Judging Books by Their Covers

Cover by Harlequin

Since I’ve started working on the cover for my upcoming novel, The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life, I thought I would spend this week judging other books by their covers.

Take this one, Venetia by Georgette Heyer, a classic (so I’m told) of the romance genre.

Georgette Heyer is, in my opinion, a pretty darn good writer, a penner of thrillers, romances, and historical novels, a total of nearly 60 novels in a career that lasted more than 50 years. She is considered the founder of Regency romances of which this book, Venetia, is an example.

I tripped across Heyer’s work years ago while sorting books for the 5 Colleges Book Sale here in the Upper Valley. One of the woman I was working with at that moment in time recommended the thriller, entitled Penhallow, that I held in my hands. It was pretty good. Heyer’s got more wit than Agatha Christie and her writing is smoother.

That’s why, in spite of this cover, Venetia was on my shelf. Now that I’ve finished it, I can honestly say I’ll stick with Heyer’s thrillers.

The plot of Venetia is predictable—bad boy meets good girl, romance ensues. Heyer’s wit does much to rescue it from the depths of the completely hackneyed but still…

This version of Venetia is a reprint put out by Harlequin, the Canadian purveyor of more romance novels than any other publisher on earth. To my mind, they invented this cover style—blonde woman, dark-haired man, soft focus. The fact that the couple are not in a clinch and her bodice is all in one piece is part of a code that says “here lies chaste romance.”

Without words, this cover conveys the book’s level of overt sexuality through its placement of the two figures, the fact that she’s looking down demurely at a flower, and the choice of golden yellow instead of a blazing hot red for the backdrop.

Take a look at what you have on your own bookshelves. What cover codes speak to you?

A Whole Lotta Appliqué Going On

Kamon Garden by Janice Cunningham at the 2012 Vermont Quilt Festival
Magical Mystery Garden by Leslie Justice Cook at the 2012 Vermont Quilt Festival

I think I mentioned earlier that there were a number of samplers at the Vermont Quilt Festival in what I would call the Baltimore Album style. In other words, a whole lotta appliqué going on.

One of these days, I want to tackle a quilt like these but with my own twist, just like the makers of these incredible pieces.

The one at the top, Kamon Garden by Janice Cunningham of Bennington, Vermont uses traditional Japanese motifs in each block, not the folk symbols from Western Europe common in the Baltimore album quilts here in the states.

I love the soft but striking color palette in this piece, and the precision just takes your breath away.

The second quilt uses more familiar motifs but just look at the fabric choices that maker Leslie Justice Cook made here. These are not your traditional solids but the rich tones of Kaffe Fassett fabrics.

The overall impact is so different from the tradition handed down to us from the 19th century needlewomen in the mid-Atlantic region of this country.

Just for comparison, here’s a Pinterest page of Baltimore album quilt images. Some of these are historical, some are reproductions. Compare the color and motif choices to the ones pictured here.

Just one more piece of evidence that the quilting universe has no bounds.

Sailing Away

A single sailing boat block from Spinning Sailboats by Anne Gallo and Susan Raban exhibited at the Vermont Quilt Festival 2012
4 blocks together in Spinning Sailboats by Anne Gallo and Susan Raban exhibited at the Vermont Quilt Festival 2012
Spinning Sailboats by Anne Gallo and Susan Raban exhibited at the Vermont Quilt Festival 2012

I’ve been writing about the arts forever (or so it seems). Over the years, I’ve watched virtual wars between two teams that I call the “Tradition Keepers” and the “Heck with Tradition” non-keepers.

For Tradition Keepers, you play music the way it was first heard or you paint portraits according to rules set down by artists in the mid-19th century or you quilt only by hand.

The Heck-with-Tradition folks refuse to acknowledge the past.

In fact, they often declare they are free of the past, that everything has to be new, new, new or it’s invalid. None of that hand-sewing stuff here, thank you very much.

But you know what I like? Moments when the two get blended, and something simultaneously new and old is birthed.

This work is a mild example of that process at work.

The single sailboat block at the top of this post is part of a quilt created by Anne Gallo and Susan Raban called Spinning Sailboats that was at the Vermont Quilt Festival this past weekend. This sailboat block is about as traditional as it gets, and is most often featured in quilts where all the boats float in the same direction.

But Gallo and Raban played with this traditional block, sewing four of them together, each headed in a different direction. That’s picture number two.

Now look what happens to the movement of color in this whole quilt when you view these foursomes put together. The single sailboats disappear, and you have something old and new at the same time.

Cool, eh?

