Two books: Great British Sewing Bee and The Art of FieldingI’m reviewing two very different books today, but when I looked at them together I realised that their covers match in terms of their colours so well, while retaining an essential Britishness and Americanness that are reflected in their contents. So, they are being reviewed together today. One of them is a non-fiction TV tie-in and the other a novel set on a New England campus: both are interesting in very different ways!

Tessa Evelegh – “The Great British Sewing Bee”

(27 April 2013 – bought on the day I went to the launch of Guthrie & Ghani)

The tie-in book for the TV show shown in the spring, with lots of lovely pictures of the contestants (and some of their patterns) and introductions by the judges. There are lots of well-thought-out projects to undertake, both clothing and home furnishings, which are pretty enticing and well-explained, and good basic instructions to help novices to take up sewing.

However, it’s woefully let down by the complete lack of editing of anything but the instructions themselves. I hate mentioning such things when editors are listed by name in the acknowledgements, but it is interesting that they are specifically described as having edited the instructions. The rest of the text is not mentioned. But there’s a lot of it, and, while I have some sewing experience and can pretty well judge that the instructions are accurate and do-able, I would expect other people to feel unsure about the quality of the rest of the book when they’ve met glaring errors in the first few pages. I know that Lauren and Tilly from the show, at least, are planning on bringing out books in the New Year, and I hope that they don’t suffer from the same sort of rush job which undermines the hard work that goes into these book.

Chad Harbach – “The Art of Fielding”

(18 March 2013 – The Works)

This was one of those books I fell into buying after an unpleasant trip to the dentist, detailed here (the book buying, not the dentist trip, don’t worry!). It’s an astoundingly accomplished first novel: I’d class it as a campus novel, because it revolves around the fabric of an American college and its president, as well as the students.

We meet Henry, a bit weedy but amazingly talented at baseball, who’s tempted into taking up a scholarship at Westish College in New England by Mike Schwartz, massive football star and baseball captain, all crunchy knees and painkiller-popping now; his new roommate is the fastidious Owen, who takes him shopping for clothes and teaches him what’s what. Thrown into the mix are college president Guert Affenlight and his wayward daughter, Pella, on the run from an ill-fated marriage.

When Henry makes a mistake on the field with potentially fatal consequences (don’t worry, readers of a nervous disposition: while things aren’t exactly fine, there isn’t anything horrible to read), it affects all of these main characters and affects the classic arc of the college novel as the team endeavours to do well in the college championships for the first time.

It’s masterfully and confidently written, with never a foot put wrong. I particularly appreciated the way in which people and situations were viewed and described from different perspectives, so the muscular long legs of a woman seen by a man are just that, while the woman viewer sees “yoga toned” legs in particular. The portrayals of depression, despair and how easy it is to slip lower into chaos are well described, too (and here there is some content that would be triggering around eating disorders and so I’d recommend it’s best left by those who are susceptible to such triggers). Ultimately uplifting and satisfying, though, and I will look out for more by this writer.

Note: there are baseball games and baseball practices in this book, however not understanding baseball will not ruin your enjoyment of the book! If you can manage Nick Hornby’s “Fever Pitch”, you can definitely manage this. The author’s really good at describing the games but making sure you understand what they MEAN for the team and the individuals involved.

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Currently reading: I’m behind on my reviews, so currently reading something completely different: new reviews and new “confessions” coming on Thursday or Friday …