Knitting · Reading

Book Club: Knitlandia

cover art for Knitlandia by Clara Parkes

A retirement gift from my friend Amy, I re-read-Knitlandia:  A Knitter Sees the World by Clara Parkes for this month’s Knit Camp Reads book club.  This collection of travelogues necessitated a different type of discussion as we could not rely on old standby questions about character development, unexpected mystery twists, or conflict resolution.  Instead, we talked about which chapter or chapters resonated with each of us.  Mine were the chapters on New York and Iceland. 

My visits to New York have been limited but each trip holds a Cinderella moment – meandering slowly down the grand concourse of the Guggenheim all by myself at 16, the breathtaking view at a top floor reception in the World Trade Center, my first (and only) taste of caviar in the Waldorf Astoria ballroom.  As well as remembering that sense of relief when cresting the Hampton hills just north of Zumbrota on my homeward trek after a summer trip and seeing green which washed away the overwhelming vision of nothing by undulating yellow sheet metal racing and then screeching to red light stops. 

Unlike the New York chapter where I could draw upon memories of real sounds and smells, Parkes’s description of her Icelandic fiber tour moved into the realm of wishful thinking but Covid dashed hopes.  In 2019, I booked a Rowan Tree Travel tour to Copenhagen and the Faroe Islands but the 2020 and the 2021 September trips were canceled and I eventually opted out of the April 2022 rescheduled tour.  While I recognize Denmark and Iceland are distinct countries with unique cultural differences, they share a Nordic heritage and a deep appreciation of northern clime woolens.  I could easily imagine myself with Clara visiting an Icelandic sheep farm just as I had hoped to spend a day in the home of a Faroese fiber artist with Rowan Tree Travel guides Heather and Suzie.  I do have one tangible connection to Iceland in the form of four skeins of yarn purchased by Amy (the same person who gifted me this book) when she was in country for a destination wedding; yarn I later knit into a Solène Le Roux Cable Promenade Cowl.

As we slowly emerge from our Covid existence, I take to heart Clara’s advice: “There is a time for sitting at home in your pajamas, watching and clicking and quietly forming connections in your mind.  And, there’s a time for getting out and being with others, for reaching into the picture and becoming part of it.

Reading

Book Club: The Girl Who Wrote In Silk

cover art for The Girl Who Wrote with Silk by Kelli Estes

Synopsis – The novel is written from the perspective of parallel protagonists whose stories intertwine on a Pacific Northwest island – Mei Lein in the late 19th century and Inara in present day.  While undertaking the restoration of an island cottage, Inara discovers a long hidden, intricately embroidered silk sleeve.  As she explores its meaning, she discovers a hidden secret within her own family surrounding an unspeakable act which draws a full circle.  Through Mei Lein’s voice we hear about her life in frontier Seattle, how she survived genocidal atrocities performed by Inara’s ancestors without repercussions under the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, and her life on a small, secluded farm during which time she artistically depicted her story through thousands and thousands of hand stitches, one silk stitch at a time so her son might know his ancestors.

This debut novel by Kelli Estes was the most recent title discussed with my library loving, book reading, wine-drinking group of retired friends dubbed The Directors.  We felt it was a “readable” book although we each agreed that Mei Lein’s story was the more believable.  Our next title has yet to be chosen but we are leaning toward non-fiction with a bit of oomph.

Reading

Book Club:  Matrix

cover art for Matrix by Lauren Groff

The Story – – – At a time when women were often considered less than a commodity the farmer’s cow or the nobleman’s land prized above a wife or daughter, Marie de France, by sheer force of will and bolstered by what she believed were divine visions, created a religious stronghold where women were not only safe but valued as industrious leaders.  Considered an unmarriageable orphan within the court of Henry II, Eleanor of Aquitaine relegated Marie to a nunnery.  But rather than allow herself to be forgotten, Marie transformed the impoverished abbey, where the nuns were dying of starvation when she arrived, into a religious center where women illuminated manuscripts (considered a task suitable only for men) and built a cathedral.

While written as fiction, Lauren Groff’s protagonist did exist in the real life of the 12th century although little is known of Marie.  Even her name has been lost to the centuries as she is simply dubbed Marie de France.  Reputable sources – the British Library and the Encyclopedia Britannitica – consider her the earliest known French female poet.

