Quiet or Boring? You Decide

There’s been chatter lately on a few of my writing loops about quiet books. Everyone defines the term differently. Some suggest quiet books are stories that are forgettable, that don’t have exciting plots or that have stakes too low for the characters. Agents and publishers sometimes refer to quiet novels as low concept. By that, they mean books without flashy hooks or any obvious marketing angle, which makes them hard to sell. To those who don’t like them, quieter books are considered boring and a waste of time.

And yet, there are readers who love quieter novels. To them, the moniker ‘quiet book’ isn’t negative. It doesn’t mean a boring or plotless read. Instead, proponents define quiet books as introspective, character-driven stories that are rich with language and emotion. They frequently say that while the story may not be huge, the books take them deep into the character’s world and those characters always resonate in a personal way. Some even suggest that quiet books say things about the human condition that their faster-paced counterparts can’t touch on. Quiet books make ripples rather than waves. And yet ripples can be powerful in their own way too.

Around the same time as the quiet book discussion took place, a writer friend died. Jodie’s passing was sudden and unexpected, and it came just a few weeks after my father’s death. I couldn’t help noticing the different responses. There was an outpouring at Jodie’s passing. It was indicative of the fact that she touched a great many lives. She was an author and, before that, a school teacher and principal. My father, on the other hand, touched far fewer lives, and the response to his death reflected that. One life much quieter than the other, and yet both touched and impacted others.

Perhaps it’s a stretch to equate lives with books. Perhaps, as someone pointed out, the reason many people don’t enjoy quiet books is we live quiet lives (especially these days with Covid), and we’re looking to escape into a larger, noisier world.  

Whatever your taste in books, I’m on board with children’s author Barbara Park. She once said, “I happen to think a book is of extraordinary value if it gives the reader nothing more than a smile or two. In fact, I happen to think that’s huge.”

So, whether it’s a book or a life, whether it’s quiet or roaring with action, if it touches us in some way, that’s enough. That, as Barbara Park said, is huge.

My March Reads

The daffodils are blooming and the tulips on the windowsill are too. The seedlings have sprouted, and once they get a second set of leaves, they’ll make the pilgrimage to the greenhouse to harden off before being planted out in May. Gardeners live for warmer weather and more hours of daylight, but the downside – if there is a downside – is that the gardening season means less time to curl up with a book. At least for now. Once the spring chores are done and the seedlings are planted out, there’s usually more time. That being said, I can always find an hour or two after sunset to get in bit of reading. Here’s what I’m enjoying this month:  

Grit by Angela Duckworth

When No One is Watching by Alyssa Cole

Instructions to the Cook: A Zen Master’s Lessons in Living a Life That Matters by Bernie Glassman & Rick Fields

Books read to date in 2021: 26

I Read Canadian

I Read Canadian Day, which is coming up on February 17th, is a day to celebrate Canadian books, to acknowledge the writers and illustrators who create them, the publishers who get behind them, and the independent bookstores where you can buy them. The I Read Canadian initiative takes place this Wednesday in homes, schools, libraries and bookstores across the country. All Canadians are encouraged to read a children’s book by a Canadian author or illustrator for even 15 minutes.  

The initiative began two years ago as a collaboration between the Canadian Children’s Book Centre; children’s author Eric Walters; CANSCAIP (the Canadian Society of Children’s Authors, Illustrators and Performers) and the Ontario Library Association.

The goal is to raise awareness of all Canadian books and to celebrate the richness, diversity and breadth of Canadian literature. And this year, as we seek to connect while remaining physically distanced, the goal seems to resonate even more deeply.

If you’re a teacher, librarian, home schooler or simply a lover of books, you can register to participate at the official website here: https://ireadcanadian.com/day/   And at noon EST February 17th, a series of videos called I Write Canadian will premiere on the CCBC’s YouTube channel, Bibliovideo. https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCoRQbrmtvSYMRm1emqkhP8Q?sub_confirmation=1

Set aside a few minutes to check out the presentations. And remember to read Canadian for even a few minutes on February 17th!

