Yarn Along

EDSTROM - WIN_20141118_114329

I’m not reading all of the books in this photo, but I might as well be. My life for the last couple of weeks has been a chaotic mess of knitting, reading, writing, and hurting, with an emphasis on knitting and hurting. My memory may be inaccurate, but I think I’ve had more pain in the last six weeks  than I did in the weeks and months before I quit my job because I was in too much pain to function – which is scary because even though it took me way too long to work up the courage to quit, I always knew that option was available. What comes after quitting your job? You don’t have to answer that.

The photo shows an almost-completed sleeve of an adult rollneck sweater. It’s in my size, but I’m not sure if it will end up being for me or if I will give it as a gift. We’ll see.

Here’s another photo. I like photos with angles.

EDSTROM - WIN_20141118_114359

If all goes well, by this coming weekend I will have finished at least a couple of the many, many books I’m reading and will be able to get some decent blogging done. In the meantime, Happy Wednesday!

Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | 9 Comments

Final Thoughts on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s This Side of Paradise (by Bethany)

this side of paradise cover image

As I’ve made clear before, I did not enjoy This Side of Paradise one bit. I was a little surprised, because I imagined that Fitzgerald was so adept with language that any book he might write would be worth reading if only for its sentences. While it’s true that over the course of this novel it is possible to see signs that Fitzgerald is slowly coming into his own as a writer, as a rule this novel’s language is just as banal as its subject matter. I see absolutely no evidence in the pages of this book that in only five years’ time its author will have the skill and dexterity to write The Great Gatsby. What happened in those five years – Paris? Alcohol? Zelda? A sense of competitiveness with Hemingway and Faulkner? This question is the most interesting one that emerged out of this book for me.

This Side of Paradise is about Amory Blaine’s “rise” (it’s more of an endless plateau, actually) from pampered child to deceitful prep-school student, and from there to an obnoxious social-climbing Princeton undergraduate and bitter, simpering young adult who can’t understand why his girlfriends always leave him. Amory’s childhood is fractured by the financial situation of his parents: his aristocratic European mother, Beatrice (sentences about Beatrice tend to end with exclamation points) and his humdrum father, “an ineffectual, inarticulate man with a taste for Byron and a habit of drowsing over the Encyclopedia Britannica” who “hovered in the background of his family’s life, an unassertive figure with a face half-obliterated by lifeless, silky hair, continually occupied by ‘taking care’ of his wife, continually harassed by the idea that he didn’t and couldn’t understand her” (9).

Where’s Freud when you need him?

Amory’s struggles to find meaningful relationships with girls and women are an ongoing (and entirely boring) element of the novel. Beginning with a “bobbing party” in late childhood – an event that seems like something Nellie Oleson from Little House on the Prairie ought to have been involved in – that culminates in his first kiss, and proceeding through a college romance with a girl from his hometown to a post-college romance with a college friend’s sister Rosalind, which ends when Rosalind realizes that Amory does not have enough money to support her in the manner to which she has been accustomed, Amory seems to have inherited or absorbed his father’s inability to be a force for good in a relationship with a woman, and he never stops feeling victimized by his own ineptitude, which he always manages to blame on someone: he mother, his father, the girls themselves, the girls’ mothers, and so forth.’

It seems to me that this novel is inextricably a product of its times. I’m no scholar of the 1890’s through the 1910’s, but because World War I so thoroughly shattered first Europe and then the United States out of the innocence and frivolity of these years, I have become aware that these years were innocent and frivolous – and this novel certainly portrays them in this way. Young male Ivy League undergraduates in this novel, for example, spend more time “linking arms and singing” than the entire rest of the human race put together, and all kinds of fusses are made over dance cards and those sorts of things. Works of art whose purpose is to capture a place, an era, and a culture often do not age well. They become textbooks rather than art. I can imagine this novel being taught in a social history or cultural anthropology course about American society at the turn of the twentieth century, but I see little use for it as a novel.

