Wednesday, July 27, 2005

How to Judge a Book, part 2

Ever looked through a new issue of Vogue Knitting and then wanted to throw it across the room?

(Raise your hand if you've done it in the last 3 months. Extra credit if you've done it for at least three issues out of the last 4. But I digress.)

Infuriating. You expect better. What to do?

In a capitalist economy, you're supposed to vote with your wallet: don't buy the magazine you don't like; buy the magazine you do like; and eventually market forces should reward the "good" magazine, thus encouraging it.

Yeah, right. What if there's no "good" magazine available? What if the percentage of patterns you like in a magazine is low, but you like those few a lot; or if it's low but still higher than the others and you want to knit something? You buy the magazine, and the people in charge don't know that you held your nose while you did it.

The people in charge: when a magazine is full of designs I dislike, I blame the editors. Anyone who's ever submitted a design to any of the major mags can tell you that they're all being inundated with submissions, and are selecting a small fraction of those for publication. If there are no cardigans in an issue, you can rest assured that it's not because there are no cardigan designs available right now. Editors choose these ridiculous garments that we see every quarter, the ones that make us all say, "KOIGU PANTS? WHAT ARE THEY THINKING?"

Putting aside for the moment the possibility that exactly the designs that make me cringe are exactly the ones making someone else buy the magazine, there's still the chance that some people buy magazines just for inspiration. ("I'd never make that, but the idea of intarsia flowers on top of a cable has potential . . .") The editor's job isn't simple; she has to walk a line between too "out there" and too traditional ("Another crewneck cardigan with a cable up each side? How many does anyone need?").

(She also has other problems: did you know that most designs are chosen based on a rough sketch of the garment plus a swatch [often not in the actual yarn] of the stitch pattern? The editor has to trust that her vision of the final garment matches the designer's, and that the designer can execute that idea, and do it to fit a fair number of people. Under considerable time pressure. I sometimes think it's a miracle any of these things are workable at all.)

But it's still ultimately the editor's decision about what gets into print and what doesn't, and she has a finite amount of space in each issue, so I blame her when there's nothing I would ever knit or wear in the whole magazine, because I also know that each thing she included meant excluding another design that was quite likely just as good. Or, to my taste, better.

In our next installment: have you noticed who I'm not blaming for bad designs in mags or books?

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