How To Make An American Quilt: A Novel by Whitney OttoHow To Make An American Quilt: A Novel by Whitney Otto

How To Make An American Quilt: A Novel

byWhitney Otto

Paperback | April 12, 1994

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With all of the appeal and the rich narrative drive of The Joy Luck Club, this marvelous novel's inventiveness and gripping universality are the st uff of which literary sensations are made. Otto interweaves stories of a California quilting group with seven sets of instruction in the quilting process, ultimately conveying the significant passages in women's lives.
Whitney Otto is the bestselling author of How to Make an American Quilt (which was made into a feature film), Now You See Her, and The Passion Dream Book. A native of California, she lives in Portland, Oregon.
Title:How To Make An American Quilt: A NovelFormat:PaperbackProduct dimensions:240 pages, 8.22 × 5.51 × 0.54 inShipping dimensions:8.22 × 5.51 × 0.54 inPublished:April 12, 1994Publisher:Random House Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0345388968

ISBN - 13:9780345388964


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent story for women of all ages I saw the movie when I was 15 and read the book when I was 31; my mom is 68 and my great aunt is 79; they both read the book & watched the movie. Many women can relate to various characters in the story with their own personal life experiences. I've given this book as gifts to friends of all ages from 15 to 85! Each character in the story has such a dynamic tale of strength, humor, sadness, friendship, happiness. The story made an impact on me as a young woman, and I still think of the characters to this day.
Date published: 2015-07-01
Rated 5 out of 5 by from A Masterpeice for any Woman This book was just amazing. You are guarenteed to laugh, cry, and remember your own memories. This is a must for any woman, it will lift your heart. I give it a ten out of ten.
Date published: 2009-03-21

