Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Books for total immersion


Sometimes, despite spending hundreds of hours a year sewing, cocooned by threads and fabrics, it simply does not feel quite enough...I still feel hungry for greater immersion. While the desire for 'more' can be well supplemented by reading blogs, pattern books or instruction manuals (yes, I have to admit that they can sometimes serve as bedtime reading), they have the not entirely restful effect of only setting my mind racing further with new ideas. Sometimes what is most welcome is a whole novel around the theme: somewhere to become further absorbed, yet stilled at the same time, by pages that are saturated by descriptions of textures, processes, smells, the feeling of working with tools and of being skilled in something, the meditative quality of being so focused in on something. I have never particularly sought these books out, but the delight is immense in beginning a book and finding by chance that I can become immersed not only in the story, but in a character's creative processes. So I thought that I might share with you some of my favourites: I recommend these not on literary merit, but for the sheer joy of losing yourself to the heady descriptions of things being made (so if you are a very high-brow sort of reader, you may wish to look away).

The Blood of Flowers- Anita Amirrezvani - Set in Iran, not only does this book hold a wonderful and enlightening story (albeit a gruelling one - this isn't the aspect that I focus on here, but I should warn you that it is for the most part an upsetting and awful story, but one which is very much worth reading). Woven throughout the latter part of the story is the central character's journey as she learns to make carpets - the lengthy and involved descriptions of the design, planning and creation of the carpets have not been popular with everyone (most of the people in my book group skim-read these bits and felt they interrupted the flow of the story), but I found them utterly captivating. They go alongside some fairly raunchy sex scenes too...

The Home-Maker- Dorothy Canfield Fisher - This is a book that has been published by Persephone, so comes bound by one of their beautiful grey jackets, which only adds to the loveliness. This story was first published in 1924 and tells of a woman stifled and embittered by her role as homemaker caring for her children and rather spineless husband. When her husband is bedridden after injuring his back, husband and wife are forced to swap roles and while the children blossom under their father's care, Evangeline comes alive when she takes on a role in a department store - it's here that her love of fabric and clothing is indulged and she forges out a successful career and a life that is newly fulfilling, which may sound rather pedestrian, but for the time, her new purpose within the family was far from conventional and it is fascinating to read about what drives both her and her husband as their role reversal unfolds (despite Evangeline being fundamentally dislikable for much of the book). 

Lucia, Lucia and Very Valentine- Adrianna Trigiani - These books suffer from having awful front covers that belie how well researched and readable they are. The former focuses on the life of a seamstress, the latter on the life of a shoe maker. Both are essentially love stories set against the backdrop of a large Italian family, however, the descriptions of textures, materials, inspiration and creative processes are so wonderfully absorbing that for me her books transcend the boundaries of being forgettable holiday reads and make me wish that they'd never end.

Bespoke: Savile Row Ripped and Smoothed - Richard Anderson - This book is for the true needle and thread geeks among us (myself included). It's essentially an autobiography of Richard Andersons's time at the Savile Row tailors, Huntsmans, and gives a fascinating insight into how a Savile Row tailors is run, the expectations of the clients, the pressures of the work, the characters that make up the workforce...but perhaps more interesting than anything were his descriptions of learning to cut patterns and the errors and triumphs he experienced in this process.

Last week, my sister also sent me Bride Flight which she recently published, with this note attached: 'I am not sure if I've mentioned this book before but it's one I thought you might enjoy - quite an epic and very emotionally engaging, plus one of the characters is a dressmaker.' I'm yet to start on it, but I'm feeling hopeful that this too may have descriptions concerning dressmakery hidden amongst the pages...so this inclusion is on the basis of anticipation rather than having actually having read it, although my sister rarely recommends something for me that I don't like, so even if that element doesn't dominate I'm feeling enthusiastic about reading it.

Apologies for the lack of relevant photos to go with the books...the books, camera and myself somehow haven't managed to assemble ourselves in the same place at the same time today.

I'd love to hear any of your own recommendations for further immersion or your thoughts if you've already read any of these.

Florence x

Ps. As an aside I thought I'd share with you that every 'i' in this post has been copy and pasted into place, as maddeningly the 'i' key on my laptop has stopped working...'z' would have been more convenient.

