Friday, 16 December 2011

More Successful Knitting. . .

I've been knitting up a storm lately and really enjoying it. It's definitely become my latest obsession but completely relaxing and creative and fun.  And with every new project, I always try a new technique, so my knitting skills are improving bit by bit.  I'm working up to that sweater!  There are two projects I've completed recently that turned out as good as I'd hoped and I really LOVE wearing them.  The first came about when I learned to make a bobble.  And immediately thought a bobble scarf would be really fun for winter.  I had three skeins of this really soft baby alpaca and this was the result, which I designed myself (not that it's a particularly difficult design, but what I love about knitting is that with a bit of patience and some tweaking and swatching, you can really create exactly what you want).  This scarf is so warm and cozy.  My recent hat attempts were all in aid of matching this.

My colleague gave me a very funny Christmas gift this week - the DVD of the Royal Wedding.

We were working a conference in Jasper, Alberta at the time (which is seven hours behind the UK) and sharing a hotel room.  Now, I really like watching these spectacles live and since the coverage was starting about midnight, I decided just to stay up all night.  I wanted to see ALL the hats.  Perhaps though, this was not the best choice when I had to work the next day and the last time I pulled an all-nighter was decades ago.  My colleague was a great sport about it insisting she could sleep through the light of the television which was turned down low.  However, she  could not sleep through my loud curses at about 2am when it started to snow outside and the storm knocked out ALL the channels, just as things were getting exciting.  I was flipping madly and getting only static until for some reason at the very high numbers, I got some sort of specialty U.S. channel  (TLC maybe?) that was carrying it (with fairly stupid commentary, but at least I got the visuals).   I woke my friend up as requested when Wills and Harry left the palace and all went well.  We watched up to the balcony kiss, while ordering breakfast via room service, and made it to work on time.  I was extremely tired that day, but I'll always remember how much fun it was watching it with L. and discussing it ad nauseum with my other good girlfriends on that road trip.

Okay, what does this have to do with my knitting?  Well, do you remember a few days later, Kate was seen shopping at Sainsburys wearing this?

That shawl inspired many knitters to get busy. There are lots of patterns out there, but I loved the one by Vancouver designer Cat Wong, entitled The Milk Run Shawl.  It's a free pattern but she had the terrific and appropriate idea of asking instead for a donation to a local food bank, which I was more than happy to do.  The pattern is great - full of options for creating something slightly different versions - and full of good tips and funny instructions (the last one is to brush your hair until it shines before wearing it).  You can get the pattern here.  I chose to knit mine in a Donegal tweed, more olive-green-brown than Kate's version, and I was a bit worried about whether it would drape as nicely, but I'm very happy with how it turned out. I like to wear it around my shoulders when I'm reading at night in bed.  It was my first time doing ruffles (which go on FOREVER) but it was exciting when it all came together.

Wednesday, 14 December 2011

Chic Classics. . .

I'm always intrigued and delighted by those publishers who spend the time re-inventing the look of the classics, using ingenious design to make them irresistible objects of beauty to collect and treasure and sometimes just to drool over.  Penguin, Persephone, New Directions, Dalkey Archive,  Everyman, New York Review of Books, and Melville House's Neversink Library are all great investors in keeping these fabulous books alive along with many others, and I think their importance will only grow in this e-book era.

The French occasionally get in the act too, despite the fact that so many of their books seem to consist of endless rows of uniform cream covers with only type on the front.  A couple of years ago I walked into a French bookstore in Ottawa and was drawn to a series of paperback classics published by Gallimard's Folio imprint that were housed in these wonderfully textured slipcases.  Despite the fact that I read French very, very slowly, I was hooked and came home with several of them.

I just couldn't resist the flocked velvet of Romain Gary's La vie devant soi or the perfect subway tile design etched into the cardboard of Raymond Queneau's Zazie dans le m├ętro.  Aren't they gorgeous? They are so much fun to fondle. 

Well Folio has done it again.  Earlier this fall, I came across these two books:

Both the slipcases are smooth but look closely - can you see the metal bookmarks attached to the slipcases magnetically?  Let me pull them away for you.

Is this not one of the most beautiful packaging ideas you've ever seen?  They simply scream "buy me".  So I did. And of course I have the best intentions of spending the time to improve my French by reading them one day.  Or at least making liberal use of the bookmarks.

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Locks and the Three Hats. . .

Hats and I just don't get along.  I think it has something to do with the fact that I have bangs and usually have my hair up in a ponytail, neither of which is conducive to a really good hat look.  But I live in Canada and it gets bloody cold in the winter.  So I'm on a quest to knit the perfect hat even though I still shudder when I think of my first attempt.  It looked like this:

It's now a lovely felted bowl.

