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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Children's Book by A.S. Byatt

For all the detail, ideas, and characters in Possession, it told a specific story with a beginning, middle, and end. The Children's Book, on the other hand, is a sprawling narrative with no plot to speak of. The novel follows several families from the 1890s to the end of World War I. The characters are artists, writers, bankers, socialists, and housekeepers, all of them struggling in one way or another with the cruelties of society and looking for personal fulfillment.

In fact, it's a rather remarkable of how the human condition doesn't change. The parallels to our current American society are striking; in reaction to industrialization the Arts and Crafts Movement called for a return to handcrafted, artistic objects, furniture, and clothing -- much like the recent explosive growth of both the internet and the global economy is countered by maker culture and the desire for authentic, artisanal products. The pollution and urban growth of the late 19th century resulted in a "back to nature" movement, a fetishization of the English countryside; compare this with the current interest in sustainable living and undoing the effects of man-made climate change.  Many of the adult characters live in a sort of perpetual adolescence, obsessed with parties and games and fairy tales, just as some people today delay responsibilities and use "adult" as a verb. Income inequality, the mistreatment of workers, the environment, women's rights -- these issues are just as relevant now as they were a hundred years ago.

But this book isn't just about ideas and philosophies; the political is personal for these characters. Olive Wellwood loves her children, but is perhaps too focused on writing wildly popular children's stories to really pay attention to them. Olive's daughter Dorothy wants only to become a doctor, to deal with the realities of bone, blood, and muscle rather than fiction and romance. Olive's husband Humphrey genuinely cares about the fate of the have-nots, but isn't quite willing to give up the privileges of his status as a wealthy, white businessman. Geraint, Imogen, and Pomona suffer greatly because of their brilliant, impractical, abusive father, and find different ways to escape. Working-class Phillip just wants the opportunity to exercise his talents and artistic vision; his capable, practical sister chafes against the restrictions placed on her because of her sex and status. Herbert Methley expounds on women's rights and sexual freedom while keeping an eye out for vulnerable girls he can exploit; his wife and his friends quietly clean up the resulting messes, aware of his flaws and hypocrisies but not willing to call him out on them.  Each of these characters and many, many more (so many!) are complex, thinking, feeling people who are not at all that different from the people you might encounter today. In particular, watching each of the children grow up and find their way (or not) in the world was utterly engaging.

The final section of the book deals with World War I, and in a way it serves as a corrective to some of the naivete and selfishness the characters exhibited. The senseless brutality of that war shocks some characters out of complacency, and brings out the best in others. The ending is just a moment when some of the survivors gather for a meal -- a fitting end to a novel that doesn't so much as tell a story as give us a picture of the untidiness of real life. I highly recommend it, for those who have the patience for it.

Monday, July 8, 2019

Back in the Land of the Living

So it turns out, getting the flu and pneumonia in summer is terrible. I was really sick for a long time (still sucking on cough drops constantly), unable to do much of anything. I did manage to do a decent amount of cross stitch, since it's the least taxing of my hobbies. I even finished Satsuma Street's Sagittarius pattern:
I'm not at all into astrology, but I couldn't resist the colors and stylized design.

Before I got sick I made some beaded beads, which I strung on knotted purple yarn:
The pattern is Cath Thomas's Bolas, from her Cellini Peyote Freaks facebook group (join it! Lots of great tutorials, patterns, and inspiration). She was running a challenge to make something inspired by a piece of clothing. I didn't have a large palette of size 6 and 8 beads to work with, but the colors I ended up with worked nicely with a scarf I should wear more often.

Before I got sick I was also working on the Summer Book Club QAL, using Kate Basti's Tall Tales pattern (my love of all things bookish overcame my hatred of foundation paper-piecing). I'm almost done with the wall-hanging I made, and I'm super excited about it. Pictures soon!

Thursday, June 20, 2019

Book Round-Up: Quilty Edition

The Wedding Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini: Like her last few Elm Creek Quilts books, Chiaverini uses a framing device -- here, the wedding of Sarah's daughter, set in the future -- to tell the stories of different characters. It's a structure Chiaverini has used a lot, and I did not find it as effective. Some of the stories were perfunctory and expositiony; others were engaging, to the point that I think they would have worked better fleshed out into proper novels. I wonder if Chiaverini intended this to be the last one; by setting it in the future, and "recapping" the lives of the major characters, it had the feel of a finale. But it wasn't!