Read from the Book

At first,I thought I ould study art.Art history,to be exact. Then I thought,No,what about physical anthropology?--a point in my life thereafter referred to as My Jane Goodall Period.I tried to imagine my mother,Sarah Bennett-Dodd (called Sally by everyone with the exception of her mother),camping with me in the African bush,drinking strong coffee from our battered tin cups,much in the way that Jane did with Mrs.Goodall.I saw us laid up with match- ing cases of malaria;in mother/daughter safari shorts;our hands weathering in exactly the same fashion. Then,of course,I remembered that I was talking about my mother,Sally,who is most comfortable with modernity and refuses to live in a house that anyone has lived in before,exposing me to a life of tract housing that was curious and awful.Literature was my next love.Until I became loosely acquaintedwith critical theory,which struck me as a kind of intellectualism forits own sake.It always seems that one has to choose literature orcritical theory,that one cannot love both.All of this finally pushedme willingly (I later realized)into history.I began with the discipline of the time line --a holdover fromelementary school --setting all the dates in order,allowing me to fixtime and place.History needs a specific context,if nothing else.Mytime lines gradually grew more and more ornate,with pasted-onphotographs and drawings that I carefully cut from cheap historybooks possessing great illustrations but terrible,unchallengingtext.I was taken with the look of history before I arrived at the"meat "of the matter.But the construction of the time line is bothhorizontal and vertical,both distance and depth.Which,finally,makes it rather unwieldy on paper.What I am saying is that itneeded other dimensions,that history is not a matter of dates,andonly disreputable or unimaginative teachers take the "impartial "date approach,thereby killing all interest in the subject at a veryearly age for many students.(I knew,in a perfect world,I would not be forced to choose asingle course of study,that I would have time for all these interests.I could gather up all my desires and count them out like valentines.)The Victorians caught my eye almost instantly with theirstrange and sometimes ugly ideas about architecture and dress andsocial conventions.Some of it was pure whimsy,like a diorama inwhich ninety-two squirrels were stuffed and mounted,enacting abasement beer-and-poker party,complete with cigars and greenvisors pulled low over their bright eyes;or a house that displayed apainting of cherubs,clad in strips of white linen,flying above theclouds with an identical painting hidden,right next to it,under acurtain in which the same cherubs --babies though they were --arecompletely nude.Or a privileged Texas belle 's curio cabinet thatcontained a human skull and blackened hand.Or still anotheryoung woman (wealthy daughter of a prominent man)who insistedon gliding through the family mansion with a handful of live kittensclinging to the train of her dress.I enrolled in graduate school.Then I lost interest.I cared andthen I didn 't care.I wanted to know as much about the small,odddetails that I discovered here and there when looking into the pastas I did about Lenin 's secret train or England 's Victorian imperial-ism or a flawless neo-Marxist critique of capitalism.There were things that struck me as funny,like the nameBushrod Washington,which belonged to George 's nephew,or theman who painted Mary Freake and her baby,known only as theFreake Limner.And I like that sort of historical gossip;I mean,is ittrue that Catherine the Great died trying to copulate with a horse?And if not,what a strange thing to say about someone.Did ThomasJefferson have a lengthy,fruitful affair with his slave Sally Hem-ings?What does that say about the man who was the architect of thegreat democratic dream?What does it say about us?Did we inheritthe dream or the illicit,unsettling racial relationship?This sort of thing is not considered scholarly or academic or ofconsequence,these small footnotes.And perhaps rightly so.Ofcourse,I loved the important,rigorous historical inquiry as well.What I think I wanted was both things,the silly and the sublime;which adds up to a whole picture,a grudgingly true past.And out ofthat past truth a present reality.You could say I was having trouble linking the two.I wished for history to be vital,alive with the occasional quirkof human nature (a little "seriojovial ");I imagined someone sayingto me, Finn,what ever gave you the idea that history was any sort of liv-ing thing?Really.Isn 't that expectation just the least bit contradictory?Then Sam asked me to marry him.It seemed to me a good idea.Yet it somehow led me back to my educational concern,whichwas how to mesh halves into a whole,only in this case it was how tomake a successful link of unmarried to married,man to woman,themerging of the roads before us.When Heathcliff ran away fromWuthering Heights,he left Cathy wild and sad,howling on themoors,I am Heathcliff,as if their love were so powerful,their soulsso seamlessly mated,that no division existed for them,save the cor-poreal (though I tend to believe they got "together "at least once),which is of little consequence in the presence of the spirit.All of which leaves me wondering,astonished,and a little putoff.How does one accomplish such a fusion of selves?And,if the af-fection is that strong,how does one avoid it,leaving a little room forthe person you once were?The balance of marriage,the delicate,gentle shifting of the polished scales.Let me say that I like Sam tremendously.I love him truly.The other good idea was spending the summer with my grand-mother Hy Dodd and her sister Glady Joe Cleary.Their relationshipwith me is different from that with the other grandchildren;weshare secrets.And I probably talk to them a little more than mycousins or their own children do.I think they have a lot to say and Iam more than willing to hear it.All of it.Whatever strikes them asimportant.To me,they are important.So my days are now spent watching the quilters come and go,lazily eavesdropping on the hum of their conversation and driftingoff into dreams on my great-aunt 's generous porch;thinking aboutmy Sam,my sweetheart.Or lying on my back,in the shade,in AuntGlady 's extravagant garden,removing the ice cubes from my tea,running them across my face,neck,and chest in an effort to cooldown from the heat.I could wander over to the Grasse swimming pool,but it is al-ways so crowded.Sophia Richards says you never know who you 'llmeet there --as if I want to meet anyone.As if I am not already stay-ing in a house that has quite a bit of "foot traffic."The quilters have offered to make a bridal quilt in honor of mymarriage,but I tell them to Please continue with what you are doing asif I never arrived to stay for the summer .Sometimes I say, I can 't thinkabout that now (as if anyone can think clearly in this peppery heat).Ican see this puzzles them,makes them wonder what sort of girl it iswho "cannot think about " her own wedding..This amuses me as well,since,at age twenty-six,I have losttrack of the sort of girl that I am.I used to be a young scholar;Iam now an engaged woman.Not that you cannot be both --even Iunderstand that --yet I cannot fathom who I think I am at this time.

