Reading progress report, July & August

I took a four-week intensive course during most of July and the first week of August, so unsurprisingly I didn’t get any non-coursework-related reading done. After that I started A Little Life, got a couple hundred pages in, and realized that it was turning into a very different book than I thought, and not in a good way. I won’t bother to write a review, since I didn’t finish it, but the one from the New York Review of Books sums with my opinion.

This left me in a bit of a quandary, since A Little Life was a replacement book for one that I’d already not finished (Fates & Furies). Ultimately I decided that I’m still going to count it, since I did engage with it meaningfully. And further, under those rules I’m also calling (quasi-)done The Nightingale, since I also read a significant portion of it before stopping. My goal for the year was to expose myself to the kind of books I rarely read, and I’m succeeding in that even if I don’t finish and adore everything on the list.

Read: Between the World and Me; H is for Hawk; An Ember in the Ashes; The Wright Brothers; Hold Still; Americanah; Becoming Nicole; The Nightingale*; A Little Life*

Still to read: Purity; The Girl on the Train; All the Light We Cannot See

Probably will never happen (unless I get stranded on a desert island with only it): War & Peace

Books read this month: 1

Books read total: 9

Percentage of year complete: 66%

Percentage of books complete: 75%

2015 reading challenge: August report

Down to the short rows, as the saying goes.

A book from your childhood:
Are You There, God? It’s Me, Margaret by Judy Blume. Grade: A
Margaret xkcd

A banned book:
Tuck Everlasting by Natalie Babbitt. Grade: B

A book with a color in the title:
Skye Blue by Alexa Land. Grade: B

A book that came out the year you were born:
Roots by Alex Haley. Grade: B

A book you were supposed to read in school but didn’t:
My Antonia by Willa Cather. Grade: A

A book set in high school:
Up the Down Staircase by Bel Kaufman. Grade: A

Months completed: 8 of 12 (67%)
Challenges completed: 48 of 50 (96%)

2015 reading challenge: July report

I only finished one challenge book this month, but I’m about halfway through Roots, by Alex Haley (man that book is long). I’ve also received my copy of War and Peace.

A book set somewhere you’ve always wanted to visit:
Don’t Let’s Go to the Dogs Tonight by Alexandra Fuller. Grade: B

Months completed: 7 of 12 (58%)
Challenges completed: 42 of 50 (84%)

2015 reading challenge: June report

This month was the first time that this project started feeling like a burden. I took a bit of a step back from it, since the whole reason I joined in was to broaden my reading material, not to torture myself or never read anything fun ever again. I ended up completing quite a few categories, but didn’t get through all fifty. I’m pretty close, though!

A book your mom loves:
Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania by Erik Larson. Grade: B
[My dad actually recommended this. He’s recently started a men’s book club.]

A mystery or thriller:
Cetaganda by Lois McMaster Bujold. Grade: B
[Sci-fi, yes, but this one’s definitely a mystery too.]

A book you started but never finished:
No Limits by Lori Foster. Grade: C

A book written by an author with your same initials:
Hard As It Gets by Laura Kaye. Grade: A

A play:
Three Screenplays by Edward Burns. Grade: C

A book with bad reviews:
Frog Music by Emma Donaghue. Grade: C
[The popularity of Amazon reviews has flattened out the rating of most books to between 3 and 4.5 stars – it’s pretty hard to find a well-known book that goes below or above that range once it’s been out more than a month or two. Frog Music comes in at 3.3 stars, as of this writing, which is closer to the bottom than the top of that range.
(The other approach, probably more intellectually solid, would have been to find a literary critic and choose one of the books they panned.)]

A classic romance:
Sprig Muslin by Georgette Heyer. Grade: D

A book with magic:
The Queen of Attolia by Megan Whalen Turner Grade: B

Months completed: 6 of 12 (50%)
Challenges completed: 41 of 50 (82%)

I went ahead and used Laura Kaye this month for the “A book written by an author with your same initials” category – which are my first and middle initials, not my first and last – but when I was deciding what to do for this category a while ago, I did a web search and was browsing a list of famous authors with last names starting with T. On there was Leo Tolstoy. I’ve never actually read any Tolstoy, and so I figured I could kill two birds with one stone and complete that category, and the “a book with more than 500 pages” category, by actually tackling War and Peace. I’ve ordered a copy of the recent Vintage Classics translation, which is supposed to be quite accessible. It’s over 1200 pages, so it might take me the rest of the year just to finish it!

