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When I Was a Child I Read Books

3.88  ·  Rating Details ·  1,847 Ratings  ·  365 Reviews
Since the 1981 publication of Marilynne Robinson’s novel, Housekeeping—a stunning debut that was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize—she has built a sterling reputation not only as a writer of sharp, subtly moving prose, but also as a rigorous thinker and incisive essayist. Her compelling and demanding collection The Death of Adam—in which she reflected on her Presbyterian u
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Hardcover, 224 pages
Published March 13th 2012 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux (first published January 1st 2012)
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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
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Joel
May 25, 2012 Joel rated it it was amazing
Shelves: books-bought
I don't mean to be overdramatic, but each book I read by Marilynne Robinson gives me slightly more hope that we are not doomed. This book, like much of her work, is ultimately about taking human experience -- that is, the history of ourselves and our institutions of culture, religion, politics, education, and so on --seriously when we consider what and who we are.
Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance
Apr 22, 2012 Deb (Readerbuzz) Nance rated it really liked it
I’ll go ahead and say it: Marilynne Robinson is too smart for me. I can be a lazy reader, seeking the quick answer, the easy answer.

This is not a book for lazy readers. It is not a book for simple readers.

Robinson is thoughtful and compassionate and deep. She sees past the first obvious answer and the second obvious answer and offers explanations that are unexpected and which embrace all we bring to a book. She is spiritual without being dogmatic and she is kind without leaving truth behind.

A b
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tee
Mar 02, 2012 tee marked it as to-read
Shelves: to-buy-and-read
I want to read this because apparently it's going to contain lines like these:

"Say that we are a puff of warm breath in a very cold universe. By this kind of reckoning we are either immeasurably insignificant, or we are incalculably precious and interesting. I tend toward the second view. Scarcity is said to create value, after all."

Sold!
Thing Two
As you can probably tell from the number of times I posted interesting thoughts from these essays, I loved this collection! I read Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and was disappointed, not because of what he was arguing, but by the lack of research he presented with his argument. He seemed to want to say, "I'm Christopher Hitchens and here's what I think ..." and that was that. Marilynne Robinson is polar opposite from Hitchens, not only in beliefs, but i ...more
LindaJ^
Jan 10, 2017 LindaJ^ rated it really liked it
First a caveat -- my rating is based on the 8 of the 10 essays that I understood. The first -- Freedom of Thought -- I found the most challenging and will have to read it again in order to figure out what the point is. The last -- Cosmology -- did not hang together for me. I think I got the point -- that science has not replaced God in understanding human nature -- but would have to read it again to follow the argument.

The other 8 essays I found very interesting and thought they provided much f
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David
Mar 25, 2013 David rated it did not like it
Sometimes I dislike a book and can't imagine anyone else liking it. This is not such a book. You might like it, but I didn't. I like essays, and her topics (mostly religion, intellectual history, American society/culture) are important and interesting. She teaches at U. Iowa writers' workshop, and I'm open to the possibility that I'm missing something about her writing, but whatever; i didn't care for it. Trying to analyze a little more deeply why not.....

here's a typical excerpt, re John Shelby
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Ty Melgren
Jul 01, 2012 Ty Melgren rated it really liked it
"I would say, for the moment, that community, at least community larger than the immediate family, consists very largely of imaginative love for people we do not know or whom we know very slightly. This thesis may be influenced by the fact that I have spent literal years of my life lovingly absorbed in the thoughts and perceptions of - who knows it better than I? - people who do not exist. And, just as writers are engrossed in the making of them, readers are profoundly moved and also influenced ...more
John
Oct 27, 2014 John rated it really liked it
A GR friend of mine, Kristen, wrote a review of this book that led me to read it. I'm about halfway through now and my attitude toward it (in terms of stars) has ranged from 2 to 5, settling for the moment at 4.

