Sunday, March 29, 2009

Whirlwind weekend

After arriving home from Franklin's booksigning at Loop Friday night, I could barely sleep, I was so vibrating with excitement. The day had been a whirlwind of activity: the airport run (I saw a hilarious sticker on the escalator that said "God has a plan -- to kill me."), a quick stop at the house to drop off his things (Franklin's, not God's), we hit the elementary school for a sneek peak of Elvis' debut in the school musical:

we grabbed a late lunch and then it was off to Loop.

Not surprisingly, people turned out in droves to meet Franklin (or see him again, as the case may be), including the fearless Anne Marie and the lovely button creator Regina,

and then Regina (hmm, can it be that Regina is a ham? well, if my hair were that pretty, I would be too) posed with His Nibs himself:

A Franklin fangrrl came wearing this beautiful Bohus sweater (from a kit direct from Sweden):

I was thrilled to meet meet blogreaders Kim and Mary Ellen (thanks for introducing yourself! comment once in a while, willya?) and I was also very excited to meet Heather Ross, author of Weekend Knitting, who was appearing next door at Spool. While there, I got to meet the famous (and infamous) Jay McCarroll of Project Runway fame, who grew up just a few miles from where I did, and I had the great fortune of going out to dinner after the signing with Heather, and her publicist, and Craig, and pals Laura G. and Jim, and Craig's delightful partner Mark, and Spool co-owner Laura, and the charming Tom (not my Tom, though, another charming Tom).

Now, Heather is one of those people who would fill me with an inferiority complex (she's gorgeous! she's blonde! she's talented! she's funny! she is an excellent raconteur! she's taped a Martha Stewart episode!) except she's so nice and warm that she makes you feel right at home. I also became very fond of her sidekick Leslie (how'd that booty call go, Leslie?) who was also funny and smart and fun. So thanks to Craig for inviting me along and for bringing Franklin to Philadelphia.

I had barely dropped Franklin off at Loop so he could teach his lace class, when I had to rush back home to prepare to attend the last two performances of Cinderella (the Rodgers & Hammerstein production), with Elvis as the Herald. It was astonishing that a bunch of nine-, ten- and eleven-year olds could put on such a wonderful show.

(I'm very proud of those three red costumes on the right, above -- I made them!)

Elvis' brother

and sister

were very proud, too. (Would Miss Thang give up the chance to assume what she views as her rightful place, i.e., a throne?)

It was a busy and extremely fun weekend, and it was a nice break from my frantic knitting-on-a-deadline. Come back soon, Franklin! Your Philly fans miss you already!

Friday, March 27, 2009



It has been forcefully brought to my attention that Franklin may not be the only BFF desirous of a Blingee. No offense intended, Dolores, I'm sure.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The 75% Point of Despair

In every project that I do on a deadline, I hit what I think of as the "75% Point of Despair." It's the time I get close to the end of the project, close enough that I can start to taste what it will feel like to be done but with the finish line far enough away that I despair I will ever reach it.

The worst part is the certainty that the project I happen to be in the midst of is the biggest pile of crap ever knat upon. Every unevenness in tension starts to alarm me (should I have gone back and redone that part of the waistband?), even little inconsistencies that the rational side of me knows will block out (that little voice whispers insistently: but what if they don't?!). I start thinking of all the other ways I could have done it -- a different edging, a contrast color, a new stitch pattern. It looks too plain, or too tarted up. I am convinced my gauge has been thrown off no matter how often I measure it (it's hard to make progress when you check gauge five times per row). I think of the stuff I see in books or magazines or on Ravelry -- a Norah Gaughan here, an Eunny Jang there -- and shudder at the thought of my crappy project just a click away from those masterpieces. I look at it, its unblocked, sad mass of stitches cowering meekly under my scowl, and know that I just don't have enough time to redo it, even if my dissatisfaction were rational and I could figure out its source.

I'm around that point now, and I'm working with someone whose work I have long loved and who could make a paper hat folded from newspaper look like Chanel's best creation. (No pressure there.)

So I'm very happy that I will be greeting someone special at the airport tomorrow,


in time for a meet-and-greet Friday evening and a lace class Saturday at Loop. The 75% Point of Despair hardly ever lasts, but even if it tried, how could one possibly stay mired in the depths of despair when Franklin's coming?

