Sunday, January 11, 2015

The universal stories of knitters

I’ve started a fourth book club (I know, I need help). This one is for knitters and other crafty people. Fortunately our first book, Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood, is one that I’d been meaning to read for a while, so it’s a win-win.

Ann Hood started knitting in 2002 during a time of grief, and the soothing sounds and motions calmed her mind and eased her sorrow. Talking to other knitters she discovered this was a common theme: “knitting helped them through all kinds of things that life throws in our path: divorce, depression, deaths; chemotherapy, loneliness, despair.” She also heard stories of knitting joys. And as she attended professional conferences and events, she heard the knitting stories of fellow writers.

The collection of essays she has gathered could have been written by any group of knitters. The stories explore all of the reasons we knit: as meditation, to become closer to a loved one, for the feeling of accomplishment, to ease our anxiety, and to just make something pretty. While the writers are telling their own stories, they are also telling ours. 

I thoroughly enjoyed this collection and found most of the essays very readable, identifying with the knitters in several of the stories. I particularly enjoyed High-Strung Knitter, by Elissa Schappell, in which a woman with high blood pressure takes up knitting as meditation, only to find another compulsive habit. That essay and Elinor Lipman’s poem I bought this pattern book last spring truly describe both my need to knit and my yarn stash compulsion. It’s nice to know these are shared experiences.  

I did completely skip two of the essays - Barbara Kingsolver’s pretentious writing style put me off on the first page and the whiny/anxious tone/concept of non-knitter Elizabeth Searle’s essay was very off-putting in general. I also didn’t think the added knitting patterns were necessary, especially since they did not include finished object photos. I don’t have the ability to read a pattern and visualize the end result, so I wasn’t even tempted by them.  

Knitting Yarns: Writers on Knitting edited by Ann Hood. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2013. Four Stars.

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