As I mentioned in a comment under Kristen's review, I find Robinson's writing a bit dense. I consider this my fault, pretty much a consequence of my vocabulary and literary background being less robust than Robinson's. The obvious solution to this problem is for me to read the book with d
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Jane
May 16, 2012 Jane rated it it was ok
Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, "Housekeeping", was published in 1980, and she has written two further novels: "Gilead", which won the 2005 Pulitzer Prize, and Home, which won the Orange Prize in 2009. "Gilead" and "Home" contain many positive values, so "When I was a child I read books", a collection of essays, was met with anticipation and will likely arouse the interest of her readership.

Robinson has the convinced written style of an essayist. She comments on present-day North American soci
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Carly
Dec 20, 2014 Carly rated it it was ok
There's no doubt that Robinson is bright, and thoughtful. And well-read. But sometimes I think when readers feel intimidated by an author's intellect, they say "Great! Amazing! Insightful!" with the hope that others will not notice how deeply confused they are. After all, if the reader is confused by something, and there are big words present in the text, that reader often feels deeply ashamed at not having "got it" and lays on the praise extra thick in hopes of not being asked to comment furthe ...more
Brinley
Apr 12, 2012 Brinley rated it it was amazing
I have heard many a recommendation for Robinson's book "Housekeeping", yet for one reason or another I never had an interest, & have placed it low on my list of other books to read. Lately all my interest is in poetry and non-fiction; fiction has held a place in my heart in times past, but it seemed as though I had "moved past" the unreal, didn't have time for it. (Although you know, reality and shit, what is it really? Everything's a fiction in one sense, I get it.) Anyway when I found out ...more
Jaime
Oct 07, 2013 Jaime rated it really liked it
As I write this review, I am purposely not allowing myself to go back and look at all that I underlined. There is no shortage of brilliant sentences to share, but it strikes me as more important to consider what I have retained without the assistance of the text.

So.

Listen, the lovely thing about this book of essays is that it nails so many things in our culture so concisely and so intelligently that it will make like-minded readers feel less alone in this world.

Although at times I felt that the
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Joye
Jan 03, 2012 Joye rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
Shelves: essays
What an amazing, thoughtful, intelligent, direct writer!! I was so impressed with the thought put into her various essays/arguments. She has some strong opinions and backs them up with powerful well thought out verbal stands. She is obviously well read and informed and is a compassionate person concerned about the current state of affairs of the human race. I recommended this book to everyone, but take it slowly!
Dean Anderson
Jul 18, 2012 Dean Anderson rated it liked it
It’s tempting to say that as an essayist, Marilynne Robinson is a great novelist. Of course, no matter what the first clause of the sentence is…Robinson would still be a great novelist. Her 2004 novel, “Gilead” won the Pulitzer and the National Book Award and sold a whole lot of copies. And I liked it, a lot. 1980’s “Housekeeping” and 2008’s “Home” are also great works of fiction.
Some of the essays in this collection are bring history, theology and insight together and allow the reader (at least
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BHodges
Jul 06, 2015 BHodges rated it liked it
3 1/2, really, but it ranks this low because it was one of the weaker of Robinson's outstanding books in my very subjective view. Out of ten essays I loved 2 and liked 4 more, the other 4 were either so-so or uninteresting/weave-y. It's a collection of pieces exploring contemporary politics, religion, and thought about human nature and our place in the cosmos, with some asides about her background, writing, and teaching. She's definitely not satisfied with the status quo in today's politics, edu ...more
Sophy Kohler
Reviewed for Business Day WANTED: Better known for her novels, among them award-winners such as Housekeeping and Gilead, Marilynne Robinson tackles the universe, humanity and everything else besides in her newest and most earnest essay collection, When I Was a Child I Read Books.

While niche readers like the Archbishop of Canterbury have declared these pieces to be “pure gold”, they make for some truly laborious reading, that is, for those of us less aroused by phrases like “Austerity as Ideolog
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Buz Trevor
Aug 04, 2013 Buz Trevor rated it it was ok
I Had been recommended this book. I am an atheist but I do not like some of the anti theological polemic by people like Christopher Hitchens. The friend who recommended the book said that I would find Marylynne Robinson's essays to be an expression of what a thoughtful Christian brought to the world. I guess you would say a humanistic approach.