I've improved my knitting skills over the last year and it was time to plunge into headgear again.  I found this pattern I quite liked from Classic Elite Yarns called the Kumera Diamond Cap.  And the pattern was just for one size. And I took the time to do a gauge swatch which I obviously didn't do for my first attempt. And it was fine for the horizontal measurement, but fell a bit short vertically.  What do you do in such a case?  I pressed on.  And here it is - it's a very pretty pattern and was quite fun to knit.

But . . . it's a wee bit too loose on my head.  You can't see it in the picture but there is an inch or so of ribbing at the edge.  I KNOW I should have knitted this with smaller needles but I didn't have the right size handy and so I didn't.   It does sit on my head while walking, and it's a good fall hat, and as long as a gust of wind doesn't come along or I shake my head violently, it usually stays on.  Maybe I need to find some discreet hair clips to hold it on in the way that women used to use their hatpins.  Does anyone do this with knitted caps?  Or do they just knit them to a perfect size?  I keep gazing at women wearing handknit hats on the subway and I'm guessing it's the latter.  Sigh.

I've been reading a lot of knitting books and blogs and certain legendary names in the knit world come up all the time.  One of them is Barbara G. Walker and I recently bought her book Knitting From The Top.

Someday I will be using her techniques to knit a sweater, but she also writes about knitting a hat from the top down so that you can stop and measure it as you go.  Terrific, I thought, and cast on.  Now, there's no specific pattern - you just start with 8 stitches and increase on a regular basis until you've knitted to the circumference of your crown and then you continue making a type of tube until it's as long as you want.  Here's the problem though: holding a circle of knitting on the top of your head as you gaze into the mirror on the bathroom cabinet, what exactly constitutes your crown?  Well, here's my second attempt:

I really liked the wool (Cascade Quattro for the grey/white blend and Cascade 220 for the brim) and the way the two went together (and this time I DID use smaller needles for the ribbing) and I was quite chuffed to be doing this without consulting a pattern.  But . . .  it's a wee bit too big.  I should have stopped increasing about 3 rows before I actually did.  It does work in a pinch, but I'm just not satisfied.  I'll probably rip it apart and start again some day but I just can't bring myself to do it right now.  Sigh.

Undeterred, having bought a skein of lovely, bulky Cascade Lana Grande, I cast on again from the top.   This would make a really warm woollen winter hat.  Though it's much thicker than the wool used for Hat #2, I did measure where I should have stopped increasing on that hat, and so my "crown" was much smaller.

And it was all going really well and I bound off and ran excitedly to the mirror and pulled it onto my head and . . . the bind off row was so, so, tight it left a huge mark on my forehead even after stretching it.  I was ready to cry at this point.  But I took a deep breath, thought for a bit, and carefully ripped out the bind-off row.  I got bigger needles and bound off much more loosely and ran back to the mirror. . . and . . . IT FITS!  It's warm and cozy and covers my ears and though next time, I think I'd do away with the three garter horizontal rows that I added on a whim, IT WILL DO FOR NOW!

I think hats are now out of my system until the next time.  And I still don't really like them.

Monday, 12 December 2011

An Elementary Country House Murder. . .

It may be due to all the Terence Rattigan that I've been exposed to recently, but this weekend I just wanted to continue spending more time with the Brits.  So I picked up Gladys Mitchell's Watson's Choice, a Mrs. Bradley mystery originally published in 1955 and recently brought back into print by Vintage U.K.  It's in the cozy mode of British crime writing centered around a group of eccentric but coolly detached suspects gathered in a large country house. Sir Bohun Chantrey is a huge Sherlock Holmes enthusiast and so throws a costume party with guests dressed as characters from the cases, complete with party games that call upon their knowledge of Conan Doyle's work. Then all of a sudden the "Hound of the Baskervilles" shows up, and even though the murder - of Linda Campbell, the vampish governess recently engaged to Chantrey - takes place several weeks after the party, this large dog proves to be one of the clues to catching the culprit. 

This is the second of Mitchell's extensive list of Mrs. Bradley mysteries that I've read and while I find her plots rather thin, she makes up for it with a sly humour occasioned by Bradley's forthright psychological insights and the banter between herself and Laura her secretary.  I probably would have enjoyed it more if I was acquainted with a greater number of the Sherlock Holmes stories, but I didn't find it too much of a distraction. And when you get to the end, don't forget to reflect on the book's title.

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Cast On and In Colour. . .

I spend about two hours each day commuting because I live in mid-town Toronto but work in Mississauaga. Fortunately it's only one long bus ride, preceded by a 15 minute walk that conveniently goes by at least three good places to pick up a latte. But I really don't mind the travelling because my latest daily obsession is listening to podcasts and what better place than on the bus?  

