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A Book of Silence [Paperback]

Sara Maitland
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
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Book Description

3 Aug 2009
After a noisy upbringing as one of six children, and adulthood as a vocal feminist and mother, Sara Maitland began to crave silence. Over the past five years, she has spent periods of silence in the Sinai desert, the Australian bush, and the Isle of Skye. She interweaves these experiences with the history of silence through fairy-tale and myth, Western and Eastern religious traditions, the Enlightenment and psychoanalysis, up to the ambivalence towards silence in contemporary society. Maitland has built a hermitage on an isolated Scottish moor, and the book culminates powerfully with her experiences of silence in this new home.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Granta Books; Reprint edition (3 Aug 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1847081517
  • ISBN-13: 978-1847081513
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (52 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 40,613 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Sara Maitland is the author of numerous works of fiction, including the Somerset Maugham Award-winning Daughters of Jerusalem, and several non-fiction books about religion. Born in 1950, she studied at Oxford University and currently tutors on the Distance Learning MA in creative writing for Lancaster University.

Product Description


'A Book of Silence grapples with ideas at the very heart of what it is to be human, and Sara Maitland is a joyous champion of the countercultural notion that silence is more than simply an absence of noise' -The Times 'Maitland's experience has been rich and thorough, and deeply enviable. Her book is probably unique in its subject, and timely, because good, healing silence is becoming hard to find, and we may not know we need it' - Guardian 'It is both an analytical, theoretical fascination and a personal one, her reading and her experience locked together, each testing and illuminating the other' - Economist 'Her dedication to the cause is both inspiring and shocking - There are many beautiful meditative passages in her meditation on silence - [A] wonderful salutary book' - Sunday Telegraph (Seven)


'Unique in its subject, and timely, because good, healing silence is becoming hard to find'

'A brave, honest, fascinating book' --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
20 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars life changing 29 May 2010
By Shushan
This book transformed my way of understanding my inner life and thus has utterly changed how I organise and order my outer life. Maitland takes on many of our taken for granted assumptions about the meaning of silence and solitude so that rather than understanding life as something to be filled up in order to keep at bay unwanted experience, she invites us to allow the noise and business to fall away in pursuit of the adventure that is silence. Silence has now become a central pursuit of my life. Indeed Maitland suggests that silence actually is God.

Most significantly for me, Maitland challenges a very psyhologised notion of personal life that dominates contemporary culture with an alternative paradigm derived from a spiritual understanding of the world. She suggests that silence is popularly understood in terms of potential pathology, so that success in sociability is a mark of wellness and desire for silence and solitude might be seen as maladjustment. Maitland is not in flight from unsuccessful sociability, indeed she has clearly been part of a lively family and social life, rather she is seeking something that is only found in silence. What I learned was that experiences I had interpreted as loneliness (even in company) to be avoided, might actually be rich sites to move into by choice as places to know God more fully.

The book is structured as a quest for silence, which makes it a bit of a page turner, even with it's digressions into understanding the history of silence in religious life and other paradigms. The book does leave me with unanswered questions, but I think those are for me to explore in my own life, rather than requiring Maitland to bare her own soul more fully. I continue to be inspired by the image of the little house that Maitland finally arrives at. I understand from her website that she now shares this little house with a dog, who interrupts the silence somewhat, but I like that idea too.
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162 of 168 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about silences 15 Dec 2008
This is a riveting and quirky book, beautifully written, entertaining and profound. Impossible to classify, it is part travelogue, part witty and devastatingly open autobiography, part review of the experiences of silence of people as diverse as early Christian desert hermits, 20th century yachtspeople and Buddhists.
Mid-life, Maitland chose to place silence at the centre of her life and she explores what this might mean for her in late 20th Century Britain. She addresses challenging issues, such as the fear of what might happen in silence, and practical issues such as earning her keep.
To my mind, she doesn't always get it quite right - her fascinating discussion of voice hearing that sometimes happens in silence does not distinguish between hearing 'inner voices' of guidance and 'outer voices' made by the wind , for example. Her description of silent Quaker worship doesn't quite grasp that this is a listening silence, in which the worshippers' active 'listening towards God' is more important than any spoken word. But these are small points in a huge work, and I would thoroughly recommend this book as a good read for practitioners of silence and others alike.
Maitland articulates beautifully much that is not spoken of in our society , including the importance for everyone of having enough silence in our lives. The book is is not an invitation to silence as such, but offers insights and many possible paths for readers to follow. I can think of several very different people for whom it would be a great present!
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68 of 72 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Book of Silence 6 Jan 2009
This was an utterly absorbing book. Thought-provoking and unique, I would recommend this to everyone. I picked it up in the bookshop by chance - I had never heard of Sara Maitland, but found her writing style entrancing. The ways in which she explored silence; in history, religion, literature and especially within her own life, were fascinating.