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

You can see where this is going, can't you?

The other day, I received a copy of Weekend Sewing: More Than 40 Projects and Ideas for Inspired Stitching by Heather Ross (Stewart Tabori & Chang 2009). Now I suppose if I had thought about it, I would have realized that just as there has been a renaissance in the knitting world since I was knitting with harvest-gold Wintuk yarn in the 1970s, so there has been a renaissance in the fabric world since my mother made me godawful harvest gold polyester clothes in the 1970s. However, I had no idea of all the gorgeous and fun fabrics that were out there. (Spool, here I come!) Weekend Sewing was a beautiful, packed-with-color reminder of all the lovely things that are going on in the fabric world, a veritable invitation to sew things other than Halloween costumes.

I hesitate to call this a "No-Bull Book Review," since my knowledge of the fabric world is far inferior to my knowledge of the knitting world, but let me tell you a little bit about the book. I trust that my faithful readers who know more about quilting and sewing than I do will chime in in the comments section to set me straight on anything I screw up.

Weekend Sewing was written by Heather Ross, a New York textile designer who teaches sewing at Purl Soho and who designs fabric and sleepwear. She blogs here. In the introduction to her book, Ross tells of a charming childhood spent in a one-room schoolhouse in the Vermont mountains where she and her twin sister learned to sew and knit at a young age, spending hours outdoors when the weather was good and hours inside executing craft projects to while away the long winters. Her aim in writing Weekend Sewing was to celebrate the times, mainly on weekends and holidays, when she is able to put aside deadlines and sew for pure pleasure, those times when she is "able to immerse [my]self fully in the joy of sewing [and] lose track of time and even myself, just like I did as a child."

Ross begins with a brief discussion of how to create a sewing space in your home. She includes storage ideas (must be the New Yorker in her, trying to make the most out of limited square footage), showing a clever sewing desk with storage for the machine inside an ottoman and a sewing cabinet that folds up all the supplies neatly inside. There's also a chapter at the end covering sewing basics, including how to choose a machine (with tips for buying new and used/vintage), explaining the parts of the sewing machine, how to choose fabric (good discussion of drape vs. body, fabric weight and stretch), how to "true" the fabric, layout and cutting of patterns, overview of tools, basic stitches, and how to do buttons and buttonholes. It's a pretty comprehensive section considering it's less than twenty pages long. It served as a good reminder for me of some sewing principles I'd forgotten -- and I learned a few new things, too.

Of course, the meat of the book are the patterns and the gorgeous photographs of them. Chapter 1 focuses on projects for the home and there are twelve, ranging from smaller items like a checkbook cover and napkins made of fat quarters, to a cute hostess apron (it cracks me up the way today's domestic divas are taking back the apron),

photographs by John Gruen

pillowcases and slippers for the guest room, and various totes and bags.

Chapter 2 features women's clothing, and I was surprised by how charming they were: a sundress, a button-front shirtwaist dress,

a wraparound skirt, pajama pants for everyone in the family, a halter and skirt combo,

and a few accessories like a headscarf and a tote.

The last project chapter has children's items, some for babies, like bloomers and an adorable kimono,

others for toddlers, including some cute sundresses

and even a boy's shirt (yay for boy patterns).

I've only dabbled in sewing, though I did take a quilting course years ago, and was forced to take a heinous sewing class as part of junior high "home economics" (the ninety-year-old instructor did little else but mutter dourly about how "you girls need to learn to pick up pins") but the directions seem clear and easy-to-follow. In the back of the book is a folded-up insert containing pattern pieces. I like that there are lots of little drawings to help illustrate the written directions, and I also appreciate that each pattern contains a paragraph which gives specific information about the type(s) of fabric that are appropriate for that pattern (i.e. whether the fabric should be woven or knit, light or heavyweight, and so on) -- very helpful for fabric newbies like me. Interspersed with the patterns and sewing instructions are insets containing recipes, tips for sewing with children or sewing on the go, suggested music to sew by, and so on.

So this knitter gives Weekend Sewing two thumbs-up for its attractive yet easy-enough-for-a-newbie projects, the gorgeous photography, the eye candy aspect of the fabrics, and the overall charm of its presentation.

