Monday, 25 October 2010

A book review (of sorts)

After I did my post a while ago saying I never read fiction, you’ll be excited to know (well, possibly not that excited, I do understand ;-) ), that I’ve read a book! Yes! A fiction book! Pride and Prejudice! It doesn’t count, because I’d read it before (albeit years and years ago), but now I’m reading another! Bleak House! Which doesn’t count either, because I read it when I was doing my A-Levels, but, baby steps, people, baby steps, and as this is the first time I’ve actually enjoyed reading fiction for God knows how many years I am rolling with it. Perhaps after I have finished Bleak House I will branch out, gasp, and read something I haven’t read before! Even something written after the death of Queen Victoria! (possibly not to start with, actually. Let’s see). (Just as an aside, for those of you who haven’t read Bleak House, I do recommend it: I actually think it’s probably the best English novel ever. I think everybody could have given up and gone home after Bleak House and that would have saved us a lot of trouble. This is a bad attitude, though. I know. I am working on it).
Bleak House! I like books you buy by the yard
Anyway, that is not the Book Review to which I refer. I am also reading Jane Brocket’s book on quilting and I thought I would share what I thought about it with you. I have been stepping round this book for a while. I first saw it at the V&A when I went to their quilt exhibition, flicked through it, decided there was nothing in it, and put it back. Then I kept seeing it in Heffers. Anyway eventually it wore me down and I decided to buy it, it came, and I have perused. Now. Here is the review of it as a quilting book: if you, like me, are interested in the kind of quilting where it is all about simple shapes, colour combinations, and never doing anything alarming like paper piecing, you will love this book and it is definitely worth buying. I am glad I finally succumbed and got a copy, and I like and will probably even make a couple of the quilts in it, and find the advice about putting fabrics together very interesting.
A lovely silky quilt! (Although pls stylists, I am kind of over shabby chic. K Thnx bai)
However. For those of you who are not familiar with the work of Jane Brocket, here is a quick summary and you will see why things are a little more controversial than you would expect a book with some nice quilts to be. Jane writes the Yarnstorm blog, which has lovely pictures, and is very much of the genre of ‘finding beauty in little/ unexpected things’, which is always cheering. A few years ago she published a book called The Gentle Art Of Domesticity, which I also have, and which I enjoy. Anyway: cue lots of angry people on one side saying that publishing a book about domesticity was oppressing women, a lot of people on the other side saying they loved knitting/ quilting/ brushing the guinea pig’s hair into a surprising shape/ and they most certainly weren’t oppressed thank you very much, a fight on Women’s Hour, a nasty review in the Telegraph, and a thread on Ravelry which ran to over 100 pages and turned into a discussion on whether or not you should be a surrendered wife (you shouldn’t).
This is how I know Partner has failed at the gentle arts, because his favourite thing in life is to bark at me, 'The world is a terrible place, Susie! Deal with it!' while I sniffle at the poor abandoned puppies on Animal Cops Houston
Now, I have tried to come up with a sensible position on the Domesticity and Feminism debate which I could sum up in a blog post, and readers, I have failed. I think it is complicated. I do. I will only say that I think reclaiming domesticity is a fairly radical act in and of itself, whichever gender does it, and that if we valued domestic skills generally we perhaps wouldn’t be a nation who thought Tesco ready meals were food, and that it was fun to go and buy a skirt made by someone paid less-than-poverty wages in a third world country because we haven’t got the first idea how such things are produced. Also that because a woman writes a book celebrating domesticity it doesn’t mean all other women have to give up their jobs, slip into a pinny, and start decorating cupcakes with their teeth gritted, because I believe we as ladies are allowed to act independently and have different interests. However (and I speak as someone who likes both the Jane Brocket books I have got), I have to say that her version of domesticity does involve quite a lot of not talking about ugly things, and there seems to be quite a narrow line between celebrating the beauty in everyday life and simply not engaging with the things that are not beautiful (Kate Davies did a good post about this, here, when the book came out; I thought this was a good reading). I also always think, when I read Jane Brocket in the Domesticity book talking about how she’d love to knit with Vanessa Bell, about the Wendy Cope poem on Vanessa Bell, The Sitter, from her collection If I Don’t Know, (which is great, by the way - I love Wendy Cope), which explores Bell’s snobbery towards her model. Domestic heroines: not always uncomplicated people. Domesticity as a concept: not always free from problematic class issues. Bugger!

But, I have gone off my subject. What I mean to say is:

  • Read Bleak House because it is great
  • The Jane Brocket book on quilts is definitely worth buying
  • Embrace radical domesticity, but the operative word there is radical
  • The world is not always a nice place: there is blood and politics as well as cupcakes, and if we engage with it as it is, rather than a prettified version, our lives will be richer and more honest

Anyway. Lavender bags. They have entered my brain and stopped me thinking coherently: off to make more coffee.


Marushka C. said...

My personal view is that feminism about choosing to be who we want to be and do what we want to do. Sometimes those choices look "traditional" and sometimes they do not.

Vivianne said...

Heffers ! HOW did I manage to totally forget about them ??

Anonymous said...

I know I am years late to this party, but as I have just found your blog, and read and enjoy Kate Davies' very serious blog, and have a copy of the Gentle Art of Quilting - I just had to defend Jane Brocket. She has a niche, which is different to yours and Kate's, but so what? I just appreciate different elements of all your work and writings; yes, life isn't pretty always, but how that is meant to be represented (or indeed, why it should be) in a quilting book I've no idea. I have to say, though the one thing that seriously irritates me about the JB blog is the repeated photos of people's painted toenails on quilts or on the ground or anywhere - but maybe I'm just jealous because my feet are seldom in a state worthy of photography (I doubt it though - it just turns me off big time and is something I have 0% interest in seeing).