Customer Reviews: How to Make an American Quilt
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on April 17, 2000
I read the book only because I loved the movie. I expected the book to contain more storyline and depth, but I was terribly disappointed in finding that the movie in fact was by far, more informative. The book itself was very original: comparing a quilt to love and life. It's blend of fiction and non-fiction was done successfully by Otto. However, one thing that lacked in Otto's book was a main character. It seemed that there were numerous supporting characters, and an attempt to create the main character Finn, and yet Finn had the least lines out of all of them. If more info and depth was written about Finn, then Otto's book would have been as successful as the movie. However, because it lacked in this factor, I was majorly disappointed and gave it only 3 stars when it deserved 5.
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VINE VOICEon May 6, 2002
How to Make An American Quilt by Whitney Otto
HOW TO MAKE AN AMERICAN QUILT is a patchwork of lives that make up a quilting group. The ladies all live in Grasse, California, a small town outside of Bakersfield. Whitney Otto wrote this short novel by interspersing chapters dedicated to quilting, in-between chapters dedicated to each of the quilters in the group. What I didn't figure out right away was that each chapter that described the quilting related to the character description of the next quilter. Each person was different and therefore each quilt that could be created by each woman, had different aspects to it.
I have to confess I found the chapters on quilting a bit dull, and it is probably because I am not a quilter. I love to look at quilts; I love to feel them. But reading these chapters on the process of quilting was trying my patience. However, I understood what the author was attempting to do, to compare a quilt to a group of women whose lives were patched together and somehow made them one.
The chapters that talked about the history of each character were very interesting, and I saw how they all were somehow connected to the others. Reading the book was a walk through history, as the women were of varying ages and spanned generations. We got to see Hy and Glady Joe as they are now, in their old age, but also what they were like in their younger years. We saw Anna and her daughter Marianna grow and mature as black women living in a white society. And then there is Finn, who is the narrator of the book. She is the one that is building this patchwork of people, helping to tell the story of women whose lives are somehow intertwined.
I found this book very easy to read, but I didn't find it as interesting as I think it could have been. I feel the author missed her mark, although I give her points for the idea.
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VINE VOICEon November 19, 2007
Every individual remains entitled to their own taste, but as Roger Ebert once observed in regard to movies, there are some that if a person didn't like they "just didn't get." Whitney Otto's highly original, engaging, and meticulously fashioned "How to Make an American Quilt" falls firmly in that category. Weaving together her subject as device, metaphor, and over-arching theme, Otto introduces us to her cast of characters all women whose lives are knitted together by their participation in a quilting circle. Some are close, others have no other thread connecting them, but each have a story. Yet Otto uses the quilt metaphor to its full effect, not only through the narrative, but interspersing between these women's stories short sections on the subject of that craft, each of which elucidate some emotional point which she explores in the next woman's story.

