Banned Books Week 2015

Banned Books 2015 BannerI suppose there are some individuals out there who are NOT aware of the American Library Association’s annual celebration of the freedom to read. If you, dear reader, are among them — or if you’re not and want more information anyway — click the badge to the left to be taken to the ALA’s webpages and learn everything you ever wanted to know about the subject.

I was lucky. My mother read to me all the time, probably from the moment I was born. I honestly don’t remember when I learned to read myself. I know I was already reading by the time I entered kindergarten at age 4, although it must have escaped the notice of my kindergarten teacher. Mom told me once that my first grade teacher called her shortly after the start of school and asked her if she knew I could read. Mom said, “Of course.” Teacher said, “No, I mean really read, not in a halting one-word-at-a-time fashion, but easily? In flowing sentences?” Mom said, “Of course, why wouldn’t I know that? I taught her.”

My mom rocks.

This was the library when I was a kid. Now it's the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.
This was the library when I was a kid. Now it’s the home of the Paso Robles Historical Society.

Every Saturday in the summer, when Mom went into town to do the grocery shopping, she dropped my sister and me off at the public library. I still remember running up the big stone steps and then down another set of stairs that led into the basement where the children’s section lived. Sissy and I would spend a couple of hours reading and picking out new books to take home. We always checked out as many books as we were allowed, devoured them through the week, and brought them back the following Saturday. During the school year, we had access to the school library and didn’t visit the public library all that often.

My folks never questioned the appropriateness of any book we brought home from the school or the public library. We were reading and that’s all that mattered. And I read everything as I grew up: Walter Farley‘s horse books, abandoned children books (such as Island of the Blue Dolphins and Green Mansions), Mother West Wind stories, science fiction, biographies, horror, fables, fairy tales, books about science and rocks and dinosaurs and geology. I read the books my parents had read: mysteries and crime fiction, mostly, with the occasional steamy romance tossed in for good measure. I was forbidden to read a book only once. When I was 12 years old, The Exorcist was the hottest title on the bestseller lists. Mom bought it for herself. When she finished reading it, she told me, “You may not read this book until you are older.” “Okay, Mom,” I said, and never gave it a second thought. With the wide open freedom I had to choose my own reading material, being barred from one book in which I had only a vague interest was not a big deal.

So how is my being barred at age 12 from reading The Exorcist not censorship? Simple. My mother exercised her parental prerogative to control the reading material of her minor child within our family unit. And then she stopped. She didn’t try to prevent other people’s children from reading it. She didn’t mount a protest with the school or public library to have that book removed from their shelves. She and Daddy didn’t write letters to the editor of the local newspaper proclaiming that devil worshippers and Satanists were trying to indoctrinate the youngsters of San Luis Obispo, so stop them, stop them, stop them now!

Parenting. Yeah, they did it right.

That’s where the line gets drawn, you see. At the edge of the family unit. No one, I repeat, no one, other than my husband and me, has the right to restrict what our children (if we had any) will read. I applaud those librarians who tell the naysayers and it’s-for-your-own-good-niks to stuff it. I weep for the school boards who cave under the pressure of a very loud and vocal minority. I want to buy a copy of every book removed from a middle school or high school reading list for every student in that school. I want to tell every single one of those parents who object to any book their child brings home to leave their objections at the door of their house. They have no right beyond that. My goodness, if they’re that afraid of what their children might be reading in school, why are they sending them to school in the first place? Home schooling is an option in every state of the Union, you know.

Books are the best weapons

Books open minds, point in new directions, reveal different viewpoints, question received wisdom. Books encourage thought. Books are powerful. This power threatens certain individuals. I get that. But be afraid in your own house, and stay out of my library.

By the way, some 40-plus years later, I still have not read The Exorcist. Not because my mother still forbids it. In fact, when relaying this story at a family gathering several years ago, Mom said, “Well, you’re allowed to read it now if you want to.”

Thanks, Mom.

(NOTE: This piece was originally written for 2012 Banned Books Week, but I liked it so much that it’s now become an annual essay.

Book review: The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber

The Book of Strange New ThingsThe Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

“Blessed are you, Simon bar Jonah…you are Peter, and upon this rock will I build my Church, and the gates of Hell will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:17-18, excerpted

Peter, a Christian pastor from England — denomination unnamed but probably Anglican or Methodist — is selected out of many applicants to go to a distant planet as a missionary. After much discussion with his wife, Bea, Peter accepts the challenge and rockets away to Oasis to preach the Gospel to the natives.

