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Archive for June, 2008

Summer Reading List

I’ve gotten into a few conversations lately where the topic of summer reading has come up. Do I have any suggestions? Why yes I do.

Those of you who know me know that I’m currently addicted to audiobooks as the antidote to a long commute and the desire to occupy my hands and eyes with sticks and string instead of turning pages. Not that I don’t enjoy reading — I do, really — but the discovery of audiobooks has let me fall back into the enjoyment of fiction after many dry years reading nothing but mediocre screenplays.

I enjoyed these books in their audio versions, but I know the old-fashioned way would be just as satisfying.

With that caveat, here are my suggestions for summer reading.

1. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen, audio version read by David LeDoux and John Randolph Jones

I can’t say enough about how much I enjoyed this book. The narrator, Jacob, joins the circus in the early 1930’s and narrates his story both as it’s happening and from a nursing-home vantage point years later. The worlds, both the circus and the nursing home, are rich with detail and deep emotion as Jacob approaches a pivotal moment in his life in the 1930s and reflects back on the same moment in present time. The story is well-plotted and sweetly romantic. Jacob grows to love many of the people and animals in the circus, but the novel itself is thoughtful enough that you feel good reading it. This is no empty-calorie bodice-ripper. Without giving anything away, I’ll tell you that the ending left me feeling uplifted, with a huge smile on my face. What could be better? An engaging story, a good read, and that warm fuzzy feeling when you’re done.

Gruen’s first novel, RIDING LESSONS, and it’s sequel FLYING CHANGES — a story that begins with a young woman with Olympic equestrian dreams — are going into my interlibrary loan queue even though they are not available as audiobooks.

2. Special Topics in Calamity Physics by Marisha Pessl

Special Topics is a hyper-literate coming-of-age story with absolutely nothing to do with science. Heavily laden with footnotes and literary allusions, the novel presents itself as a memoir written by a college freshman chronicling her senior year of high school. But she’s not just any high school girl — her aloof, ostentatiously academic father brought her up amid an endless series of scholarly articles and moves from town to town. Everything changes her senior year when she and her dad spend the entire school year in the same town, at the same ritzy private school and she gets her first genuine taste of high school. Amidst some really satisfying high school drama (think first kisses, crushes, best-friend drama) a series of mysteries emerge. There are some truly cringe-worthy moments (how could she be so naive?), some fairly shocking turns and a wild ride of an ending, but ultimately I found the novel to be entirely satisfying. The novel’s form is a bit unusual — heavily footnoted — and the audiobook version was a bit cumbersome to listen to because each footnote was read aloud, but once I got used to it I alternately enjoyed/ignored the footnotes and found that they heightened the fun and suspense.

Special Topics was Pessl’s first novel (her third attempt though, according to Wikipedia!) and her follow-up will be coming out in 2010.

3. Absurdistan by Gary Shteyngart, read by Arte Johnson

Years ago I made the mistake of suggesting The Stone Diaries to a friend. While I loved the book, it was so, sooooo wrong for him and he’s turned up his nose at my suggestions ever since. Here’s my attempt at redemption: in case you’re not interested in a romantic, animal-filled circus ride or a jaunt through high school on the shoulder of a self-conscious but brilliant teenage girl, give Absurdistan a try. The novel follows an obscenely wealthy and obese Russian man in his early 20s. Exiled from Russia and in search of permission to reenter the US, where he spent his college years, he ends up trapped in the fictional eastern-European country Absurdistan. If you’re a fan of David Foster Wallace, if you liked The Crying of Lot 49, if post modernism is your bag, you’ll love this book. It’s not easy — I was glad I listened to it instead of reading since I found myself drifting at times — but all of the bizarre non sequiturs and patently absurd characters and situations add up to a delicious and unusual literary meal.

4. Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life by Barbara Kingsolver with her husband Steven L. Hopp and daughter Camille Kingsolver

Speaking of meals . . . this one will make you hungry for vegetables. It’s rare that I’d suggest a book without actually finishing it first, but the Kingsolver family’s story of spending a year eating locally, largely from their own Appalachian farm garden, is compelling without being preachy or overly evangelical. In fact, I found the book full of encouragement for the urbanites out there to get started even in a small way: start a windowsill garden, check out a local farmer’s market, pay attention to what you purchase at the supermarket. Even better is Kingsolver’s typically lyrical prose, which, when read by the author, seems to roll past like a warm breeze. Another benefit to the audio version: sound effects from the family farm that mark the beginning and end of each disk.

Let me know what you think and pass the love along — share your own suggestions for summer reading!

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After my last rant, and what I admit has been a somewhat negative attitude over the past few weeks, I think I’m turning a corner with my knitting. In fact, I’m starting to regard the knitting as something of a lifeline, a way out of darker places.

No, I still haven’t found my sock book, but there’s no reason I can’t just go out and get another one (the library doesn’t have it!) and get back to my socks. Done. Well, not quite done yet, but close. And once again, thanks go to The Baron for insisting that it’s money well spent . . . although I’m sure that as soon as I actually buy a new copy of the book I will find my old one and therefore be able to return the new one.

On the clouds-are-clearing front, however, two packages arrived via the good old USPS on Monday and both really cheered me up.

First I got four skeins of Rowan All-Seasons cotton via a yarn swap with my knitting-blog buddy Mick. Go check out her linky and see my new balls of yarn.  Aren’t they pretty?  The arrival of this yarn was exciting on many levels. First and foremost, when I finished Peacock Feathers I was left with more than 3000 yards of violet Jaggerspun Zephyr — a beautiful color, but I was fairly sure I wasn’t going to use it again for a long while. Somehow, maybe because Mick’s first lace piece turned out so well, I just felt that she was supposed to have the leftover yarn.

Meanwhile, my cousin, the youngest of our generation, the little girl I used to play with and the preteen I taught to shave her legs, is about to have a baby. Knitting is called for, but I’ve been feeling uninspired with my stash of KnitPicks Swish in shades of baby blue, baby pink and baby yellow and all-around stuck, what with the stalled sock and all. As soon as Mick’s yarn arrived though, I began trolling through Ravelry looking for just the right thing. I made one of EZ’s February Baby Sweaters and it came out really well, but I want to try something new this time. Many of the baby sweater patterns out there are a bit boxy and simplistic. I get it, babies are sometimes a little nebulous around the edges, but still I think it’s important to put detail and attention into a baby sweater and not just seam together two garter-stitch rectangles. Wow . . . I am becoming such a knitting snob! Any gift made with love is a wonderful one that will hopefully be received as such, but I have (hello, type A much?) high standards for my own gift projects and I want this sweater to kick ass.

So . . . this afternoon I pulled out Mick’s yarn and swatched for Trellis from Knitty, which strikes me as the perfect combination of cool and detailed without being too fussy or going overboard. My gauge was a tiny bit off but I was happy with the fabric and hey, babies come in all sizes, right? I always think a little bigger is better for baby things — the roominess extends the useful life of the garment. I had to go down to size 5 needles to even get close (4.5 inches for 21 stitches instead of the suggested 4 inches) and now I’m ready to cast on.

But wait . . . what was the other package that brought sunshine and light? It was from KnitPicks, of course. I had a leftover bit of cash on a gift certificate and my work/knitting buddy Miss V. was going to do an order so we went in on it together to get the free shipping. It was pretty wonderful having a few days of anticipation before the KnitPicks box showed up, early as usual. It was also really fun to have Miss V. be as excited as I was about the delivery. I think it’s one of my favorite things about knitting — having other people to get giddy with about something as simple as a cute stuffed animal pattern or finding the perfect yarn. I barely had time to teach her how to knit before she was off and running, tracking down cool books and patterns and joining me on yarn shopping trips.