I've just recently discovered Cast On and am really enjoying it.  Yes, it's a knitting podcast.  It's created by Brenda Dayne, an American knitter and designer who moved to the Welsh countryside over a decade ago, and along with playing some really great music, she recounts her adventures with her craft (she spins and dyes as well as knits), has interviews and guest pieces by other knitters, muses on how knitting can encompass a whole life philosophy, and generally lets listeners eavesdrop on her little corner of the world.  She frequently makes me laugh and thus I generally arrive at work in a good mood.  I started with some of her latest episodes and then went back right to the beginning in 2005 and am listening to them in order, one on the way to work and one on the way home.  So far I've encountered everything from an audio essay on the sounds of wool (I know I'm strange, but I can listen to sheep baas endlessly), to an interview with an Oxford zoologist on silk spun by tropical spiders, to a very funny piece about a men's knitting club stressed out with all the xmas gifts they have to complete.  It's also SO comforting to know that even experienced knitters still have meltdowns, still have to rip back hours and hours of work, and it's all okay. Shownotes, photos and links to the things she discusses are always added on her blog/website located here.

One of the things Brenda also does on this podcast is to review knitting books and this is how I heard about Lorna Miser's The Knitter's Guide to Hand-Dyed and Variegated Yarn, published last year.  I promptly got my hands on a copy and spent hours last night delightedly pouring over it.

My grandmother taught me to knit - just the basics - when I was quite young, and over the years, I've occasionally picked up the needles and done the odd very simple project. A garter stitch scarf was pretty much the extent of my talents.  The "wow" moment that really got me determined to improve my knitting skills came - like many knitters, I'm guessing - when I first encountered a stitch dictionary.  My mind boggled at how several hundred patterns could be created just by knitting or purling in different combinations.  Well, the beauty of Miser's book is that it's essentially a stitch dictionary but especially for variegated yarns - those balls of gorgeous combined colours that suck me in everytime I visit a yarn store. I'm always buying them for my stash and then I never know what to do with them, since I'm really not that interested in knitting socks - yet!

I love, love this book and I have several swatches excitedly knitted last night to prove it.  Miser explains how to categorize all the different types of variegated yarns - machine produced and hand dyed- and to separate them into "calm" and "active" colourways, and then each succeeding chapter shows you different techniques to combine them in your knitting, whether by adding complimentary solids or using patterns that will highlight (or minimize) the colour striping or pooling, or adding different textures into the mix.  There are 65 stitch patterns and 20 projects for using them - two of which have immediately gone to the top of my future project pile.

Noro - here I come!

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Next in the Neversink Library Challenge: The President. . .

I've been a little remiss on my latest ongoing reading challenge but I DO mean to tackle all of The Neversink Library even though they are coming fast and furious from Melville House. Still, I mean to persevere because I absolutely trust their editorial eye.  I've just finished my third book: Georges Simenon's The President, translated by Daphne Woodward.  You don't have to twist my arm to get me to read a new Simenon, particularly one of his romans dur, and I hope to see more pop up in Neversink.  This novel is very different in subject matter from The Train, which I reviewed here, but like all the Simenons that I have read, it carries his trademark creation of gloomy, somewhat existential atmosphere, iresistably entwined with an almost effortless suspense. I use the term effortless in conjuction with Simenon's literary skill, because the suspense never seems to be overly contrived. He just has a wonderful way of slowly building up the reader's interest in how events will unfold that sometimes even surpasses that of the characters directly involved. And somehow the endings always manage to both surprise and yet perfectly suitable and satisfying.

In this case, it's an 82 year old man, the former Premier of France, who sits in his Louis-Philippe chair by the fire, listening to the latest political news on the radio and reflecting on his life and past career. That's the plot in a nutshell.  But there is SO much more going on.  There has been a political crisis and a coalition govenment has been formed, led by one Chalamont, a former colleague who used to work under the Premier before getting embroiled in a scandal.  The Premier has evidence that would be extremely damaging.  He sits in his chair as the wind howls outside and the electricty threatens to fail and he waits for Chalamont to pay a visit. An assortment of employees - paid for by the government - hover suspiciously around him.  His health may or may not, be dangerously weakening. And why does an old contemporary from the Premier's village keep calling to reassure him that he'll be at his funeral?

Simenon's characters often fantasize about living a different life; in this novel, the life is re-examined along with the process of creating parallel interpretations with the benefit of hindsight tempered with regrets and grudges. It's a no less poignant - if occasionally futile -  exercise, both to undertake and to read about.

Monday, 5 December 2011

My Weekend With Terence. . .

