29 October 2010

Girls to the Front

The women of Riot Grrrl profiled in Sara Marcus's Girls to the Front are, on average, four to six years older than me.  They were starting college when I was finishing junior high; they were impossibly cool and avant garde compared to my middle-class Iowa background; they were fierce, and completely unafraid.  I knew about Kathleen Hanna and Tobi Vail (members of the band Bikini Kill) and other bands like Heavens to Betsy, Bratmobile, and Huggy Bear.  I don't think I realized that the movement was Riot Grrrl until much later since I wasn't really part of that scene being on the younger side (hey, cut me some slack - at that point in time my favorite CDs were Janet Jackson and Mozart's Don Giovanni; I was a snobby tweener/teen).

Riot Grrrl was a different kind of movement, coalescing out of the underground grunge scene and built on the backs of the girls and women who really wanted to make a difference in women's lives.  To be respected for playing really great guitar, not just "good for a girl." To have control over their own bodies.  To be loved for themselves, not for their ability to fit the commercially acceptable beauty mold.  Many of the women were politically active and Riot Grrrl worked to put women's rights back into public discussion at a time of a conservative feminist backlash (Supreme Court review of Roe v. Wade, the Anita Hill-Clarence Thomas hearings, the first Gulf War, etc.).

What Sara Marcus does in Girls to the Front is to return the Riot Grrrls to their place in musical and political history.  Having once been involved in the movement herself, Marcus interviewed many of the original Riot Grrrls to give an accurate perspective of the movement from someone who understood it from the inside.  Mainstream press coverage of Riot Grrrl during the movement's heyday was patronizing and often glossed over the women's messages and abilities to focus instead on what the women looked like; the press objectified Riot Grrrl when Riot Grrrls didn't want to be objectified.  Marcus has created a compelling history that really fills in the gaps between the news and the reality much like the 'zines that helped spread the word about Riot Grrrl.

And I thank her for it.

I remember reading about it being "trendy" to be a Riot Grrrl in one of the teen/tween mags - it was a "look" like Nirvana was "grunge" (unfortunately, I had no idea where to acquire anything like a 'zine) - and there was no mention of political issues.  Maybe I would have been more interested in Riot Grrrl when I was younger if I had known more about the politics and less about what a "Riot Grrrl" looked like or sounded like.  Because there was no iconic Riot Grrrl - Riot Grrrl was created by women who didn't want to fit into the "conventional" mold and they came in all shapes and sizes.  I think I would have liked that.

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

21 October 2010

The Word Made Flesh

The Word Made Flesh is one of the those books that provides a few hours of happy browsing, flipping through pages, and admiring the art presented. 

This is a juxtaposition of the art of the a tattoo artist and the written word.  From a single semi-colon to full-color sleeves and backs, classic literature to poetry to children's books, the range of creativity shown is amazing.  To me, tattoos have always had that "rebellious" tag and that fits well with the written word.  Many of the tattoos seem to represent the idea that the "word" is permanent, that you can't erase words no matter what you do.

Along with the user-submitted photos, editors Eva Talmadge and Justin Taylor included several essays from contributors.  Katherine Barthelme talks about her tattoo, "Born Dancin' ", an homage to her father's short story "The Baby".  Details for Shelley Jackson's SKIN project are included; SKIN feels almost like performance art, a moving book made up of participants each carrying one word on their bodies.  It's not just the readers who show off their ink, the authors get in on the act, too.  Jonathan Lethem shows off his tattoo inspired by Phillip K. Dick's Ubik.

I am actually quite envious of some of the work shown in the book; I think this would be a great book for those looking to get inspired. (Note: I do not have any tattoos.  Not only am I a big baby and wuss, I've never been able to make up my mind about what I would like to have permanently inked on my body.  I am far too mercurial some days.)

Dear FTC: I received a copy of this book for review from the publisher.

12 October 2010

Knitting 24/7 and Brave New Knits

Readathon reading took a left turn due to my being waaay too tired to concentrate and I decided to soldier on with two new knitting books.

