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Thursday, May 26, 2016

The Golem and the Jinni by Helene Wecker

How good was The Golem and the Jinni? So good that on the way home from work, I was so engrossed in the book I missed my stop and didn't realize what had happened until I was two towns over.  The story, set in New York City in 1899, tells of of two magical creatures who unwittingly come to America and must make sense not only of the new country and its cultures, but of humanity itself.  The Golem, created to be someone's wife and widowed shortly after she is awakened, joins the vibrant Jewish community in the Lower East Side.  She does not fully understand what she is, and is terrified of her own strength and overwhelmed by the hidden thoughts and desires she senses in everyone.  The Jinni, by contrast, is arrogant and self-assured but cannot remember how he was trapped in the proverbial magic bottle for a thousand years.  The two meet, and despite their wildly different world views they bond over their shared estrangement from humanity.

The novel is, of course, an exaggerated version of the immigrant experience, and shows how hard it can be to find a community and a sense of belonging.  What makes it stand out is the sheer humaneness of the writing.  Wecker does not shy away from depicting the prejudices, injustices, and violences that happen when people get together, but she also shows the genuine, unforced goodness people are capable of.  I find this to be utterly refreshing in modern literature, which sometimes seems to drown in its own cynicism.

Wecker is reportedly working on a sequel -- yay! -- but until that comes out I will make do with a necklace inspired by the book.

Two strands intertwined was an obvious choice. Jinni are creatures of fire, so for Ahmad's strand I picked faceted glass beads in a beautiful red.  Golems are made of clay, so I used clay beads from an old Egyptian beading kit.  For a bit of variety I also added cinnamon disks -- especially appropriate since Chava becomes a baker. (I made the disks myself by soaking cinnamon sticks until pliant, using a hole-puncher to cut out the disks, and poking them with a needle before drying.)

I laced the two strands together to make a knot in the middle.  I started with the two strands, each pair of ends joined with a bead tip and one half of the clasp:

With the strands "pointed" in the same direction, I place one on top of the other (here the faceted glass under and to the left of the clay):

I picked up the clasp end of the faceted glass and folded it over to the left, placing it under and past the loop at the other end:

I picked up the loop (the center of the faceted glass) and unfolded it to the right, over the clay:

The last step was to pull gently on each end to tighten the knot.  There's probably a fancy name for that kind of knot, but I wouldn't know.

It can't hold a candle to Ahmad's intricate jewelry-smithing, but it makes a wonderful reminder of a wonderful book.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Daisychain ABC


Actually, I finished the stitching quite a while ago, but it took me ages to find a good frame.The framing process itself was easy, and came out pretty well if I do say so myself. Alicia's framing tutorial was quite helpful.

Its spot on the mantle is temporary, but maybe not -- Beadboy3 is enamored of it and loves to call out the letters, and I don't have the heart to move it somewhere where he won't be able to see it easily.

Monday, May 16, 2016

Just in Time for Pentecost

I managed to finish one last Easter egg:
It's a Lizzie*Kate kit, "A Little Grey Hare," and the last thing I bought from my beloved local needlecraft store, Lazy Daisy Stitchery -- they've closed their brick-and-mortar store, but are still open online.  I omitted the little beads on the Easter eggs (they didn't stand out enough and there weren't enough of them to make them worthwhile) and made the tulips solid-color (just a preference).

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Everything and More by David Foster Wallace

Given my strong preference for fiction over non-fiction, it's surprising that I haven't read any of David Foster Wallace's novels (although they are on my to-read list).  I have, however, read a lot of his non-fiction, and I adore it and him.  His erudition, wit, linguistic skills, mix of high art and popular culture, and copious footnotes form something I find irresistible.  I particularly recommend his essays on the Illinois State Fair, grammar, cruise ships, John Updike and other writers of his ilk ... you know what? It'll be faster if I recommend all of the works that I've read.

To which I can add Everything and More: a Compact History of Infinity, his "booklet" on the mathematical history and significance of infinity.  I recognize that this won't appeal to everyone, but I thoroughly enjoyed it (and the work-out my brain got).  Although I probably have more mathematical knowledge than the average person, it falls far short of Wallace's own (had he not turned to writing, he could have become a mathematician in his own right).  Wallace does his best to explain the concepts for a layperson, but this particular topic necessarily involves complex math and abstract concepts.  My half-remembered calculus took me far, but eventually I had to just trust Wallace's explanations (not a bad thing).  On the other hand, I think my mathematical knowledge might have actually hampered me on occasion -- it took three reads to really grok Dedekind's definition of real numbers, which included the first successful attempt to construct irrational numbers, I think because I (like everyone else today) take irrationals for granted.

Transfinite numbers involve concepts far removed from ordinary life, concepts that touch on the foundations of mathematics -- are we inventing math, or discovering it? Can it be completely divorced from our reality? Is math real, and what does it mean to say it is real? I find these questions intriguing, so I'd like to read another volume from the publisher's series: Rebecca Goldstein's Incompleteness, about Kurt Godel's work in this area.