What we hear.

Have you ever heard the wonderful silence just before the dawn? Or the quiet and calm just as a storm ends? Or perhaps you know the silence when you haven’t the answer to a question you’ve been asked, or the hush of a country road at night, or the expectant pause of a room full of people when someone is just about to speak, or, most beautiful of all, the moment after the door closes and you’re alone in the whole house? Each one is different, you know, and all very beautiful if you listen carefully.

 

Norton Juster

 The Phantom Tollbooth

I have started quietly reading…

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Jesmyn Ward has won the National Book Award for Fiction twice here in the US. The first time was for Salvage the Bones (2011) and the second is for this book released last year. Ward is the only female author to win the award more than once. Last year she also received a MacArthur Foundation “Genius Grant.” Her essays and other nonfiction work have received high praise as well.

I don’t actually remember all that much about Salvage the Bones, but I remember feeling like it didn’t make much of impression on me. I am, however, excited to read this novel. I have enjoyed the first few pages which introduce us to biracial 13 year old JoJo and some of the complicated male and female family figures in his life in Mississippi–all of whom occupy a decaying, dreamy and malevolent landscape.

A lot has changed in America between the writing of Salvage the Bones and Sing, Unburied, Sing. This feels like a book of its time.

My fiction book group selected this novel as our book for June. I have five days to read it to be ready for our discussion next week.

I will be reading it quietly.

And I will be reading it quickly.

 

On a Sunday, I am quietly reading…

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I have had this book on my radar for several years. It was shortlisted for the 2015 Man Booker Prize as well as the 2015 National (US) Book Award and came highly recommended by friends. A Little Life weighs in at over 800 pages, making it a nonstarter for my book group. The challenge has been to sneak into my reading schedule while also reading our group choice for the month. While it has received many accolades it has also derisively been described as “abuse porn” for it’s truly harrowing depiction of childhood trauma.

It took me a while to get into this novel about a group of four male friends who meet in college. But 294 pages into it I am finding that it is one of the most absorbing and affecting books that I have ever read; love, friendship, connection, trauma, survival, brotherly bonds, what it means to be a family.

The Guardian UK recently had an excellent article about the author, Hanya Yanagihara, who is also a senior editor at the New York Times.

Don’t try to read this one on a bus to work or in a busy cafe.

Set aside some time to quietly read A Little Life.

 

 

On a Sunday, I am quietly reading…

Chesil Beach

I’ll cop to knowing less about Ian McEwan than I probably should. I read Amsterdam (winner of the 1998 Man Booker Award) back when it first came out and I saw the movie version of Atonement.

I know he looms large for many readers of fiction, but somehow I’ve never been very drawn to his work. Maybe because Amsterdam didn’t make much of an impression on me.

I’ve only just started this one…which I gained ownership of during a book swap at a meeting of my book group. The back cover promises that it will be about newlyweds walking through their private fears of their wedding night.

I decided to read it because it is short,

And I had need for a short book.

But I am still hopeful for the adventure that always accompanies fiction.

 

 

BTW: Do you have a favorite Ian McEwan title that you would recommend?

I am enjoying quietly reading…

Home

Marilynne Robinson is a gem of a writer and one of my favorite authors.

Home is the second book in her Gilead Trilogy (Gilead {winner of the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction,} Home and Lila) that examines themes of community, faith, the complexity of family bonds, the way we live our lives given the choices before us, how we learn to love and what it means to call a place home—all through the lens of small town life.

Here you will find quiet, gentle observations written in language that will break your heart and also rebuild it.

It is as if you have been given permission to stand outside and peek in through a window and watch how people express their hopes and walk through their private fears.

 

You can certainly read this book in a cafe or on the bus to work,

But try reading it is a quiet space

To really appreciate it’s language,

And experience its deep stillness.

 

(You can read the three books of the series in any order. The characters overlap but the novels are not narratively sequential. I might still recommend starting with Gilead, where you are introduced to the character of Reverend Ames a linchpin for all three novels.)

The Quiet of Your Voice.

“It’s a quiet place, so people talk quietly,” said Naoko. She made a neat pile of fish bones at the edge of her plate and dabbed at her mouth with a handkerchief. “There’s no need to raise your voice here. You don’t have to convince anybody of anything, and you don’t have to attract anyone’s attention.

                                                                                     Haruki Murakami

Norwegian Wood

Telling the story.

Sit and quiet yourself. Luxuriate in a certain memory and the details will come. Let the images flow. You’ll be amazed at what will come out on paper. I’m still learning what it is about the past that I want to write. I don’t worry about it. It will emerge. It will insist on being told.

Frank McCourt

The hilltop above Consuegra, Spain is a quiet place.

 

The hilltop above Consuegra, Spain is a quiet place guarded by sentinels.

Here you will find twelve windmills–relatives (by marriage) to the “giants” of Don Quijote’s imagination. From this perch, above the wide open plains of La Mancha, it is easy to imagine him riding out 500 years ago in search of adventure, accompanied by faithful Sancho Panza atop his donkey.

Relatively few visitors to Spain venture to Consuegra. Those who do often come on tour coaches from Madrid that include the windmills as a quick stop on a day excursion to the city of Toledo, 40 minutes to the north. If you can, rent a car and come on your own so you can take your time; we stopped here on our drive from Granada to Madrid.

The windmills are clustered close together. The museum* is a quick stop. The castle (a site of medieval battles between Moors and Christians,) which sits near the windmills can be visited quickly as well. But give yourself a few hours to linger on this hilltop. This is a different type place from Barcelona, Madrid, Seville, Granada etc. The magic is in the quiet of the setting. Except for the occasional tour bus pulling in, the only sound that you hear is the wind.

If you can, try to time your visit for just after sunset when the blue of dusk saturates the sky and the white of the windmills throws off a glow.

There is a cafe/souvenir shop, restrooms and a restaurant (housed in a windmill, but unfortunately closed when we were there) at the site. For places to stay and more food options you will need to venture back down the hill to the charming town of Consuegra.

 

 

*Molino Bolero (Bolero Windmill,) one of the first windmills you encounter as you drive up to the hilltop (and one of only two that you could enter when we were there) contains a small but interesting museum that explains some of the history and use of these particular windmills. Check timings for the museum (and the castle) if you are interesting in visiting. Otherwise my sense was that you could drive up to see the windmills into evening.

 

I am enjoying quietly reading…

(I’ve shared that reading fiction is one of my favorite quiet activities.)

Beauty is a Wound is the English language debut by Indonesian writer, Eka Kurniawan. My book group selected this novel for this coming month’s discussion.  The blurb piqued our interest. What we know is that the story is epic in scope, set in Indonesia and is saturated in “magical realism.” How could we resist? We like to take chances.

To learn more about the author and this novel (as well as his previous novel) check out this write up in the NY Times Sunday Book Review from 2015.

Beaty is a Wound