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Category Archives: Bibliophilia

Twin Practices

Knitting, if acquired in youth becomes so mechanical an employment that the occupations of reading and knitting can be carried on simultaneously; while the benefit of early training in this work is felt in extreme old age, and when the sight is dim or lost, a pleasant creation is still open for the experienced knitter

– from “Myra’s Knitting Lessons. No.1” circa 1800

I still haven’t really mastered it – I find it easier to knit along to TV, films and podcasts. And thank you to Louise Scollay of KnitBritish for pointing me towards Myra’s Knitting Lessons. How marvellous.

Right Here Right Now Is No Other Place I’d Rather Be

This month my Karise shawl has been the subject of a knit-along on the Old Maiden Aunt group on Ravelry. The response has been absolutely overwhelming and I love seeing what people are doing with my pattern. It is amazing to watch how something I sketched on paper has sprung to life and – get this – people like it. Yikes.

You still have time to participate in the knit-along – and my Karise shawl pattern is actually available with a 20% discount code until end of the knitalong (end of November)! To purchase the pattern go here and use the code OMAKAL – of course you don’t need to participate in the knit-along, but I have really enjoyed following the group throughout these last few weeks.

On this side of the table, I am working on a few new things. Most of these things are still in the sketchbook stage, but I have started one new proper project. A couple of years ago I had a misguided attempt at designing a jumper on the fly before I understood things like “fibre-properties” and “planning” and “fit”. The result was a hideous jumper I have worn twice. I stuck it in the washing machine the other night and felted the bejeebus out of it. It came out beautifully felted and just the right size for a tea pot cosy. I’m now playing around with sewing it together and decorating it. Pictures will be up on Monday, but I really like it so far and I love being able to get some proper use out of some very lovely yarn. If the tea cosy works out really well, I will put together a tutorial. Gosh.

And this is pretty much what life is like nowadays. My crafting is automatically translated in my head as “how can I communicate this to other people” and “how can this become accessible to others”. These days crafting is more about you than me. I am not sure when the shift happened but it has happened in a very definite way. I love creating, making, and crafting but I love it best when I can get other people on-board.

Apropos of nothing: writers and their libraries. Everything is as you would expect – Philip Pullman is thoughtful and lovely (and I’m delighted to see he adores Fernando Pessoa and poetry anthologies too) and Junot Diaz is a hipster who mixes post-colonial literature with geek classics – but books do furnish a room.

My Big Read

Every so often I come across a list of 100 books – the result of a BBC project called The Big Read in which the British public was asked about their favourite books. The list is being circulated as part of an ongoing internet meme asking people how many of these books they have read. You know, as though this list is an authoritative and complete list of the best and most important books. It is not. It is filled with recent best-sellers, pop culture phenomena and books people vaguely remember from school.

If you are searching for a good reading guide, please consider looking at these lists instead. Warning: these lists are purely aspirational and are filled with dead white men.

However, here is my personal list. It consists of 25 books not on the BBC list.  I consider these books the cornerstones of my reading life and I recommend all of them. One book per author. Feel free to share your own recommendations in the comments section.

  1. Tom Kristensen: Havoc
  2. T.S. Eliot: The Waste Land
  3. Walt Whitman: Leaves of Grass
  4. Virginia Woolf: A Room of One’s Own
  5. Sir Philip Sidney: Astrophel & Stella
  6. Gertrude Stein: Tender Buttons
  7. Hart Crane: The Bridge
  8. Mikhail Bulgakov: The Master & Margarita
  9. Jorge Luis Borges: Ficciones
  10. Vladimir Nabokov: Pale Fire
  11. Allen Curnow: Early Days Yet (esp. Landfall in Unknown Seas)
  12. John Cheever: Falconer
  13. Alexander Trocchi: Young Adam
  14. Primo Levi: The Periodic Table
  15. Alasdair Gray: Lanark
  16. Jeanette Winterson: Sexing the Cherry
  17. Margaret Atwood: The Handmaid’s Tale
  18. Keri Hulme: the bone people
  19. Iain Banks: The Bridge
  20. Michel Faber: Under the Skin
  21. Andrew Crumey: Mobius Dick
  22. Jonathan Coe: The House of Sleep
  23. Jan Kjærstad: The Seducer
  24. Cormac McCarthy: The Road
  25. Erna Brodber: Myal

PS. If anybody looking at my list can figure out what to call or how define my taste in books, please let me know. I’ve tried to come up with a succinct description for years but the closest I have come is “I like small, nasty books”.

