16 August 2010

KnitLit

There are many things in this world that I enjoy doing - climbing trees, for example, or sleeping late or drinking raspberry hot chocolate. But, like many other people (I'd assume), when I can combine a few of my favourite activities, that's one of the things I find to be best of all. So since two of the items that take up sizable slices on the pie graph of how-I-spend-my-time are "reading" and "knitting", that little subgenre sometimes called KnitLit is one I visit over and over again. This list is by no means an exhaustive one (I've got at least seven more titles on my shelves that I haven't gotten to yet...), but it's enough to give you an idea of what's lurking out there in the overlap between books and yarn!

There has been a veritable explosion of crafty topics in the cozy mystery genre in recent years, some of which have staying power (knitting!) and some that just make you go "Huh?!?" (gourd crafting {I only wish I were joking}). My favourite series of knitting mysteries is by Maggie Sefton (who blogs over at Cozy Chicks) and is set in the Colorado Rockies. Kelly is an accountant who lands back in CO after time spent in DC when she inherits a house from her aunt. She soon becomes a regular at the yarn shop across the street, and over the course of the series (so far) she's tackled investigations as varied as a dye-vat drowning and shenanigans on alpaca farms. The characters are fun, ranging from a lawyer with a bottomless pit for a stomach to a retired cop who loves to spin on the men's side, while the women cover the ground from grandmotherly to party girl and hit just about everything else in between; the knitting details are accurate (oh, and there are patterns and recipes at the end!); and as usual with cozies, there's a notable absence of strong language and on-stage sex. As an indication of the popularity of this series, its last few entries have arrived in hardcover prior to their release in mass market paperback, not always a given with this genre.

A newer series, but one that I'm enjoying so far, is the Seaside Knitters by Sally Goldenbaum, which is set on the North Shore of Massachusetts. The knitting crew here is the usual cross-generational mix, the small-town setting and feel are quite cozy indeed, and they're good whodunnits, too. Definitely a quick read (I flew through nearly the entire second book while killing time at the luthier's {hey, I am the ViolaNut, after all...}), and something I would enthusiastically recommend for those summer days when it's just too darn hot to be playing with wool but you're okay reading about it - in fact, I hand-sold a copy to someone when I was at a bookstore I don't even work at!

The third entry on the list is, I'm afraid, a negative one. Anne Canadeo's two mysteries (While My Pretty One Knits and Knit, Purl, Die) fail on nearly all fronts - knitting details are inaccurate (i.e. you don't "roll" yarn, you wind it), it's set in a fictional Cape Cod town that does not ring true to this fourth-generation native, and (the real death-knell) both were far too easy to solve - I had the first one worked out with 150 pages to go, while with the second I not only pegged the killer prior to the murder, but the revelation of the true identity of another character, meant to be a major twist, I'd twigged to the moment she appeared on the page. No fun at all. Skip these.

Moving into mainstream fiction, a major hit in paperback for the last few years has been Kate Jacobs' The Friday Night Knitting Club. I was a bit surprised when not one, but two sequels appeared, due to the ending of the original (which I'm not about to tell you, since I'm vehemently anti-spoiler!), but it was very nice to get to visit with these knitters again. Set mainly in New York City (though with several side-trips, including Scotland {woo hoo!} and Italy), you get to know a very diverse bunch of ladies (and a guy or two) and actually care about what happens to this one's marriage, that one's baby quest, the other one's business venture... I'm glad I read it before it got "big", as I usually skip those out of sheer cussedness, since it's thoroughly enjoyable despite the fact that it's not always upbeat.

Knitting Under the Influence by Claire LaZebnick is less well-known, but rather a lot of fun nonetheless. Three women bond over knitting while dealing with such diverse personal issues as celebrity-starlet twin sisters or a severely autistic brother; it's definitely "chick lit", but so what? There are the usual romantic entanglements, some highly amusing doses of California culture, and plenty of the title activity (which I don't always recommend, since you can end up frogging everything the next day when you look at your work sober {frogging, by the way, is knit-speak for pulling out your work - because you "rip it, rip it, rip it"}).

Hopping sideways into non-fiction, we find gems like Sweater Quest by Adrienne Martini. In one fell swoop of knitting chutzpah, Martini decided to knit a Starmore pattern. Not just any Starmore, but Mary Tudor. Here's the deal with Starmore - she's a Scot, she's a genius, and she's notorious for being very, very, VERY protective of her designs. Fair enough, but it's awfully hard to see a stunningly gorgeous photograph of a sweater that is an absolute work of art and fall in love with it and just HAVE to knit one - only to discover that the pattern book is out of print and, oh yeah, all the yarn is discontinued too. So Martini's quest begins with tracking down those important ingredients (gotta love eBay), and the tale continues through her year of working this amazingly intricate design while still attempting to have a life (with kids and cats and husband and things like that). It's a testament to perseverance, and well-written, too. (And I own two copies of Starmore's Fisherman Sweaters, so if you want to buy one off me, leave a comment. ;-) )