Vermont Quilt Festival

Crop Circle: Woolstone Hill by Joanne Shapp, exhibited at the Vermont Quilt Festival 2012

Spent the greater part of yesterday at the Vermont Quilt Festival in Essex Junction. What an incredible show.

The quality of the work in this regional show is always high but sometimes, the variety is not quite there. For example, my husband noted that when bargello quilting was all the rage, there were far too many bargellos in VQF.

But this year, everyone seemed to be dancing to her own drummer.

If there was a trend, it was a continuation of the resurrection of appliqué that’s been going on for a couple of years now, especially in quilts in a style called Baltimore Album quilts.

I have over 100 pictures from the show, the most I’ve ever taken (which means there was a lot to be fascinated by), and I’ll post the best over the course of the week.

I’m starting with a blue-ribbon winner created by a friend from my quilt guild, Joanne Shapp. I did a blog post about Joanne’s incredible crop circle quilts back in May when she was the featured speaker at the Green Mountain Quilt Guild. But at the time, I did not have a good picture of this quilt called Crop Circle: Woolstone Hill.

So far, this piece has won three awards, including the VQF ribbon. Next it’s going to England, to a show in Birmingham. What souvenirs will it acquire from that trip, do you suppose?

Weather Forecast: Summer Followed by Autumn

Autumn leaf in June

I found this leaf on the ground when I walked along the river yesterday. Looks like fall, doesn’t it?

For those not fortunate enough to live in New England in autumn, you might not be aware that our leaves-turning-color event can actually happen—at least to individual trees—at any time.

I suspect we’ll see a bit more of this early-fall phenomenon than usual during 2012, and for a number of years to follow. To understand why, you have to understand the mechanism behind the appearance of fall foliage.

Actually, the beautiful yellow and orange in this leaf have been there since it emerged back in April. But when a leaf—or tree—is healthy, these wondrous colors are masked by the chlorophyll that’s doing its part to feed the tree.

Our autumn foliage is made possible by the die back of this amazing chemical, the one responsible for the green trees of spring and summer.

This little leaf was, unfortunately, not alone on my river walk. A glance up from the ground revealed a tree struggling from the damage inflicted by Irene—loss of bark, a partial uprooting, silt-covered roots.

We’ve learned from some of the tree experts around here that this situation will be replicated along our rivers for a number of years to come as the trees damaged by the unforgiving flood waters begin to die back.

This is the reason why we took the time to plant 125 trees here last month. In the years to come, they will serve as a succession planting.

Re-reading Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy


The first time I read John Le Carré’s Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy, I have to admit to feelings of frustration. The maze he created in his book left me feeling lost. What in the heck was going on? Who was that guy named Jim and why was he shot? And is that Control person onto something or is he just crazy?

I hadn’t thought about the book in many years when a new movie came out in 2011 to such rave reviews. I had to watch.

And then I had to re-read.

This time, because I knew how the book ended, I could savor Le Carré’s twisty plot, and his tight, neat phrasing. I turned over the rocks laid down by his characters to check out the grubby little details underneath. And my appreciation for his mighty tour-de-force was rewarded with a lingering horror at the depths of the mole’s betrayal.

I often flip to the end of a book, especially if it’s a mystery, when I reach its halfway point. Some friends express disbelief over this practice but for me, it serves several purposes. If I don’t like its ending, I can abandon a mediocre read without qualm. But if a book promises to be worthwhile all the way through, I get to savor my reader’s journey.

And to me, reading has become all about savoring. It’s why I no longer have any patience with ill-written books or the so-called “page turners” that sacrifice any meaningful explorations of character in favor of plot, plot, plot, and nothing but plot.

Boring.

Le Carré is a master at weaving plot lines together while rounding out his characters like a master potter molds clay. Doing this well is a difficult technique that I enjoy as a reader, and also practice in my own writing. So I guess that’s a third reason to re-read Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy—continuing education.

Carding Quilt Company

Treehouse steps—design by Edie Wolfe of Carding, Vermont

With only three months to go, the folks at the Carding Quilt Company in Carding, Vermont are cranking up their quilting expertise, and their book publishing schedule.

Carding, Vermont is the star of my novel, The Road Unsalted, the first in a series about this hill town among the Green Mountains. Carding is home to an interesting school, the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts. The Academy, as everyone in Carding calls it, functions as both conservator of traditional crafts and the incubator for highly skilled artists who push the boundaries of these traditions.

Carding Quilt Company is the book publishing arm of the Academy. Many of the Academy’s teachers, such as Chloe Willis and Edie Wolfe, have published their work through the Quilt Company.

The quilt pictured here, Treehouse Steps, was designed by Edie Wolfe. The pattern for it will be available this fall.

Author of the Carding, Vermont novels, quilt books, and book publishing guides.