Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Each One Teach Twelve

Glorious Comrades:

Let none among you say I am not doing my bit to increase the tribe. About a month ago, I was asked if I'd teach knitting to my colleagues in the office. I kid you not. Once per quarter, we're herded into a room together for an afternoon class of some kind. This time, they decided it would be fun to play with yarn. And who am I to argue with that?

However, I firmly declined to teach basic knitting to a crowd 35 people, many of whom have no interest in the subject. I said I'd take on a dozen–and they had to volunteer to be there. I can imagine few chores more thankless than trying to frogmarch an unwilling horde through the longtail cast-on.

And so we assembled last week in a sunny room looking out to the lake. A funeral and a sick child reduced the class to ten. Everyone sat down with a ball of bulky Louët Riverstone and a pair of US 10 bamboo needles,* and about an hour later everybody had cast on and done at least a row or two of garter stitch.

This was my first time leading a group, and I was fascinated by the differences among the students. I'd divide them roughly into three categories.
  1. This is interesting, but... Comprised about a third of the students. Will probably never pick up the needles again. I'd like to think it's not the fault of my teaching. It's certainly not because I lack evangelical zeal. They were all politely enthusiastic, but when the opportunity to break for cookies presented itself they took off–and didn't take their (free!) yarn and (free!) needles with them.

  2. Hey, this isn't half bad... The majority reaction. Pressed on through the terror of casting on and the first, tentative row of stitches to reach a point where they were knitting without dropping, adding, or holding onto their needles like Dubya clinging to the last shreds of his authority.

  3. St Paul on the Road to Damascus. One student, an absolute beginner. Fumbled the cast-on once or twice. Then, as though she'd been kissed by the spirit of Elizabeth Zimmerman, knit about seven perfect rows and could not stop. When it could no longer be denied that class was over and it was time to go back to work, she looked positively stricken. "I don't want to," she whimpered. "I just want to knit. I don't want to do anything else. It's not fair."
Remember the first time you said that?

Honest to goodness, I don't know to feel about her. It may be that she'll always remember me as the fellow who ushered her into a world of limitless creative possibility. Alternatively, she may remember me as the reason she's in rehab, couples therapy, or credit counseling.

Mercury Is a Punk-Ass Chump

Nothing too exciting on the needles at present. I'm afraid even to touch the christening shawl, considering my abysmal track record over the past several weeks. I've never been much of one for astrology, but the idea of a Mercury retrograde* screwing up my knitting seems downright logical. I mean, the problem can't possibly be me.

Against all odds, I've finished the Earth Mother socks and they look fine. They aren't exciting, but they fit and they match. Right now, that feels like Achievement.

On the other hand, the Mystery Square has been frogged. Again.

The altar cloth? Ripped back to the start of the Endless Knot pattern. Again.

Will somebody please tell me when Mercury is going to get its ass back in gear? Will it be soon? Or should I just give up and start blogging about découpage and popsicle-stick birdcages?

*Thanks to our outfitters at
Arcadia Knitting.

*Thanks to commenter Tamar for telling me about this. If you're one of the 5,000 people who needs an e-mail from me, that's Mercury's fault, too. Also, Mercury made me eat a lot of peanut M & Ms last night, and hid my laundry detergent. And my dishwasher.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Gather Ye Rosebud

Once upon a time when the world was young and I was a college student, I had the luxury (which I did not, then, appreciate) of spending hours lying about discussing topics of High Import with my classmates. Imagine Plato's Symposium, only instead of growing drunk on wine we were getting buzzed on chocolate chip cookie dough.

One of my pet themes was whether one can impose a hierarchy of values on the world of art. For example, was it valid to declare, as the French academics did, that history painting was the pinnacle of achievement, with other genres (still life, portraiture, etc.) ranked below. At times I was known to become quite heated about this and say "ergo"-and even, when I'd had too a little too much dough, "quod erat demonstrandum."

(Heh heh. Crazy days. Remind me to tell you some time about the great Schopenhauer Kerfuffle of 1991. Man, I wonder how we didn't all wind up with police records?)

Anyway, without fail I was on the side of those who felt the creation of an absolute hierarchy of either individual works of art, or of media (i.e., oil painting is "higher" than watercolor) was silly. I'm still of the opinion that an artwork itself has no inherent value; it acquires it in the mind of the beholder. The Mona Lisa, for example, is nothing but mineral pigments when there's nobody standing there looking at it.