This book has charm. Give it a try.
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76 of 81 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars The sound of silence 10 Feb 2009
In middle age, the feminist author, Sara Maitland, lives on her own for the first time, and surprises herself by falling in love with the vast silences of solitude. Over the subsequent decade, she sets out to explore her new love, spending time on her own in some of Britain's wild places. A Book of Silence is partly an account of her experiences of silence and partly a cultural history of silence.

In essence we have two books that are competing for our attention. Maitland's accounts of her own experiences are fine and moving, but she intersperses these with her sprawling discourse on the culture of silence. Maitland loves quiet, but gives her readers no peace for she is endlessly qualifying her own, often moving, experiences with those of others. There's nothing wrong with setting out to explore others' experiences of silence, but she's actually a not a great guide, seemingly including everything she happened upon in her research, when had she cut the book by 100 pages it would have been much better for it.

What really frustrated me about A Book of Silence is that so many passages are exceptionally well written and Maitland's skills as a writer are abundantly obvious. She writes of her admiration for the mountaineer and author, Joe Simpson, and yet in many ways her accounts of the silences of Skye and Galloway are as evocative as Simpson's works, many of which are considered modern classics. What we want is more of this, more of the author, and less of rambling, sprawling pseudo-academic discourse on silence.

Because she seems so preoccupied with others' accounts she also leaves the reader asking many questions: How did the break up of her marriage (which is skirted over) impact on her search for silence? What did her children make of her life choices?
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
4.0 out of 5 stars Thoroughly Worth Reading
A reflective book that non-intrusively hands seeds of encouragement to the socialite and hermit alike. Read more
Published 1 day ago by Daniel Rozman
5.0 out of 5 stars Enjoy the silence
Sara Maitland has spent a good few years now exploring the nature of silence, and this is her summary of her findings so far. Read more
Published 2 months ago by Roger Whittaker
5.0 out of 5 stars Silence!
An interesting book which was very readable. Very powerful about the effects of silence. I realised how I fill my time in anything but silence and the book encourages a... Read more
Published 2 months ago by copsham
4.0 out of 5 stars A travelogue along the path of silence
This book chronicles the author and journalist Sara Maitland's journey into deepening silence, and to quite a large degree, distancing herself from the hustle and bustle of... Read more
Published 3 months ago by Michael
3.0 out of 5 stars Personal experience backed by much information
This book is summed up by the title. Sarah Maitland is developing a style of life which takes into each day periods of silence. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Richard K Sledge
5.0 out of 5 stars A book about silence?
At a time where we seem to be bombarded with all kinds of noise, this is a really interesting account of the author's experience of living in silent mode. Read more
Published 4 months ago by JJ
3.0 out of 5 stars A bit waffly
The author gives a lot of information,some of which is interesting, but doesn't always draw conclusions from it. Read more
Published 4 months ago by Bookthrower
4.0 out of 5 stars a well researched exploration of silence
The book wasn't quite what I expected but interesting nonetheless - exploring the experience of silence from human voices of solo sailors and arctic explorers, the total soundless... Read more
Published 6 months ago by Gillian
4.0 out of 5 stars a guide into unfamiliaer territory
When I knew Sarah, she couldn't stop talking. What a change. A thorough exploration of life as a virtual hermit living in the remote countryside with all its scary bits and its... Read more
Published 11 months ago by Mr. D. P. Jay
5.0 out of 5 stars SSSh, there's more to silence than you think!
As someone who, like the author, has experienced an increasing desire for silence as I get older, I found this book fascinating. Read more
Published 11 months ago by Alison Clark
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