What was in the KnitPicks box you ask?  Well, I’ve been wanting to try a mystery lace KAL for a while now, and when I came across the Goddess Knits Anniversary Mystery Shawl Along it seemed perfect. I wanted to use just the right yarn — the Zephyr seemed too delicate, I didn’t really like the swatch I made with the KnitPicks Shimmer (seen here in Turquoise, I initially bought it to make a shawl for my wedding and scrapped the plan when it started to look too much like tye-dye), and I didn’t have anything else that felt right in my stash. With the start of the KAL looming (the first clue was posted last Friday — I think membership will be open until June 30) I was desperate to find the “right” yarn and I rather blindly took a stab and ordered 4 skeins of KnitPicks Shadow in Juniper. Big mistake. The color is a teal-and-red combo that Miss V. described as “grandma.” Funny though, rather than being bummed I’m a bit excited to test out the KnitPicks exchange process. More about the Goddess Knits KAL later . . . for now it’s enough that I have a cool baby project that I’m excited to get started on. I hope the summer sun is going to keep shining on my knitting!

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So I’m working away on socks. Socks have often given me trouble, so I’m being careful to follow the pattern, swatch, all that good stuff. So far, so good, right?

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These are the Oriel Lace Socks from Sensational Knitted Socks, and I’m really enjoying them so far. I worked the suggested toe (which I liked way better than the short-row toe I’ve used in the past) and have gotten through three repeats of the lace pattern. Perhaps time to start the gussett and heel? Well, to know that I’d have to consult the pattern, which is in the book, which is who knows where.

I am pretty much losing my mind over this. Of course The Baron suggested I simply stop by a bookstore and get another copy (isn’t he a great, understanding guy?), but after owning the book for over a year I am just now getting to my first project from it and a re-purchase seems downright wasteful. Where could it be? I blame my new in-laws, who descended on us en-masse the first weekend of June. We spent so much time cleaning and tidying that now I cannot find a thing. Sadly my Sensational Socks book is the first severe casualty. The book is not in my knitting room, not in the living room or bedroom or bathroom or kitchen, not under any couches, not on my desk at home, not in my car . . . I was holding out hope that perhaps it was somewhere in my cubicle at work (I took the book to work and made a photocopy of the lace pattern to carry with me) but this morning when I got in I rummaged through everything and still came up empty.

I know in the grand scheme of things it’s no big deal, but I need to knit! Maybe this is the universe telling me that I need to keep more than one project at a time on my needles. Little elves who watch over lost things, please bring my book back to me!

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When I was a little girl, my mother told me that I did not look pretty in the color yellow. I’m not sure why she said this, or if she realized the lasting effect it would have on me. I was “washed out” she said, as though a person could be flushed of all vitality by simply putting on a t-shirt. Also my brain connected the “low” sound at the end of the color with the similar allele at the end of the word “sallow” and clearly sallow is not a thing that a little girl wants to be. Sorry . . . this is just how my brain works. I know there are plenty of beautiful yellows out there, but I just can’t overcome my early conditioning enough to go beyond simply remarking “what a rich, lovely color” and actually knit with the stuff.

The kicker though is that I love green. I love greens that are deep and rich in their blue hues, and not so much bright or puce (what an unfortunate word!) or lemongrass. But in the yarny world, where hand-dyes are literally created from the building blocks of color (red, yellow, blue) it’s difficult to find a varigated yarn that doesn’t incorporate yellow in with the green. Yarns that are green and blue are usually overpowered by the blue, and the green pops in just as an accent. I love green, but looking over my finished projects Ravelry page recently I realized that I just have not knitted anything green save for the turtle (Sheldon) who is (duh) supposed to be green.

To remedy this lack of green in my knitting life, I cast on for a pair of socks this weekend with Knitpicks Risata in Grass. After a false start (um, yeah, read the directions carefully when trying out a new toe technique for socks!) I’m off to the races, as you can see:

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Although I’ve had this yarn for a while, it wasn’t until my recent success with the mitts for Adorable that I really felt ready to tackle socks again. It’s been a little stressful at home recently so for the moment I am clinging to these socks for sanity.

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