I feel the same way when it comes to shoving needlework techniques into a caste system. For example, there are those-and they are entitled to their opinion-who hold that knitting is somehow superior to crochet. I don't happen to agree. I think it's not the technique, it's what you do with it. Knitting snobs would do well to remember that nice yarn and two needles do not always result in a work of art...or have you forgotten You Knit What?

By the same token, crochet can be used to create an object so hideous that just looking at it takes seven years off your lifespan, or it can be used to make the rather spectacular filet tablecloths I bought in Greece last summer.


I must admit to certain prejudices. For example, when I was child every household had at least one revolting zig-zag crocheted afghan over the back of the sofa. I hated them. Hated them so much that I can't even stand the Shetland lace "feather-and-fan" pattern because it makes me think of those afghans.

Ditto granny squares. I know, I know. They're hip right now, they're funky, they're vintage. People just love them. They're on the runway, they're in the books, everyone's making them, blah blah blah. I look at them and have unfortunate flashbacks to sitting around watching Lawrence Welk and eating stale cookies while the grown-ups discussed their gall bladders.

However, like a good Buddhist I do my darnedest to avoid Fixed Viewpoints and, on occasion, even my congenital aversion to certain yarn-based atrocities can be overcome.

John Brinegar, over at Yarn Ball Boogie, has just done it. He's come up with a granny-square scarf with which I am in love, to the extent that I may lie in wait outside his door so that I can conk him over the noggin with my copy of Five Little Peppers and How They Grew and steal it.

If you've seen John's work, you know he's good at pushing the boundaries enough to make you look twice at things you've seen so often they're easy to overlook. Rosebud is definitely a pattern like that. I love the metal connecting rings, and I love subtle shifts in color.

It makes makes me wish I could...crochet...granny squares...

Excuse me, please. The room is starting to spin. I think I need some cookie dough.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Monday, February 19, 2007

The Slump and the Jolt

Elizabeth Zimmerman's immortal advice to the Yarn Addicted was to "Knit on, with confidence and hope, through all crises." And I try, Elizabeth, I do try, but at the moment my knitting is the crisis.

I don't know whether Jupiter has collided with Mars a bit too heavily, or the Moon couldn't find the Seventh House and went to the corner bar instead, or what. All I can tell you is every time I've picked up my needles lately, something stupid has happened.

Take the second Mother Earth sock. It's nothing remarkable, just another garter rib out of Sensational Knitted Socks–the sixth such I've made. I'm working it on two circulars and haven't had to pull the book out, because at this point the pattern has burrowed its way into my skull. This makes it all the more puzzling that I knit blithely down the leg, zipped through the heel flap, and then neatly and flawlessly picked up stitches for the gusset without turning the fricking heel first.

One of my other assignments is a piece of mystery knitting, courtesy of She Who Cohabits with the Black Bunny. I received by a post a nice parcel of her yarn, gorgeous as always, with a note instructing me to pick a stitch pattern, knit a square, and return it to her with no questions asked "or the mouthy sheep gets it."

You would think such a simple, straightfoward task is well within my grasp, no? She's basically asking for a washcloth, albeit in yarn you'd never want to touch a dirty dish. So why, darlings, why, have I had to rip back twice after inadvertently creating an amoeba and a trapezoid?

I'm hoping the deep freeze (which may, just may, be ending) has caused some lever in my brain to become stuck temporarily in the "off" position, and with any luck the onset of spring will unstick it. If not, I'm afraid my niecephew is going to be christened in a shawl that looks like it was knit in the dark, on a moor, during a windstorm, by one of the hounds of the Baskervilles.

On the Other Hand...

It was not a weekend without high notes.

First, in tandem with a good buddy I produced a chocolate soufflé (the first for both of us) with crème chantilly that, were it human, would be husband material. We shoveled it down with cries of delight, then felt rather sick, then realized what we'd just eaten was intended to serve eight.

It was still worth it.

And then my brain got a much-needed jolt of creative energy when Leigh Witchel parachuted into town and whisked me over to the Auditorium Theater to see what the Joffrey Ballet is up to.

I will admit that I'm not entirely in my element watching dance. I come to it with no more than layman's knowledge. I don't know Who is Who as I do in opera, so I can't keep score. I always enjoy myself, but with limited pocket money for tickets, opera wins. I only make it to the ballet when sponsored by a Generous Benefactor. Thanks to Leigh, I'm considering whether I ought to revisit that policy.