Our Matrix book discussions occurred during two gatherings, the first when The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine-drinking group of retired friends – ventured into the frigid January weather for soup in St. Paul.  But we were too starved of lively catch-up banter to give this title our focused concentration and hence came back to it on another frigid day, this time over Zoom with everyone snug at home.  Everyone agreed Groff’s stylized writing flowed lyrically off the page even if the degree of enjoyment brought by this “read” varied. 

Happy reading!

Reading

What to read next?

A pleasantry in retirement and augmented by the ongoing pandemic isolation is time for reading – both good literature and, sometimes, those fun but not so well written books.  I find my next read is just as likely to come from a friend’s casual comment or an intriguing cover spotted among BookBub’s daily offerings as from my lengthy (189 title) Want to Read electronic shelf on Goodreads.  Thus, it is easier to report what I am reading rather than guess what I might read next. 

In eBook format – A re-read of Dune by Frank Herbert spurred on by the newly released movie directed by Denis Villeneuve, which is as impressive an adaptation as critics claim.  The actors capture adeptly the characters’ personalities, the scenery is as harsh as the reader might envision the treacherous desert planet, and the masterful CGI depict the scale of futuristic intergalactic travel.  And, simultaneously, to prepare for next week’s Knit Camp Reads book discussion, The Girl Who Wrote in Silk by Kelli Estes.

And, for multitasking while knitting my red Vivi sweater – #3 in the Cormoran Strike mystery series, Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (a.k.a. J.K. Rowling) in audiobook.

Nothing in paper at the moment; although The Rose Code by Kate Quinn is on the book rack next to the couch and most likely to be the next read among The Directors (my library loving, wine drinking group of retired friends) and thus the logical response to Bloganuary’s 18th prompt:  What book is next on your reading list?

Reading

Book Club: Four Winds

Even as The Directors – my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – have begun carefully venturing out into our Covid plagued environment, we continue our online book discussions.  Our most recent title was Four Winds by Kristin Hannah.

Our intrepid discussion leader prepared 26 questions, each with such perceptive depth that responding to any one of them could easily have filled a college exam blue book.  With our limited time, we focused on the millenia of challenges women have endured and those specifically presented by the author through the lens of the protagonist Elsa Martinelli.

book cover of four winds by kristen hannah

We wondered how so much strife could affect one person but coalesced around the knowledge that there are those whose lives seemed blighted by every bad thing that can happen – whether as a result of misguided decisions or circumstances beyond their control or an unlucky combination.  And, indeed, we each realized that there was someone we knew who could be identified as Elsa-like.

Of all of Hannah’s descriptions of her charcter’s hard life, (Dust-Bowl storms which my mother remembers, a deadly flash flood, and hours of bloody, back-breaking labor picking cotton which my father did for only one day) I connected most closely with the unending debt created at the company store.  When I was small, maybe around five while visiting Alabama, I walked to the store with my Granddaddy. I had a nickel (a large amount to a child in the 1950s) to buy whatever I wanted.  But I could not spend my precious five cents.  I remember being both elated and disappointed.  Excited that the penny candy was free (or so I thought) and deflated that I could not make the cash transaction like a big girl.  Years later, long after the company store had became just a corner grocery did I realize that even a child’s treat went “on account” against Granddaddy’s next payday.  Tennessee Ernie Ford’s classic song, I Owe My Soul to the Company Store was a truism for thousands of workers including the tragic heroine of Four Winds.

Reading

The Midnight Library

Whether it is because of a career immersed in libraries or just that libraries provide intriguing settings for the storyteller, I am always drawn to stories (even badly written ones) where the library becomes its own character integral to the plot. For instance:

  • The Star Trek episode from the 60s set in a dying planet’s library;
  • When David Tennant, as the tenth Doctor, takes Donna (personally not my favorite of The Doctor’s companions despite her importance in saving all of humanity) to a planet-sized library holding every book every written where they meet River Song (definitely among my most favorite of the Whovian characters);
  • To Joss Wheadon’s setting for Buffy the Vampire Slayer where the school library is the gateway to magical powers, as well as the entry point for the terrifying beings that only Buffy can defeat;
  • And the list goes on…leading me to The Midnight Library and the most recent The Directors’ book discussion.

Chosen Best Book of 2020 in the general fiction category by nearly 74,000 Goodreads’ members, The Midnight Library introduces the reader to Nora Seed, a young woman so wracked by regrets she attempts suicide.  But in that in-between time – between life and death – she enters the Midnight Library with its infinite collection of green covered books all of which enumerate the stories of her life, each different depending on the subtle or dramatic decisions she made.

