Tuesday, February 21, 2023

Read With Us: Why Knot?

Kym and Carole have both given you their take on why you should read our current Read With Us selection, The Shipping News, so I've spent some time wondering what other reasons I might come up with. How about knots? 

The author of The Shipping News, E. Annie Proulx, writes in the acknowledgments section of the book: "Without the inspiration of Clifford W. Ashley's wonderful 1944 work, which I had the good fortune to find at a yard sale for a quarter, this book would have remained just the thread of an idea." She's referring to The Ashley Book of Knots, an encyclopedia of knots written and illustrated by sailor and artist Clifford Ashley. His book contains 3,857 numbered entries of knots, including instructions for tying, uses, and histories. It's one of the most important and comprehensive books on knots. This might sound a bit odd, but Proulx uses it interestingly. 

Most of the chapter headings have pictures of knots and knotting quotations, as above. This is the first chapter which serves to introduce the reader to the main character, Quoyle. He is described as having 
a "great damp loaf of a body," and his "chief failure, a failure of normal appearance." Quoyle has had a fairly awful life and this continues through the beginning of the book, but I'll let you read and find out more about Quoyle for yourself. 

The knots are interesting to read about and give clues about what might happen in the chapter. I've been looking for my own copy of The Ashley Book of Knots for a quarter at all of the yard sales I've gone to for the last 30 years but haven't found one yet. 

The book is currently available on Amazon in hardcover ($24.75), paperback ($11.59), Kindle ($12.99), or Audible (1 credit). The book should also be available at most libraries, and of course, you can check with check your local bookstore for a copy. The audiobook is available on hoopla if you have access through your library, and this means there is no hold queue! Edited to add: Sarah has kindly noted that the audiobook available on hoopla is an abridged version, so please be aware of this. 

Our book discussion day for The Shipping News will be Tuesday, March 21. Kym, Carole, and I will each post discussion questions on our blogs that day, and then at 7:00 pm Eastern time we’ll be hosting a live book discussion/meet-up on Zoom.

I've waited for almost 30 years to talk about The Shipping News, so I hope you'll Read With Us and join the discussion!


  1. I think it's so clever to use the knots as illustrations! I'll just point out that the audiobook that's available on Hoopla is actually an abridged version; I was all set to listen until I saw that, and then I decided to buy a copy instead.

  2. Tom has a book of knots (but NOT the Ashley book of knots, unfortunately) and a piece of rope that we keep up at our cabin. Both Tom and Brian - and many of our guests - have enjoyed learning to tie/practicing a bunch of interesting knots over the years. (Strangely, it has never appealed to me. Or Erin.) But those knots . . .are such a clever part of The Shipping News!

  3. I love how Annie Proulx's mind works... where she finds inspiration... and how she uses it to tie a story together! (But Quoyle... that was simply perfect!)

  4. Now I want the Ashley Book of Knots myself!! I started the book a night or two ago and an reading it when I crawl into bed at night. Enjoyment for sure!! And, so far I don't remember it (a few bits and pieces, but overall it is like a new book for me).

  5. I love this book and look forward to re-reading it, but sadly, I won't be able to join the discussion on March 21st. I'm part of a group hosting a dinner that night to raise money to help those in our community with things like rent, utilities, medications, etc.

    1. I'm sorry to hear you won't be able to join us, Debbie. You'll be missed, but even though I love this book, rent, utilities, and medication are far more important!

  6. My daughter got engaged with with a love knot ring. Her wife is an amazing sailor!

  7. The chapter beginnings were so good - I loved how they tied (:-) into the text.

  8. I have just begun reading the book. The layout of my book intrigues me, not only the knots but also the way the text is arranged. I do wonder where I was when I read this book the first time. I remember very little. That is a little frightening to me but there have been many books since that reading.


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