Monday, October 30, 2006

An aggravating Monday

Yesterday, in a fit of joy I purchased Vogue Knitting (Holiday Edition). I got home late last night, so I didn't get a chance to read it until today. A few scrummy patterns in there, along with an article that screamed "Andrea, you must read me!": "The book on knitting". There's a small mini article entitled "Books to Knit by" written by Joanne Seiff, with additional reporting by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. I sat down to read it and, I believed, happily agree.

Not a bloody chance. Under the heading "Novels" is a brief review of "Knitting" by Anne Bartlett. Here's what it says: "Knitting and friendship are the common threads that help heal Martha's illnesses and Sandra's grieving heart as the two are brought together first by an accident, then by fate." I borrowed this novel from my library last week and read it in two installments, a fact which should surprise anyone who knows my reading style (3am? Bah - I'll just finish this row chapter...). It took me two nights because the first night's reading depressed me so much that I had to stop.

This novel is just awful.

The two main characters are completely unlikeable, as they are written. Sandra comes across as an elitest, disdainful and almost stupidly selfish. Martha - well, lunatic comes close. I refuse to believe that anyone who can't finish work that has a mistake in it ever worked for a "famous designer" as a knitter - what did she do then? Remake under pressure of a deadline? The final scenes are an apparent redemption for the two revolting women - Martha has no insanity anymore, due to a fever breaking, and Sandra appears apparently happy at the gift of a hand knitted dress that she receives with such a lack of gratitude that makes me wonder why Martha doesn't strangle her with it.

This was a waste of paper. Truly, truly awful. I threw the book across the room when I had finished I was that furious.

So, you can imagine how impressed I was by that brief snippet. But wait, worse is in store. Under the final heading - "Victorian-Era Novels with Mentions of Knitting" - we find the sloppiest piece of writing I've ever seen. "Charles Dickens's A Tale of Two Cities" ("Yay!" says Andrea's brain. "I love this book!"). "The complex plot focuses on Madame DeFarge, whose knitting appears to absorb her but in reality symbolizes her control over the masses. This knitting reference has become synonymous with the book."

"...plot focuses on Madame Defarge...". What?! Are they on drugs? Madame DeFarge is not the focus of the plot, but a secondary character, and the knitting doesn't "symbolize" anything, but a register and an attempt to hide her blood thirsty nature. Although, the old style steel needles are rather pointy...

It took me an hour to calm down after reading this article, I suspect because of the innacuracy of the latter review. The ending of "Tale of Two Cities" is beautiful and one of the most moving pieces of literature ever created (..." It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest I go to than I have ever known." Try coming to that and not crying - you have a stone where your heart is, I swear.)

Luckily, I am easily distracted by pretty pretty pictures, so the patterns lulled me in, but I'm still peeved.

I promise, I'll explain my long absence tomorrow, if only so Chantal has something else to read.


Joanne said...

Ahh, and this is a great example of how different people like (and read) different things! Of course, I could not read all the books in the world that refer to knitting in time for the article's deadline. Hence, I relied on Carol's list for some of the classics, which she uses in some of her classes, and which she gave me. Carol has a PhD in this thing called literature and is widely respected in the spinning world.

I liked Anne Bartlett's book very much, I felt it described a lot of important aspects of mental illness and grief, amongst other things. I've never read Dickens' Tale of Two Cities--it's never really interested me...but I've read two-thirds of the books mentioned in the article. Regardless, this sidebar wasn't the point--the point was to focus on the intersection of knitting and reading, in particular, reading fiction. In that sense, 'm so glad that this article worked for you. It got you thinking about knitting and literature, and that was the point. No one ever has to agree on which book is best; thank goodness there are a lot of books out there for all of us. Happy knitting--and whatever you read, I hope you enjoy it!

Andrea said...

Oh...oh wow. Thank you so much for commenting, and you are right - there are more than enough books for all of us out there!

I wrote my post as my initial reaction, and it has got me rummaging through all of my old novels re-reading anything to do with knitting. When I was a child one of the few references I had for knitting in novels was Laura Ingalls Wilder talking of knitting yards and yards of lace, which she later used to trim her trousseau as she hurried to be wed. Her diligence helped me in my kntting and I had a connection, yet again, to a book character I loved.

I wish more modern authors would use knitting just as it is, instead of a symbol for joining people who should be left alone, or networks that don't need connecting. It's harder than you would think to find such a modern story with a plain knit in it.

In the meantime, thank you for a really great article - one that provoked comment and thought and arguement and opinions. You are a rare commodity in this day and age!