Quiet Books: Can I hear a YES?!

Remember “edgy?” Okay, the word is still here. And I like it–I like edgy books. I admire the strength these authors put into their words, the sharp and almost painful voice with which their narrators tell their stories, and the power that pulls me in and keeps me turning the page, at times faster than I can really keep up with.

BUT…

I also like books that AREN’T this way. Lately, I’ve heard the word “quiet” tossed around. People are talking about it on Twitter & Facebook. Writers are trying to figure out what it means, when they hear it from publishers and agents, and they’re trying to figure out–I think–if it has to be a bad thing. Because I think there is some sense out there that it may, indeed, be something that, well…won’t help your book get picked up and sold.

Honestly, I hope that’s not true. Not only because I suspect that my own writing may be more quiet than…edgy? Loud? Whatever that other thing is? But because–if my understanding of quiet books is right–I value them so much for the reading experience they bring me that I don’t want to see them go away.

I’ve been thinking about a few authors whose books I’ve read–some recently, some not so recently–books that I think of as “quiet.” (Some of these authors have also written what I’d called edgier books that I also loved, but I’m not talking about those today.) I’m going to name these books, and I want you all to take this labeling as a STRONG recommendation to go out and read them. Because they’re all incredible, powerful writers. Just…in a different way.

All of these books, like the edgy ones, deal with teens who face problems. BIG problems. MODERN problems. The two things that seem to be different, to me, are the pacing and the voice.

These books don’t rush. I’m not sure the edgy ones do, either, but I find myself rushing through them, often, to find out what’s coming next. These “quiet” stories don’t feel slow, I just feel like I have time to sit with them, to follow the explorations the author is making into character and choices and connections and to make my own explorations at the same time.

The narrative voices in these books also give me time. Somehow, there is a strength of character in the hero (even if they’re not 1st person, we’re almost always getting the story through the hero’s perspective) that makes me feel confident and safe. I’m not saying I read their stories knowing that they’ll be okay, or expecting a predictable ending. That’s not it. It’s that somehow I believe the hero has the strength to make it through their pain and their experiences, and that strength lets me breathe a bit more slowly and read for HOW they’re going to do that–to watch their choices with curiosity, sympathy, and hope.

I’m not doing this very well–telling you what I like so much about these books, without sounding like I’m putting down the others. Honestly, I like them all. I just get sad when I hear writers worrying about whether they shouldn’t write these books. I want to stand up and shout, wave my arm frantically to get their attention, and say, “Yes! Please! Keep writing!”  I want to tell them that I crave their kind of story, and that I’m not the only one who feels that way.

Am I? 🙂

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26 thoughts on “Quiet Books: Can I hear a YES?!

  1. I like your way of thinking of it when you say, “These books don’t rush. I’m not sure the edgy ones do, either, but I find myself rushing …” Because that’s quite often the case with me too. And sometimes that’s just the kind of read I want, a zip along as fast as you can and barely catch your breath.

    But I appreciate a quiet strength as well and I agree that quiet doesn’t have to be bad. I just need the author to make me care, whether quiet or edgy, I want them to make me care about a character enough to go along for the ride in the book.

    (PS – thanks for mentioning my book.)

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    • beckylevine says:

      Well, hey, you made me care. A lot!

      Yes, that’s it–I do like both types. I don’t like hearing either put down, or dismissed as not having a market, I guess.

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  2. I love quiet books as much as the rest as well. I don’t love slow books and I don’t love boring books. But sometimes I love to experience well told stroll. Thanks for this post.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I like that idea of a well-told stroll. As long as it’s got enough tension, too, to keep me hooked. It just doesn’t have to be an abrupt, fast tension.

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  3. You and Susan, in her response above, say it so well. Often I want to dawdle, meander, or tiptoe through a book, get pulled in and down, and I want to do it in some quiet. I’d add the Little House books to your list, though of course they’re for younger readers. I suppose in our culture they’re the ones who have more time, which is sad, too.

    But we’ll keep shouting out for quiet!

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    • beckylevine says:

      I like that addition, Jeannine. And I think all the LH books are well-worth reading as an adult. Laura got it–somehow, she wove in all the perspectives, the kids AND the adults. I reread The Long Winter just to WATCH Ma keep the kids safe and not frightened duringthe blizzard, as they’re waiting to see if Pa will make it home. That’s not all about being a little kid, that scene.

      That was my thought about the YAs–I do think that, even as a teen, I’d like these quiet books. I think there are plenty of teens out there who want to read them.

