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The Givenness of Things: Essays

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  1,264 ratings  ·  249 reviews
The spirit of our times can appear to be one of joyless urgency. As a culture we have become less interested in the exploration of the glorious mind, and more interested in creating and mastering technologies that will yield material well-being. But while cultural pessimism is always fashionable, there is still much to give us hope. In The Givenness of Things, the incompar ...more
Hardcover, 286 pages
Published October 27th 2015 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux
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How I love unconventional people that formulate their own, valuable insights in a powerful, straightforward way, even if I do not necessarily agree with their opinions. The well-known American writer Marilynne Robinson is someone like that. In this book she repeatedly states that she’s glad she has reached the age of 70 and does not have to take into account conventions or the perception of other people anymore. Thus, she has produced a particularly rich book, in which she reworked a number of l ...more
Dec 15, 2015 rated it it was amazing
we don't deserve this woman. ...more
Challenging, in the both senses of the word, and illuminating. Also, occasionally, a bit obscure, although that might be my fault rather than Robinson's. Still, though her writing is dense, it is good, and her ideas and arguments are eminently worth taking the time to follow and consider. I enjoyed this tremendously. It's not a quick read, and a couple of the essays lost me at points (“Metaphysics,” particularly), and “Fear” got a little “ranty,” but Marilynne Robinson sure does make me think!

Spencer Orey
Apr 04, 2021 rated it it was amazing
I loved these patient essays. Perfect for any devout atheist who doesn't see why anyone would look to Christianity, or anyone who wants to see a much more thoughtful Christianity than the hateful version we've become so used to in politics and the news. ...more
Oct 27, 2015 rated it it was amazing
“If we are to be blindsided by history, it will probably be the consequence not of unresolved disputes but of unexamined consensus.”

In which Marilynne Robinson says everything I want to say about being both a free-thinking progressive and a self-identifying Christian. Five stars for a handful of the essays, which are luminous and so wise. A few I found a bit dry and tedious (the obsession with John Calvin is something I don't totally understand).

Favorite essays:
James Smith
Feb 13, 2016 rated it really liked it
To be honest, I half expected not to like this but was taken aback by the force of her prose and the breadth of her theological vision. The politics are predictable, but also something I could look past. A marvelous collection that reminds you what the essay can do.
Feb 16, 2016 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016, nonfiction, essays
The spirit of the times is one of joyless urgency, many of us preparing ourselves and our children to be means to inscrutable ends that are utterly not our own. In such an environment the humanities do seem to have little place. They are poor preparation for economic servitude. This spirit is not the consequence but the cause of our present state of affairs.

I think that with this passage, Marilynne Robinson totally captures the spirit of the age: it seems to be a given that the legions of ba
Feb 17, 2016 rated it it was amazing
This collection's primary driving question is: what does it mean to be human? And I thought Robinson explored this question really beautifully without trying to nail down an answer to it.

These essays look at string theory and neuroscience (CBL, if you're reading this, you should definitely read the first essay--"Humanities"--if you haven't already. I have a pdf of it I can send you), Shakespeare and the Reformation (so, so fascinating), the church in America, higher education in America, the Inc
Il'ja Rákoš
Mar 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2016
If I were starting a seminary - Theological Seminary of St. Il'ja the Profane, say - I'd hire Marilynne Robinson for chair of the pastoral theology department. For those unfamiliar, all 'pastoral theology' means is the area of study where putative preachers learn to be human. Where they learn to set aside 'the Book' and deal with the person right in front of them.

I'd hire her for her sincerity, for the breadth and depth of her reading, and for the chance to tell folks in unguarded moments that I
Guy Austin
Finally getting to this this review. I will start by saying this is not an easy read. However, the juice within is definitely worth the squeeze. These essays were actually speeches given at various universities and gatherings over several years. They are a pretty good collection of essays chock full of thought and backed up with historical context. If I had one wish, and this would simply be for my own selfish needs, it would that it was a bit simpler in the use of vocabulary. My dictionary and ...more
Nov 17, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oh Marilynne, your words are nourishing and reassuring, like hot soup for my brain and cocoa for my spirit. I sure do love ya.
Victoria Weinstein
Oct 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: ministers, congregationalists, theologians, cultural critics, teachers, writers
I savored these essays slowly over an entire year. My copy is marked up with underlining and comments in the margins, and "Q" for "Quote" on many pages.

