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Book Review – The Knitter’s Life List

Confession time:  I’m a library junkie.

Related confession:  I use my library shamelessly like a “try before you buy” service.

I order online and have other libraries send my branch all the latest (and oldest) popular pattern books, stitch books, and technique books.  Why, back when I was doing the Master Knitter Level I, I ordered the original June Hemmons Hyatt Principles of Knitting, and was able to renew it for months on end… and this was back when it was out of print and it’s secondary market value was inflated to $300+!

I’m not exaggerating when I say that I voraciously preview crafting books from the library.  So far, I haven’t done much to review the hundred or so craft books that pass through my hands every year.  Most don’t intrigue me enough to pursue past flipping through the patterns.  But today I’m going to give a review, simply because the book I found was such an interesting oddity.

During a recent rare browsing visit to the library (usually I just pick up my holds and dash), I found a book called The Knitter’s Life List.  As far as I know, a “life list” is a term from birding, in which the birder has a list of all the birds in a region, maybe listing rarity, and checks them off as they are observed in the wild.  I think it’s kind of a self-competition thing, a goal to try to catch a glimpse of the “rare whosiwhatsit bird”, and it also provides hobbyists with a point of reference when conversing with one another.  I think I went on a field trip as a kid where we were given life lists to inspire us to search the area carefully and quietly for wildlife.

And inspiration is certainly the point of The Knitter’s Life List.  The book is chock full of entertaining tidbits about our knitting hobby, the “who’s who”, and what this author feels are the big accomplishments.  The book’s chapters are organized by categories such as yarns, fibers, techniques, and types of commonly knitted objects such as scarves.  In the beginning of each chapter, there is a “life list” for the category which is subdivided into categories such as who to meet related to the category, resources to discover, knitting techniques to try or learn, and maybe other sub-categories like places to visit or “extra credit” questions.  Reading the rest of the following chapter will help explain some of the items on the life list, which give you a sense of being lead through a lesson.

On the whole, this is a fun book to get from the library.  There are lots of odd little facts, quotes from the luminaries of the current knitting world, tips and tricks, bits of history, and lists of movies or books that contain some knitting homage.  It’s fun to flip around and discover something new.  There are one-page biographies too, that offer a little more insight into some of our favorite knitters:  for example, Barbara Walker who is famous in our industry for creating some really great reference books of stitch patterns, is also an award winning author in comparative religion and a painter.  It’s nice to have a little more insight about an knitting author than the back of a book jacket might provide.

The life lists themselves have challenging and intriguing tasks and accomplishments, even for a moderately advanced knitter such as myself.  Almost every crafter ever has some area that they are more accomplished in than another.  Let’s take a look at a few from the socks section, as I’ve only ever knit about a half-dozen pairs:  “Make two socks at once on one circular needle” – done, but didn’t like it.  “Knit a sock using double-point needles” – done, definitely my preferred method.  “Knit a toe-up sock” – you know, I don’t think I actually ever tried this!  Don’t revoke my knitter’s license now!  “Knit and donate a historic Red Cross pattern.” – well, now, that’s a really cool idea that I would never have thought of!  There’s a good page and a half more to the sock list, as well as blank spaces for your own ideas.

So the lists are pretty cool, and a fun idea if you like to challenge yourself to try new things in the world of knitting.  And the rest of the chapter between each of the lists is fun and enjoyable, in kind of a knitter’s Mental Floss way.

And yet, I wouldn’t really want to own this book.

There are a few reasons why.  First, I don’t enjoy writing in books.  Obviously, I didn’t write in the library’s book!  But in general, I dislike the concept of writing in a book like this. It feels like a regular, bound book, with semi-glossy pages, and the kind of book one is not supposed to write in.  I don’t even think the page texture will take a mark very well, and would probably get kind of smeary if you used pen.  Although again, library book – I didn’t actually try.  If it was spiral bound or something though, and they had the list section with a different page texture, maybe I would feel more “invited” to write.  Semi-glossy, soft-bound, 320 page books do not feel like an inviting medium in which to work on a list.

Then let’s talk about this layout a bit.  While I’m skimming along through the chapters, it is nice that there is a list and then information that explains the stuff on the list, but this isn’t a great layout for returning to reference a specific fact or list. I’m not going to flip through an entire book every time I want to see if I’ve accomplished something I can check off.  A discrete list, reprinted at the back might solve the problem.  Better yet, a discrete list reprinted at the back with perforations so I can tear out the list and carry it around in my knitting bag might be better.  Or even maybe, like the textbooks do it, a one-time use code that leads me to a code-locked website where I can download and print a personal copy.  Or a downloadable PDF I can keep on my phone for reference when I’m at a class or guild meeting.  But no, it’s like this book invites you to enjoy it’s list and then mocks you for wanting to check things off.  Indulge my hyperbole, if you would please, it’s fun to pretend to be a book critic for a moment.

So, I’m not running out to buy my own copy, but I did find The Knitter’s Life List to be inspiring and entertaining.  If you see it at the library, check it out!  And I think I’ll use it as a jumping off point to create my own “life list” of crafting accomplishments and techniques I want to learn as a challenge to myself.  But, I think for mine, I’m going to use Wunderlist or something, so that I can carry my list around wherever I go.  Digital is a very good medium for lists.

What about you?  Do you have a list of knitting accomplishments that you want to try or master?  Would you keep a list for yourself to challenge yourself, or would you rather learn new things as they come up in service of a particular pattern or class?

Until next time, keep your needles clicking…

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