The Joffrey presented a triple bill under the title of Destiny's Dances. The first piece, Les Présages, is a period piece–an allegory (with appearances by Fate, Frivolity, Energy, et al) choreographed by Massine to music by Tchaikovsky. It wasn't engaging emotionally; few of the dancers seemed to buy into such drama as there was. So it came across as a series of extremely pretty late-deco café murals come to life. Me, I loved it. Chiffon, bouncy music, and symbolic characters striking portentous "Ode on a Grecian Urn" postures? Yes, please. And I'll have seconds.

The second piece was Balanchine's Apollo. I have a feeling this production won't be hailed by the cognoscenti as an immortal interpretation, but it was charming. And the fellow who danced the title role has what my late grandfather would have referred to as An Ass That Won't Quit. I was also deeply amused by Calliope. She was...qu'est-que c'est le mot juste...animated. So animated that from our seats in the fifth row she came across as both cross-eyed and insane. If Ricky Ricardo decided to do a Balanchine night at the Tropicana, and Lucy secretly locked the prima ballerina in a closet and took over the part herself, this is how she would have looked.

They wrapped up with The Green Table, an anti-war period piece. At first, it worried me. After a stunning opening involving grotesque diplomats dueling around a (surprise) green table, suddenly there were Weeping Women and Grim Soldiers and I thought...ugh. I'm a devoted peacenik, but it seemed a bit ham-fisted. I won't summarize what came after–I'll just tell you that within five minutes, I'd changed my tune. By the curtain call, I was damn near devastated.

Between the performance and the opportunity to Talk Knitting with Leigh, I'm feeling re-energized about picking up my needles and getting some real work done. So thank you, Leigh. If I manage to produce a square with four even sides that meet at right angles, I'm totally going to dedicate it to you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ten Alternative Ways to Say "I Love You" to a Knitter

  1. The lady at the yarn shop said you like cashmere but she wasn't sure which color to suggest, so I just bought everything she had.

  2. You shouldn't have to pull boxes out from under the bed every time you need to get a ball of yarn. Let me give you my closet.

  3. Which would you prefer for vacation this year, sweetheart–New Zealand, the Shetland Islands or Rhinebeck?

  4. Is that all you want? Why don't you have another look around in the sock yarn while I get out my credit card?

  5. You look so hot when you're reading lace charts.

  6. I can see you're counting, so I'll just make dinner, clean up afterwards, and put the kids to bed, so that when you're finished you won't have to wait for me to massage your hands. Okay?

  7. Too much yarn? Don't be ridiculous. We can always add another room.

  8. But, dearest, I think it would be silly for you to have only one spinning wheel.

  9. It's called "Koigu." Do you like it? Is twenty pounds enough to make a sweater?

  10. Put down those needles and come here, you sexy thing. One more row? Of course I'll wait.

Monday, February 12, 2007

Ice Queen

We're having a comparatively mild day in Chicago. As I write this, it's 21 degrees Farenheit. Quite a relief, as for the past two weeks our thermometers have been registering temperatures well below zero.

Dolores reacted to the onset of the Deep Freeze by going into near-hibernation. I'd leave the house in the morning to sounds of snores coming from her cushion near the Victrola. Returning ten hours later I'd find her a few feet north, on the sofa, covered in sedimentary layers of blankets, books, magazines, empty Sun Chips bags, and dirty dishes encrusted with the remains of frozen dinners from Whole Foods.

The sock yarn colony dissolved into anarchy. Deprived of discipline and daily jaunts to the park, they started getting into drawers and cupboards I prefer to keep undisturbed. When Harry rolled over to me after work, held up an assemblage of black leather and chrome, and said, "Can you settle a bet? Me and the guys are trying to guess how you're supposed to wear this," I decided it was time to wake Rip Van Hoofen from her slumber.

"Dolores," I said, "We need to have a talk." I picked up the remote and clicked off the television.

She stirred, dislodging an avalanche of Ho-Ho wrappers and back issues of The Journal of Hellenic Studies. "Put that back on," she yawned. "It's almost time to throw cocktail nuts at Emeril."

I pushed aside a pile of Janet Evanovich novels and sat down.

"Now," I said brightly, "Let's have a cozy chat about the running of the household, and your place in it, shall we?"

She burped.

