What do you do if your two favorite leisure activities are reading novels and knitting? Especially if your grandmother taught you to knit the wrong way?

The wrong way is holding the yarn in your right hand, then looping it over the tip of the needle in order to make a stitch (the right way is to hold the loop of yarn in your left hand and pick the loop with your needle). The wrong way is not only slow, it somehow requires more concentration than the right way, and so, what to do?

If you decide to watch movies, you miss half of the visuals, and if the movie has subtitles, you miss all of the dialogue, too. When your partner, who is watching the movie with you, says, “Wow, did you see that?” you have to say no, and jump the recording back and watch it again. You can try knitting quietly in your chair, making sure that every stitch is perfect and ever again and always speeding up at least a little, though you will never be like that woman you saw once in an airport, whose grandmother taught her to knit the right way, and who completed the back of a child’s sweater in 15 minutes. If you just sit there and knit, chances are you will begin pondering, and you could start pondering the wrong things, like swine flu and global warming and whether your children will survive.

On the other hand, there is the pure audiobook. I suppose that I could approach audiobooks like meditation sessions, and sit quietly with my eyes closed, listening to the story, but usually, I am banging pots and pans or making the bed, or having to go out of the room, and then I wonder what I missed.

So knitting and audiobooks are made for each other. For knitting, you have to sit up, but you also have to sit still. The book unwinds and the story fills your head, but you are also mildly busy, and that sleeve that has taken you forever to get THIS far progresses infinitesimally further. When you laugh, or gasp, well, the knitting only stops for a moment, and if you are lucky, you don’t drop any stitches.

I have to admit that, though I enjoy listening to other authors’ books on audio (Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart was a good one), I really enjoy listening to my own books on audio. My favorites so far (because I haven’t heard Private Life yet) are Moo and Good Faith. What thrilled me about Good Faith were the accents employed by the reader, Richard Poe. I am from St. Louis and California—he read in multiple accents of New Jersey, Philadelphia and New York, and he sounded tough! I loved it. It was as if Good Faith were the play I had envisioned in my head. As for Moo, well, one of the reasons authors write comic novels is to laugh at their own jokes. But even though I had laughed at these jokes several times, when I heard Suzanne Toren read Moo, I laughed all over again—her timing was way better than mine, even in my head. So I look forward to Kate Reading and Private Life—I expect to get the whole sleeve done at last.

Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Jane Smiley is the author of 13 novels, including her latest, Private Life. Read our review of Private Life here.

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