2015 reading challenge: May report

April showers bring May books? Sounds good to me. Here are the categories I completed this month.

A book with a one-word title:
The Unspeakable by Meghan Daum. Grade: A

A book that takes place in your hometown:
Season of the Witch: Enchantment, Terror, and Deliverance in the City of Love by David Talbot. Grade: C

A book by a female author:
How to Be Both by Ali Smith. Grade: B

A trilogy:
Young Miles by Lois McMaster Bujold. Grade: B

A book based on or turned into a TV show:
So, Anyway by John Cleese. Grade: C
[A bit of a cheat, yes, since this is a biography about Cleese and his creative life, including writing for and acting in TV shows, including Monty Python’s Flying Circus.]

A book that scares you:
Trigger Warnings by Neil Gaiman. Grade: B

A book that became a movie:
As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales from the Making of The Princess Bride by Cary Elwes and Joe Layden. Grade: A
[Again a bit of a cheat, since it’s about the filming of The Princess Bride and not the book The Princess Bride itself, but I make my own rules!]

A book written by someone under 30:
What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe. Grade: B
Sneaking in under the wire, here, as Munroe’s Wikipedia page indicates he was born in October 1984 and this book was published in September 2014.

A book you own but have never read:
An Atomic Romance by Bobbie Ann Mason. Grade: C

Months completed: 5 of 12 (42%)
Challenges completed: 33 of 50 (66%)

I’m tantalizingly close to being done, as you can see, which has got me wondering if I put my head down and read like crazy I could get done in June, and thus complete the whole year-long challenge in six months. We’ll see – one of the categories I haven’t yet completed is “a book with more than 500 pages”…

Food on Friday: Grow Cook Eat

I’m still in a mode of unambitious cooking, for the most part. It’s pretty much ideas from the emeals paleo plan tweaked a little to fit our current eating plan. The other day I splurged and had a little whole wheat spaghetti with my meatballs and sauce (ooh). I mock but it’s working; I’ve lost nearly 30 pounds and am a lot more active and feel better, and the spouse has done the same thing.

I read a neat cookbook/gardening book the other day, though. It’s called Grow Cook Eat, by Willi Galloway, and it’s a soup to nuts approach to vegetable gardening – what to grow, how to grow it, and then how to store and cook it. It’s really nicely put together and would be a great way to start vegetable gardening, or a gift for a new kitchen gardener. I noted down a few of the recipes and hope to try them soon. There’s a steak sandwich with gorgonzola chive sauce and caramelized onions (yum) that I think I could easily adapt to a steak salad.

Now that our weather’s gotten so hot, I really regret not starting a tomato plant or two this spring, because they would love it. Usually our summers aren’t consistently hot enough for long enough to get really good tomatoes. Otherwise, it’s too hot to leave any fruits or veggies out on the counter, and it’s too hot to want to cook much either. Simple and quick are the keywords right now. What have you been cooking?

[This post contains affiliate links.]

“Fabric had to be got”: quilting then, refashioning now

A few weeks ago I wrote a roundup of recent books on refashioning garments for While I was working on the story, it occurred to me that refashioning is the new quilting. What we have a lot of these days is cheap clothing that might not fit us that well or serve our purposes. What refashioners do is turn these unwanted items into something that fits better, suits a style better, or serves some completely different purpose than what it was originally intended to do.

Early quilters started making patchwork quilts because fabric was so precious to them. Even small pieces of fabric were worth keeping and reusing however possible. When a length of fabric had been used for a garment, altered and patched, maybe cut down into a smaller garment for a child, and finally worn out, there would be parts of the fabric that were still usable, and they could be combined with other small pieces to make a quilt to keep someone warm.

I’ve often thought that nineteenth century housewives would be horrified at the fact that most of us quilters these days go to the fabric store, buy lengths of fabric, and then cut those perfectly good pieces of fabric up in order to sew them together again in a different arrangement. As Sandi Fox points out in the fascinating book Quilts: California Bound, California Made 1840-1940, which I’ll be reviewing for the San Francisco Book Review’s next issue, those traveling overland to the west had challenges that regular folks didn’t: “The equipment they required – needles and pins, thread, and a small scissors – could be carried in their pockets, but fabric had to be got.”

