I know this book, I said to myself. I know this book, I said in the car, although it seemed the most unlikely book to hear about on NPR during morning commute. I don’t mean that Public Radio avoids religious topics or books about them. I mean that this was not a recent book or a bestseller or the work of someone newly deceased. By coincidence February 11 was indeed the 96th birthday of Sir Patrick Leigh Fermor, author of A Time to Keep Silence, and novelist Adam Haslett was introducing the book for the NPR series “You Must Read This.”
It is a slim book, 95 pages, first published in Great Britain in 1957. Its availability made an impression on me in March 2004 when I saw it on the English-language display table in an Amsterdam bookstore. Bookstores exert a lure whenever I travel. I do not visit them because I am technically in need of something new to read. I just like to imagine those other kinds of readers for whom shelves of poetry and tables of memoirs are arranged.
The price sticker of 17,50 Euros on the Fermor book in that Amsterdam bookstore had given me pause, however. I was not sure I needed to spend over twenty American dollars for the soft-cover volume. On the other hand, I had not heard of the book before although visits to monasteries were a familiar theme in my reading history. I might never find this particular book in print on the other side of the Atlantic, I rationalized, and I brought my purchase to the cashier.
The very habit of introversion that makes trips to monasteries and weekends on retreat appealing generally leads me not to expect friends and family to want to hear a lot about them. Something inside felt validated, though, by the time the on-air review of A Time to Keep Silence ended. How many listeners felt in tune with this comment of Adam Haslett’s after he had read a passage from Fermor’s book?
"To read that beautiful, restful sentence is to experience a small piece of the restfulness Fermor himself found. When we say that a book transports us, this is what we mean. The music of the words themselves sing us into a different world."
I often did long for the appearance of placid restfulness when I was a younger man on retreat.
Luckily, retreats sometimes bring exactly what some of us with our habit of introversion might never have expected but genuinely need. A God who tells us we need more fun in our lives? Yes, it happens. Thank God it happens.
And it is good to discover that sometimes the best fun happens with the very people who take us most seriously. I might need to write a book about that one day.
A slim book, no more than 95 pages.
Image from MorBCN