Ghosts in the Library

Mooncalf wrote a blog post today which hit home. “I have looked through my books,” she wrote, “and I need to get rid of some of them.”

Almost four years ago I uprooted myself from Denmark. I packed twenty-four boxes and my suitcase, and I moved across the North Sea. I moved from my own two-bedroom flat to a flat I shared with others. Most of my belongings languished in unopened boxes until Other Half and I found the apartment where we now live. Twenty-four boxes. Fifteen of the boxes were filled with books.

In my Copenhagen flat I had a wall of bookshelves and the bookshelves were packed. I had books stacked on the window sills, on top of chairs and, yes, on the floor. I had books in the attic too. In other words, I had to choose between my books: which ones were important enough to go on that journey with me; which ones could be replaced; which ones were unimportant enough to simply be given away?

I bought small stickers and started sorting my library.

Green sticker: you will come with me, you are part of me, we will never part. Yellow sticker: I need to think about us; it is complicated; will I find you again in a dusty secondhand bookshop? Red sticker: sorry but we are over; it’s not you it is me; you are replaceable; what was I thinking?

I left eighty per cent of my books behind me when I moved.

Regrets? I have a few, and not too few to mention. I gave away books I never thought I would read or re-read and now I often find myself running my finger along the spines looking for that Angela Carter novel I once began but never finished. There are huge gaps where Henry James and Charles Dickens used to reside. I really regret getting rid of my literary theory course books because I had some fabulous marginal notes and now that my brain is wasting away, I would love to curl up with Plato and those marginal notes.

And do not get me started on why I brought a standard paperback edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses with me, but got rid of all those Georgette Heyers I have had to re-purchase. Self-delusion, I think.

Nowadays my library has mingled with Other Half’s. We have a lot of Iain Banks, Douglas Coupland and William Gibson where once I had very few or none. We are running out of shelf-space once more (I have a cunning plan called “two-books-deep shelving”) and I despair at Other Half’s tendency to not put books back where they belong (I try to keep our fiction books alphabetised by author and under each author by date of publication).

And I feel haunted by books past because when I am standing in front of the bookshelves, I keep looking for the books that got away.

Treasured

DSC00594When I talked about independent bookshops and Glasgow, I mentioned that my neighbourhood has several excellent secondhand bookshops. This is my favourite: Voltaire & Rousseau just off Otago Street. Sometimes I even think it is my favourite bookshop in the entire universe, full stop.

As someone whose idea of a good time is digging through piles of old books long out of print, unsurprisingly I once went on a date to Voltaire & Rousseau with David, now my live-in partner. But the bookshop is an acquired taste. On the photo you can just about make out its first room – the £1 room – and it is symptomatic for the entire shop. Books are vaguely sorted into categories and then shoved into ramshackled shelves or stacked on the floor. Last time I was there, I dug through an entire box of literary criticism hidden behind a ladder. The main room is similarly organised/disorganised. This is not a place you go if you want to find one specific book. This is a place you visit to find books you never knew you needed – and you go frequently to keep up with what is in (visible) stock. I think it’s a slice of heaven on earth.

A few links for your perusal:

  • The Human Genre Project: “..a collection of new writing in very short forms — short stories, flash fictions, reflections, poems — inspired by genes and genomics.” They are actively looking for contributors, so if you have a short story or a poem kicking about, do take a look.
  • Adipositivity (NSFW) “..aims to promote size acceptance (..) through a visual display of fat physicality. The sort that’s normally unseen. The hope is to widen definitions of physical beauty. Literally.
  • From KnitWit: “..I love the reclamation of knitting from a largely private, domestic sphere and drafty community halls where it is too easy to ignore,to be a more visible social activity”
  • And from the Domestic Soundscape, an amazing post on the connections between earth, animals, spinners and knitters. I cannot choose which quote to pull because the entire post had me going “yes, yes!”
  • Finally, the last in a triptych of related knitting posts: the much-linked Golden Fleece? post by Needled/Kate in which she looks at the (rather absurd) notion that Scotland equals cashmere. Warning: this post will teach you things about EU law and textile history. She even suggests you read Walter Benjamin.

Meanwhile, I’m not quite sure if I have a cold, if I have the flu or whether my body is just playing tricks on me as per usual. I’m off to bed and I have a few Georgette Heyers (bought from Voltaire & Rousseau) to keep me company. Have fun, kiddos.