There is no other 21st century writer who traverses the territory over which I am so extremely fond: American congregational Protestantism, theology and culture, critique of scientific rationalism. Robinson is my 21st century Emerson, giving us cultural critique "passed through the fire of thought."
Edward Sullivan
Nov 16, 2015 rated it really liked it
A challenging, eloquently written collection of essays. When Robinson delves deeply into theology, as she does frequently in this book, you need a clear head.
Jan 24, 2016 rated it it was amazing
I've been wracking my brain over what to say about this book, which I would give 8 stars, or 10 stars, or 27 stars to, if I could. I think it's a testament to what a powerful book this is that, for me, anyway, any words of praise I could toss in Ms. Robinson's direction seem superfluos at best. In recommendations to my friends, I've taken the tactic of just filling up my facebook feed with quotes from the various essays in this collection, or, in two cases, just mailing the book directly to the ...more
I am a huge fan of Marilynne Robinson, but I have to admit that if this was the first book of hers I had tried to read, I may have quit. The first couple essays here were not dull or anything like that, but I did not find them too compelling either. She writes a lot about Shakespeare in the beginning which is interesting, but I wasn't into it yet. Thankfully, I kept going. This book turned out to be fantastic, as is expected with Robinson.

Throughout these essays a number of themes become apparen
Lydia Griffith
Jul 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is full of wisdom and excellent commentary on everything from Shakespeare to Calvin to gender inclusion to the reformation to guns to what it means to be a Christian, right here and now. I found it less enjoyable than her novels to be sure,
but it is still well worth your time. Two favorite quotes:
“What we have expressed, compared with what we have found no way to express, is overwhelmingly the lesser part."
“If there is anything in the life of any culture or period that gives good gr
Sep 30, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Oh man! She gets better with age. Probably the most theological of all her essay collections, and some of the most beautiful prose she's written. Amazing! ...more
I don't always agree with her theology, and even less with her politics, but reading essays by a woman as thoughtful and eloquent as Ms Robinson is always interesting and beneficial. ...more
Meghan Armstrong
Jul 27, 2022 rated it liked it
Wow, it took me four years to read all the essays in this book. In that short but also very long time, I've gone on my own little odyssey. And the world of 2015, when Robinson compiled the book, is hard to remember. So my ambivalence about this book is significant, but my deep reverence for the mind of Marilynne Robinson remains. In my mind, she is The Type of that person you disagree with at a fundamental level about so many things; but because the fruit of that person's life is so beautiful an ...more
Nov 28, 2015 rated it really liked it
Wow. I was not ready to read this book. I borrowed it from the library, but this would be a book I would buy and reread slowly and write all over the margins.

