The Goldfinch

I started reading The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt a few months ago, and quickly lost interest . The main character, Theo, seemed to be a young man with a shaky moral compass and a dose of affluenza. The mother was distracted and slightly self-absorbed. Imminent death loomed just ahead. The plot was unpacking in a dubious manner since I (the reader) was told by Theo right off the bat that things weren’t going to go well. Ugh. It was tax time, and I couldn’t continue.

Still, the Pulitzer Prize isn’t something to sneer at. Perhaps, I thought, happier now that I had the taxes filed, the refund into the bank, the landscaping in the yard done, and a major quilting project out of the way, I should give it another try…

Well, I had to push through parts of the book, but the moment arrived where I was captured by the text and story.  I found myself consumed and engaged in endless reflection about Theo and the other people in the book. I recalled with great sadness the many children living in crisis that I have known during my teaching years.  I finished the book last week in a marathon session that occupied my waking hours until I reached the last page during an apocalyptic thunderstorm. Itching with nerves, racing to secure my animals and batten down the house in a lightening-fired downpour, I continued to ponder WHAT WAS THE BOOK REALLY ABOUT?

Well, that’s a good question, isn’t it! I have spent the last week thinking and thinking about this book. I have gone online to learn about the painting “The Goldfinch”. I have re-read parts of the book. I have searched for meanings and patterns. As I drove around town this week (avoiding thunderstorms!) I have considered the importance of stable adults in young lives, the failures of adults who we think are the safety net for children in need, the lengths some people will go to maintaining “appearances”, the search for meaning in an impersonal tragedy with crushing lifelong impact, and whether a young man named Boris should be considered a human superstorm. Then there is the goldfinch; forever chained to its little perch in an artistic display with extraordinary detail. The survivor of an explosion, a transitional piece in art history, displayed against an empty wall…

Why do bad things happen to good people? Is it possible that seemingly random events can redirect our lives if we pay attention to what is happening around us and we search for patterns? Theo is tortured by this in the book, and in the passing of pages we begin to suspect that Theo can find the safe path again; a chance encounter at the moment of the greatest tragedy in his life will ultimately bring him home.

This is The Goldfinch. It is a book of lasting impact that will continue to unpack in layers in the days and weeks after you have read it. It makes you think about tragedy, craftsmanship, redemption, and art.

You might even find yourself buying a print of the painting.

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UFO Rescue: Week 2

For the second week of rescue knitting I picked up a shawl that I had started last fall. It fell to the wayside when the weather got colder and I started working on Christmas presents and socks for the winter. Ignored and forgotten (and wearing some of my favorite stitch markers!) it  ended up getting stuffed into the back of the yarn stash closet.

Princess Shawl
UFO shawl and pattern the day I pulled it back out of the bag.

Poor thing! Hard to remember why it was abandoned in the first place.  It’s kind of a cool pattern, the lace was pretty easy to learn once I was past the edging, and I like that hand-painted pink yarn (Malabrigo Arroyo).  I only had about a foot of the shawl knitted, so this was a little bigger project than the ones I did last week, but still not too bad. I thought I should be able to make a lot of progress on it in a week.

English Rose
Princess Alexandra of Kent rose in my garden.

I took the shawl out to work on in the garden, and there it was. One of my new roses was blooming, and the color was close to that of the shawl.  The name of the rose is  “Princess Alexandra of Kent”, and the colorway of the shawl yarn is  “English rose”. Wow! Synchronicity! Obviously this UFO was meant to be rescued at exactly this moment.

Knitted Shawl
The finished shawl in my garden. I just love how international it is. The pattern is Norwegian, the yarn is  from Uruguay, the yarn colorway is “English rose”, and I’ll be wearing it here in Colorado.

I named the shawl project “Princess Alexandra of Kent Shawl” on Ravelry and got to work. I knit like crazy all week, and the shawl was finished today. Time to prune the rose and to dive back into the UFO pile to find a project for the rest of the week. I think that I’ll do a sock next…

UFO Rescue: Week 1

Monday I waded into the pile of UFOs that I had located in my big hunt last week, and pulled out two projects that I thought I could finish fairly quickly. I’ll be honest: I was motivated by needle recovery more than anything else. These two items are pretty easy to knit, so I thought I would be able to work on them while watching television.  Here they are.

