Tuesday, December 11, 2012

the quiet

Writers are told not to write down to young adult readers, but I can’t help but feel that this is constantly happening today—it simply doesn’t take the form that we might imagine it to. By giving readers books that are all about taking down the state or fighting werewolves we’re implying that it’s only these problems that are of any value, that the everyday teenage experience is otherwise something that should be easily navigable. I can’t think of any worse way than putting down a reader than by suggesting that their lives do not merit reading about.

In addition, by excising all of the quiet space that exists in these classic books in order to make room, make room! for more attention-grabbing plot, we’re denying readers the thinking room to be able to truly experience all of the wonders of reading. We’re assuming that they want their reading experience to be as little like a reading experience as possible, and the result is books with narratives that stream by like tickertape. I can’t help but wonder whether they’ll be forgettable, these books that disallow readers the space that we need to reflect on a story, to engage with it, and to draw our own conclusions.

Not all readers read to escape, nor do they necessarily read in order to live vicariously as action heroes. Sometimes readers read to identify, to make a friend who’ll remain with them forever, and to be charmed. Sometimes they want to be able to read a book that gives them the space that they need to think about the questions posed by the book, and to answer them themselves.

Surprisingly often, too, it’s the quiet books that are the ones that change lives.

from Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting

I love the quiet books, they're my favourite. And Anne, above all. I think Stephanie is so right when she says that there are readers who want this kind of book. It's really important that there are slow reads, tales that meander, language that dips and peaks and swirls, the characters who (like Anne) just grow up, and be.

It's good for our brains to read these kinds of books. Life is so hectic and noisy and barrelling along, surely we don't always need our books to push us through their plots helter-skelter. It makes me exhausted! Even now I'm struggling to think of the quiet stories, to give examples. I constantly feel busy (which is total bollocks, I'm not so busy really). When I sit back and try to think about the quiet things I end up just getting distracted...I don't know when my attention span shrank so.

Here is what I did this evening:

Had dinner with a friend.
Wandered homeward.
Read through twenty pages of the story I'm working on. It's awfully rough. Found many lines that made me cringe, found other that made me happy to keep working on this. Found a nice quiet moment that I had written. Who knows if it will end up even in the first draft, but it's here for now:

Neither of us had eaten olives before, except accidentally on pizza. They were salty and fleshy and when I licked at my lips it felt like I'd been swimming in the ocean and, when I said so, J said he felt the same.
  I said, 'If you ever give me a book as a present you have to write in the front of it.'
  'Ok,' he said.
  We guzzled water from the garden hose because it was closer than the house and we were so warm, there on the slope. The pony grazed by us, huffing when a grass seed went up his nose. We smelled all the smells. At least I did, I couldn't speak for J.
  'I reckon spring's around the corner,' he said. 'Smell that?'
  I read a book once about a girl who jumped into a river just because she wanted to see what it felt like.
  I couldn't help jumping.

Then I read some blogs.
I started writing this post.
I made some sodastream with elderflower cordial.
Pulled Anne of Green Gables, Anne of the Island and The Story Girl out of my bookshelf and just put them on the floor for later.
I put on some washing.
Tried to write some more of this post.
I tried to call my parents - they didn't answer.
I've been writing this post for hours. I just kept getting distracted.

This past weekend I was in Tasmania for the wedding of a great friend. I travelled down with my uni gang. We are a very noisy bunch, loud and sometimes crass, always talking and arguing and gossiping; all of us celebrating almost eleven years of friendship.

On the Sunday night, after the wedding was over and the weekend coming to an end, we walked up the beach at dusk to watch the penguins come in. We sat on a big rock and got colder and colder, but we waited. And when the first lot of penguins rode in on a turquoise wave we became quiet, pointing at first, whispering - over there! and there are some more! - and then watched for an hour in absolute silence as they came out of the water and over the sand and the rocks and up into the scrub to find and feed their babies.

The penguins were spectacular, but the quiet was the best.

May there always be quiet times. May there always be quiet, life-changing books.


  1. beautiful... i love the quiet times too. i had some for a bit, but now i don't know where they've gone. this has reminded me to try and get them back.

    and olives. olives!

    miss you xx

    1. thank you lovely jean. i miss you ever so, but your blog is ever-inspiring and makes me think good things.

      i know that quiet times are never far away, even when you're letting in the noise from time to time!


  2. Well said Kate. As you would know, I like quiet times and quiet books. Today I'm making a second Christmas cake because we couldn't resist breaking into the first. Christmas cakes cook really slow ... And the madwoman might do a post on Barbara Hanrahan.
    Afterwards, I might take a paddle up the creek on my surf ski, gliding through the tunnels of overhanging trees, listening to small water dragons plopping into the water. Recently I saw two small bright kingfishers - they swoop through the tunnels too, except that they fly.
    And may you continue to find parts of your writing that please you. It's bound to please others, too.

    1. a paddle up the creek! sounds wonderful.

      the madwoman's post on barbara hanrahan was brilliant, by the way.

  3. What a lovely post. I agree entirely about how many distractions there are in our lives today, and how difficult it often is to even notice that this is the case until we actually get away from it all. I'm so used to multitasking that I feel guilty if I'm only doing a single thing at once, or if I take some time out. If I actually want a break, I find that I need to physically go somewhere else that I don't feel that I need to be constantly engaging and checking in with everything.

    Thank you for such a thought-provoking post. :)

    1. thanks to you! i'm really going to make an effort over this crazy-bananas time of year to focus on single things at a time, limit myself to doing just one thing. surely will be good my my soul!

  4. Great post, Kate,

    I totally agree. I have two teen boys and they identify with their real life sporting heroes or people who are going through similar things, not superheroes or werewolves. So many teens I speak to want to read books about 'real' teens or real people they can relate to. And I know so many adults (including me) who are opting for the quieter life because it is way less stressful when you have time to think, contemplate and just enjoy being.

    1. Thanks, Dee. Enjoy your quiet, and may it always be allowed to come through in your stories!


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