palaces to cutting-edge "living walls" of today.

One winter afternoon seven years ago, Ruth Kassinger was walking down Independence Avenue on Capitol Hill in a gloomy frame of mind. Her three teenage daughters were soon to leave the nest, her younger sister and best friend had recently died of a brain tumor, and she was recovering from arduous treatment for breast cancer. It was with change and loss on her mind that she was struck by a sweeping view of the Conservatory at the U.S. Botanic Garden, its rounded glass roofs gilded by the setting sun and gleaming against a darkening sky. She decided to take a quick look inside before the buildings closed for the day. When the doors to the Palm House closed behind her, she immediately fell in love with the vibrant tropical life inside. Warm and humid, lush, and ever-green, a conservatory, she decided, would be the perfect antidote to the losses and changes of middle age.

Brushing aside all objections — that she had no gardening experience (and in fact hated outside gardening with all that sweating and all those bugs) and had killed every houseplant she ever owned — she plunged into the project. Digging into the history of conservatories, she found the structure of what would become Paradise Under Glass. She would tell two personal stories — the evolution of her tropical garden and the evolution of her perspective on mid-life losses — while simultaneously weaving in the history of conservatories. The approach was a natural one for Ruth: the history of science and technology had been the subject of her eight previous books.

In fact, as she progressed in her research and as an indoor gardener, she discovered an almost eerie entwinement of history and memoir. When she was ready to branch out beyond the offerings of her local nursery, it was time to write about the intrepid plant hunters of the 18th century who sailed the world in search of exotic species. Just as she discovered that her quiet green refuge had metamorphosed into the social center of her household, she found herself writing about how 19th century European nobility transformed the first conservatories — the orangeries that were essentially winter warehouses for trees — into graceful buildings for entertaining. Then, as she researched today’s cutting-edge conservatories, she invented an easy “vertical garden” system (which she details for readers) for growing plants on an indoor wall.

Ruth emerged from her unlikely adventure re­in­vigorated and re­in­vented. That re­invention didn’t re­quire up­ending a fa­mily or start­ing a new ca­reer or ven­turing far­ther a­field than the lo­cal gar­den cen­ter. She found an answer to mid-life malaise in learning to care for tropical plants, plants that have beguiled denizens of cooler climes for five hundred years and inspired a glittering architecture, plants that anyone can make flourish, under a skylight or behind a window pane, at home. This led to her second book, A Garden of Marvels.

Ruth Kassinger began her writing career as a journalist. Her science and health writing appeared in the Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Health magazine and Science Weekly. Twelve years ago at a writer’s conference in Washington, D.C., Ruth submitted a book proposal about the history of inventions. Ellen E. M. Roberts, who was critiquing book proposals for the conference, recommended that she expand her book concept into a series. Soon afterwards, Ruth called Ellen at Where Books Begin to set up an appointment that would begin a long partnership between editor and author.

When Ruth branched out into writing for the adult trade market, she engaged the services of agent Michelle Tessler at Tessler Literary Agency to sell her book. Michelle’s expertise with books related to natural history, as well as her marketing savvy, was just what Ruth needed. She sold Paradise Under Glass to HarperCollins as both an engaging memoir and a history of conservatories. It took no time to find the right editor for the book so that Ruth could continue her research, confident that the book would reach its audience.

Today Ruth lives in Maryland with her husband Theodore Kassinger.

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