My January Reads

Every year, I track how many books I read. Since Covid forced us to spend more time at home last year, I expected to read more titles than usual. But that didn’t happen. I read only 70 books in 2020, and I’m usually well above the 80 book a year mark. While I regularly buy books, I also borrow heavily from the library, and our library was shut down for months because of Covid. I looked at borrowing e books but I don’t like to read on my phone, and I didn’t have a tablet.  Well, now I do. I didn’t need another piece of equipment, but I did need to communicate with my dad who is in care and struggles to use a phone. Being able to borrow e books from the library only added to the tablet’s appeal.  Just one month into the new year and I’ve already read more books than I had at this time last year. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Lemon Sisters by Jill Shalvis

Intimate Conversations with the Divine by Caroline Myss

Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson

Books read to date in 2021: 12

Holiday Reading

It’s a different kind of holiday for many this year as Covid prevents us from traveling or celebrating with other households. For us, it means our first Christmas as a twosome in over thirty years! Rather than being upset, I’m seeing it as an opportunity to focus on the things that bring us joy, rather than focusing on the needs of family and friends. For instance, I’ll have a lot more time to read, and that always makes me happy. But because this year has been a challenging one, I’m looking for books that offer an escape, or ones that are ultimately uplifting, and if there’s food or travel involved, so much the better. Here are some non-fiction titles to consider. Stop back next week for some fiction recommendations. 

Rebel Chef: In Search of What Matters by Dominique Crenn and Emma Brockes.  By the time twenty-one-year-old Dominique Crenn decided to become a chef, she knew it would be tough in France where almost all restaurant kitchens were run by men. So, she moved to San Francisco to train under Jeremiah Tower. Almost thirty years later, Crenn was awarded three Michelin Stars in 2018 for her restaurant Atelier Crenn, and became the first female chef in the United States to receive this honor. Part biography starting with her childhood in Versailles and part food memoir as she details out her cooking journey, this is a lovely read about a chef’s personal discoveries.

Hidden Places: An Inspired Traveller’s Guide by Sarah Baxter. Here’s some armchair travel for those who feel housebound. Travel journalist Sarah Baxter reveals twenty-five of the world’s most obscure places.  She takes us to little-known spots in Europe, Africa, Asia, Australia, Canada and the U.S. Some locations are remote, others are near more widely known attractions, but each destination has a story to tell. Evocative text and beautiful hand-drawn illustrations by Amy Grimes. A short, quick read and a lovely escape.

The Year of Living Danishly: My Twelve Months Unearthing the Secrets of the World’s Happiest Country by Helen Russell. Even though it’s not a new release (this book has been out for five years) it was new to me and I enjoyed it enough that I’ll be seeking out more by Helen Russell.  Denmark is officially the happiest nation on earth, so when Russell’s husband is offered his dream job at LEGO in Denmark, Helen goes along and begins her quest to find out what makes Danes so happy. Each month, she shares a primary takeaway contributing to the country’s general happiness level and the related lessons she learned. Though she also touches on the not-so-great parts of living in Denmark, Russell’s narrative is upbeat and even funny at times.

Big Friendship: How We Keep Each Other Close by Aminatou Sow and Ann Friedman.  An honest and sometimes funny book that celebrates friendship and what it takes to stay close for the long haul. Sow and Friedman tell the story of their first decade of friendship, both its joys and its pitfalls. More memoir than intellectual study, and very occasionally veering into the preachy, Big Friendship is nevertheless entertaining and affirming.

Together: Why Social Connection Holds the Key to Better Health, Higher Performance, and Greater Happiness by Vivek H. Murthy. Former Surgeon General of the United States, Vivek Murthy delves into scientific research to explain how our brains function from social interaction or the lack of it. A great book to read and help us understand why we may be feeling strange or uneasy during these times of isolation. The good news is that social connection is innate and a cure for loneliness. Filled with interesting anecdotes, this is an inspirational read that reminds us to practice compassion as often as possible.

We are Santa: Portraits and Profiles by Ron Cooper. Not only feel-good but seasonally appropriate! Award-winning photographer Ron Cooper has curated a collection of fifty professional Santas from across the USA. It’s a fascinating glimpse into the lives of those who slip into the red suit to spread Christmas cheer. Before and after portraits as Santa transforms from his (or her) everyday world to becoming Santa, and behind-the-scenes stories and anecdotes to bring home the wonder and joy of the seasonal Santa. Highly recommended.