"I can't help but notice that the sock yarn hasn't been taken for an airing in quite some time," I said. "Would you care to explain why this is?"

"Too friggin' cold out there."

"Yes," I said. "I have experienced the inclement weather first hand. However, one might point out that the sock yarn is made of wool, and that you yourself are covered in wool, a well-known source of protection from the elements. Why, I even heard of a Herdwick sheep in the English Lake District that survived in a blizzard on a hillside for several days by chewing its own wool."

"Chew on this," said Dolores, gesturing weakly, but evocatively, in my direction.

"Hey, boys," I shouted, "Anybody who helps me get your den mother off the sofa gets to go to Windy City Sweets for sundaes."

Dolores's vitality surged when she was set upon by sixty balls of sock yarn excited by the prospect of extra whipped cream. She swatted at them like Tippi Hedren fending off a flock of seagulls; but she was outnumbered and outmuscled, and in short order was dumped into the bathtub for a much-needed soak and shampoo.

The hot water revived her sufficiently to allow further conversation about her responsiblities. While she was setting her hair, she agreed that she had been remiss, and offered to make up for it by taking the sock yarn skating in Millennium Park the next day.

"I can show them a couple of tricks while we're down there," she said, adjusting a curler. "I was quite famous for my figure eights, you know."

"You figure skate?"

"Please," she said. "I was a headliner with the Ice Capades in the late 70s, until I gave it all up."

"What happened?"

"That little bitch Dorothy Hamill," said Dolores. "With the pixie cut, you know?"

"I seem to recall the name."

"The producers were putting together a new show and as the stars, we were given a certain amount of creative input. I got to the production meeting first, and had everybody all excited over The Oresteia on Ice–with myself as Electra, of course. Then she bounced in from filming a shampoo commercial and shook her pachongas and smiled, and suddenly we're doing The Wonderful World Mother Goose and she's Bo Peep and I'm her freakin' sheep. So I took the role very seriously and got lost."

"What a pity."

"I wanted to raise ice dancing to the level of high drama, and those bastards turned it into a circus sideshow. Oh well. Tant pis. Ancient history. I've forgotten all about it."

Dolores wrapped a kerchief around her curlers and went to bed. I passed by in the night on my way to the kitchen, and she was moving about in her sleep, undulating delicately like one cutting a figure eight on a pristine rink. She murmurred softly to herself. I paused to try to make out the words.

"You can skate but you can't hide...just wait...I'll get you...Dorothy...I'll get you...and your"

Dolores on Ice

Friday, February 09, 2007


I missed putting up a poem on St. Brigid's Day. It must be an effect of creeping Buddhism. When I was a little Catholic kid, studying Lives of the Saints (it was always capitalized) was lagniappe to me and on most days I could tell you who one should be celebrating and in what grisly, picturesque manner he or she or they had died. This came in handy in college, when I was able to impress a professor or two with my ability to decode complicated Renaissance altarpieces on the fly.

Now that Buddha has taken up residence in the living room, however, the liturgical calendar isn't as much of a concern and I forgot all about Brigid. But why confine poetry to one day, eh?

I like poetry, good poetry, when I can find it. This happens less often than one might wish. When I do find it, I like to collect it.

This is an old habit of mine, begun in the mid-1980s. I can pinpoint the exact day.

I was in another interminable class at the dreadful high school, sitting around waiting for a test to end. I'd written my answers down on a sheet of notebook paper with fifteen minutes to go. I couldn't read, of course. And so I tried to pull a book out of my head: Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

I realized I could see the opening page of the fifth chapter, "Advice from a Caterpillar," clear as day. And that I could remember words, as well. So I pulled out another sheet of paper and started writing them down. "The Caterpillar and Alice looked at each other for some time in silence..."

It was the first time I ever realized that forming letters is, for me, a sensuous pleasure. The first stroke of the A in "Alice" sent a shiver up my spine. I completely forgot about the classroom, and the test, and lost myself in the writing. If there is such a thing as reincarnation, it's entirely possible that I spent at least one lifetime in a scriptorium merrily decorating the Book of Genesis or the Koran with arabesques or fleurs-de-lys.

After school that day, I stopped in at a drugstore and bought a black marble composition notebook. If I had enjoyed copying down Alice, I decided, it would be a lot of fun to copy down everything that I'd loved reading, all in one place. Choice excerpts, just for me.

I still have it. Here it is.

