Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Holiness of the Humble

I've spent a lot of time lately knitting socks.
I've not been in much of a mood for anything else,
and that's ok.
Socks are impermanent.

They wear out, and eventually must be thrown away.
It's just their nature.
For me, they are also mindless knitting.
Round, and around, and around, and around.
I've made so many pair that I barely have to pay attention.
Socks are not as showy as lace.
Nor are they worn as obviously as a sweater.
Most people never notice that I'm wearing handknit socks.
Thus...they are, for me, the most humble of handknits.
And I am grateful for that.
For the humble allows my mind to let go and soar free.
The humble comforts the needlful heart.
The humble connects me to generation upon generation of knitters who've gone before.
For me, sock knitting is a sacred space.
One I will return to again...
and again...
and again.
My most recent pair...yet another pair of Opal socks for myself.

The Other Books of May

Because you knew there were MORE!

1.  We Were Liars, E. Lockhart - I normally am not a jump on the bandwagon sort of girl, but the reviews of this book were such that I decided I wanted to read it before the inevitable hype happened.  It's an amazing book.  I even stayed up way too late on a night I needed sleep so that I could read it all in one sitting, and was left feeling really rather gobsmacked in a good way.  The fact that I figured it out didn't even ruin the only enhanced it.  It's a beautiful book...and you should all read it.  Fair warning, though, it's not a particularly happy book...  (Ahem.  About a week later I realized that much of the plot of this book mirrors very closely an American remake of a Korean horror movie, The Uninvited.  Now, I have no idea if Lockhart has any awareness of the movie or not...I like to think not...but it's obvious that at the very least this is indicative of a specific plot that is becoming so popular that it's loosing its impact.)

2.  All The Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr - When Books On the Nightstand makes a special point of recommending a book, I generally take notice.  (One of my favorite's last year - A Constellation of Vital Phenomenon - received similar attention by BOTNS.)  I should say upfront that I'm a bit of a sucker for well-written, literary WWII books.  I was still caught off guard, though, by how beautiful this book was.  I sobbed out loud through the last 50 pages or so.  More than just a book about war, this is also a fairy tale....and a story about the type of damage that can be inflicted upon the dreamers of the world...and about resiliance and hope.  Doerr's book is on my list for the best of 2014.

3.  The Art of Hearing Heartbeats, Jan-Philipp Sendker (audio) - My, oh my, is this ever a beautiful book!  I love a good love story, and this one touched my heart for so very many reasons.  Read it if you need to feel good about people.  Read it if you want to be reminded about just how pure love can be.  I've got to also say that I really enjoyed the framework of the love story - which is that of a daughter discovering truly who her father was.  Beautiful

4.  The People of the Trees, Hanya Yanagihara - I'm unsure of exactly how I feel about this book.  On the one hand, it's a brilliant story about the misunderstandings that can arise between two cultures.  It's also a very well-done character study, with an excellent example of an unreliable narrator.  The descriptions were lush and many of the concepts were well developed.  On the other hand, I tend to not like to read books with dispicable main characters.  (Although I will say that I got a certain sense of glee from the very last part of the book when all of my suspicions were confirmed.)  I'm glad I read it....but I don't ever want to reread it....Shudders.

5.  Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hr Bookstore, Robin Sloan - It's sooo much fun!  It's really refreshing, first of all, to read a book about a group of people who like each other.  Secondly, it's a fun nod to both booklovers and computer geeks....and to all of the nerds inbetween.  The fact that it had place called "the California Museum of Knitting Arts and Embroidery Sciences" was an extra bonus.  I sooo wish that were a real place...I'd be packing up right now.

6.  Dept. of Speculation, Jenny Offill (audio) - Offill's book hit several Best Of 2013 lists last year, and so it's been on my wish list for quite sometime.  I was surprised when I checked it out via Hoopla, though, when I discovered it was only 3 hours of audio.  Dept. of Speculation is a rather brilliantly done portrait of a marriage - intense, rich in language and in detail, and oh-so-true to real life.  As you know, slice of life style books are not normally my thing...but this was so incredibly well-done that I would have loved it had it been ten times longer.  I had to back up the audio a couple fo times so that I could write down some quotes!

7.  The Space Between: an Outlander Novella, Diana Gabaldon - The next official Outlander novel is released early next this was a very nice teaser to lead up to that!  Yep, I'm not ashamed to admit that I love Gabaldon's books.  Just might reread them this summer. 

