Under the Maple Canopy

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Book Review – “Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously” and Learning to Love Difference

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I picked this book up from the library the other day.  Something about the title and the picture of all that yarn on the cover made me feel like I just had.to.read it.  I ignored the knitting in the title given that I’m not a knitter, but figured that a love for things fiber related would be something that I could understand.  Adrienne Martini’s “Sweater Quest” did not disappoint (www.martinimade.com is her website – although I didn’t care for it as much as I liked her book).  In fact I found it so entertaining that I finished it in just under 24 hours.  It’s a both a blessing and a curse.  The blessing being that it gives me more time to read all the other books that strike my fancy.  It’s a curse because…well…the fun is over.

Adrienne literally had me at hello (er, intro).  In her discussions of motherhood and how it relates to her love of needing – or maybe the obsessive necessity of – to create with her hands – I found that I could identify myself a million times over.  The fact that the book finds it’s foundation in knitting was no bother to me.  I could read those passages with slight disinterest as it didn’t detract from the main undercurrent of the book.

What’s my problem with knitting you ask?  I don’t have a problem with knitting per se.  I actually plan on including it in our homeschool educational pursuits.  If my children or anyone else around me wants to knit…fantastic for them.  As for me?  The prospect of the two needles coupled with their slippery nature and all that yarn makes me nervous.  I’m deathly afraid that the stitches will slip off the needle while I’m trying to work on creating new stitches.  Mind you, this is a genuine concern given that if something like this were to happen you would immediately notice it.  It would directly impact that sanctity and structure of your fabric.  This poses far too much of a concern to me.  It’s why I stick with crochet.  Only one hook necessary and you can’t “drop” a stitch in the same way.  Miss a stitch?  The structure of the fabric is not compromised.  It’ll look wonky, but depending on the project that might not make a difference.  You very well may be able to add an increase later to make up for it and continue on your merry way.  No slipping fears = a lot more fun in my opinion.

Did the fact that I’m not a knitter detract from my enjoyment of the book?  No!  Did I find sometimes that the knitting reference went over my head?  Most definitely.  Which leads me to the real crux of my post.  For some reason I decided yesterday to read the reviews of her book on Amazon.  I think I may have headed there to see if she had written anything else – true to internet form I was off on the review reading bunny trail.  I’m used to seeing books have negative reviews – most often this occurs in books related to Christianity that I read with reviewers just about accusing the author of being the Antichrist, deceived by the devil, hell bound, etc.  I expect this from the sort of Christianity I’m familiar with – it’s wired into the DNA of this particular iteration and has lead to things historically like the Salem Witch Trials, The Inquisition, and The Crusades.  I do not, however, expect these sorts of behaviors from readers of, say, a book about knitting.

Granted, no one in the reviews called her the Antichrist nor said she was going to hell, but they may as well have.  The same sentiment that underlies the reviews of the Christian book, that of “I’m right, you’re wrong and if we disagree we can’t get along,” rears its ugly head in the negative reviews of this book.  You can see it in statements like:

It was a laborious read, and too often, personal comments (not really conducive to any reader enjoyment) got in the way. – Ace

Why does the author think it’s necessary to trumpet her anti-conservative politics in a stupid little knitting book? Got news for you, women who vote Republican knit, too. When I get together at my local yarn shop to share knitting stories, tips and tricks, yarn suggestions, patterns, etc., we’re not there to chat about politics and current events. We go to get away from that world and enter a more genteel state where we can argue over the merits of aluminum vs. bamboo, wool or cotton, lace or cable, and to encourage each other to succeed at something we all love. I don’t care who my knitting friends voted for, and I expect them to not care who I choose to cast a vote for, and I certainly don’t expect to be insulted in a book about knitting a sweater – or cooking recipes by Julia Child – just so the author can show off her “see how enlightened I am” credentials. – Lala

The other reviewers seemed a bit more gracious, but the general idea here – that her “personal” comments got in the way of the book seemed to be a common theme.  I got to wondering whether Lala read the book at all given that in the instances where Adrienne expresses her political leanings she is quick to accompany that with a “your mileage may vary” disclaimer.  Adrienne doesn’t expect that everyone will agree with her, but does that mean she shouldn’t be able to express her “personal” views as it relates to her personal experience of life?  Isn’t that what makes life interesting…her book unique?  And, for the record, why does one having non-Republican, non-conservative views and expressing them automatically mean they are trying to “show off her ‘see how enlightened I am’ credentials”?  What makes that different than Lala’s point of view as a reviewer?