Old Faithful (Volume One)

I can state with certainty that I bought the book in 1985 because the first quote is a lyric from Stephen Sondheim's Sunday in the Park with George, which premiered that year: "Work is what you do for others, Art is what you do for yourself."

The notebook went everywhere with me and filled up at an alarming rate as I copied in everything from one-line aphorisms to the entire first chapter of A Passage to India. For a long time I thought this was a practice I'd invented, until two years later I read Alberto Manguel's article "Sweet Are the Uses of Anthology" in the New York Times Book Review and found out that mine was a hobby quite popular in the Victorian and Edwardian eras.

(The article appeared in the August 23, 1987 issue–I know because I copied an excerpt into my book.)

There are things in this book and its successor that make me roll my eyes today, such as a lengthy piece from, dear me, the Reader's Digest, in which Aleksandr Solzhenitsin avers that everything evil in the world (especially Communism, natch) has arisen because mankind has turned away from Christianity.

And there's my handwriting...

Page One

I dotted my i's with little circles. Oy. I was but one YM subscription away from being a teenage girl.

And then there are things I am immensely pleased to see–things I encountered in books that were not mine, or in newspapers long ago crumbled that I'd no longer have if I'd not pinned them to the page.

Here's one. It's poem that against all odds made it into a textbook put into my hands by the dreadful high school. I discovered it on my own, flipping through the pages looking for something better than the Rod McKuen dreck the teacher had assigned. The first time I read it, it thundered.

I might have discovered Lucille Clifton on my own, later–but then again, I might not.

I know the St. Brigid reading was supposed to be silent, but this isn't Brigid's day and this poem is not to be read in silence. Stand up and read it out loud. Hell, stand up and shout. It'll do you good.

Miss Rosie by Lucille Clifton

When I watch you
wrapped up like garbage
sitting, surrounded by the smell
of too old potato peels
when I watch you
in your old man's shoes
with the little toe cut out
sitting, waiting for your mind
like next week's grocery
I say
when I watch you
you wet brown bag of a woman
who used to the best looking gal in Georgia
used to be called the Georgia Rose
I stand up
through your destruction
I stand up.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

Slow Down, Baby

Lo. It is begun.

I looked at the calendar yesterday and realized with a shock that the arrival of my little niece or nephew, which once seemed so remote, is now disconcertingly near. It may not seem so to my sister, but she hasn't promised to knit a large square of lace to wrap the baby in once it arrives. All she has to do is sit around and let it bake, or whatever babies do in there.

I don't have anything to show you at present, but in the interest of keeping track of the process here's what I've done so far.
  1. Contemplate the many, many beautiful shawl patterns available commercially for today's lace knitter.

  2. Imagine completed shawl being shown on edition of "Antiques Roadshow" in 3014 and great-great-great-grandniece being told that it was made from chart bought for $2.75 and is worth $4.53.

  3. Decide baby absolutely must be given shawl of original design.

  4. Ponder approximately 14,000 lace stitch patterns as recorded by various authorities the form (Walker, Khmeleva, Miller, Bush, Kinzel, et al.)

  5. Swatch about two dozen of the above.

  6. Wash swatches. Block swatches. Accidentally step on swatches. Exclaim emphatically. Remove t-pin from bare foot. Re-wash swatches. Re-block swatches.

  7. Compare the construction of shawls as practiced by the Shetland Islanders, the Estonians, the Russians, the Scandinavians, Jean, Marianne Kinzel, and Elizabeth Zimmerman.

  8. *Decide to do it the Shetland way.

  9. Decide to do it the Orenberg way.

  10. Decide to do it Elizabeth's way.

  11. Jean's way.

  12. Marianne's way.

  13. Repeat from * until freak out and start throwing yarn and patterns and itty freaking bitty needles at the wall.

  14. Stop. Breathe. Pick cobweb swatches out of chandelier, retrieve needles from behind fainting couch, stack patterns neatly under paperweight shaped like Meg Swansen.

  15. Sit zazen and think of lace.

  16. Go to bed and dream of lace.

  17. Survive 153 pointless staff meetings by doodling lace charts on what looks to civilian eye like Very Serious Excel Spreadsheet.

  18. Experience epiphany. Consult with dear Margaret Stove regarding best methods of plotting a new design.

  19. Send Dolores to Lucky Horseshoe for five hours of pre-paid lap dancing.

  20. Screw courage to the sticking place.

  21. Cast on. Knit.

  22. Wonder if pregnant lady can "cross legs and wait" if shawl takes longer than expected.

  23. Hope baby has perhaps inherited its uncle's predisposition to procrastinate.

Monday, February 05, 2007

While I Was Out

Hello again.