8.  A Plague of Zombies: an Outlander Novella, Diana Gabaldon - Ditto.  I've now fully caught up with the entire Gabaldon library. 

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Introducing....Holland House!

Yes, I know it's not the end of the month, but I have a special book treat to share with you today!  My friend Carrie, who's a rather brilliant writer, is now the Publicity Coordinator for Holland House Books.  She asked me if I would read and do a write up of their current and upcoming books.  In full disclosure - I was given Kindle copies of the books for free so that I could do this.  It's been fun reading books by new authors...and I am happy to share my comments and opinions about the books!

1.  The Absent Woman, Marlene Lee - Marlene Lee is a local writer, who came to my attention back when Carrie first became acquainted with Holland House.  I actually purchased and read this book last July.  Here is what I originally said, "Unfortunately, this book suffered from the circumstance that it happened to be what I was reading during the lead up to Tanith's surgery...and thus I was really not so inclined to relate to the protagonist in any way, shape or form as she's left her husband and kids to find herself. This is the sort of book that relates a slice of real which there is little in the way of what we normally think of as plot, but much in the examination of human story in all it's messy, unfinished glory."  Upon rereading the book (in a better frame of mind, sans scary surgery hanging over our heads) I would like to add that Lee is very gifted in her development of place and her characters - especially some of her secondary characters - are compelling.  I still have trouble relating to Virginia, but I fully recognize that that's about me...and not about the book. 

2.  Greenwood Tree, B. Lloyd (Grey Cells Press imprint)- I loved this book.  I absolutely, completely, and with my whole heart loved it!  Of course, Lloyd might as well have had me in mind when she wrote it.  Set in the past?  Check.  Green Man mythology?  Check. (Hello...title of my blog!)  Fun characters?  Check.  Epistelery sections?  Check.  Fun interplay between past and present?  Check!  It was a real treat to read, and I was thoroughly charmed by the entire book.  I actually had to tear myself away from the end so that I could go to a school event...and that drove me nuts!  While yes, it is a mystery, it rather reminded me of the Alexander McCall Smith books in that the mystery is almost secondary to everything else...and I do enjoy that.  I look forward to reading more Julia Warren Mysteries! 

3.  Sunflower, Cass McMain - First, the good.  I had very strong reactions to some of the characters, and it's always good when a writer manages to create an emotional response in a reader.  Also, the set up for the book was interesting and in some ways unusual.  It's not often, for example, that I read of a frustrated artist who's a man...and certainly metalwork art was a unique spin on that theme.  McCain's sense of place was also very well done, and there were passages about the act of and or desire to create that were lovely.  The bad, though, is that ultimately this just wasn't my sort of book.  There just wasn't enough in the way of plot to hold my interest, and I ultimately got so frustrated with the behavior of the characters that I wanted to throttle them.  I wanted more...more plot, more tension, more drama. 

4.  The Most Distant Way, Ewan Gault - I really enjoy it when a book introduces me to something that I'm completely unfamiliar with.  The strength in Gault's book is the way in which he captures a very specific lifestyle and place - that of running training camps in Kenya.  There was also a lot of potential in the characters, and the pacing for the plot was very well done.  If it had been written in third person, it would have been amazing.  Instead, though, it's writen in first person through two different characters.  While this is a style I usually enjoy, I felt that in this case neither character's voice was really all that well developed.  There were also often times where the events in the book didn't match up to the way in which the character was speaking at that particular point.  I would really like to see some future work by Gault.  I have a feeling that he will improve as he gains experience, and I hope he continues to tell unique stories. 

5.  Killing Jar, Ann Brandvig & Rick Becker (Grey Cells Press imprint) - Until fairly recently, I didn't read mystery novels, and they still aren't a go-to genre for me.  Having said that, I've found that periodically I really enjoy dipping my toes into a good mystery.  I will say that the title was a bit off-putting, making me expect something more hard-boiled and perhaps cheesy.  I'm so glad I was wrong about that.  I absolutely love our PI, Georgia.  I don't want to give too much away, but I will say that the authors found a really nice balance to the overall tone of the book.  It was fun and lighthearted in places, but it had enough darkness to give it depth.  Georgia herself is a complex character, and not a cardboard cut out.  I'm not enough of a mystery afficianodo to comment on how well designed the puzzle of the mystery was...but I did enjoy it! 

