A Book Of Silence – Sara Maitland
First Published: 2008, Granta Books
This Edition: 2009, Granta Books
From the back of the book: “In her late forties Sara Maitland moved out of the city and fell in love with silence. In this profound and provocative book, Maitland explores this fascination, delving into the darkness and euphoria that silence can bring, and considering its cultural history. She contemplates the experience of silence – from her own nights in the Sinai desert and weeks on the Isle of Skye to the accounts of travellers and mystics – and argues for its importance in a world increasingly addicted to noise.”
Thoughts: A Book of Silence asks the question: Is silence simply an absence of anything else, or is it an entity in its own right? Instead of seeing silence as a negative space that must be filled at all times, Sara Maitland believes it’s a positive experience that should be embraced. Our cultural fear of silence, and the awkwardness may people feel without background noise, incessant chatter or the visual cacophony of social media is, she thinks, counter-productive to society.
It highlights the importance of not only quiet reflection, but also absence of thought. Whereas the temporary process of meditation has picked up popularity again recently, along with colouring books and the invention of Mindfulness, Maitland wants to know what can be gained from long-term silence. What would our minds be like without constant uninvited invasions from the outside world? In trying to answer this question, Maitland researches monks, explorers, sailors, writers and hermits. She climbs mountains, moves to a remote Scottish island, visits the desert, immerses herself in a silent flotation chamber, and lives at the bottom of her parents’ garden.
I’m not sure I’d go to such extreme lengths in pursuit of something which isn’t there, but then I guess that’s the point, she’s convinced that silence is there, and that makes her quest surprisingly gripping. It has so many hallmarks of a good travel story that I’m almost tempted to put it in that category. In fact, I will, as there is travel involved, even though the subject matter is far more a matter of the mind. But the thirst for which she searches for answers reminds me of the drive to reach a physical destination, and the reading she seems to have done on the subject seems on a par with the research undertaken before a lengthy mission overseas.
I felt like I had spent some quality quiet time reading A Book of Silence, but whether or not I think of reading as a silent activity is not as black and white as it once was. Nor, for that matter, is writing. I’m communicating with you now as you read this, and you’re actively seeking out what I have to type, which may be an absence of sound, but certainly isn’t an absence of noise. I should stop breaking your personal silence now, and lock myself in a dark room or something, but I know that it won’t realistically happen, there’ll always be something to distract me with, which does highlight the idea that we can’t ever be truly silent in this hectic world we live in.
Edibility Rating: 4 Monster Points
Favourite Line: “There was no moon but there were shooting stars, random, sporadic, but frequent, and some with long flaming tails like the great dragon of the apocalypse.'”