Tuesday, February 6, 2018

January 2018 Reads

A roundup of books I read over the last month.

The key words for last month's nonfiction reading were "knitting" and "almanac."

I read Aldo Leopold's classic A Sand County Almanac for my naturalist's writing group. I'm embarrassed to say I hadn't read the whole book before (there was a bookmark to show I'd read part of it at least). It's every bit as good as its reputation and really makes one think about what ecology means on the land, and how important every link in the web is…down to the grains of earth we wash away so carelessly. Love it and will be referring to it again and again.

My mom sent me Elizabeth Zimmerman's Knitter's Almanac for Christmas. Another book I *should* have read long ago and which I loved every page of. Even if I never knit any of the projects—which, let's face it, are a bit dated, I have already learned so much from Zimmerman's wisdom and good humor (always knit a gauge and just drape your yarn over the needle when you start to cast on—no slip knot needed! Brilliant!). Among the just delightful writing all through the book was this gem: "The products of science and technology may be new, and some of them are quite horrid, but knitting? In knitting there are ancient possibilities; the earth is enriched with the dust of the millions of knitters who have held wool and needles since the beginning of sheep."

I also read Knitting Pearls, a collection of essays on knitting by famous writers, edited by Ann Hood, a kind of follow-up to Knitting Yarns, and every bit as good. It left me thinking—and writing—about my mother and grandmothers and all of the knitted and crocheted items that passed from one loving set of hands to a child or grandchild.

As part of the research for The Book, I read Beloved the Sky, a collection of essays about clearcutting, edited by John Ellison. I didn't really find any useful information in this book, but it did help me focus my thinking on industrial forestry. I read several other books on clearcutting, all written in the bad old days of the 1980s and early 90s (not that clearcutting or industrial forestry has gone away, by any means, but they've either used up the old growth on the national forests and/or moved on to easier/cheaper tree supplies; I shudder to think of the developing world and what might be happening to their forests). Anyway, it was a disturbing course of study, and one I preferred living in cozy ignorance about (by ignorance, I'm focusing on the ignore  root of the word, because of course I knew, I just preferred not thinking about it).

To counteract the heavy reading, I needed a good dose of escapism and finished off the last two unread (or not-read-in-at-least-two-decades) Mertz/Michaels/Peters books on my shelf: Black Rainbow and The Wizard's Daughter, by Barbara Michaels. They're both historical fiction in the Gothic style, with a heavy dose of suspense, and both quite fun, witty reads, and wholesome escapes from reality. I also read Persuasion, which had been lost in the back of my bookshelf during my Jane Austen phase last winter. I had thought Persuasion was my favorite Austen book, but now that I've reread it, I don't think it stands up to Pride and Prejudice, but still an enjoyable weekend read.

I finished reading Elizabeth Peters's The Last Camel Died at Noon and read all of The Snake, the Crocodile, and the Dog to E and Z and still they want more "Ramses" books. I don't know why they love them so much—about half of it goes over their heads and we have to stop and explain the connections in the plot, remember who the characters are, and decipher Arabic phrases, Latin quotes, and lines of Romantic poetry. But love them they do. (As we started on the latest installment, which is the sixth book we've either read or listened to in the series, I said something about them being mysteries. E was shocked. "What? What do you mean they're mysteries?" "Well, there's usually a dead body or two, at least one gang of criminals, often the Master Criminal, and a puzzle to figure out who is the bad guy and who isn't." Still he was aghast. So really, I have no idea how much they get out of these books…or maybe he thought mysteries had to be like the Hardy Boys).

Thursday, February 1, 2018

In Other Quilting News

I got E's quilt back from the long-arm quilter and put on the binding last weekend. He picked out a circles-and-swirls quilting pattern that looks like bubbles and ripples of water; fitting for a frog quilt.

For the back, E and I chose a soft lime green flannel (he really wanted turquoise velour, but I talked him out of it…and after I made him a pillow from said fabric, I knew I made the right choice—it was horrible to work with and even just sewing a binding on it would have made me crazy).

Now all three kids are covered—literally.

I can turn my attention to myself. Here's a sneak peek at my next project. Usually when I make a quilt, I do all the planning at the beginning and from there it's all tedious cutting and piecing, but this one is planned square by square and I find it positively thrilling to come up with combinations of fabric and then see how they turn out once they're put together. I've almost exhausted my supply of red fabric, in terms of using each only once (they will get repeated later when I start making smaller blocks) and I'm waiting on a shipment of reinforcements from my mom.

I worry a lot about creative energy and whether expending it in one area (e.g., quilting, knitting, painting, etc.) drains the well so there's not enough left over for the main activity (i.e., writing). I don't know the answer to this, but I do know that while this project is distracting, it is also energizing and it makes for a beautiful kind of escapism that's preferable to a television or social media binge.
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