My dear friend Jamie has admitted to Yarn Envy, that longing of the uninitiated to become one of the few, the proud, the yarngeeks...yes, folks, she wants to take up knitting!!! Yay, Jamie!! She's asked for book recommendations for the brand-spankin-newbie, so if anyone out there has any suggestions, please feel free to post a comment. In the meantime, Jamie, I don't have any personal experience with the Knitting/Crocheting for Dummies book, so I can't really say on that one. However, I can highly recommend Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Knitting, as well as Donna Kooler's Encyclopedia of Crochet (and also her Encyclopedia of Needlework, should you ever choose to go that route too). I also like the cheesily titled I Can't Believe I'm Crocheting (also a knitting version) books from Walmart. They're really slim, and only have a couple projects, but the instructions are clear, concise, and the crochet one is all I used to learn, so many moons ago. Another great knit resource, imo, is Mother of Purl, by Edith Eig. She seems really into name-dropping, which can be annoying, and I'm not entirely fond of the patterns, but the instructions are fabulous, and she's very detail-oriented (like as in how to get as professional a finish on your sweaters as possible...very handy!). That was the book that made English knitting click into place for me recently. Y'know, while you're at it, you should check your local yellow pages, or google for local yarn stores in your area. I've not known a yarn store yet that didn't offer lessons, some for very cheap, and there's always somebody really knowledgeable around to help you through any rough patches you may have. Oh, and check your local library, too...that's a GREAT way to try a new book before paying for it, and libraries often have classes in such things too (ours has knitting & crochet classes for less than five dollars, which is a steal).
Now, on to your tools...Walmart carries a decent selection of needles (for knitting) and hooks (for crochet). Pretty much everything at Wally World is either aluminum or plastic...personally, I prefer the aluminum, but that's just me. Once you get into it, you'll find that there are bamboo, birch, rosewood, basically all manner of gorgeous tools out there, but for just starting out, the walmart cheepies are perfectly suitable. Hooks are dirt cheap at walmart, too, so that's a bonus. Choosing the right yarn for a beginner is fairly important, since aggravating yarns can discourage a newbie pretty quickly. For right now, stay away from the neat homespun yarns (it actually says homespun on the label, so you'll know which ones I mean), and also avoid the fur types. You want a nice worsted weight wool or acrylic, which you can find in millions of colors at either Walmart, JoAnns, or Michaels for a very reasonable price. Personally, I started out on Caron Wintuk yarn, but it's entirely up to you. I'd avoid the walmart brand Mainstays, though, as it has a nasty tendency to come untwisted, and occasionally break. Not fun. Anyway, pick whatever color thrills you, though it doesn't have to match anything, since you're just going to practice for a little while anyway. On the paper wrap, called the ball band, there should be a series of symbols telling you what size needles & what size hook are appropriate for that particular yarn. Most worsted weight yarns are likely to call for G or H hook, and 10 1/2 needles. (Hooks have letters to designate size, needles have numbers.) Pick up a hook or some needles, depending on which you want to learn, and you're off!
Oh, and one more thing I'd like to stress...see if you can't set aside a small corner of your house that's just for you. You KNOW how tiny my apartment is, but my beloved created a warm, snuggly, inviting corner for me in the bedroom, and suddenly needlework is just SO much more enjoyable now! There's a comfy chair, a good lamp, a side table for patterns & books & tools, a little shelf to hold my drink, and all my books are near me...it's just wonderful! I can even watch tv while I knit. It's turned knitting into a sort of escape for me, a comfy little sanctuary where I can create, and when I'm done, leave the knitting out & waiting for me to return (rather than put it away so people might actually sit on my couch, like I used to do). Of course, that's a good thing to have whether you knit or crochet or not. Even just a little reading corner is so very valuable, in my opinion.
Okay, I think I've babbled enough for one post...I hope this has helped get you going a bit, Jamie! If you ever have any questions or anything, please feel free to email, too. Good luck to ya!