Saturday, November 22, 2014

Recent Reading

Like many of you, we are under the weather here.  And so winter begins, one month early.  This is the perfect season to take refuge in a good book.  And I've been fortunate to find that in a few good titles recently. 

First up is Baker Towers by Jennifer Haigh.  In this book, the author does for southwestern Pa. coal country what Richard Russo did for upstate N.Y./ New England mill towns in his book Empire Falls.

Located in  Bakerton, Pa. (aka West Carroll) during the 50's & 60's, the author does a very authentic job of capturing those small towns in that time period.  It's an area I'm familiar with.  The story of the Novak family could be one of many families in that place and time.  Men go underground in the mine or off to war while the women are left to sustain themselves and their families.  The family members struggle to adapt to changing economic realities as jobs disappear and education assumes greater importance.

There are a couple  technical glitches. For example she sites a young man with a transistor radio in Washington, D.C. the week of the D-Day invasion in 1944. Transistors weren't developed until 1947 and weren't commercially available in radios until the mid 1950's.  And there is mention of an eye procedure that starts out as radiation treatment in the 1950's (believable) which somehow flips to a laser treatment (not possible for that time period) in the story.  But I attribute those glitches to a poor editor and give high marks to the author for giving us a great family saga.

Next is Moonlight on Linoleum by Terry Helwig.  This is a memoir that I picked up after reading Sue Monk Kid's The Invention of Wings, which I also recommend.  The two authors are friends and Kidd encouraged Helwig to put her story in writing. 

It is a memoir about growing up as the oldest daughter of a young, unstable mother. The story is reminiscent of Jeanette Walls' memoir, The Glass Castle, but is much more believable because the writing is less fantastic. At the same time, Helwig uses language and metaphor to communicate the depth and breadth of feelings she experienced at the hand of a mother she loved but could not trust.

I won't go into the details of her story, but it is a story worth reading. And as I reflect on some of the children that moved in and out of my elementary schools in small town in the '60's, I suspect that aspects of her story are more common than many of us would like to believe.

The third book is also nonfiction: Immunity: An Inoculation by Eula Biss  In this brief and beautifully written book Eula Biss explores the meaning and significance of the concepts of inoculation and immunity in the individual and society. Each chapter is written as an essay on various aspects of the topic. It is not presented as technical/scientific information, though there is no paucity of facts in the text. Ten pages of sources and citations at the back of the book are interesting reading by themselves.

Through facts, myths, and metaphor the author points out the importance of  a larger understanding of important concepts.  She explores how we integrate information into our systems of thought, hence the subtitle: "an inoculation".  The result is an attempt to inoculate the reader against quick assumptions based on poorly researched facts and an awareness of the impact of metaphorical language on our impressions, opinions, and ultimately our world view.

One of my favorite quotes in the book is on p. 128 citing George Orwell's observation that thought can corrupt language and language can corrupt thought:
"Stale metaphors reproduce stale thinking. Mixed metaphors confuse. And metaphors flow in two directions - thinking about one thing in terms of another can illuminate or obscure both. If our sense of bodily vulnerability can pollute our politics, then our sense of political powerlessness must inform how we treat our bodies."

Through this book, Ms. Biss effectively demonstrates the value of the study of humanities in a world that is currently dominated by technology and sound bites. Kudos to her.

So that's the book list.  And in case you missed it this week, here's a link to Ursula Le Guin's speech at the National Book Awards:  Ursula Le Guin Steals the Show 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Seasonal Items

It seems that 2014 has been the year of the hat in my knitting life.  These two were knitted this week:

The hat on the right is the Able Cable hat and the hat on the left is the Jacques Cousteau hat.The yarn is Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride in worsted weight.  The color is Orange You Glad.

And there is some weaving finished:

This is the fabric right off the loom.

Here it is after wet finishing and pressing.  Uhm...there wasn't that much shrinkage.  Guess I should have put the coin in to show scale in both photo's.  But it does show how the natural colored polyflax yarn settled into the fabric.

This piece is a table runner:
The fabric is reversible.
There are 6 placemats to go with the runner which are waiting to be hemmed.  Black thread, short hours of daylight...sigh.

Right now the looms are naked.  So I guess I'll be putting on some warps this weekend.
Hope you can spend the weekend doing just what you want to do.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Just hanging around...

Something like this:
This little guy was hanging out right above where a park my car when it turned cold last week...around the same time that we set our clocks back.  But I doubt that turning the human clocks had anything to do with his own internal clock.  This past Monday was warmer and he has moved on, hopefully to a more suitable place to spend the winter.

There has been some finishing:
This is another prayer shawl that I will turn in at the prayer shawl ministry tonight.  Project details are at the link.  There are other things that are almost finished, but not quite.  So pictures later......

Books...There has been a lot of reading accomplished in the past few weeks.  Here are some I recommend:

The History of Rain by Niall Williams
This is one of those books that when I finished it I wanted to start over and read it again.  The narrator of the story is plain Ruth Swain, a 19 year old woman who is confined to the attic room in her family home after contracting a debilitating blood disease in her first semester at college.
The story is set in a small fictional Irish town named Faha, situated at the mouth of a river and where it continually rains.  I've tried writing a review, and can't seem to give the story justice.  So I will send you to this Guardian Review.  Though I recognize that this book may not be for everyone, I loved it and will definitely read it again.

Next on my list is The House We Grew Up In by Lisa Jewell.  This British author is generally known for "chic lit" but in this story she deviates somewhat.  The story revolves around Lorelei Bird, the matriarch of the Bird family.  We move back and forth in time over a span of around 30 years with the Bird family which consists of:  the father, Colin, a university lecturer;  two daughters, Megan and Bethan; twin sons, Rory and Rhys; and of course Lorelei who is a hoarder.  The highlight of each year is the Easter Egg hunt which Lorelei orchestrates at first in a whimsical fashion, then over the years devolves into the obsessive behavior that characterizes her entire life.
The story is insightful and engrossing as we watch the family crumble under the weight of Lorelei's possessions.  There is guilt, anger, adultery, suicide, and ultimately reconciliation as the family digs their way through the mountain of possessions left in Lorelei's wake.
Best of all....that honey colored house they grew up in is in a lovely village in the Cotswolds.

For the next selection, it's back to the Irish, but now they are in Brooklyn for Alice McDermott's Someone: A Novel.  Marie Commeford narrates the story of her Irish Catholic family in Brooklyn, starting with her childhood in the 1930's.  As Marie tells her story, there is the continuing theme that we all experience disappointments and are knocked down by circumstances, but then along comes someone who helps us back to our feet, dusts us off, and enables us to move on.  The story is told in snapshots as Marie filters through her memory. Compassion and humor braided through this story of a very extraordinary ordinary woman.

So there you go...three books to get you through these dark, late autumn days.