My book 2 for the eighth week of the Summer Reading Challenge is Popco,by Scarlett Thomas. The first layer is the story of an odd month in the life of Alice, a somewhat socially inept young toy designer. She spends a lot of time thinking about what other people think of her, and trying hard not to fit in — while of course thinking a lot about whether other people think she fits in. At one point, a lot of the girls where she works are wearing a trendy and unusual hairdo I remember from one of #2 daughter’s modeling jobs, and Alice has to steel herself against joining in. This sort of thing takes up way too much of her time.

But the overall experience of the book is what you might get if you were reading the sort of magazine that starts stories on one page and continues them later, but you read straight through. You get part of the main story, and then a bit about Alice’s childhood, and then a story set in 1605, and then an essay on marketing, and then a long explanation of codes, and then a bit more of the story.

I keep thinking that The Da Vinci Code would have been better if this woman had written it. Not as popular, though, probably.

The other book I have been looking at is Handknit Holidays by Melanie Falick. I say “looking at,” because I haven’t made anything from this book and therefore cannot tell you anything useful like “don’t believe the yarn estimates” or how well the patterns are written.

Since this book is a compilation of patterns from many different designers, you do not find a consistent look throughout. I have mixed feelings about this. When I buy a book by Debbie Bliss, I know that all the directions will be correct and that I will probably like all the designs. A book by Elsebeth Lavold pretty much guarantees that the designs will be striking and beautiful — and that some will be way too striking for me, and that there will be some “huh?” moments in the directions.

A book with designs by a number of different people is more like a knitting magazine. Handknit Holidays includes garter stitch rectangles and an idiot cord garland — but also these lovely and complicated socks, and the menorah-design pillow below.

This variety of levels of projects makes sense in a magazine — you are trying to have something for all the subscribers, after all — but in a book, it doesn’t seem reasonable to me.

Those of us who need a pattern to make a garter stitch rectangle — or four different patterns for essentially the same hat — are not going to make those socks. Those who will enjoy the fancy cabling will find the utter-beginner patterns a waste of space.

The variety extends to the type of pattern as well, and this can be a good thing, especially if you are making gifts for different people. You will find stockings and tree skirts, table linens, sweaters, toys, hats and mittens, scarves and wraps, and even a dog sweater. There are a couple of children’s sweaters, one of which also shows a unisex adult version, and two women’s sweaters with a wide range of sizes. There are a few clearly Christmas items and one clearly for Chanukah, but most are presents, without holiday themes. The brief holiday discussion focuses on the Solstice.

Some of the patterns strike me as impractical — there is a pair of very pretty long hose, for example, which a lot of people on the web are making. Ladies, those are not going to stay up by themselves. You will be reaching up under your skirt all day to pull them up, unless you attach them to a garter belt. They are also heavy enough that you will not be able to wear them under delicate shoes. So there you will be with your lacy stockings and your hiking boots and your garter belt — well, the heroine of Popco might wear them.

There is also a peculiar shrug made of two separate pieces, each having a sort of sling and a cuff. I can just see the lucky recipient trying to take this off upon arrival at a warm house, and then to put it back on before heading back out into the cold. It won’t hang up in the coat closet, either, so you will have to sling the two pieces over your arm, or just never take it off, though it will dangle into the guacamole. Wear this along with the stockings, hitching them up throughout the party, and your reputation as an eccentric will be cemented.

The pictures are attractive, but you cannot always tell what the items look like. Shawls are not shown open (and I for one would not make a complex lace shawl having seen only a hint of the design), the poncho is never shown full length (you see the bottom of it worn as a skirt and the top as a poncho with the rest of it rucked up), the cover hood is shown several times but always straight on so that the shape is a mystery.

There is no “how to knit” section, so this shouldn’t be your only knitting book, but there is a section that clearly explains all the terminology and special techniques called for.

This was a free book for me, and there are three designs of the fifty that I will probably make some day. There are thirteen that I might conceivably make some day. A quilter friend of mine claims that a craft book is worth buying if it so much as inspires you, even if you never make anything from it. With individual knitting patterns selling for $6 apiece and knitting magazines approaching $10, this book might be worth buying for a couple of designs. If it inspires you to make your holiday gifts, it could be worthwhile even if you don’t care to make any of these particular items.