Bibliophilia

april-126Do you think reality TV beckons me? I’m thinking of entering one of those “Britain’s Got Talent!” shows with my uncanny ability to acquire a massive amount of books without spending much money.

This week’s haul is pictured to the left. Fourteen books adding up to a whopping total of £4.50. Okay, so the top one was a bookmooch and the bottom four were purchased with a five-pound note I found on the street, but it is still not bad going.

The selection is suitably eclectic (for me, anyways): some bestsellers, some fluffy Georgette Heyers, a historical novel which had been recommended to me by my old mentor, some Booker nominees/winners, a bonafide classic and some slightly obscure novels.

I’m a chapter into Heyer’s Cousin Kate and will also start Crumey’s Mr Mee as soon as possible.

Some links for your perusal:

Knitting, Books and Heeland Coos!

Knitting: I have the body and one sleeve of Forecast done. In other word, one sleeve and the button bands to go. It has been a very quick knit so far – I wonder if I can finish it before the end of February? My plan was to finish it before we head off to Poland, so I’m well on my way to meeting that target. My knitting group has a crochet-focus meet-up planned, though and I was one of the bright ones suggesting it, but I really should get around to finish my cardigan. Also? Do I really feel like chaining up a crochet project when my fingers are itching to cast on for Frances.. decisions.

Books: I got quite a few book vouchers for my birthday and they had been burning a hole in my purse since .. well, last Wednesday! So yesterday I had a ‘little’ shopping expedition to Borders. I came away with:

  • Anne Donovan: Being Emily. Donovan is a local writer – so local that she lives just down the street – and I really enjoyed her Buddha Da.
  • Junot Diaz: The Brief Wonderous Life of Oscar Wao. It has been very well-received but in a manner which made me suspect I’d actually enjoy it. I’ve already begun reading it and, ten pages in, I’m not disappointed.
  • Ross Raisin: God’s Own Country. Okay, I admit I was swayed by the cover and the fact that I rarely get to read books set in Yorkshire’s sheep-herding communities. Shhh.
  • Michel Faber: Under the Skin. I haven’t read any Faber although friends tell me to read The Crimson Petal and the White. I thought a sinister little book might be a better introduction than a big, sprawling Victorian-esque caper. I like sinister books.
  • Michael Chabon: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union. After having read the wonderful Kavalier and Clay, both Other Half and I were keen to explore Chabon’s oeuvre. I have been warned that this is less engaging but seeing as a friend of mine apparently inspired a bit character, who am I to resist?
  • Robin Melanson: Knitting New Mittens and Gloves. Ahem, well.. I have been circling this book for quite some time now. Grumperina has quite a few pictures of various patterns up. I can see myself making a lot of these mittens in the future.

Today: David and I went to the Burrell Collection to see a British Museum travelling exhibition on Ancient Greece. How do I say this politely? Uhm, having previously lived in a city which boasts The Carlsberg Glyptotek, I was fairly underwhelmed. Fortunately we met this little guy in the pastures outside and he cheered us up (although David proceeded by getting lost in the park and I had to wait 40 minutes at the entrance before he made his way out. And he used to be a boy scout!):

feb2009-416

2008: A Year of Reading (Or Not)

I hate admitting this, but I did not read that many books in 2008. One memorable year I easily made it through 100 books. This year I think I struggled to read more than twenty-five books. I have my reasons for this sudden shift in reading habits – an irritating inability to concentrate (thanks to a certain health issue) and my new-found love of knitting which took up much of my spare time.

Two books left their marks on me, though. Cormac McCarthy’s apocalyptic The Road was raw, bleak and.. superb. McCarthy’s language usage was extraordinary: both his sentence structures and his word choices were deliberately pared down to the bare bones. Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell was exuberant, by comparison. Initially I found it difficult to get into Clarke’s dry, if wordy, prose but after 200-odd pages I was thoroughly enjoying her tale of a Regency Britain which felt very recognisable and odd at the same time. A book which transcended its genre and its tools.

I saw even fewer films in 2008 than I read books(!) and the only film I would single out was released four years ago. Yes, really. However, Wes Anderson’s The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou was a very good film and I was sad that I missed seeing it on the big screen.

Let’s just skip music except to say that Alaska in Winter’s “Dance Party in the Balkans” with its lo-fi, organic/gypsy electronica was the soundtrack to my year. Oh, and song of my year? The Phoenix Foundation’s Damn the River (from 2006!).

