Handknit Holiday by Melanie Falick
Handknit Holidays: Knitting Year-Round for Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice by Melanie Falick with Betty Christiansen. Photograph by Susan Pillard. ISBN: 978-1-4532-6816-2. STC Craft | Melanie Falick Books (October 30, 2012) (Hardcover: $12.46; Kindle version: $6.99). (Review based on a digital review copy.)

As you might expect this book has a few things for just about every holiday (Christmas, Hanukkah, and Winter Solstice — missing is Kwanzaa but with an adjustment for color some items would fit for that holiday) grouped by patterns for the home, and gifts (for men, women, and children). Many lovely color combinations — some bright, some colorful neutrals, and some monotones — as well as texture (cables) and lace. There’s also patterns for just about all skill levels — so no matter how long you’ve been knitting you are bound to find something that you can knit. The patterns also have a number of techniques that would allow a knitter to try out something new as they knit for a family member or a friend.

I counted about 50 patterns but several are variations rather than new patterns so depending on how you count you’d get different numbers. Also, there are tips and special techniques, abbreviations used in the book, sources for supplies, various holiday facts and short bits, a list of greeting for the holidays in several languages, holiday knitting strategies.

There are patterns from the following people: Susan Alain, Suzanne Atkinson, Veronik Avery, Betty Christiansen, Amanda Blair Brown, Carrie Brenner, Cynthia, Crescenzo, Sandy Cushman, Teva DUrham, Nicky Epstein, Norah Gaughan, Priscilla Gibson-Roberts, Kim Hamlin, Michelle Heyman, Penney Kolb, Faina Letoutchaia, Robin Melanson, Nancy Minsky, Annie Modesitt, Jillian Moreno, Kathy Pasusta, Leigh Rackford, Michele Rose Orne, Leslie Scanlong, Iris Schreier, Jo Sharp, Cindy Taylor, Jolene Treace, Gina Wilde, and Anne Woodbury.

I found several things I wanted to make and lots to make me take a few minutes to dream over and wonder who I could make it for because I couldn’t wear or use it but it was sooooo nice. There were some interesting gift items — gift bags that could later be used as purses seemed very nice. The stocking to ‘hang by the chimney with care’ were lovely and would make nice heirlooms for children or grandchildren. There were even some nice shawls and sweaters that those hard to knit for teens might like and actually wear.

All in all a great book for finding holiday gift ideas. I read the digital review copy and before writing this review, I pulled down a sample copy to check to see if my problems with the uncorrected review copy were fixed in the ‘for sale’ electronic version. It appears that most of the problem area were corrected. I still have a bit of problem with the format going from 3/4 of a page to full page but it’s not something that should take away from the great photos and the directions/patterns for the items — but if looking to get a digital copy be sure to look at the sample first.

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“Where, after all, do universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home–so close and so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world. Yet they are the world of the individual person: The neighborhood he lives in; the school or college he attends; the factory, farm or office where he works. Such are the places where every man, woman and child seeks equal justice, equal opportunity, equal dignity without discrimination. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere. Without concerted citizen action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.” -Eleanor Roosevelt

On October 16th, 2013, bloggers throughout the world will be post their thoughts on the Blog Action Day topic of Human Rights. I’ve been thinking about what I could possibly say since I signed up to take part. Human Rights. The rights of all humans. The rights you have because you’re human. It seems overwhelming. There are organizations set up to deal with Human Rights even one that’s part of the United Nations, if I’m not mistaken.

Those large organizations deal with modern day slavery of several varieties, indentured servitude, torture, genocides, repressive regimes, starving children, abuses of power of many sorts, bigotry, and hatred. Mankind has not yet left behind its hatred and fear of the different, the non-conforming, the ‘other’.

What can any one human being do to better the world, their country, their community regarding the recognition that everyone has certain inalienable rights that can not be abridged or denied? How can any one person do anything that matters?

