Friday, January 5, 2018

Reading in December: Part 3

Here's the final installment of my December reading list.

Dublin 4 by Maeve Binchy
This is a collection of 4 stories, so the title refers to that, but is also something of a play on words, as it’s also the area of Dublin where the stories are set. Some sort of family crisis is at the centre of each story.

Slow Stitch: Mindful and Contemplative Textile Art by Claire Wellesley-Smith
I had seen an ad for this book on, I think, the Textile Artists website, and looked for it at the library. At the time, nothing came up. Somehow a few weeks ago, I came across it and immediately put in a request. It got here pretty quickly, but I saved it to read during the holiday week. I loved this book. I loved the beautiful pictures. I loved the author’s thoughts on slow stitching and what it means to her. I loved seeing the work of other textile artists and reading a bit about how they work. As someone who embraces slow stitching as a practice, and who uses ‘found textiles’ in my work, it was nice to see how other artists and stitchers put these ideas into practice. One thing she talks about that I really liked and plan to incorporate into my own practice is the idea of a stitch journal. She talked briefly about another artist’s journal project (and included a photo) and she did the same for a couple of hers. One of hers was to embroider circles in running stitch each day--the colour of the thread matched the colour of the sky when she got up in the morning. Another was just a large end piece of cloth, with irregular edges, on which she would stitch something each day. I love the idea, but will be doing things slightly differently. I am still thinking about exactly how I want to (loosely) structure this, but I already know that I need to do something a bit more compact than the examples she gives in the book, which are all large. I am thinking of making the stitch journal into a fabric book instead of having it be a very large piece of cloth or even smaller pieces of cloth assembled into a larger piece. I am also not going to limit myself to embroidery, but plan to do whatever strikes me on the day, whether it’s embroidery, cross stitch, crochet, knitting, tatting, needle felting, or hand sewing--or any combination of those. This seems like a great way to let the ideas flow--similar to journal writing--and to test ideas, problem solve, and just get into a creative rhythm. I’ve read about a similar idea on embroidery blogs. People will do a stitch or a few stitches each day on a piece of fabric. Sometimes people learn a new stitch every day and sometimes they might make a whole motif, but usually it’s just a few stitches here and there each day and the piece grows organically from that. Anyway, I love the idea and as I type I have a few days left to organise my stuff enough to get started on 1 January, then I’ll take it from there. One more thing about this book--it led me back to the library website, where I requested a few of the books she mentioned. Whenever one book leads me to others, I consider it a good book! Note added on 3 January--I have started the stitch journal, deciding to focus on scrappy circles. That narrows things down a bit and provides a framework. I am currently using short lengths of scrap threads and a scrap piece of aida cloth and working a circle from the center in cross stitch. Colour will be the focus of that. I am curious to see how this evolves. It will probably not be cross stitch every day for the entire year, but I think I will stick with the circles. I am finding that there is a meditative quality to this stitching and that the focus without having to think about where the next stitch goes or what it will be is quite relaxing!

Inside the Wave by Helen Dunmore
I’ve seen this author’s novels around but haven’t read any of them. I’ve heard her on a books podcast and she seemed interesting. I also remember one of the members of the book discussion group at the Ballinrobe library used to live in the same town as the author and would talk about how friendly she always was whenever she’d bump into her at the grocery store or other shop. I hadn’t realised the author started as a poet. I came across this book in the ebook section of the library and borrowed it. It is her final collection, published in April 2017. One of the poems had a few lines in it about how she would be in her hospital bed composing poems on her phone and how helpful it was to have that to work on. I started thinking about how helpful it’s been for me during difficult times in my life to have projects to stitch, books to read and think about, and often, expressing my thoughts through writing. There was a final poem added to the end of the ebook that was dated 25 May 2017. This poem was about her relationship with death as it came ever closer. Helen Dunmore died on 5 June 2017.

The Last Chance Saloon by Marian Keyes
Reading this book was an interesting experience--in a good way. I’d seen books by this author all over the place-charity shops and libraries in the various small towns we’ve been in since we got to Ireland. The covers scream ‘chick lit’ which is not a genre I normally read. I am not snobby about it, but superficial stories that revolve around shopping, fashion, cosmetics, dating, etc simply don’t interest me--I find these activities/things boring in real life and have no interest in spending time reading about them. I have read plenty of 'fluffy’ novels, but these are almost always some kind of cosy mystery that involves cooking or stitching--things I can relate to.  So, when I picked up one of the books by this author to read the back, I don’t think I got beyond the first line or two before putting it back on the shelf. Then I simply ignored them whenever I’d come across them again. I was surprised one day, when listening to a discussion about books and authors on the radio, to hear a woman who is an Irish feminist writer talk about Marian Keyes as an author who gets less credit than she deserves for ‘serious’ writing. This writer was making the case for Keyes’ work as more than chick lit--it was, in fact, full of feminist themes and serious issues. Some months later, listening to another radio programme, I heard another Irish feminist author making the same arguments. In this particular segment, guests were supposed to choose their top 5 books and one of hers was by Marian Keyes (I don’t remember which one). I decided that I would have a look in the charity shop and pick up a book next time I saw one. They had several different titles and more than one copy of most of them. I picked up a few and then kept my eyes open for a few more, because I’d learned that some of the books are about people in the same family. This was last year, so they’ve been sitting around, unread, for months. I decided I might as well see how I liked one of them. If I didn’t like it, they’d all get placed in the wee free library or go back to a charity shop. I started with Last Chance Saloon, which is not one in the series about the family. when I started it, I thought it might be a disappointment--the first few pages are set in a restaurant where the four main characters are meeting to celebrate the birthday of one of them. Three of the four (two women, Tara and Katherine and a gay man, Fintan) are from the same small village in Ireland and have been friends since childhood. The fourth is a woman from Sweden (Liv) who was a roommate for a while when they all shared a flat. It seemed so stereotypical--the birthday person was talking about getting old at 30 and her credit card was maxxed out and she couldn’t find lipstick that wouldn’t rub off. Blah. Then I came to the part where they ordered and I laughed out loud for the first time--but not the last. The back of the book has a blurb that says it’s ‘laugh -out-loud funny’ and it was. I’d be reading along and a line would have me cracking up.

The women I heard on the radio were right, too--she does tackle serious subjects, all the while telling a good story. Actually, it would probably be more accurate to say that there are a few stories here that intertwine.

Tara’s boyfriend dresses and decorates his home all in brown--there’s a comical element to him, but he has issues, as does Tara. Katherine’s mother (Delia) is a hippy type who is always ready to engage in some sort of activism. During a scene from the friends’ childhood, when Fintan arrived in the village, there was a moment when Katherine was explaining to her grandmother (Agnes) that Fintan is gay. Agnes gets upset and Delia is trying to stand up for gay people to her mother while at the same time, we are told, in her head she was already organising the ‘Cake Sale Against Homophobia.’ This turns out to be unnecessary, because Agnes is not upset that Fintan is gay or that Katherine is friends with him. She’s just mad because the word, ‘gay’ used to mean something else in her day. The cake sale against homophobia still makes me laugh, for some reason. Maybe because I have known well-meaning, good-hearted people like that.

As you can tell, I enjoyed this book a lot and I will be reading more of her work. Just goes to show that you really can’t judge a book by its cover.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for the suggestions. I do not read much these days, but I have passed along your suggestions to a friend who does. We both say "thanks." I am not posting currently but will begin again when our weather improves. In the meantime, I will enjoy visiting with you. Have a lovely weekend.