Books Read in 2018

Slow Clothing Jane Milburn
Phantom Islands of the Atlantic Donald S. Johnson
Craeft Alexander Langlands
Indigo Catherine McKinley
The Perfect Red Amy Butler Greenfield
Deep Survival Laurence Gonzales
Superfreakonomics Stephen J. Dubner and Steven Levitt
Obsidio Aime Kaufman and Jay Kristoff
Turning the Tide on Plastic Lucy Siegle
The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Marie Kondo
Zero Waste Home Bea Johnson
Wear No Evil Greta Eagan
Waste Not Erin Rhodes
Raelia Lynette Noni
Draekora Lynette Noni
Graevale Lynette Noni
We Three Heroes Lynette Noni
Grandma Knows Best Jane Maple
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit Alison Goodman
A Life Less Throwaway Tara Button

Twenty books. Five from the to-read pile and fifteen new. Six fiction books and fourteen non-fiction. The novels were new books by author friends. Many of the non-fiction were books mentioned in a previous book I’d read. I also started three more books but lost momentum, abandoning one and putting the others on hold.

My favourite fiction for the years was Lady Helen and the Dark Days Deceit, and Craeft was the most enjoyable non-fiction book. Wear No Evil may be the most useful – specifically Greta’s method of choosing clothing to buy. The only book I disliked was The Life Changing Magic of Tidying, which I read only to see if it was truly like what I’d been told (it was).

This year I hope to read a bit more fiction. I’m not sure there’s much more to gain from reading more ethical fashion and waste reduction books. What I’ve already read covered a lot of the same ground. I have plenty of books in the non-fiction to-read pile to take me in other directions. It’ll all depend on what I am doing after I finish working on The Book, as I find it hard to read fiction when I’m writing it.

Non-fiction Meanderings

When I’m working on a book I tend to avoid reading fiction. Instead I stick to non-fiction – usually books about the history of something. This year it’s been books about waste.

The first was Turning the Tide on Plastic by Lucy Siegle, who wrote the wonderful ethical fashion book, To Die For. It was clear and interesting, covering much of the same territory as The War on Waste tv show.

That led me to review my (then unpublished) post on maximalism, and deciding I needed to read The Life Changing Magic of Tidying. The book repelled and intrigued me as much as I expected, which is to say lot of repelling and a little bit of intriguing. As I suspected, the minimalist lifestyle she advocates ignores the problem of our throwaway culture – and possibly encourages it.

Next I started How to be a Craftivist by Sarah Corbett, which I think was referred to in Lucy’s book. I only got halfway through, however, finding it a bit too repetitive though I liked the idea of gentle crafty protest.

After that I found Zero Waste Home by Bea Johnson. Though I don’t have an itch to go zero waste, I read it for ideas and motivation on reducing waste. She moved from a gigantic house to a modestly-sized one so a lot of her family’s belongings would have had to go, and she talks about disposing of things responsibly, but there’s a Kondoishness to her minimising – her wardrobe in particular – that didn’t appeal to me. However, she’s nowhere near as neurotic as Marie Kondo comes across and is honest about failures in a way that is humble and appealing.

In the following book, I went back to ethical fashion with Wear No Evil by Greta Eagan. In the ethical fashion books I’ve read so far ‘fashion’ was an umbrella term for ‘clothing and accessories’. This one uses the term as it relates to designer clothing. It focusses on shifts in designer fashion, and how it filters down to fast fashion. I really enjoyed it, especially her accessible system for choosing what clothes to buy. Not long after I read it I bought two pieces of new clothing using her system, and it worked very well.

I came away from all this reading thinking that keeping stuff is perhaps the most beneficial and weirdly subversive decision you can make. Maybe it’s not so much about owning stuff, but owning up to it. Would people stop buying crap indiscriminately and then cull it over and over if they couldn’t easily toss it out? Would manufacturers stop making products that don’t last if customers started taking things back and asking for a refund? How can people learn to make good shopping decisions when prices are so low they can easily throw mistakes away? My little reading binge certainly had me thinking.

