Quiet Books from Diverse Authors
January 9, 2017 7:44 AM   Subscribe

I like quiet books that are inward-facing, but I need to diversify my reading list beyond white male authors. I like introspection (think Knausgard or Proust), interpersonal relationships (Austen), or beautiful descriptions of natural environments. I don't like high melodrama, violence, or sexual violence. Do you know of any non-white and/ or female authors that fit into these categories?
posted by Think_Long to Media & Arts (41 answers total) 59 users marked this as a favorite
Pond by Claire Louise-Bennett. It's exactly what you're looking for and easily the best book I read in 2016.
posted by veery at 7:50 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Alice Munro "describes sensitively the lifestyles, customs, and values of ordinary people, often revealing in the process hidden meanings and personal tragedies. Many of her stories deal with the lives of women, but her stance is not explicitly feminist."
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 7:52 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Maybe Anita Brookner? I'd start with Hotel du Lac, which won the Booker in 1984.

One of the best lines: β€œShe was a handsome woman of 45 and would remain so for many years.”
posted by mochapickle at 7:58 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Here are a couple that might work:
--Milena Michiko Flasar's I Called Him Necktie
--Maybe something by Julia Glass?
--Rachel Joyce's The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry (and its sequel)
posted by leesh at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2017

Marilynne Robinson is amazing at this - Housekeeping and Gilead, for starters.

Not sure if it's inward enough, but Nicole Krauss - The History of Love
posted by Mchelly at 8:00 AM on January 9, 2017 [10 favorites]

A Stranger in Olondria by Sofia Samatar
posted by ursus_comiter at 8:01 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

The Remains of the Day by Kazuo Ishiguro!
posted by peacheater at 8:11 AM on January 9, 2017 [8 favorites]

Trysting by Emmanualle Pagano is extraordinary.
posted by JohnFromGR at 8:12 AM on January 9, 2017

Annie Dillard's Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek would suit you quite well, I think.

I also heartily second the suggestions of Marilynne Robinson and Anita Brookner.
posted by minervous at 8:13 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Elizabeth Bowen is SO good. I have only read The Death of the Heart and The House in Paris, but they both fit the bill beautifully.
And it might be obvious, but, Virginia Woolf? She can get a bit dramatic (as in Mrs Dalloway and The Voyage Out) but The Waves is a masterpiece of inward focus.
Also seconding Kazuo Ishiguro -- Never Let Me Go was my first thought upon reading the question, although it has a bit more plot than some other things mentioned here.
posted by jeudi at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2017 [4 favorites]

Anything by Margaret Drabble?
posted by LizardBreath at 8:15 AM on January 9, 2017

Elizabeth von Arnim's Elizabeth and her German Garden and its sequel, The Solitary Summer (both available on Project Gutenberg):

After five years of marriage spent dwelling in a town flat, Elizabeth, made miserable by her urban surroundings, journeys to her husband's country estate in Germany, an ancient former convent surrounded by cornfields and meadows. Instantly captivated by the vast, sprawling wilderness of its garden, Elizabeth makes it her kingdom - and her escape from the humdrum of domesticity and wifehood.
posted by Morfil Ffyrnig at 8:16 AM on January 9, 2017

Zaidie Smith also seems like a possibility.
posted by LizardBreath at 8:19 AM on January 9, 2017

Zadie Smith or some of Margaret Atwood's non sci fi stuff.
posted by fourpotatoes at 8:20 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Maggie Nelson, Joan Didion.
posted by xammerboy at 8:25 AM on January 9, 2017

Seconding Margaret Drabble.

Recommending anything by Laurie Colwin or Elinor Lipman--they're very Austenesque.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2017

The Rectors Daughter by F.M Mayor

Anything by Winifred Holtby

I also really like Elizabeth Jane Howard.
posted by Nilehorse at 8:29 AM on January 9, 2017

I recently enjoyed Dominion by Calvin Baker.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:31 AM on January 9, 2017

The Age of Innocence by Edith Wharton.
posted by praemunire at 8:32 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

I just read Whatever Happened to Interracial Love?, a collection of short stories by Kathleen Collins. (Check out this review of the collection by Richard Brody at the New Yorker.) Collins was an African-American filmmaker and playwright, among other areas of professional distinction, and this posthumously published story collection is so, so good, with plenty of introspection and interpersonal relationships. There are some moments in which Collins expresses the interiority of her characters with such clarity and nuance that, if your reading experience is at all like mine, you'll have to put the book down until the "I'm just going to need to marvel at this for a minute" feeling passes.
posted by 2or3things at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh! How could I forget Jhumpa Lahiri? The Namesake and The Lowland are both fantastic.
posted by sunset in snow country at 8:38 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

You will probably enjoy Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain. It's astonishingly pure prose about being a woman in nature.

Seconding Marilynne Robinson's Gilead.
posted by kariebookish at 8:41 AM on January 9, 2017

An Unnecessary Woman is a quiet portrait of a reclusive Beiruti woman by a middle eastern author, and is wonderful.
posted by Threeve at 8:54 AM on January 9, 2017

As soon as I read your question I thought of Marilynne Robinson as well, so n-thing that recommendation
posted by shrieking violet at 9:13 AM on January 9, 2017

You might like Annie Dillard's nature writing - especially Pilgrim at Tinker Creek
posted by rainbowbrite at 9:14 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Open City by Teju Cole. It's a novel which is mainly a German-Nigerian doctor's thoughts during night-time walks through New York. Strangely compelling.
posted by kelper at 9:17 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Barbara Pym is the most Austenlike not-Austen writer I know of. She does beautifully quiet, funny, sharp, sad novels. I especially recommend Some Tame Gazelle and Excellent Women.