Indeed, I was so charmed by the book that I found myself thinking of Miss Thang, who is seven and still young enough to wear stuff her mom makes. . . and before you know it, I found myself on the Glorious Color website (proprietor Liza is a pal) and then a day or two later, the postman delivered these, which I had liberated from Liza's on-line shop:

The trippy psychedelic deer/mushrooms and the bumblebees at the top are from the Jay McCarroll line (the Project Runway guy who grew up just a few miles from where I did in northeastern PA).

I need another hobby like I need a hole in the head. Yet circumstances are colluding to drag me, kicking and screaming (ha!), into playing with fabric.

Damn that Melanie Falick. Damn her and her gorgeous books, with their beautiful color photographs, luscious presentation, appealing projects, and clear directions. Melanie, the next time I hear my husband muttering about the "yarn museum" in the upstairs closet or the sewing machine on the dining room table, I'm sending him straight to you. It's all your fault, you know.

Two important notes:
  • You'll find an FAQ/errata page for the book here. Best to check here before you purchase fabric or other supplies for a project.
  • Heather Ross will be appearing at Spool in Philadelphia this very weekend. She's doing a booksigning this Friday evening, from 5 to 8 p.m. Details here. You can pop next door to see her while you're visiting Franklin Habit at Loop. If I can drag myself away from Dolores for a few minutes, I'm hoping to get her to sign my book.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Happy anniversary to Ewe (and I)!

Yesterday was my booksigning at Ewe and I, a lovely (and huge!) knitting shop which one year ago came under new ownership and moved from Bryn Mawr to Narberth. If you've never been to Narberth, it is a suburb on the Main Line that has managed to retain a very un-snobby (especially for the Main Line) small town feel. It has an old-fashioned main street

with the greatest hardware store (not a chain, thank you!) and an amazing cheese shop and now it even has a fabric shop and, of course, a fabulous knitting shop. Everything is walkable in Narberth and it's a very friendly place. (I used to live there in my single days...)

Ewe and I was celebrating its first anniversary at its Narberth location. Before that, the shop was located in Bryn Mawr, but now it's bigger and better and has lots more gorgeous yarn, stuff like Rowan, and Blue Sky Alpacas and Cascade and Berroco and Noro and more. . .

We had a wonderful time, and I got to see Anmiryam (oh God, I hope I spelled your name right finally) who is modeling a very nice Noro sweater she made:

My friend Joann came and I got to meet Helen and Ilana (this is Ilana -- she's a riot, you'd love her)

and there was chocolate cake. I will definitely be returning soon to Ewe and I (even if the cake is all gone).

(This is me and Diana, the nice owner lady.)

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Reminder: Booksigning in Narberth this Sunday!

I’ll be booksigning this Sunday, March 22d, from 1 to 3 pm at Ewe and I, in their Narberth location. I'll be bringing the sample socks so that you can see what they look like in real life – it’s really fun to see them up close and personal.

Ewe and I is located at 221 Haverford Ave in Narberth -- if you need public transportation info, the R5 train stops right down the street. It’s Ewe & I’s one-year anniversary at their new Narberth location – it’s a lovely shop so if you can, stop by and say hello!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Happy St. Patrick's Day

to everyone except The Hanged Man. (John, I wish you a day free of green beer and faux "Irish" music like The Unicorn Song.)

funny pictures of cats with captions

Monday, March 16, 2009

For you, on my birthday

A nekkid photo of myself:

Let the festivities begin!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Spring must be close. . .

if a person dressed like a cup of water ice is waving at traffic.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Cyclops sez...

If I had two good eyes, I'd spend some time today perusing the new and improved website at Nashua Handknits. They have their spring stuff posted and the photographs of the patterns look great -- and enticing. It looks like they added a pattern searcher with free patterns available -- and is that a new, 100% silk yarn I see? Mmmmmm.....

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

My left eye is a slut.

I can't believe I'm not saving this for a "16 Random Things About Me" meme on Facebook, but I have the dubious distinction of having sustained blunt force trauma in my left eye due to getting smacked in the face with a field hockey stick while a freshman in college. I went out for my college's team after loving the sport in high school and someone's backswing hit me in the eye. I was in the hospital for a week with a hyphema (I'm sure WebMD can tell you all about it...) and luckily I suffered no lasting effects except an increased likelihood of getting various nasty things like cataracts and glaucoma.