This is where we have to read the above quote from Eleanor Roosevelt. We, as individuals, begin with where we live — in our homes, our jobs, our communities. Everyone of us must strive to live as if everyone we meet is a human worthy of respect and courtesy, irregardless of income, skin color, religion, educational level, employment status, gender, or sexual orientation.

I looked up the definitions of Human Rights and found the following:

Dictionary Definition: human rights (noun) fundamental rights, especially those believed to belong to an individual and in whose exercise a government may not interfere, as the rights to speak, associate, work, etc. Also, the rights of individuals to liberty, justice, etc.

Cultural Definition: Freedom from arbitrary interference or restriction by governments. The term encompasses largely the same rights called civil liberties or civil rights but often suggests rights that have not been recognized.

You see the problem with ‘rights’ of any sort is that if they can be taken away, they are not rights. Some people see ‘rights’ as being only for certain people not everyone. But the rights to speak, associate, work, etc. and to liberty, justice, and safety are for everyone. If only one group has a right then it’s not a right — it’s a privilege that only a few possess.

The problem is that many people, who probably should know better, believe that some people are better than others and deserve these rights, and that other people, because of income, race, gender, sexual orientation, or religion, are somehow lesser beings and should not have the rights and privileges that they have. Your rights are not belittled just because everyone else has the same rights as you do.

I saw a YouTube video last week where actors played the part of an angry bigot and a worker who appeared to be of middle eastern descent in a quickie mart type store. When the store had a few customers the young man playing the ‘bigot’ would approach the counter and demand to be waited on by a ‘real’ American and then berate the young man behind the counter for terrorism, taking American jobs, and not being fit to wait on him. It was pretty ugly. The thing that struck me was that of the six or more times they ran this scenario, only 2 people came up to the ranting young man and asked him to leave because he was disrupting the place and being unAmerican in his behavior. They stood up to him and forced him to back down by saying what he was doing and saying wasn’t right and it belittled the country and him. When questioned about their standing up for the young man behind the counter after they left the store by the director each of them said, “It was the right thing to do and someone had to stand up for him.”

The above is one way that an individual can stand up for Human Rights in their small way in their communities.

When a homeless person stops you in the street, actually look them in the eye and reply in kindness if you can’t afford to offer any assistance. Mostly they want recognition that they exist beyond the help in getting a meal or a place to sleep for the night.

When you see someone being bullied, don’t just turn away, do something. Report it to an authority if you don’t feel comfortable stepping into the situation.

Don’t walk away when someone is being injured, insulted, hurt, abused, or exploited. Try to find a way to help even if that is only reporting the incident.

Make an effort to recognize your own prejudices and biases. I do my best, but I know I have them, and it’s often a constant battle to overcome some of the habits of thought that I’ve fallen into. All humans are equal no matter what they look like. If we were all the same, life and the world would be one heck of a boring place.

Every day, try to treat all those you meet throughout the day as equals who deserve respect and courtesy even if they don’t look or think as you do. (That also includes your family members. And this can be the hardest part of doing your best to support Human Rights.)

Pay attention to politics. Educate yourself on the issues and vote. Recently, the equal pay for equal work bill (Lilly Ledbetter Bill) was voted down in the United States. Also, voted down was the Violence Against Women act. Shouldn’t women as well as men be protected from violence?

Act locally and in your community to make it a safer, fairer, and more egalitarian part of the world. Every act and every action adds up and eventually we will have a world where all humans have equality with every other citizen of the world.

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Cover of Great Little Gifts to Knit by Jean Moss
Great Little Gifts to Knit: 30 Quick and Colorful Patterns by Jean Moss. Taunton Press (September 3, 2013). ISBN: 978-1600858475. Photographs by Burcu Avsar. Charts and Schematics by Jean Moss.

