How does a quiet book, likely written by a quiet writer, become known in a world increasingly dominated by the loud?
During the time I consume a book, and sometimes for days after, I’ll linger within the fictive dream. Recently, for example, I’ve imagined that I too might:
- unleash a civilization’s redemption by offering to save my sister’s life
- be nineteen again, and need only breathe to exude sexuality
- have license to kick evil overlords in their overlordish asses
Trouble is, that entertainment comes tinged with yearning. While I might feel momentarily inspired and emboldened, it’s hard to see the book’s applicability to the regular me.
Contrast this with a different sort of novel. They tend to be what the industry calls “quiet.” They tend to be about ordinary people facing ordinary struggles searching for extraordinary grace. The characters are warmly drawn, the world infused with subtle optimism. A good portion of the book’s magic comes via its themes and texture.
On days when my biggest accomplishment is to use my inside voice with my teenagers; in weeks when the most deluded person couldn’t describe me as possessing “interestingness,” these are the books that return me to myself. They help me stand with feet connected to earth. I am validated, grateful. One might even say healed.
So what is the problem and why is it relevant to you?
Do a quick survey of writer Twitter accounts or blog posts, and you’ll see a burgeoning push-back against social media by writers of all genres. Of concern are its:
- Time-eroding properties. (See these two popular WU posts by John Vorhaus and LJ Cohen.)
- Ability to corrode communities. (If treated as a sales target by colleagues, it’s easy to become jaded and project agendas upon the innocent, who only wish to connect.)
- Possible ineffectiveness, though most authors participate, seeing no alternative to its use.
In addition to these universal social media problems, writers of quiet-but-profound books encounter further disadvantages. In particular, the holistic nature of their work defies the soundbite, the tweet, the tagging. Many times it baffles their cover artist.
In some cases, the issue is one of integrity. Call it a hunch, but the sort of person to write wise, understated prose seems less likely to have a platform that screams, “Look at meeeee.”
As a community, my hope is that we might care for and protect books like these and I believe we’d all benefit.
Since we’re not there yet, a few points to distil from all this:
- If you write, edit or publish these books, thank you! Please don’t stop. The world needs your work. (Or, I need you.)
- If you read these kind of books, please connect with me and those who comment here with solutions. We are your tribe.
- Flesh out our reading lists in the comment section below. Which authors and which fiction have a way of bringing you back to yourself? Mack on your fellow writers or tell us about your own quiet-but-profound book. (Please refrain from including sales links.)
- Can you name reliable websites or people who tap into these kind of books? Or other resources for promotion? A few known to me:
- John Warner as The Biblioracle, via his interview with Jane Friedman
- The Millions, HTMLGIANT and Bookslut, via Nathan Bransford.
- The Early Word , billed as “The Publisher|Librarian Connection,” and the reason I know about the book below, via Therese Walsh.
Ms. Murphy has eye-catching credentials and reviews. She’s the recipient of the Whiting Writer’s Award, a National Endowment for the Arts award, a Chesterfield Screenwriting award and her short fiction appeared in Dave Eggers The Best American Non-Required Reading 2009.
In the interest of brevity, I’ll include one review, but trust me, there are a ton:
“…A marvelous book: sweet and poignant without ever succumbing to easy sentiment, formally inventive and dexterous without ever seeming showy. A triumph.” ~Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
The Call is the story of a New England veterinarian, David Appleton. He’s a stoic, big-hearted man deeply rooted in family and rural community, and attune to the natural world. Since Murphy’s book is told by way of his call book entries, here’s a bit of his voice. In this snippet, he’s just returned from helping a horse with “choke.”
THIS IS WHAT I WANT ON MY TOMBSTONE: He loved his children.
WHAT THE CHILDREN SAID WHEN I GOT HOME: Pop, Mom’s in one of her moods.
WHAT THE WIFE WAS DOING: Unloading the dishwasher, but doing it by slamming the pots onto their shelves.
WHAT THE WIFE SAID: Can’t anyone else help to do this? Jen motioned with her arm, taking in the kitchen, the messy countertops, the food bits on the floor, pieces of carrots dried and turned white kicked up under the shelves. The books and papers on the table, the loud toy guns, the fishing reels needing line.
WHAT THE CHILDREN DID: Ran outside.
WHAT I DID: Ran outside.
WHAT THE CHILDREN DID: Climbed me.
WHAT I SMELLED: Their hair, a sweet smell and also an outdoors smell, the smell of fall’s fallen leaves kicked up.
David’s contentment is worn away by a series of events which threaten his income, health, and as a consequence of a hunting accident, the life of his son. As we watch him cope, we begin to wonder if the biggest casualty of all will be his open, gentle nature. Will the Appletons succumb to cynicism when it seems their town betrays them? Can David reconnect with his sense of awe and humor? Will his wife again receive spaceship transmissions — which curiously always nominate a child for bathroom-cleaning duty?
In the present world, where one need only read headlines to become embittered, this novel speaks about emotional courage, forgiveness, and everyday heroism. By book’s end, I wanted the Appletons for my neighbors, and if you read this book, I think you will too.