This entry is about two books by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee: At Knit’s End: Meditations for Women Who Knit Too Much (Storey Publishing, 2005) and Things I Learned From Knitting…Whether I Wanted To or Not (Storey Publishing, 2008). It’s also about Stephanie Pearl-McPhee’s visit to Portland, Oregon, on 22 April during her book tour.
Stephanie writes knitting humor books. She reminds me a lot of the early Bill Cosby, who came on the comedy scene when comedians did jokes with punch lines. Cosby talked about real life in such a way that you saw the humor of it, and it was great. It’s like sitting around with a friend who tells funny stories about what happened to her in the grocery store, or while picking the kids up from school. In At Knit’s End, the book is small (4″ x 6″, 320 pages), and on each page she has a quote, a short idea or story to tell, and a reflection on its meaning. Most are funny, and you don’t have to be a knitter to see the humor (though it helps). I read many of them to my non-knitting husband, and he often smiled or laughed with me. I think my favorite is when Stephanie writes about having knitted a cable sweater (using black yarn, which can really strain the eyes) for a very large friend, and then discovering a mistake with the cables (the sort a non-knitter would probably never really notice) made early in the process, and trying to decide whether she should rip out the whole back and knit it over. She knows she will never be able to live with the mistake. In her reflection, she writes, “I will remember, should I ever find myself in a similar situation, that I don’t have to live with the mistake at all. I can sew the thing up and give it away” (p.250). 🙂 I really enjoyed this book, reading a few pages before sleeping, or at odd moments during the day. It always made me smile.
So when her new book came out, Things I Learned From Knitting—Whether I Wanted To or Not, I knew I had to have it. The essays in this one are generally longer (2-3 pages), but the humor is still there. She heads each little essay with a truism (“Beginning is easy, continuing is hard,” and “A friend in need is a friend indeed” are two of them), and then writes about how these concepts are illustrated in knitting culture. Am only three-quarters of the way through the book at this point, but I love it just as much as the one above. I’m savoring it a bit at a time, because I really don’t want to be finished with it.
Stephanie is currently on a book tour for Things I Learned From Knitting, and everywhere she has gone there have been overflow crowds of knitters. She was scheduled to appear in Portland, Oregon, on 22 April, and I was determined to attend the event. So I made the 700-mile round trip (visiting friends along the way), and was there at the Forestry Center in Portland the night she spoke to 400 knitters. You can read more about it in her blog entry about the event. What she won’t tell you there is what a wry sense of humor she has. Stephanie spoke for an hour, and after the first half my face hurt from smiling and laughing so much. She has no problem with poking fun at herself, and in the process you identify with her. And you are encouraged by her, because she frequently gives examples of “if I can knit, you can knit.” My ears perked up when she cited a couple psychological studies. One was about what scientists discovered when they studied monks who meditate regularly, which Stephanie skillfully linked to knitting as a meditation. Another was a study in England, which found that people process upsetting events more easily when engaged in a repetitious behavior (and knitting was mentioned in the study). [This part made me think of the research on EMDR, where repetitious eye movements help people with PTSD process their reactions to the event.] When she talked about the English study, she quoted a line in their conclusions about how to apply these findings in everyday life. They said something along the lines of it not being practical for people to carry knitting around in case of emergencies. At this point Stephanie was laughing so hard she was crying, as were many of her audience, because most knitters ALWAYS have a small project tucked into a carry bag for those odd moments when they can knit.
Stephanie spoke for an hour, there was a short question and answer period, and when the presentation was over, she signed books. People brought her little gifts, and had their photo made with her, and she didn’t rush people along. The line was LONG, and it was almost 10:30 pm before I got to her. I could tell she was tired, and her voice was hoarse, but she thanked me for waiting so long to have her sign my copy of her book. I wanted to tell her how happy I was to meet her, and how much I enjoy her books, but I got shy. At least I was brave enough to ask for a photo with her, so I held up the camera and snapped this photo. When we looked to see how it turned out, I commented that I look fat. Stephanie’s response was something like, you look fat, I look short, and that’s life. She made me laugh again.