Tuesday, 31 January 2012

Ta Da . . .

A milestone in my admittedly short knitting career,  but I can't help feeling a bit chuffed.  This is my first ever sweater - and it FITS!  Okay, in a perfect world, it would be an inch or so longer on the front and the back, but the fit widthwise and under the arms is great so I'm just going to leave it as is.  The pattern is a Rowan one by Martin Storey called Dusk.   I used one and half skeins of Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool that I got very cheaply in the sale bins at Romni.  The skeins are huge - 425 meters each - and so I knew I wouldn't run out of yarn at a crucial moment.  It's very warm.  And now that I've conquered my fear of mattress stitch (who knew it could be so much fun?) I now have the confidence to try something more challenging.   Oooh, it just feels so good to get this project finished.

Monday, 30 January 2012

New From NYRB. . .

It’s been ages since I gave NYRB Classics a bit of love, but I recently read another one of their amazing gems and so the gushing has to commence again.  

The book this time is The Letter Killers Club by Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, translated by Joanne Turnball.  I’d previously read his surrealist collection of short stories, Memories of the Future, so I knew to expect something wild and different.   Like that collection, The Letter Killers’ Club is similarly filled with great storytelling but it’s got an added narrative and thematic structure that creates a really original and thought-provoking read.  Our narrator gets pulled into a mysterious club that meets every Saturday in a room filled with empty bookshelves.  The members each take turns relating their own fictional tales, but from the top of their head, with no notes to refer to.   These stories cannot and never will be written down because the club is devoted to the idea of clearing the mind from the overwhelming and artistically suffocating existence of the world's printed pages, in order to focus on the simplicity and purity of literary "conceptions." The stories that follow are marvellous and diverse, ranging from a sci-fi tale about a bacteria experiment, designed to control the movements of limbs, that turns into a nightmarish world of mind-controlled drones and their dictators, to a comic tale about three men trying to decided definitively what mouths were specifically created for - whether to kiss, eat, or to spout words.  My favourite is the first tale, read aloud as a play about Guilden and Stern both competing for the role of Hamlet, which involves a visit to a shadowy, muttering cavern filled with former "roles", including Richard Burbage who takes the opportunity to escape. It's very clever and amusing.

Weaved in among the stories however, is our narrator's growing unease as he observes the different members, in particular a mysterious man named Rar who will eventually reveal just why the narrator has been invited to this exclusive club.  There's a very sophisticated and intriguing debate running through this novel about the danger and yet universal necessity of the printed word - which of course our narrator can't help setting down in the very book we are reading.  Fans of Calvino, Borges and even Beckett would enjoy this, along with readers of Orwell, Wells and Huxley.  It nestles very nicely, if a bit rebelliously, on the shelf of books about books and bibliophiles.
I have a few other recently published NYRB classics on the to-be-read-soon pile, all by writers I’ve previously read and admired, so I know I’m in for a treat.  Albert Cossery has a really unique literary style, combining political satire with a sense of absurdity cushioned by  humanity.  The Jokers was a fantastic read and I’m sure Proud Beggars will also deliver – plus I’m intrigued to read political fiction set in Cairo in the wake of Egypt’s ongoing protests.  I also have copies of Gregor von Rezzori’s An Ermine in Czernopol (his Memoirs of an Anti-Semite was such an unusual and powerful book), and Robert Walser’s Berlin Stories.  I’ve read his novel Assistant, plus in lieu of getting someday to Berlin myself (it's on the bucket list!)  I enjoy reading about the city, particularly in the early 20th century, an interest fueled after devouring Doblin’s Berlin Alexanderplatz and then watching all of Fassbinder’s movie in a marathon three days (we won’t rant about the epilogue today).   

Coming out in March will be Amsterdam Stories by a new writer to me, who goes under the pseudonym Nescio.  His short stories have been compared to F. Scott Fitzgerald and I have visited Amsterdam, so I’m very much looking forward to the collection.  And then in April, NYRB is continuing to bring out the work of Stefan Zweig and will be publishing Confusion, about a civil servant’s love of reading and scholarship.  I’ve read and enjoyed a number of Zweig’s books, and I’m also thinking it might be a very good companion piece to one of my favourite NYRB titles of all time – John Williams’ heartbreaking Stoner

Over on their tumblr page, NYRB has posted a fall preview here and here for a fix of even more forthcoming goodies.