Upon arrival, Peter quickly makes the acquaintance of the Oasans, as he calls them, and decides to live among them to better deliver God’s Word daily, rather than stay at the human settlement and visit the Oasans once or twice a week. He commences leading Bible studies; he oversees the construction of a church; he starts translating the Bible, known by the Oasans as The Book of Strange New Things, into the Oasan language; and he begins losing all but the most tenuous contact with his fellow humans, even his wife. Meanwhile, Bea is sending increasingly frantic and frightening messages from Earth, where all Hell seems to be breaking loose.

Let’s talk about Peter for just a moment. A former drug addict and alcoholic, he turned his life around when he met Bea; he became a Christian under her influence, and not just a Christian but an ordained minister. His name is no coincidence: like Simon bar Jonah above, he became a different person when he met Christ, and literally built a new church in a new world, despite facing opposition and misunderstanding and prejudice on nearly all sides.

Allegorical characterization aside, this is not a “Christian” novel by any stretch of the imagination and non-religious folks should not hesitate to dive right in. It’s a fish-out-of-water story. It’s a do-the-best-that-you-can-with-what-you-have story. It’s a character study of a man under extraordinary stress. The parts of the story that focus on Peter’s missionary work aren’t intended to evangelize the reader: this is simply what Peter does and who he is, and his story couldn’t be told without discussing the teachings of Christ.

Michel Faber leaves a few dangling threads in his narrative. For example, it seems odd that USIC, the multinational conglomerate funding the Oasis expedition, would want a minister as part of their team until one discovers that the native population of the planet in question demands it, and is withholding the food supply from the humans currently on the planet until said missionary arrives. So, Peter as replacement is easily understood, but why was a missionary — specifically, a Christian missionary — included in the first place? That question is left unanswered. And the grim foreboding that seemed to be building up about the planet, its climate, and its natives, was left completely unresolved. The plot didn’t take the direction I expected, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it did leave me wondering if I had misinterpreted all that foreshadowing. The ambivalent ending left me somewhat dissatisfied, even as I realized there was no other way to resolve the storyline: thus, the three-star rating rather than a four-star. Regardless, writing and characterization were excellent, and for a non-traditional SF writer, Faber did a pretty good job with his world-building. While I still regard The Crimson Petal and the White as Faber’s best work, The Book of Strange New Things showcases his versatility.

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FO Friday: Weekend with the Swan Princess Shawl

Weekend Shawl 6I finished up this beauty Monday evening.

Pattern:  Le Weekend Shawlette by Jan Henry.  Click here for my Ravelry project page.   The pattern is a bottom-up short row crescent, and very easy to follow, although I made a few modifications.  After all the short rows were done as written, I didn’t really like the look of the edges, so I picked up the slipped stitches along the edges (11 stitches each) and continued the short rows until all stitches were knitted (200 total on needle).  To mitigate the stockinette roll at the top, I added an eyelet row (K2tog, YO), then two rows of garter stitch before binding off.

Weekend Shawl 9Yarn:  Miss Babs Cosmic Sock, 304 yards, colorway Swan Princess – hence, the name of the shawl.  The colorway was a limited edition “Babette” and is no longer available.  The yarn is spectacular with a gorgeous color spectrum and a smooth hand.  It had some minor bleeding when soaked for a wet block, but a dash of vinegar in the sink fixed that little issue.

Needles:  Addi Turbo 32″ circular, size 7 for the body, size 9 for the bindoff.

Size:  After blocking and relaxing, 65 inches wide, 12 inches deep.

Satisfaction with end result:  I love this so much I’m tempted to keep it myself rather than put it in the gift pile.

Weekend Shawl 8One more picture to show off here, but you can see several others on my Ravelry project page.

This post is part of Freshly Finished Fridays, a link round-up normally hosted by HardKnitLife, but she seems to be a little late posting the linkup.  Regardless, Shadow’s KnitKnacks stepped into the breach.  Click the badge to be taken to the roundup.  Add your link and read a few others!

Freshly Finished Friday

FO Friday: The Gallatin Scarf

Today’s featured finished project was completed so quickly it didn’t even get its own Work In Progress Wednesday blog entry!

Gallatin 4Pattern:  Gallatin Scarf by Kris Basta (click here for my Ravelry project page)

Yarn:  Kudo by Plymouth, colorway #45 Cream Blue Gray. It’s too bad this yarn is discontinued. It’s surprisingly warm, given that it contains no wool, making it the perfect choice for people with wool allergies.

Needles:  Addi Turbo circs, US 10, with a 29-inch cable.  The pattern calls for US 10.5, but I didn’t like the look of the lace with that large a needle.  Dropping down a needle size made the scarf somewhat smaller, but not enough that it made a difference in wearability.