That said, this novel certainly qualifies as a central text of the Jazz Age. Like A Moveable Feast – which is usually categorized as nonfiction – this novel spends a good bit of time complaining about the fact that life in the post-war years is empty and meaningless. In spite of the vague, dismissive way Amory’s service in World War I and even the death of several of his friends is treated in the novel (it’s not quite “a vast Teutonic migration,” but it’s close), Amory expounds to his friend Tom that the war “certainly ruined the old backgrounds, sort of killed individualism out of our generation” (203). “Oh Lord,” he expounds, “what a pleasure it used to be to dream I might be a great dictator (!!) or writer or religious or political leader – and now even a Leonardo Da Vinci or Lorenzo de Medici couldn’t be a real old-fashioned bolt in the world. Life is too huge and complex. The world is so overgrown that it can’t lift its own fingers, and I was planning to be such an important finger” (204 – the exclamation points after ‘dictator’ are my own).

This novel seems to be trying to do something experimental with genre, though these experiments are too timid to work very well. Two portions of the novel are inexplicably told in the form of short plays. I do think I understand the reason for this genre switch: it allows Fitzgerald to write scenes in which Amory is not present, in spite of the fact that the novel as a whole is told from his point of view. I didn’t especially like this technique, but I also have a history of complaining when novelists shift their point of view around willy-nilly, so I suppose Fitzgerald’s solution to this problem is as good as any. Furthermore, the novel is subdivided not only into relatively long (and titled) chapters but also into subsections that are also titled. At times it is common for two or three of these sections to fit on a single set of facing pages. These titles are often a little on the pretentious side: “In the Drooping Hours” (248), “The Collapse of Several Pillars” (241), “Amory on the Labor Question” (196), “The Superman Grows Careless” (96), and so forth. These little subtitles reminded me of the titled sections of each episode of Frasier (remember those – they would appear every 8-10 minutes throughout each episode, every time a new scene began?), and at times the outward pretention combined with inward loneliness and self-loathing reminded me of some of the characters in Frasier, a show that I very much enjoyed. I thought for a while about why I disliked this novel so much when it reminded me of a show that I liked, but then I realized: Frasier is a comedy. It wants to be laughed at, and the comic form gives us the unstated promise that the characters will all eventually be okay, while This Side of Paradise takes itself painfully seriously. It’s impossible for me to read it without being constantly aware of the huge boulder that Amory’s speeding train will crash headlong into sometime in the second half of 1929. Fitzgerald didn’t know about the Great Depression, of course, but in both this novel and The Great Gatsby he seems to have a certain intuition that something is coming that will make people like Amory Blaine immediately and catastrophically irrelevant.

I never would have finished this novel if it hadn’t been for the Numbers Challenge, and of course I’m glad that I read it. The fact that this precursor to The Great Gatsby is of such questionable quality makes Gatsby all the more of a singularity, and therefore more impressive. The early works of some great writers feel like dress rehearsals for their later work, but this novel feels less like a dress rehearsal and more like the work of an entirely different writer – it almost makes me wonder if some kind of life-altering event took place between 1920 and 1925 (again – Paris? Alcohol? Zelda?) that affected Fitzgerald so thoroughly that it created a fissure in his work that divides what came before from what came after.

Posted in Authors, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Fiction - general, Fiction - literary, Reviews by Bethany, The Numbers Challenge | 5 Comments

In which Jill reflects on twenty years “in the Blood” and reviews Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat


I finished Prince Lestat tonight. I should have finished it on Thursday but I had to take a nap or two that day. And last night I fell asleep with thirty pages to go. It’s not that I was bored, I really wasn’t. But the hubby and I are getting back on the exercising wagon this week and my dog has a situation with his one remaining eye and my mind has not been one hundred percent focused on much of anything besides the pain in my quads and the fact that my dog is going to be sixteen and how long can he possibly live? But I was supposed to be talking about the first Vampire Chronicle since 2003. See what I mean? I’ve been scatterbrained lately.

But I digress. I really did enjoy Prince Lestat, despite how long it took me to get through the last part of it. I wasn’t necessarily expecting the ending (no spoilers here, so stop looking), but once it happened I was not surprised at all. It seemed like it was what was meant to happen all along, or what Anne Rice was working towards, but I’m not sure. She of all people has always seemed to espouse the existentialist philosophy of life being essentially meaningless. But perhaps she has changed over the years. Haven’t we all?