But understandably, should I ever have any difficulties with that particular eye, I get a little nervous.

Last week, I started to have some problems with my eye. My left eye. They got worse, then a little better, then came back, and after a very unsatisfactory encounter with one of those scheduling "gatekeepers" (No, I don't want to drive 45 minutes into West Philly when the office I've always gone to is five minutes from my house. No, I don't really care what your policy on "emergencies" is. Can you spell your last name for me? So that when I sue your employer for making me drive 45 minutes instead of 5 WITH A BUM EYE so that I die in a twisting wreck of grinding car parts my heirs spell it right on the complaint?)

A smart person suggested that I just go to the office five minutes from my house and ask them to schedule me an appointment, offering to wait. This sounded like a good idea, and lo and behold, it worked. It helped that I uttered what are the opthamological magic words (they are "I'm seing a halo around lights", in case you ever need them; the receptionist kept repeating in a hushed tone, "That's retinal"). I did have to suffer through an hour of Rachael Ray in the waiting room (there's a reason they call her followers "Raytards") and twenty minutes of The View (if Dr. Phil came on, I would have turned off the teevee. Or beat it with a sledgehammer.).

The diagnosis? Optical herpes. (I knew I should never have allowed that truck driver to put his blister-covered penis into my eye!) No, it's not the sexually-transmitted kind, it's the cold sore kind. I figured it must be serious because I am charged with using antiviral eyedrops 7 times a day, and I have a follow-up appointment on Friday and another next week. Also, did I mention my eye hurts?

So once again, I must ask your forbearance if I get a little behinder.

Monday, March 09, 2009

No-Bull Book Review: French Girl Knits, by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes

At some point or another in their knitting evolution, every knitter starts to play with the technique of knitting sweaters in the round. The siren call of “no seams to sew” is just too tempting, especially if you find that finishing doesn’t appeal to you the way that knitting does. But I’ve seen a lot of knitters complain that knitting sweaters in the round feels limiting: yes, you can do yokes and raglans very easily, but if your personal style is less traditional and more trendy, you may want more options or lack the technical knowledge to create, say, set-in sleeves. So it was with great curiosity that I opened up French Girl Knits: Innovative Techniques, Romantic Details, and Feminine Designs, by Kristeen Griffin-Grimes (Interweave Press 2009; available for $16.47 through the link at the time of this writing), a book which strives to construct knit-in-the-round sweaters with a very distinctive style and custom fit.

Griffin-Grimes explains in the introduction to her book how time spent in France molded her sensibility:

The French were masters of an art that had nothing to do with money and everything to do with an appreciation of the small lovely moments in life. . . . After days spent trying to capture that illusive French aesthetic on film and notepad, I returned home deeply inspired to infuse my life with all things beautiful. This soon translated into a rejuvenated interest in the needle arts and the luscious fibers that had begun to appear in the marketplace.

Griffin-Grimes describes her aim in writing French Girl Knits as threefold: a desire to capture that French sensibility, to create beautiful garments with exceptional details, and to use seamless construction for ease of knitting and custom fit. A tall order, indeed.

The book is divided into four chapters: La Boutique Parisienne, Enfant Sauvage, La Créatrice and Dans La Rue. So let’s help ourselves to a croissant, a creamy Camembert or a glass of French white (hell, let’s have all three), and look at each in turn.

Chapter 1 -- La Boutique Parisienne – is subtitled “Romantic and Vintage Inspired,” and the designs, in the author’s words, attempt “to capture the feminine silhouette and color palette of a bygone era with designs that will let you fashion graceful, figure-enhancing garments.” Four garments are featured, Satine (an ethereal tunic-length tank, with lacy stitches, knit in a mohair-silk blend); Sophia, a cardigan knit with an openwork stitch pattern and a cabled edging, in a cotton blend yarn (it's the cover sweater); Anjou, another lacy tunic but with short sleeves and a tie hem detail;

and Paloma, a cap-sleeve top knit in a linen-merino blend, with more openwork and a ribbon neckline.