16 comments:

  1. Thanks for the book suggestions. As for the "i" - turn your laptop upside down and shake it sideways a few times. Something might have dropped between the keys and become stuck under the key.

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  2. I just read 'The L-shaped Room' by Lynne Reid-Banks. It was this month's choice for our bookclub. I expected a dreary, depressing but worthy read. I had it in one hand whilst cooking dinner with the other. I read it in the car (whilst being driven). I never read in the car. I can't recommend it enough.

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  3. Try The Idea of perfection by Kate Grenville. The main character is a quilt maker and has some interesting ideas about design. The story is great too, set in Australia.

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  4. I love books too! You should join our quilty girls' book club!

    http://www.flickr.com/groups/1570240@N24/

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  5. I read Lucia Lucia a long while ago and still remember the fascinating descriptions of life as an atelier. Some of your other recomendations sound very good too.

    How annoying to have lost your 'i'. I have partially lost my spaces - I have to hit the space bar heavily on its left end.

    x C

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  6. PS - I agree with Deryn The Idea of Perfection is perfect for those who love fabric, good story too

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  7. Any post that begins with a large picture of that much AMH is forgiven for future lack of photography. Thanks for the suggestions - I've opened all the links to check them out. I particularly love getting immersed in an Edward Rutherfurd book. They're not about creating anything, specifically, but they focus on up to 6000+ years of history of one spot in the world and somehow manage to clod through all those years but be very personal as well. You have to be in the mood for a book that can double as a door stop though :)

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  8. How annoying about the i! Perhaps a gentle hoovering of the keyboard??

    I was going to suggest 'The Idea of Perfection' too - recommended to me a few years ago by a childhood friend who's horrifyingly well-read. After a slow start it turned out to be funny and very sweet. I especially liked the bit about the main character accidentally tangling up her grandmother's sewing machine, and her excitement over a pile of old suiting samples.

    I imagine there's a fair bit of sewing amongst the pages of the Persephone selection. There's a little bit of rather vague dress designing in Monica Dickens's 'Mariana', along with another slightly-less-than-likeable heroine.

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  9. I read the Blood of Flowers a couple of years back - maybe it is because I make things that I remembered the vivid descriptions of the carpets, but hadn't remembered the raunchy stuff...

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  10. I've been driven mad trying to remember the title and author of a lovely novel about someone saving a family firm which makes or trades in silk. Anyone know it? Otherwise I can only come up with a pile of knitting novels if anyone would like those...

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  11. no 'i'? how infurating... copying and pasting shows true dedication.

    thanks for the recommendations.

    A

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  12. As I read your blog today I thought "yes,yes,yes!". I often feel the same. I just want to read about people who sew and whilst a pattern book is great fun, it's not quite what I am looking for. Thanks v much for all your suggestions. Am going to try some. The only books I have come accross are the Elm Creek Quilt books by Jennifer Chiaverini. The plots can be a bit thin but I enjoyed reading about women who come together to sew. Of course there is also The Friday Knit Knitting Club books by Kate Jacobs. Again the plots can be a bit weak but I enjoyed reading about women who come together to craft. I enjoyed reading about the running of a yarn shop too. I would suggest these as a good beach read rather than a particularly involving piece of literature. Look forward to more recommendations in the comments.
    Thanks, Liz

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  13. At the risk of becoming boring, I too recommend The Idea of Perfection. To my mind it is the perfect novel. My brother taught Kate Grenville's son at school and he had no idea what a successful author she is. He knows now.

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  14. "The Home-Maker" is one of my favourite Persephone books. I also loved "The Village" and "Greenery Street" (I read the latter as a newly-wed, which made it even more enjoyable).

    On a similar genre, "Excellent Women" by Barbara Pym is fantastic.

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  15. Well, I realised just now that my recommendations have nothing to do with the subject of this post but here's a more pertinant one: "High Wages" (also a Persephone book).

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  16. Thank you so much for your recommendations. I downloaded The Blood of Flowers as the first book for my new kindle. It is such a captivating story that I only wish there was a sequel so I could see how they all got on.

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Thank you so much for taking the time to leave a message - it's always really lovely to hear from people.

I now tend to reply within the comments section, so please do check back if you've asked a question or wish to chat.

Florence x