Unlike Buckaroo Banzai in one of my favorite movies, The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, where Buckaroo is simultaneously a rock star, neurosurgeon, brilliant scientist, and a test pilot who just happens to save the world from evil alien invaders, Nora experiences one-by-one what might have been as Olympic swimmer, rock star, mother, or glaciologist.  Some lives are deeply unsatisfying while others are almost, but not quite, comfortable as she is suddenly inserted into these parallel realities.

Despite an abundance of book challenges, expertly curated title lists and even a fun assortment of book bingos to choose from, The Directors (my library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends) elected to reverse engineer its own reading challenge.  We read a book recommended by one of us and then assign our 2021 reading challenge nomenclature with The Midnight Library dubbed magical realism fantasy.

Happy reading!

Other items of interest · Reading

Another Minnesota Shooting

The news that a Brooklyn Center police officer fatally shot Daunte Wright during a traffic stop Sunday afternoon haunts my thoughts this week.  There is a shocking dissonance in this spring time, this vaccination time, when we should be focusing on new beginnings as the sun shines longer, crocuses offer a burst of color and vaccinations rates are increasing, that we are once again facing the ugly underbelly of an unjust society.

Last summer, I was appalled by the sinful video footage showing George Floyd’s murder on a Minneapolis street.  After the death of so many black men and, as we know from the shooting of Breonna Taylor in her own home, the shooting of black women, I wondered, how can this happen?  With those first thoughts of outrage I wanted to place responsibility for what we as a society were becoming on the rhetoric of the past four years.  But life is not that simple.  I knew we did not simply become a racist society with the results of one election.  I recognized that it was only as the hateful rhetoric went viral and the incidents of violence against People of Color went virtual that I became increasingly aware of what is and what has always been a dramatic difference between my safe white environment and threatening world faced daily by People of Color.

I did take some hope that we may have reached a tipping point last summer as people across the world spontaneously marched.  White celebrities sat down with Emmanuel Acho for Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black ManLewis Hamilton wore a Black Lives Matter t-shirt on the starting grid and on the winner’s podium even as racers sprayed champagne.  And, Formula 1 cars now carry a #WeRaceAsOne logo as a visible display of a new “initiative aimed at tackling the biggest issues facing the sport and global communities – the fight against COVID-19 and the condemnation of racism and inequality.”

Over the past seven months, our Common Read at church delved into the hard and realistic truth that the injustice playing on our screens again this week is not new but is as old as the country itself.  As we read, we were reminded with each well crafted paragraph, each page we turned that injustice is deeply woven into the fabric of our society.  That violence happens every day.  We need only look to other April days to recall shocking events: 

  • April 1873 – A white mob massacred an estimated 150 Black voters over the results of a hotly contested gubernatorial election;
  • April 1956 – Four white men attacked signer Nat King Cole while he was on stage performing for a white audience;
  • April 1968 – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.

Earlier, I blogged about one of our Common Read titles, a powerful anthology, A Good Time for the Truth:  Race in Minnesota.  It is an eye-opening collection of personal stories shared by 16 Minnesota authors of Color that sheds light on life in our state and in our time.  In the book’s introduction, poet Sun Yung Shin, who edited A Good Time for the Truth, offers both a challenge and words to help guide us.

Good people need to take action continuously, and I would say daily, until [racism] is dismantled.  Because lives are at stake, every day; on sidewalks, in doctor’s offices, in the waiting room of the bank, and, most importantly, in classrooms.

I believe we can do it.  I know I am not alone in this conviction.

People of color and Indigenous people know with a specific, agonizing intimacy that racism was constructed and upheld by white society (in spaces such as the police precinct, the courtroom, school board meetings, newsrooms, Hollywood studios, mortgage loan offices, and everywhere power has resided in America) in order to confer unearned advantages on white people.  It is as simple as that.  It’s not a law of nature.  It’s culture.  It’s something we made, invented, maintained.  Since it was made, like a vast machine, it can be unmade, and it must. ...