Recently I read A Life Less Throwaway by Tara Button. Written by the founder of BuyMeOnce, a website containing a curated list of products made to last, it is a guide to avoiding overspending, valuing what you have, ditching the trend treadmill and living ‘a more fulfilled life’. While it did have the usual chapter on culling your wardrobe and preaching the ‘capsule’ wardrobe nonsense (I skipped that bit) I found lots of interesting factual nuggets and tips for resisting spontaneous purchase regret.

Now I’m reading a book I picked up at a sale about human hair, so off onto another tangent. I wanted to read a book about the psychology of fashion, but it isn’t available on iBooks.

Books Read in 2017

It was a year of reading non-fiction, particularly about art. I managed to read more fiction during my five months break. It’s always easier to read it when I’m not writing it.

Steal Like an Artist Austin Kleon
Show Your Work! Austin Kleon
Art Before Breakfast Danny Gregory
Mage Sign Alan Baxter
The Handmaiden’s Tale Margaret Atwood
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Pact Alison Goodman
The Riddle Alison Croggan
The Crow Alison Croggan
The Singing Alison Croggan
The Mixed Media Artist Seth Apter
Second Skin India Flint
Art as Therapy Alain de Botton
A Journey Through Schmoo Jane Moss (manuscript)
Affluenza Clive Hamilton & Richard Denniss
Gemima Jay Kristoff & Aime Kaufman Denniss
Curing Affluenza Richard Denniss
How Art Can Make You Happy Bridget Watson Payne
Blood & Guts: a Short History of Medicine Roy Porter
Backyard Self-Sufficiency Jackie French

Titles that stood out for me were The Handmaid’s Tale for it’s bleak insights, Backyard Self-Sufficiency for inspiring me to grow more food and Affluenza (despite its flaws) for pointing out things like the reason shops have $10,000 bbqs.

Second Skin was also an inspiring read. But I think I may have reached peak ethical fashion reading. The books coming out now are just repeating everything I’ve read before. Weirdly, I now have a fantasy about writing my own. It will be about how decluttering is a conceit of the affluent and just another retailer ploy to get you to buy more stuff.

Wobbly

A month or two ago I bought this book:

It’s a fun idea, making art materials from scratch. It’s also amusing to see where the author goes in the pursuit of creating them ‘from nature’. Some of the tools used to make them are modern (drills, carving knife), and yet it suggests making glue by melting down animal hoofs, etc.

A friend cut me some of her bamboo so I could try making pens. It was easy enough to carve them. However, the book doesn’t say whether to use fresh or dry bamboo, or what kind. My pens shrivelled out as they dried out:

I don’t think I’ll be getting any nice lines out of these!

I’d like to try making my own paint brush and black ink. Hopefully they won’t be as great a failure as my bamboo pens!

Books Read in 2016

Once more, I only managed to read around 15 books over the year. About half of those were non-fiction.

This post is really just to keep of a record somewhere.

Black Sun Light My Way Jo Spurrier
North Star Guide Me Home Jo Spurrier
Wardrobe Crisis Clare Press
To Die For Lucy Siegle
Overdressed Elizabeth L. Cline
The Alchemist in the Shadows Pierre Pevel
The Dragon Arcana Pierre Pevel
Stitches in Time Lucy Adlington
The Power of Habit Charles Duhigg
Quiet Susan Cain
The Well of Ascension Brandon Sanderson
Lady Helen and the Dark Days Club Alison Goodman
The Hero of Ages Brandon Sanderson
Shadow’s Edge Brent Weeks
Beyond the Shadows Brent Weeks
Perfections Kirstyn McDermott

Books Read in 2016

This is mostly for my records:

Non-Violence Mark Kurlansky
In Brasil Fran Bryson (ms)
The Cardinal’s Blades Pierre Pevel
David and Goliath Malcolm Gladwell
Before They Are Hanged Joe Abercrombie
Last Argument of Kings Joe Abercrombie
Love and Romanpunk Tansy Rayner Roberts
The Book of the Damned Tanith Lee
Days of Blood and Starlight Laini Taylor
Dreams of Gods and Monsters Laini Taylor
Castle of Dark Tanith Lee
The Hare With the Amber Eyes Edmund de Waal
You’re Never Weird on the Internet (Almost) Felicia Day
Illuminae Jay Kristoff & Aime Kaufman
Throne of Glass Sarah J. Maas
Arkanae Lynette Noni
Hindsight Melanie Casey

So 17 books. Several kinds of books – fantasy, crime, travel, non-fiction, short story collection. A variety of authors – Aussie, French, UK, and US authors, 6 male/9 female authors. I wish I’d read more, but I struggle to read fiction when I’m writing it. Which is where I’m at right now.