Veronik Avery's new book Knitting 24/7: 30 Projects to Knit, Wear, and Enjoy, On the Go and Around the Clock has a variety of garments and accessories with clean lines.  They are each eye-catching in simplicity.  An ostrich plume-patterned stole is easily knitted up as a rectangle using a repeated lace pattern but it is truly a statement accessory.  A sturdy triangle shawl is designed for warmth and versatile functionality.  A cloche-like hat uses a fleur-de-lys Fair Isle pattern to catch the eye.  Many projects can easily be toted around while in-progress so you can either wear knitted items or work on knitted items 24/7.  Veronik's style is timeless so the beautiful yoked "Elemental Pullover" will go with everything in your closet for year.

Brave New Knits is the brainchild of Julie Turjoman, a collection of interviews and projects from knitters who got a major boost from the blogosphere.  Knitwear designers like Stephanie Japel, Jordana Paige, Grumperina, Jared Flood, Shannon Okey, Ysolda Teague, and Melissa Wehrle all share their path to knitwer design careers as well as a signature project designed for the book.  Their styles are all over the map - classic to funky, functional to delicate - and a variety of patterns to match.  The book is divided into garments - sweaters, jackets, blouses - and accessories - scarves, hats, socks, shawls.  I've already fixated on Melissa Wehrle's "Origami Shrug" for myself and Ysolda's "Orchid Thief Shawlette" as a present for someone (I might make one for myself, too, who knows).  Jared Flood photographed all the projects in Brave New Knits and that makes for a very pretty book to look at as you are inspired to go out and knit something and then blog about it.  Right.  Now.  I also did some Twitter/Ravelry/blog-stalking and added all the designer to my feeds and friends.

11 October 2010

A long-overdue update from the "sticks and string" front

 I've been so busy I completely forgot to post about my Icarus shawl - I finished it in July!

First, it got a sink bath in Eucalan.  You would not believe how long it took to do the bind-off, it just kept going and going, the neverending shawl edge.

Then rolled in a towel to get as much water out as possible.

Here it is, pinned out on the floor.  I did some local investigating and no one seemed to have knitter's blocks or interlocking foam blocks that didn't smell like a gasoline factory.  I made do with vacuuming the carpet extra-good and scowling at the cats since they were more-than-a-little interested in what I was doing with thread, pins, and that big blue thing I kept yelling at them for standing on.  Chaucer insisted on being in the picture so you can see how big Icarus is compared to little, old him.

I think I used about 120 T-pins between the top border and the edge points (I don't have blocking wires, either, *le sigh* ).

Icarus Shawl by Miriam Felton, Interweave Knits Summer 2006 and/or The Best of Interweave Knits: Our Favorite Designs from the First Ten Years.  Knit in Classic Elite Yarns Silky Alpaca Lace, 2.33 skeins.

I also bought a pretty shawl pin of copper to wear with Icarus at the AXS Kuebler Banquet in August (it was pretty, sorry no pictures to show, and Icarus unblocked itself in my luggage on the way back to Iowa; it's currently making-do as a pretty scarf until I get a chance to re-block)

 My next project was started at AXS Conclave in order to teach a fellow brother how to knit cables.  The pattern is June Oshiro's DNA Scarf (but only the DNA bit, I didn't want to knit the border cables).  I bought some beautiful Malabrigo Merino Worsted in Sotobosque to use.

 As you can see, I had a little trouble getting the yarn to wind up properly and spent several hours in ball-winder and swift limbo untangling all the crazy knots before I could get it into two pretty yarn cakes.

It's coming along nicely, albeit a bit slow because you cable on every right-side row at least twice in a very long repeat.  It's not very memorizable.
I also cast-on for Wendy Johnson's Waterfall Socks to use my gorgeous Mini Mochi yarn from Crystal Palace.  I think I borked the eyelet pattern already so I may need to rip back a few rows.  Boo.

And then I bought more yarn.  Why?  Ummm, I was in the yarn shop?

Three very pretty skeins of Manos del Uruguay, mint, berry, and pink.  I think they'll make a nice scarf together.
I am sure this is why I buy yarn all the time, it's for the colors.