Sunday, 29 January 2012

On Trend. . .

So Tangerine Tango was chosen as THE colour of 2012 and it's lovely and vibrant and energizing and I'd love to knit a sweater in this colour.  But for now, a simple cowl will have to do.  I found a skein of Italian Feltro Lana Grossa in the sale area at Romni for only $5.00 and knit this up very quickly.  Since I tend to wear a lot of gray (I'm trying to change this), I figure this will cheer things up for the remainder of the winter.  

Wednesday, 25 January 2012

WIP Wednesdays. . .

I got two quite large skeins of New Zealand mohair for xmas and have been wondering what to do with them.  There wasn't quite enough for a sweater and I'm not sure I want that much fluffiness/fuzziness in a knitted garment.  I decided it would be lovely for a really big shawl especially if I stripe it with other wool. Off to swatch.

I'm going with the one on the left  - it's a ruching/ribbon stitch from Barbara G. Walker's stitch dictionary, A Treasury of Knitting Patterns Volume One (which is so drool worthy - I'm going to have to acquire all of her volumes).

This is going to be a BIG shawl - there are 600 stitches in the ribbon part - but I think it's going to be lovely and warm.  It's also using up a fair bit of my stash.  And, I have a colour scheme and an idea that, if it all works (and that's a big IF), will have an inspirational tie to Virginia Woolf.  We'll see.  At the moment, it's a big, furry snake.

Thursday, 19 January 2012

Work In Progress Wednesdays. . .

Lots of knitting bloggers are starting WIP Wednesdays, so to keep me on track with all of my many, many projects, I'm determined to post some progress every week.  I'm half-way through the second sleeve of my first ever sweater.  Front and back have been blocked and I hope to have the sleeves blocked and dry by the weekend so I can then attempt to seam this baby up.  Then I'm supposed to pick up a number of stitches at the top edge to knit a ribbed collar.  I'm debating whether to do it in a contrasting colour just for fun.  But first I need to seam and see if it fits.

I had an appointment in Kitchener earlier this week and took the opportunity to stop by Shall We Knit? for the very first time.  What a beautiful yarn shop. It's located in a lovely house and has a wonderful selection of yarns, notions and lots of knitting books and patterns.  My mum has just bought herself a new winter coat in a deep shade of purple (really quite a daring colour for her - I'm quite proud) and when I saw this skein of hand painted Misti Alpaca Super Chunky named The Magic Flute, I just knew it would be perfect for a small, but cozy cowl to match the coat.  I'm casting on for that tonight.

Sunday, 15 January 2012

Cozy Against the Cold. . .

It's turned bitterly cold this weekend and I was determined to hibernate at home and just knit, read and cook comfort food.  Until I realized I'd run out of butter (an essential ingredient for ALL comfort food) and had to venture out to the store.  Since I'd bundled up anyways, I took the opportunity to take a photo in the natural light of my new, cozy cowl that I finished Saturday morning.

This was made from two skeins of Rowan Colourscape Chunky, designed by Kaffe Fassett and I just LOVE the colours which remind me of all the shades of pink and purple that one finds in winter sunsets. The repeats are quite long, so I tried all sorts of different stitch patterns and scarf ideas before settling on a big cowl that is stretchy enough to wrap around my neck twice.  It just makes me very happy to look at the colours, although I realize now that I need a matching hat for the-head-that-seems-to-defy-all-pattern-sizes.  Stay tuned.

I'm very pleased with my knitting progress so far this year.  My first sweater is coming along. I've knitted the front and back and blocked them, and have started the first sleeve.  I'm a bit worried it's too small for me, in which case it'll be a gift for my Mum, but we'll see.  I also finished a pair of Fetching mitts from the Knitty pattern located here, which is a gift for my friend K's birthday.

And as for that comfort food:  It was Mac n' Cheese in the slow cooker.  Yes, the slow cooker.  You may not get all the breadcrumb crunchy bits from the traditional oven method, but this is the creamiest mac n' cheese I've ever tasted.  And there was plenty to freeze away for future lunches.  The recipe is from the Canadian Living: Slow Cooker Collection by Elizabeth Baird.

