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What constitutes a Slow Book? It is a book that has weight in the hands, with a cover that invites a prospective reader in, with a page layout that makes reading it a distinctly pleasurable experience for the individual. A slow book is meant to be relished in a rocking chair with a cup of tea, indulged in on an hammock for a whole summer afternoon, or to provide company during a lonely lunch break. It's the kind of book that draws you in, distracts you from time passing until you find a place to stop and tuck in a favorite bookmark. The best sign of a Slow Book, however, is the half-day or more it spends on the bed stand while the reader attends to the daily tasks of living, all the while looking forward to another opportunity to crack its pages, slip under a blanket and into the writer's world for a stretch of time, a period not measured by minutes and hours, but by the travels of heart and mind, guided by the mind and heart of the author.






1.  THE FARMER - I. Alexander Olchowski

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Grounded in the bedrock love of Ed and Susan Brown, The Farmer begins where it ends, on a small family farm in Upstate New York. The couple's two boys grow up to be opposite men. Marvin is a lawyer. Jack lives at home and works the farm with his father. After Marvin returns to open a practice in town, Jack is forced to leave the only world he's ever known. He is gone for five years, hopping freight trains and bonding with wolves. When he finally makes it back home many things have changed.  The story is a symphony, equal parts joy and grief, generations bound together by the rhythm of seasons, and the gravity of land.


OPENING INTRO:

Dear Reader,

The seed of inspiration for this book came from Ioka Valley Farm, located in Hancock, Massachusetts. I initially met with the owner, a tall, strong man in his sixties named Don, to pick his brain on the best livestock to raise in my situation. At the time I was living on a one-hundred acre former cattle farm, and feeling the urge to reinstate some animals to the land. Don steered me in the direction of meat goats. A year and a half later I had a herd of eleven kiko goats, and a new novel.

THE FARMER is dedicated to every small-scale farmer in America. Ten percent of the book's final profits will be donated to a fund dedicated to helping small farmers in Columbia County, New York. And, as part of an Independent Bookstore Tour across the nation, my aim is to sow the seeds for a movement dedicated to strengthening the craft of literature, what has become a threatened art form.

This is the kind of book meant to be held in your hands, to linger on the bed stand for a few nights. Its pages will acquire that unique aroma of a worn, well-read book. And, hopefully, it will sweep you away from life for long stretches of time. To truly read a book is to inhabit it. And to do this we must slow down, detach from the breakneck speed of modern life. We need a return to books in the same way we are returning to good food. Inspired by the Slow Food Movement, this novel will mark the foundation of a Slow Book Movement. Join the cause. Help support the rebirth of modern American literature, and the publishers and bookstores that make it available to us all.

Thanks for reading my story.


THE FARMER



2.  THE LIFE OF Pi - Yann Martell

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What makes a slow book a slow book? Does it have to do with what the story is about? Must the plot consciously revolve around a specific topic? Or is a slow book about the reader, about what happens to us when we delve into a fresh novel, when we read the first few lines of an opening chapter and find ourselves immediately transported to some other time and place?

There are no answers, really, as to what makes a slow book. It’s not a sort of definition that we can create and then easily plonk any book into, saying “Yep. Fits the bill.” I think of it more as something a book determines for us. In other words, maybe I can’t exactly define what a slow book entails, but I know one when I read one.

It didn’t take long for Alex and I to agree upon our selection for the next slow book. At one of our meetings at the coffee shop, each of us brought a few of our favorite books. We were determined to leave the coffee shop with one book we both agreed upon. It ended up we hadn’t read most of each other’s favorites, or we had but we wouldn’t necessarily choose it as a favorite. But when Alex pulled out Life of Pi, I knew we had our next slow book.

You liked this book?” I asked, which really was a stupid question considering Alex had brought it in the first place. But I guess I was surprised because it seems that many other people I know who read it hadn’t liked it very much. Although when I pressed people further, no one could ever seem to articulate why. I decided people’s lukewarm feelings towards the novel had to do with the fact that Life of Pi isn’t standard in any way. It begs for us to suspend our understanding of reality, to believe that a boy and a tiger can cohabit the same small raft floating in an ocean. And structurally, this novel is a framed story—it starts with an introduction from a fictional author. This author met a man in India who tells him the story of Pi. “I have a story that will make you believe in God,” the man tells our fictional author. This framed structure and the elements of magic realism throughout (a meerkat-inhabited island that becomes acidic and carnivorous at night!) make this novel peculiar; it’s not your typical contemporary novel, which is exactly why I love it.

Canadian writer Yann Martel published Life of Pi in 2001. The story is about Piscine Molitor Patel, (shortened to Pi because his classmates teasingly pronounced his first name “pissing”), a teenager in Pondicherry, India. Pi’s father owns the Pondicherry Zoo, where Pi develops a keen interest in zoology. Born a Hindu, Pi also tries out being a Christian, and Muslim at various points in his youth. He also becomes close with a biology teacher who is an atheist. Pi’s curiosity in worldviews is important to be aware of as we enter the heart of the story.