At least I’ve knitted a lot in 2008, eh?

Two – No, Three – Links

One website is really eating into my online time: Geni. It’s a site which will let you generate your own family tree for free. I have an unwieldy and complicated family tree (think Jeremy Kyle or vintage Jerry Springer) which makes it super-fun to figure out how people are actually related to one another. As Geni also lets you add photos of the different family members, you can also trace where that family chin originated..

Another website which has captivated me today: the ‘Coraline’ website. The website seeks to promote the film adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s “Coraline” book – and in all honesty, I am not a big Gaiman fan. However,  try typing in the code: sweaterxxs and you will see why I’m enchanted. Clues: Starmore and miniature.

Addendum: Darn, I forgot to add this amazing video of a meteorite falling in Canada and burning up as it hits the Earth’s atmosphere. The footage is from a police car in Alberta. (via)

Six Weeks of Solitude: Comforts and Frights

A sneak preview of my current project. I am test-knitting a pattern for Old Maiden Aunt and I’m quite excited about a new technique I’ve just picked up.

The Six Weeks of Silence idea seemed particularly attractive this morning after waking up abruptly at 5am because of a neighbour getting ready for work and then being kept awake by builders dragging debris down the communal stairs. I was lying in bed dreaming of that little cottage on Skye: no neds fighting in the street, no taxis honking their horns at 3am, no alarm clocks, no thumping bass-lines.. the idea was so overwhelmingly beautiful that I was almost ready to give up internet access, live-in partner and chai lattes. Almost.

Six more books for the Isle of Skye:

  1. James Robertson: The Testament of Gideon Mack: I have already read this book, but that is why I know it’d make a perfect companion for weeks of solitude (although it might just freak me out too).  A (Scottish) book about faith, imagination and how to define reality and truth.
  2. James Hogg: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner: If Gideon Mack with its strange opaque view of reality is on my list, I should also have the book to which it owes a great deal. A good university friend was a dedicated Hogg fan. I hope to catch up. I also like books that play off one another.
  3. Rodge Glass: Alasdair Gray – A Secretary’s Biography: And to round off this small selection of Scottish literature, a book I suspect Father Christmas might give me this year. A biography of one of my favourite authors written in a positively Boswellian manner. And it’s all taking place just down the road from my current dwellings. I suspect hermit life on Skye will make me long for the colourful Glasgow West End.
  4. Virginia Woolf: Flush: Some light reading is required, of course. Like most pale, sensitive and female literature graduates, I like Virginia Woolf far too much. I also happen to like dogs (which reminds me: this puppy cam is teh crack) and Woolf has penned a little “biography” of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s cocker-spaniel. When the winds really start getting to me on Skye, I will want to curl up with this book about dogs, poetry and Victorian passions.
  5. Michael Chabon: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union: Chabon’s The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay was such a pleasant surprise to me. I had anticipated inflated self-importance in the vein of Dave Eggers or Jonathan Safran Foer or maybe even painful so-called ‘literary’ writing like Jonathan Frazen or Jeffrey Eugenides (you can tell I have issues with male contemporary American writers) – but Chabon proved an utter delight and I am looking forward to being delighted once more. The Yiddish Policemen’s Union even has a character based upon an internet friend of mine which is slightly intriguing too.
  6. Rose Tremain: Music and Silence: A book not chosen for its title but because of its historical setting in my native Denmark. Another book which has been languishing on my shelves for too long and a book where the historical context is so familiar that I look forward to seeing a foreigner’s take. Okay, and maybe a tiny bit to do with “silence”.

And then the knitting. I wrote yesterday that I had two projects in mind which was not strictly true. I always have a gazillion possible projects running through my head and I spend much time thinking about yarns and pattern combinations. For six weeks of solitude I could easily have chosen half a dozen projects, but the idea is to limit myself.  Six weeks without noise or distractions could easily mean ‘difficult patterns which require concentration and dilligence’ but my head does not work like that.

The first project would be Kate Gilbert’s Union Square Market Pullover in my beloved DROPS Alpaca. I’d use a warm chocolate brown as the main colour and a deep turquoise (or maybe a deliciously brash magenta) as the contrast colour. The choice of pattern is simple: it calls for miles and miles of mindless stocking stitch on 3.25mm needles. I don’t think anything short of being marooned on a remote Scottish island for six weeks could ever make me knit that pullover (and yet I love its elegance and simplicity).

Final part tomorrow. Hopefully I will also have a finished knitted object to show you.