Except, in this case, it was the soft luxury.  Plymouth Yarn Paca Tweed.  Alpaca.  I have no idea what I want to do with this yarn, I just had to have it.

I also recently (as in last night at dinner) casted on a new project (no pics yet) for my niece Alexis - her Christmas stocking.  I've become a better knitter in the several years since I made her older sisters' stockings so I should be able to get this done by Christmas.  I'm more experienced in intarsia colorwork and I can knit with both hands now so this should go faster (I refuse to give it to her for her second Christmas).

Knitting rules!  Knit on, knit on.

10 October 2010

The Readathon that really wasn't

Get read for the massive "hours read" total....drum roll....three.

Yup, a rather poor showing.  I just couldn't scrape up the time and when I did, I fell asleep in a blink.

Friday night, I went to dinner/indulged in Coach Outlet shopping with friends from out of town, hooray for seeing old friends (Kate and Beth were in town for a wedding - congrats Anna and Mark!).  When I got home, I fell asleep with The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest on my face.  I don't think I made it more than a page or two.  Oops.

Saturday morning, I ran around like a nut to get kitty litter purchased (and a couple throw rugs to keep the cats from picking at a few bad patches of carpet - Chaucer has been picking the nap from the carpet where it was poorly installed) before my parents arrived to inspect my broken dishwasher/take me to lunch/wander the mall until my shift at the store.  Also, as a last-minute addition, my baby niece Alexis came along because her big sisters were going to a pumpkin-patch thing so I had to run around and "baby proof"/de-cat hair my house.  But Alexis makes me laugh with her great, big, see-my-two-front-teeth grin and Buddha-baby cheeks, so it's OK I only got ten pages of Wire in the Blood read on my nook.

So then I worked a full shift at the store.  We had a bookfair and the store was packed and one bookseller picked a fight with me on the salesfloor.  I probably shouldn't have blown my top but she was being a back-stabbing, dishonest, completely out-of-line b-that-rhymes-with-witch (not to mention she's one of the worst employees we've got) and she's really lucky that she doesn't work for me...I'd fire her in a heartbeat.  I got about 20 pages of Wire in the Blood read on my dinner break.

After work, I settled in to finish Wire in the Blood and then succumbed to the two knitting books I'd held off reading: Veronik Avery's Knitting 24/7 and Julie Turjoman's Brave New Knits.  Not exactly what I'd planned on reading but I wasn't really about to concentrate on much of anything anymore (I fell asleep somewhere near the end of Brave New Knits and finished it off between breakfast and another full shift at the store).

So to wrap up:
Wire in the Blood (read 124 pages - finished)
Knitting 24/7 (128 pages - finished)
Brave New Knits (224 pages - finished)

Many thanks to jewelknits, kinnareads, and jensfgeek for popping by my Readathon post for a bit of early Readathon cheering :)

Next Readathon: take a vacation!  Maybe I'll get more reading time.

09 October 2010

The Mermaids Singing/The Wire in the Blood

One of my favorite television channels is BBC America.

I haven't watched it in years because I refuse to pay extortionate fees for hundreds of channels I don't watch just to get two that I do (the other is Ovation - does it exist anymore?).  Thank god for Netflix because I can now catch up on many of the television shows I got started on and never finished when I ditched my cable package. 

One of those shows was Wire in the Blood - a crime drama about an academic crimial psychologist/profiler named Tony Hill and Detective Chief Inspector Carol Jordan set in the fictional town of Bradfield (which I guess was supposed to be about three hours or so north of London near Yorkshire).  The series is based on a series of crime novels by Val McDermid but I never got around to picking any of them up.  A recent Netflix Instant-inspired Wire in the Blood binge combined with the ease of buying a book with my NOOK caused me to read the first two Tony Hill/Carol Jordan novels.  Incidentally, the first two books provide the basis for the first two episodes of the television show's first season:  The Mermaids Singing and The Wire in the Blood.

