Knitlandia and The Yarn Whisperer by Clara Parks

Genre: “knitlit”, nonfiction
Secondary Genre: Crafts, memoir
Rep: LGBT
Rating:

If you follow my regular blog or my social media accounts, then you’ll know that I’m pretty involved in the knitting and yarn craft community (That is maybe an understatement. I design patterns). So I was aware of Clara Parks for a while, but had never read her work. She was just a name I’d heard on the convention circuit, someone who regularly taught at events or was interviewed on podcasts.

My new library, however, happened to have two of her books on audio available for checkout, so on a whim I grabbed both and listened to them in record time.

Quick and funny, these memoirs–stylistically like The Yarn Harlot’s books (aka Stephanie Pearl-MacPhee)–were honestly some of the most enjoyable pieces of “knitlit” I’ve ever read. Normally I find prose books written for the knitting community to be trite and full of pointless wool-gathering (no pun intended) (Okay, maybe it was a little intended), but these were a breath of fresh air. Knitlandia is a yarn-based road trip around the world as Clara describes some of her various speaking engagements and the mishaps that have ensued. It made me so eager to go to some of the conventions and events I’ve seen online but have never had the chance to attend. In the days of shelter in place, it will either provide 4-5 hours of relief for those itching to get out and travel, or make that itch completely unbearable once you are done. I blew through this book so fast I didn’t even take notes, but I enjoyed it from beginning to end.

In her book The Yarn Whisperer, Clara continues to discuss various events in the community, her adventures in attempting to write fiction, and how she learned about fiber and some of her extensive knowledge. I absolutely loved her writing style, which is filled with fantastic metaphors and off-beat humor.

It wasn’t until I started listening to this book that I discovered she’s queer. She doesn’t make a big deal of it in her books; when she speaks of her partner, they are simply a couple existing, which I love.

Both of these books are narrated by the author, which just makes them even better as she has perfect comedic timing. Even if you aren’t a big knitter, I think these are worth a listen. They’re amusing and relaxing at the same time, and that’s not a frequent combination.

(P.S. Clara, if you’re reading this: Want to be CPs? I would 100% read a mystery novel by you).

A Backpack, A Bear, and 8 Crates of Vodka by Lev Golinkin

Genre: Memoir
Secondary genre: Modern history
Format read: Audio
Content warnings: bullying, racist slurs
Rep: Ukranian/Russian, Jewish (racial), refugee, immigrant/1st gen American
Rating: planchet-4

In the 80s, the Russian government was in flux. After a period of anti-Jewish legislation, Mikhail Gorbachev open the borders briefly, allowing Jews and other “undesirable” people to flee. Among them was Lev Golinkin and his family: his parents, older sister, and grandmother.

Tracing his time growing up in what is now Ukraine, through their flight to Vienna and eventual immigration to the US, this book tells a heartbreaking story of the world as it existed around the time when I was born. Littered with humor, it’s an ultimately hopeful tale, but still makes us look at the world we live in today through a different lens. How much has changed since then? How have we really progressed? Are things better? These are questions Lev asks himself as an adult, returning to Vienna to interview the people who made his immigration possible.

As with most of the nonfiction I’ve read, it’s hard to summarize the story into something as short as a blog post without giving away the details. But it’s a wonderful book and one that I highly enjoyed listening to on my commute. If you are curious about the 1980s, international politics, immigration, or Eastern Europe, then this is a definite pick.