I found the essays frustrating much of the time. The style consists of complex sentences wherein I sometimes lost the thread of the argument.

The book wou
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Bruce
Jul 21, 2013 Bruce rated it it was amazing
Every book by Marilynne Robinson is an education. You get to learn, in depth, about one or more subjects (several in this book of essays) and you get to learn more about effective communication from one of the best prose writers of the past two centuries (at least).

You can go into this book thinking that humans are creatures of habit who live lives without meaning and purpose, and come out the other side appreciating that we are indeed made in the image of god, even if we don't fully agree that
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Roy Kesey
Dec 29, 2013 Roy Kesey rated it it was ok
Marilynne Robinson has written three of the great novels of the last forty years. Her first novel, Housekeeping, is on my Indispensables shelf with Jesus' Son, Invisible Cities, Rayuela, At Swim-Two-Birds, et al. So it gives me little pleasure to write about When I Was a Child I Read Books--even less than it gave me to read it.

Starting with what is surely one of the worst titles in titular history.

What else. The tone ranges from arrogant to airless (with rare glints of a grim sort of academicky
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♥ Ibrahim ♥
Oct 15, 2014 ♥ Ibrahim ♥ rated it did not like it
Shelves: literature
I expected to read a sweet story of her life since the book says "when I was a child…." but no. These were essays that I tried to so hard to make sense out of. It wasn't easy read. On page 6, she says, for instance, that William Tyndale created one of the undoubted masterpieces of the English language when he provided much of the most beautiful language in what is called by us the King James Bible. First, why isn't the style smoother? why the "in what is called by us …blah blah"? Then she adds, ...more
Kristi Mair
Jan 20, 2015 Kristi Mair rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
This book is exceptional.

Here are a few reasons why I recommended this book to a friend:


Reason 1: She writes beautifully, imaginatively, in an engaging way and most lucidly.
Reason 2: This book is a compilation of essays on formative subjects such as community, imagination, politics, religion and tribalism, to name but a few. She explores these concepts through the lens of English literature, morality and being. For this reason, her writing is suffused with careful analysis of culture and it's a
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Adam
Sep 10, 2014 Adam rated it really liked it
It's weird, reading Robinson as a Calvinist. Some of her defense of our tradition includes ideas I'd reject, but I'm glad to admit her broader arguments. For instance, despite my stronger emphasis on the distinction between law and Gospel, it's a pleasure to feel so at home in her argument for Calvin's and Moses' liberality. I feel similarly about her humanism -- she's more optimistic than I am (I probably have that "...“liberal” or “progressive” tendency—both words in quotes—to give the past aw ...more
Justin Evans
Mar 25, 2012 Justin Evans rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
Robinson now has three novels and four books of non-fiction to her name; she might end up as the E. M. Forster of the early twenty-first century (I consider that a great compliment). Thankfully this book of essays is a step up from Absence of Mind, although not quite up to the quality of Death of Adam. WIWACIRB, hereafter WIW, is a much easier read than DoA, but that's not necessarily a good thing- much of the pleasure of her first book of essays came from the prose, which did a nice job remindi ...more
Nathan Marone
I did not read this book. I listened to Marilynne Robinson read it. That distinction is important to me, because Robinson's voice, so gentle and yet unwavering, is a source of great comfort to me. It is not just the timber of her voice, but the content of her words that I fine incredibly reassuring. The experience of listening to her is one of wonder.

The title may dupe you into thinking that this is a memoir of sorts, sweetly looking back at Robinson's Idaho upbringing as she romantically read
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Kris
Apr 17, 2015 Kris rated it liked it
A long, mostly unorganized lecture that's intelligent and somewhat entertaining.

I went into this book expecting it to be about books, or at least children and education. But instead I got a hodgepodge of various musings on any topic under the sun. She writes about American individualism, academia, slavery, the human spirit, the nature of the universe, mixes together history and theology, and critiques various people's ideas and their writings.