I first read Anne Rice when I was a senior in high school. Actually, that’s not entirely true. I first tried to read Anne Rice when I was maybe a junior in high school. I bought The Witching Hour and tried to read it but I couldn’t get into it. I actually didn’t read the Mayfair Witches series until I was in vet school, and it was cool, but got weird, and I’ve always preferred Anne’s vamps to her witches anyway. I remember stalking the Vampire Chronicles in bookstores in the months before Christmas of 1993, and my mom bought them for me for Christmas that year. I read Interview, The Vampire Lestat, and The Queen of the Damned over Christmas break. I remember those days so clearly. I could read and read and watch TV and listen to music and never take naps. Ah, to be sixteen again. I loved these books so much. And then I read The Tale of the Body Thief. And that one wasn’t as good. And in 1995 I read Memnoch the Devil, and that book was traumatic. Where were all the wonderful characters from The Queen of the Damned, and why in the hell is Lestat laying in a deserted mansion in New Orleans in some sort of coma? Anyway, I kind of gave up on Anne Rice for a while after that. I got caught up on the series in vet school, during systemic pathology the winter of my second year, and felt like the series was regaining some of its old momentum. But the book I was waiting for still hadn’t turned up. And then, in the fall of 2014, it finally did.

Prince Lestat revisits all the characters we met in The Queen of the Damned, at later points in the series, and introduces some new ones. In the twenty-nine years since the events of that book, the vampires have proliferated again, and the Burnings are starting again, just like they did when Akasha woke up back in the day. I mentioned The Voice in my first post about Prince Lestat. Turns out that The Voice is actually Amel, the demon who possessed Akasha six thousand years ago. Somehow he has become self-aware, and is directing ancient, powerful vampires to kill off the younger vampires of the world, in order to consolidate his energies into fewer vampires. Thankfully, Anne doesn’t even try to get into the genetics/physiology of this creature. I was worried that she would (see my first post), but she doesn’t. All we really get is that the “bulk” of Amel, such as he is, is in The Sacred Core, which is in Mekare, but he also has bits of himself in every single vampire on earth. And at that point she stops trying to explain. And that was for the best, because it’s pretty obvious technology and science are not Anne Rice’s strong suits. It’s fine with me if she leaves it all mostly mysterious rather than doing a poor job of using a medical vocabulary.

In this book, we also get to meet some other spirits and some ghosts. I would have liked to have spent more time with these folks because they seemed interesting. I couldn’t make up my mind while I was reading if Rice was tying up loose ends with this book, or getting ready to start a new phase of the Vampire Chronicles. I really hope it isn’t the end, because I really do enjoy reading about these characters, and now that Lestat is less filled with ennui and has a purpose in life, it’d be nice to see what he does with his life.

Ultimately, it seems to me that this book was about redemption for the vampires. They come to see themselves less as undead things, less as The Children of Darkness, and more as the People of the Savage Garden (paraphrased from p. 425), less as a bunch of isolated individuals, and more as a tribe. At the end they are no longer alone, none of them. After The Queen of the Damned I thought they would all stay in contact, but they didn’t. I hope that now they do, and Anne Rice writes many, many more books about their adventures. Yes, this is my sixteen-year-old self emerging to make herself known on the internet. I know there’s at least a sixty percent chance that Anne Rice will never write about Lestat again. She might never write another book again. She could decide to become Catholic again and join a convent.

I wouldn’t recommend this book to anyone who hasn’t read at least the first three books of the Vampire Chronicles. But for me, it was a book I’ve been waiting to read since I was sixteen, and I’m so glad I finally got to read it. No, it’s not perfect. But I don’t think that any of Anne Rice’s books are. I didn’t know that when I first started reading them, just like I couldn’t see how perfect The Portrait of a Lady was when I tried to read it a couple of months before I read the Vampire Chronicles. There is comfort in reading authors you’ve read for years and years, even if it’s not high quality fiction. It’s sort of like coming home, and recently that is what I’ve needed.

Posted in Anne Rice, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Reviews by Jill | 4 Comments

Yarn Along

Yarn Along 11.12.14

I’ve gotten a lot of work done on  the child-size rollneck sweater I started last week. I’ve been watching the TV series The West Wing over again, start to finish, and the hours just fly by. I’ve finished the front, the back, and one sleeve, and the second sleeve is almost done. As always, I’m approaching Christmas with  a ridiculously ambitious list of homemade gifts I want to give. There will be some painful decisions to make in the next few weeks. One can only do so much.