The Mermaids Singing introduces Tony and Carol amid the mess of a serial killer who is causing quite a scene (and turns out to nearly be more than Tony or Carol bargained for, in the end).  McDermid pulls no punches in showing many members of the police establishment to be not only sexist and bigoted but also too stubbornly working class to appreciate the mental work of profiling that compliments standard police work.  I have no idea how accurate the description is for the mid-nineties (I have a feeling it may not be far from the mark) but it does make for great tension that adds to the urgency of multiple murder inquiries.  McDermid structured the book so that the reader alternates between sections of the killer's diary (presumably recovered at the end of the case) and the crminal investigation.  Tony and Carol are great characters, each with their own problems, but also very much drawn to one another.  Carol also has a great internal voice, revealing how frustrating it must be to have to prove yourself at your job everyday just because you aren't one of the "lads".

The Wire in the Blood picks up approximately a year or so after The Mermaids Singing ended (it was pretty crazy).  Carol has received a promotion and Tony is setting up a national profiling task force.  So they haven't spoken much recently and aren't working together....but, of course, Carol needs Tony to consult on a serial arson investigation and Tony asks Carol to show his trainees how an experienced detective can work with a profiler.  One of the trainees comes up with a potential serial murder investigation as part of a classroom exercise; when Tony hesitates to actively pursue the idea, the trainee goes off on her own and in a crime novel you know where that leads....The narrative of the book then starts to split between Carol's arson investigation in her home territory (and troubles with her team of stubborn DIs) and Tony's team of fledgling profilers fighting an inattentive system and disbelief.  While the situation of two simultaneous investigations is very true-to-life I really felt that the arson plot detracted from the serial murder plot - considering both cases are completely separate it got very confusing after a while.  Still, it was a very compelling book and I enjoyed it very much.  Carol is still a favorite of mine but I liked Tony's growth of a character in The Wire in the Blood.  I finished this one during the Readathon.

There are currently six books in the Tony Hill/Carol Jordan series (The Last Temptation, The Torment of Others, Beneath the Bleeding, and Fever of the Bone make up the rest of the series) and I'd like to read them.  Tony and Carol remind me very much of the main characters in the USA television series Silk Stalkings - Chris and Rita - who have great chemistry and tension but avoid getting into the sack with one another (Chris and Rita only got together when the characters were leaving the show).

07 October 2010

Readathons and best-laid plans

Hurray!  Dewey's Readathon is Saturday, October 9, starting at 7am (I live in Chicago's timezone, all start times are based off 5am Pacific).

Fail!  I have to work 8 hours Saturday plus I think at least two of my family members are going to make an appearance that morning to see what's wrong with my dishwasher.  AND I work at 11am on Sunday for a friend.

Bye-bye, reading time!

I'm still going to Readathon, though, just not as much as I would like.  I plan on starting on Friday evening and reading for a while, catching some reading time Saturday afternoon/evening/night, and maybe a bit on Sunday morning before I go into the store.  I'll stitch it all together and call it a Readathon.

I'm not going to plan my reading beyond the idea that what worked well last fall will probably work again, but I will be finishing books that have lain around disgracefully "in progress".  Books on the Readathon shortlist are:
The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet's Nest (I stopped because of the awful realization that there are no more Millenium books....if I finish the book, no more Lisbeth to look forward to)
Matterhorn (half-way done, then I got distracted)
Revolutionary Road

Let's see how far I get - I have loads of half-finished books laying around!

06 October 2010


What if a single room and its contents were your entire world, the only thing you had ever known?  Only a television and the occasional "Sunday treat" provide information about the outside world - but you don't know that a world exists outside your door.  You only interact with your mother and she with some shadowy figure called Old Nick.

This is the world of five-year-old Jack and his mother, Ma, in Emma Donoghue's Booker-shortlisted Room.  Jack narrates the book and he's very articulate for a young child.  All the furniture in the room has a proper name - Chair, Bed, Wardrobe - and a gender.  For Jack, everything in Room is his world and everything on the television is make-believe or Outer Space (the channels are "planets").  Ma is trying to raise Jack in as close to what the outside world would consider "normal" as she can get: she tries to get healthy food to eat, limits sweets and television time, teaches him math and reading, keeps them moving through imaginative exercise.  Between the lines of Jack's childlike narration is the very dark figure of Old Nick and it takes no time at all for the reader to determine that Ma has been kidnapped, held against her will, raped repeatedly, and the kidnapper/rapist has fathered Jack.  Sinister stuff indeed.