I’m no expert in medieval clothing, but I’ve read that a lot of garments were made in basic shapes and sizes no matter what your size, and made to fit using temporary adjustments. For example, you’d have a loose smock underneath a corset-style bodice which was laced up, and could obviously thus fit different ladies and during different stages of life. (It’s not like you could head off to the Pea in a Pod store every time you got pregnant.) Sleeves would be separate from a jacket and laced together, so either could be replaced or cleaned separately; the same with pants (which is why they’re called pants, plural, in English, not just pant, because the legs used to be separate from one another). It’s a different approach to the same goal as quilters, using a precious resource (fabric) in ways that made it easy to reuse for the next purpose or the next person’s need.

Signs point to the likelihood of the cost of fabric going back up again – this ‘golden age’ of relatively cheap fabric and clothes is coming to an end, more than likely. I wonder if future generations will still make quilts by cutting up new fabric, or whether patchwork reuse will make a comeback. I bet that refashioning will continue to become more popular, too.

Sewing Solutions book review

Nicole Vasbinder is one of the big names in the sewing scene here in the San Francisco area – she founded Stitch Lounge, runs Queen Puff Puff, and teaches at Stonemountain and Daughter (note to self: sign up for one of her classes sometime). So when she had a new book coming out I definitely wanted to review it. My review’s now up at Summary: It’s a great general reference and it’s worth adding to your sewing library.

Spinning some textile history

Did you know that the Venus de Milo, famously arm-less these days, was probably positioned the way she is because she was spinning thread? Scholars believe that she was spinning with her right hand and holding a distaff (with fibers ready to be added to the yarn) upheld in her left. Apparently the Greek manner of hand spinning didn’t usually include a spindle and just used the fingers to twist the thread. Now that would give you great finger strength if you did it all day long; I bet you’d never have to ask your husband to open the pickle jar for you!

Found this fun fact in a book called Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years: Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times by Elizabeth Wayland Barber. I’d recommend it if you’re into the history of textiles, particularly in ancient times. It’s very readable and engaging.

Speaking of books on the history of textiles and clothing, I recently reviewed Textiles: The Whole Story, by Beverly Gordon, for It’s a beautiful book, with amazing pictures of textiles from across the world and many historic periods, and an absorbing text. I would recommend both books for anyone who is interested in where our cloth and our clothes came from.

[This post includes affiliate links.]

Recommended book on fitting

I picked up a copy of The Complete Photo Guide to Perfect Fitting at the library, and almost instantly ordered my own copy to keep. It’s that impressive. My favorite thing is that the book is chock-full of photographs – not just of the alterations done to a pattern on a table, but of the fitting issues, and then the resulting adjustments done on a person wearing a muslin. I think this is a big improvement over most of the popular fitting books in sewing-land, all of which are a few years old now and use illustrations or black and white photos a lot (to keep the production cost of the book low?).

I’ve just posted a review of the book on Examiner, and while I was at it mentioned some of the other fitting books I’ve tried out.

So far in my sewing career, I’ve had sort of a Goldilocks experience with fitting books. Several of them have been useful and I’ve learned something from reading all of them, but none of them has completely satisfied me. If you go on Pattern Review the first book usually recommended is Fit for Real People (FFRP) which I agree is a decent overview of fitting but I think it has some flaws. I’ve actually used Sandra Betzina’s Fast Fit the most, because I like Betzina’s approach and I find it easier to navigate than FFRP, but it doesn’t have any model photos, just illustrations of the ‘figure faults’ and photos of the flat pattern alterations. FFRP is fine, but they’re obsessed with tissue fitting (which I find doesn’t really work well for fine details – if I’m making something complicated a muslin is definitely required), and the ease and styling are definitely a bit old-fashioned now. I own Pattern Fitting with Confidence and it’s fine, but Nancy Zieman uses the pivot and slide approach, and for some reason my brain works better visualizing changes with slash and spread.

Both the Reader’s Digest guide and the Vogue sewing book I own have basic alteration info in them, and to be honest I’d recommend starting with one of these if you are new, and then asking for help online for your specific issues. I’ve heard good things about the FFRP/Palmer-Pletsch fitting DVDs, and given how awesome Sarah Veblen’s book is, I’m very tempted to take one of her fitting courses on Pattern Review now.

Do you have a favorite fitting book or approach, or do you avoid alterations like the plague?

[This post contains affiliate links.]