Size:  68 inches wide by 9 inches deep, unblocked

Gallatin 2Satisfaction with end product:  Very pleased.  I didn’t block this scarf because I liked the rustic look it has unblocked.  Even without blocking, the scarf is plenty long enough to wrap around the neck twice, or wear kerchief style as shown on the model (um, that would be yours truly). I love how Kudo’s long color repeats worked out to accentuate the striping effect created by the alternating stockinette/reverse stockinette above the lace edging.

The long cable was a little unwieldy at the beginning, considering the pattern starts off by casting on just four stitches.  If I make this again, which is a possibility, I’ll use a shorter cable at the start and switch to a longer cable midway through.

Freshly Finished Friday

Also, this makes one more Christmas gift down, once I figure out the appropriate giftee.  :)

This post is part of the Freshly Finished Friday round-up hosted by HardKnitLife.  Click the badge to see who else has finished items to show off this week.

WIP Wednesday: Apparently I have become a shawl person

Tardis shawl 6A couple of years ago, I made my first shawl (Bigger on the Inside) (pictured at left) because it was Whovian and thus irresistible.  But I insisted that I was not a shawl person.  I didn’t wear shawls, except on the rare occasions spouse and I attended an event that involved wearing a Little Black Dress (or a red one, in my case).  And then I discovered I quite liked those little lace crescent-shaped scarf-like shawls and the small triangular shawlettes: they were perfect for covering my head and warming my neck in winter while waiting for the MARTA train.

Flash forward to the present, take a look at my recent WIP and FO posts, and what do you find?  Shawls.  And shawls.  And more shawls.  It’s official.  I am now a shawl person.

Le Weekend 1So it’s fitting that today’s WIP is another shawl.  I’ve been trying to find the right pattern for this purple variegated yarn for quite some time.  Le Weekend (a free Ravelry pattern) must be the third or fourth pattern I’ve tried, and so far I’m very pleased with how it looks.

I’m still seaming the Tunisian Terror.  You won’t see any more pics of that beast until it’s finished.  I also started and finished another scarf over the long weekend, and that will be the subject of a Freshly Finished Friday post later this week.

Stitch Along WednesdayThis post is part of the Stitch-Along Wednesday link-up hosted by Gracey’s Goodies.  Click that badge over there to see who else is busy stitching away.  Also check out Shadow’s Knit Knacks for more WIP Wednesday goodness.

FO Friday, and Happy WordPress Anniversary to me

Five years ago today I established this blog, or so WordPress says.  Has it really been that long?  I had no idea.  I moved over here from Vox, which at that time was a going-out-of-business blog platform and not a vibrant and flourishing news site.  So, yay, and happy WordPress anniversary to me.  As an anniversary gift, I present to you another blog entry.  :)

I finished a book and a scarf this week.

The book was Seveneves by Neal Stephenson: hard SF at its finest, but easily accessible for non-scientists and non-mathematicians like me.  The moon is destroyed and Earth is running out of time.  How will the human race survive this extinction event?  Read it and find out.  Even if you don’t care for science fiction itself, this is so well-written and moving, the humanity of the story might win you over.  Click the book cover to read the full non-spoilery review.

Chinook 8Now, the scarf. You saw this first on last week’s WIP Wednesday. Because I, um, have been avoiding sewing up the Tunisian Terror, this scarf-cum-shawlette got lots of attention.

PatternChinook Scarf by Ali Green.  Very well-written pattern, really easy to follow.

Yarn: Cozette by Knit One Crochet Two, 257 yards of a 275-yard skein.  Colorway: Sea Glass.

Needles: Addi Turbo Clicks with a short cable, US size 7.

Size:  64 inches wide, 14 inches deep

Chinook 12Satisfaction with end product:  I think it’s grand.  The scarf is ultra-lightweight because of the high silk content of the yarn, plus it has a lovely drape.  I love the knitted-in I-cord edging along the top, which made a sturdy and even straight edge to support the rest of the design. The icy color will coordinate well with many outfits.  It should make a nice transitional piece or year-round accessory.  It’s intended as a gift.  Now I just have to figure out who it belongs to.

Chinook 11Because I don’t know when to quit, here are a couple more photos.  As always, click any of the photos to see them full size.

Chinook 6Freshly Finished FridayThis blog entry is part of the Freshly Finished Friday round-up hosted by HardKnitLife.  Click that badge to see what other folks have finished this week and add your link to the list.  Also linked with Gracey’s Goodies, so check that out too.

