Elevate Difference

A Book of Silence

I'm not sure why I wanted to read A Book of Silence; I think I must have read a review somewhere because, as a memoir by a religious feminist, it seems an unlikely choice for me. But when I came upon it on Green Metropolis, I decided to buy it—a bargain since I got the hardback edition.

Another weird thing about this book is the feeling I have that somewhere, sometime I've met the author... a very strange feeling, indeed. Sara Maitland is a novelist who, over the last few years, seems to have been slowly withdrawing from society in search of silence. The silence she seeks is the kind in which one immerses oneself for prayer, amongst other things. A Book of Silence tells not only of her journey—including trips to places associated with silence, such as deserts, woods, hermitages, hillsides and mountains—but also of her reading books and poetry that discuss silence, and her gradual realization that she needs to withdraw from the noisy pace of modern life.

There are many different silences, and ways of being silenced. Some are forced upon us (e.g., solitary confinement and exile), but many others are chosen (e.g., retreats and withdrawal). Maitland describes the different way she experimented with silence: sitting in the desert, walking in the mountains, living in a remote cottage on Skye for forty days. She explores other people who have written about silence, particularly nuns, monks, and other religious followers (not just Christians, like herself).

All in all, I'm not sure I enjoyed A Book of Silence, although for some reason I kept reading. It made me think about the noise we are continuously surrounded by, and also made me realize that although I enjoy my own company I'm rarely silent in the way that Maitland means. She ends the book by telling how she (partly) manages to find the requisite silence, and how even then it isn't (and can't be) complete.

Cross-posted from Ms Moll's Reading Year

Written by: Ms. Moll, April 23rd 2010