The Monday Book: WHERE THE MOON ISN’T by Nathan Filer

moonPart of the fun of the Monday book is how a volume reaches me. We can admit that acquisition sets up expectation –a friend you admire recommends a book, and you track it down. You find an intriguing title in the bargain section of a second-hand shop, and you think, “Nothing to lose.” How you get the book starts you down the path.

So I knew I was in for something good when my editor, Nichole, mailed me this one with the single comment: “This book is very close to my heart.” (She edited the American version.)

Published in the UK as Shock of the Fall, this is a book about mental and physical illness. Matt’s brother, a physically handicapped lad, dies tragically, and it’s pretty much Matt’s accidental fault. Matt loses himself, as does his mom, but they cope and recover in different ways.

Matt’s voice is so clear, his character so well drawn, that I found myself in the happy position of looking forward to bedtime each night, so I could see what happened to the poor kid next.

Nathan Filer’s background as a psychiatric nurse really shows in his writing; he knows whereof he speaks. In fact, the book recently won what used to be called the Whitbread Prize (now Costa) in the UK–which is a BIIIIIIG good thing–and one of the repeated phrases of the judges was how amazingly “sure-footed” the writing is for a first-time novelist.

“Sure-footed” encapsulates what captured me about Moon. You totally believe in Matt as a person, have known people like him, but also get glimpses into what it must be like to realize you have a mental illness, to be self-aware and intelligent about it, and yet still be sick. Brilliant, this book was, at making the strange normal and the normal strange.

Just so you know, Nichole has recommended books to me in the past that I didn’t like, so my glowing review is not because she’s our shared editor. As witness, I present the fuzzy picture at the top of this post. That dark blue book is Where the Moon Isn’t. I took it with me on a recent trip to DC while promoting Little Bookstore (the fuzzy beige book below Moon). See that cat in the suitcase? (Yeah, the fuzzy white thing in the middle.) That’s Owen Meany, named for a book Nichole recommended highly in fairly authoritative terms. I hated A Prayer for Owen Meany, and still do. (Heck, call that a plot?)

So that cat is the only way Owen Meany will ever grace my personal bookshelf, Nichole, but you were right about Moon; it will stay in my heart and mind for a long time.


Jack’s guest blog today is on the soothing powers of music and bookstores.

I’m always struck by how quickly the bookstore makes a space for people, embracing, accommodating, enfolding, even harmonizing….

Today I had a phone call from my old and dear friend, Greg Fields – one of the folk I met when I first visited Appalachia back around 1991, long before I ever dreamed of being a permanent resident.

Greg was calling to see if I’d be in the bookstore today as he wanted to visit. He had been once before, not too long after we opened, but not since, and Wendy and I have been traveling a fair bit lately. We’ve actually missed the peace and enfolding embrace of our shop, ourselves.

An excellent singer, Greg is a banjoist and guitarist specializing in old-time and bluegrass; he teaches music at ETSU in Johnson City TN. When we first met he got intrigued with my Scots songs and my finger-picking guitar style; each time we’ve met since then (all too rarely) I find his repertoire has more Scots songs in it. He has a sympathetic approach to these songs, not attempting a false Scots accent and choosing those that ‘chimed’ with his own culture.

When Greg arrived today, everything else (read: all the projects and cleaning in the bookstore that had accumulated while Wendy and I were in New York City for a week) went on the back-burner for a few hours as we caught up and exchanged our latest guitar licks and songs. It was delightful to start singing an old Scots song and suddenly hear a bottle-neck second guitar part harmonizing along, just as it was equally wonderful to play a second guitar part to Greg’s fine rendition of ‘Trouble in Mind’!

But this is how the bookstore works: back burner or no, it rumbles forward. As we were playing and singing, one of our regulars arrived. He is mentioned in Wendy’s book, a man with schizophrenia fixated on guitars. He has had many guitar lessons from me over the years here in the bookstore. As he sat down with a cup of coffee and began quietly listening, the expression on his face turned to pure bliss.

No trouble in mind…..

So an old friend I rarely see brought a very special gift to another friend I sometimes feel guilty about not paying enough attention too on the many times I see him. And the bookstore offers the space to make them each feel important, even as their friendship makes me feel important to them. Now that’s a real gift!