Monday, March 30, 2009

Sign of the times

This just kills me. I was reading the Movers and Shakers issue of Library Journal and came across Carlie Webber, an innovative YA Services Librarian recognized for her depth of knowledge about teen books and pop culture. As an avid reader of YA fiction, I was so interested in her that I popped over to check out her blog only to find out that, due to budget cuts, her position is being eliminated. Just as an article about her outstanding contribution to her field goes to press. Ouch.

I guess nobody is immune to the current economic crisis. But if the very best in our field are losing their jobs, what does this mean for the rest of us?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell : a review

After hearing beautiful singing transmitted from far-off space, a group of Jesuits decide to send a team to find the planet it came from and make contact with its people. Close to 40 years later, Emilio Sandoz returns the only survivor, maimed and accused of horrible crimes. The novel flips back and forth between the story of the trip to the planet of Rakhat, and the aftermath of Sandoz's return as the Jesuits try to make sense of what happened.

Though The Sparrow is about alien contact, the crux of the book is Emilio's journey of faith, feeling closer to God than he has ever has before - indeed, feeling his whole life has led up to visiting Rakhat - and then plunging into a crisis in which he is forced to believe that God either doesn't exist, or is vicious and cruel. The novel's title refers to a quote from the book of Matthew: "Not one sparrow can fall to the ground without your Father knowing it." The sparrow, of course, is Emilio Sandoz.

I don't read much science fiction, but this book strikes me as being much less impersonal than scifi usually is, with greater character development and more of a focus on the characters' lives and personalities. Interestingly, this book isn't usually categorized with science fiction, but I have no idea if that's why. At any rate, I first heard of this book on the publib listserv where many librarians listed it as one of their all-time favorite books. I don't know yet if I'll consider it a favorite, but I certainly liked it quite a lot - it was beautiful and haunting and imaginative. Even if you never read books about people going to planets and making contact with aliens, I recommend that you check this one out.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

In case you've been wondering about the status of this sweater...

It is time to admit that I won't be wearing the Marseilles Pullover this winter.

It's coming along though. I just bound off for the armholes and began doing the decreases, so it's all smooth sailing from here! (Or so I tell myself.) I'm extremely grateful that the sleeves are just ribbed.

I'm worried about the fit, and the amount of blocking it takes to make the pieces the right size. The fabric is stretched rather thinly on the blocked piece, probably more so than intended, but I think I like that the resulting fabric is rather thin. I realized this winter that most of my handmade sweaters are just too warm to wear anywhere outside of my house because it seems that every other building I enter is ridiculously overheated (and in such lean economic times!) There have been many times that I wished this sweater was done so I could wear it, which must be a good sign.

A few weeks ago when I received the Spring issue of IK, I unveiled a grand plan to go ahead and start casting on for other projects without restraint. Despite my zeal, that hasn't happened. The project I was the most excited about was the Lucy in the Sky cardigan, which apparently will require the exact needles I'm currently using for the Marseilles. Of course my plan was to make Coraline first anyhow, until I couldn't find yarn for it, but now it seems that my yarn is on its way from Knitpicks. So soon I will begin yet another purple sweater. This will be my third purple handmade sweater, but who's counting?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Leyburn heel and beyond

Last week I mentioned some trouble with the heel of my Leyburn sock. The pattern says to make a short-row heel, but mine always come out with holes in them so I decided to try a toe-up heel flap construction, based on the instructions in Sensational Knitted Socks (which is totally my sock bible!) The odd thing is that the Leyburns are constructed in such a way that you have many more instep stitches than heel stitches, rather than dividing them in half as usual. I wasn't sure how it would come out, but I followed the SKS instructions anyhow - not exactly because my stitch count was different and I needed a larger number of heel flap rows, but it seemed to work out pretty well. I've never made a toe-up heel flap before, and in the middle of this one I learned on Ravelry that there's another more sensible-sounding way to do it, but I stuck with these instructions anyhow. When all was said and done and the heel was formed and the gusset properly decreased, the sock fit AND had the correct number of stitches, which was nothing short of miraculous!

Now, all I have to do is continue on my merry way, knitting the quilted lattice pattern in the round for the rest of the sock.


Let me just say a few things about the Leyburn Sock pattern. It's not exactly a pattern as such; it's more of a stitch pattern with general guidelines about how to make a sock with that stitch pattern. There aren't detailed instructions for the toe or heel (instead it says "make a short row heel" and leaves it at that). More importantly, it doesn't give different instructions for knitting the stitch pattern in the round, which is where my current difficulties lie. (It does have a note about adjustments for row 5 when knitting in the round, but I haven't made it to row 5 yet.)

I suspected that perhaps I shouldn't begin the first round exactly the way the instructions say to, but then I did a little math and it seemed to come out right. But no.

Do you see that little row of upraised arms at the very top? (I know it is hard to see, but trust me.) They should all be shifted to the left or right a few stitches so they form X's with the row below. I have to undo those 4 rows and figure out how to fix them. It's possible I was simply supposed to start the round elsewhere, but I don't actually know. It's a little complicated because the stitch pattern involves slipping 5 stitches at once with the yarn in front to make a float, and you can't just start a round in the middle of that.