Worth the read but wouldn't really recommend it. Abou
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David
Nov 14, 2013 David rated it really liked it
(Update - Reread in March, 2017)
I love libraries. I get a lot of books out of libraries. But I've learned that the best books to utilize libraries for are fiction and history. If it is anything philosophical or theological, something I am going to want to read slowly and mark up with a pen, it needs a place on my bookshelf. I read this book a few years ago and I loved it (see review below). Yet it did not stick. I did not mark it up (since it was a library book!). I walked away feeling like I ha
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Judy
Apr 24, 2017 Judy rated it really liked it
I love essays and Marilynne Robinson's are some of the best. Some of her essays are intensely personal and others deal with more general issues such as faith, the relationship between science and religion, social justice, and the triumph of self-interest in current American society. Reading these essays is a welcome reminder of why it's important to occasionally turn-off social media, opt out of watching the talking heads on television, and reach out to the people in the community around us.
Aeisele
Jul 07, 2012 Aeisele rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays
I love Marilynne Robinson. Ever since I met Ruthie and Sylvie in "Housekeeping," and the Rev. Ames and Jack Boughton in both "Gilead" and "Home" (and of course Glory in that latter - an amazing character) I've been captured by her prose, by her meditations on what life is all about.
Her essays are just as powerful as her novels, from her book ostensibly about nuclear power in England, "Mother Country" (it's really about politics and economics, or how a culture can use it's experts to dispropriat
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Kristen
Oct 01, 2014 Kristen rated it it was amazing
My favorite of this collection of essays was "Freedom of Thought." It gave me a real interest in seeking out some ancient literature--a genre which has never before interested me. Virgil's Aeneid and the Epic of Gilgamesh, in particular, and maybe City of God...I'd like to read now. Creating a new curiosity is always a good thing.

I respect Robinson's careful style---she has a very direct and absorbing feeling about her as a narrator.

Just one of the many sections I enjoyed:

"Religious experienc
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Megan
Dec 09, 2014 Megan rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is that rare breed, a thoughtful book by a Christian writer; too often books by Christian writers turn into "Christian books," and lose the "thoughtful" part. As a woman of faith myself, I share most of her assumptions without necessarily sharing her conclusions; this makes her writing particularly challenging and thought-provoking. Also, Robinson regularly calls cultural assumptions, from several different "corners" of culture, into question. (One such assumption is that human beings are m ...more
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  • The Fun Stuff: And Other Essays
  • My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer
  • The Way of Ignorance and Other Essays
  • For the Time Being
  • At Large and at Small: Familiar Essays
  • Alibis: Essays on Elsewhere
  • The Pleasures of Reading in an Age of Distraction
  • Forty-One False Starts: Essays on Artists and Writers
  • Signposts in a Strange Land: Essays
  • The Lifespan of a Fact
  • Changing My Mind: Occasional Essays
  • Otherwise Known as the Human Condition: Selected Essays and Reviews
  • What Light Can Do: Essays on Art, Imagination, and the Natural World
  • One for the Books
  • Magic Hours: Essays on Creators and Creation
  • The Liberal Imagination: Essays on Literature and Society
  • Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life
  • This Is Running for Your Life: Essays
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Her 1980 novel, Housekeeping, won a Hemingway Foundation/PEN Award for best first novel and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.

Her second novel, Gilead, was acclaimed by critics and received the 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction, the 2004 National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction, and the 2005 Ambassador Book Award.

Her third novel, Home, was published in 2008 and was nominated f
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“I experience religious dread whenever I find myself thinking that I know the limits of God’s grace, since I am utterly certain it exceeds any imagination a human being might have of it. God does, after all, so love the world.” 33 likes
“I love the writers of my thousand books. It pleases me to think how astonished old Homer, whoever he was, would be to find his epics on the shelf of such an unimaginable being as myself, in the middle of an unrumored continent. I love the large minority of the writers on my shelves who have struggled with words and thoughts and, by my lights, have lost the struggle. All together they are my community, the creators of the very idea of books, poetry, and extended narratives, and of the amazing human conversation that has taken place across the millennia, through weal and woe, over the heads of interest and utility.” 20 likes
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