Listen while you knit!

I have always loved recorded books, even back when they were on vinyl record albums. Back in those days, I'd walk to the library, and come back with an armload of records - they were mostly plays back then - and I'd tape them onto cassette tapes. I'd listen to the plays over the course of a week or so, then start all over again, with a new batch, re-recording over the tapes until they'd finally break, then I'd have to get new ones.

It was such a nuisance because the point of recording the books onto cassettes was so that I could listen to them on my walkman while I took my daily walk, this being long before I discovered fiber arts. I didn't want to have already heard the recording, so I had this elaborate ritual of putting the needle onto the vinyl, clicking the pause button to get the recorder going and then I'd run out of the room, as my system wouldn't record if the volume was turned down. I'd return in about 15 minutes (if I remembered to) so that I could pause the tape, switch out the record, and repeat. Often, I'd have forgotten, or the side would have lasted much less than 15 minutes, so I'd have to back up the tape, find the end of the recording, which means that I would have heard some snippet of the story (Oh Horrors!) and go from there.

What a nuisance!

However, I gladly participated in such tedium because I was an addict, and it seemed such a small price to pay. Looking back, it's kinda hilarious, actually. What a lot of work.

Now, of course, it is so much easier! The library has carried books on tape for a very long time, and nowadays the library has books on CD, and some libraries even feature downloadable recorded books. What luxury!

I'm as happy as a pig in mud.

Add to this mix - the wonders of PODCASTS! I'll never be out of listening material ever again.

So, Santa visited Rosemaryknits a little early this year. Just a few days ago, I bought myself a Sansa Fuze and I couldn't be happier. I downloaded about 10 books from the library, and a whole bunch of podcasts. As I keep discovering more and more podcasts I'm wondering how I'll ever listen to them all!

I am getting a lot of knitting and spinning done these days, I can tell you that. Listening to something interesting is what allows me to participate in such mundane, tedious tasks as washing fleeces, or painting diningrooms, or folding towels. Instead of putting off such tasks, I am happy to have something to do while listening, heh heh heh. Without something interesting to listen to? I'm afraid that I just don't do any of these things.

So, I thought that I'd post a few of my favorite things, in case you are interested, too.

My favorite listening device, the Sansa Fuze. Quite easy to use, and affordable. My favorite headphones are these - Panasonic Slimz .

A few of my favorite books:

The Help - I just finished this book last week. Oh My Gosh, this is as good a book as I've ever listened to. The voice actors are superb. What's eerie is that this book is like I wrote my own memoirs. I was Mae Mobely, and Aibilene was our maid. My mother was Miss Lefolt, but she was a zillion times nicer to the maid than was Miss Lefolt. It was creepy weird, like I was looking into my own past, but through a really weird lens. This is exactly how I was raised, and I was 3 in 1963, just like Mae Mobely. This book is set in Jackson, MS, and I grew up in New Iberia, LA, but otherwise, it was pretty much the same. It gave me the skin crawling creeps in many ways - like I was being watched - so many things that the characters said, I could so relate to, especially the part about the little white girl visiting the home of her maid - the behavior of the little girl, the behavior of the maid, the behavior of the maid's neighbors - the author captured that part exactly - but Oh My Gosh, this book is just superb in every way. All throughout the book, I kept having that "someone's walking on my grave" feeling because not only could I picture what the author was saying, I actually lived it - it was so close to my actual upbringing. The ending is so hopeful and promising. Listen to it!

Harry Potter 1- 7 Audio Collection - these are awesome. My family and I used to read aloud every night. For many years, I was the reader, but then after about 15 years, I decided that I had read enough, and it was someone else's turn, so I had the kids read to ME. Besides, by this time, I had taken up knitting, so it was their turn to read, and my turn to knit. Then, we discovered this audio collection - Oh My Gosh, the reader, Jim Dale, is so wonderful - we've gone through this series three times, maybe four?

I read aloud from books 1 through 3 or 4, then we learned about the audio books and listened to the whole series, from the beginning. Then, when book 5 came out, we had to listen to them all the way through again, and then we repeated this trick when books 6 and 7 came out. Do you know that they never get old? Every time we've gone through the series, I "hear" something new - something that I missed the first time or two through, some little clue that I missed. Anyway, if you want to learn how to listen to recorded books, then here is the best teacher I can think of. This is a stellar audio performance, and a really good story, too. These are great car-trip-vacation books.