Chapter 2 is called “Enfant Sauvage” (which roughly translates as “wild child”) and is subtitled “Rustic with a gypsy edge.” Griffin-Grimes describes this look as “rustic, yet refined, casual yet elegant – the look is approachable and wearable with sculptural stitch elements and cables and tints from the natural dyepot or straight-from-the-sheep colorways.” Nadine is a tunic-length tank with lace panels running vertically, knit in an organic bamboo/cotton blend;

Wrenna is a short-sleeve cardigan knit in chunky wool, with an arrowhead motif, nearly portrait-style collar and leather lacings;

Stella is a jacket with long, flute-like sleeves and scalloped edging, knit with short rows and biasing panels, knit in one strand of aran-weight wool blend and a strand of Kid Silk Haze; Cybèle, a vest or tank that laces up the front, with horizontal cables;

and Ondine, a wrap-style skirt, slighted felted, with appliqués.

La Créatrice (“the creator”) is subtitled “Innovative and unconventional.” The garments in this chapter seek to celebrate the creative process, mistakes and all. Thus we have Delphine, a barely-cap-sleeve top knit in an alpaca/silk blend, with eyelets and a scoop-neck with a ribbon closure;

Niobe, a round-neck pullover with bell sleeves and openwork at cuffs and hem and running down the sleeves (I wish this one were knit in a lighter-colored yarn and/or photographed a bit more clearly so the openwork detailing is more visible);

Celeste, a long, lacy mohair jacket with lots of drape;

and Simone, a cowl-necked sweater with fluted sleeves and eyelet ribbing.

The last chapter, “Dans La Rue” (“in the street”), with the subtitle “Streetwear with style,” is devoted to less structured, more casual styles, intended to be worn with jeans or even to top a basic black dress. Viola is a short-sleeved, button-front top, knit in Kid Silk Haze, with contrasting ruffles at neckline and cuffs; Martine is a short-sleeved hoodie with slip-stitch colorwork at cuff and neckline;

Louisa is another lacy tunic with a scoop-neck and ribbon edging; Véronique (ahem, is that name spelled properly? Not in my book. . .) is a sheer, drapey shrug; Bijou is a cotton cardigan with a buckle in front, constructed in halves, from sleeve cuff to body (it’s a bit more complicated than that, but you get the idea).

You’ve heard me say it over and over: for a pattern book to be a sensible and useful addition to your knitting library, you have to like the patterns in it, and this is largely a function of taste. So in order to know if French Girl Knits is for you, you need to decide if the patterns appeal to you. (It seems to me that the more distinctive a designer’s style, the more important it is for the potential purchaser to think about this, and Griffin-Grimes certainly has a very distinctive style – romantic, feminine, lacy, sheer – that may not appeal to everyone, lovely as it is.)

Leaving you to ponder the “to your taste” issue, I shall turn to a look at the nuts and bolts, and here French Girl Knits scores high. Paperback, approximately 159 pages, color throughout. Karla Baker’s interior design -- muted backgrounds of sage, gray, beige and maroon, little filigree-type trim and accents (forgive me for not knowing more about the technical terms for book design!) – perfectly suits the dreamy photography, adorned with dress forms, gold-framed mirrors, fuzzy streetscapes and green fields. I like that there is some diversity in the models, including (how to delicately phrase this?) a woman who would qualify for AARP membership and a model of Asian heritage. You’ll find schematics and charts; notes to help with the more unconventional methods of construction; and inset boxes that discuss helpful technical skills like how to improve fit, how to graft mohair yarn, and yarn substitution. Especially noteworthy are two- to three-page inserts in each of the chapters discussing the method of construction: top-down seamless set-in sleeve construction, side-to-side seamless construction, top-down seamless raglan construction and bottom-up seamless set-in sleeve construction.

