No one wants to watch a movie where not much happens. When there is no big romantic climax, an explosion or a huge secret exposed, you begin to yawn in the movie theater. Watching a film, you are expected to be entertained and excited in a way that is not always the case for literature. Sure, everyone loves action, reveals and romantic outbursts but when it comes to reading, one is more likely to enjoy riding gentle waves in the plot. What I am saying is that while in movies you expect something important to happen within the first ten minutes, it is more acceptable to wait a little longer. And as long as the writing is interesting (the voice and style unique and fresh) you won’t put it down.
So what is a calm novel? A novel that, while fun and captivating, isn’t all murder, action, drama or comedy. It is just a bit more subdued, something you may read on a business trip or while calmly sipping tea in the bath. (I can’t be the only one who reads in the bath tub?!) I was reading an article not a while back in which an author wrote for Poets & Writers magazine. This author mainly writes what she calls “quiet” novels. That author is named Leesa Cross-Smith. Cross-Smith discusses how she finds herself drawn to such works. “I am drawn to longer works that take their time. Ideas and situations that give me room to think. Characters and plots that require my patience and pay off in real,satisfying ways (“Some Room to Breathe, Cross-Smith).”
She goes on to advocate for literature that is about the simple and the everyday, situations that anyone can find themselves in, that anyone can relate to. And I have to agree with her opinion that a book doesn’t have to work hard to entertain me. I don’t really need any of the special effects or life and death scenes movies are inundated with. Don’t misunderstand, I do enjoy those things. I love speculative fiction which is known for having tense situations and keeping you wondering, laughing or upset. But, as I wrote in an earlier post, I always find myself shocked when I truly like a more calm novel in which not much really happens or not in the way that fits the standard of today’s art and entertainment.
Reading this article reminded me of one of my favorite books, The Book of Disquiet by Fernando Pessoa. For those unaware, Pessoa was a Portuguese novelist, critic, philosopher and poet. One fun fact is that he had over one hundred pseudonyms. The Book of Disquiet seems to be just random musings, a factless autobiography but there is a beauty in that. Not much happens, we hear the protagonist’s inner thoughts, who visited him, what work he has to get done but the writing is picturesque. It is even more amazing in its native language, I am told. One of my favorite lines comes from entry number twelve. The last line reads thusly, “These are my Confessions, and if in them I say nothing, it’s because I have nothing to say.”
Just how beautiful is that? I am sure you can get whatever you like out of it but for me it was a sort of confirmation, in a way. In her article Cross-Smith declares, “Quietness can be a beautifully defiant radical act.” Pessoa, whose name literally means “person”, embodies this marvellously in all of the works I have read by him. Believe me when I say that I have read quite a few. His words take you along a journey. If I had to describe it, it would be akin to floating along a lazy river on a day where the sun is shining but it’s not hot and there is calm all around you to just enjoy the scenery as you pass by. These calm quiet books take you on a journey with no hills or valleys or sharp turns but get you there all the same. They are precious jewels of the publishing industry that often go unnoticed. Many will never be adapted for screen of any size and some may be forgotten only a year or two after publication but when you find one, you fall in love.
Calm novels offer a respite that cannot come from any other form of media except poetry. And if you want a longer relationship with the words you read it is only logical to choose a novel every now and again.
“I choose quiet and tenderness in my work because the world is loud and hard enough.”
Today, I stand up for the quiet novel and urge you to pick one up if you ever get the chance.