And I found a great new podcast to listen to while getting on with my projects.  A Playful Day is by a woman who lives in London, England, and is a relatively new but good and enthusiastic knitter, who also loves great food and likes to talk about both.  I listened to a number of her back episodes and really enjoyed them.

I'll top off this weekend with dinner at my Mum's and then we'll watch the next episode of Downton Abbey.  How many more weekends till spring?

Friday, 13 January 2012

Wanna Bet They Change The Title?

Well, here's something to look forward to.  Kenneth Branagh is directing a film version of the delightful novel The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society with Kate Winslet starring.  Could be fun.  Hope they leave the literary bits in.  Story here.

It Had To Come Eventually. . .

We've had our first blast of winter snow and the morning commute was extremely slow.  These are the days when I'm glad to take the bus and have someone else do the driving.  I had my knitting with me (and I'm working on something really colourful - it's just a joy to look at) and my iPOD and there was no more appropiate music to listen to than Kate Bush's latest album, 50 Words For Snow.  I particularly like the title track which, not surprisingly, is more or less a list of 50 different words for the white stuff, set to music. But while Kate does the counting, Stephen Fry actually says the words in all his lovely British pluminess.  My word for snow (not part of the list) is simply: Yuck.

Thursday, 12 January 2012

Crowing for the Rooster!. . .

Hooray, it's back!  I'm talking about the Tournament of Books in which a list of sixteen novels from 2011 go head to head in several rounds until a winner is chosen and awarded the prestigious Rooster. What makes this exercise so much fun is the commentary by the judges on why they selected one book over another, which is then taken apart and analyzed by the "booth announcers" Kevin Guilfoile and John Warner.  There's also a Zombie round where a book that's been booted out is resurrected based on readers' votes. It's all very entertaining.  And they have a terrific shortlist this year which includes five books I've read in full or partially (I'll admit I'm stalled in the middle of Murakami's 1Q84),  and several more that are definitely on my radar.  The shortlist and judges were announced today; the tussle starts in March.  All info is located here and you can vote for your favourite as well.

Wednesday, 11 January 2012

Keep Calm and Cast On. . .

"Knitting is the saving of life."
                 - Virginia Woolf

I found the above quote in Keep Calm and Cast On: Good Advice for Knitters, a cute little book that I picked up in Waterstones on my holiday.  It's compiled by acclaimed knit designer Erika Knight and is filled with lots of quotes from other designers and knit enthusiasts, bits of research on the health and stress reduction benefits of knitting and lots of useful tips, such as putting fluffy wool such as mohair into the fridge before knitting to make it easier to work with.  Who knew?

I'm intrigued to do some research on Woolf and her knitting.  These are the days (and there aren't many of them) when I miss being a grad student with library access to all sorts of online research databases.

Tuesday, 10 January 2012

Wrapping Up the Old and Anticipating the New. . .

I didn't finish as many books last year as I normally do.  I can't knit and read at the same time, and I was definitely more obsessed by the former. Still, looking through my reading journal last night, I was pleasantly reminded of many great reads from 2011.  So here, in alphabetical order are the ten books that gave me the most reading pleasure last year:

After Midnight  by Irmgard Keun, translated by Anthea Bell.  This is a little masterpiece of a novel, set during a few days in 1930s Germany where a young girl contemplates both the effects of growing Nazism and growing up in equal measure, while attending a party. As moving as Mrs. Dalloway.

The Cat's Table by Michael Ondaatje. As always, Ondaatje can paint such vivid and magical scenes. I was completely captivated by the unexpected people on board this journey.

Fair Play by Tove Jansson, translated by Thomas Teal.  I'm already a big fan of Jansson, so I knew I would love this tiny but so astute portrait of two women friends and artists, over the course of their long-term relationship. How she can convey in such a slim volume all the complexity of female emotions mystifies me, but it is such a beautiful experience to absorb myself in her prose, especially when she's describing the Nordic landscape.