Sadly, listening to Harry Potter sort of spoiled us for actually reading aloud anymore. Since then, we've mostly listened to books but every now and then, I force one or the other of my kids to read a book aloud - the last one was The Princess Bride, beautifully read aloud by my then-17 year old son, Sam.

Another favorite that we've listened to over and over again is the Dark Materials Trilogy, Book 1: The Golden Compass, Book 2: The Subtle Knife, and Book 3: The Amber Spyglass. Now, these are a little different. While most recorded books are read just as the author wrote them, these are slightly different. They are performed with a cast of readers, and the readers leave off the dialogue tags, for the most part. So, the listener learns what each character sounds like, and the performer doesn't say, "he said," he just, well, he just says it, like in radio theater. The author narrates the parts of the book which aren't conversation, and the whole thing is completely delightful, besides being a really good story, too. We've listened to these over and over again. Some folks are offended by the story line.

Right now, I'm listening to the James Herriot Series with my family - there are too many to list them all, so I'll post this link, All Creatures Great and Small, and you can follow it to the rest of them. I knitted a darling little baby set while listening to All Creatures Great and Small, and I'm spinning my Coopworth while listening to All Things Bright and Beautiful. These books are wonderful. I can't think of an author who puts the reader there like James Herriot does. He paints wonderful word pictures, just wonderful. He's an excellent story teller. Were you aware that these are actually fiction, even though your public library shelves them with the non-fiction? There are 4 or 5 books in this series, along with lots and lots of compilations and offshoots - many hours of knitting pleasure, lol.

Edited later in the day, because Janice reminded me in the comments section - one of the best ever recorded books is Anansi Boys - certainly one of the best audio performances ever. I loved this book, and knitted this while listening to it.

So many of my friends tell me, "I've tried recorded books, and I just can't get into them." The truth is that you have to sort of re-learn how. I say "re-learn" because we all know how to listen to stories being told - it's in our bones. This is the oldest form of human entertainment and interaction, isn't it? Story Telling, and therefore, Story Listening, goes back to the beginning of humanity, so yes, you can learn how, you just have to give yourself a little time, and you have to select the right book. If you don't have any ideas, then pick any of the books listed above - all are very interesting and engaging, and all have good vocal actors. Some recorded books are such duds that I can't follow them either, and I'm a complete addict. Some, however, turn on the movie projector in your head and provide hours of listening enjoyment.

You can find audio books at your local library, from, from and many other places, too. You can find some excellent selections at, too. Some livrivox recordings are excellent, and some are so bad that they make me want to stick my knitting needles into my eyes, so don't give up if your first few librivox downloads are awful. Keep looking, you'll find something you like.

We've also listened to The Bartimaeus Trilogy, The Amulet of Samarkand, The Golem's Eye, and Ptolemy's Gate with great enjoyment, too. It's funny how, with each book I mention, I can remember the projects I was working on when listening to the books, lol. While listening to this series, I spun the skeins which I entered into the Taos Wool Festival. These books are great fun, and the voice actor is top notch.

Other books that I've recently enjoyed include -
To Kill a Mockingbird - my all time favorite book. This version is read by Sissy Spacek.

A Clockwork Orange - exceedingly disturbing, excellent vocal actor. I've tried to read this book, and the made-up language threw me. This actor brings it to life, and makes it perfectly understandable.

The Year of Living Biblically - very interesting. I washed fleeces to this book, which seemed somehow fitting, lol.

The Eyre Affair - This is a series of 5 books, and they are very good stories, and well performed, too. I did lots of spinning while listening to this series. My favorite one is The Well of Lost Plots

When You Are Engulfed in Flames - Hilarious! Don't listen to this with headphones while knitting at a coffee shop because you will laugh hysterically and folks will look at you funny. Just warning you... Anything by David Sedaris is funny. Oftentimes raunchy, but really funny. Offensive to some, so listener beware.

The Book Thief, I am the Messenger, Blink, and sooooo many more. These are just the last few in my reading notebook. I could go on and on, but I'll stop here.

