Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Knitting Through It edited by Lela Nargi

Knitting Through It: Inspiring Stories for Times of Trouble
Lela Nargi, editor

A colleague brought in Knitting Through It for my knitting coworker and I to read.  I was eager to read it because the topic seemed like the perfect fit for a new year full of upheaval. Using knitting, the process of knitting, to "see us through adversity" (13) is something to which I can most definitely relate and I thought reading about others doing the same might be cathartic.  Unfortunately, Knitting Through It was a disappointment.

Knitting Through It is a short-story collection arranged topically--Knitting through... Charity, Illness, Smoke, Grief, Work, Unemployment, Politics, Prison, War, Poverty, Industrial Development, Families in Motion, Relationships.  Contemporary writing is supplemented by life stories collected in the 1930s and 1940s,1 as well as patterns and photographs (mostly historical). While the structure should work in theory, in practice Knitting Through It reads more like the contents of someone's idea file than of a curated collection.  For example, "Knitting through Prison" (pages 101-113) consists of an excerpt from an interview that mentions a "profitable little trading business" that the interviewee's father had developed while in prison using handknits sent by his wife as initial stock, a story about a prison reform program crochet project, a photograph of an art installation featuring hats created during the course of the aforementioned program, a pattern for the simple crocheted hats the prisoners made, a photograph depicting Sing Sing prisoners knitting circa 1915, and a three-quarter page blurb about the "behind-bars craft tradition".

To be blunt, I feel like this collection needed editing.  The most interesting aspect of the book is the inclusion of tidbits from the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Writers' Project records, but they don't always seem to fit well into the chapter themes.  And, even though their inclusion seems to have been a key part of the plan for the collection as a whole, the decision wasn't made to focus the collection on the American experience. I find this problematic only because the collection (especially with the inclusion of all the WPA-collected life stories) is so heavily American that the occasional international inclusion seems completely out of place.
  1. From the Works Progress Administration (WPA) Federal Writers' Project records, circa 1935-1942, housed at the Library of Congress.

Monday, February 25, 2013

Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende

Of Love and Shadows by Isabel Allende
translated from the Spanish by Margaret Sayers Peden

This is the story of a woman and a man who loved one another so deeply that they saved themselves from a banal existence. I have carried it in my memory, guarding it carefully so it would not be eroded by time, and it is only now, in the silent nights of this place, that I can finally tell it. I do it for them, and for others who have confided their lives to me saying: Here, write it, or it will be erased by the wind. -author's note
Over the weekend I finished Of Love and Shadows, a novel that (according to the Bookcrossing journal for the copy I have) has been on my bookshelves since April 2006.

Of Love and Shadows is one of Allende's early novels (initial publication in 1984). The copy I have has the cover depicted in this post (1988 Bantam mass market paperback). When I was viciously weeding the book collection post-move, I almost put this book in the Bookcrossing wild-release pile despite the fact that I like Allende's novels. Why? Because of the cover. Not because of the cover art, which is undeniably dated, but because of the blurbs selected for the back-cover text. The review blurbs, while positive, felt backhanded as they all seemed to say "it's good... for a political novel." Overtly political and/or religious novels can be a real turn-off for me, especially when they are preachy, so I would have been perfectly justified in weeding Of Love and Shadows. I didn't, though, and Of Love and Shadows does have a decided political stance, depicting as it does a fictionalized Chile under Pinochet.  But, the novel is about a romance as much as it is about the fate of the desaparecidos and those left to mourn them (see Allende's epigraphic author's note above) and I think that Of Love and Shadows balances the two stories much better than other novels I've read that have attempted to do the same.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

literary yarn bomb

I spent a couple of hours yesterday trekking around Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, helping with the installation of a yarn bomb.  The yarn bombing was organized by the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Historic Fund, which runs the cemetery's tour program, as part of their second-Sundays program.1 Today's programs includes a "fashion show" tour of the yarn bombing and, later in the afternoon, a wildlife/nature tour.

I also made Russell come along.  Here he is at Washington Irving's grave.  Tombstone cozy (in colors of the American flag since WI was America's first professional writer) not knit by me.
I mostly contributed mittens to the project.  I knit mittens for a Jesus statue, whose fingers are long lost (project on Ravelry).
and a set of three pairs for a group of children who died falling through some ice in winter.  Each section of their tombstone features a different flower (lily, rose, violet), which dictated the color choice for the mittens (projects on Ravelry: lily, rose, violet).

I also donated an unloved scarf to the cause (project on Ravelry).

Just to bring this back to the literary -
In addition to being buried at Sleepy Hollow Cemetery.  Irving played an important role in the establishment of the now-famous cemetery.  He named it, or more accurately he petitioned for its name to be changed from "Tarrytown Cemetery" to "Sleepy Hollow Cemetery."
  1. Obviously today is the 3rd Sunday of February, but we had a visit from Nemo last weekend which called for a rescheduling.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

a late Christmas gift

I received the most wonderful book in the mail yesterday from my friend Lizzie.  This late Christmas present is a perfect gift for me as it combines two of my favorite things:  fiction and knitting.

Literary Knits by Nikol Lohr

Subtitled "30 Patterns Inspired by Favorite Books," Literary Knits is just that: a collection of patterns inspired by novels, specifically the author's favorite literary characters.  The patterns are grouped into four categories:  women's accessories, women's shawls and garments, items for men, and items for children.

