Listening and Knitting:
Introducing Knitting Out Loud
While some people like to mull over an idea for years before taking action, Kathy Goldner likes to get things done. Having recently rekindled her love of knitting, she was struck by the fact that no audio versions of what she calls "knitting literature" were available. We can read those books, or we can knit, but we can't do both.
She decided to do it herself. In April 2007, she began securing rights to the best of the genre—America Knits, Stitch 'n' Bitch, Knitting Memories, The Art of Fair Isle Knitting, and No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, to name a few. She connected with a seasoned audiobook producer who just happened to live less than an hour from her tiny Maine town. She hired professional audiobook narrators. And she even secured a plum distribution deal with Interweave Press.
Barely five months later, and three days before this review was published, a FedEx truck pulled into her driveway with the first two audiobooks produced by her new company, Knitting Out Loud.
An Idea Whose Time Has Come
Providing audio recordings of knitting books is such an obvious notion that I'm surprised it took this long to materialize. In fact, it didn't. In May of this year, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee released an audiobook version of her latest book, Stephanie Pearl-McPhee Casts Off: The Yarn Harlot's Guide to the Land of Knitting. The release was surprisingly without much fanfare. I hope it marks the beginning of a new and successful Yarn Harlot tradition.
That's only one author, one knitting audiobook. Why not more? I know many, many knitters who listen to books on tape as part of their knitting ritual. It's an obvious connection. We use our hands to knit, thus limiting the number of other things we can do at the same time. And yet the mind wanders, and sometimes it longs for outside stimulation. Depending on the project, we may be able to get away with watching something, maybe not. But our ears, my friend, remain open and receptive.
Not 10 minutes after the FedEx truck left Kathy's house, she drove up the coast and hand-delivered my review copies. She gave me a copy of America Knits (by Melanie Falick) and Knitting Memories (by Lela Nargi), perfect companions for a road trip I was taking the next day.
Both books cost $29.95 and consist of four CDs, each of which contains at least an hour of recording. And both recordings are abridged. Knitting Memories doesn't feature all the essays from the print book. As you may have guessed, the recording of America Knits does not include the knitting patterns in the back of the book. You can purchase the books directly from Knitting Out Loud and, soon, also through Interweave outlets and Amazon.com.
I began with America Knits, possibly my favorite knitting book of all time. The recording quality was technically perfect—no humming, no reverb, the reader wasn't too close to the microphone, nor was she too far away. Even though I've read these stories countless times, I found myself hearing new things now that someone else was doing the reading—even if that "someone else" was a total stranger.
Readers play a pivotal role in the success or failure of audiobooks. Both of my books were read by professional narrators with top credentials.
I connected with Kymberly Dakin, the woman who read Knitting Memories. Her voice had personality and a hint of huskiness to it. I felt like she was telling stories, not reading a script. I had a little more trouble connecting with America Knits' Christine Marshall, whose bright, crisp, clear and technically perfect speech seemed almost too fresh and perfect for the material. But reader preference is a deeply personal thing.
Both Knitting Memories and America Knits are composed of essays that can be listened to independently of one another. There is no plot, no narrative flow from start to finish. If you're on a long road trip, this lack of a story line can start to wear on you. But for shorter knitting stints, it's actually perfect. Just pick an essay, pick up your knitting, and off you go.
Just The Beginning
By the time you read this, Debbie Stoller's Stitch 'n' Bitch should also be available from Knitting Out Loud. I'm especially excited about this one because it's narrated by Stoller herself, and I love to hear authors read their own work.
Kathy has chosen even more gems for the next batch of recordings, due out in January 2008: Richard Rutt's A History of Hand Knitting, Anne L. Macdonald's No Idle Hands: The Social History of American Knitting, and Ann Feitelson's The Art of Fair Isle Knitting. She has no shortage of ideas or material.
My only question is whether simultaneously knitting and listening to a book about knitting will turn out to be too much of a good thing. From a cost perspective, I also don't know how many people will pay $30 to hear someone read a book they may already have in their library. Or, in the case of books with patterns, go out and buy a print copy of a book they've already heard just so they can have the patterns.
Still, I found it difficult to listen to my two review copies without yarn and needles in my hand. We shall see.