Stitchy Gift

While I was crafting around work in Ballarat last month I listened to a few podcasts. One was the Craft Sanity podcast, and I particularly enjoyed the interview with Rebecca Ringquist. So when I saw her book in a shop I suggested Paul get it for me for Christmas.

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I listened to the interview at a point where I was assessing my own interest in embroidery – and craft in general – and a quick look at the book in the shop told me it was something I needed to read, rather than simply for project inspiration and instruction.

You see, while I don’t necessarily want to produce the style of embroidery Rebecca makes in this book, it’s more a book about an approach to embroidery than making the example projects. It says it’s “a ‘bend-the-rules’ primer”, and that’s what I’m after.

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When I look at what I’ve enjoyed and succeeded in making with embroidery so far, a few common elements emerge. When the projects have been small, they’ve been detailed and precise. When they’ve been larger, they’ve been looser and more about texture and colour than representation.

I feel like I’m wasting my time if I’m not working on something useful. That is, either embellishing a garment or bag, or making jewellery. The few times I’ve made artwork, it’s either been intensely personal (the cats) or I’ve intended to make it into something eventually even if I don’t yet know what. While Rebecca suggests letting go of the notion of the piece having a purpose, I’ve recognised that for me that is a creativity-blocker. I’m the same with colouring books. Only when I turned the pages into greeting cards did I enjoy colouring them.

You see, we have so much artwork already that I freeze in horror at the thought of accumulating more.

Time seems to be an cause of me losing interest, as well. The books I write, the portraits I paint, and the sort of weaving I’m exploring now tend to take a long time, on a scale of months to years. I acknowledged years ago that I need some of the craft I do to provide quick satisfaction. Not necessarily instant, but a scale of days and weeks would be nice. And sometimes I have no energy for thought and planning, and it’s good to be able to pick up something and just stitch.

So I’m looking for embroidery projects that are reasonably fast, that can be done in front of the tv or fit in my handbag for waiting rooms and airport lounges, and that has a use at the end. And aren’t old fashioned or twee.

That pretty much eliminates most designs on the market.

I’m happy to design my own projects, but that does require some thought and planning. However, Rebecca’s approach also appeals because it has a freeform spirit to it. Just take a thing and embellish it. Doodle with stitches. Enjoy texture and colour and accident. I love how she says don’t bother fixing a mistake, just stitch over it. And I love her for saying it’s okay to use knots. Honestly, I’ve been hung up on the whole ‘to knot, or not to knot’ question for ages, because I don’t want to put a whole lot of work into embellishing a garment only to have the ends come loose in the wash. Rebecca even suggests putting the knots on the front of the work. I love that!

So I wrote in my visual diary a list of likes and dislikes:

Likes:
The textural look of kantha and boro
The enhancing of fabric in sashiko and kogin
The simplicity of stitch in tambour and blackwork
The modern look of ‘new’ crewel and the colour in ethnic embroidery
Unconventional materials and scale, as in stitching greeting cards or giant cross stitch.
And, conversely, finer and realistic work if it’s tiny, as in jewellery
Fast projects
Portable projects
Projects with no use
Using no hoop

Dislikes:
Fussy, precise work
Traditional and old fashioned (unless subverted)
Twee
Collage-like overly busy work
Slow projects
Cumbersome projects
Artwork
Worrying about knots

Since then I’ve looked in my wardrobe, gone through my old sketchbook, and peered at my to-do list, considering what I could stitch. I’m looking at long delayed sewing projects with fresh enthusiasm, if they provide opportunity for embellishment. And that’s led to some pattern purchasing, downloading, and printing – and planning a sewing day.

