Ali M.'s Reviews > When I Was a Child I Read Books

When I Was a Child I Read Books by Marilynne Robinson
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's review
Dec 31, 2011

it was amazing
bookshelves: soul-food, brain-food
Read from April 10 to June 17, 2012 , read count: 1

Reasons I love Marilynne Robinson:

1. Her tenacity in criticizing criticism. Most of her essays, both here and in The Death of Adam: Essays on Modern Thought, cite commentaries and dissertations on historical figures, eras, and trends that most of us have already made up our minds about. But Marilynne is never content to take popular consensus at face value; she clearly delineates where a critic's reason (and therefore their authority) breaks down, always on her guard against oversimplified, revisionist takes on history. Watching her perform this systematic breakdown is a beautiful thing. It never gets old.

2. The density of her prose. When Marilynne writes non-fiction, her sentences are not built for ease of consumption; they are built to distill as much meaning as possible in as few words as possible. This woman has an immensely commanding voice as an essayist... it's such an interesting contrast to her voice as a novelist, which is graceful and poetic.

3. She embraces the inherent complexity of humanity and the world. As she says in the book's final essay, "Cosmology":
We have not escaped, nor have we in any sense diminished, the mystery of our existence. We have only rejected any language that would seem to acknowledge it.

Anyone who tries to shove life as we know it inside a rigid ideology gets thoroughly rebuked by Marilynne. That's a running theme in this collection of essays: the danger of trying to assert any ideology as a complete explanation of ourselves.

Another great summary of this theme comes from the titular essay, "When I Was a Child":
When I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to say that for a moment I see another human being clearly.

4. She calls culture the "corset of civilization." I love that so much. I'm filing it away for future use.

5. Her wit. Blink and you'll miss it, but it's there. Example:
I have never heard anyone speculate on the origins and function of irony, but I can say with confidence that it is only a little less pervasive in our universe than carbon.

6. She wrote Gilead. Words cannot express how I feel about that book. I've put off reading Home for so long, just because of how much I love Gilead with all my tiny, beating heart.

This new essay collection confirms what I already knew: Marilynne Robinson is pretty much without peer on my list of favorite living writers (and thinkers).

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Quotes Ali Liked

Marilynne Robinson
“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.”
Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books

Reading Progress

06/12 page 123
02/27 marked as: read

Comments (showing 1-2 of 2) (2 new)

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message 1: by Allan (new)

Allan Fascinating review Ali.

I would encourage you to read Home- I actually preferred it to Gilead.....


message 2: by Ali (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ali M. Thanks Allan. Yeah, Home is still waiting for me on my shelf - I think I'm finally going to pick it up in the next couple of months, along with Housekeeping. Looking forward to both.

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