Ugly MItts

I really liked this yarn when  bought it. It’s a single ply yarn that is soft, soft, soft. I liked it so much that I  bought two skeins and cast on to make a pair of mitts right away.

Yarn for the mitt
Malabrigo Worsted yarn in the colorway “Deja Vu”

The mitts did not show off the yarn very well. I knitted one mitt thinking that maybe the next one would look better. Nope. Not so much. I lost heart and quit about halfway through the second mitt.

Mitts with ugly yarn.
I decided that the yarn on these mitts was just too ugly to go on.

Well, enough is enough! Time to face the UFO pile down! I made myself a nice caramel latte, put some cookies on a plate by the latte mug and then pulled the mitts out of the storage bag. There, that wasn’t so bad. I finished knitting the second mitt while reading (so it wouldn’t be too painful), and then took them out for their picture. Funny, I was wearing a pink top and some moss green pants, and the mitts actually looked kind of nice. I’m thinking of maybe keeping the second skein of yarn and might make a cowl from it. It sure is soft yarn…

Finished Ugly Mitts
Finished mitts. They aren’t all that I hoped for when I bought the yarn, but they look better to me now than they did. 🙂

Bronco Baby Booties

I started these booties using yarn dyed by Luna Grey Fiber Arts in Denver Bronco football colors a few weeks ago, and then put them aside while knitting some fun socks for myself. The trouble is that the booties use the same size double-pointed needle (2.25 mm) as most of my socks. Since I just finished those origami socks (June Beetle), I decided to complete the booties while the needles were free. These are square needles, and I just love them as my hands never get tired and the stitches come out looking really even.

Baby booties made from the family pattern in Denver Bronco team colors.
Baby booties made from the family pattern in Denver Bronco team colors.

I kind of like knitting these booties as they remind me of my grandma, and I got them done this morning while it was raining outside. Yeah! Two UFOs moved to the finished objects pile.

Only 14 more UFOs to go…

If anyone else has been inspired to attack their UFO collection, let me know what you are working on. This is kind of fun.  🙂

UFO Hunt

It seems like all of my stitch markers have gone missing, and there are several empty knitting needle holders in my needle drawer. This is the point where I have been known to go out and buy more needles, but today I decided to take my courage in hand and to go on an UFO hunt.

Pile of UFOs
Here they are! This is the pile of the 16 UFOs that I located in my stash and craft room.

UFOs are, as every knitter knows, UnFinished Objects. Those knitted works in progress that fell out of favor one day and were pushed to the bottom of the knitting basket or the back of the stash cabinet. Basically, they are kind of unloved and abandoned. It happens for a lot of reasons: the knitted fabric wasn’t what was hoped for, the color was icky, the fit seemed unflattering, a difficult pattern caused headaches, a disheartening knitting error, and so on.

Mitts with ugly yarn.
I decided that the yarn on these mitts was just too ugly to go on. UFO status was instantly obtained!

Well, I tore the craft room and the stash closet apart and recovered all of those UFOs. Wow! This is what I got:

  • 4 sweaters
  • 3 shawl/scarfs
  • 2 vests
  • 3 socks
  • 1 baby bootie
  • 2 mitts
  • 1 lacy wrist cuff

Good grief! Sixteen UFOs! No wonder I don’t have any more stitch markers in my knitting bag.  I organized the UFOs into groups and made some decisions.

Sweater and hat partly knitted.
Some items I just don’t like but the yarn is worth saving. I’m going to rip them out and get the yarn back.
Pink UFOs
Some items were abandoned because they were demanding too much attention. I’m going to suck it up and finish these!
Scarf and Mitt
This scarf and mitt are really nice, but the yarn wasn’t working right in the design. The mitt will get a different finish at the top and the scarf will be re-knitted in a leaf lace pattern.