Civil unrest in India in the 1970s drives Pi’s family to move to Toronto. They embark upon a Japanese steam ship to travel to Canada, with their animals aboard. The ship sinks off the coast of the Philippines, and Pi survives—along with an orangutan, a zebra, a hyena, and a tiger. Eventually, it ends up being just Pi and the tiger—Richard Parker—aboard a 26-foot lifeboat. The majority of the novel takes place within these 26 feet of rubber. The story is between Pi and Richard Parker. Outside of their little world looms the vast Pacific Ocean, no sign of any horizon, and Pi and Richard learn how to cope.

The most challenging part of this novel is the ending, which may be another reason that friends of mine didn’t love it like I did. After Pi finally lands in Mexico, the shipping company who owned the sunken ship asks him his story. He tells them about being stranded for 227 days with Richard Parker; how the hyena ate the zebra, then Richard Parker ate the hyena, but how he defended his territory in the raft and learned to cope with Richard Parker. They don’t believe him, naturally, so he spins a different tale. It’s essentially the same story, except the others aren’t animals, they’re people. The zebra is the cook from the ship, the hyena a sailor, and Richard Parker is Pi himself. Instead of a tale of safari-animal carnage it’s a story of survivor desperation. It somehow seems more plausible that these people from the shipwreck would end up on the lifeboat rather than the zoo animals. I guess we wonder why Pi bothers telling the second story. In some ways, it makes us not believe the original story about Richard Parker. It dilutes the magic; suddenly we’re a little suspicious. But the beauty of introducing the second story is that we’re forced to choose. We are told this harrowing story of boy and tiger, and then there’s a chance it may not be true?

Well, you decide, Pi says. He leaves it up to us to determine which story is true. Much like Pi made up his own religion—taking pieces from Christianity, Hinduism, Islam, and science—we are left to decide for ourselves what story is true.


Normally, I’m turned off by books that circle around religious themes. It’s just been done and done. Martel’s novel consciously explores faith, belief, and believability, but in the end I don’t see it about religion, but more about mythology, about storytelling to be exact.

“Doesn’t the telling of something always become a story?” Pi challenges those who don’t believe his story. “Isn’t telling something—using words, English or Japanese—already something of an invention? Isn’t looking upon this world already something of an invention? . . . The world isn’t just the way it is. It is how we understand it, no? And in understanding something we bring something to it, no? Doesn’t that make life a story?”

Perhaps a slow book is a book that slows the reader to the pace of the main character. Throughout Life of Pi, I breathed when Pi breathed; my stomach ached when his did. I cried at the sight of land, felt the blessed algae in my own mouth, laughed at the strange little meerkats. For over two hundred pages we never leave the confines of the raft—and that was just fine with me.

I was on a trip in Belize when I read Life of Pi. After exploring the Caribbean coast by day, I sought refuge inside my hostel when the sun went down—that was the hour when the sandflies became active. My arms and ankles were already ravaged from previous nights spent near the water and I was sick of scratching myself into a frenzy. I spent a few days reading Life of Pi, but not to escape the world around me (I mean this was Belize). After being caught up in the story for hours I would look up, remember the howler monkeys I’d heard days earlier, roaring at dusk; I’d hear the ocean lapping at the beach. I’d think of Pi’s story, how just over the border in Mexico Richard Parker was on the prowl. An amazing book is the kind that you crave to be in always, but it also enlightens the world around you when you’re not in it. A slow book is the kind that lives with you long after you put it away, or pass it on to the next traveler in the hostel. A slow book lingers like smoke after the gunshot. The next few weeks I traveled with a heightened sense of adventure, and I kept Pi close by, in my mind.

- Posted by Amanda (March1,2010)

3.  ANIMAL DREAMS - Barbara Kingsolver

AnimalDreamsCoverThis wonderful novel from one of the greatest contemporary novelists is a great Slow Book.  Lots of things happen in the story, but none of the plot twists feel abrupt of rapid.  Having spent a summer in the Jemez Mountains, where the narrator journeys to in one chapter with her Native American lover, I experience the way the southwest sun can pierce through time, slowing it down.  Unlike the humidity of other summer locales, this heat will slow a person down while allowing him or her to maintain a sharp clarity of mind.  That phenomenon plays out in this unassuming, grounded, heartfelt story of a woman coming back home to spend time with her dying father, teach high school biology, and try her hand at something she hasn't been able to accomplish - commitment.  After losing her sister and her father she finally succeeds at staying put, going out on love's limb without being afraid of the branch cracking.  And she uncovers old family secrets buried in the desert, while those left living must reconcile the fleeting nature of their presence there when compared to ancient Native American spirits, who are the ones with the ultimate claim on the red rocks.  This is a book to be relished, with narrative that rises up like a prayer-song over and over, urging the reader to re-read whole pages just for the opportunity to soak up Ms. Kingsolver's wise, beautiful language.

- Posted by Alexander (January, 2011)



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