Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A book review

I didn't actually make any New Year's Resolutions this year, but as the year goes on, I've been coming up with a few goals that I would like to meet. One of my goals this year is to learn how to write better book reviews. I'm usually at a loss for saying anything other than, "I loved this book."

I received an early reviewer's copy of The Kitchen Linens Book by EllyAnne Geisel from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program, and wrote this review of the book last night. More than anything else, this book pointed out to me how similar our experiences are when we grow up in a certain era. For the era when I was growing up (50s and 60s), it was Father Knows Best, Leave It To Beaver, picnics from the back of the station wagon, and embroidered dish towels with funny little cartoon characters on them.

I could talk and talk about all of my childhood memories (and may, one day soon), but for now, here's my review.

The Kitchen Linens Book: Using, Sharing, and Cherishing the Fabrics of Our Daily Lives, by EllynAnne Geisel

This book could be appreciated solely for the beautiful photographs of embroidered, embellished, and lovingly preserved linens, but it is so much more. I adored this book. Every page brought a new memory of my own family—my mother, my grandmothers, my aunts—and how seemingly mundane items like dishtowels and tablecloths can have such a large impact on our lives.

The book includes a collection of essays and photos from various women, not just one, but one thing that struck me was how similar the essays were. Not in actual content, but in the way they spoke so lovingly of the women who had gone before them in their family. As I read this book and looked at the photographs, almost every story allowed me to relive memories from my childhood. I grew up in the 50s and 60s, and many of the items pictured in this book were familiar to me. I remember embroidering pillowcases and dishtowels over iron-on transfers, and I remember piling out of the family station wagon and helping my mother cover a picnic table with a red checked tablecloth.

I recognized the "grape cluster" hot pad made up of bottle caps covered with crochet—one of my grandmothers had made that exact pattern and I saw it on her dinner table at every family dinner. My other grandmother made tatted lace edgings for pillowcases, and crocheted doll clothes for me.

Many of the women in the book collect vintage linens, and scour thrift shops for them, something I've also done. I have recently been thinking about the ways that "women's work" enhances the home, and the way that women through the ages have found that needlework both improves the ambience of their homes and gives them something to focus on, enabling them to deal with adversity in a productive way. You may worry, but if you have needlework to occupy your mind and your hands, at least you can produce something beautiful.

The handwork that these women did not only made something useful and beautiful for their homes, it enhanced their families' lives and gave them memories to last a lifetime.

This is a beautiful book, and I can't recommend it highly enough.

~ Willa Cline

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