The biggest UFO of all was this Alice Starmore cardigan/coat that I have had packed away for over 15 years. I think that the Hunter Green color went out of fashion and I quit working on it. What was I thinking of?

Sweater detail
Beautiful Starmore sweater left to languish in the back of the stash.

This definitely needs to be finished; I was doing the decreases at the neckline when I packed it away! The steeks at the armholes look almost large enough for the sleeves. I don’t even know where the pattern is at anymore, but I must have it somewhere. Another hunt! 🙂 I packed the sweater away again to save for the winter and cold weather knitting. In a perfect world I’ll have it done before the end of the year.

Today I started on the ugly mitts as I want to get those needles back. If I just do one UFO every week or two I should have most of my needles and stitch markers back by the end of summer. It’s a plan!

June Beetle Socks

It’s the end of June. The weather is always interesting in Colorado, and I’ve spent the month working outside on landscaping projects and gardening in the late morning and early afternoons.  As the afternoon wears on I usually need to move inside to escape thunderstorms, and if they are bad enough I end up watching weather updates on the television while knitting.

Early in the month I saw a June Beetle in the garden. I haven’t seen one of these guys since I was a kid in Southern California when we would catch them, tie threads to their little upper bodies, and then fly them around like little pets. I was still thinking about the beetle when I cast on this yarn to make some new socks.

This yarn is mostly blue, but it has some green in it too which reminded me of the beetle. The yarn is from Hedgehog Fibers, which is an independent yarn studio located in Ireland. I decided to knit a sock pattern called “Origami” which uses a lace pattern that is Japanese in origin. The pattern comes from the book Knitted Socks East and West by Judy Sumner.

Origami folds in sock.
The pattern makes the leg of the sock fold into a strange shape.
Lace sock.
The lace opens up once the sock is on.

As I knitted the socks and watched the thunderstorms bloom and thunder across Colorado on the weather radar I pondered the international connections open to me and other knitters. How fun this is! I made socks of Irish wool in a Japanese pattern to fit my fat little Swedish-American feet while watching thunderstorms in Colorado in a color that reminds me of my childhood in California. What a time to be alive.

Finished socks on feet.
Socks made with Irish wool in a Japanese pattern on my Swedish-American feet.

June is almost gone, the weather is beautiful and summery outside, and my socks are done. Time to go back into the garden to show them off to that June Beetle.

Cibola Burn

This is the fourth book in The Expanse series by James S. A. Corey which started with Leviathan Wakes, and then continued on with Caliban’s War and Abaddon’s Gate. I’ve learned to pay attention to the titles of these books, so even though I had some nebulous memory of Conquistadors searching through the wilderness and deserts for the lost (golden) city of Cibola, I did look it up. That’s right. The legend that lured Spanish Conquistador expeditions north into the unexplored southwestern region of the North American continent was one that involved seven fantastic cities of gold. Cibola.

At the end of Abaddon’s Gate gates to many, many new worlds  opened up for exploration, settlement and exploitation through rings left behind by a highly-advanced civilization that vanished before life really got going on Earth. This book picks up the story a couple of years after the events that closed Abaddon’s Gate in a smooth continuation of story line that builds on situations and characters that occurred in the previous books. Predictably, the first mission to conduct a scientific survey of a planet on the other side of a newly opened ring-gate arrives under the auspices of an energy corporation with mineral rights to the planet. Of course there are squatters, refugees from damaged Ganymede, already on the planet looking to defend their new home. Conflict is inevitable as each group strives to establish precedent and policy for all the new worlds to come. The solar system is a big place, and the centers of power are months away from this planet on the other side of a ring. Enter the Rocinante, already in the region of the ring-gates, sent to try to mediate an escalating crisis on the frontier. Of course things won’t go smoothly!