Friday night I went to see the new movie, My Week With Marilyn, directed by Simon Curtis, about a young assistant's infatuation with Marilyn Monroe during the shoot in England of The Prince and the Showgirl, written by Terence Rattigan, based on his play The Sleeping Prince.  Though the story is slight, I really enjoyed the movie, both for Michelle Williams' mermerizing performance, the atmospheric soundtrack, and for the wonderful cast of British theatrical royalty that peppers the film.  Kenneth Branagh has a large and juicy part as Laurence Olivier (and wouldn't it be ironic if this was the part that won him an Oscar?) and the great Judi Dench plays Sybil Thorndike.  But in one delightful cameo appearance after another, up pop Michael Kitchen, Dougray Scott (excellent as Arthur Miller), Simon Russell Beale and Derek Jacobi.  Tiny roles, but they kept me thoroughly engrossed. Dominic Cooper and Emma Watson round out the cast.

By coincidence, I had stopped off at Bay Street Video en route to the cinema - always a dangerous detour as I am a hopeless DVD addict.  And yes, I had to control myself and put back several new releases. But there was one I couldn't resist - The Terence Rattigan Collection, recently released by the BBC.  Terence Davies' new adaptation of Rattigan's The Deep Blue Sea was my favourite film at TIFF and so I HAD to buy this five disc collection of television adaptations of several of his plays from the last few decades. Ensconced on the sofa with a pot of tea and my knitting, I watched five of them this weekend, one after the other.  I just couldn't stop myself - the casts were just superb.  

I started with my favourite Rattigan play, After the Dance, one of the most moving plays I've ever experienced about the inter-war generation. Gemma Jones was excellent as Joan, the party-going wife who has to watch her husband succumb to a younger and idealistic Imogen Stubbs.   Then it was on to Ian Holm, Judi Dench (wonderfully acid and bitchy) and a young Michael Kitchen in The Browning Version.  Penelope Wilton gave every bit as good and poignant a performance as Rachel Weisz, in The Deep Blue Sea with Colin Firth here as her younger lover.  By this time I was quite emotionally drained, so thank god for the fun and farce of French Without Tears with a fetching Anthony Andrews (not far off his Brideshead Revisited days) and the lovely and flirtatious Nicola Paget (remember Elizabeth from Upstairs Downstairs?).  And you'll barely recognize a slim and dashing Michael Gambon as a befuddled sea captain. This was followed by Geraldine McEwan and Eric Porter in Separate Tables.   I have the 1958 Deborah Kerr and David Niven movie version in my collection, but the play was originally designed to have the same actors play the main characters in both story lines, and this is what occurs in the BBC version with McEwan and Porter also taking on the roles played by Rita Hayworth and Burt Lancaster. Terrific stuff - I still have 2 discs to go, including Sean Connery taking on Alexander the Great in Adventure Story. Honestly, this would make a great Christmas gift for any theatre buff on your list or a fan of any of the above actors.  I'm so thrilled the BBC is going through their archives and releasing this gems - the picture quality of everything I've seen so far in this collection has been as excellent as the acting.

Now I suppose I should round out my Rattigan revivial and rent The Prince and the Showgirl, a film I've never seen.  Actually I'm thinking a Marilyn Monroe marathon might soon be in the works.

Thursday, 1 December 2011

Sneak Peek. . . .

It's been a very busy time. I've been knitting like crazy on far too many projects with xmas coming up, and prepping for sales conference for our summer 2012 books which means dipping into as many manuscripts as I can, and then desperately trying to find the time to finish them all.    I can't really talk about them in detail at this point except to tease; suffice it to say there are some really great books coming out next year.  I'm loving The Chemistry of Tears, the new novel by Peter Carey. Novels by several of my favourite writers - John Irving, Toni Morrison, Helen Dunmore, John Lanchester, Philippe Claudel, Tessa Hadley - are beckoning.  There are lots of novels about the endless blunderings of love (there's a real trend in exploring the complications of the menage a trois - and not just from the French either!) that will make for tantalizing summer reading. There are some really exciting debuts,, and some award winning international literature that's finally been translated along with tantalizing classics that have been out of print for too long. My favourite title of the summer comes from the former category:  Life is Short and Desire Endless by Patrick Lapeyre, translated by Adriana Hunter.  It won the Prix Femina in 2010. I've halfway through and it's very entertaining. There's also an incredible line-up of mystery novels to look forward to. 

In the meantime, all the "best of 2011 lists" are coming out. I look at them with professional interest, but I much prefer it when they ask writers themselves to recommend their favourite reads. As they did in The Guardian here. Some great xmas ideas. As I do every year, I'll be going over my reading/movie journal and picking my top ten soon, but since I'll get a lot of reading (and film viewing) done over the holidays it's still a bit premature.

Thursday, 24 November 2011

One For The Sweet Tooth. . .

One of my weaknesses is definitely the marshmallow.  I once had dreams of opening up The MarshMellow Cafe, a place devoted to hot chocolate, s'mores and rice crispy squares, and where urban dwellers could gather around a roaring fireplace and roast their marshmallows all year round without worrying about mosquitos.  Then someone pointed out that it would never pass fire codes.  Oh well, another dream dashed.