It begs the question – why is it that we in the United States can’t seem to find common ground?  Why is every discussion so darn polarized?  None of us are served by the “you’re right, I’m wrong” sentiment.  It’s dismissive and counter-productive.  It leaves me wondering how exactly we got to this point.  I suppose in some ways I blame it on the internet.  The very fact that the internet has allowed people to find a community of like-minded individuals (knitters, natural family living types, homeschoolers, etc) to find each other in ways that may not have been possible before seems to have created or maybe exacerbated the hyper-individualism that exists in our society.  Why is it that we can’t seem to skip over the parts that we don’t agree with?  How hard was it to skip over the few sentences (and there were very few) that we disagreed with while at the same time enjoying the rest of the book?

Granted, in the interests of disclosure, I struggle with this myself.  It happens when I read blogs.  It happens when I read books.  It happens when I’m talking about things with others in person.  I try to recognize and dismiss the feeling when it happens – sometimes more successfully than others.  True, there are times when I am unable to move past the difference.  There are blogs that I don’t read because I largely don’t agree with the perspective of the author.  If I had more time, or perhaps spent my entire day, to read blogs then perhaps I might venture out and read more of those with which I don’t agree…believing as I do that it’s important to understand the perspective of another.

Still, there was that one blog (whose name and address escapes me now) that I would have generally enjoyed.  It was a rural/homesteading type blog with beautiful pictures and stories to tell.  I actually read a few posts and was just about to hit the “subscribe” button on my reader when I came across a post where they shared their joy over joining their local “tea party” and that was it.  I passed by the blog and haven’t gone back since.  I’m certain it makes me a hypocrite, but it soured my experience of their blog.

In light of my experience there I suppose I should feel a bit more sympathy for Adrienne’s negative reviewers…but I don’t.  I should have been more gracious with the blogger and the reviewer should have been more gracious with the author.  We should be able to appreciate our common ground and shared experiences in spite of our differences.  Nay, perhaps because of our differences.  I don’t think anything in the United States will change until we learn that lesson.  Sometimes I fear what will happen in the meantime.  I for one certainly hope the lesson is learned sooner rather than later.

The other lesson I’ve learned since reading the book and Adrienne’s reviews?  There is a blessing to be found in obscurity.  There are very few people who visit this space and read what I have to say.  Sometimes it makes me feel a bit sad as the days tick by and very few comment.  I wonder as to whether it’s worth it to continue.  On the other hand blogging, even if no one else reads it, is cathartic.  Adrienne references a bumper sticker in her book that read – “I Knit so I Don’t Kill People.”  I guess you could probably include blogging in the category.  Besides…blogging is one of the few socially acceptable ways of talking to yourself.

Oh…and even though in my wildest dreams I’d like to be a writer count me officially glad that I’m not.  I don’t think that I could handle the negative reviews.

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15 thoughts on “Book Review – “Sweater Quest: My Year of Knitting Dangerously” and Learning to Love Difference

  1. I like that the author of the negative review enters a “genteel state” in order not to discuss politics. Perhaps that’s the problem. But I’ve unsubbed from reading blogs over politics. I don’t feel bad about it though, I’m just showing my “see how enlightened I am” credentials (again).

    • Yeah…I wondered just what exactly a “genteel” state is. Perhaps this shows my ignorance or geographical location. I tend to associate phrases like “genteel” with the Southern half of the US vs. where I make my home up North.

      Good for you on not feeling bad about about the unsubscribing – I suppose one only has a finite number of hours in a day. I’m sure I’ve lost some readers along the way with my decidedly less than conservative views. I guess that’s the thing about blogs or books or life. If you aren’t able to be yourself, to be personal, why bother?

  2. I read “Sweater Quest” a few weeks ago and really enjoyed it. The knitting side of it was great, but the “personal comments” side, the parts that those reviewers didn’t like–well, I read books in this genre because authors include their opinions.