The Giving Quilt by Jennifer Chiaverini: This appears to be the final novel, and again Chiaverini used an event -- a week-long charity quilting retreat -- to tell the stories of various women (this time new characters). This worked better than the previous one, more akin to a collection of short stories, although I didn't find the characters all that interesting. What's more interesting is the negative reviews on Goodreads, complaining about Chiaverini injecting politics into the narrative. While she did use the stories as soapboxes, I'm both amused and troubled that her opinions (Greed bad! Libraries good!) are considered controversial by some.

Wild Goose Chase by Terri Thayer: The first novel in a quilty mystery series, this novel was overall entertaining and well-written, although I wasn't thrilled with the rivalry between the heroine, Dewey, and her sister-in-law, Kim. Kim engaged in objectively awful behavior, but Dewey also has a huge chip on her shoulder regarding women who are traditionally feminine. Perhaps as Dewey begins to understand the art of quilting, she will mature over the course of the series.

Apart at the Seams by Marie Bostwick: Normally I like to read a series in order, but having been in a reading emergency (I finished my book before my commute home and needed to download something quickly from the library's website) I skipped over books 2-5 and read this one. Which isn't a big deal, in this series: while the books center around a quilt store in a small town in Connecticut, each novel focuses on different characters with only minimal continuity to worry about. Bostwick's novels are your standard women-dealing-with-marriage/career/family-problems stories, but the characters are smarter and more insightful than usual.

Saturday, June 8, 2019

Yellow, Yellow ...

It wouldn't be the end of a holiday season if I didn't have a last-minute finish. Tomorrow is Pentecost, so today I blog about my needlepoint Easter egg:

The pattern is Elegant Egg by Julie Sackett. I love the Watercolours thread I used -- Carnival -- and I had fun picking matching threads. I finished it by sewing it to yellow ultrasuede, and disguising the inevitable lumpiness with the palestrina stitch along the seam. It's a great stitch for neatening things up.

Back to the Stitch 9 Challenge!

Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Jewelry Round-Up

A gemstone bracelet I whipped up to join the rhinestone one I made:

Unfortunately, I can't tell you what stones these are. I used to be very good at remembering the details of what I have in my stash, but no more.

Another gemstone bracelet, because they are fun:

 I also started this bracelet, done in tubular herringbone with regular and "skinny" (i.e. demi-round) seed beads.
The use of different sizes of seed beads reminds me of the cellini spiral, and I joined a facebook group devoted to that so now I'm itching to do some experimenting.

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

Book Round-Up

The Color Master by Aimee Bender: I tend to associate Bender with Kelly Link, for they both excel at short stories with a fantastical bent, and I discovered them around the same time, but despite the similarities Bender has a different feel to her work. Her latest collection is a mix of contemporary stories (with and without a magical element) and modern fairy tales, including the title one that connects to a famous Grimm tale. As always, her stories are smart and rich, and just a bit disturbing.

An Elderly Lady Is up to No Good by Helene Tursten: I loved these short stories about an murderous octogenarian (the victims kind of deserve it). The last two -- different perspectives on the same crime -- weren't quite as successful as the first three, but they were all so much fun to read. Tursten's heroine-cop from her mystery series makes a cameo, and I think I will be checking those novels out.

Baseball in the Garden of Eden by John Thorn: It's April, so it's time to read about baseball again. Most baseball fans nowadays know Abner Doubleday, who appears to have had no interest in sports whatsoever, was not the inventor of the game. However, not much is known about how baseball actually developed, something Thorn seeks to remedy with this book. The result is a description of the messy, chaotic, 19th century start to the game and the role upper class businessmen, working class brawlers, gamblers, Theosophists, and even some British cricketers (shhh! don't tell the America-first people!) played.

The Little Book of Fika by Lynda Balslev:  I bought by first book box from Julia's Book Bag, the Hygge box from this past winter, and it was filled with lots of delightful goodies plus this little book about the Swedish tradition of a coffee break. It includes an explanation of fika, coffee-related quotations, and a number of traditional recipes for drinks (not just coffee), baked treats, and other light fare. The insight into an aspect of Swedish culture was interesting, and I look forward to trying some of the recipes. Plus it's a cute little book.

Sunday, May 19, 2019

E is for Easter

Not that this project actually has anything to do with the holiday. I've mentioned before that letters have distinctive colors in my head, and I've been working on a series off and on. E is light blue:

The blue calico fabric has sentimental meaning for me, as it is from my mother's stash and dates back to at least the 80s. The background is two different remnants of silk, and I added a bit of lace for contrast. The card is backed with light blue linen.

For those who are wondering, D is green, but I haven't decided yet how I want to represent it.