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Audio Book Review: Knitting Lessons – Tales from the Knitting Path by Lela Nargi

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Knitting Out Loud continues to mine the wealth of literature available in the knitting sub-genre and Lela Nargi’s opening salvo into the playing field — Knitting Lessons — has emerged as a recent addition to their line of audio-books to knit by. Folded within Knitting Lessons are Nargi’s own first attempts at knitting which are recounted in tandem with the personal interviews she conducted nation-wide at the beginning of the modern knitting craze.

While the subject matter may seem similar to Nargi’s later release Knitting Memories, published in 2006, this 2004 title is less formal and more spontaneous. Nargi’s wide-eyed enthusiasm and newly discovered zeal for the art of knitting comes through as she plunges willy-nilly into her quest to interview someone, anyone who’ll talk to her about knitting. Where Knitting Memories comes across as a careful selection of essays from knitting notables, Knitting Lessons finds Nargi assaulting the local yarn shop owner, women on the street, and strangers in online knitting forums with her interview questions. In the midst of her nationwide search she does manage to snag some interviews from distinguished knitters who have achieved, in her terms “craft world uberness”.

Cobbled together from telephone discussions, in person interviews, and emails, 27 knitters are interviewed and share their stories along with Nargi’s. The author provides an update at the beginning of the audio book sharing the paths that some of her contributors have continued to tread, tracing career paths as the hand-knitting industry has grown and flourished. Notable names include Teva Durham – author, designer and now former editor of Vogue Knitting International, and Clara Parkes of Knitters Review, amongst others. Some of the interviews that struck me as the most moving were those of everyday knitters, such as the Brownstein family, three generations of Jewish women with a history of knitting passed down by grandmothers to granddaughters stretching back into antiquity.

The four CDs hold four hours and twenty minutes worth of audio, an abridgment of the print book. Though all of Knitting Out Loud’s audio books seem to lack titles and chapter names when imported into iTunes, it’s only upon belatedly entering the wonderful world of iPod’s that I felt the slight sting of this missing information. Read by actress Julia Olson, her crisp clear voice shifts in cadence, accent, and inflection as she creates unique vocal portraits of many of the interviewees. Never droning, her continual, though slight shifts in vocal style throughout the discs keep auditory interest high throughout.

Though I’ve never read one of her physical books, her written words rendered audible come across as jaunty and humorous, adding a bright spot of sunlight to any day I pick up an audiobook she’s authored. So many knitters can relate to her binge at the clearance yarn bins and consequent remorse, or her intense struggle to knit lace in a difficult yarn for the first time. A mildly self-deprecating tone invites listeners to join in the merriment.

When Nargi writes, she addresses the culture-shaping forces at work in the domestic arts. Whether in cooking or knitting, she delves into the deeper aspects of the craft – what it means to its practitioners, how the art has shaped lives, filled empty spaces and created memories. It’s impossible to speak with a broad spectrum of knitters without delving into the bonds of family and friends, the peace found in handwork and the satisfaction of a swatch well made.

For a full listing of available knitting audio books, please visit Knitting Out Loud. Audio books are available for purchase on CD at Knitting Out Loud, Amazon.com, Interweave Press and are available by download at Audible.com.

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About Jennifer Bogart