Great Little Gifts to Knit has a subtitle, 30 Quick and Colorful Patterns and the photos are enticing and beautifully done, pulling you on to see just how difficult or easy that lovely pair of mittens, hat, shawl, or sweater really is to knit. The patters are arranged in four sections: Baby, Hers, His, and Home. There’s far more patterns in Hers than in any of the other sections.

There are patterns for beginner, intermediate, and advance knitters. There’s a fairly comprehensive tips and techniques section and some of the patterns focus on a technique such as intarsia, shadow knitting, knitting in the round, Fair Isle, chart reading, and twisted stitches. A beginning knitter could learn a lot of new techniques/skills by simply knitting one of everything in the book.

These patterns are, in my opinion, a step up from most books of gift patterns in that there are a lot of items I’d really like to knit in this book. My bias is toward simple classic items with texture, color, or both. Though there’s also a good mix of items you’d have to concentrate on such as the Fair Isle child sweater, and then ones that you could take with you and knit while listening or being sociable because it has lots of easy to remember pattern sections.

All the patterns in the books were done with Rowan yarns which are lovely, beautiful yarns that can be a bit pricey for those on a budget. Moss includes the gauge that should be achieve for a successful result. She also specifies when gauge is not important. So, don’t skip knitting a gauge swatch if you chose to use a different yarn. There’s also a small section in the appendix to help you choose a substitute yarn for your project. There are also a few projects that could probably be done with left-over yarn from your stash such as the bean bags.

At first I thought the major drawback was that the time frames were listed as one day, weekend, or vacation. Since we don’t know the length of time in each of those units devoted to knitting it is difficult to say how long they would take. On reflection, I come to the conclusion that this lets you take as much time as you need without developing a complex about your knitting speed — or lack thereof. My problem is that I usually knit while doing something else like watching a DVD or even reading, so I’m really a slow knitter — at least I never ever get anything done within the time frame given in books.

This is definitely a book worth looking at because it just might surprise you with its variety of projects and the opportunity to try new techniques.

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Cover of The Soup & Bread Cookbook

The Soup and Bread Cookbook by Beatrice Ojakangas. Rodale Books. Photographs by Hector Sanchez. ISBN: 978-1-60961-362-4. (Retail: $23.99 / Amazon: $18.47) (October 2013)

First, I love cookbooks. I buy them for many reasons besides wanting to make the delicious sounding recipes in them. I buy them for the beautiful photos or artwork, the way they’re set-up and designed, their clarity, and especially if the writing is clear, informative, entertaining, and the recipes themselves seem to be accurate (no ingredients hidden in the instructions that aren’t in the list of ingredients — that sort of thing). I even have the two books by Laurie Colwin that aren’t so much about the recipes as they are about cooking, food, and good eating and read like you were sitting around the table with a cuppa and just talking.

Ojakangas’ The Soup and Bread Cookbooks has some of that flavor for me. The introduction to each season’s recipes is sort of a quick overview of what the season means to her. There’s also some interesting background in the short information piece on each recipe. The recipes seem set up to make them easy to follow and the instructions are clear. Some of the recipes have variations and some of the bread recipes have instruction for using a bread machine rather than doing it all by hand.

My preference is for recipes and cookbooks that use actual ingredients rather than a can of this and a can of that, plus a box mix or two of something else. All the recipes use real food — which is better for you and your family. However, I did notice that many had a note on use of a canned or frozen ingredient as well as some substitutions if something wasn’t available in your area.

The photography was beautiful and it looks like this would be a cookbook you could sit and look at over and over.

Now for the cons:
Understand that I read a digital review copy which expired just about the time I finished reading through it. Digital review copies, as well as the print review copies are unfinished — there were a few places where there was just a note on what would be added, such as a sidebar. Even so, the instructions were still clear and concise — meaning I have great hopes for the finished edition. None of the recipes, in the copy I read, had calorie, carbs, etc. listed for a serving size. Normally, that wouldn’t be of interest to me but my family is being really careful right now due to a medical need to cut cholesterol and lose weight — so I’m more aware of this information not being readily available. WARNING: Since the copy I read was unfinished some of the material may change between the copy I read and the finished one you’ll find in your favorite bookstore.