Thirty years of addiction to audio books has provided me with a very long list. What started it all is that a very long time ago, I worked for a vision-impaired scientist who was able to get these special record albums and special record players through a foundation for the blind. We'd listen to books and stories and so forth while spending hours upon hours peering through microscopes, examining cotton chromosomes. Sometimes, we'd work right through lunch and stay late that night because the story was so engaging. That lady was pretty smart, if you ask me. Smart in oh so many ways.

From then on, I was hooked! To this day, I have absolutely no use for TV and can hardly sit through a movie, but give me a recorded book and I'm in heaven!

A few months ago, I discovered something new! New to me, at least. PODCASTS! Cue the chorus of angels...

My teenagers fixed me up with itunes on my computer and a quick tutorial, and here I am, happy in podcast land. Here are my current favorites.

Cast On - always interesting.
Craft Lit - Oh my gosh, she's doing Flatland, be still my heart. She also interjects so many interesting facts and observations - I'm loving this! I only learned about it a few days ago, and can't wait to listen to her previous books.
This American Life - I've listened to this radio show for years and I'm thrilled to be able to listen to the show even when I miss it when it airs. The most recent episode is online for free, back issues are available for a modest charge.
Car Talk - once again, I have loved this show for years, and I'm happy that I never need to miss an episode just because I have to go somewhere during their air time. My kids were raised with these guys - every Sunday, we listen to Car Talk and we get all upset if we have to miss it. Not anymore! Yay for podcasts!
Stuff You Should Know - I LOVE these guys! I wish they'd learn the subjective case vs the objective case when it comes to "I" vs "me" but I'll overlook it because they are just so darned CUTE!
Tech Stuff - I like to listen to these guys while spinning, just for the juxtaposition of the world's most ancient technology - a spindle - and the world's most modern technology - the stuff that they talk about. It makes me feel modern and edgy, lol.
Science Friday - a nice variety of science issues.
Please Explain is always interesting and informative, and you never know what you're going to get - large variety.
Wait Wait Don't Tell Me is excellent for car-listening, as it is engaging and fast moving enough that you stay alert, plus, it's just hilarious.

Do you have any excellent recorded books to recommend? Do you have a favorite podcast? I'm trying to walk more, and there's nothing more encouraging than a good podcast to get me out there, getting my exercise. I've learned that I prefer audio books for knitting and spinning, and most housework and yard work, but that I prefer podcasts for walking and driving. When I listen to a book on tape, presuming that it's a good book, then I sort of "go there" and not pay such close attention to what I'm doing, which is not a good thing when I'm driving, heh heh .

Edited later to add - if you are a recorded book aficionado as well, then please check the comments section, as I hope to get lots of recommendations. Thanks!


Janice in GA said...

My all-time favorite audio book is "Anansi Boys" by Neil Gaiman, read by Lenny Henry. I ADORE Henry's use of voices and dialects in his narration.

Likewise, Nigel Planer and Stephen Briggs' narrations of Terry Pratchett's Discworld books are my comfort listening. They're wonderful too.

If you don't like fantasy, I can recommend "Lonesome Dove" narrated by Lee Horsley. I loved listening to that book. I hadn't seen the mini series, and wasn't really all that familiar with the story, but I liked it very much.

Laurie said...

This is a GREAT list. I've bookmarked it.

Cynthia said...

Thanks for the list. I'm pretty new to audiobooks and have been going through the Harry Potter series at a great clip. This gives me some idea of where to look for my next book!

Rosemary said...

Hey Janice! Thanks for your suggestions. Oh, yes, Anansi Boys is excellent! I'm not sure why it's not in my Intro to Books list. Maybe I should append my post? It's one of the best for sure.

My daughter loves Discworld, so thanks for this recommendation, it's on our list. Thanks!

I read - as in, with my eyeballs, lol - Lonesome Dove every summer. It's such a wonderful book, and I feel like I can make it through the summer if I go on a cattle drive with Cal and Gus, lol. Maybe, next summer, we'll all listen to it. What an excellent idea. You know, it just never occurred to me to look for a recorded version. Duh.

Laurie - check back, as I hope that others respond, too.

Cynthia - Welcome to the wonderful world of recorded books. I'm thrilled that it's become so popular and that the quality of the audio books keeps going up and up. Have fun!


Fiber Floozie said...

