Read a "Quiet Book" on Black Friday
A tweet from agent Jessica Faust caught my attention recently. “To all my authors writing quiet books. I believe in these books.” It made me think about “quiet books” and how much I love them. They are such a lovely remedy when the external or my internal world is reeling out of control.One definition of a quiet book is a book that has quiet themes based around the characters. The quiet book I read most recently was recommended by Paula. The Storied Life of A.J. Fikry by Gabrielle Zevin provided me with the peaceful pleasure and satisfaction that only a quiet book can deliver. The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society is another of my favorites. On Black Friday, I thought the Miss Demeanors would offer our readers the gift of recommendations for quiet books where they can find refuge from the onslaught of frantic commercialism coming their way for the holidays. What do consider a “quiet” book and what are your favorites? I’d love to know what you consider a quiet mystery. Robin: Funny timing for this question. I just bought a new copy of one of my favorite quiet escapes, Jonathan Livingston Seagull by Richard Bach. I lost track of how many times I’ve read it. The book has been my lifelong go-to during turbulent times and I gave my last copy away (aka let a friend “borrow” it). To me, “quiet” means internal stakes – no one’s life hangs in the balance, there’s no ticking clock or, if there is, it’s self-inflicted. It’s about rising to a personal challenge or confronting one’s own past. I’d say an example of a quiet mystery is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple. The title says it all, as far as the central question to be answered, but the story is driven by personal stakes. A more recent example is Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng. It’s categorized as literary fiction but I think of it as a domestic mystery because it’s really about uncovering secrets. Paula: I love quiet books, which I define as books that sneak up on me, and make me feel better about being human. I read a lot of them, too many to count, of all kinds. I read “enlighten me” books like those written by Mark Nepo and Anne Lamott and Julia Cameron, and poetry by Mary Oliver, Emily Dickinson, Basho, Donald Hall, and Rumi, among others.I also love memoirs by artists, classics like Turn by Ann Pruitt and Journal of a Solitude by May Sarton and Letters to a Young Poet by Rilke, and anything by Abigail Thomas, Terry Tempest Williams, Julia Cameron, and Natalie Goldberg. I like quiet mysteries, too, quiet being a relative term, like those by William Kent Krueger and Louise Penny and Janwillem van de Wetering (who also wrote the wonderful memoirs The Empty Mirror and A Glimpse of Nothingness, based on his experiences as a student of Zen). When I need cheering up, I read Elizabeth Berg (Durable Goods) and Alice Hoffman (Practical Magic) and Anita Shreve (Light on Snow). I’ve read most everything they’ve ever written, but the books in parentheses are the ones I read over and over again, along with Jane Austen and Georges Simenon and Shakespeare. But if I had to name my very favorite quiet novels of all time, I’d have to choose Marilynne Robinson’s stunning trilogy (of sorts) Gilead, Home, and Lila. Susan:It’s sort of impossible to improve on Paula’s list, particularly because she included one of my absolute favorite books, which is William Kent Krueger’s Ordinary Grace. Yesterday I saw The Ferryman on Broadway, which is about a family and love and honor and everyone tells stories and talks and talks and it’s all so beautiful and then there is a moment of horror, but when it comes it’s so inevitable and shocking. Anyway, I loved it, and it reminded me of the power of quiet stories. Alexia:The closest I can come to quiet mysteries are Josephine Tey’s Daughter of Time, where a detective laid up with a broken leg solved the (very) cold case of the murders of the two princes in the Tower, and Natasha A. Tarpley’s Harlem Charade, a middle grade mystery. Middle grade stories, by definition, limit the stakes to something appropriate for the under-13 crowd. Which doesn’t mean they aren’t good stories. I still enjoy The Secret Garden, The Little Princess, Anne of Green Gables… I guess you could call these quiet adventure stories with plucky female heroines. (I miss plucky female characters. We should bring them back.) I also read Keith Laumer’s satirical, humorous Jame Retief sci-fi adventures. Laumer served in the Foreign Service and his Retief stories skewer government bureaucracy. The stakes are “big” in that intergalactic diplomacy is important for keeping aliens from blowing up Earth but Retief, the underappreciated underling/junior officer, who is usually the only one in the room with any sense, saves the world with his brains more than his fists, all while showing how ridiculous red tape can be. I read non-fiction about non-murder crimes, usually fraud. Does fraud count as a “quiet” crime? The Island of Lost Maps, The Billionaire’s Vinegar, Provenance, Sour Grapes (which I saw rather than read)–all portray the rise and fall of smart criminals, people who were cheated because their hubris and money outpaced their common sense, and the people who became collateral damage in the quest to separate the wealthy from their wealth. I was going to add the Bible, which I turn to sometimes for the stories, not just for religious edification and spiritual uplift. Then I realized that a lot of the stories are not at all quiet–sex, adultery, murder, abuse, enslavement, natural disaster, war, genocidal destruction of entire civilizations, displacement, lies, betrayal… There’s a reason the Bible has provided source material for so many authors/filmmakers. I read the occasional biography, like Carmon and Knizrnik’s The Notorious RBG, and less-than-occasional memoir, like Jenny Lawson’s Furiously Happy. Those are quiet if badass women taking on the system and maintaining sense of humor while battling severe mental illness are quiet. Finally, I’ll add The Art of Travel by Alain de Botton, a philosophy book disguised as a travel guide and far less high falutinigly serious and grim than the description on the author’s website would lead you to believe. The Art of Travel is about the only philosophy book that didn’t make me roll me eyes and sigh, “Oh, pul-eeze.” Michele:Quite the list of quiet books! I’m printing these. I see the TBR pile growing to staggering heights. Tracee: I agree with everyone! Particularly the part about this being a great list. I have to thank Paula for introducing me to Where’d You Go, Bernadette earlier this year. A lovely book from a writer’s perspective, but I would add it to the must reads for anyone practicing architecture, perhaps as a counterpoint to Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead. I would add my nod to the already mentioned The Billionaire’s Vinegar and The Island of Lost Maps as well as Furiously Happy. And I’m definitely adding The Art of Travel to my TBR list. Maybe over the holiday. I would add another non-fiction, The Bad-Ass Librarians of Timbuktu by Joshua Hammer and Longitude by Dava Sobel. Although aren’t most non-fiction books quiet? Unless it’s a political memoir? Books I love to reread in addition to many of the classics already mentioned by several of you are the Patrick O’Brien works Master and Commander and many of James Clavell’s, but particularly Sho-gun. I can’t let this list be finalized without a shout out to the Flavia de Luce series, now complete, by Alan Bradley. Just lovely. Alison:I think I probably have two favorites that fall in this category. First, The Little Prince. Loved to when I read it in French when I was ten (and living in France). Love it in English. It still makes me cry. Second, The Glass Bead Game. I know that the Nobel Prize in literature is given for a body of work, but some argue Hesse was awarded his for this book. I agree. As we’re heading into colder and quieter months (unless you live in warmer climes), I’m looking forward to reading all of your suggestions! Michele: Okay, now you have a fabulous selection of quiet books to crawl into while you stay snuggled under a quilt in front of the fireplace, offline, out of malls on Black Friday. Enjoy!