Overall Impression:
Overall, I found this cookbook to be one I’ll more than likely go out and buy when it comes out in October. You’ll notice that the recipes that most often caught my attention are those for bread — I love bread. During the winter, I make bread — from scratch — nearly every week. While I currently have a bread machine, I still like to set it on dough and knead it — there’s something so satisfying and relaxing about making bread. Anyway, that another reviewer bias for you to add into the mix.

Now for the details:
Basics: Stocks, Broths, and Basic Breads
This section contained some recipes as well as helpful information and tips.
Recipes: Basic Chicken Stock, Two-for-One Chicken Stock (for soup stock and flavoring beans and rice dishes, braising vegetables, etc.), Two-for-One Beef Stock. Soup Tips: Cooling Stock Safely, Tips for making broth or stocks in a slow cooker, How to freeze stocks and Broths, Basic Vegetable Broth.

Glossary of Bread-Baking Basics
This section had some really good advice on breadmaking and some tips on how to get it right.
Recipes included: Fresh Baguette, Basic Vegetable Soup (whatever is in the house soup), Basic Home-Baked Bread (with Variations)

The book is arranged with the recipes chosen for what fresh ingredients would be available, and to deal with the heat or cold of the time of year. For each season, I’ve listed the total number of recipes for either soup or bread and the recipes that really got me wanting to pull out the pots and pans and try out. Luckily, I just did a read through because the book expired before I finished reading it through and if I’d stopped to cook along the way, I wouldn’t have gotten through it.

Spring:
27 soup and bread recipes
Some recipes that sounded interesting: Herbed Biscuit Muffins, Wheat Germ Batter Bread, Rosemary Focaccia, Lemon Poppy Seed Muffins, Asian Lemon-Ginger Soup, Cheddar Cheese Onion Scones, Walleye Chowder, and Super Simple Salmon Chowder.

Summer
24 soup and bread recipes
A sample listing of the recipes in this section I enjoyed reading: Whole Wheat Buttermilk Biscuits, Avgolemondo Soup, Pita Bread, Summer Day Herb-scented Soup, Whole-Grain Buttermilk Oatmeal Bread, Bacon Parmesan Crackers, Red Curry & Coconut Bread, Spiced Zucchini Soup10-minute Chickpea-Tomato Soup, Easy Refrigerator Rolls. Cranberry Bean & Pasta Soup. Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Soup, and Cowboy Beer & Cheddar Bread.

Autumn:
26 soup and bread recipes
The first recipe in this section is for Stone Soup based on the children’s story. This is great for an autumn party potluck dinner and the author gives suggestions for what the guests should bring, as well as a bit of the story of stone soup.

Some of the recipes that caught my eye as ones I’d really like to make are: Oatmeal Batter Bread, Curried Chicken Wild Rice Soup, Dutch Raisin Bread, Green Cabbage & Hamburger Soup, Honey Whole Wheat Cranberry-Nut Bread, Brie & Apple Soup, Granola Loaf, Buttermilk Corn Muffins, and Curried Pumpkin Soup.

I was surprised by the Old-Fashioned Gridded Cheese, Apple, & Basil Sandwiches. I love grilled cheese sandwiches and often have them with swiss cheese, onion, and tomato but never thought of using apple and basil — what was I thinking, or rather not thinking to never consider this taste combination? I’ve got to try this in the fall when we usually have apples in the house.