Book review: A Sudden Light by Garth Stein

A Sudden LightA Sudden Light by Garth Stein
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Trevor Riddell is spending the summer with his father at his father’s family estate. Trevor would rather be elsewhere, but as part of a trial separation, Trevor’s father Jones insisted the boy come with him to rural Washington State rather than accompany his mother to England to be with her family. Jones’s purpose in visiting his estranged and ailing father Samuel is to get Samuel to sign over power of attorney so Jones and his sister Serena can sell off the major portion of the estate and recoup the family fortune. Samuel has good days and bad days: on his good days, he is adamantly opposed to selling off any portion of the Riddell lands; on his bad days, he is confused, insisting he hears and sees his deceased wife dancing in the ballroom, and writing cryptic messages on Post-it notes. And then Trevor begins hearing voices as well.

Part ghost story, part coming-of-age novel, part family saga, A Sudden Light is chock-full of all the gloomy gothic atmosphere one could possibly desire. And while it does get a bit draggy in the middle, it’s still a joy to read, with a dramatic denouement and a satisfying, if bittersweet, ending.

I didn’t realize this book was by the same author who wrote The Art of Racing in the Rain, which I hated, until I picked it up from the library. It’s a good thing I didn’t know that or I probably wouldn’t have read it, thus missing out on a real treat.  High fives all around. I won’t hesitate to pick up Mr. Stein’s next novel, so long as it’s not told from the point of view of an animal.

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Book review: Sometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite

Sometimes the WolfSometimes the Wolf by Urban Waite
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

I had put this on a list of “must reads” and requested it from the library, but to save my life, I can’t remember why. The only thing I can think of is I must have read a highly favorable blurb somewhere from some person or on some website I respect. It’s probably a good thing I don’t remember because that respect would be diminished.

“As muscular and laconic as anything by Cormac McCarthy” says the cover blurb. I’ve only read one book by McCarthy (The Road) and I did not enjoy it. This should have been my warning when I picked it up.

My quibble is not with the story.  The story’s fine: A disgraced sheriff is released from prison to the custody of his adult son, now the deputy sheriff of the same small town, but the FBI agent who investigated his previous crime still doesn’t believe justice has been served; family drama ensues.  All the twists and turns are quite well done.

My quibble is with the writing itself, most especially with the constant incomplete sentences that make up the majority of the paragraphs. At times I found myself saying, out loud, “For crying out loud, just put a verb in there, would ya?” I also rewrote sentences in my head as I read them, adding punctuation here, joining clauses and making complete sentences there, so the paragraphs weren’t so choppy and disjointed. This is not “muscular and laconic”, this is lazy writing and turn-a-blind-eye editing.

Look, I’m all for authors developing their own style, and use of the occasional subordinate clause in place of a full sentence is fine for effect — emphasis being on “occasional” — but generally speaking, the conventions of sentence and paragraph structure must still apply, or else why bother?

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WIP Wednesday: The end of the Tunisian Terror is in sight

Remember the Tunisian Terror?  The blanket I started for my mother in April 2014?  I finished all the crocheting in April of this year and then started the embellishments.  Behold!  All the cross-stitching is done!

Mom's Tunisian 28

Here it is laid out in the order in which it will be assembled.  Now all that remains is the sewing together of the squares.  One row is sewn, eight rows remain to be sewn, and then comes stitching the rows to each other and putting a border on it.  Stitching the squares together doesn’t really take long: I can do one row in an evening of TV watching, but truthfully, I’m so sick of looking at this thing that the blanket is lucky if I even pick up one row in a week.

Aarons Baby 1 Chinook 1Also in progress, two new projects — first, a baby blanket, the tried-and-true giant granny square of many colors for a colleague who is expecting a boy.  All the leftover yarn from the Tunisian Terror is coming in handy for this one.  I have another colleague also expecting a baby, but gender is unknown at this point, so that blanket will wait a bit.  Also, I started another Christmas gift, the Chinook scarf, out of the drapy-est silk and cotton blend you ever felt, in a color called Sea Glass.

In book news, I just finished A Sudden Light by Garth Stein and started Seveneves by Neal Stephenson.  Review pending of the Garth Stein book but it will be a favorable one.  I’m less than 100 pages into the Stephenson and completely enthralled.

100_4341 (2)Bonus picture:  Here’s Phoebe, who keeps me company when I’m here in my craft room writing or winding yarn or planning projects or simply goofing around on Facebook.  She’s getting older these days and doesn’t have any teeth left, but she’s still a good dog.  Aren’t you, sweetie?  Of course you are.

