Monday, March 30, 2009

THAT was weird.

Erudite Mondays at Half Soled Boots
Volume 8 Number 4

Susan Gordon Lydon

I'm not sure what came over me - usually I don't post when I feel like that, but last night I thought "Sod it."

And I've got to give props to Kate who wrote a haiku full of good advice.

Wool flows through fingers
Lights or no lights the wheel spins
Turning moods around.

Now, don't you feel refreshed? I do.

Speaking of wool therapy, I have just finished reading Susan Gordon Lydon's Knitting Heaven and Earth: Healing the Heart Through Craft. I read it because it sounded interesting, but now I've put it down, I must admit I probably won't pick it up again.

The premise is well enough - knitting brings healing of real problems by its meditative peace. The execution, though, is wanting. Instead of feeling connected with the author and convinced that knitting had helped her through her times of hardship, the disjointed narrative and surface emotions failed to either interest me or prove her overall point.

What bothers me is that there was so much potential for a really thoughtful book, written from the perspective of a woman who has been through a lot of bad and good, and has wisdom to share as a result. As a reader, I expected to cry in places - maybe laugh out loud in others. But I think Lydon took the easy way out - those surface emotions I mentioned earlier - and on the whole, the book falls flat as a result.

One thing that really bugged me was her constant use of quotations from pop culture, especially music, to express her emotions. It's like her own words aren't enough - she has to call in Joni Mitchell to back her up. Or Lucinda Williams. Or Woody Allen. And when I say "constant use", I mean it: I checked a random section for you, and in nine pages there were five excerpts from song lyrics. When a person is in the depths of despair because her lover has cheated on her and then left her for another, she should be able to do a better job of making us feel her pain than by saying:

During this time I clung to some lines from a Paul Simon song "Graceland" that said "Losing love is like a window in your heart. Everybody sees you're blown apart." I felt like I had been cracked open and there was a hole inside me where the wind blew through.

As I used to say, around 1989: "No duh."

I am attacking this book because I had such high hopes for it, and I'm keenly disappointed. I had originally ordered it to give to a friend who is going through a bad time lately. She's a knitter and I thought this book might make a nice gift to lift her spirits. I hoped it would be moving and thought-provoking - I found it shallow and inattentive.

Last year my friend lent me Eat Pray Love. I liked it fine, as a casual read, but found it overwhelming narcissistic and nauseatingly self-congratulatory. I completely lost patience with the constant cycle of self-destructive behaviour, lack of resolve, devastating heartbreak caused by loving entirely unsuitable and sometimes abusive men, and desperate search for solace in other people's words. Knitting Heaven and Earth can be best described as Eat Pray Love with yarn. Eat Pray Love is a hugely popular book, I'm aware, and I'm sure Knitting Heaven and Earth also has an enormous fan base. But they weren't meant to be literature, and they sure as hell aren't.

I'm beginning to wonder if maybe I'm just not a self-help-book type of person.
HSB Highly-Specialised Book Rating System
Knitting Heaven and Earth gets:

Reread: Unlikely
Given to Others: Doubtful, but not impossible.
Bookplate: No.


Dave Hingsburger said...

A few years ago, maybe more than a few, I went through a 'self help' binge. Though I was outwardly successful, I felt inwardly incomplete. 'Maybe,' I thought to myself, 'others can help me find what's missing.' I'm not sure they helped me as much as my dollars helped them ... in fact the nature of self help books puts them closer in my mind to horoscopes and fortune cookies ... one size fits all advice, assurance in a cookie.

I still beleive if 'self' help, but unfortunately it's my 'self' that needs to kick my 'self' in the ass every now and then. I think that's the only way it really works.

Gena said...

In part, its popularity never let me read Eat, Pray, Love. It was such a huge success among so many people, but I like real literature (okay, sometimes I like crappy literature, too), not self-praising, you can do it too! type books.

I think I'll leave it on the shelf for the next person to buy.

Jodi said...

Thanks for the honest review! I know just what you mean about Eat, Pray, Love.

Gwen said...

I often find assurance in a cookie. Hence my present state.

I've noticed another trend in self-help books: they take a clever phrase that they've already written a few paragraphs back, and reprint it as a blockquote, in bold face with a few fancy border-type squiggles around it. I think it's just a lazy way to get another 15 pages. Irritating.

kate said...

You don't strike me as the self-help type :)

Good review.

Glad you liked the haiku.

mel said...

I find a lot of self-help stuff to be icky, preachy, or obvious - but sometimes I need a light bulb when I'm not making progress and can't afford a therapist. Writing works wonders (writing for self! No literature - but getting things down on paper or in type helps me step through or solidify a process - maybe that's what her book should have been. I don't generally quote song lyrics when I'm writing for myself, but I can't speak for being whiny, self-indulgent, or a general pain the arse), and some good yoga or a hike bring me back to myself more often than not. I have been know to read a few self-helpy blogs though - hey, they're free ;)

lizbon said...

Sounds like what Boywich used to call "a toe-curler." Ewwww.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the review. Someone I know actually recommended Eat, Pray, Love to me - that is, because we both love Rome, she recommended the first third. I did make it through, but this woman's Rome is not mine, and have to agree with everything you said about the book. (I did realize, when her sister came to join her, that her sister's Rome is more like mine.) Just didn't want to spend any more time with this woman. I've seen the knitting book in the library and stores - thanks for letting us know it's not worth it.