One of my tasks at work is ordering books for the store, and part of that task is reading the announcements of forthcoming books. The most recent announcement was rather breathless about up-coming novels. All of them seem to be “lyrical,” “evocative,” “piercing,” or even “lyrical and brutal by turns.”

I do not find this helpful.

At one point, I was envisioning the reviewer with a thesaurus at hand, but then it seemed as though it must be a handy list of noncommital adjectives. After all, what does it mean to say that a book is “evocative”? After a bit, it seemed possible that it was in fact a dart board. The tip hits the line between “haunting” and “lyrical” and you’ve got a haunting, lyrical book.

I hope next month we get back to the guy who sorts books into “romp” and “thriller” and actually summarizes the story a bit.

Of course, it could be the same person or people, but under different circumstances. Our local movie reviewer used to write about things like plot and acting, but after a trip to New York City began describing movies as having “fractal luminosity.” The folks at Ingram might have read all those novels under the influence of eggnog and gingerbread. Or, in an access of spontaneity, just not read them at all.

Silkenshine asks for clarification about how a sock and a mitten are alike. Now, there are plenty of different patterns for both things, some not like each other at all. For a basic sock or mitten, however, you swatch with stockinette, measure the wrist or ankle in question, and cast on enough stitches to do the job. So, if you want an 11″ cuff, and you are getting 6 stitches to the inch, you would cast on 66 stiches. Depending on the weight of the yarn, your number might be anywhere from 20 to 100 stitches; it doesn’t matter. The pair I am doing now starts at 40 stitches.

Then you rib (p1, k1, or any variation on that) for as long as you want the cuff. Hold it up against your arm or leg to decide how long you want it. I did four inches. Then you switch to a larger size of needle and work in stockinette till you are ready to do the fancy bit.

At this point you must decide whether you are making a sock or a mitten. If you are making a sock, you need to make a heel. If you are making a mitten, you do a thumb. You can find instructions for both of these processes in your basic knitting book — I pull out Mary Thomas’s Knitting Book if I need a reminder. For the purposes of comparing socks and mittens, we can just leave it at that.

Having done the exciting part, you continue till the sock or mitten is long enough. If you’re not sure, make the hand section twice as long as the cuff and that should do. Then do matched decreases — k2tog on one side and ssk on the other — to make a nice round toe or mitten top. Again, any basic knitting book will give you the details on that. This picture happens to show the toe of a sock, but it could equally well be the top of a mitten.

And the picture on the left happens to be the cuff of a sock, but it could just as well be the cuff of a mitten.

So you see, aside from the exciting part in the middle, a sock and a mitten are just alike. I think that can help when you are using a pattern, because you have a mental idea of where you are going with it. And you can easily shift patterns from a sock to a mitten or vice versa. And if you’ve done one successfully, then you know you can do the other.

One of my favorite cartoons shows two lab-coated people standing at a blackboard covered with equations, but with “at this point, a miracle occurs” written in the middle. The caption reads, “I think this step needs a little clarification.” If you feel that way about my sock and mitten explanation, let me know and I will explain further.