So you can understand why I got excited about the latest recipe posted by Smitten Kitchen for Sweet Potato and Marshmallow Biscuits. Take a look - honestly, they look really good!

My favourite marshmallows in Toronto are the passionfruit ones made by Bobbette & Belle located in Leslieville.  Their toasted coconut ones are also delicious (not to mention their cupcakes and lemon meringue tarts).  If you order a hot chocolate they will toast a marshmallow with a blowtorch and add it on top. Brilliant.

Wednesday, 23 November 2011

When a Great Story Calls. . .

     It's getting chilly and A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness is the perfect one-sitting read on a couch, huddled under a blanket with a cup of tea close by.  Reading this amazing book full of thrilling writing and storytelling, I really felt transported to my younger bookworm self. The kid in me was scared and seduced; the adult in me was an emotional wreck by the end.
     Conor is a thirteen year old going through a tough time.  His mother is getting treatments for her cancer and doesn't seem to be getting any better, his father has moved to the U.S. with his new wife and baby, he's getting bullied at school and his brash and opinionated grandmother is coming to stay. Worse of all are the nightmares he keeps having.  One of them involves the yew tree he can see outside his window.  This tree turns into a raging monster at night, breaking windows to enter his room and insisting that he will tell Conor three tales. After he's finished he promises that Conor will have to tell one of his own, whether he wants to or not.  Conor wakes up convinced it's all a dream.  Until he sees that his floor is covered with a carpet of the tree's needles. . .
     I'm not going to reveal anything further except to say that the monster's stories have wonderfully unexpected and ambiguous endings.  I love books that challenge the reader's imagination without being overly didactic. This is also a gorgeously designed book with menacing illustrations used to great effect by Jim Kay. Make sure you take the dust jacket off if you get your hands on a copy. The book was "inspired" by Siobhan Dowd, a favourite YA author of mine  (her novel A Swift Pure Cry is terrific) and there's an added layer of sadness that she died - also from cancer - before she could write this last book.  Patrick Ness has paid an excellent tribute to her.

Thursday, 17 November 2011

A Must Have. . .

Lusting after this. Table of contents located here.

Wednesday, 16 November 2011

The Grass is Always Greener. . .

Westwood is completely different from Stella Gibbons' classic novel Cold Comfort Farm, but it is still an enjoyable read; the wit is less employed (though very welcome when it is) and the subject matter and main character more sober in outlook and temperment, but Gibbons has still crafted an original and unusual book populated by a wacky set of characters. There may be nothing nasty in the woodshed but there's certainly a lot of uncomfortableness in both Westwoods, two dissimilar houses in different parts of London representing two possible (and fantastical) options for Margaret Steggles, a plain, bookish schoolteacher, only twenty-three but resigned to the fact that she will probably never get married. She is an observer more than an object of attention, a woman, "still far from the peace of middle age, which has learned to enjoy gardening more than people, and people were what interested her, not wheelbarrows and secateurs."

This 1946 novel is set mostly in London during the blackouts of the Second World War, which intrudes periodically but stays mostly in the background. Margaret lives with her parents - an opinionated and bitter mother, and her frequently absent father who likes to escapes his unhappy home life by having affairs. Margaret too longs to flee permanently and she enviously eyes both Westwoods. One is a sickly sweet house in the suburbs belonging to her father's friend Dick Fletcher, who has a young daughter "not quite like other children", who needs looking after when his housekeeper is hurt in a raid.  The other is the far grander Westwood of famous playright Gerald Challis, father-in-law to a famous painter and grandfather to three children that Margaret also gets saddled with taking care of.  He too has a roving eye and it doesn't alight on Margaret but on her best friend, the vivacious Hilda who knows him only under an assumed name after a chance meeting in the fog.

The world swirls energetically around Margaret as she longs for a more interesting life and I will admit to being frustrated around the middle of the novel with her refusal to see how easily she's taken advantage of by selfish people that don't deserve her adulation, much less respect. But I was still intrigued to see how Gibbons would resolve the story and I'm glad I stuck with it. This is not the WWII London of Patrick Hamilton or Elizabeth Bowen,  Sarah Waters' Night Watch or Mary Wesley's The Camomile Lawn, but Westwood shares that universal search for happiness and human connection, made more urgent during war - at least in this case -  by the drabness of the homefront and the narrowing options for husbands, deceivers as they may be. If there's a message - and this pops up in a lot of women's fiction from this period - it's to find your own type of happiness that doesn't necessarily rely on the opinions of others.

I'm glad this novel was brought back into print. Vintage UK have also released Gibbons'  Starlight, Conference at Cold Comfort Farm, and Christmas At Cold Comfort Farm.  I'll also have to get a copy of Nightingale Wood, re-issued two years ago by Virago.

Friday, 11 November 2011

Lest We Forget. . .