All 18 garments are for women, and break down as:

  • 1 skirt
  • 1 shrug
  • 2 jackets
  • 4 short-sleeved cardigans
  • 4 short-sleeved pullovers
  • 3 tank tunics (if I had one quibble, I’d say one or two lacy tunics was enough)
  • 1 vest or corset
  • 2 long-sleeved pullovers

Gauges and yarns are all over the place. About 7 of the garments are done in worsted weight yarns; another six use Rowan’s Kid Silk Haze (or KSH Aura or Night, variations thereof), which is hard to peg since it can be knit at many different gauges; one is done in laceweight; two sportweight; two chunky; even a combination of an aran-weight plus a strand of Kid Silk Haze. The fiber selection is luxurious, including such wonderful fibers as the aforementioned KSH, Elsebeth Lavold Baby Llama; The Fiber Company’s Terra (merino/baby alpaca/silk – Hi, Courtney & Kate!); Blue Sky Alpacas alpaca/silk blend; and other gorgeous stuff (although if you are affected by the struggling economy, knitting full-sized garments in these luxury yarns may not fit into your budget). If substituting, you’ll have to look at the regular weight of the yarn and swatch, swatch, swatch, as most of the garments use lacy or other stitch patterns that may alter gauge to something atypical for that yarn. Size ranges go from early 30s (e.g. finished chest of 31 inches or 33 inches) to 40s (finished chest of anywhere from 41 or 43 inches to 48 inches) – so super-plus knitters be forewarned; you’ll want to check sizes before investing. Nothing in the 50- or 60-inch range here.

Just about all of the garments are designed to be knitted with a minimum of seam-sewing. There's lots of knitting in the round, but some of the patterns do require grafting, so the tradeoff for achieving some of the lovely effects is that you'll have to do some Kitchener-stitching sometimes. You'll find raglan and yokes, but also some set-in sleeves and some garments knit sideways. Not all of these patterns will be easy for novice knitters, but the fearless knitter will find some interesting techniques to try.

I vivdly remember seeing Griffin-Grimes’ booth for the first time at the June 2006 TNNA meeting. I was struck by the charming look of her designs: romantic but not too fussy, lots of lace stitch patterns and accents, and, of course, the ease of constructing so many garments circularly. It’s gratifying to see that her book fulfills the promise of that exciting beginning. It will be fun to see what’s next for this talented French Girl.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

New camera

I'm still learning how to use it, but after all my angst about adapting to a new camera, I'm encouraged. Lookit the nice photos I took of the laceweight I'm about to list on the BBF site (I'll update this post when everything is up, probably around 6 p.m. tonight):

What's interesting (to me, at least) is that these were taken at a time when the light isn't usually optimal for yarn photos. Which means that if I take photos when the light is best, the results should be even better, right?

Here is the very first photo taken with the new camera -- a great one:

Of course, I can't give all the credit to the camera, since they are two exceptionally good-looking models, no?

Update: Laceweight's posted.

Saturday, March 07, 2009

Heads up, BBF handspun fans....

The lovely SparkCrafted has opened an Etsy shop, purveying beauteous handspun yarns and stitch markers. Some of her handspun is even made with BBF fiber (but also the gorgeous colorways of Spunky Eclectic and other master artisans). Check it out here.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Another week slips by...

With a snow day Monday, a two-hour delay Tuesday, and my mom arriving for a visit Wednesday, then no school today and tomorrow? Not much getting done here.

Monday, March 02, 2009

February Book Report

It's always comforting to make a little progress on one of your New Year's resolutions. You may recall that last month, in my book report, I confessed that I felt I needed to inject a little variety into my reading, that I'd gotten into a rut. I resolved to read some of the books that I've been meaning to read for a while but for whatever reason never gotten to. Including some Good Books and some Great Books.

February was a pretty good month for that. I started out with the very thick The Naked and the Dead, by Norman Mailer. This is a kind of oddball choice for me, because I'm not excessively fond of war novels, and I've heard the criticism made over and over again that Mailer is a bit of a mysogynist. However, a couple of years ago, there used to be a show called "Great Books," that was essentially an hour-long documentary devoted to a classic book. It explained a bit about the plot, gave the author's background, set the book in historical context, told why it was considered so great, and so on. I happened to see the episode devoted to this book and it sounded interesting. A couple of years later, I finally got around to reading it.

