Fashion! Turn to the left!

Pattern Behavior: The Seamy Side of Fashion, Natalie Kossar. Running Press, 2017. 9780762462742.

Natalie Kossar never learned to sew as a kid, despite the efforts of her mom and grandmas. She was too busy pretending to be a horse and building forts (don’t skip her introduction, it’s hilarious). As an adult, her mom asked her to find an old sewing pattern. She searched online and found hundreds and hundreds of patterns people had scanned. She started a sort-of-comic using the images she found, in which the long-gone garment “models” have conversations about their improbable poses and odd facial expressions, or are just plain silly. Your conservative aunt who sews may not like it, but you will, whether or not you sew.

In addition to her Tumblr site, her comics ran on the now-defunct humor site The Toast.

Put a Bird On It

Arne & Carlos Field Guide to Knitted Birds: Over 40 Handmade Projects to Liven Up Your Roost, Arne Nerjordet, Carlos Zachrison, photographs by Ragnar Hartvig, translated by Carol Huebscher Rhoades. Trafalgar Square, 2017. 9781570768231.

I attended the Nordic Knitting Conference this year and learned some pretty cool new things: how to work with more than one color of yarn at a time, how to use Sami patterns in a sock, and how to use a non-sewing machine style of steek. I didn’t end up going to any of the programs by celebrity knit designers Arne and Carlos, but I did see some examples of their projects — they looked really cool.

The knitted birds in their book are made with sock yarn on double-pointed sock needles, using the same techniques used in sock construction. If, like me, you knit a heck of a lot of socks, you’ve already got everything you need to get started, and this will give you a way to use up your leftover yarn. Plus the birds are pretty small and you don’t need to make two at a time if you don’t want to, so the projects go really fast. The book includes a lot of fancy variations: birds with sweater patterns, birds with tiny hats and scarves, birds with glasses, tropical birds with sequins — enough to fill this good-sized book. But after knitting my first awesome-looking bird with self-striping yarn and no other decoration, I think I may never need the variations!

Uprooted vs. Married to the Sea

I finally picked up Uprooted: The Japanese American Experience During World War II by Albert Marrin. This book was a National Book Award finalist and on several best-of lists for 2016. And on page 15, I saw this:

Page 15 of Uprooted

If you have spent any time looking at old newspapers or old medical ads, this looks nothing like an ad from the 1800s. If you pause for even a moment to read the text, you may wonder at a drug ad for something called “Placebo.” If you pause for two moments, you may be struck by how unlikely the phrase “drink it on the go” is for an ad of that time. Perhaps you suspect this this may instead be a joke.

Librarian powers activate! I flipped back to the picture credits to look for a source. The image was listed as PD-US: public domain in the United States, no original source listed. A quick Google search turned the image up on Pinterest, tagged as a Victorian advertisement. I put that image through the TinEye reverse image search engine and hey presto: a link to the original source. It’s a comic from the (awesome) webcomic by Drew Fairweather and Natalie Dee, Married to the Sea, which uses public domain clip art. The image in Uprooted and on Pinterest is trimmed to remove the URL of Married to the Sea, denying them credit as its source.

I really hope this was not the work of the author. I hope this was put into the book some underpaid intern charged with finding no-cost illustrations. But this really really really shouldn’t have made it into the final version of a serious work of history for young readers. This is absolutely going into my classroom presentation on finding reliable sources online. (Why not try the US National Library of Medicine Digital Collection? There you could find this actual public domain ad for a children’s medicine that contained morphine.)

Uncertain Certainty

Machine of Death: A Collection of Stories About People Who Know How They Will Die, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Machines of Death, 2010. 9780982167120.

This Is How You Die: Stories of the Inscrutable, Infallible, Inescapable Machine of Death, edited by Ryan North, Matthew Bennardo, and David Malki. Grand Central Publishing, 2013. 9781455529391.