Today I'm going to start reading The Beauty and The Sorrow: An Intimate History of the First World War by Peter Englund, translated by Peter Graves.  It's the history of twenty ordinary people during the war but with a real international perspective that I think will be illuminating, thought-provoking and unlike any other history of the war that I have read. Dwight Garner has a review  here in the New York Times in which he notes that the book, "has the most devastating ending I can remember in a piece of nonfiction".

Thursday, 10 November 2011

Into the Brilliance. . .

It's been a magnificent week so far for filling my head with awe and admiration for some of Canada's incredible writers and thinkers.  On Monday night, I headed over to Wade Davis's event at the Toronto Public Library. His new book Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest is definitely in my top 10 books of the year.  He's an incredible speaker and accompanied by a slide show, he really brought the stories of the twenty-six men who were part of the Everest expeditions in 1921-1924 to life, particularly the horrors they'd suffered in the First World War.  The book is incredibly detailed and researched (he's been working on it for over ten years) but after hearing him speak, it's clear that his mission was to really honour the incredible lives of these men, each of whom could have had a biography all to themselves; attempting to climb Everest in many cases was the least of their accomplishments.  The grandson of Arthur Wakefield, a military doctor on the expedition who had spent a number of years in Canada working in the isolated communities of Newfoundland and Labrador, was in attendance and he brought a pair of thick mittens and Wakefield's wooden ice pick/pole that had gone to Everest with him. I got to handle the latter and it gave me goosebumps. Wakefield's story is really heartbreaking; he was working in a casualty station just behind the front lines during the Battle of the Somme where the Newfoundland regiment - many of whom he knew personally - was decimated during that horrific day.

Davis, who holds the wonderful title of Explorer-In-Residence for the National Geographic Society, also wanted to tell the story from the Tibetan point of view and he spent a couple of months living and researching in Tibet. It's as much a book about the arrogance of British imperialism as it is about exploration and the post-war culture of England. And yes, even the Bloomsbury set shows up. What I found engrossing about the talk was Davis' excitement at the strange turns his research took him. After all, this is definitely not the first book on George Mallory.  But by delving extensively into the war records of all these men, he was able to bring new perspectives to their motivations and actions. AND he was able to unearth the diaries of Canadian surveyor Oliver Wheeler who he credits with finding the approach to Everest that the expedition eventually used.  If you don't have time to read the book, you can hear the whole of his amazing talk (accompanied by slides) in three parts, Part One, Part Two and Part Three.  Well worth a listen.

Have you been listening to this year's Massey Lectures by Adam Gopnik ? (American born, but Canadian raised, so I'll claim him for this country).  His theme is Winter: Five Windows on the Season and while I've only heard three of the lectures so far, I know I'll definitely be buying the book.  Tuesday's lecture on Radical Winter and the culture of the polar expeditions, from the race across the Arctic of Frankenstein and his monster, to Apsley Cherry-Gerard's The Worst Journey in the World,  was fascinating, particularly in light of thinking about how heroism and exploration changed between those Antarctic journeys of Scott and Shackleton, and the Everest attempts outlined by Davis just a decade later, but with the horrors of the First World War sandwiched in between.  Davis notes interestingly, that several survivors of Shackleton's trip actually applied to join the Everest expedition; others of course had enlisted and been killed in the trenches. 

I think I need to go and buy Davis's The Wayfarers, his 2009 Massey Lectures.  Heck, in honour of the 50th anniversary I should go back and read them all.

Wednesday, 9 November 2011

Loving Online Magazines. . .

The latest edition of Five Dials, the literary magazine published by Hamish Hamilton, has landed in my inbox and it's filled with all sorts of goodies.  You can sign up here and it's free. This issue has a number of writers looking at London in light of its Occupy Movement, including a piece by Daniel Swift that reflects on Virginia Woolf's journal entries during the Blitz.  There are also some great reading suggestions and excerpts from favourite books recommended by musicians, including a cookbook  (in which you'll find out which vegetables to eat if you are angry and tense, and which to eat if you want to fuel productive creativity) and a funny piece that made me laugh, titled "The Needle and the Damage Done: What Is The Best Title For a Book On Knitting?" in which Jenny Lord, author of The Purls of Wisdom, enlisted the help of other writers in choosing a suitable title.  I like "The Yarn and the Restless" and "Knit Gonna Happen" myself.

Another online magazine that I love to read is Covet Garden which focuses on home design and features really beautiful homes of ordinary and creative people in Toronto.  You can subscribe, again for free, here.  They also have a blog that showcases local designers such as Toronto artist Julie Moon who created this gorgeous ceramic poppy pin. Read more about her at this post.

Tuesday, 8 November 2011

November Knitting Books. . .