This post is part of Stitch-Along Wednesday.  Click on that badge below to see what other folks have been up to this week.  Also, go check out Shadow’s Knit Knacks Link-up post and add your link at the bottom.

Stitch Along Wednesday

FO Friday: It’s a shawl!

Gingko Crescent 10PatternGingko Crescent Shawl by Jade Keaney (free pattern on Ravelry).  For Ravelry members, here’s the link to my project page.  Omigod, this pattern.  I had to completely rewrite it because when I knit it as written, the shawl came out with a camel’s hump that would never ever ever block out.  Even after rewriting it using top down short rows, it came out with a hump, but not nearly as bad as the original, so I let it go.  Gingko Crescent 3Here’s a thumbnail of the shawl after I rewrote the pattern, with the hump, before blocking. You can click the pic to see it larger. Humpback issues aside, the lace pattern is nicely charted and easy to follow.

Yarn:  Surf by Mondial.  298 yards.  As far as I can discover, this yarn is discontinued, so here are its vitals:  100% cotton, says it’s sport-weight, but personally, I think it’s fingering.  Plied construction.  Feels nice in the hands, and knit up with a lovely drape.  I wouldn’t mind having more of it if I could find it.

Gingko Crescent 11Needles:  Addi Click Turbo circulars in sizes 6, 7, and 8.  Size 6 for the actual knitting, size 7 for the very last row, and size 8 for the bind off.  I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  Buying those Addi interchangeable needles was worth every single penny.

Satisfaction with end product:  I like it.  It’s pretty.  It’s intended as a gift, so I hope its recipient will like it too.  The pooling of the yarn was nicely distributed, giving it an impressionistic feel with the pastel colors.  And it’s a bit of a chameleon: the standout color varies depending on its surroundings, so the shawl may seem predominately yellow/orange in one view, but the blue and pink may be more obvious in the next.

Now, about this pattern.  The original called for casting on with a garter tab, then knitting in stockinette with increases until you reached a certain number of stitches, then beginning the lace pattern.  Sounds pretty standard, yes?  The problem is the increases were both poorly placed and insufficient to create a real crescent shape.  Instead, we got a pointed ovoid with a camel’s hump on one long edge and pretty lacy leaves on the other.  (I really should have taken a photo before frogging my initial effort.)  So here’s what I did to fix it:

Gingko Crescent 12Begin Pattern

CO 99. Knit 2 rows.

Row 3: K2, YO, K1, YO, [K2tog, YO] to last 4, K1, YO, K1, YO, K2. (103 stitches)

Row 4: K2, YO, P to last 2, YO, K2. (105 stitches)

Row 5: K2, YO, K1, YO, K to last 3, YO, K1, YO, K2. (109 stitches)

Row 6: K2, YO, P to last 2, YO, K2. (111 stitches)

Repeat Pattern Rows 5 & 6 twice. (123 stitches)

Begin short rows:

1. K2, YO, K1, YO, K to 10 before edge, wrap and turn
2. P to 12 before edge, W&T
3. K to 5 before gap, W&T
4. P to 5 before gap, W&T

Repeat short rows 3 and 4 until 12 stitches remain between wraps.

5. K to last 3, picking up wraps, YO, K1, YO, K2
6. K2, YO, P to last 2, picking up wraps, YO, K2. (129 stitches)

 Begin pattern again.  Repeat pattern rows 5 and 6 10 times. (189 stitches)

Gingko Crescent 7Begin second section of short rows:

1. K2, YO, K1, YO, K to 20 before edge, wrap and turn
2. P to 22 before edge, W&T
3. K to 10 before gap, W&T
4. P to 10 before gap, W&T

Repeat short rows 3 and 4 until 23 stitches remain between wraps.

5. K to last 3, picking up wraps, YO, K1, YO, K2
6. K2, YO, P to last 2, picking up wraps, YO, K2. (195 stitches)

 Begin pattern again.  Repeat pattern rows 5 and 6 once. (201 stitches)

Begin lace chart as written.

Gingko Crescent 8After allowing the shawl to relax after blocking, we have a better crescent shape, although still not perfect.  The cotton yarn just wouldn’t hold on to that straight edge.  I think a wool yarn would do better.  Overall, though, I’m pleased.  Truth time: this is the first time I’ve done such a major rewrite of a pattern.  If anyone else tries this, especially if you use a wool yarn, let me know how it turns out!

Freshly Finished FridayThis post is part of the Freshly Finished Friday round up. Click on the badge to see what other crafters have completed this week.