Books 2013

Wilting - Some Links While I Melt

As a heatwave has swept across the UK, activities in Casa Bookish have been kept to a bare minimum. Oh, there was that trip to Linlithgow Palace, a trip to Edinburgh, some art exhibitions,  designing/plotting, preparations for the launch of new Autumn/Winter yarn collections - but mainly I have languished in the shade with an ice cream for company. I've enjoyed some really fantastic and thought-provoking Twitter conversations about hand-knitting, fashion, and women's self-image. So, in short: I don't exactly lack blog post material. I just lack the energy and presence of mind to write the blog posts! What's a girl to do? Well, I have some choice links for you to peruse whilst I hope for cooler temps to hit my corner of the UK:

  • Ventures & Adventures in Topography - a podcast about rambling through London using old walking guides. Yes, I continue to be fascinated by psychogeography - how we interact with landscapes and how landscapes interact with us.
  • Speaking of which: Cafe Pantopia - trying to establish "a common meeting-place that traverses the vast distances of the North Atlantic Ocean." I am a North Atlantic Ocean girl and I love, love, love this idea.
  • Fringe Association is my new favourite knitting blog. There. I said it. She makes me look at things differently. FA  is a refreshing, smart look at knitting, style, and design.
  • I am currently teaching myself (very basic) French using DuoLingo. I'd quite like an outline of basic grammar alongside vocabulary lessons and commonly used phrases, but I genuinely feel like I'm learning Stuff.
  • Fancy living somewhere which has serious literary credentials? Why, William Blake's cottage is for sale!
  • And this serves a neat segueway into the Man Booker longlist. The jury is spear-headed by Robert MacFarlane whose The Old Ways is my current bedside table book. In Days of Yore I would have had Opinions but Opinions have been wilted by the heat and an insane amount of work knitting.
  • I have finished a book recently, though. Yes, That Book by That Author. I enjoyed it - and it was very low on gore which I appreciated. I am a squeamish reader in some ways.

And how are you doing?

The Glamorous Life of A Quiet Knitter

When people tell me they'd love to work in the knitting industry, I don't think my last fortnight is what they had in mind. I have been crawling around on my knees finding stray balls of yarn underneath boxes, behind furniture, and in strange places. I have been covered in yarn fluff and dust (achoo). My hands have been rubbed raw from handling thousands and thousands of balls of yarn. And then I spent several days tracking down product codes for long-discontinued qualities, noting everything down and triple-checking it against inventory notes before going home for long showers that did not get rid of the yarn fluff stuck inside my ear. Life, she has not been glamorous.

Still, there are good things to report. Firstly, there are new shadecards in front of me together with glossy previews of all the new summer collections. Secondly, two new designs are currently blocking on my living room floor. Thirdly, I have a logo for Karie Bookish Knits (more on which in a future blog post). And fourthly, Edinburgh Yarn Festival have finally announced their workshop list!

I have also finished my third read of the year.

Susan Cain's Quiet has been a real hit with readers this past year. As a reader it is hard not to be enthralled when a book tells you that it's really, really cool that you prefer reading a book to a loud party. That may sound like a cynical take but much of this book reads like a hard sell to the quiet, bookish crowd (i.e. people who buy books). Introverts like me are amazing - we invent things! we empathise! we could have stopped the recession! When Cain forgets to stroke egos or offer self-help solutions, the book becomes far more interesting: her examination of the 20th century as the century of the 'extrovert' is good as is her take on 21st technology enabling social interaction without sensory overload. As a non-American, I didn't quite connect with some of Cain's examples and some of her generalisations about cultural personalities were iffy - but Quiet was a decent read. If you've ever hid out in a bathroom stall to avoid small-talking your way through an evening, this may be a book you'll want to read.

A few random links:

Hope you are all keeping warm and are knitting away. Me? Well, tomorrow I am donning my oldest clothes and will return to crawling around on dusty floors..

there will be no miracles here

Narratologists are endlessly fascinated by 'plot' - one of the most famous books on the topic is even called Reading for the Plot. Whilst I did read Peter Brooks (who wrote the aforementioned tome) and Mikhail Bakhtin at university, I was never a great fan of narratology. I preferred poetry to prose and if I read fiction, I sought out works that somehow clashed with Brooks' ideas of 'narrative ends' and 'sequence and progression'. EdinburghA couple of years ago Tom McCarthy's novel C was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize. McCarthy was rather good at sound-bites. He declared the novel ‘the Finnegans Wake for the 21st Century’ or even a nouveau roman. This was utter nonsense, of course. I enjoyed the novel a great deal but at its core it was a rather conventional Bildungsroman cleverly disguised as an experimental anti-novel.

I just finished reading Keith Ridgway's Hawthorn and Child. It is difficult to call it conventional and as I was reading it, I could not help but think of McCarthy and Brooks.

Hawthorn and Child is a detective novel - that most conventional genre of fiction and one which narratologists love because the genre's raison d'être is precisely narrative logic and satisfying progression of plot. Yet Ridgway's novel is also not a detective novel. The recurring characters of Hawthorn and Child are police detectives and we follow them in their job, but we only catch glimpses of plot. A boy was shot. Who shot him? We are never told. The boy says a car shot him. There is a man, Mishazzo, with whom the police appears obsessed. What does he do? We do not know as we only glimpse him driving from one place to another.

And that is what you get with this book. You get stories of the detours, the gaps, the liminal spaces within conventional plot structures. Does that make it sound hard-going? It is not. You leap from one character to another - in a way, Hawthorn & Child can be understood as a short story collection too - and every section/story is exceedingly well-written with very distinct stylistic choices.

For me, the whole book came into its own with the segment "How To Have Fun With A Fat Man" which is so cleverly constructed and written that I read it several times just to savour what Ridgway did. Here he juxtaposes Hawthorn policing a riot with Hawthorn attending an orgy in a sauna. Bodies mingle, mix and become blurred - and so Ridgway's prose mingles, mixes and becomes blurred. Paragraphs become bilocated in the narrative. It is a dream-like, yet visceral read.

Hawthorn & Child is an extraordinary read. I cannot remember the last time I have been this excited about a book and I don't think my words do it justice. Word of mouth has been very strong - in fact I first read about it on John Self's book blog - and I think that is how the book will find its audience. I hope the audience will be a large one. It deserves to be read (and read and read).

(Hawthorn & Child is my second read of the year. My first read was Mary & Bryan Talbot's Dotter of Her Father's Eyes; a graphic novel partly about Lucia Joyce, daughter of James Joyce.)