Winter:
30 soup and bread recipes.
Some of the recipes that intrigued me in this section: Spicy Black Bean Soup (one can never have enough black bean soup recipes), Oatmeal Rusks, Brown Bread Muffins, New Year’s Good Luck Lentil Soup, Johnnycake, Herbed White Bean & Sausage Soup, Beer Biscuits, Cumin & Coriander Bean Soup, Senate Bean Soup (similar to one served in the US Senate dining room), Molasses Wheat Loaf, Rustic Rye Bread, Swedish Yellow Pea Soup with Pork, Overnight Mini Croissants, Russian Black Bread (there’s chocolate and coffee in this one), Cabbage & Apple Soup, Mulligan Stew, and Feijoada (a black bean soup with oranges).

All in all, a great cookbook, especially if you have a garden or a good produce section in your local stores. Not a lot of specialty items needed. Soups are always great because you can stretch them out to feed company or for several meals. Since many people are cutting their budgets and food is usually a big expense for most families — soups and homemade bread would be a great way to serve nutritious meals at a lower cost per person.

As always, feel free to leave a comment.

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We just finished watching Crusade, all 13 episodes. Crusade was a science fiction television program that followed on Babylon 5 after the Shadow War and Earth was seeded with a virus that would kill everyone in five years. The crew of the ship Excalibur were to find a cure for the plague. But that’s not why I’m mentioning the show. Every episode started with some questions:

Who are you?
What do you want?
Where are you going?
Who do you serve and Who do you trust?

Now on the surface these questions seem really simple ones that everyone could just answer off the top of their head without having to think. In fact, they are very serious questions — ones that deserve a lot of thought. I’ve been thinking of them off and on for days and I still don’t know how to answer them.

Who Are You?
The main character in the show answer with his name and, because he’s military, with his rank and where he’s stationed.

I believe most people would answer with their name. But is your name really ‘who’ you are? Many believe that your name defines you and if a person knows your true name then they can control you. Parents agonize over what name to pick for their child — afterall, you don’t want your child made fun of, or to insult some relative for not naming them after them and so on.

But after thinking about this question, I don’t believe a name really sums up a person. It doesn’t tell you their likes or dislikes or their joys, passions, interests, talents… the parts that make up the person. It may give you an idea of heritage if and only if the name reflects their heritage. But it doesn’t tell you how closely they hold their heritage in their hearts.

Many people would add their job title or position, but this also doesn’t tell you whether the person loves their job or whether it’s just a paycheck. Either way a job doesn’t define the person. You can’t really tell anything about a person just because they are a computer programmer, trash collector, waitress, writer, truck driver, or artist. It may help to pigeonhole someone but then I know that I don’t fit in a neat category or slot and I doubt very much that there are any people that actually do.

So, this question of “Who are You?” is not as simple as it seems on the face of it.

What Do You Want?
This is even more of a puzzler because if you don’t know who you are, how could you possibly know what you want. I think most of us could say that we want to be happy — just as a very broad sweeping wish for ourselves. But, dig deeper and my idea of happiness is probably not the same as anyone reading this blog. We might have some overlapping criteria but the specifics could be quite different. Some people want fame and riches. Some want only to see their children employed, no one ill, and enough money to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. Is this “What do you want?” about achievements or emotional contentment and desires? Again not a simple questions.

Where Are You Going?
Is this simply asking for a destination or a goal? I’ve had a lot of goals in my life. Some I’ve come close to but, on approach, found that it wasn’t the ‘real’ goal that I wanted — that goal was something different. I still don’t know where I’m going but I’ve learned that, for me, the journey is the real joy, even when here and there along the way there’s a bit (or a lot) of heart-ache. My cancer diagnoses, over 14 years ago now, certainly changed the way that I looked at the future as well as the present. So, I guess, for me, I don’t know where I’m going, but I’ll take every day as it comes with the current goals that I have.

Now if this asks for a destination. I don’t have one. Maybe some people can say this is where I’m going and I’m nearly there but I guess I don’t have that clarity. Or maybe, I’m just thinking about this too much. But this also is not an easy question to answer.