The crew of the Rocinante is back with all the personality, interplay and snappy dialogue that I have come to know and love in the previous books. The story in the book is built in a realistic fashion that reaches a satisfying resolution while still serving as an obvious bridge from past events to future books. I started reading the book during a very busy week, and just resented having to stop to sleep. This book is even more of a page turner that will keep you up all night than the last one! Here are some of my reflections after the event:

  • The science is great and very well presented. One of my bosses once explained to me that science is actually a verb: you do it! This book does science instead of trying to present it to you. The biology especially is very heartwarming.
  • The story continues to be told from different viewpoints. The different points of view are interwoven extremely well , and it is fun to experience the crew of the Rocinante through different eyes.
  • Two of the new major players in the story are people we met in the previous books brought forward to this one in a manner that is entirely consistent with who they were and what they did before. I loved it!
  • The characters in the story were reflective and evolved as time went on. Wow!
  • While we are past the time of protomolecule-technology bioweapons, the fact that the ring-gate to the new world is an artifact from a lost civilization is skillfully embedded into the story. This new (alien) planet was exploited by vanished aliens in ways that can’t even be imagined yet. The ramifications of that may continue on into future books. Oh, joy!
  • This is the most intelligent, action-packed and compelling book that I have read this year. I’m not sure if it is better than Caliban’s War, but it is very, very good.

The Conquistadors discovered in their search for the lost cities of gold that things weren’t exactly what they thought they were. In “The Expanse” series the rush is on; what is on the other side of the rings in all those unexplored worlds remains to be seen.

One thing is sure, the Rocinante will be busy and we are going to need Bobbie again!

 

Books I Love: Behind the Beautiful Forevers

I really place a lot of emphasis on the first few lines of a book. I just love it when the author seizes the moment and transports me immediately into the book. In just a few well-chosen sentences I’m in another place, I have a feel for at least one person in the story, and I’m already becoming emotionally invested.

Here’s some examples of what I’m talking about. Each of these is the first sentence(s) of the book:

  • When Augustus came out on the porch the blue pigs were eating a rattlesnake – not a very big one. (Larry McMurtry, Lonesome Dove)
  • Other pilgrims offered silver at the shrine; Maria brought an armful of wildflowers. (Cecelia Holland, Great Maria)
  • Charles Howard had the feel of a gigantic onrushing machine: You had to either climb on or leap out of the way. (Laura Hillenbrand, Seabiscuit: An American Legend)
  • He will come who treads the dawn, Tramples the sun beneath his feet, And judges the souls of men. He will stride across the rooftops, And he will fire the engines of God. –Uranic Book of Prayer (Quraqua)(Translated by Margaret Tufu) (Jack McDevitt, The Engines of God)

I absolutely love each of these books;  when I read them I was captured within the first few pages. Within minutes I was in Texas, the Middle Ages, California, or on another planet investigating a lost civilization. That first impression carried me into the book and I was gone.

Quite frankly, I do struggle a little with non-fiction writing. I always start the book meaning to stick with it in a quest for self-improvement, but somewhere after a few chapters I drift off and never finish. I keep trying, though, to find those books that will really capture me and teach me about things I never knew or even imagined. Behind the Beautiful Forevers by Katherine Boo is one of these books.

Here is the first sentence of the book:

Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father.

All right then! I am yours forever, or as long as it takes to read this book.

That is exactly what happened. This book, which is an immersion into the lives of the inhabitants of the slum world of Annawadi, located on open land belonging to the Airports Authority of India, is amazing. The narrative focuses on Abdul and his family, but we meet their neighbors, friends, and family as we travel through the events leading up to the horrific night described in the first sentence of the book and onwards through the incarcerations and trials of Abdul and other members of his family. Along the way we discover the realities of grinding poverty, the continual graft and corruption running through the Annawadi world, the brutal truths of modern life in India, and the glimmers of hope for a better life and future. I am horrified, I am grateful for my life, and I feel compelled to do something to make some difference. I want desperately to get e-mail updates about how Abdul and other people that I met in this book are doing. It should be clear to you that not only was I captured at the first sentence by this book, but I was compelled to read it straight through over a couple of days.

That first sentence was a good predictor. This is a very, very good book.