My November Reads

I think of late fall as my pause point before I start baking and preparing for the holidays. Even though the days are shorter and the nights are longer, I seem to have more time to devote to quieter pursuits, like reading. And these days, with the Covid numbers climbing and creating a sense of unease everywhere, books are my favorite way to escape. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

The Book of Two Ways by Jodi Picoult

Dance Away with Me by Susan Elizabeth Phillips

Silver Bay by JoJo Moyes

Books read to date in 2020: 58

My October Reads

I’m in the mood to escape reality for a little while, but given the current circumstances we find ourselves living in, I’m not going very far. Instead of hopping on a plane (not wise with the rising Covid numbers) or planning a future vacation (delayed gratification only satisfies me for so long), I’m escaping via books. I’m looking for fiction with appealing settings or nonfiction books by people who have moved to new countries. And if their book provides details about local culture, flora and fauna, and food, so much the better. Here’s what I’m reading right now.

The Peach Keeper by Sara Addison Allen

Plum, Courgette and Green Bean Tart by Lisa Rose Wright

The Beekeeper’s Promise by Fiona Valpy

Books read to date in 2020: 52

My September Reads

Yesterday marked the autumn equinox, the first day of fall, and today the rains are forecast, reinforcing the fact that the colder season is just around the corner. Thanks to a neighbor who dropped off a generous box of purple grapes, I’m about to make a batch of jelly. When that’s done, I’ll tackle the Asian pears and turn them into chutney. Hopefully, the rain will ease long enough for me to pull the last of the tomatoes from the garden and clean up the basil bed too. In the meantime, I’m curling up with a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

With Malice by Eileen Cook

One More Croissant for the Road by Felicity Cloake

The Sundown Motel by Simone St. James

Books read to date in 2020: 46

What I’m Reading

Summer has finally arrived in the Pacific Northwest, bringing sunshine, warmer temperatures and garden happiness. Our veggies have stopped pouting and are galloping to catch up to where they normally would be at this time of year. It’s been an odd gardening year though. Summer started out cool and wet; we’ve been dealing with Covid restrictions and stock limitations at many garden centres; and we’ve been in observation mode in our new garden – watching what flowers when, checking out the light levels and exposure patterns, and planning for next year. It’s left me more time to read . . . and I have a lovely patio where I can enjoy a good book. Here’s what I’m reading this month.   

The Comfort Food Diaries by Emily Nunn

The Moonglow Sisters by Lori Wilde

In an Instant by Suzanne Redfearn

Books read to date in 2020: 36

My June Reads

As I write this, summer is only four days away. It’s been a different spring. We’ve had wetter, cooler weather than normal for this time of year; we’re still spending more time at home because of Covid precautions; and we’re dealing with more wildlife than we’re used to in our new garden too. Specifically, rabbits. Mom and Dad are regular visitors to the front lawn, and we’re (mildly) content to let them nibble on the grass. It’s less for us to cut. However, Mom and Dad are clearly using our back garden, where we grow vegetables, as a day care. And an all-you-can-eat buffet. We’ve chased four babies out so far and Mr. Petrol Head continues to string chicken wire to prevent access. But those little guys are smaller than a pound of butter and can squeeze through the tiniest of holes. We’ve seeded beans three times, zucchini twice and lettuce more times than I can count. Between the rabbits and their partners in crime, the slugs, we aren’t faring all that well in the food growing department.

The neighbors are properly sympathetic. They loaned us their live catch rabbit trap, so we baited and waited. But before we could catch a single rabbit, they needed their trap back. They had a hungry critter in their back yard too. We called the hardware store. There’d been a run on live traps; they were out. We bought more chicken wire and continued with our patch job until chicken wire became scarce. Another neighbor has suggested we borrow his leaf blower to tackle the problem. “Herd them out with fear,” he suggested.

We aren’t that desperate. At least not yet. But it might come to that. We’re seeding more beans and zucchini tonight. We’ll see how it goes. Meantime, to lower my blood pressure and keep me sane, I’m doing a lot of reading. Here’s what I’m reading this month.

When we Believed in Mermaids by Barbara O’Neal

Boy Giant: Son of Gulliver by Michael Morpurgo

Renewal: How Nature Awakens Our Creativity, Compassion and Joy by Andres R. Edward

Books read to date in 2020: 30