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  4. Cathy says:

    Some days you want to ride a roller coaster and some days you want to visit a museum – both are exciting and stimulating but those are very different experiences (most of the time!) You’re right-it is about pace. I’m not expressing this well but your thoughts clarify mine. Thanks. Arrived here via a tweet from @susanwrites. Mine is @catherinenorman
    Thanks again – Cathy

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks for stopping by, Catherine. And thanks for sharing your thoughts–yes, sometimes, you want to stand in front of a painting for a long, quiet time–to study all the ins and outs of it.

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  5. I’d like to echo Susan’s comment – as long as the author makes me care. I want to LOVE the characters. I want to LOVE the setting. I want to read books that make me feel like a part of me is in that book and when I close the cover I want to feel like I miss my friends that are within those covers. So, whether quiet or edgy really makes no difference to me if I’m loving the story. But, I must say that sometimes a quiet book affords me the indulgence of those feelings for a longer period of time because, like you said, I’m not rushing through it to get to the end.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I think that’s it–sometimes a quiet book lets me be with the story/characters longer. And sometimes (although definitely not always), more deeply.

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  6. I’ve never taken the thought to decide if a book is quiet or not. I loved STORY OF A GIRL, but it is vastly different than what I normally read. And though I tend toward the edgy in YA, I’m not one who wants it too edgy.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I’ve been reading more of them lately, for some reason. Hey, maybe it’s because they’re becoming MORE marketable!

      It’d be fun to draw a line down the middle of a room & pile books on the edgy/quiet spectrum. I bet we’d all have them in different places. 😉

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  7. CJ says:

    I think of “My Antonia” by Willa Cather as a quiet book. There’s a richness and beauty in it that you don’t get in ‘edgy’ books but it is by no means boring.

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    • beckylevine says:

      CJ–I haven’t thought of that book in years. I think that’s the Cather I remember, and–yes–I loved that feeling of just letting the story seep into me.

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  8. Laurie Schneider says:

    I am heartened that my ten-year-old daughter loves these books, too. Magical, she calls them. Stories you can wander around in, feel at home in. And yet I fear that they will disappear in the clangor and clamor of publishing. I cringe whenever I go to a conference and an editor or agent talks about how what they really want is a story that is “this meets that.”

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    • beckylevine says:

      I’m so glad your daughter likes these books–that’s SO who I was when I was young. This meets that is good, I think, but I like the different layers you get around the meet-up. I think the quiet books and the edgy books explore it in different ways, and I want both. 🙂

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      • Laurie Schneider says:

        I like how you describe “this meets that”. You’re right about the interest being in the difference. I think quiet can be edgy, too, in its execution. The writing in Allison McGhee’s All Rivers Run to the Sea, for instance.

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  9. Shawna says:

    You’re not alone! I think of ‘quiet’ books as the kind you can cuddle up with and read over and over.

    I don’t know, I may be over-simplifying but isn’t what’s edgy change over time?

    I suppose it could be because I’m not what I’d consider edgy, but, though edgy is nice, I also like the comfort of a quiet book.

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    • beckylevine says:

      I’m sure edgy does change over time. Maybe gets edgier?

      Some of these quiet books don’t even comfort me, really, but they let me take more time with the disturbance, let it settle in and let me see how I feel about it all.

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  10. You have expressed so well here what I thought and continue to think about in regard to A LUCKY CHILD which I recently wrote about http://www.rascofromrif.org/?p=2836. I mean it is a book about a child surviving the holocaust, but now I know your words of “a quiet book” are the words for which I was searching. Your last paragraph in the response above “Some of these quiet books don’t even comfort me, really, but they let me take more time with the disturbance, let it settle in and let me see how I feel about it all.” was exactly what I was feeling. Thank you!

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    • beckylevine says:

      Thanks so much. I was worried, in the post, about making it sounds like these books don’t take on the tough issues or that they smooth over the problems, which they don’t.

      So…holocaust books are very hard for me to read–would you think this one would be more possible? Because of the way it’s written?

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  11. Excellent post! Thank you so much for sharing it. As a writer, I don’t worry about whether my writing is edgy or quiet. I don’t write for the market. I write the story I’m given. And I let my characters give the piece its tone. The way I see it, the market is flexible. It changes with the wind. If I allowed myself to get blown around by its ever-changing moods, I’d never get any writing done.

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    • beckylevine says:

      Diana, thanks for stopping by. I don’t write for the market, either, but that little bit of hope for each story is LOOSELY based on thinking about where my books might find a place/fit. Mostly, though, I want to keep reading these books & hope the market will continue to support them. 🙂

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