I had a long rest, and thank you so much to everybody who sent good wishes. I'm told I'm better now, and I hope so, because Resting Quietly is a royal pain in the kazoo. More than once I was put in mind of Charlotte Perkins Gilman's The Yellow Wallpaper. However, unlike the poor lady in that story I was allowed to knit and so did not attempt to merge with the bedroom walls out of sheer boredom.

Not that the knitting itself is much to shout about. Here's the lot:

Sick Knitting

Another sock, obviously–once again in the same pattern and these and these. Why a third pair? First, because it wasn't too taxing on the mind or the fingers. Second, because at this point I can work it from memory and even my bookcase was verboten for the duration.

The other thing is a new altar cloth, using the pattern for the first one on the edge. In the center, in progress, is a panel out of Barbara Walker's second volume. She calls it "Scrolls," but I'll be a waltzing dakini if it isn't a dead ringer for the Endless Knot, one of the auspicious symbols of Buddhism.

That's it for knitting, I'm afraid.

Since I don't more to offer you, I'll answer a few questions that came in via comments and e-mail after I wrote about cataloguing my library.

Q. Do you actually have two copies of Maurice or did you make a mistake?

A. Yes, I have two copies of E.M. Forster's Maurice, but one of them is in French. It was given to me by my first true love, and is dear to me. Alas, the ending is just as implausible in translation.

Q. Can I borrow your copy of [title]?

A. Absolutely, provided you fit into one of the following categories:
  1. You are a member of my immediate family.

  2. You and I are presently involved in a committed, long-term relationship and I'm not planning on breaking up with you in the near future.

  3. I have an enormous crush on you which I hope may develop into a long-term relationship and I'm trying to seduce you with literature.
If you are in category three, and nothing develops, and the book is not returned in short order, I will hunt you down and kill you if necessary to get it back.

If you fit into none of these, I'm afraid the answer is no. I'm very Polonius about my library, and usually prefer to be neither a borrower nor a lender. Having another person's books in my care gives me horrible jitters, lest something should happen to them.

Q. Have you actually read all of those books?

A. Of course not. Have you ever tried to read a Baedeker guidebook cover-to-cover? However, anything I haven't read through to some great extent, with the expectation of picking it up again frequently, doesn't stay on the shelf very long. Space is too precious.

Q. How does a book earn the tag "beloved"?

A. There are many ways. It may be a book that reminds me strongly of a particular place or time I hold dear. It may have had a profound impact on my worldview or my writing. Most likely, no matter what, it's a book I've read so often that to be without a copy is unthinkable.

Q. Why did you label certain authors with the tag "pompous ass"?

A. Because I find those authors come across as such. It doesn't mean I necessarily dislike the book. Alden Amos's Big Book of Handspinning is an example. I love the book, and I even love his sense of humor–until his coyness gets in the way of his scholarship. When he remarks that "most" Lazy Kates are unfit for their intended purpose, but doesn't bother to say why, or which designs do work, I want to smack him.

Q. How dare you say that about Madeleine L'Engle, you heartless sonofabitch?!

A. Because I'm sorry, but I've never liked her books. At all. I read A Wrinkle in Time in fourth grade because it was damned near compulsory, and by the fifth page I could tell she was going to try to slip a badly-disguised Sunday School lesson past me. C.S. Lewis did the same thing, of course, but I liked his writing enough to make allowances. And, frankly, I find that in her later works she went completely off the deep end and wrote book-length inscriptions for sappy greeting cards.

This doesn't mean that if you love Madeleine L'Engle I think you're a moron. It just means our tastes differ on this point. And wouldn't life be boring if we always agreed on everything?

Q. Okay, smartypants–so why do you keep all those books by Madeleine L'Engle if you think she's a pompous ass?

A. I'm letting them appreciate. They're all signed with personal inscriptions (long story), and one of these days they're going to help me finance a house. Thanks, Maddie!

Q. How the hell did you make it through Middlemarch?

A. I'll tell you the same thing I tell everybody–even when they don't ask. Skip the prologue about Saint Theresa. When you finish the book, with tears in your eyes, you'll go back and read it and understand it and very possibly read the entire book over again...I did.