Crafty plans for 2016 are well underway.

Books Read in 2014

Okay, so this one’s a little late…

I gave up on trying to get my to-read pile smaller in 2014. Yet I did keep down the book purchasing to a minimum. As for what I read, I was doing okay until mid-year, when deadlines began to loom and I only had text-dealing brain space left for writing, and spare time was spent packing and planning house things.

I consumed:
The Blade Itself Joe Abercrombie
Cold Fire Kate Elliot
In Fabula Divinos ed. by Nicole Murphy
The Fall of Ossard Colin Taber
Shadow in the Empire of Light (ms) Jane Routley
Realmshift Alan Baxter
Cold Steel Kate Elliot
At Home Bill Bryson
The Ocean at the End of the Lane Neil Gaiman
Daughter of Smoke and Bone Laini Taylor
This is Modern Art Matthew Collings

At the same time I read 3/4 of a friend’s work in progress, which I’m currently rereading in a more polished state.

In the last few years there’s been a shift in fantasy away from the kind that I like, at least in the top sales lists. Australian authors in particular are not being re-signed by publishers now that the local imprints have been replaced by global ones and must satisfy the tastes of bigger markets – most often the US. I’m starting to worry that I should stock up on the paper versions of my favourite authors before they go out of print.

I do like reading ebooks, though. But I like to possess paper copies of my favourite books. In my perfect world I’d read the ebook and then, if I absolutely loved it, I’d order a print-on-demand small hardcover, with a slip cover of my choosing. And everyone would get paid fairly for their work, too.

Time for a Rest

After missing four deadlines and winding up with RSI and perhaps arthritis, I am finally finished with work for the year.

The news came on the heels of a new book arriving in the post. Artfully Embroidered was a book I had to have in print, and is every bit as beautiful as it promised to be.

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That’s most of the craft books I’ve bought this year in print. I get most as ebooks these days. Aside from the fact they take up no physical space in my now-smaller craft room, I find buying craft books online can be a bit hit and miss and the lower price of ebooks offsets that. Nothing beats being able to leaf through a book before you buy, and know you want to try more than just the project on the cover – and that the project aren’t way beyond your skills or ability (especially important when you have RSI).

As far as actual crafting… I need to rest my hands for the next month, but so long as I don’t overdo it I can do a bit of this and a bit of that. I finished the stitching on the Kogin embroidery tissue holder project the other night.

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But since I don’t know where you can buy tissues in packs that would go in one, I really enjoyed the process and I have plenty of thread, I’m repeating the pattern across the middle and will make it a zippered pouch.

I’ve also started a new project, but more on that later.

Books Read in 2013

I only managed to finish 16 books last year. I probably bought at least that many, so the to-read bookcase is still stuffed tightly with books. Sigh.

Here’s what I read:
The Shadowed Sun N. K. Jemesin
The Way of Shadows Brent Weeks
White Tiger Kylie Chan
Kevin McCloud’s Principles of Home
My Cool Shed
The Final Empire Brandon Sanderson
Last of the Gaderene Mark Gatiss
The Deep Tom Taylor
Dead Ever After Charlaine Harris
Star Wars: Blood Ties Tom Taylor
Gamer’s Rebellion George Ivanoff
Through Splintered Walls Kaaren Warren
Salt Mark Kurlansky
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory Roald Dahl
The Path of Anger Antoine Rouaud
And a beta read of a book by a friend.

In 2014… ah, who am I kidding? I have to concede defeat with the challenge of the to-read pile. The only way I ever reduce it significantly is to cull books.

I will keep trying to read more even if it means buying a second copy of a book as an ebook, as I find it easier to snatch unplanned reading time on my phone. I will continue to resist acquiring books, too. But I’m resigned to the fact that, with a job that involves a lot of work with words that makes me want to avoid them when relaxing, the constant temptation of freebies, wanting to buy books written by friends to support them, and Paul being a faster reader and recommending books to me, I will never tame the to-read pile.

It’s about enjoying the abundance of books now, and the freedom to choose a book based on whether it interest me at the time… or at least that’s what I’m telling myself.