Change is necessary.
Reading

My Book Clubs – Number Growing

four open books stacked on one another with pages of top book fanned in the light
Photo from Pexels-pixabay

I promised myself retirement would be like my favorite summer, 1976, filled with lots of reading and time with friends.  That was the only summer after high school where I was not taking college classes or working or both.  Nearly four years into this relaxed life, my plan is working although Covid has put the nix (at least for now) on face-to-face time with friends but I am exceeding my reading goals, albeit mostly easy titles that don’t require deep contemplation.  Aiding me in the task of diversifying my reading pleasure have been three book clubs and One Book One Minnesota.

The Directors’ – My library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends who, in pre-Covid times enjoyed an outing every 2-3 months but now gather every two weeks via Zoom, decided 2021 was the right time for a book club.  While our first two titles have been mysteries with earlier posts, The Thursday Murder Club and The Bookseller, we are switching genres. Next up – Cicely Tyson’s memoir, Just As I Am.

Knit Camp Reads Club – A new venture for Knit Camp knitters who want to read (or listen) together.  The first selection is fiber related, Casting Off by Nicole R. Dickson, a nice tie in with the Knit Camp January workshop and group knit, Fiadh.

UU Common Read – With a focus on justice, the October through April titles have included An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz (although I admit I opted for the young people edition); Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson with a movie by the same name; and A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota – a powerful anthology written by 17 Minnesota authors of color that I blogged about in December.

Reading

Book Club with Hugo Marston & The Bookseller

balck and white book cover with Paris elaborate bridge over the Seine in the foreground and Eifel Tower in the background

A well written mystery, with a story that evolves from an interest in antique books, to the kidnapping of a bouquiniste (a bookseller with a stall along the Seine), plus historic WWII intrigue, and, of course, murder.  There is even a little love interest scribed by Mark Pryor in The Bookseller, the first title in the Hugo Marston series.

After enjoying our first book club title, The Directors – a library loving, book reading, wine drinking group of retired friends – moved literary settings from the English countryside to Paris for our second book club choice.  The Bookseller introduced us to Hugo Marston, a former FBI profiler now head of embassy security in Paris.  The tall Texan, who is fluent in French, loves well brewed coffee and walking Paris streets, possesses a strong sense of justice but will diplomatically step out of the limelight and let the French police claim the glory after catching the bad guys.  The Directors all agreed we will be exploring the other titles in Pryor’s Hugo Marston series.

Happy reading!

Knitting · Reading

Knitting in the City

Knitting in the City © Penny Reid

When launched as a Covid coping tool, Knit+ Librarian was intended to highlight my current reading without being too book-reportish.  However, a quick review of recent posts reveals a dearth of titles and lest you think this librarian has given up on books – not to worry.  I have simply opted not to report each book title-by-title.  My Goodreads account is a finely-tuned tool that provides titles, dates and ratings on a five-star scale, as well as a list of what I am reading and an ever-growing want-to-read list. At the moment I have six titles open:

  • Ghosts of the Shadow Market by Cassandra Clare – a YA paranormal fantasy audio book for multitasking while I knit
  • Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson and A Good Time for the Truth, an anthology edited by Sun Yung Shin – for upcoming book discussions I am leading at church (reported on earlier)
  • The Bookseller by Mark Pryor – the first in the Hugo Marston murder series for the upcoming The Directors’ bookclub
  • The Art of the Wasted Day by St. Paul author Patricia Hampl – a recent gift from a friend
  • Knitlandia by Clara Parkes – another gift from a friend that I come back to chapter by chapter.

Let me recommend – – – For light reading with a knitting tie-in, author Penny Reid, provides the right combination of good things – character development, dialogue, humor, all set against a Chicago backdrop – in her Knitting in the City series.  I have finished Book 5:  Happily Ever Ninja and downloaded book 6 to my iPad.  These contemporary romances can be read as stand-alone titles but there is a nice flow between the books as we meet seven good friends who gather every Tuesday night to knit or crochet all the while enjoying adult beverages and offering great worldly advice.  As with every title within this genre, the expected occurs – girl meets boy, attraction, romance and love happen albeit with some challenges.  Unlike some series where the characters are so interchangeable so as to be cardboard cutouts from one title to the next, the women of Knitting in the City are as unique as any collection of your friends.  Reid uses knitting as a connecting thread week-to-week as the story and relationships develop sufficient to keep any fiber lover happy but without overwhelming the non-knitter.  Sometimes she even slips in references to Ravelry patterns.  And, for the really knit-nerdy, Reid offers a companion title that includes 27 patterns based on her characters’ knitting creations.

Happy reading!