I learned about audible about two years ago and let me tell you it is a life saver. If you like them there's Douglas Adams seires Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Watch out for the coffee out the nose with these. Anything by Robert Heinlien. Diana Gabaldon's Outlander seires, I think it the voice of Davina Porter that does it for me.
Then There's Jean M. Auel's Clan of the Cave Bear.
Thanks for your list. I'll check out a few things on it I hadn't heard of. Heidi

Sophie_vf said...

what a wonderful list of recommendations!
my household is a big fan of Jim Dale's Harry Potter audiorecording - so much so that sometimes when watching the movie I think the actor has said it "wrong".

Judging from your list, I think you might like "Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell" by Susannah Clarke; it has elements of fantasy set in a Jane Austen-ish sort of world, along with snippets of the Napoleanic war and an invented history of English magic. It's a hard slog as an actual book, but enthralling when read aloud.

I also like listening to the books of Patrick O'Brian, but that's about naval military adventures set during the Napoleonic wars again, so perhaps not everyone's cup of tea.

thanks again for your great list.

Solange said...

I'm addicted to audoiobooks and podcast too! They are wonderful with knitting.
I listen recently The Graveyard Book, by Neil Gaiman, and love it.
And a podcast that I believe you will like is Radio Lab. Check it out:

Traci said...

My girls and I love audio books for the car mostly. We are listening to Lion Boy which is the first book of a trilogy. The narration is fun and even though it's a kids book I totally enjoy it!

Patricia said...

Oh I love listening to someone speak. I am in heaven now with podcasts and unabridged books! I'm looking forward to exploring some of your suggestions.

CBC Radio (Canada) has many podcasts. My favourites are Tapestry (a bit like Speaking of Faith on NPR) and Ideas. There is a series on Ideas called How to Think About Science that is great.

For books, my favourite so far has been Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell by Susanna Clarke. It's the story of rival magicians in the 19th century, written in a sort of Dickensian satirical style. A book I could never read, but thoroughly enjoyed hearing!

I also "read" The Kite Runner this way and found that to be wonderful. Again, I'm not sure I would have sat down and read it.

Patricia said...

Oops - I see I'm not the only one who liked Strange & Norrell...

Rosemary said...

Thanks for all of the comments!

Fiber Floozie, I think that you and I have similar tastes. I had to quit listening to Mists of Avalon, read by Davina Porter because the stupid CDs from the library are hopelessly trashed. Since they own them, they won't interlibrary loan them for me, shoot. But, yes, she's awesome isn't she? My children all adore the Hitchhiker books, and the first one is actually on my bedside table to actually, you know, read, lol. Maybe I'll listen instead. Thanks for the suggestions.

Sophie, the minute you suggested Jonathan Strange.... I looked and YAY, my library has it as a download - I started listening last night and I'm hooked. Thanks for the suggestion. It's actually on my bedside table to actually read, but it's such a huge book and reading huge books in bed *really* hurts my hands - so I'm glad to avoid that. I started a smaller book, lol.

Solange, thanks for the suggestions! I had Radiolab on my original podcast list and removed it because while I enjoy listening to it, it's really good theater and often, really bad science... I still have fun with them, though. Just know that lots of what they say is hogwash, lol.

Traci, as you can see, I really enjoy Juvenile lit, so thanks so much for the suggestion! I've never heard of that book before.

Patricia, that's funny, I just discovered CBC radio podcasts just last night. Someone suggested this,, so I can't wait to get started on it. I'm bummed because I can't figure out how to download these episodes onto my mp3 player as I can't find them on itunes? I'll have to put a teenager on that problem - one of them will figure it out.

Another recommendation for Jonathan Strange - it must be a really good book!

I read the paper version of Kite Runner - a wonderful book. Heavy, but wonderful just the same. It changed me.

Thanks for your suggestions!

a wren's nest said...

Oh Rosemary, I read the Harry Potter series aloud to my kids too. What great memories. I love the books on tape idea. I haven't listened to one since I was remodeling my first house. I'll have to pick some up. Thanks so much for the spinning lesson today. I really enjoyed meeting you and cannot wait to continue spinning all that wonderful fleece!

Kati said...

you might like:
Writers & Co.
Leonard Lopate

Rosemary said...

Kati, thanks so much for these suggestions. I'll look them up, right away. Thanks!


Knitting Out Loud said...

I hope you'll try Knitting Out Loud audiobooks sometime! We record stories, histories and essays on knitting.