Into the Silence: The Great War, Mallory and the Conquest of Everest by Wade Davis.  This was the book that occupied most of my reading life in 2011 as each chapter is so rich with historical details and amazing stories that I had to take many breaks. I am in complete awe at his research and dedication.

The London Train by Tessa Hadley.  I loved this beautifully written novel which gets into the heads of two very different characters, on separate journeys,  linked by a chance meeting on a train. The clever construction of this novel is one of its most pleasurable aspects.

The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes.  Definitely deserved the Booker.  A lovely little gem of a novel I will love to keep on rereading.

The Stranger's Child by Alan Hollinghurst.  A very interesting exploration of memory, literary legacy and the art of writing biography, told over several decades of the twentieth century.

There But For The by Ali Smith.  Wonderfully inventive, funny and full of playful language and narrative. This novel about a man named Miles who goes to a dinner party and locks himself up in a bedroom, refusing to come down again - for weeks - is told in four voices, neither of them by Miles, of people who barely know him and yet Smith makes it all work.  And it made me want to go and explore Greenwich.

A Visit From the Goon Squad by Jennifer Egan.  This wasn't published in 2011, but I only got around to reading it last May. I was really impressed by the originality of the storytelling and how engrossed I was with the characters.  And while I thought I would be rolling my eyeballs at the chapter told in powerpoint, it totally worked for that character's voice.

Vital Signs by Tessa McWatt.  This was the most overlooked Canadian novel last year and it's a shame because it was such an interesting portrait of a long-term marriage undergoing a crisis, told from the husband's harsh but honest viewpoint. I love a character that is flawed and unsympathethic and there were some interesting twists. And it has my favourite ending of all the books I read this year.

As always, there were tons of books that I didn't get around to reading and are at the top of the pile now.  These are the 5 books from last year I really, really want to read:

The Blue Book by A.L. Kennedy
Half of the Human Race by Anthony Quinn
Lightning Rods by Helen DeWitt
Midsummer Night in the Workhouse by Diana Athill
Open City by Teju Cole

And if you want to whet your appetite for what's coming in 2012, The Millions has this excellent overview.  I'm really looking forward to William Boyd's new one, Waiting For Sunrise, which takes place during WWI, and The Last Nude by Ellis Avery, a fictional account of the love affair between painter Tamara de Lempicka and her muse, set in 1927 Paris.

Sunday, 8 January 2012

And I'm Off. . .

I've done it!  I've cast on for my first ever sweater.  And I'm using my new square circular needles, which so far, I really love knitting with. They are supposed to be much easier on the hands. Long way (and many tears I'm sure) to go yet,  but it feels so good to have started.

Saturday, 7 January 2012

Happy New Year. . .

I've spent the holidays in the U.K. where the weather was mild (I actually saw some crazy daffodils out!), the food was plentiful (no one does roast potatoes and puddings like the Brits), the walks were great (the above photo was taken on New Year's Eve in North Wales), and the telly kept me pretty well occupied with tons of celebrity chef Christmas specials - Jamie, Nigella, Delia, Nigel Slater - I watched them all.  As well as the entire series of Jamie's Great Britain (I got his cookbook for xmas) which was terrific. All of which has inspired me to do far more cooking this year, buy more organic and local, and to try lots more new recipes.

My knitted gifts seemed to go down well (cable scarf for boyfriend, wool shawl for Mum) and I got such lovely knitting gifts in return - a set of needles, a beautiful Rowan pattern book and of course wool!  My entire carry on case was filled to the brim with all the skeins I brought back; I'm completely inspired to start on all sorts of lovely projects and yes, 2012 will be the year that I finally tackle a sweater and get over my sleeve and seaming fear.  To this effect, I found this fun widget that tracks how many meters you knit in one year which I've added on the right hand side.  You can get one for your blog here.

I have many knitting resolutions in addition to the sweater.  I want to try Fair Isle and double knitting.  And I really, really want to finish up my log cabin blanket, now that I think I've cracked how to sew it together and add a border.

So here's to 2012 - a year I hope will be full of inspiration and good intentions, adventure and serendipity, health and happiness, and lots of great reading, knitting, film-going, cooking, eating, learning and walking.   And I may even get out to my spin class one of these days!