Who Do You Serve and Who Do You Trust?
Think about this two-part question for a minute. Do you serve your boss? Your employing company? Your government? Your family? Your children? Your church? What exactly is meant by “Serve”? The same is true of “trust”. I trust my husband, my son, and some of my close friends. But when I broaden that circle as I go outward I’m not sure. Just think about everyday life — if you were in a life or death situation who could you call? That person would probably be someone you could trust. For most of us, those that we could count on to step up in an emergency are usually a much smaller subset of friends, family, or acquaintances. On the other hand, and isn’t there always another hand, you might be surprised to find who would be the people to step up in a crisis.

I’ve known people who were very surprised and shocked to find that their trust was only from them to others and there was no help forthcoming when they found themselves in a tight corner. Then help came, as it often does, from unexpected directions and people that they would have least expected to help them out. Such experiences can be surprising as well as heart-breaking, but they happen all the time and we often read such stories in the news — with either good or devastating results.

Again not an easy question to answer.

I’m not sure I really have answers to any of these simple questions. But, I’m still pondering the ramifications and potentials of these questions. As always, I’m interested in what others think. I’ve talked at length with my husband but what do you, my readers, think?

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Cover of Knit Your Socks on Straight
Knit Your Socks on Straight: A New and Inventive Technique with Just Two Needles by Alice Curtis, Storey Publishing, LLC (June 5, 2013). ISBN: 978-1612120089, Spiral Bound, 144 pages. List Price: $16.95 (Amazon: $11.32 / Kindle: $9.99)

In the past, I’ve knitted a couple of different patterns for two-needle socks. Each one was different and rather plain-vanilla in appearance. There was variation in the type of yarn used (mult-colored or one-color) or using more than one yarn color for strips. Each had a seam that varied from under the foot and up the back or on top of the foot. Mostly, I knit my socks using five needles, but I’ve often thought that those knitters who prefer to use two straights should also have a chance to knit beautiful socks and now they can with Alice Curtis’ book.

Alice Curtis in Knit Your Socks on Straight gives knitter who are uncomfortable with knitting on circulars or multiple needles a chance to make socks. There are plain socks to get a feel for the pattern basics. Then there are some familiar lace patterns, cabled socks, and even a pattern for a pair of argyle socks. There’s also socks for babies, men, and women. There’s enough variation to keep a knitter happy and once familiar with the basics of her pattern a chance to strike out on your own.

The book has a nice section on basic sock how-to instructions. This section explains the way the patterns are set up and the importance of measurement and gauge and how to get both of these. It’s clearly written with diagrams and directions that are simple enough for beginners and set out logically enough so experience knitters can find the bit they need without wading thorough lots of material they already know.

Caution: Each pattern, because of the seam, has right foot and a left foot instructions. This makes sense because the seam is hidden within the pattern of the sock to reduce it’s appearance — it blends in. It is also critical to slip the first stitch so that you can seam the sock more easily. (There are instructions.).

My disclaimer is that I haven’t yet made any of the patterns in the book thought there are a couple that I’ve added to my to do list. I did read through nearly all of the pattern instructions and they seemed well written and clear — but, then most knitters realize that what seems clear and concise on the first read may seem a bit muddy when the stitches are on the needles and you forgot to mark you place in the pattern.

I’ll also note that there are instructions for socks with several different yarn weights.

All in all, if you don’t like circulars or working with multiple needles and have been wanting to knit socks, this is your chance.

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This is very late in being posted. First thing we did is start packing and get ready to check out. My panel was at 10:00.

10:00 AM – Digital Marginalia: A Conversation with Your Future Self
Panel: Michael J. DeLuca, Gayle Surrette, Neil Clarke, Ruth Sternglantz, and David G. Shaw (moderator).

Discription: Electronic reading devices allow us to carry huge libraries wherever we go. They also provide us with the ability to highlight, annotate, and share what we read. In a 2012 blog post, Clive Thompson described this enhanced reading experience as “a conversation with the author, with yourself, and in a weird way, if you take it along as a lifelong project… a conversation with your future self.” According to Craig Mod, “The book of the past reveals its individual experience uniquely. The book of the future reveals our collective experience uniquely.” What tools will we embed within digital texts to signal this shifting relationship with literature, and how will readers use them?