Today sees the release of Vogue Knitting by Art Joinnides.  I had access to an early copy  and have been browsing through this for the last two weeks. While most of the patterns call for far more experience than my knitting skills, it's still a fascinating look through the last thirty years of knitted fashions. There are 80 patterns taken from the magazine and each is accompanied by an overview of the themes and ideas behind each issue. And I've definitely added the challenge of completing one of these patterns to the bucket list.

This month also sees the release of  Melissa Leapman's Stashbuster Knits which I've really enjoyed reading through because who doesn't have a stash of yarn crying out to be used? I like her colour wheel tips and the fact that her projects are divided by yarn weight. They are very doable projects as well, including a short cardi made from bulky wool that I'm going to attempt, and I also like the wrap shown on the cover which cleverly uses the yarn ends as fringe so no weaving is involved. Brilliant idea.

Monday, 7 November 2011

2012 IMPAC Longlist Announced. . .

The incredibly long longlist (147 titles) for the 2012 IMPAC award has been announced.  Nominated by librarians, this is an award that I always look forward to as it usually produces a very worthy winner and has personally introduced me to the writing of Per Petterson and Gerbrand Bakker. I always hope to have read at least ten titles on the list; I'm doing well this year with having read fourteen, and of those, I'd cast my vote for David Grossman's To The End of The Land , translated by Jessica Cohen which I was delighted to see was nominated by the Toronto Public Library, or The Patience Stone by Atiq Rahimi, translated by Polly Mclean, both very powerful and emotional books about the long-term effects of war.  You can see the full longlist by title here or by nominating library here.

Fall Back. . .

How did you spend your extra hour today?  My friend K. and I went for a long walk in Toronto's ravines enjoying the mild weather, lovely sunshine, fall colours and the crisp leaves scrunching under our feet.

But all roads these days seem to lead me to French pastry! I'm greedily devouring Pastry Paris: In Paris, Everything Looks Like Dessert by Susan Hochbaum.  She's cleverly travelled around the city photographing famous buildings and beautiful architectural details along with French art and fashion, and pairing them with equally delectable shots of creative French concoctions complete with a culinary history of each.  You can see a slideshow of her work here (but don't click on the link if you're hungry).

In Toronto, nothing really looks like pastry but I did my best.

If you squint a bit, these leaves look like the grapefruit slices that top this beautiful tart with Earl Grey and almond mousse, purchased at Nadege.  At any rate, it was the closest I could get to edible fall colours and it was a delicious (and well earned)  reward at the end of a long walk.

Friday, 4 November 2011

New Persephones! . . .

It's always a special day when I open my mailbox to retrieve that white envelope from the U.K. with the newest Biannually magazine from Persephone Books. I've been collecting and reading their beautiful books for ten years now (I so admire their committment to keeping every title in print), and I'm lusting after their latest.  In particular, I really want to read No Surrender by Constance Maud, a suffragette novel first published in 1911 that covers multiple aspects of the movement and includes a character based on Lady Constance Lytton.  Persephone has dug up a review of the book by Emily Davison, the woman who fatally threw herself under a horse to bring attention to suffrage, in which she writes, ". . . but for vivid realism, the pictures of prison life, of the Hunger Strike and Forcible Feeding, are difficult to beat. It is a book which breathes the very spirit of our Women’s Movement."

And isn't the fabric for the endpapers and accompanying bookmark wonderful?  It's a pattern designed in 1913 by the Omega Workshops run by Roger Fry and in the suffragette colours. Hmmm - it would make a great scarf wouldn't it?
Their second book for the season is Greenbanks by their favourite author Dorothy Whipple.  I'm a bit behind in my Whipplewending; I've read and loved Somewhere From a Distance but the others are still waiting patiently on my shelf. However, Greenbanks is the story of an ordinary English family both before and after the First World War, and that immediately piques my interest.

Finally, Persephone continues to bring back into print some wonderful cookbooks. Dinner for Beginners by Rachel and Margaret Ryan was first published in 1934 and contains 109 recipes and 28 menus to cook dinners for four people. 

The bookmark I received with the magazine (this gorgeous fabric designed by Duncan Grant) had a snippet on the back in which the authors take you minute by minute through the cooking process telling you exactly when to complete each step.  Now, I've never actually attempted any recipes from my Persephone cookbooks, but oh, how I love to read them!  They are endlessly entertaining, and so evocative of the historical period in which they were written.  Kitchen Essays by Agnes Jekyll remains one of my favourite Persephones.

I'll be going to London next month and will definitely be stopping by their lovely store to pick these up along with Midsummer Night in the Workhouse, a collection of short stories by Diana Athill, and The Sack of Bath by Adam Ferguson.  That should bring my collection up to date and provide some wonderful holiday reading.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Where There's A Wool, There's a Way. . .

