Since re-entering the blogging world this year, I have struggled with whether or not to write non-positive reviews. Obviously I just did a mini take-down on Soak, but with books and shops and things, it tends to be a wee bit more personal.
I know that for authors, a book is a like a baby. It’s a living, breathing thing to them, something they have created, pulled out from the ether and themselves, to offer up to the world. No one wants that baby to have a knife stuck in it, dissected. But that tends to be the art world. You create, you get critiqued. Mostly the criticism is completely unasked for by the author, but it happens anyhow.
I want to keep things positive in this space, but I also feel I have the right to an opinion, and I would like to be able to create a space wherein dialog can be opened. Since I’ve got standards (some people would call them high) I usually have some critique, and when it comes to knitting (and reading, for that matter) I’ve got a LOT of experience, which I think counts for something.
So then, take the above as my disclaimer. If I share something here that is not filled with light and fluff and unicorns and pink, fluttery things – it’s for a good reason. Not to tear down another’s art, but because I think the art could be improved upon, and because I think I should be able to share my experience, which may not have been ultra-positive, in a positive way.
So. To begin.
I recently purchased How to Knit a Love Song by Rachael Herron. Let me cut to the chase – I started reading it during the weekend, when I was relaxing and really wanted nothing more than to unwind my mind and enjoy a good book.
A third of the way in, I was very hard-pressed to keep going.
There are some really good fictional books out there which incorporate knitting or other textile-related crafting into the plot. For me, this book fell short. Let me elaborate.
I found the prose to be very, very simple. The central ideas, characters, and plot development were also incredibly simple, and some of it actually rather offended me, versus the probable intent – to delight.
With the caveat that I haven’t read the rest of the books in the Cypress Hollow series (the fictional Northern California town in which the book takes place) I believe that Ms. Herron could really do to improve her prose. When reading, I kept coming up against the fact that the sentences were incredibly short, without either poetry or intricacy to them. This is totally a personal preference thing, but suffice it to say that I think grown-up books should be, well, grown up. The reading level is about fourth grade.
I really do love the idea of a knitting story, set in Northern California. (um, hello! Native! Represent!) There is so much scope for a story when one knows the location, the geography, the topography. I would like to see Herron really use the landscape in her story. I think it would be quite thrilling to the California knitters, and possibly inspiring to those who reside elsewhere.
As to sentence structure and plot development – I have heard time and time again, that to be an excellent writer, one should read truly great books. I’m thinking gorgeous writers, amazing storytellers – Ian Mcwan, Richard Bach, Charles DeLint for the lyrical.
Diane Setterfield, Sena Jeter Naslund, Carlos Ruiz Zafon for setting that spark that absolutely draws a reader in, and catches her, on fire, keeps her enthralled, to the finish.
All right. Enough with the prose. Let us thicken with the plot.
You know what a beach book is, right? Those silly dime-store novels with a splashy, bright cover that you take to the beach, get sand, sweat, sunscreen and salt on. If you don’t finish it by the end of the day, end of the vacation, no big deal. Cheap and easy reads. Entertaining. Not hard to follow, you can pretty much guess the outcome. The french fries, hamburgers, and happy meals of the literary world.
Well, this is going to sound cruel, but – this book was basically the soda in the happy meal.
I didn’t even have to chew.
Darn it! I’m smart! I want my knitting fiction to be smart! I think the story could have been better, honestly. I think the plot could have been a little less transparent. Don’t let me spoil it for you, but you can basically guess after the first chapter that yes, girl plus boy = friction, but boy and girl are most definitely going to end up together, and yep – the erstwhile villain gets his in the end. Done. End of story. You can basically skip to the end of the book and you really won’t be missing anything but some cheap erotica sex scenes.
All right Rachael, I’m almost done with your wee froggie. Only a few more incisions.
insert knitting humor here...
The overarching theme of the book is that the main character, Abigail, escapes San Diego to Cypress Hollow, and arrives with little more than her yarn and spinning wheel, to take possession of the land and cottage left to her by The grand-dame of knitting herself, Eliza something-or-other. (“E.C.”)
I don’t know why, but it really burned my toast that Herron blended the idea of the late, the great, E.Z., Elizabeth Zimmerman into this story. I found each chapter, headed with “advice” of the story’s dead character, E.C., to be really… kind of… not original – in a not-good way. I don’t want to say “plagiaristic” because that’s not even a word, and one should not throw that un-word around lightly. But I just couldn’t cozy up to the idea of the beautiful, original sentiments of E.Z. being refracted in this way.
The problem I really have with the idea of using these “grand-dame quotes,” and the idea of using a knitting legend, a “knitting rockstar” as fodder for this plotline, is that the original idea simply wasn’t re-worked very well in this book. It came out bulky, unrefined, neither pure nor streamlined in character or in use.
So there you have it. If you’re going to steal the pattern and re-write it, make it damned well your own – either unrecognizable, or SO great an achievement over the original, that no one gives a damn WHAT you did, because they are so wowed, that it really is as if you’ve completely achieved an original work. Because you did. Otherwise it’s just a shadow of the original idea, intent, knowledge, intellect.
Ok. I’m done ripping that up. I did it as kindly as is possible for ME, and I am going to open this subject up, and ask all y’all what you think. Did you read the book? Like it? Love it? Hate it? Think I’m insane or far too picky? Think I’m dead on?
And Ms. Herron, please do keep writing. Practice makes perfect. Every knitter knows that.
Photo Credits: Jason Steele/Film Cow: Charlie The Unicorn