I've included a list of the all the patterns contained in Literary Knits below (with links to the Ravelry pattern pages), but first, let's go over the patterns that I find most appealing.

First off, I'm quite taken with the cover-girl Daisy Cloche, though I'd knit it in a different color.  It's referential, but still very wearable.  My other must-knit is also a hat: Edmund Crown/hat.  The "secret" of double-knitting the brim allows a whimsical item to masquerade as a wardrobe staple.  The only way I'd love it more is if Lohr had included different instructions for sizing up (going up a needle size isn't a particularly useful suggestion when one wants to size up two or three sizes).

Another stand-out item is the Lyra Hood.  It's not on my to-knit list unless one of my nieces becomes a His Dark Materials fanatic, but that doesn't mean that I don't adore the pattern.  I love how Lohr incorporates Lyra's daemon into the pattern.  That secretive (not subtle) move makes the hood perfect for someone who truly loves The Golden Compass and its sequels.

I also like the Katie Rommely Gaiters and think they might be something I could incorporate into a steampunk outfit.

In general, I like the sweaters included in the collection. I'm most drawn to Ishmael, though the silhouette wouldn't be flattering on Russell.  I also like Gregor (another show-stopping look), though it's not something Russell would wear.  For me, Lady Brett Ashley (sans horizontal stripes) or Elizabeth Bennet.

As for the shawls, I lean toward Emma Bovary's and Jane Eyre Shawl's.  Emma Shawl is very clever.  I like the concept (it begins with a section referencing arsenic) and the trapezoidal shape, though I don't know that I'd actually knit it.  Jane Eyre Shawl, however, is definitely one for my queue.  It's practical (the recommended worsted-weight merino-alpaca blend would be perfect for my work environment), has a good shape, is pleasing to the eye, and the pattern is simple without being too simple.

Now for the full pattern run-down (with some commentary)...

Literary Knits for women:

Literary Knits for men:

Literary Knits for kids:

Monday, February 04, 2013

fragrant reading - Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet

I know that I read Gazelle by Rikki Ducornet about a year ago because I remember seriously contemplating a bah-humbuggy Valentine's Day post on martial infidelity featuring Gazelle and Blue Angel by Francine Prose, which I read around the same time. That post didn't come to anything and I never got around to posting about either of the novels. I really wasn't keen on Blue Angel and I've more or less succeeded in putting it completely out of my mind. Gazelle lingers, though.

Gazelle was an impulse buy (from Book Depot in St. Catherines, Ontario) before I put the kibosh on unfettered book acquisition. The opening sentence of its flap text--"A mother's betrayal, an unexpurgated copy of The Arabian Nights, a dazzling perfume-maker, and the scent of rose attar all serve to awaken a girl of thirteen to the erotic life"--is no doubt sufficient both as a synopsis and as an explanation for why I picked up the novel. What I remember most about Gazelle now is the novel's language and how fragrance permeates it.
That afternoon I heard the curious vocabulary of the perfumer for the first time. Vulgar was said with a sneer, venomous shadow with reverence.  A scent might be milky or metallic, sulphurous or chalky.  One was to be worn with linen the color of sand or snow; one was prodigious, one had a velvet body, another's was deep red, or, if worn in stormy weather, red veering to black; one smelled of old silver and cedar forests, and yet another was symphonic--"unlike the stenches my rivals call perfume but which are no better than the urine of asses and camels!" The great perfumes of ancient Egypt:  hekenou, medjet, sefet, and nekhenem he called: irresistible.  Their names alone seemed to darken the garden air with a mysterious smoke. (38-39)

Saturday, February 02, 2013

Astray by Emma Donoghue

Astray by Emma Donoghue
[F]or the past decade and a hlaf, I've been writing stories about travels to, within, and occasionally from the United States and Canada. Most of these travelers are real people who left traces in the historical record; a few are characters I invented to put a face on real incidents of border crossing. Many of them stray in several sense, when in the course of their journeys across geographical and political boundaries they find themselves stepping over other ones: law, sex, or race. Emigrants, immigrants, adventurers, and runaways--they fascinate me because they loiter on the margins, stripped of the markers of family and nation; they're out of place, out of their depth. (Afterword, 263)
I loved everything about this book (including the cover art). As Donoghue explains so eloquently in her Afterword, Astray is a collection of short stories that together are a study on what it means to stray (in every sense of the word). The stories are thematically organized into three groups: departures, in transit, and arrivals and aftermaths. They are set at various points in time between 1639 and 1967 and focus on a diverse group of individuals.

My favorite thing about Astray is that the stories are inspired by something that actually happened (or supposedly happened). Each story is followed by a note, usually a couple of paragraphs long, that explains its inspiration. What I like most is that the genesis of some of the stories is the smallest mention of something in a historical document. One of the joys of working as an archivist is coming across the types of tidbits that piqued Donoghue's interest. Our most visceral reaction to such a discovery is either a great desire to find out more information (research imperative) or a need to speculate about what really happened, using our imagination to fill in the gaps (daydreaming), or both. I suspect most of us don't often act on the former (because we have work to do), but instead keep mental lists (or photocopies) of the potential-laden morsels (I know I do). I love that Donoghue has followed these paths to their logical conclusion and given life to the historical snippets that haunted her.

I want a copy for my library. Astray is going on my wish list.