I also think Dorothy Whipple is very like Austen, although there is a tiny touch of melodrama in some of her plots. I recommend her Someone at a Distance and Greenbanks.
posted by Aravis76 at 9:54 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

Animal, Vegetable, Miracle by Barbara Kingsolver.
posted by gingerbeer at 10:08 AM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Have you read Middlemarch? You should!
posted by potrzebie at 10:53 AM on January 9, 2017 [3 favorites]

Interesting question. I found it quite hard to think of novels that don't have plot incidents that could be called melodramatic. Here are a few by women that I think do meet your criteria.

Pat Barker - Life Class.

AS Byatt - The Virgin in the Garden Quartet. Mixed review which gives a decent sense of the books.

Willa Cather - The Professor's House.

EM Delafield. She is mostly known for her Provincial Lady series, but although these are introspective and lacking in melodrama they are primarily humorous. So maybe The Way Things Are instead? Mixed review.

George Eliot - Middlemarch.

Eleanor Farjeon - Martin Pippin in the Apple Orchard. This one is a bit of an oddity - I would argue it is introspective, but in a kind of lyrical, fairy-tale way. Mainly included it for nature descriptions.

Elizabeth Gaskell - Wives and Daughters

Tove Jansson - The Summer Book.

Rose Macaulay - maybe Told By an Idiot.

Dorothy Richardson - Pilgrimage. About as introspective as you can get.

Stevie Smith - Novel on Yellow Paper.

Anne Tyler - maybe The Clock Winder.

Are you specifically looking for novels? I'm wondering whether children's books or non-fiction might meet your criteria. Eg Philippa Pearce, Tom's Midnight Garden. And the genre of pastoral non-fiction / memoirs such as Helen Macdonald's H is for Hawk: extract (warning, pop-up). Or Flora Thompson's Lark Rise to Candleford.
posted by paduasoy at 11:00 AM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

On posting, the link to the review of The Virgin in the Garden is not now working, so here is another: The Virgin in the Garden review by things mean a lot.
posted by paduasoy at 11:06 AM on January 9, 2017

And my mother has just suggested Invitation to the Waltz by Rosamond Lehmann. Thanks for an interesting question!
posted by paduasoy at 2:34 PM on January 9, 2017 [1 favorite]

As a fantasy reader I can't believe that no one has mentioned Ursula K. LeGuin. The Earthsea Trilogy is what first comes to mind when I think "quiet" books. I absolutely loved her short story collection Changing Planes. Her science fiction is philosophical, anthropological and lyrical.

Reading her work has the same mental feel as watching fog or waves. Very peaceful and beautiful. Simple, not ornate.
posted by irisclara at 3:21 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

+1 George Eliot, especially Middlemarch and Adam Bede.

+1 Alice Munro.

Have you read Anne Bronte's "Agnes Grey"?
posted by valannc at 5:00 PM on January 9, 2017

As another fantasy reader, I'd like to recommend Patricia McKillip. Her later books in particular showcase her quietly lyrical style. Perhaps Alphabet of Thorn would be a good start as it's intensely self-reflexive and ruminative. A lovely book. Then you can go on with her other works. Enjoy.
posted by MovableBookLady at 5:24 PM on January 9, 2017 [2 favorites]

Anne Tyler, for sure.
posted by h00py at 4:55 AM on January 10, 2017

Two more:

Patience and Sarah by Isabel Miller.

Nightingale Wood by Stella Gibbons.
posted by paduasoy at 5:57 AM on January 10, 2017

I'm amazed that Virginia Woolf's The Waves isn't on this list yet, or Mrs. Dalloway. Also seconding Ishiguro.
posted by snaw at 8:17 AM on January 10, 2017

Brilliant suggestions here. I'd second Woolf, Alice Munro, Ursula Le Guin's Earthsea novels, George Eliot, Marilynne Robinson and Anne Tyler. And Ishiguro's 'The Remains of the Day', absolutely.

Colm Toibin's 'Brooklyn' is quiet, brilliant, beautiful.
Anything by Penelope Fitzgerald, especially the wonderful and very funny 'The Gate of Angels' (about Cambridge just before WWI), or 'The Bookshop' – which is sad but quiet, compassionate and perfectly evocative of the East coast of England.
Ann Patchett's 'Bel Canto'; or 'Run' – both great.
Lorrie Moore, though she's got that slightly terrifying whipsmart sense of humour. Still, she's amazing.
posted by considerthelilies at 2:48 PM on January 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

Meanwhile, my wife has just finished reading A Very Great Profession: The Woman's Novel, 1914-39 and mentioned a novel featured therein that seems perfect for this thread (although neither of us have read it, so I can't promise anything!): One Fine Day by Mollie Panter-Downes, covering a single day in the life of an upper-class woman in the English countryside immediately after World War II.
posted by jeudi at 9:57 AM on January 13, 2017

I think you might like mexican-peruvian author Mario Bellatin, especially his early work: "Beauty Salon".
posted by Omon Ra at 11:12 AM on February 8, 2017

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