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Saturday, March 31, 2012

A Novel Bookstore

It's a booklover's fantasy -- opening a bookstore that only stocks the books you love, the books you think are worth reading. This is the premise of Laurence Cossé's A Novel Bookstore: Francesca and Ivan open a shop in Paris that only sells good novels, the best of the best, carefully selected by an anonymous committee of eight writers. The shop is an overnight hit, drawing the kind of booklovers who border on obsessive. But it also draws a great deal of hatred and vitriol; they are attacked over and over by those claiming they are elitist and snobby, and accusing them of destroying both the book industry (publishers who focus only on the bottom line, not the quality of what they sell) and writers whose novels were not chosen (schlocky writers whose books are not entertaining enough to do well in other, more conventional stores). These attacks culminate in acts of violence against some of the committee members, which open the book. Most of the story is told in flashbacks, to a sympathetic officer who is investigating the crimes.

Neither the success of the bookstore nor the hatred it generates is surprising -- people are passionate about what they read, and an unfortunate number have difficulty distinguishing between subjective and objective quality; in other words, that a book that is enjoyable and satisfying is nonetheless not necessarily a great work destined to join the canon. Instead, as the book shows, people latch on to this idea of extreme egalitarianism where everything is the same and the act of choosing in and of itself is elitist.* And from what I've read elsewhere, France seems particularly susceptible to this sort of thinking, as an over-correction to the excesses that led to the French Revolution. Not everyone is like this, of course, and one of the pleasures of this book (as in the Thursday Next novels and in Moers's The City of Dreaming Books, although these are stylistically very different) is seeing people who take literature very, very seriously.

Too seriously, sometimes. The main characters, and the book itself, would have benefited greatly from a sense of humor. There is also a romantic subplot that was frustratingly slow; although there were excellent reasons for why the relationship had to develop so slowly, the complete inability of the lovers to be straightforward with each other in any way drove my up a wall. Nonetheless, the book was quite enjoyable (if not quite up to the standards of the bookstore in question, heh). Now excuse me while I draft a business plan for opening a similar store in Manhattan; I know the store would do quite well, if only the rents weren't so obscene.

*Making this a book version of sorts of the movie The Incredibles.

Friday, March 30, 2012

A Little Easter Stitching

Now that Lent is almost done:

Sunday, March 25, 2012

A Different Kind of Blackwork

Reading this article introduced me to the terrible and beautiful lightning tree:
Which reminded me of fractals:
Which led me to space-filling curves, like a dragon curve:

and the Moore curve:

Perfect for blackwork, no?

A Peano curve:

A Hilbert curve:
What's really neat is the back of this square looks like an earlier iteration of the curve:

I have to do more of this.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wear Your Troubles Away

As a teenager, I had a pair of fun earrings made from worry dolls. Alas, I was foolish enough to get rid of them many years ago, so when I started craving the colorful little guys again, I had to make a new pair:
It took me a while to figure out how to "set" the dolls. The original earrings had each doll on a jumpring, with the rings connected together to make a dangle. There was no way to do that with these guys, however, without breaking them (I've seen others poke holes in the foreheads, but I didn't like the look of that). Sewing them onto felt seemed to be the easiest solution, so once I accepted that these earrings were going to be big and inelegant no matter what, that's what I did.

Good thing I'm not shy about wearing enormous jewelry.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Quick Earrings

I went up to my sewing room to 1) take care of a few things for Wild Olive's Hoop Swap and 2) pick up (it looks like a hurricane hit), but the next thing I knew, I was making totally unnecessary jewelry.

I found these cabochons at Jo-Ann's, and while they are not vintage like these, I adored the color. It took me about 10 minutes to glue them into settings and add bronze pearl dangles and copper ear wires:
I thought about while pearls, but thought they'd make the earrings too similar to these. Instead, I will wear them tonight with my steampunk bracelet (hooray for warmer weather).

I also began a pair of earrings made from worry dolls. And I found some cute little pendants to string onto a necklace. And a big Anne Choi bead that will be the centerpiece of another necklace.

It's a problem, really (well, not a real problem, more of a silly problem) -- I simply can't wear all the jewelry I make, let alone the jewelry I want to make. If only I weren't an anti-capitalist who avoids having to do anything boring and businessy, I could develop my pathetic little etsy store into a viable but tiny business, and solve the "problem." Maybe I could persuade the corporate Mr. Beadgirl to handle the business side, and leave me as the temperamental talent . . . .

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Book Round-Up: Russian Edition

The Possessed by Elif Batuman: The book that started my little Russian lit project. It got a wonderful review in the NYT, and it deserves it -- Batuman is a gifted writer with a dry, blunt sense of humor, skilled at using simple language to highlight the oddities and absurdities of life. The book is a collection of writings on her experiences with Russian literature, and the people she encountered in her studies and travels. Like Rosenbaum, her passion for the subject matter is infectious, and she made me regret that I have never been as taken as she is by Russian authors (I read Anna Karenina the summer I was in Spain, and I don't remember much except that Anna was rather annoying; and try as I might, I could not finish the widely-acclaimed Master and Margarita). Batuman also had some insightful things to say about literature in general, something I don't get to think or read about as much now that I'm not in college or grad school. I'd love it if she puts out another book about literature.

Russian Fairy Tales: There are a lot in this anthology, originally compiled by Aleksandr Afanas'ev (the Russian Grimm), so rather than read them all I dipped in and out of the helpful albeit slightly inaccurate index. I was especially interested in those tales involving Baba Yaga, firebirds, and Koschei the Deathless (not surprising, given that The Firebird is my absolute favorite ballet). There was an intriguing and creepy story about a vampire, somewhat different from our Western European concept, and many tales similar to Grimms' but with an appropriately Russian feel (including some remarkably bleak stories). I also loved seeing the little ticks in their language of folktales -- "he traveled for some time, a long time or a short time"; "for speedily a tale is spun, but with less speed a deed is done"; "I drank mead at their wedding; it ran down my mustache but did not go into my mouth."

There Once Lived a Woman Who Tried to Kill Her Neighbor's Baby: Scary Fairy Tales by Ludmilla Petrushevskaya: An appropriate follow-up to the previous book. Petrushevskaya is considered to be one of Russia's most talented writers, and so provocative that her work was banned under the Communist regime, even though she never wrote about politics. The introduction to this collection of her short stories gives a little background on her career, but it also emphasizes the despairing nature of the stories, something I disagree with. The stories are bleak, certainly (I think that is required by law of all Russian writers), and some are terrifying, like the story referred to in the title, but they are also surreal and elegant and touching. There is redemption too, particularly in the two last stories, "The Old Monk's Testament" and "The Black Coat," which are profoundly moving, and gorgeous because of it.

Friday, March 9, 2012

As Minimalist as I Get

This is from Make it Sew Modern, although I made quite a few minor changes. I used a natural linen instead of gray cotton. I sized it down to fit over my mantel, and to make up for the fact that I only had two yards of linen. I used a greater variety of doilies, and put them on the left (because left is better!). I used a white cotton with a brocade pattern for the border, rather than the gathered and pleated border of the original, and I eliminated the second border.

The original was also machine-quilted with gorgeous spirals, but I suck at machine quilting, so I did it by hand:
For a change, I quilted with pearl cotton (size 8), which works up fast and adds a bit more texture. I got the idea here, although apparently it's been around for ages.

I love it for early spring, and Lent.

Sunday, March 4, 2012


The latest on the ABC Sampler:

The latest quilting project:

Friday, March 2, 2012

Quilt Top Done!

Once I piece the backing from leftover fabric, off it goes to a professional quilter.