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Posts Tagged ‘book review’

I recently finished Anagrams, by Lorrie Moore, at the recommendation of my excellent friend. She’d lent me her copy a long time ago, and I finally got around to reading it. If you want my short and sweet summary, it’s something along the lines of a sigh of relief and “At last! A book that honors the multiplicity and contingency of identity instead of pathologizing it.”

anagrams lorrie moore

Anagrams is a collection of short stories. Kind of. It starts out as a series of short stories about two people, and various permutations of their relationship — sometimes platonic, sometimes romantic, sometimes toxic. Things then move into the bulk of the work, a longer narrative where reality seems to settle down a bit. Amidst all this, there are a lot of excellent puns, and an emphasis on what happens when things are rearranged.

I want to tell you all about the “what happens” of this novel, and how it fits in with the title, and the wordplay, but I’m not one to ruin endings, and I hate that some of the reviews out there reveal what was, for me, the most mind-tickling part of the narrative (so be careful if you seek out other reviews). I guess I’ll just vaguely say that your trust in this novel will be handsomely rewarded.

While I know some people criticize the choices Moore made with constructing this narrative, I see her moves in this novel as an opportunity to be interested — interested in how we construct our identity, which parts of our experiences we decide are “real” enough to form who we are, which we present to other people, and which we bury and disregard. How do we decide what constitutes my “I” that I hold with such force? Is it what happened to me? what I did? what I didn’t do? who I did not become? the thoughts that never saw the light of day?

Anagrams takes incredible risks that kept my mind buzzing for days after I finished. Between that and Moore’s incredible writing that had me laughing out loud (a rare experience for me when I read), I am so glad that Zoe recommended this to me, and that I finally read it. This novel is absolutely worth your time if you want to be challenged, pushed, amused, and surprised. Isn’t that why we read in the first place?

(As always, show your local bookstores some love. They need it right now. As this is a slightly older work, they may not have it on hand, but they can probably get if for you faster than Amazon. Soapbox relinquished.)

P.S. I’ve totally been knitting. In fact, I’ve finished two things since we talked last. However, we’re finally getting some season-appropriate weather in Northern California, which means few photo opportunities. I’m excited to show my latest accomplishments to you, and hope that can happen soon!

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bel-canto I just finished reading Bel Canto by Ann Patchett. What a thoroughly¬† enjoyable book. I’m a sucker for writing that pays attention to details, specifically details of material objects and the way we experience things; Bel Canto thoroughly satisfied that desire.

Patchett’s story starts with an extravagant party centered around a renowned opera singer and foreign dignitaries and businessmen. Terrorists crash the party and take the party guests hostage. Patchett uses the scenario to play out improbable connections and affections within the party guests, terrorists, and between the parties that began in opposition.

I experienced Bel Canto as a narrative of compassion — the characters and their boundaries soften as the plot unfolds, as time and identity pass away and the individual is allowed to step forward. Patchett moves flawlessly between characters’ voices — literally translating over languages, and using her opera singer’s voice as a unifying thread for all the characters. Bel Canto gives the reader an opportunity to consider what kinds of love might surface if we were lucky enough to be forced out of our comfort zones and confront ourselves and others as people joined by a desire to experience beauty, pleasure, comfort, and love.

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knitting-for-good

I’ve spent the past few days working through my copy of Knitting for Good, by Betsy Greer of Craftivism. (This is one of the benefits of working in a bookstore!) I’d like to fill you all in on what a great book this is, and some of the reasons why I think it’s a really important contribution to the growing canon of knitting writing.

Greer’s book focuses on the importance and significance of knitting. While I may be preaching to the choir on this one, I think that an emphasis on knitting as a productive practice is necessary, when many people see knitting as a non-essential hobby. Knitting for Good knocks down this assumption immediately, using its relationship to feminism — much to my delight — to illustrate the good that can come from picking up the needles. The common misconception is that knitting is an idle act, “women’s work” meant to pass time; Betsy Greer asserts that just the act of knitting itself is an act of healing, of meditation, and of self-love. I’m sure all of us who knit (or do any kind of craft) understand this: to sit down and make something is to assert my ability to shape my world, to create something as I want it, and to be present in what I’m doing.

I love that Knitting for Good links feminism and domestic arts like crafting. I know I went through my feminist crisis when I got super into things like nesting; Betsy Greer will have us understand that knitting or cooking or quilting is not an act of disobeying feminism, but rather celebrating its tenets:

This domestic reclamation can be celebrated with pride and heads held high… As a direct result of years of hard-working women who proved themselves just as capable as men of earning wages, we now have the freedom to make money for ourselves and then knit a sweater out of expensive cashmere bought with our own paycheck… When we don an apron and start to cook or take measurements for a garment, we can be empowered by the notion that we are self-sufficient and choosing this path instead of following society’s expectations… Feminism has given us the strength to explore our otions instead of being concerned about regressing or kowtowing to cultural standards.

Right on! That’s what I loved about this book — its continual insistence on the fact that the act of creation is important and productive and deserving of respect.

Knitting for Good is constructed to reflect an expanding of personal borders that happens with knitting. First, the emphasis on knitting as a healing act for the individual; from there, the empowered individual has new means with which to interact with family and community. I myself have benefited from this aspect of craft and knitting: the ability to connect with my grandmother and aunt through crochet and cross-stitch and quilts and how we make things for our living environment. It truly is a unique and special connection, and Knitting for Good will have us remember that.

Knitting and craft can be used, once connected with a community, to benefit that community — I especially like Betsy’s focus on the more forgotten members of society, like the homeless, elderly, and abandoned animals. Knitting for these people gets to be a way to connect with them and recognize their humanity, becoming a political act of insisting on the importance of each member of a community. I also appreciated that Knitting for Good includes why focusing on buying homemade is important — in a time of large chains, supporting your local independent store and artisan is an intensely political act that will ultimately benefit the community. Buying local, Greer points out, supports those local crafters who are enriching the community with their art.

In short (ok, not so short), this is a lovely book with many sturdy take-home messages, as well as personal reflections and patterns that will inspire you to pick up your needles for a good cause. I highly recommend it as a personal read — it will make you feel fantastic about your choice to be a crafter — and I really recommend it as a gift for that crafty person in your life*. This book is an act of love, for crafting and for the world at large.

*Hey, while you’re at it, keep with the message of Knitting for Good and make this an act of love and politics by getting your copy at your local independent bookstore instead of Amazon or Borders!

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