Review: She Makes Hats

Recently Asymmetrical Press asked me to review She Makes Hats (2013) by Robyn DevineNow that I’m retired, I thought it would be pure joy to review a knitting book instead of an academic tome on public policy or politics.  After reading She Makes Hats, perhaps I should stay with academic books.

She Makes Hats is, simply, a short book (at 79 pp. it’s closer to a thick booklet) that reads as the wandering, personal journal of the author, a woman who defines herself as she who makes hats.  The book has less to do with knitting than with Devine’s obsession to knit.  (Her current goal is to knit 10,000 hats.)  This is revealed as the chapters provide the reader meandering glimpses of the author’s life (e.g., “dan” – a chapter about her brother’s premature birth, “insemination day” – a chapter about her efforts to get pregnant).

Though there are hints as to why Devine compulsively knits hats (and a lot of information is included allowing any reader to make educated guesses), Devine spells it out in the last chapter.  In short, it provides her a feeling of “importance and grandeur” (58).

Devine explains that when she was young, she was convinced her adult life “would be a large life, grand, surrounded with important people, and doing the most important (and most recognized) work I could imagine at the time. I pictured myself knowing the world’s most prolific writers, part of the circle of folks changing the lives of the poor, regularly being contacted for interviews about my life and travels from a variety of writers” (58).

Instead, Devine chose a different path; she is a part-time receptionist, mother of a young son and a devoted wife.  She appears to use knitting and gifting hats (nothing wrong with either, in and of themselves, of course) as a way to feel important.  In doing so, she explained:  “I don’t spend my time traveling the world and eradicating poverty, …  And I don’t spend my time leading ministries, … Instead, I have managed to surround myself with people who are doing grand and amazing things – folks who have millions of followers on their websites, regularly travel the globe, and are at the forefront of massive world-change” (58).

Available in electronic form only, the book(let) had inconsistent margins and no pictures, patterns or drawings of hats (though Devine includes a few sentences on how to make her favorite hat, the Sandoval Hat [rib 2/2 for about 11 inches and then decrease].  It is not a knitting book or a book for knitters.  Rather, the book(let) reads like a combination of self-help and the personal journey of a woman with basic knitting skills seeking to fill some sort of void in her life.  She fills the void by obsessively or compulsively knitting and gifting hats.  In so doing, she finds the “importance and grandeur” (58) she had envisioned for her life.

I think of people who have done “grand and amazing things” – Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa of Calcutta, Susan B. Anthony and Elizabeth Cady Stanton come to mind – and none of them did so for self-aggrandizement, self-adulation or simply to make themselves feel better.  They did what they did because they believed their work was the right thing to do.  Period.  Nothing wrong with obsessively knitting one type of item throughout your life; nothing wrong with gifting it to anyone you meet or read about.  But I think it is sad that the author seeks “importance and grandeur” through it.

I am not sure why I was invited to review this book.  In the email inviting me to review the book, the public relations person used the phrase “a book by a fellow knitter” (2/19/14 email).  As a scholar (albeit retired), I use a critical eye on everything I read and together with my level of knitting expertise and background … well, I assumed that was why I was asked to review the book.  It would have been better had Asymmetrical Press asked me and/or others like me to review the book(let) long before publication.  We could have provided critical input to guide the author to make this an actual knitting book(let).

In sum, this is not really a book(let) for knitters.  Knitting is a distraction in this book(let); it leans toward a self-help missive, an emotional recount of a woman’s effort to find “importance and grandeur” in her life.  She Makes Hats is Devine’s personal journey – nothing more or less.  Those interested in reading about the journey of a woman who happens to knit may find She Makes Hats an interesting read.  I did not.

 

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About sweatyknitter

Fiber artist, practitioner of yoga, author, and amateur artisan bread baker.
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22 Responses to Review: She Makes Hats

  1. Bad formatting never helps the case. :)

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  2. Does sound rather self-absorbed. I’ll pass, thanks.

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  3. Ah, they got you too hmm? I didn’t hate it quite as much as you did, but I was definitely a bit surprised by it.

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  4. Mixture43 says:

    Hmmm… thanks for that, maybe I’ll pass. x

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  5. kiwiyarns says:

    Sounds like a bit more editing would have been a good idea! Thanks for taking the time to review it for us.

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  6. salpal1 says:

    I have long followed Devine’s blog, and through it, I have come to enjoy knitting for charity, feeling like I could help some cold folks keep warm. I think that with her blog and Ravelry pages, she does a good job inspiring others to knit for charity, and she does good work herself in her knitting/giving. That does not make her an author, nor does it make her story compelling. So it IS a shame that you and a few other bloggers I follow were asked to review the book post-production, not as part of the editing process. I think an opportunity was missed. I also think that because Robyn seems to define herself by this work, it will be hard for her to take these reviews and learn from them. But I hope she does. They are not about the work she does, but about how she chose to tell the story. THAT can be remedied.

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    • I agree; editors who also knit would have been a good call. And I too hope she will take the reviews as a learning experience; that was my hope when I wrote my review, in fact.

      >

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  7. marissafh says:

    ouch … sounds like somebody at the press just ‘assumed’ that it was a knitting book, and didn’t look inside to see if it really was about knitting, or just a title.

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  8. tgonzales says:

    It sounds like the editors had the wrong reviewers reviewing the booklet, or none at all. :) Thanks for the heads-up on “She Makes Hats”. :)

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  9. kate says:

    That sounds like a bit of an oops by the publicity department – that’s if there is one, and not just a general dogsbody, possibly an intern. But thanks for the heads up!

    It all sounds a bit familiar – I’ve worked in and around publishing for years. When I was in-house for one publisher I had to try and explain to the MD that if you sent books out to apparently random bloggers (as one of his poor interns appeared to have done) you really could not control what they said…

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  10. Wow! This is the second post about this book that I’ve read where the reader didn’t care much for the book. There are other books in that Knitting-Helped-Me-Get-A-Grip vein. I haven’t read them (lol). But they seem more successful. CRAZY AUNT PURL’S DRUNK, DIVORCED, AND COVERED IN CAT HAIR: THE TRUE-LIFE…. comes to mind. KNIT LIT books come to mind, though it’s a bunch of short stories. They were very well received. I wonder what made this one fall so short?

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    • Perhaps for a lot of reasons: (1) it wasn’t funny, (2) it wasn’t about knitting, (3) it had no knitting patterns, (4) it had no pictures, (5) it was an amateurish read of the private journal of someone who unabashedly admits she longs to feel important and does so through knitting and gifting hats, and (6) its knitting parts were written by a person who could knit one thing: simple hats.

      Just wrong on so many levels.

      >

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      • Yeah, I hate to say it but most genres and sub genres seem to me to have “formulas” for success. Looks like what you have listed here would be the formula they didn’t follow here for a book of this type. So sad to miss EVERY point though.

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