In the photo above, you can see the two colors I’m using: dark mallard green and a medium blue. The back and one sleeve will be green; the front and the other sleeve will be blue. I’ve knit this basic rollneck pattern at least 20-30 times, and I love inventing new ways to vary the color and texture each time.

I’m also helping a teenage friend of mine learn to knit. She picked up the knit and purl stitches and has a nice little stockinette swatch made, but whenever she tries to practice on her own, she thinks she’s making mistakes and stops. I wish I could summon Tilda, the woman who taught me to knit. She was so good at deflecting my attention away from mistakes and on to what I could do with the skills I already had (which, once one knows the knit and purl stitches, is almost anything, really). Tilda taught me to cast on over the phone. That’s how much of a knitting badass she was. 

I’m still not enjoying This Side of Paradise one bit, and no one is more surprised about this turn of events than I am. I’m close to finishing it, and I’ve thought of some amusing ways to mock it, so I should have a review posted by the end of this week.

Also on my mind this week: The advantages and drawbacks of a non-traditional Thanksgiving meal. A wild life change I’m considering. My deep affection for the term “myoclonic jerk.” The fact that I wish I spoke at least a dozen languages.

As always, Yarn Along is hosted by Ginny on her blog, Small Things.


Posted in Yarn Along | 2 Comments

My New Favorite Bookstore is Actually a Cafe (by Bethany)

photo of books from boulevard

Warning: The problems I’m about to describe are first-world in nature.

I have myself on a self-imposed deadline to finish a writing project by the end of the year, and almost every day this week I went straight to the Promenade Café on Balboa Street in San Francisco and wrote for 3-4 hours. Monday and Tuesday were great; I wrote about sixteen pages between the two days and was generally happy with the result. On Wednesday my alarm went off and I could barely stand up. I reset the alarm, slept another hour, then headed out. On Thursday I took a day off, but today I was back in the trenches, and I am not kidding you when I say that I can feel every single tendon and nerve in my neck, back, and shoulders. It’s true that I have problems with these parts of my body in general, and it’s also true that those problems have been unusually active for the last 6-8 weeks – but still. I’m shocked that about 20 hours of writing over five days has knocked me out like this. The past five days have exhausted me more than all of 1992 put together.

But enough about me. Promenade is lovely, not least because its entire back wall is given over to books. The café sells the books as part of a partnership with Green Apple Books - long a Postcards from Purgatory favorite. The selection is awesome, the books are in good condition, and they all cost a flat rate of $5, which is quite a bit less than good-condition used paperbacks usually sell for at Green Apple. I bought these four this morning to celebrate the end of my first week of early-morning writhing – oops, I mean writing.

I’ll be back with a review sometime soon. Have a great weekend, everyone!

Posted in Favorite bookstores, Glimpses into Real Life | Leave a comment

Progress Report on Anne Rice’s Prince Lestat (by Jill)



Remember how Anne Rice rediscovered Jesus and swore she would never write about vampires again? How long did that last? Eleven years? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I will go on whatever adventure Anne Rice takes me on, even if it’s an adventure she promised to never take again. We’re all allowed to change our minds every once in a while, I suppose.

I pre-ordered this book on amazon in like March, as soon as I saw that it was coming out. I have been equal parts overjoyed and trepidatious about its release: it sounded like the book I’ve been waiting for her to write for two decades, the one where all the vampires in her universe share the stage again for the first time since The Queen of the Damned. But how could anything I’ve been waiting for for over half my life ever possibly live up to my expectations? So you see my concern. I elected to line-jump this one, though I do feel a little bad about it because I still haven’t read The Wolves of Midwinter, but I feel like it isn’t every day that Lestat returns to the world of the living, and those Marin werewolves have been around for like a minute in comparison.

