The Quiet Book That Ended My Reading Rut

03/25/2015 09:08 am ET | Updated May 25, 2015

By Nicholas Elliot | Off the Shelf


Every now and then, I get in a reading rut. I start a book and put it down, pick up something different only to find that I'm just not feeling that one, either. Sometimes I'll switch over to magazines for the week or binge-watch TV, deciding that I need a break from reading altogether. Usually, after a little time goes by, I'll start back up where I left off and continue on.

Although I like to read books of various genres--adult and YA fiction, children's books, and memoirs in particular--I usually come across books one of only two ways. The first is through work. I work in publishing, so reading new and upcoming books is one of the advantages to my job. Oftentimes these books are being lauded as the next big thing. The second is by word of mouth. Even the books I pick up at bookstores are generally those displayed at the front of the store.

But what I've realized is that nearly every book I read is a book that's getting a lot of buzz. Amy Poehler's Yes Please, for instance, is waiting on my nightstand right now, as is All the Light We Cannot See, Anthony Doerr's critically acclaimed bestseller. I'm not reading the same types of books, but I'm reading loud books. By that, I mean books that are part of the mainstream pop-culture landscape.

But a few months ago, a colleague and friend, a real reader, handed me a different type of book, a quiet book: Glaciers by Alexis M. Smith. The novel takes place over the course of a few days in the life of Isabel, a reserved young woman with a crush on her coworker, an Iraq war vet named Spoke. We learn about Isabel through her contemplation of the past and flashbacks to her childhood, through her love of vintage relics, her dreams of visiting cities she's never been, and her job of salvaging damaged books at the library. Throughout the course of the short novel, we get a glimpse of her story, both past and present, and how it intertwines with Spoke's.

Like the antiques Isabel treasures, Smith's writing is enchanting. She is a clear and honest writer, and Glaciers is full of smart and subtle observations like this: "It's a strange product of infatuation, she thinks. To want to tell someone about mundane things. The awareness of another person suddenly sharpens your senses, so that the little things come into focus and the world seems more beautiful and complicated."

Glaciers is not loud. It is quiet. The story is not plot-heavy but rich with emotional depth. I was quickly engrossed by Isabel's place in the world. Just as she is fascinated with stories of the past and stories of fiction, I wanted to know what her story would be.

Glaciers has all the things I love about reading: an engaging story, beautiful writing, and memorable characters. Isabel's story broke the reading slump I was in because it's different from all the other books out there in one particular way: it's wholly unique, a hidden gem.

So like Isabel does as she shops for vintage pieces with stories of their own, wander through the dimly lit aisles of a bookstore, discover a book that's been collecting dust at the library, browse the bookshelves of a friend, and jump into something unfamiliar the next time you hit a reading rut.

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