"weekend reads"

The Joy of Swimming (Weekend Reads)

"How do you just stare at the bottom of the pool for hours on end?"

It was the most common question I got in twelve years of competitive swimming. And only asked by people who could never really understand whatever answer I gave. But the truth is that it was hard to give an answer. Swimming, for me, wasn't about staring at the bottom of the pool. Heck, you really only noticed the bottom of the pool when it marked that you were close to the wall. Swimming was about so much more.

The majority of the time you compete as an individual but you train as a team. Everyone in the pool is pushing each other and not so secretly competing even on practice days. My swimming friends were my closest friends because I saw them the most, I suffered with them, I laughed with them, I travelled with them, we saw each other in next to nothing for hours on end. They were my people.

Swimming is also sport for the internally driven. No matter the cheering or the direction from the coach, no one is going to propel you down the pool but yourself. No one is going to kick harder or reach further but yourself. And yes, when you are starting at the bottom of the pool for hours on end the only person you have to talk to is yourself. It comes down to discipline and drive.

In Lisa Congdon's new book, The Joy of Swimming, she makes a connection between art and swimming that makes total sense to me.

"There has always been a fixed and steady connection for me between art making and swimming. Both of these passions require similar things of me: enormous discipline and a unique form of endurance... Like art making, swimming is at the same time rigorous exercise and also a form of play."

It explains so much to me, of me.

The Joy of Swimming is a delightfully creative survey of the sport of swimming. It is full of historical facts, fascinating tidbits about the sport, equipment, and pools. But mostly it is the story of swimmers. Lisa's drawing and letterwork, combined with the brief profiles all try to answer the question of why anyone stares at the bottom of a pool (or never sees the bottom of open water) for hours on end. The profiles range from kids in the beginning of their careers in the pool to seniors who've been in the pool hundreds of times more than the average person.  It includes famous swimmers of the past and present and water babies of today.

My daughter read this book. The Monster is nine and spends a good chunk of her free time in the pool as a competitive synchro swimmer. If she has a break from swimming for more than a few days she gets antsy and asks if we can go swimming. She needs the water to feel sane. I totally get that. The book gave her a way to be connected to the pool even at bedtime.

I don't know that this book will get anyone new in the water. It might - the profiles, while brief, are inspiring. It is making me want to get back in the water, that's for sure! The book will definitely enchant anyone who has ever spent time in the pool for more than what we always called public swimming, the fun stuff. I have a list of family and friends to buy the book for.

As a quilter and writer now it feels like I stare at the bottom of the pool for hours on end again. It might be the blank page of my notebook, at sentences on a screen, or piles of fabric in various forms. The work can be repetitive and lonely at times. Chain piecing like going back and forth and back and forth down a pool. The drudgery doesn't stop me - even when I'm trimming hundreds of half square triangles - because I am internally driven. I know the hard work will pay off. 

Everyone comes to the sport for different reasons, and we stay for different ones too. After twelve years of it I quit suddenly when it just wasn't fun anymore. I've never looked back and now watch the kids I see swimming while I'm at the pool with my own children with nostalgia. Lisa and I spoke about swimming during our time together in January. I was in awe of her commitment to the sport as an adult. She started her true commitment at the same age where I was ending mine. But I know that swimming provided a foundation for my entire life. I would not be the person I am today without swimming, not at all. And now I see that that includes my creative journey as well.

Lisa Congdon will be on a book tour for the book. If you are anywhere near Portland, Seattle, NYC, San Francisco, Minneapolis, or Brooklyn I recommend seeking out the event. And if you or anyone you know is a swimmer, then definitely grab this. If you aren't a swimmer or don't even like the water, The Joy of Swimming is worth the read. It does indeed provide some answers as to why we can spend all the time staring at the bottom of pools. Not to mention, Lisa's creativity shines.

Disclosure: I was provided a copy of the book by the publisher, Chronicle Press. That was the second time I read it because Lisa loaned me an advance copy to read back in January and I stayed up too late to read with the lights of LA for company.

The Curve of Time (Weekend Reads)

Our summer last year started with a road trip. An epic family road trip that saw us meander through the interior of British Columbia, spend a few days with me quilting (teaching) with the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Modern Quilt Guilds, and then hopping on the ferry for a week of camping on Vancouver Island. It was a magical family vacation for us.

Thank goodness our kids are adventurous travellers and don't get car sick.

We did the trip with the modern conveniences of hotels when we didn't want to camp, grocery stores to stock our bins of food at the campsite, and Goretex. So it was both inspiring and deflating when I started reading The Curve of Time while we were on the Island.

M. Wylie Blanchet wrote The Curve of Time, documenting the summers spent on a boat with her five children. The would leave from the coastal home that looked like a fairy's log cabin to board The Caprice as summer began. Up the water ways of the BC coast, both Island side and coast side they would explore. Just her and the kids, and usually the dog. And this was in the 20s and 30s!

Here I was thinking we were brave for a 2 week road trip in our German engineered station wagon.