Donoghue does a remarkable job keeping Jack's narrative voice going throughout the novel.  He is the child of a young mother and they are both observant of the pop culture delivered through the television; current popstars like Lady Gaga are name checked, Ma and Jack dance to music videos, Jack is a great friend of Dora, and Oprah makes several appearances throughout the book.  Jack's view of the world - Room - is so sharply defined that he eventually has some trouble assimilating new information.

One of the things I found so interesting was the shift in attitude that I had to make as a reader at the beginning of the novel.  I would assume that a child cooped up in a single room would be intellectually behindhand and Jack and Ma wouldn't make for interesting reading.  Well, Jack's opening narration changed all that and Donoghue gave Ma a wonderful way of making everything either a game or a teaching moment; very ingenious.  It was a way of saying a mother would do anything for her child, even setting aside her own fears and depression.  Later in the book, the outside world had to make the same shift in attitude that I had in order to accept Jack and Ma.

I appreciated the subtle play on the myth of Danae from Greek mythology, especially since there are several references to God's face (the sun) through the skylight.  Ma does keep knowledge of Jack's father from him, inferring instead that Jack came from heaven in a parallel with Zeus's golden rain in Danae's lonely chamber.  Eventually, Jack is instrumental in bringing Old Nick down, also a parallel with the outcome predcited by the Oracle in the myth.  I do also love Old Nick's name, a chilling intersection of jolly Old St. Nick, bringing presents, and Old Scratch, the devil.

I have yet to read Donoghue's Slammerkin but I can definitely say that it's in the TBR now.

05 October 2010

The Midwife's Apprentice

Karen Cushman's The Midwife's Apprentice was published in 1995, winning the Newbery Medal in 1996 (the same year I finished high school).  It's not a long book, only about 120 pages, but is a wonderful historical novel for middle school readers.  A strong central character really pulled me into the story.

The narrator is Brat, a young girl who has never known a family and has fended for herself since she can remember, scrounging for scraps and sleeping wherever she can find shelter.  The medieval English setting doesn't afford Brat many kindnesses and she is regularly teased, taunted, and chased from town to town as an outsider.  One cold night she finds a dung heap to sleep in (which can be nice and warm) and wakes to find the town midwife looming over her.  Although the midwife is gruff and suspicious she allows Brat - renamed Beetle from her origin in the dung heap - to carry her bundles, fetch firewood, gather herbs, help with the laundry, and so on.  Beetle is very clever and learns very quickly; she visits other artisans in town to learn about their professions and even chooses to give herself a new name - Alyce - in a boost of confidence.  Even though the midwife won't let Alyce learn midwifery, she peeps in the windows to learn how to deliver a baby.  Or at least she thinks she learns.  Alyce makes a mistake and runs away from the village; she finds an inn in need of a scullery maid and determines to to forget the midwife and her life in the village.  However, Alyce has one more lesson to learn...

Brat/Beetle/Alyce is a great role model for girls and young women.  Alyce is stubborn and refuses to kow-tow to others simply because she is a girl and doesn't know where she comes from.  She is resilient, resourceful, clever, and intelligent; Cushman has given her character a great thirst for learning, particularly in a setting where women did not receive an education, and Alyce excels at one of the few respectable postitions open to women at that time.  Cushman also lends a lot of period detail to her short novel - the style is similar to Ken Follett's Pillars of the Earth - as well as a wealth of herbal knowledge that Alyce garners throughout the novel.  The Midwife's Apprentice is definitely a book deserving of the Newbery.

Vocabulary (and I'm sure many of these are herb nicknames):

04 October 2010

Women #Unbound Challenge: Wrap-up!

Huzzah!  I did it!