Each story stands as distinct, yet serves as an integral part of the greater whole; like patches in a quilt, together their assembled scraps simply took my breath away.
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on January 18, 2002
In How to Make an American Quilt you will meet the ladies of the Grasse Quilting Circle. Glady Jo, her sister Hy, and friends Anna, Marriana, Constance, Sophia and Em gather once a week in Glady Jo's home to assemble quilts. Their current project is to assemble Hy's grand-daughter, Finn's, marriage quilt. It is during this process that we get a glimpse into each of these women's love stories and learn what stitches & fabrics their individual marriages are made up of.
I felt slightly disadvantaged reading this novel, after having seen and loved the movie dozens of times. When I realized the movie was based on a novel by Whitney Otto, I couldn't wait to delve into it. Because I love the movie so much, I found it very hard to be objective while reading the book. To it's credit, the movie follows the book very closely. The novel does provide some additional tidbits, but overall, I didn't feel that I learned a whole lot more from the book.
This book was well written and uniquely drawn, tying in the intricacies of quilt making with each woman. What we learn from the story is how different and complex marriages can be in various shapes and forms, but the common string that binds them all is one of love.
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on August 21, 1999
I saw the movie, How to make an American Quilt, a long time ago and then it was shown on tv. I really liked the movie, even the second time seeing it, so I decided to read the book. Wow, the book was just as good as the movie, actually a lot better! I dissagree with the review that says that the book was geered towards a certain type of people because I definately am not a 60 year old lady who lives in a small town but I still enjoied the book a lot. I loved all of the little lessons I learned from it. I definately reccomend this book to anyone and everyone.
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on April 27, 2004
I listened to the audio book. I learned how life might have been like near Bakersfield, California, during the Depression. That was interesting, even though things did seem a little slow. Probably, that's exactly how it was, slow, and if you like action, this audio book will seem real slow, too.
But interesting. One thing you can avoid, making it probably more like the movie that some reviewers seemed to like, is that the quilting instructions are minimized on the tape. You can just kind of sleep through those. I did, because I couldn't make heads nor tails of them. If quilts had something to do with Grecian art, I'd have to say, "it was all Greek to me," but they don't,'s all Grasse to me.
The only thing, I think, this analogy thing can be a crutch for an author (some reviewers called it a metaphor, I'm not choicy).
Talk about a quilt, talk about a life. Or vice versa.
In that sense, the story reminded me of the Legend of Bagger Vance, a golfer's version of the Bhagavad Gita. It was one of the most boring things I had ever heard, and golf also ranks up there. But it did make me think about the Gita (don't become attached to the results of your actions, or "just do it").
The men in Whitney Otto's story seem pretty weak, by and large. The white people seem pretty conflicted about race, and that's probably an accurate reflection of Bakersfield in the 1930s, if not today.
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on February 5, 2000
I love how this is one of those books with so many different levels. Yes, I thought it was a great read but it had so many aspects to it. I loved how the quilt instructions in the book would foreshadow what was to come in a quiet, straightforward tone, and then the chapter that followed would be a story of love or adultery or loss or whatever each of these women had to handle in their own way; a story they synthesized down to a square on a quilt (one of the few art forms that used to be open for women to express themselves). It gave the book a quilt-like pattern of its own. It also was a great change to see women who didn't just jump at the chance to get married - who realized how marriage opened AND closed possibilities for their lives, whether or not they loved the man. I know I get too analytical since I'm just completing my degree in literature but I hadn't read anything by this author before and expected just a fun book and then it turned out to be one I've been thinking and talking about ever since.
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on February 25, 2012
Before The Jane Austen Book Club and The Friday Night Knitting Club, there was How to Make an American Quilt, in which each chapter recounts the life of a member of the Grasse, California, quilting bee. The leader is Anna, a black woman taken in, while an unwed mother-to-be, by the mother of Hy and Glady Joe, back when they were young girls. Now all three women are in their twilight years, Hy having moved in with Glady Joe, even after having a fling with Glady Joe's husband while her own husband was dying. Glady Joe's husband, now deceased also, is not the only unfaithful one, however. Em's husband Dean is having an affair with the very reserved Constance, and Em knows that it's not his first affair. This profligate husband-sharing causes some strife within the quilting bee, but basically this is a series of interwoven stories with no real plot. The author makes a valiant attempt to use several different quilt patterns, including the patchwork "crazy quilt," as metaphors for the lives of these women, but the similarities seemed a little forced to me. Sophia was a diver who met Preston while he was a college student. They both had dreams of leading nontraditional lives, traveling the world, but the arrival of a daughter forces them to settle down. Perhaps one can draw a comparison between all of these unplanned lives and the crazy quilt. Anna's daughter Marianna, is the only one who really breaks out of the mold. College-educated, she lived in Paris for a time, taking lovers both black and white, before finally returning to Grasse. The mood that pervades the book is one of quiet contentment, with a sharing and acceptance of all the different paths that the bee members followed to reach this state.
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on March 29, 2014
Their are really only a few characters in this story, however the number of relationships among them are surprising.
I actually made a timeline chart of who is who, who loves who, who has slept with who, and who has died.
This is an all consuming novel. I read it in two sittings. I recommend it to those who love psychological novels.
Whitney Otto is a very talented researcher and author.
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on January 22, 2013
I was quite excited to read this book because I loved the movie so much. I know that novels should be evaluated as a work on their own instead of being compared to their film adaptation, because each one is a different medium with its own strengths. It's just that with all the books-turned-motion-pictures I've read, I've always found the book more enjoyable - except this time.

For one thing, I didn't find any of the characters endearing. Finn was weak as a central character; she was kinda like vapor. The stories of the various women were all interesting, and I could sympathize with many of the details in their lives, but there just wasn't enough depth to create a "bond" with any of them.

The storytelling was clever, though I can't really say it was good writing. The POV was confusing. Too many disjointed concepts. And mixed metaphors.

What bothered me the most is that there were no resolutions to the stories - it kinda left the impression that they were all suspended in a state of brokenness and bitterness - not much redemption, no forgiveness, no lessons to glean (except the lesson that life is hard). It's as if the theme is, "We're women, we had painful lives, we don't complain, we just accept our fate, and that's that." When I realized I had read the last page, I went, "THAT'S IT?!!"

Aside from not having a satisfying ending, I feel like there wasn't much cohesion between individual stories. To use the author's quilt-making allusion: the edges were left frayed, the individual patches were not well-sewn together, and the base has holes in it.
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