The stories in the book are haunting at times, light hearted at times. They tell of the growth that happened among the children, of the joys of discovery, of the tension of travel by sea. Mostly they tell of the challenge of motherhood. Because even when you are battling current, ghosts, and storms you are still raising your children. It is a most definitely enlightening tale of mothering, amongst all the scenery, sailing, and adventure.

On that same trip we were on my husband coined the now often used family quote: It's only an adventure when not everyone who left returns, otherwise it's an excursion. The Curve of Time is certainly a book to inspire exploration and install an adventurous spirit in any woman. And to encourage this mama herself to find a few more excursions for her family.

Modern Quilt Perspectives (Almost Weekend Reads)

Well, you know I am a fan of quilt books that are more than a collection of patterns. So imagine my delight at one where the patterns, at first, feel like an afterthought! Then, after a careful read, they are not. Rather, they are part of an integral whole story. Not just of the specific quilt, but of the book.

Meta? Yes, I know I'm pushing it a little, but bear with me.

Modern Quilt Perspectives is a book about the practice of quilting more than the quilts. But in that discussion is the inherent story of a quilt. For every quilt has a story. Don't believe me? Wait for it, I will get to that.

This book tackles the many reasons and themes we make quilts. Conversations, Identity, Social Commentary, and the Quilting Tradition are all tackled. Through a brief discussion; the story of each quilt; running commentary of design, technique, and decision making in quilts; and the pattern itself. Thomas Knauer reveals so much of himself in the practice of making his quilts. Central to all of these discussions is that each quilt has a story.

Thomas introduces so much here. It is a structured bit of work for a guy who freely speaks his mind and isn't afraid of challenging norms. The book really is his, right down to his explanations of basic quilting tools. And the stories he tells of the quilts are emotional and vibrant. Not to mention inspiring.

When I first started the book I grumbled a little that patterns were included. The discussions Thomas presents are thoughtful, if not cerebral. They are a direct challenge for us to examine the way we think about quilts and our making of them. I believe every single quilter would benefit from taking the time to examine their making. So when I came to patterns for each quilt it frustrated me. If the goal is to get the reader to reflect on their own quilt stories, why would we be encouraged to simply recreate a quilt Thomas made? Then I read this:

"The pattern is only a map, a set of guideposts along the way to make a quilt. In many ways, a pattern is the quilt boiled down to its essentials, not just technically, but conceptually, and each remaking is an investigation of the ideas under consideration. I think of most of my patterns as a set of possibilities, the starting of a conversation about an issue, thought or world view. The specific materials you choose and the ways you might vary the pattern are responses and replies... I have come to really love the idea of quilt patterns, the idea of these quilts being made and remade in untold variations and the ways in which these quilts will become parts of people's lives."

It puts into a words a completely different perspective on patterns. It isn't about recreating the quilt on the cover or the page, it is about making that quilt yours and part of your story.

For sure, there are quilters who walk into a store and ask for the exact fabric on the pattern cover. Or they buy a kit. But you know what? That's their story. You don't know why they need it to be perfectly matched, they may not even know. But something in the fabric, in the pattern spoke to them and they want to join the conversation.

How many times have you been at a guild or retreat show and tell and someone stands up and just says, "I don't know why I chose these fabrics, I just liked them." Well, that's a story. Thomas, in Modern Quilt Perspectives, invites us to dig a little deeper into that story too. Why those fabrics? Why that pattern? What spoke to you? Find the story, even when you don't think it is there.

So, this book couldn't exist without the patterns because they are indeed part of the conversation. Twelve different tangents of a long, winding conversation. And who knows where they will go?

F&W, the publisher, is giving away a copy of this book to one of my readers. I was provided with a review copy for this post, part of Thomas' blog tour. Leave a comment here by midnight MST on Sunday, April 13. Tell me how often you work from patterns and kits.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children (Weekend Reads)

What a peculiarly fun book.

This was another beach read and what a perfect book is was. When it started I thought that I'd picked something a bit morose. And while it certainly has sadness and Nazi metaphors it is anything but morose. No, it is quite engaging and a fantastic bit of storytelling.

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children straddles the wall of fantasy and reality, like the Harry Potter novels. It does this quite literally in the story, with the characters moving between present day and a loop of time where they exist in relative safety in all their weirdness. There is an invisible boy, a girl who constantly levitates, a teacher who understands them all, and a boy who is only discovering he is one of these peculiar kids.

The characters are built from a strange bit of photographs that the author, Ransom Riggs, curated. Searching through his own collected photos and those of other collectors he put together an assortment that inspired the story. Photos are included in the story, both illustrating it and becoming a part of it. They are creepy and surreal photos, to be honest. And instead of staring at them and wondering what they hell is going on in the photo, Riggs does that for you in the story.

It isn't just the characters, however, that make this book. It is well paced, with little hills and valleys that take you along on an adventure. There is a mystery to unravel and family dynamics to be explored.

I think, technically, the novel gets categorized as Young Adult/Teen. Get past that, or read it with a teen in your life. This is the kind of read that gets you antsy and excited, while also making you want to put the book down as if you were watching a scary movie. But you can't and you won't because it is also such a compelling story.

As a bonus, the sequel is already out.