I finished the Women Unbound Reading Challenge.  For this challenge I had to read at least eight books (at least three of those non-fiction) and I did - I read eight books and six of them were non-fiction:
The Help
Little Women, read by Barbara Caruso
The Life of Elizabeth I
Fearless Girls, Wise Women, and Beloved Sisters
A Jury of Her Peers
A Bookshelf of Our Own
Click: When We Knew We Were Feminists
Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

Holla!  Now I just need to read five Booker winning books to make the end of the Booker Challenge by December 31!

03 October 2010

Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History

As my last selection for the Women Unbound Challenge, I decided to read a book I had parked on my bookshelves for quite some time: Laurel Thatcher Ulrich's Well-Behaved Women Seldom Make History.  I thought it would be a nice complement to the other history/biography books I already read for the challenge.  Thatcher is a historian and the author of the quote (oft mis-quoted) that gives the book its title.

I thought this was a very good overview of women in history who refused to roll over and take it. Beginning with the Amazons and a chapter on Christine de Pizan, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, and Virginia Woolf, there are many (MANY) of anecdotes and the sheer number adds many more women to Ulrich's history than if she just focused on de Pizan, Cady Stanton, Woolf, de Beauvior, Friedan, etc. However, it felt like we were just skimming the surface of history to create a "readable" book - to avoid creating a very thick, weighty tome.  Even with a perceived lack of depth it was still an interesting book and adds many more individual women to the list of famous names we already recognize.

02 October 2010

Banned Books Week: I read "Banned Books"

I do. So sue me.*  And I am proud to do so!  Salman Rushdie's The Satanic Verses is my current staff pick at the store - come to the dark side, we have good books.  Ha!

That does it for Banned Books Week 2010!  Read widely and get behind those books other people feel the need to pick on for having a different perspective.

*I have always wanted to adapt Joe Fox's "I sell cheap books.  I do.  So sue me."  Tee-hee.

01 October 2010

Banned Books Week: A Light in the Attic

Meet one of the banned/challenged books that makes me go - why? (Don't get me started on what I think of people who object to Winnie-the-Pooh)

What, pray tell, is wrong with A Light in the Attic?  Hmmm, it apparently has suggestive illustrations and might encourage children to be disobedient.  Or "disrespect, horror and violence."

Excuse me while I go snort derisively.  There aren't any suggestive drawings in A Light in the Attic and if I had ever decided that breaking the dishes instead of drying them was a good idea, I'd have earned myself a hot backside and a one-way trip to my room for an extended grounding.  I used to have a ridiculous number of Shel Silverstein poems memorized - most notably "I Cannot Go to School Today" (said little Peggy Ann McKay, I have the measles and the mumps, a gash, a rash, and purple bumps....and so on and so on) which I used for a play audition (didn't get the part; I get verbal diarrhea if asked/forced to speak in public, probably why I always danced and sang instead of acted or gave speeches).  We had gales of laughter when reading "Sarah Sylvia Cynthia Stout will not take the garbage out" or when admonished not to pick your nose.  I never got any stupid ideas.

Now, I have an ornery and mischeivous little brother* who had a ornery and mischeivous little friend and the two of them could get into oodles of trouble in a blink.  They didn't look beyond the moment to see if there were consequences to jumping off the roof with an umbrella to see if you could fly (Mary Poppins can be a bad influence, too) or sticking an egg up the exahuast pipe of the mini-van (the two of them could be hell on legs when left to their own devices).  But even my reckless brother would have thought twice before breaking the dishes instead of drying them (he was also a pretty lazy kid so if I'd ever caught him even thinking about putting the dishes away I would have been very surprised) and mom kept him and his friend on a tight leash so they wouldn't get into too much trouble while thinking up silly things to do.

So go ahead - find where the sidewalk ends and fall up but don't bump the glump.

*Technically, I have two little brothers; they are the two halves of Calvin from the Calvin and Hobbes comic strip.  One could spend hours drawing and making things up using his imagination while the other could be found hurtling down a sheer cliff on his sled or playing naked in the birdbath.  They were both pesky, as alluded to in my Judy Blume post, and entirely allergic to chores (still are, actually).