    • Exactly! I love the combination of a particular topic with “human interest” stories mixed in through out. Then again…I’m a sucker for a good story. I just finished another book (“This Book is Overdue!”) where the author did the same thing, but in the context of a discussion about librarians. All of her negative reviews seemed to center on the too many side stories theme as well. Me thinks this particular genre/form is a little bit misunderstood.

  3. I love your comments about the polarization & seeming intolerance of divergent ideas or beliefs. I have found that those who become most strident in these matters also have difficulty having any kind of “open” discussion. They simply cannot allow themselves to consider any other than their own narrow view of matters – whether political or religious or anything else. They seem “stuck” in my way of thinking. But then I am one of those really weird people who love a good, thoughtful & well informed debate, framed with polite and gracious verbal respect for whatever “other” ideas enter the discussion. That to me is where I learn new stuff.
    Just some thoughts!
    M

    • Very good points! Debate is, I think, key to our democracy. Though, I have to say that personally I struggle with debate. It leaves me all red faced and flustered. I’m the quintessential “I have no idea what to say until days later” sort of person. I’ve even been a bit stretched lately on this subject of debate. Rachel Maddow has talked about how even the outlandish things being said are an important part of our culture – that it’s what makes things interesting.

      Still, I’m stuck in just where exactly the line should be drawn. I don’t think that we should all avoid talking about our “personal” viewpoints. On the other hand, I don’t think it’s wise to draw scopes on the districts of those we disagree with nor tell people that we need to “reload”. There’s a danger there in what you may incite. I guess the answer lies in the “thoughtful & well informed part.”

  4. I wonder where the reviewer goes to knit where they DON’T discuss current events? Wouldn’t that be an atypical kind of group?

    I can agree with the reviewer in that I don’t go to stitch nights or get-togethers with other stitchers to discuss politics or religion or sports (this is Pittsburgh, after all). But those topics will inevitably drift into the conversation, and I certainly am interested to know what other people think. And if we don’t agree, I certainly don’t get up and move my chair to another table.

    Most of the stitching women I meet feel the same way. Because needlework and knitting tend to be solitary activities, I find that most people are thrilled to get together with or read about others who share their passion, regardless of their politics. So we accept and appreciate our similarities and our differences and just move on.

    Ho boy…I think you’ve just planted the seed for a Stitching Bloggers Question of the Month. I hope you don’t mind if I run with this next month? Drop me an email?

    • I have to admit…I’ve never made it to the local SnB. I’ve always meant to, but with our wonky schedule child care can be a bit difficult. However, I can imagine it would be difficult to *never* discuss anything going on in our daily lives be it politics, child rearing or whatever. Unless somehow it was a group of folks getting together for “contemplative knitting” where the goal is to observe group silence? And then if that was your goal, wouldn’t you just stay home?

      As for the question of the month? Fantastic idea! Sent you an email.

  5. I was thinking the same thing. There’s only so much to talk about in the knitting world. The rest of the world is far more interesting. If it weren’t for the diversity in my knitting sisters, I wouldn’t go at all. (In fact, our group has been skewing older and I’ve not been going as much as I used to..hmm.)

    That reviewer sounds like the people who come to knit once and never show up again. I guess all the talk of vegan/omni, dem/gop, pro-/anti- must make them too afraid to come back… they might have to have an opinion on something!

    • Or live with the discomfort of having your own view point challenged a bit. Not in a bad way, mind you, but that moment of discomfort and embarrassment that occurs when you realize how foolish your opinion sounds. I’ve been there before. Isn’t that the point of community, though? Sort of an “iron sharpens iron” kind of thing?

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  8. I wonder if there’s actually time left this year, to get the book, learn, and actually ‘make’ some Christmas presents?

    hmmm – probably not – as usual I have TOO many projects already!

    🙂

    • My moto is…if you haven’t started your homemade presents by October you’re pretty much out of luck. Still…if you’re looking for a how-to book you’ll need to pass by this one. It’s really more of a story about knitting. You could always buy this book, buy your Christmas presents for folks online, and then spend the rest of your Christmas present time sitting in a coffee shop while reading this book (and a few others). You could consider it a Christmas present to yourself!

      Thanks for stopping by!

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