Sarah: You may have already heard of this: Machine of Death!
Gene: Oh, I have heard of that.
S: I really liked it. It’s the first of two volumes, I realized I don’t have the second volume because I gave it to my brother for Christmas. But I have read both books. So! This is a premise that originated in a Dinosaur Comics strip, and it’s in the book. The idea is that there is a machine that is able to tell you, with a simple blood test, how you’re going to die. It will sometimes be obscure and sometimes it won’t be totally clear how that would cause your death, and no matter what you do you can’t change the fact that that is your destiny. Sometimes it’ll happen despite your efforts in a weird Twilight Zone twist. The book is an anthology by a bunch of different people all using that premise. It’s like the most wonderful anthology show, like if you got a Twilight Zone series where every episode was on one premise but interpreted radically differently by different artists. I would LOVE to see that.
G: It has a sci-fi feel?
Continue reading “Uncertain Certainty”

Nice Package!

The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns, 2nd edition, Lászlo Roth and George L. Wybenga. John Wiley & Sons, 2000. 0471385042.

Folding Patterns for Display and Publicity, drawings by Laurence K. Withers. The Pepin Press/Agile Rabbit Editions, 2002. 9057680408.

Sarah: I looked up the addresses and hours… (thumps book on table)
Gene: You scared my cat!
S: I looked up the addresses and hours of all of the Powell’s Books locations in Portland recently and I probably knew but had forgotten that they had closed Powell’s Technical Books.
G: That was across the street from the big bookstore?
S: Yeah, it was all of their… not just computer stuff, but technical books in every field. If you need super-technical books about constructing drainage systems, they had those. Super specialized books in every field.
G: Do they have those books in the main bookstore now?
S: I believe so. Powell’s Technical is where I picked up this first book, The Packaging Designer’s Book of Patterns.
G: Wow!
S: I thought you’d really like it.
G: Oh my god!
S: Because it’s about how to die cut, where to fold, where to glue to make all of these different possible paper and cardboard packages. From really simple stuff, like a cereal box, to one that looks like a cathedral. You can make a box look like a specific famous building if you want to sell a souvenir whatever. This is aimed at people who are designing packaging and need some ideas.
G: You paid $65 for this???
Continue reading “Nice Package!”

My Favorite Murder

The Case of the Gilded Fly by Edmund Crispin. Felony and Mayhem Press, 2005, originally published 1944. 9781933397009.

After thoroughly enjoying The Moving Toyshop, I decided to go back to the first book featuring literary detective Gervase Fen. A company of actors and a playwright have arrived in Oxford to put on a repertory production of a new play. One of the actresses, thoroughly disliked by pretty much everyone, is found dead, shot through the head at close range. The police are certain that it’s suicide, but Gervase Fen is convinced otherwise. The writing is delightful, light and joking, full of glorious turns of phrase and a very literary vocabulary (have your dictionary handy). The characters are all quite flawed and interesting and the action (and there is a lot of it) takes place over the course of a single week.

Is it a flaw of Generation X that we think we invented self-aware metafiction? This book is clear proof that we didn’t: it is full of winks at the audience and joyful tweaks of mystery conventions. The murder itself doesn’t happen until well into the book, with the author teasing the reader about it the whole time. Then our detective solves the murder and announces that he has done so to every character, but refuses say who the culprit is, with another third of the book still to go. Asin other golden-age mysteries, all the clues are available to solve the mystery, but the complexity of Crispin’s solution to this impossible crime may make you roll your eyes. But you know what? I enjoyed the ride so much that I didn’t care one bit.

Yes, sir, that’s my baby manual

Welcome: A Mo Willems Guide for New Arrivals by Mo Willems. Hyperion Books for Children, 2017. 9781484767467.

I grabbed this book off the shelf because I was looking for books on immigration as a part of a Welcoming Week display, and then found out it was for a different kind of newcomer: babies! The book welcomes these new arrivals and explains the joys (music, cats, stories) and challenges (sadness, hurt, ice cream disasters) that will be faced in the weeks and years to come, all in the form of an instruction manual with simple infographic-style symbols. Useful tips and reassurances are included: if the new arrival has questions, they only have to “call or flail about or scream like a banshee. Someone is standing by 24 hours a day 7 days a week” and love and help is always available. Each page ends with “while we read this book together,” keeping the traditional picture book feeling among the jokes for parents. It is utterly charming and destined to be a perennial baby shower present.