And then there is Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (a.k.a. the Yarn Harlot), who rules supreme over the world of knitting humour. Don't you dare say, "No such thing," 'cause believe me, anyone who's ever been lied to by the Gauge Goddess, attempted the above-mentioned knitting under the influence, or slaved over a baby sweater that's four sizes too small by the time you finish it, not because you goofed up but because the "infant" is now in preschool because you took so long - you will laugh until the guy across from you on the train gets up and moves (errrrm... or maybe that's just me). Some things are more Knitter-specific (the frustration of trying to get matching socks from self-striping yarn, needing just a few more yards to finish a bind-off), while some are just as relevant to a non-yarn-addicted audience (racing to finish presents before Xmas, trying to find something, anything, that will appeal to a 14-year-old girl who's too cool for everything). The link is to her long-running blog, and if you don't check it out, you'll miss a big laugh. Trust me.

I would be seriously remiss if I left out Elizabeth Zimmerman, the Grande Dame of all things knitterly and creator of such classic weirdness as the Baby Surprise Jacket. Her books (though instructional), especially Knitting Without Tears, are not so much patterns as narratives; rarely do you find the dry "K2, K2tog, YO" kinds of directions here (for any non-knitters who have made it this far, that translates to "Knit 2, knit 2 together, yarn over"), and though you may have started reading intending only to discover the secret to knitting a seamless bottom-up raglan, by the end you will have learned about her English childhood, her German motorcycle-riding husband, her children (daughter Meg is carrying on where her mother left off) and grandchildren and a funny little converted schoolhouse. She's the grandma we all want around when we've just miscounted a lace pattern 3 times in a row or the dog runs off with the sleeve you were about to join onto the body of your sweater.

Once you become a Knitter (note the capital "K" there), you start noticing it everywhere (especially on 12 June, Worldwide Knit in Public Day! Consider yourselves warned) - for example, there are heaps of knitters in the Harry Potter series, including Mrs. Weasley, Hermione, Dobby, and Hagrid (and who could forget Dumbledore's offhand "I do love knitting patterns" {which quote is on the cover of my pattern binder}). Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson very quickly meets "Three Old Ladies [who] Knit the Socks of Death", while where would good old Miss Marple be without her knitting, contemplating the most brutal and horrific violence while placidly clicking away at a bonnet for her latest godchild. Madame Lafarge and her secret messages, Claire Fraser reinventing circular knitting needles pre-American Revolution, and the multitudes of women and girls churning out socks during the World Wars - really, it's no surprise that knitting and writing go together so well, as both build up a greater work from small repetitive units (stitches and letters, respectively). So grab a book and cast on - though you may want the audio version in order to keep your hands free!

7 comments:

Mason Canyon said...

Some interesting books here I haven't check out yet but are going on my list. Your last line says it all - audio books are the best when you what to knit or crochet, you get to do two of your favorite things at the same time.

BTW, I have one of those cozy murder mystery gourd crafting books. Haven't had a chance to read it yet, but since I've painted on gourds and made Dreamcatchers out of them I had to add that book to my collection.

Mason
Thoughts in Progress

Cruella Collett said...

I love how this post would be equally appropriate for Reading Monday and Random Wednesday ;)

Anyway, I am in the midst of my yearly week of knitter bug so I think I might pop by the craft store after work today to fetch some more yarn for my untitled messy project.

Thanks for the reading tips (I know at least one of those are available here, in Norwegian even).

Allison said...

My favorite non-fiction KnitLit is the Knitting Sutra by Lydon

Its fun tale of a journey she takes with Native Americans due to a search for something regarding her current knitting project. Its a beautiful story of personal revelation unveiled via knitting. A very absorbing read. (The author was Christopher Lydon's sister-in-law.)

Hart Johnson said...

Great list, Leanne! I love the variety. I knew about the cozies, but guess I hadn't thought any further on it.

ViolaNut said...

Mason - audio books FTW whenever I'm doing something too complicated to watch a movie (like lace or cables or colourwork with complicated charts). I'm gonna pass on the gourds...

Mari - you do know you'll have to post pics of whatever-it-is, right? ;-)

Allison - thanks for stopping by! I'll have to look that one up, I don't know it. One of my occasional-knitter friends was asking about you yesterday, BTW - she misses having Circles in JP. :-(

Tami - well, that's what I'm for, right, thinking too far on ANYTHING I'm interested in? ;-)

PS - I actually DID climb a tree yesterday, and I'm working on Alot Version 2.0 - we'll see how this one turns out...

Not Hannah said...

I really want to learn to knit. Or crochet. Something with the yarn I fondle at craft stores. The knack has eluded me thus far, drat it.

sue said...

thanks so much I had no idea there was so much knitlit out there. Will share these with my knitting friend who props novels up whilst knitting (usually complex patterns - she's amazing to watch). I love going to wool shops in other countries to see and stroke the yarns and check out the patterns.