Listening While Knitting

For a long time I’ve been meaning to write a post asking what makes a good audiobook, and more especially, what makes a good knitting audiobook? By that I certainly do not mean a book about knitting, but I am asking are there special qualities an audiobook can have that make it especially good to listen to while clicking away on the needles?

I think there are – though those qualities probably change with each knitter. For me, I like a story that takes me away to another time (so I read a lot of historicals). I also prefer fiction, because when I am knitting I wanna worry about anybody else’s troubles but my own. I like the main character to be a woman (though not always) and to not be a doormat (always). I have no objection to young adult novels – some of these, like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials series have given me some of my greatest reading and/or listening pleasure. But in most cases, talking animals are right out (except in the case of the bear in His Dark Materials, who was such a fully realized character with no cuteness about him – worked for me!).

With that definition in mind, here are some of my favorite knitting audiobooks:

*Just damn good booksThese books would have been great no matter how I read them, but the required concentration it takes to listen while knitting drew me even deeper inside their world. The Thousand Autumns of Jakob de Zoet by David Mitchell (which may be my favorite audiobook of all time);  Let the Great World Spin by Colum McCann; Sarah Dunant‘s Italian Trilogy (In the Company of the Courtesan, Sacred Hearts and The Birth of Venus, which can be read in any order) The Given Day by Dennis Lahane. Actually, if I had to make a list of the 10 audiobooks I’d take to a desert island, all of these would be on it.

*Some books are great knitting audiobooks because the narrator gives much more than reading; he or she gives a performance, or an interpretation, that makes you experience the book in a way reading it inside you own head never could. Here I’d list The Heart is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers, read by Cherry Jones, who absolutely lives every character of that Southern drama, and Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel, read by Simon Slater.  I’d also repeat myself here, with Lahane’s The Given Day read with guts and gusto by Michael Boatman. Wow!

*Then there are the ones where the author has a such a distinctive voice of his or her own that you want to hear them read you the story – Assassination Vacation by Sarah Vowell and Bossypants by Tina Fey. Both of these books made me laugh out loud.

*Stuff about ancient Rome – In this category I love Pompeii by Robert Harris and the Medicus series by Ruth Downey. Both authors write historical mysteries, but their characters are so rich and interesting that you care more about them than you do about who dunnit.

*All those English classics you have either already read, or should have read, but now can have read to you by great British actors. My favorite narrators here are Simon Vance, Anton Lesser (Little Dorrit), Edward Petherbridge (Where Angels Fear to Tread) and Juliet Stevenson (she does the best with Jane Austen). Honorable mention goes to Nadia May (The Enchanted April) and Wanda McCaddon (A Room with a View)

*Anything by Neil Gaiman. I am not a fan of science fiction or fantasy, but this guy is such a good writer and sees so clearly into the hearts and minds of his characters that everything of his I have listened to has resulted in hours of knitting/listening pleasure. Among my favorites are Neverwhere, Stardust and American Gods. This last one may be one of my favorite audiobooks of all time – and again, not usually my genre, but so well written and so beautifully narrated by George Guidall who gives another of the interpretive performances I mentioned above.

Then there are the stinkobombs:

River God by Wilbur Smith- Lousy book with lousy narration. Yes, Wilbur, we know you’ve done your homework on ancient Egypt. Should have been edited by half. I turned it off when the very limited narrator, a eunuch, started to tell me how moistening the inner lips of his mistress was like watching a waterlily or a lotus bloom. GACK.

Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout – really just a bunch of short stories strung together and, because of the amateurish narration by Sandra Burr  (“Here’s my old man voice” and now, “Here’s my little girl voice”) failed to endear the main character to me at all.

The Thirteenth Tale by Diane Setterfield – What was the big deal? I slept through the end. Seriously.

The Prestige by Christopher Priest – HATED IT!

The Time Traveler’s Wife by Audrey Niffenegger – Note to self: never believe the hype about time-traveling fiction. Even Diana Gabaldon could not sustain the illusion through all her books. The only really good one I ever read was Time and Again by Jack Finney.

Juliet by Anne Fortier – the less said about this chick lit/Da Vinci Code wanna be the better. Perfectly wretched. Rotten narration, too.

ALL RIGHT. That’s my rant for the day. I am now listening to Daphne Du Maurier’s Rebecca, the recommendation of my friend Janie Rose. What else do you all recommend as a knitting audiobook and WHY?

Just think of all the knitting and listening I could have been doing while I was creating all those links!

About kjwinston

I am a freelance religion reporter living in the San Francisco Bay Area.
This entry was posted in Book Reviews, knitting. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to Listening While Knitting

  1. LisaB says:

    I’ll have to add “Water for Elephants” under stinkbombs. The narration was so distracting, I couldn’t tell you if I liked the book.

    One of my all-time favorite listens are Paul Giamatti reading “A Scanner Darkly” by Philip K. Dick. I picked it up at the library because I needed something to listen to, and adored it.

  2. kjwinston says:

    I completely agree with you about “Water.” The narrator’s “little old man voice”! UGH. Can’t comment on “Scanner,” but I do love me some Paul Giammati. That was rather an inspired choice of narrator. Do you suppose he is a big Phillip K. Dick fan (notice I did not say “do you suppose he is a big Dick fan?”)

    • LisaB says:

      LOL. As for why Giamatti, at one point he was going to star in a bio-pic about Dick’s life.

      One of our all-time favorite movies is “Shoot ‘Em Up” with Clive Owen and Paul Giamatti. We watch it every time it’s on. Paul’s so sleezy in it. :D

  3. Elizabeth says:

    I enjoyed listening to the Harry Potter series. The narrator is excellent. Also the Chronicles of Narnia has a great narrator. Thanks for all the recomendations and those you didn’t like. I’m always looking for more to read.

    • kjwinston says:

      I have heard that about the Potter series. I certainly loved the books. The narrartor, I know, is Jim Dale and he is such an amazing actor I am not at all surprised he would make those great listens.

  4. jan says:

    So glad to hear that other people didn’t go for Water for Elephants. I thought that I was the only one. Couldn’t get through it while others LOVED it. Thanks sooooo much for the book referrals! I started listening to some knitting podcasts while I knit but they are too short! I’m gonna get me some audiobooks from the lieberry!!! About to look at the Haruni blogs………..wish me good luck!

    • kjwinston says:

      I have two general rules of thumb – 1) If my mother raves about it, I most likely will not like it (sorry, mom!). Our tastes are different, tho there is some overlap and she has recommended several good ones to me. And 2) If Oprah recommends it, forget it (unless it’s a classic, like when she recommended Faulkner). I don’t know what it was about “Water” but I kept thinking how did this get published? But what do I know? I should write such a “bad” book and laugh all the way to the bank like Sarah Gruen.

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