I started this book officially yesterday, though I did take a sneak preview a few days ago. I was slightly put off by the glossary of terms that starts the book off. I mean, who in the heck needs a definition for “Blood Drinker”? Surely anyone who purchases this book knows what one of those is. And here’s another thing. “In the Blood.” I don’t remember ever hearing this used as a synonym for “vampire” ever before in the Anne Rice canon, and yet the characters use it all the damn time, at least all the damn time in the first hundred or so pages of the book. Don’t try to make up new terms and pass them off as always having been there. Loyal readers will be annoyed. But they will keep reading, so maybe it doesn’t really matter if we’re annoyed.

The novel is divided into four parts. Part I is narrated by Lestat, and is an overview of some of his adventures since the last time we saw him. It’s sort of depressing. Lestat is having some sort of emo life crisis. He visits with his friends but doesn’t stay anywhere. He feels isolated. And there is an occasional voice in his head, which is a little creepy. He also meets a few new characters, including Seth and Fareed. Fareed is a scientist-vampire, and has been spending time trying to figure out the biology of vampires. I think Anne Rice may have been reading Deborah Harkness. The “science talk” of this chapter leaves Lestat (and probably also Anne Rice) at a loss. It interests him, but I get the impression Lestat would rather think of himself as a “dead thing” than as a human with some sort of infection or mutation. Fareed says to Lestat, “We’re not dead things. That’s poetry, and it’s old poetry, and it will not endure. Only good poetry endures. We’re very much alive, all of us. You body’s a complex organism playing host to another predatory organism that is somehow transforming it little by little year by year for some distinct evolutionary purpose. Don’t you want to know what that is? (22)” Lestat allows Fareed to do some experimentation/sample collection, even going so far as to somehow make it so Lestat can have actual intercourse with an actual human woman. For those who don’t know, Anne Rice vampires don’t “do” sex like the vamps in other mythologies. All their sexual pleasure is derived from the giving and taking of blood. So for Lestat to actually produce semen is a pretty big deal. I wonder what they ended up doing with the semen…?

I’m a little way into Part II right now and this section seems to be stories of humans and vampires whose lives have been touched by Lestat in various ways. First we meet Rose, a human whose guardian is her mysterious Uncle Lestan. It will come as no surprise to anyone that “Uncle Lestan” is actually Lestat. He provides for Rose’s every need, sending her to the best schools and exposing her to culture and art and all the best things money can provide. Rose’s life is not without tragedy, and if the chronicle of her trials had gone on any longer than it had I think I would have been annoyed. I also just met Cyril, who seems to be one of the ancient ones, who also hears the Voice that Lestat hears. Unfortunately for Cyril, all the Voice tells him to do is find fledgling vampires and kill them. The Voice talks to Lestat about how much it loves Lestat, and makes recommendations about where to go next on his travels. I also started the chapter about a vampire named Antoine right before I paused in my reading to start writing my post. Antoine is actually one of Lestat’s offspring from his days in New Orleans with Louis and Claudia, but that’s all I know so far. Oh, and he plays the piano.

Anne Rice is using her traditional lush writing style in this book so far, which I’m grateful for. She tried this more sparse thing with her books about the childhood of Jesus which I didn’t like as much. So that’s a plus. The thing about this book that bugs me a bit is how she is trying to bring The Vampire Chronicles into the 21st century, with references to iPhones and DNA and podcasts and whatnot. It’s not a language she speaks well, and she should leave mixing modern technology into vampire lore to the people who do, like Deborah Harkness. I’m hoping that the scientific subplot improves as things go along, but I’m not sure that it will.


Posted in Anne Rice, Fiction - Fantasy, Fiction - general, Fiction - Vampire Porn, Reviews by Jill | Leave a comment

Yarn Along

Yarn Along

Today I finished the back of the child-sized sweater I started last week. The newly cast-on stitches in the photo are the beginning of one sleeve. The front of the sweater and the second sleeve will be a medium greyish-blue. The yarn in the photo is a dark mallard green. I’m liking the green side by side with my bright red book. This combo is making me think that I should coordinate my outfits with my books more often.

I’m about 30 pages into Alan Garner’s Red Shift. It’s interesting. There are three sets of characters living in the same place at three different times in history. It’s almost all dialogue, so the shifts between sets of characters are kind of jarring. I’m forever catching up with whatever the characters are all worked up about. I’m not sure if I’ll like it – I’ll let you know.

Yarn along is hosted by Ginny on her lovely blog, Small Things.

Posted in Yarn Along | Leave a comment