Ever since the 1981 publication of her stunning debut, Housekeeping, Marilynne Robinson has built a sterling reputation as a writer of sharp, subtly moving prose, not only as a major American novelist (her second novel, Gilead, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize) but also a rigorous thinker and incisive essayist. Her compelling and demanding collection The Death of Adam—in which she reflected on her Presbyterian upbringing, investigated the roots of Midwestern abolitionism, and mounted a memorable defense of Calvinism—is respected as a classic of the genre, praised by Doris Lessing as “a useful antidote to the increasingly crude and slogan-loving culture we inhabit.” In When I Was a Child I Read Books she returns to and expands upon the themes which have preoccupied her work with renewed vigor.
In “Austerity as Ideology,” she tackles the global debt crisis, and the charged political and social political climate in this country that makes finding a solution to our financial troubles so challengin. In “Open Thy Hand Wide” she searches out the deeply embedded role of generosity in Christian faith. And in “When I Was a Child,” one of her most personal essays to date, an account of her childhood in Idaho becomes an exploration of individualism and the myth of the American West. Clear-eyed and forceful as ever, Robinson demonstrates once again why she is regarded as one of our essential writers.
About Marilynne Robinson
Marilynne Robinson is the author of the novels Housekeeping (FSG, 1981), Gilead(FSG, 2004), winner of the Pulitzer Prize, and Home (FSG, 2008), and three books of nonfiction, Mother Country (FSG, 1989), The Death of Adam (1998) and Absence of Mind (2010). She teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.
Robinson (Iowa Writers’ Workshop; Home, 2008, etc.) begins with some quotations from Whitman about democracy, then blasts the contentious, mean-spirited political climate. Although she discusses writers, her reading and her life, one subject colors her pages with passion: religion. Although she establishes early (and often) her political liberalism, she is an unashamed Christian, an intellectual who proudly asserts her credentials of faith and defends her beliefs against both the crudities of contemporary culture and the assaults of the popular atheists (Dawkins, Hitchens et al.). Although she tries hard to keep a balanced view (she admits the cruelties of Christians over the centuries; she acknowledges the claims of other faiths and the truths of science), she returns again and again to her belief in the wisdom of the scriptures—and defends most thoroughly the Old Testament and its God. She argues that the Old Testament has had a bad rap lately, with critics of all sorts alluding to its vengeful, sanguinary deity. So Robinson offers a counterbalance, pointing to Mosaic laws that show compassion for the impoverished and the otherwise weak; she quotes chapter and verse to support her view—though she surely realizes (better than most writers) that one may also visit Leviticus and find verses that present a much harsher picture. Robinson is a splendid writer, no question—erudite, often wise and slyly humorous (there is a clever allusion to the birther nonsense in a passage about Noah Webster). – Kirkus Reviews
Artful, American Essays From ‘When I Was A Child’
NPR Book Review – March 11, 2012 (Excerpt)
In her new collection of essays, novelist Marilynne Robinson writes: “I find that the hardest work in the world — it may in fact be impossible — is to persuade Easterners that growing up in the West is not intellectually crippling.”
Robinson grew up in Idaho and has lived in Massachusetts for 20 years. In her essay collection When I Was a Child I Read Books, Robinson takes on misconceptions of the American West, the generosity of Christian faith, and the state of the global economy.
Robinson, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel Gilead,speaks with NPR’s Linda Wertheimer about the importance of storytelling. [Read the full article...]
Her Calling - Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’
The New York Times Book Review – April 20, 2012 (Excerpt)
In her celebrated novels, “Housekeeping” (1981), “Gilead” (2004) and “Home” (2008), Marilynne Robinson gives us “isolated towns and single houses” where the afternoon sun draws “the damp out of the grass and . . . the smell of sour old sap out of the boards on the porch floor.” It is a laconic world where adults conserve “syllables as if to conserve breath” while children brave an “outsized landscape” by day and seek shelter by night even as they long to break away from the “regime of small kindnesses” that makes home both comforting and confining.
