Friday, April 18, 2008

A Greedy Profusion of Books

I am not one to live on the web alone. I love libraries. I love bookstores. I love overflowing shelves and coffee-tables of books. I love knitting books. Oh, how I love them.

A friend once asked of cookbooks, another all-too-collectible category well represented on my shelves, "but how could anyone use more than ten or twelve?" What could you possibly need from other cooking books that wouldn't be covered in those? Well of course, if it were simply a matter of putting good food on the table, he'd be right.

But there's a lot more than a decent selection of good useful recipes in cookbooks. There's adventure between those covers! There's sociology, and history -- how things came to be the way they are. How and why they're different from place to place. There's international culture. How they fit into the local ways, and celebrations, and traditions. There's emotion. How people feel about foods and dishes and what they have meant in their families, their forebears, their own lives. There's technique. There's science. There's fashion.

Knitting books are the same way. I don't particularly want another dozen how-to-knit books. They cover basic ground I learned many years ago. But there's so much more to know. Knitting traditions in different places, and how they grew from people's commerce, their local resources, their livelihoods. How they were influenced and inspired by their landscapes and their aesthetic sensibilities. What it means to them. The individual voice of the writer. Techniques and refinements won over a lifetime and shared with readers. A special way of explaining something tricky that makes it all clear. The eye of a talented designer or editor. A stitch collection that includes a few things not seen anywhere else. New eye-opening ways of putting a garment together. A lively personality. A time capsule of what was in fashion when the book was published. Exciting patterns that are in style right now. The reassuring timelessness of other patterns.

Do I need all this? No, of course not. But it enriches my own knitting. I love looking through the excellent collection at my local library. It has introduced me to authors and designers and traditions I knew nothing of. (Once, years ago, I lived for a while directly across the street from a library. Heaven.) I love the treasure hunt at a used or new bookstore for something wonderful that I haven't seen before. I can spend a happy evening sitting cross-legged on the floor going through the knitting section a book at a time. (How lucky we are to have such a flowering of knitting books being published these days!) I love having books at home. I love to settle in and browse through the books I have on hand, learning, looking for ideas, finding inspiration.

Does the web provide all that? Not with the quality, depth, and permanence of printed books. On the web, there's some great stuff, but plenty of slush to wade through. There's much that's haphazardly organized or transitory. There's a great generosity of offerings, but not always a surplus of the editorial discipline that helps ensure lasting value.

I'm a happy and grateful tourist on the web. But home is among my books.


Bess said...

You are going to have to come visit my library someday. We have a knitting section to brag about.

I know just what you mean, though. I love to just be inspired by other people's ways of going about looping string with sticks.

Anonymous said...

i just started reading your blog a few weeks ago and wow, every post has something great. as a librarian, this post has my head nodding so hard it's dangerously close to falling off. ;) so yes, my home is also around books.

thanks and looking forward to future posts from you ~