Silence and Solitude – Recommended Reading

Silence and Solitude – Recommended Reading

Following here, reading suggestions compiled from friends and colleagues, along with suggested readings for those interested in deepening their experience of solitude and silence. An evolving list; suggestions invited. 

Readings for a time of quarantine

My nominee first: Carson McCullers’s The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter, a novel that somehow, in so vividly portraying the sorrow of the human condition, reaffirms its beauty.

From others:

Paul Quenon, Trappist monk: Letters, Emily Dickinson, “funny, poetic, accessible.”

Lisa Rappoport, poet, bookmaker: Le Grand Meaulnes, Alain-Fournier. “Its mysterious haunting air of magic and loss never lessens.”

Jane Hirshfield, poet: The Plague, Albert Camus.

Nancy Derry, gardener, artist: A Fan’s Notes, Frederick Exley.

Pamela Uschuk, poet and editor: The Idiot, Fyodor Dostoyevsky, “a blend of philosophical wanderings with sensuality.”

Ivelisse Rodriguez, author: Skin, Racquel Goodison, “to be savored because of the stunning writing on every page.”

Norman Fischer, poet and Zen Buddhist priest: Vimalakirti Sutra, translated by Robert Thurman, “an extravagant and funny Buddhist scripture about ineffability.”

Scott Neeley, architect: Moby Dick, Herman Melville, “an expansive work of art filled with worlds I didn’t much understand the first time around.”

Deidre Dawson, literature professor emerita: The Lord of the Rings, R.R. Tolkien, “a suspenseful and beautifully written epic celebrating the power of solidarity, friendship, perseverance, diversity and mercy to overcome tyranny.”

Rabih Alameddine, novelist: Leaves of Grass, Walt Whitman,because I would like to remember a time when this country inspired me.”

Cynthia Hogue, poet: Middlemarch, George Eliot.

Steve Keplinger, radical priest: A Sand County Almanac, Aldo Leopold, “articulating a land ethic before anyone else.”

Philip Breeden, diplomat: The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Mark Twain.

William Zimmerman, artist: The Vivisector, Patrick White.

Barbara Kingsolver, author and activist: The God of Small Things, Arundhati Roy.

Martha Young, rural environmental activist: All the Light You Cannot See, Anthony Doerr, “I want to study how the author constructed the book, and the pleasure of rereading such a good story.”

Joe Melillo, past executive producer, Brooklyn Academy of Music: War and Peace, Leo Tolstoy.


Solitude and Silence recommended reading list

A highly idiosyncratic and not at all exhaustive list of titles that I’ve found enriching and influential. Also see the bibliography compiled in the back pages of my book, Keeping Faith: A Skeptic’s Journey among Christian and Buddhist Monks.


Albert Woodfox, Solitary

Pam Houston, Deep Creek

Stephen Batchelor, The Art of Solitude

Lidia Yuknavitch, A Misfit’s Manifesto

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Solitude of Self

Thomas Merton, Notes toward a Philosophy of Solitude

                             The Asians Journals

                             New Seeds of Contemplation

Ralph Waldo Emerson, Essays

Henry David Thoreau, Walden

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil

                                    Ecce Homo

Soren Kierkegaaard, Fear and Trembling

                                   Works of Love

Judith Valente and Paul Quenon, The Art of Pausing

Boethius, Consolations of Philosophy

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Sr. Benedicta Ward, Harlots of the Desert

Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Journey

Bashō, The Narrow Road to the Deep North

Riane Eisler, The Chalice and the Blade: Our History, Our Future

The Cloud of Unknowing, anonymous



Brad Watson, Miss Jane

Barbara Kingsolver, The Lacuna

Fenton Johnson, The Man Who Loved Birds

Gabriel Garcia Marquez, A Hundred Years of Solitude

Olga Tokarczuk, Drive Your Plow over the Bones of the Dead

Rabih Alameddine, An Unnecessary Woman

Carson McCullers, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter

Eudora Welty, The Complete Stories

                        One Writer’s Beginnings

Muriel Spark, The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie

The New Testament (Oxford Revised edition)

The Hebrew Bible, especially the books of Exodus, Isaiah, Esther, Daniel, Amos

Herman Melville, Moby Dick



The poetry of Rumi

The poetry of Amy Clampitt

The poetry of Mary Oliver

All of Emily Dickinson, including Letters

All of Walt Whitman, poetry and prose

Paul Quenon, Unquiet Vigil

                        Amounting to Nothing

The poetry of Langston Hughes

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