Knitting Books for the World

I’m reading two books right now:

  1. The Porcelain Thief: Searching the Middle Kingdom for Buried China by Huan Hsu
  2. In the Footsteps of Sheep: Tales of a Journey Through Scotland, Walking, Spinning, and Knitting Socks by Debbie Zawinski

I have two trains of thought to post about.

First, the former book is about porcelain and the history of China and the author’s family. It is iporcelain thief coverntended to be read by a wide audience of general readers, not people who work with clay or make pottery or who love China. It’s certainly not intended to be read solely by the author’s family. I “read” this as an audiobook on my most recent road trip, and I also downloaded the ebook so I could highlight passages I found interesting and “make notes in the margins.” I found the entire book engrossing, especially the parts about the author visiting porcelain artists and talking about craft, traditions, and the meaning of making things. I also learned a lot about Chinese history, and was fascinated by the interactions between the members of the author’s extended family in the present as well as in the past. All of these topics are, frankly, esoteric and potentially boring to those not already interested in them. And yet, here we have an engaging book marketed to a general reading audience.

footstep of sheep coverNow I find myself wondering, why couldn’t the latter book marketed to non-knitters and those not already interested in the sheep of the Scottish Isles? It’s published by Schoolhouse Press, which is a knitting-book publisher, but the ideas and stories presented by Debbie Zawinski are no less fascinating than those offered by Huan Hsu. Hsu’s book is published by Crown. I doubt that any of the “Big 5 Publishers” would have considered Zawinski’s book. Why? Is it because the author is a woman? Because it’s about knitting (subtext: women’s work)? Because only old grannies would be interested in reading it?

Just thinking about this pisses me off. And then once I decide that anger is a secondary emotion and I’m really disappointed and sad that there isn’t a broader audience for knitting books — in no small part because big publishers have somehow decided that there isn’t, and not for any reason based on reality — I realize I have to consider my work of promoting this kind of book and encouraging writers to publish this kind of book, and to explore ways to get this wonderful writing in front of an audience of general readers who will enjoy learning about knitting, sheep, and Scotland, every bit as much as they enjoy learning about porcelain, clay, and China.

My second train of thought is about traditions and how to preserve them, and if we even should be concerned about preserving them. More on that soon, perhaps tomorrow.

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