This panel was quite interesting for me. The discussion ranged over whether or how we write or mark up our books. Did we treat electronic books differently? Are there some books you don’t mark/highlight/write in? And what would be our wish list of features we’d like to see in an ebook reader?

For my part I mark up Advanced Reader Copies of books. I often will mark up Reference works that I keep for myself. However, other finished books, I don’t mark up — or rather I very seldom mark them up (using post-it notes instead or taking notes in a file).

Other panelists had their on ways of dealing with books. Mention was made of century old books marked up by the monks that give a glimpse into their thoughts and beliefs.

I really enjoyed this panel and have been thinking about my ‘use’ of books ever since. Do I really use print books differently than I do ebooks? I do enjoy having many books on vacation or trips with me without adding pounds of paper to the luggage. I’ve also noticed that I prefer heavy books (those door-stopper type books) to be electronic so the weight isn’t an issue when I’m trying to read them (wrists just aren’t what they used to be).

We decided with a 12 hour or so drive ahead of us to leave after the panel. We planned to stop in Providence, RI to visit my son on the way back to southern Maryland and hopefully get back before Monday. (We came close in that we pulled into our driveway at about 2:00 a.m. Monday morning.) Dragged stuff in from the car. I got to get to bed and Hubby slept on the couch with the cat since he cried and meowed his disapproval of being left home from the minute we came into the house until hubby sat on the couch with him — then Emnot was all purrs and cuddles.

The cat became velcro-cat for a couple of days after we got back — just as he was when we got back from Discworld. My guess is he has abandonment issues. Since he’s a rescue cat, that’s probably a fair guess.

But inevitably, I managed to get tired out and worn down enough from the convention and drive to catch a terrific summer cold. I’ve been coughing and hacking for the past week and am just now finally feeling human again. I’m always amazed at how a simple cold can befuddle and confuse a person’s thought processes.

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Checked the crack in the windshield and it hadn’t gotten any bigger overnight — big yeah. Just hope it doesn’t do anything
awful until after we get home.

Got a late start this morning, so didn’t make a panel until noon, missing two earlier ones that I really, really, wanted to get to. Just one of those days. I’m now down to one coffee a day — and hating it, a lot.

Just lost everything below here twice as my spam software suddenly decided that my site wasn’t safe or didn’t exist — it couldn’t make up it’s mine so there was an immediate change of software and the misbehaving software is now in time out.

Noon – Constellations of Genres
Panel: John Crowley, Veronica Schanoes, James Patrick Kelly (leader), Ted Chiang, Gary K. Wolfe, and Kit Reed.
Description: On Readercon 23’s panel “Genre Transference,” James Patrick Kelly cited four genres a book can have: “The genre of the writer’s intent, the genre of reader expectation, the genre of the critical review, and the commercial genre.” Let’s dig deeper into this idea. Are there more genres than these four? How does the constellation of a book’s various genres change the reader’s experience, or the writer’s career?

As genres seem to be evaporating because the walls between genres seem to have become porous. The tropes of one genre are now showing up in others. However, often those who are not familiar with the originating genre of the tropes don’t have the same depth of understanding of why/how/where the trope is used. Then there was a lot about the conversation between the author and the text and the text and the reader and whether other genres want to talk to each other in any type of conversation.

1:00 PM – Authorial Metanarrative
Panel: Glenn Grant, Alex Dally MacFarlane, Theodora Goss (leader), Lila Garrott, Sonya Taaffe
Description: A number of authors build in subtle links between otherwise unconnected works. A link may not be something as literal as a common character or name; perhaps, instead, there’s a repeated trope or event. Leah Bobet, discussing Patricia A. McKillip’s works in a 2011 blog post, described this as writing “epic poetry, and the whole of [McKillip’s] output is the poem.” How do such links affect a reader’s interpretation of or approach to a body of work, and what motivates authors to link their works together?