It is a hard read because you need to know things because she doesn't explain and assumes you know. I know I faired better than most readers because I am well versed in Shakespeare, John Calvin, John Locke, the Bible and theology. I also know a good portion of everything she wrote about, but there was some stuff that went over my head beca
Jack Wolfe
Oct 02, 2015 rated it really liked it
Marilynne Robinson remains America's most necessary cultural critic (probably because she understands that we are-- YES-- doing things well) and probably our greatest prose stylist. I liked this collection less than the others; the essays are political and thoughtful as always, but this time they are more explicitly theological. Which means me being lost a whole lot more. I get the idea, though. Robinson's notion of humanity rests on her notion of God. I find both of her notions much more intere ...more
Nov 04, 2015 rated it it was amazing
The result of this collection of wise and intelligent essays on profoundly human themes, proclivities, and experiences – like poverty, theology, freedom, randomness, fear, fads, greed, faith, science, and alarmism, breathed through with healthy doses of Shakespeare, Calvin, and Locke, and marked by a remarkably high christology – is a perspicacious map which assists those of us living in and with Western cultures to read better the signs of the times, and to live better orientated towards those ...more
Blair Hodges
Dec 20, 2015 rated it really liked it
This book is an extended discussion of Robinson's Christology laid out in a number of essays that not infrequently revisit the same themes. Even the repetitious essays, however, are punctuated by enough unique suggestions clothed in Robinson's arresting prose to make them worth reading. (For instance, she frequently criticizes scientism, and at one point makes a startling comment about the fact that nothing is as ancient but feels so new every time as the morning. ...more
Alex Fitzgerald
Oct 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
“But by my lights I have spoken theologically, since everything depends on reverence for who we are and what we are, on the sacredness implicit in the human circumstance. We know how deeply we can injure one another by denying fairness. We know how profoundly we can impoverish ourselves by failing to find value in one another. We know that respect is a profound alleviation, which we can offer and too often withhold. That doubleness again. A theology of grace is a higher realism, an ethics of tru ...more
Alex Strohschein
Jan 20, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: sociocultural
3.5, but I waffled constantly between 3 and 4.

Marilynne Robinson is one of the most thoughtful and eloquent Christians, lauded especially for her award-winning novels and high-brow essays. Christian hipsters and even non-Christians admire her, which makes me stubbornly want to resist her as overrated (as witnessed by the profuse and effusive praise in other reviews here), though talented (see Alan Jacob's incisive and spot-on critique of her in the HARPER'S article "The Watchman: What Became of
Claudia Putnam
Jan 14, 2016 rated it liked it
Shelves: religion
Okay, I didn't quite finish, because there was a much-the-sameness by the end, but this is an enormously helpful and clarifying book about the history of Protestantism, esp in the US. However, um, isn't it rather staggering that the worldview is so limited to, um, Protestantism, and the Judeo-Christian (and slightly-Islamic, she briefly nods) tradition, for that matter? "We in the West," she writes. "The great religions," she writes. Um, um, and um. Please, we're talking about an obscure tribe i ...more
Dec 18, 2015 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: everyone
I liked this book. It's quite deep and I had to re-read many sentences to make sure I got the meaning. Last year I read her short book Absence Of Mind. There's some of that anti-reductionism in this book, too, but there's so much more.

I remember more than 30 years ago I read a book by a layperson titled "A Guide For The Perplexed". The author was actually a famous economist named E.F. Schumacher. Marilynne's book reminds me of his book a little, because what I remember of his book was an excursi
Kathryn Bashaar
Mar 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Almost every essay in this book was so dense with interesting thinking that I ended up reading most of them twice. I love Robinson because her spiritual perspective is so much like my own. To read a book of essays by a very erudite progressive Christian was like a drink of sweet water. As she also says in one of her essays, I feel like Christianity has been hijacked in the US by fundamentalists and the radical political right, who are obsessed with the sexual behavior of other people, about whic ...more
I'm not sure how to grade in star terms a book by a writer I much admire, some of which really spoke to me, and some of which was going into realms of thought with which I'm not familiar (one of the reasons why I bogged down in this for so long). Experience a bit like that with a book I read for review last year which was not in my own field, though somewhat adjacent, and was clearly engaging with various intradisciplinary debates about which I knew nothing and had difficulty getting a handle on ...more
Nov 08, 2015 added it
This book of essays is a dense read but one which raises many important questions- namely, what does it mean to be a human being and the importance of mystery and faith in answering that question. I really enjoy Marilynne Robinson's ideas (even if they often take many readings and a dictionary to grasp)- I certainly appreciated her desire to define someone's experience as an important piece of understanding life. A great, if heavy, read. ...more
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Marilynne Summers Robinson (born November 26, 1943) is an American novelist and essayist. Across her writing career, Robinson has received numerous awards, including the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2005, National Humanities Medal in 2012, and the 2016 Library of Congress Prize for American Fiction. In 2016, Robinson was named in Time magazine's list of 100 most influential people.[2] Robinson be ...more

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