Recent reads: March 2023
I’ve been reading much more slowly lately. Spring is trying to come here, my crocus are up even though they’ve been covered by snow a couple of times. I think winter is going to hang on a bit longer, but that means that I don’t feel guilty being inside reading, watching baseball, and knitting. This group is an eclectic bunch, but I’ve found myself wanting to read something completely different from what I just finished and thankfully the library has been quite helpful with supplying the perfect thing.
Please Be Advised
A novel completely told via interoffice memos? It feels like an absurd thing, but it works in the end, it works very, very well. Christine Sneed tells the story of Quest Industries, a company that makes collapsible office furniture, and it’s rapid decline. The entire cast of characters, all shown via the memos they write, is hilarious and at times makes you realize how truly bad office life can be. I was hesitant about this book when I started it, but I ended up really enjoying it.
Making a Life
An absolutely gorgeous book telling the stories of various makers and how they live. I read this slowly, taking in a chapter or two each day, and soaked up all the beautiful photos. Melanie Falick does a brilliant job capturing each person or the group she’s focused on and she draws out such interesting nuggets from them, I’m still thinking about many of the things I read.
I particularly enjoyed Nikki McClure and Jay T Scott highlighting how important our hands are and the idea of asking kids what they’re going to make rather than what they want to be when they grow up. And when talking about the founder of Purl Soho and her relationship with her painting:
It was the conceptual part of painting—the constant quest for higher meaning, which seems so crucial at Yale—that tripped her up and led her to give it up for a long time. (p 273)
One of the things I’m thinking about a lot after reading this book is just how much knitting, crocheting, and sewing have let me express myself in ways that are relaxed. I hated it in art school how much we had to come up with words that sometimes felt like complete bullshit to explain what we were doing. I want to create things, enjoy the process and the outcome, and let the rest go.
The first pandemic memoir I’ve read, but I’m sure it won’t be the last book to incorporate the weirdness of 2020. Peggy Orenstein decides she wants to knit a sweater but she wants to shear the sheep, spin the yarn, dye it, and then knit—doing the entire process to make a garment. I couldn’t put this book down and it was profound at times and laugh out loud funny at others. I could relate to so many of the things Orenstein thinks about as she uses the project to talk about the fashion industry (spoiler: it’s a shit show) and living in a fire prone region.
The subtitle of the book is What I learned about life while shearing a sheep, dyeing wool, and making the world’s ugliest sweater and it’s the perfect subtitle, with the exception that the sweater isn’t ugly. But the pandemic was so difficult and so many of us used it to learn something new and, while doing that, we all learned a lot about ourselves in the process.
A few passages that I’m still thinking about are below.
Spinning demands that my hands grow accustomed to things they’ve never done, to shapes they’ve never made, to work in novel and unfamiliar concert with my feet. It calls for patience and persistence, neither of which is my long suite when starting something new. It’s all a bit like the feeling you get when you try to pat your head with hand while rubbing your stomach with the other. There are flashes, seconds, when it comes together—when left hand, right hand, and feet move in harmony—but most of the time my limbs are as tangled as my thread. (p 79)
These days, when I glance down at the hands holding my knitting needles I’m surprised to see they are not my own, but my mom’s. Change, some old Greek dude said, is the only constant; learning to accept that, I find, is the work of a lifetime. (p 130)
I am an incessant seeker of validation, perpetually worried, despite my age and relative success, about missing the mark, about not meeting unspoken expectations, about getting an A in whatever there is to get an A in: about how my work will be judged rathter than what engaging in it means to me. Deep down I know that’s a trap, one that sabotages creative thinking. Maybe that is part of what draws me to this eccentric project—the relief, the excuse, the joy of incompetence. (p 135) [Note: I feel seen.]
Consolations: The Solace, Nourishment and Underlying Meaning of Everyday Words
I started 2023 reading one of these short essays each morning and what a great way to start the day. David Whyte defines each word in unique and thought provoking ways and it never failed to make me think about that word in the coming hours and days, for certain words. He defines words such as beauty, alone, genius, hiding, pain, and withdrawal. Highly recommend this one, especially if you’re a word person.
Beauty is the harvest of presence. (p 27)
The Birchbark House
There was a discussion last year about The Little House on the Prairie books and from that I learned about Louise Erdrich’s series for kids based on Native American experiences. What a delightful book, the first in the series. Omakayas is finding her way with her family, living on an island with her people. They are interacting with the “chimookoman” but are still living a very traditional life in the place they’ve always lived. It’s a great coming of age story as she deals with so much change in one year and I highly recommend it.
Friday Night Knitting Club
I listened to this book as I knit, which G found hilarious. It’s a fluffy book about a group of women who come together and form a social knitting group, but it’s also about each of their lives and how they’ve come to be where they are. It’s not great, in fact there are parts of it that are horribly written, but it was something to help me get through a tedious project.
Men at Work
This may be shocking for some, but I’ve become a baseball person. I love watching it, the World Baseball Classic was an awesome tournament and so fun to have that type of baseball in March. And now I’ve read a book about baseball, which would shock my past self. George Will is really into baseball and he knows a lot about it. He takes the main positions of the game and he talks about it via specific players who play those positions: the manager, the pitcher, the batter, and defense. It’s a bit of a tough read at times with all the stats and I’ll admit I didn’t read every single word of it, but there was a ton of interesting stuff in this book, especially his tangents on the history of the sport. It’s also an older book (1990), but even though some things have changed about the game, many things have not.