Robinson grew up in Idaho and now lives in Iowa — places where, as she puts it in her new collection of personal and critical essays, “When I Was a Child I Read Books,” “ ‘lonesome’ is a word with strongly positive connotations.” In her lexicon, lonesomeness means the opposite of isolation. It envelops the mind and heart in unsullied nature, allowing focused apprehension of the miracle of creation, as when she remembers kneeling alone as a child “by a creek that spilled and pooled among rocks and fallen trees with the unspeakably tender growth of small trees already sprouting from their backs, and thinking, there is only one thing wrong here, which is my own presence, and that is the slightest imaginable intrusion — feeling that my solitude, my loneliness, made me almost acceptable in so sacred a place.”
One inference to be drawn from Robinson’s essays is that her novels contain a good deal of self-portraiture. When she was young, she seems to have been a prairie version of one of J. D. Salinger’s Glass children — except that rather than urbanity, her precociousness took the form of piety. “I looked to Galilee for meaning,” she tells us, “and to Spokane for orthodonture.” Only such a reverent child could have felt, as Ruth, the narrator of “Housekeeping,” feels when the boat she’s in seems about to capsize, that “it was the order of the world that the shell should fall away and that I, the nub, the sleeping germ, should swell and expand.” This kind of high-mindedness can appear a little chastising to those of us who would have worried about drowning. [Read the full article...]
Marilynne Robinson’s ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’: Essays on faith, reading
The Washington Post Book Review – May 14, 2012 (Excerpt)
If there is any fear that the fast-moving world of the Internet and the iPhone has destroyed our powers of concentration, or our ability to think lucidly and beautifully, or to create surprising and powerful designs from philosophical concerns, that fear will be put to rest by Marilynne Robinson’s new book of elegant essays.
The essay form provides us with a place to muse, question and consider. It’s both deeply intimate and openly public, a place for the most private ponderings and a platform from which to thunder forth polemics.
Robinson’s voice is thoughtful and intimate, but she does some thundering, too, on ancient, complex and important subjects, including our notions of God, public morality, generosity and frugality. She considers what books might mean to us, what loneliness is and how it might strengthen us. She asks, most fundamentally, “What are we, after all, we human beings?”
Robinson draws on a broad range of writers and thinkers, from Moses and Jesus, Calvin and Jonathan Edwards, Poe and Whitman, as well as the contemporary theologians Jack Miles and Bishop John Shelby Spong. [Read the full article...]
Book review: ‘When I Was a Child I Read Books’ by Marilynne Robinson
The Chicago Tribune Book Review – July 1, 2012 (Excerpt)
Marilynne Robinson, the Pulitzer-winning novelist, is a confounding writer in today’s political alignment. Her new essay collection, “When I Was a Child I Read Books,” is — despite the sentimentality of its title — fundamentally a leftist political manifesto and lament for America’s loss of faith in government. Yet it grants a central argument of many religious conservatives — that America’s virtues are indeed steeped in biblical thought.
“When I Was A Child” is a broadside defense of literature and classical liberalism that demands we include the unfashionable Old Testament as a foundation of both. Through rigorous citation and deep personal reflection, Robinson builds an excellent case. New Atheists like Sam Harris and medieval nostalgists like Rick Santorum would each find occasions for garment-rending in this collection.
Yet her contrarian instincts are better at challenging assumptions about biblical and American values than in diagnosing more terrestrial problems. If Christianity’s founding documents really make such a profound argument for equality and kindness, then why do so many Christians get it wrong in her view? And why do those Christians seem to have such an outsized power in America’s politics? [Read the full article...]
THE BLEEDING HILLS A Novel by Wilfried F. Voss
I have fought a good fight,
I have finished my course,
I have kept the faith. - 2 Timothy iv. 7
The Irish War is officially a part of history, but not for Finnean Whelan, an IRA veteran of almost 40 years. British Intelligence has produced evidence that he is the mastermind behind a conspiracy to assassinate the First Minister of Northern Ireland. For Whelan this is not only a mission of revenge, but marks the beginning of a journey into the past and the return to the one true love: Ireland. [More...]
We are the only country that makes guns, including military-style assault weapons, available to anyone who wants to buy them. This is not freedom. It is a tyranny of death and destruction — a tyranny of which the National Rifle Association is proud. The Washington Post
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