If you're going to read a book that's considered An Important One, it's really gratifying to discover yourself caught up in it, truly appreciating why it's considered a masterpiece. TNATD takes place on a fictional island in the Pacific, during the second half of WWII. It follows a platoon of around a dozen American soldiers as they prepare to participate in the invasion and attempted conquest of this island. I was shocked at how fascinating I found the book, and how engaged I become in the stories of the individual men. Mailer writes in a very vivid and direct way. It is shocking to me that he was only around 24 or 25 when he wrote it. The descriptions of jungle warfare are so immediate and compelling that you first read through it quickly, to find out what happens, then go back and reread it, realizing how amazingly well-written certain passages are.

I liked that Mailer spent time getting inside the head of all the members of the platoon, giving a feel for the "melting pot" aspect of the military at this time and portraying the internal monologue of soldiers at every rank, from enlisted man through the general commanding them. It was a bit hard in the beginning keeping all the different men straight, but as you get more into the story, and learn more about their backgrounds, this became easier. In this book, Mailer does not mince words when it comes to portraying the politically incorrect attitudes among the military men during this time frame: yep, plenty of misogyny, along with racism, antisemitism, classism, and so on. I didn't feel that this was necessarily something Mailer was presenting because he approved of it, though; some of it was just part of the way things were at the time, and part of it was shown in order to convey how ridiculous it was.

So overall, two thumbs up for TNATD, tome that it is.

Next up: Middlesex: A Novel, by Jeffrey Eugenides. This was another book I'd heard many people rave about. I'd been given a copy as a Christmas gift a few years ago, but hadn't gotten to it yet. Middlesex has an unusual protagonist: the narrator is a hermaphrodite (get it? middle-sex) and part of the story concerns his experiences being raised as a girl, without he or his parents realizing that their child's genitalia are more complicated than that. Cal begins by insisting that his story can't be told except in the context of his family's story. So the story-within-a-story starts with Cal's grandparents, Greeks who are forced to flee when the Turks invade. His grandparents end up in Detroit, living with a cousin, and Eugenides follows their story down to the present day, when Cal is an adult living in Berlin.

Without giving away any plot details, I will just say that Middlesex struck me as really bizarre when I first started reading it, and I had to persist even though a plot development concerning Cal's grandparents kind of shkeeved me. But by the end of the book I was completely won over. The book was funny, well-written, full of interesting observations and nicely-turned phrases, and when I finished, I found myself feeling uplifted, even though a lot of tragic things happened to the characters in the book.

Goodbye, Columbus by Philip Roth, was recommended by Mr. Go-Knit-In-Your-Hat. Tom and I don't have identical tastes in reading; he is much more enamored of mid-twentieth-century stuff than I am. I find a lot of it just too gritty and depressing and misogynist and plain old not fun to read. Tom suggested this novella by Roth and I did enjoy it. It was a quick read -- less than 150 pages. The story is very 1950s-feeling: a young Jewish guy from Newark meets a young Jewish girl from Short Hills. Their summer love story is played out against major class issues, as well as the knowledge that when summer ends, Brenda will go back to college in Boston while Neil will continue at his job in Newark. Bittersweet, and if you liked The Graduate, you might enjoy this one.

Darling Jim: A Novel by Christian Moerk, was another one of those Amazon Vine selections that they sent to me for free in order to get a review of it. This book, set in Ireland, was a return to the escapist thriller/mystery genre that I was taking a break from. The title character is a storyteller with a magnetic, almost supernatural attractiveness that sucks women in as he begins to tell his stories at small-town pubs. Jim's path crosses with three sisters. After a one-night stand with Jim, the eldest sister starts to suspect that he is not only a storyteller, but a psychopath. The plot is kind of convoluted, and told through various characters' viewpoints: portions of the book consist of two of the sisters' diaries. Overall, this was an enjoyable read if you like gothic-type mysteries.

I will warn you that March may not be a book-heavy month. I subscribed to Netflix (I know, I'm the last person in the world to do so) and I've been catching up on movies and teevee shows. I've got some sample sweater knitting I'm working on, and it's been fun to watch Netflix (either by playing DVDs on my laptop or by watching their Instant streaming video) while working on my sweater.

While I'm talking about books, I would be remiss if I didn't send out a big happy birthday in honor of Dr. Seuss. Today would have been his 105th birthday -- and I very clearly remember having several Dr. Seuss books that I dearly loved as a kid: Green Eggs and Ham, and Dr. Seuss's ABC ("Ichabod is itchy") were two of my favorites.