6.  Five and a Half Tons, John Bayliss (Grey Cells Press imprint)-  Another super-fun mystery!  (By this time I was giggling over the fact that I was enjoying mysteries so much.)  This time we get a bumbling detective in the style of an old film noir.  In a genre that I think often takes itself a bit too seriously, it is a joy to read a book like  this.  In fact, it quite charmed me!  I found myself frequently laughing out loud, and shaking my head over the exploits of our characters.  This is exactly the sort of light-hearted book that I find myself needing periodically. 

7.  Rebecca's Road, Marlene Lee - Lee is clearly interested in the idea of women seeking to find themselves later in life, which is a valuable story to tell.  I was drawn in immediately by Rebecca's past and crazy family life, and I was curious to see how her story developed.  She's a fascinating character - almost more of a child than a grown woman - and I wish she had been just a tad more developed because there was a lot of potential there. I gather from reading the author's note in the back that originally this was written as a series of short stories that were then strung together to make a novel.  That would explain some of the odd disjointedness there was between well as the frequent (and very annoying) slips in the timeline.  That aside, I couldn't put it down and read through it in one sitting. 

One last comment - as a small, new publisher, Holland House could really benefit from better editing.  I did find minor errors in almost all of the books.  I'm guessing that most readers wouldn't notice, but they might.  I happened to catch it because I was reading very carefully...although in a couple of places the missteps were obvious.  I'm hoping as they continue forward they are able to rectify that!  (Edited to add:  I spoke with Carrie today, and it's entirely possible that the copies of the books which I have are not the finished works...which would explain the errors that I found.)

Monday, May 12, 2014

It's Not Me

The first time you snap a thread on the row below, you think:
Darn it.
Oh well, it was an accident, I'll fix it.
The second time you snap a thread on the row below, you think:
D*mn it.
What the h*ll is wrong with this yarn?!?!?!
Ok, maybe it's not the yarn.  Maybe I'm just tense.  I do have a lot of stress this week.
The third time you snap a thread on the row below, you think:
Clearly, there is a problem
Time to put this away for a while.
It isn't working, and it's time to figure out why.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

In My Heart...and In My Drawer

As most of you know, I occasionally tuck one of my lace shawls in the mail and send it off to its forever home.  I LOVE doing this, and have never once regretted the gift...especially as it is usually the case that the knitting has told me where it wants to go.
Once in a while, though, a recipient expresses concern that I might be giving away all of my work.
No worries.
This picture is of the contents of my shawl drawer, which I emptied out yesterday so that I could do my spring refolding/reorganization of my lovelies.  As you can see, I've kept quite a bit....and this isn't everything!  Another two are on display elsewhere in the house, and the Princess is - quite naturally - carefully tucked away in a special box.

The grand total?

I have kept 20 shawls and six scarves, and I have three more full shawls on the needles right now.

Of those, only three or four *might* eventually leave for new homes.  I've considered it, but only one has begun to speak to me about where it might want to go.

The rest are beloved pieces, and will be staying forever.

A quick perusal of my Ravelry page shows that in the last 11 years I've knit approximately 60 lace pieces from scarves to shawls, the vast majority being full-sized shawls, and I have additional entries for another 15 unfinished pieces.  I am prolific, and while I have loved making each and every item I have absolutely no use for that many shawls.  It is one of my great joys in life to be able to share their beauty, and I love to think about them bringing happiness to others when I send them out in the world as I treasure the ones who've stayed behind.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

When It's NOT Good

Just as there are days when the knitting sings,
there are also days when the knitting is a total brat.
You lose your mind, and can't remember how to count,
or keep track of the pattern,
or form the most basic of stitches.
Frogging is required.
Sometimes repeated frogging is required.
You spend hours dithering over what should be a simple decision.
You swatch eternally for said simple decision.
Then you decide that your original plan was probably the best.
But you still aren't 100% happy,
and you suspect you COULD do something better if you'd just give it some MORE time.
Yes, there are days when it just doesn't work.
The trick, though, is to remember that these are NOT the days you will remember.
Someday, when you sit with the finished project, you will smile at a job well done,
and you will forgive your knitting for it's bratty days
because in the end, they are every bit as much of a part of the process as all of those good days.