Some author’s have put in links that connect their stories — these links can be a secondary character that shows up in a work where they don’t necessarily have a part, or events from one story are mentioned in another, or symbols reoccur in multiple stories. These can be either intended by the author or happy happenstance. Discussion of what does an author do when such reoccurring items are pointed out to them. Are they gifts to the readers or a frustration because to understand you have had to read all the author’s works not just a selection? Does it work between author’s or only for the one author? Can these items tell their own story across the author’s body of work?

2:00 PM – The Relationship of Reality and Fantasy
Panel: Andrea Hairston (leader), Julia Starkey, James Morrow, Scott H. Andrews, and Anil Menon.
Description: In a 2012 essay titled “PSA: Your Default Narrative Settings Are Not Apolitical,” Foz Meadows addressed the notion that “deliberately including POC, female and/or LGBTQ characters can only ever be a political action.” She demonstrated that history, the historical record, and commonly accepted historical narratives are in fact three distinct things, and pointed out the irony of fans who accept magic and dragons in their fantasy but balk at the idea of female pirates or a black Lancelot because they’re “unrealistic.” Whose reality does fantasy need to reflect in order to be believable? How can we use fantasy to shape and change our realities?

This more or less, in my opinion only (remember I’m caffeine deprived), focused on the nature of reality with a work and how it is best achieved. Also led into a discussion of Truth, truth, real, reality, and reality within context.

Visited the Book Shop (Dealers’ Room) — lots of really interesting books and I hope to get back tomorrow to buy a couple of the ones I spied today. Readercon’s Book Shop is just that all booksellers — new, used, and collectable, and sometimes all with the same bookseller. It’s a bookaholics dream come true.

7:00 PM – Woldbuilding by Worldseeing
Panel: Romie Stott, Sarah Smith, John Crowley (leader), and Harold Vedeler
Description: Kipling’s Kim, Mayhew’s London Labour and the London Poor, Dickens’s “sketches”… who is writing about the present day this way, and what can worldbuilders learn from these Victorian-era worldseers? All these observers were at some remove; how does observation differ when one is part of the culture one is observing?

The discussion focused on the need for writers to write what they know and if you don’t know to find out. You should get your facts straight. If writing modern urban fantasy, you should know the city of your story and get the details and environment of that city right. If a character works in a garage, pizza parlor, or coffee shop, for example, talk to someone about what it’s like to work there — learn the details of the job. Getting the background right helps to ground the story when the fantasy elements come into play.

8:00 PM – The Gender of Reading Shame
Panel: Natalie Luhrs (leader), Jordan Hamessley, Ann Tonsor Zeddies, Julia Rios, and Trent Zelazny.
Description: In a 2012 post on Book Riot, Amanda Nelson wrote about bookstore shoppers who display signs of shame or embarrassment about their reading choices. She concluded that this behavior is highly gendered: “If men read ‘unliterary’ but stereotypically masculine genres it’s fine. If women read ‘unliterary’ but stereotypically feminine genres it’s deserving of a brown paper bag in the form of increased e-reader sales so you can read in public in peace.” Our panelists discuss their own experiences with reading shame or lack thereof, whether the gender hypothesis holds true within the speculative fiction–reading community, and why we read books we’re ashamed of or feel shame about what we read.

First ‘unliterary’ was defined to be non-genre. As you can imagine this was a panel with lots of personal accounts as well as recent research and anecdotal impressions. There was also the problem of the title and description as it implied binary gender ignoring the spectrum of gender as it is today. Everyone agreed that having an ereader so that you didn’t have to deal with a book cover giving you away has taken a lot of the stigma of reading those items that you personal feel uncomfortable about.

As always your thoughts and impressions about the topics are welcome. Leave a comment.

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