I love this campaign started by knitter and awesome designer Kate Davies  (you need to seriously check out her blog Needled - she creates the most incredibly beautiful patterns) and Felicity Ford, to convince the fashion industry to stop marketing campaigns using the words "wool" to describe products that actually have very little wool content in them. You can see some examples in her post here.   You can sign a petition here advocating that garments should not be called "wool" unless wool actually makes up more than 50% of the content.  But Wovember is also a month long celebration of sheep, wool and the history of textiles and knitting. The idea is to wear something every day this month that is made out of 100% wool.  You can also enter a photography contest celebrating sheep or all things woolly, open to anyone in the world. Details are here and the prize (of course) is some pretty luscious Shetland wool!

Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Ambition, Folly, Originality: Fascinating Women. . .

There are so many interesting fall books landing in the office these days;  Dangerous Ambition: Rebecca West and Dorothy Thompson by Susan Hertog, is one of them. There was a time when I was completely enamoured of all things Rebecca West, working my way through her novels (The Judge, for example is quite extraordinary) and journalism, particularly during her suffrage period.   I still think she's one of the greatest writers and most fascinating women of the 20th century.  I know nothing at all about Dorothy Thompson but after reading the jacket flap of this biography, I can see why the author has paired these two together (beyond their friendship). Thompson, an American, was also a journalist and the first female head of a European news bureau. And as West conducted a tempestuous affair with H.G. Wells, Thompson had a similar relationship with Sinclair Lewis. Both also had troubled relationships with their sons, who were jealous of their mother's success.  From Hertog's introduction:

. . . the lives of these women are important, not only in and of themselves, but because they are emblematic of female consciousness at a time of great social and moral upheaval and escalating scientific discovery - when psychological survival required the redefinition of one's relationship to oneself, society and the universe, both physical and divine. Few were up to the task, and the trajectory of most lives was an exercise in experimentation, frustration and failure. Thompson and West, however, had the extraordinary advantage of raw intelligence, along with the desire to make a difference in the world.

November also sees the publication of Hedy's Folly: The Life and Breakthrough Inventions of Hedy Lamarr, the Most Beautiful Woman in the World by Richard Rhodes.  I was looking through her filmography and while I don't think I've ever actually seen any of her movies, her life could be a Hollywood script.  Fleeing Germany and her marriage to a Nazi arms dealer, she landed in Hollywood via 1920s Paris, and in addition to her successful career, she was also responsible for inventing technology that created a jam-proof radio guidance system for torpedos; it's also used in today's cell phones and GPS devices.

And speaking of Hollywood, though I usually shun celebrity memoirs, I'm making an exception for Diane Keaton's Then Again.  I've always loved her movies and admired her original style. The focus of this memoir is really about her relationship with her mother who kept these incredibly thick journals, part scrapbook, part honest accounting of her life and thwarted ambitions, right up until she succumbed to Alzheimer's.  The book is wonderfully designed (and you'll be awed when you see the photos of these journals) but I'll probably be listening to the unabridged audio which is read by Keaton herself, if only for the trademark laugh and quirky inflections.

Friday, 28 October 2011

New Literature Prize. . .

It's fairly crowded in the world of literary awards; I work in the industry and even I can't keep track of them all.  But according to this article in The Bookseller,  The Literature Prize - started in part as a response to the Man Booker Prize allegedly too concerned with the "readability" of its shortlist - seems set for the spring of 2012.  There are a few things about this award that look promising. The judges will be chosen from a group of 40 - 50 members of an academy of writers and critics who are "immersed full-time in the world of books", and founder Andrew Kidd promises that the award will, "unashamedly embrace the idea of the book as art . . . and that has to do with language, form, ideas, and storytelling, and the unity of all those things." There will also be no longlist, just a shortlist.

Bring it on.

Thursday, 27 October 2011

A Whale of Inspiration. . .

I love it when different art forms get inspired by one another. For example.  First came a literary masterpiece, Moby Dick by Herman Melville.

Which prompted artist Matt Kish to embark on an amazing project of illustrating every page of this massive novel. It's been published by Tin House in this beautiful collection:  Moby-Dick in Pictures: One Drawing For Every Page.  You can quickly see some of Kish's work on his blog here and follow the whole project here.

This then inspired designer Ann Weaver to create some knitting designs based on Kish's illustrations, which are now available in her book White Whale Volume 1.  You can take a peek at the designs here.  I really like the cover sweater, aptly named "The Whiteness".

Someone's probably already done this, but if I had the time (and more importantly the talent), I could get endlessly inspired to conjure up knitting patterns inspired from Virginia Woolf's work, especially To The Lighthouse.   From the brown stocking Mrs. Ramsey is actually knitting, to seascapes and lighthouses, boeuf en daubes and Lily's final painting, the possibilities would be endless.  And what fun you could have with Mrs. Dalloway, Orlando, Between the Acts or The Waves!