Bookclub Guide

1. How To Make An American Quilt moves between a more tradi- tional story-telling format and a more educational series of sections that focus on the making of quilts,and the historical significance around them.What do you think of these sec- tions of the novel?How did they add to your experience of the story?2.The novel plays with point of view and perspective,some- times switching between characters.In several sections,the narrative refers to you .Who does this you refer to?How do you feel about the use of this alternating perspective? 3.Would you consider the women in the quilting circle to be friends?Do they like each other?What purpose does the quilting circle serve in their lives? 4.What is the effect of telling these stories through a group of main characters as opposed to focusing on a few characters? Do you like or identify with some of the characters better than others?Which ones?Ms.Otto also offers the reader a variety of stories in this novel rather than one central char- acter.What is the effect of this variety? 5.In an attempt to deal with her feelings of betrayal,Glady Joe uses broken fragments of china to create a sort of mosaic,or collage,on her walls.What do you make of her impulse to do this?Why does she do this? 6.Sophia is a very physically powerful and exciting character as a young woman who undergoes a painful transformation. What do you think caused this change to take place in her? 7.In her interview,Whitney Otto says that she would like to be considered an American writer and not a woman writer.Why does she say this?Do you agree with her?Are there certain authors that you consider specifically women writers? 8.After the death of Constance 's husband,Em 's husband Dean takes to spending long amounts of time with Constance. They are not physically involved,yet they seem to have a powerful connection.Do you consider their relationship a betrayal of Em?Why or why not? 9.After Laury enlists,his friend,Will,begins to call Laury 's mother,Corrina,on the phone and they discuss apparently inconsequential things.Why do you think Will does this? Why do they seem to have such a special connection? 10.Anna and her great-aunt Pauline own a special quilt called The Life Before .Pauline 's employer 's wife covets this quilt. What is it about this quilt that makes it so special? 11.Constance,by her own admission,has trouble making friends especially with other women.Yet she manages to be- come good friends with Marianna.What do you think is the reason for their friendship?What draws them together? 12.At the end of the novel,Finn says,"I 'll tell you what makes me happy about marrying Sam,that is,about marrying in general:I know our marriage has just as good a chance of be- ing wonderful as it does of missing the mark."Why does she say this?And why would such a thought make her feel happy about marriage?

From Our Editors

With all of the appeal and the rich narrative drive of The Joy Luck Club, this marvelous novel's inventiveness and gripping universality are the st uff of which literary sensations are made. Otto interweaves stories of a California quilting group with seven sets of instruction in the quilting process, ultimately conveying the significant passages in women's lives.

Editorial Reviews

“Remarkable . . . It is a tribute to an art form that allowed women self-expression even when society did not. Above all, though, it is an affirmation of the strength and power of individual lives, and the way they cannot help fitting together.”—The New York Times Book Review “Fascinating . . . highly original . . . These are beautiful individual stories, stitched into a profoundly moving whole. . . . A spectrum of women’s experience in the twentieth century.”—Los Angeles Times “Intensely thoughtful . . . In Grasse, a small town outside Bakersfield, the women meet weekly for a quilting circle, piercing together scraps of their husbands’ old workshirts, children’s ragged blankets, and kitchen curtains. . . . Like the richly colored, well-placed shreds that make up the substance of an American quilt, details serve to expand and illuminate these characters. . . . The book spans half a century and addresses not only [these women’s] histories but also their children’s, their lovers’, their country’s, and in the process, their gender’s.”—San Francisco Chronicle “A radiant work of art . . . It is about mothers and daughters; it is about the estrangement and intimacy between generations. . . . A compelling tale.”—The Seattle Times