I'm a little frustrated with the pattern, but it WAS free so I can't complain. Despite the difficulties I'm having, I love how the sock is coming out and that is the only reason I'm still sticking with it. It's worth it!

Also? I think spring is here.

These will (hopefully) become string beans and pumpkins.

The fig tree is coming out of dormancy too.

Is that enough green for St. Patrick's Day?

Thursday, March 12, 2009

One Guac Sock

I'm halfway there! It actually looks much better on, but you don't get to see that until I finish the pair.

I've promised myself that when I finish both the Guacomole Socks AND the Leyburn Socks I can take my gift certificate to Windsor Button and buy another skein of sock yarn. But no more until then.

That seemed easy enough, until I got to the heel on my Leyburn. But more about that in another post. In the meantime I'm forging ahead on my second Guacamole. I can't wait to wear them!

Monday, March 9, 2009

Audrey, Wait! by Robin Benway: a review

When Audrey ends her relationship with aspiring rock star Evan, he writes a song about their breakup called "Audrey, Wait!" It shoots to the top of the charts, shooting his band to stardom. Unfortunately, it creates a great deal of notoriety for Audrey as well, and she finds herself hunted by fans and paparazzi, making normal life impossible.

I had a couple of minor issues with the book. First, it was poorly edited in spots - there was a repeated sentence in one chapter, and later in the book a minor character's name changed from one paragraph to the next. Second, the entire premise of the book is faulty. A million songs have been written about relationships or breakups, and I can't think of one instance in which the subject of the song has become famous. I know we all dialed 867-5309 over and over back in the 80s, but did any of us really care who Jenny was? Even though it's easier to stalk people nowadays, I don't think this has changed. Although plenty of people become famous for nothing (I'm looking at you, Paris), I just can't see Lindsay Lohan clamoring to play someone's ex-girlfriend in a music video.

Having said that, this book reminded me why I love the young adult genre. You see, those minor issues were totally overshadowed by everything I liked about this book. It was fun and silly and Audrey was totally likeable and didn't take shit from anyone. She had a great side-kick in her friend Victoria, and her budding romance with her ice-cream shop co-worker James was totally cute. I also love the role that music played in her life, and the way that was integrated into the book. Every chapter began with a quote from a song, most of which I've never heard of because unlike Audrey I am completely out of touch with what is popular these days. I'm hoping for a sequel. Two thumbs up!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Belated Book Reviews

Letter from Point Clear by Dennis McFarland

A family is reunited at their childhood home in Alabama after their father's death. Ellen and Morris receive a letter from their sister, Bonnie, who had left New York to help care for their father in his last days. She stayed on to take care of the house and, apparently, to fall in love with and marry a local evangelical preacher named Pastor. Somewhat alarmed by the sudden and surprising marriage, Ellen and Morris decide to travel to Point Clear to visit Bonnie and her new husband. Just before they arrive, Bonnie divulges to Pastor that her brother Morris is gay, and Pastor makes it a mission to try and lead Morris out of his sinful lifestyle. But though there is tension, there's not as much as one would expect. Pastor's attempts are half-hearted at best, and he and Morris actually get along quite well.

My book group found McFarland's writing comparable to Julia Glass, though I have read little Glass, and none recently, so I can't weigh in on that one. Aside from that, they liked the book much less than I did, so perhaps the appeal isn't as universal as I thought. My one quibble with this book is that when all is said and done we still know so little about Bonnie, who is in a sense the focus of the novel. But to me that is more than made up for by the simple pleasure of reading McFarland's writing. I also shouldn't end without mentioning how much I liked the other characters, especially Morris. My favorite part of the book is when the family pulls into a gas station where a sign reads "YOU" ARE OUR BEST CUSTOMER. Morris whispers to Ellen, "Observe the ubiquitous misuse of quote marks; it makes me doubt my very existence." I love anyone who dislikes the misuse of quotation marks as much as I do, even if he is not real.

The Good Mother by Sue Miller

A divorced mother has to fight for custody of her 5-year-old daughter after her husband accuses her and her new boyfriend of inappropriate sexual behavior. This sounds like a great premise for a novel, but I honestly had a hard time being sympathetic for Anna's plight. Seriously, if you are in the middle of having sex and your small child comes into the bedroom and climbs into bed with you - stop. I get that Anna and Leo were just laid-back about things like nudity, but to me it is clear when certain lines get crossed. Also, during the period that her daughter stayed with her husband while they awaited trial, I didn't get much of a sense that Anna really missed her.

The writing was a bit clunky too. It jumped back and forth between the present, and a past in which Anna's family spent summers together on the Cape, but the space between these jumps were long enough that I kept forgetting about the scenes in the past so the book didn't feel tied together; it felt more like two different books. The novel also felt dated somehow. I've read other books set in times when people had different attitudes about things (divorced women were looked down upon, for example) and they just felt historic. This one didn't, but I can't pinpoint what exactly about the writing made this novel feel out of date.

I've read two other novels of Miller's (The Senator's Wife and While I was Gone) and enjoyed them a great deal. The Good Mother was her debut novel and I had heard good things about it, but now I think I'll stick with her more recent works.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Bye, Smoot

It was nice having you around.

You will be missed.