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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
1. THE FARMER - I. Alexander Olchowski
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.
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.
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.
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.
for reading my story.
2. THE LIFE OF Pi - Yann Martell
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?
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?”
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.
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
- Posted by Amanda (March1,2010)
3. ANIMAL DREAMS - Barbara Kingsolver
This 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.