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Interior States: Essays

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  229 ratings  ·  44 reviews
"Meghan O'Gieblyn's deep and searching essays are written with a precise sort of skepticism and a slight ache in the heart. A first-rate and riveting collection."
--Lorrie Moore

A fresh, acute, and even profound collection that centers around two core (and related) issues of American identity: faith, in general and the specific forms Christianity takes in particular; and t
Paperback, 240 pages
Published October 9th 2018 by Anchor Books
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4.22  · 
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 ·  229 ratings  ·  44 reviews

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Mar 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This caught my eye in LaGuardia airport and I bought on impulse. A quick scan of the chapter titles quickly revealed this was about subjects of deep interest to me: Living and loving in the conservative Midwest, wrestling out of a fundamentalist religious upbringing and fresh views on how and why our states have turned (politically) red. Though at least 20 years my junior, this author hit on many of my cylinders and writes the way I would have (had I chosen that path in my youth, and had I been ...more
Yet once again, Nervous Breakdown Book Club drags me out of my reading comfort zone into a world of phenomenal essays touching on topics as disparate as John Updike, Christian Music, and Michigan. The author, now secular, was once a home-schooled evangelical who studied at a famous bible college. I was concerned in starting out that this would either be a scathing criticism of something I knew very little about (evangelical christianity) or some sort of confessional. It was neither. The author p ...more
Charles Dee Mitchell
Feb 02, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays-memoir
In the future, the whole swath of late modernity will call to mind the image of the image of people eating delicacies and talking about the state of their souls --just as when someone mentions the medieval period, we picture people toiling in ditches. (From "Contemporaries")

Perhaps the central hypocrisy in the history of fundamentalist theology is the fact that white evangelicals managed to find signs of the apocalypse in every social evil except their own prejudices.
(From"The End")
Jan 07, 2019 rated it really liked it
I kept trying to put Meghan O’Gieblyn in a box -- former Christian revealing weirdly oppressive childhood? Not quite. Secular intellectual intent on poling holes in Christian theology? No. Religious humanist extolling the beautiful intricacies of existence? Not exactly. Her essays defy categorization, and a collection of them, read back to back, is fascinating.

For me, the collection has a slow start. I was not as interested in O’Gieblyn's more regional musings, but this may be my own regional bi
This is a superb collection of essays. The heart of the book is a set of reflections on various books, events, cultural trends in ways that tap the author's former but weirdly continuing experience from within evangelical Christianity -- I need to be a little careful here, because while she notes her background that way, I think it's really coming from a combined position: That she lost her faith, plus the fact that she was a deep student of Christianity (e.g., the way she talks about certain pr ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
loved this, reads like Joan Didion essays for the Midwest. Lots going on here and I'm now about to enter a Wikipedia hole about Michigan and theology and transhumanism.
Mar 18, 2019 rated it it was ok
Meghan is a strong writer and some of these essays were really good. The problem was, it wasn’t all memoir -- some of the essays were personal, but others weren’t. All of the essays were reprinted from other publications (instead of being written specifically to include in this book). Two of the essays were book reviews, written for the Los Angeles Review of Books...NO THANK YOU.

Meghan grew up in an Evangelical household, like I did, and was homeschooled for most of her life, which is true for
Ava Huang
Jan 30, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This collection is stunning. A couple of essays reminded me a ton of Kristin Dombek's essay in The Paris Review ( There's a kind of headiness and fever to religious experience that's hard to cast off, and I think anyone who grew up with faith finds themselves dipping in and out of various forms of belief for the rest of their life. As someone who's long been interested in religion and currently works in tech, it's really nice to see someone write about b ...more
Nov 25, 2018 rated it it was amazing
One of my favorite living essayists—one of our best writers speaking to faith, secularism, and mystery.

On “American Niceness”: “I live in Wisconsin, a place where niceness is so ubiquitous that it seems practically constitutional…In this part of the country, niceness is less an expression of generosity than it is of reserve: assuming an inoffensive blandness is a way to avoid drawing attention to oneself, and the most reliable means of keeping others at bay.”
Nov 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
"It's a paradox of human nature that the sites of our unhappiness are precisely those that we come to trust most hardily, that we absorb most readily into our identity, and that we defend most vociferously when they come under attack."

"True compassion is possible not because we are ignorant that life can be hell, but because we know that it can be."
Jason Scarbrough
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book on the midwestern mindset and the author's loss of faith.
Apr 05, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
Loved it!! She put words to so many things I’ve been wrestling through with religious ideology.
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
in the tumult of fall, i left quite a few books unfinished to varying degrees: some with a heretical ten pages remaining and others i'd barely begun. interior states was one of the latter, and what are holidays for if not to revisit what remains incomplete? since i no longer return to my hometown and my vacations don't allow completion of the emotional sort (no personal history to journey through here), the "closure" has become mostly readerly, deciphering the folded page of my abandonment and c ...more
Scott Pierce
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: religion, essays
Very interesting set of essays delving into religion from an author who was raised in a very religious environment, at some point abandoned faith, and has now returned to give thought to the role religion plays in our current society. Some samples of intriguing points:

- "I developed a physical allergy to NPR... My husband tried to get me to articulate what it was that bothered me, but I could never come up with the right adjective. Self-satisfied? Self-congratulatory? I could never get past aest
Jan 20, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
I picked up this book because I identify with the author’s perspective as another Midwestern evangelical who went to Moody Bible Institute only to find my long-held beliefs disintegrating. I did not realize until I read the essay Hell that we were both at Moody at the same time. Even though we do not know each other, just knowing that there was someone else in the same place having the same doubts is strangely comforting. Moody is a weird place to be when your life’s framework begins to crumble. ...more
May 30, 2019 rated it it was ok
Recommended to rosalind by: Audrey Colombe
abandoned @ 56%.

this is coming from a tone of very passive-aggressive, middle-class, white heterosexual liberalism in a way that makes it unpleasant to read. the stuff about X-Treme xtianity is pretty interesting (even tho o'gieblyn seems to think that evangelist christianity is very Odd and Unusual to normals, which like, sorry, as a texan i don't buy it), but the political commentary is facile at best. she calls everyone who's not a liberal "insane," which is a) ableist and b) pretty much ind
Marty Sartini Garner
Feb 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I didn't plan to finish this book in two days, but I found it irresistible. This is an absolutely stunning set of essays that treat what are generally considered to be cultural embarrassments (evangelical Christianity, the midwest) with a dignity and respect, but O'Gieblyn (an ex-Christian and lifelong midwesterner) doesn't shy away from criticizing either. Like many people who leave a faith and love a region they don't particularly fit in with, she is cognizant of existing between two places — ...more
Brian Hutzell
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion, essays
You will likely not agree with everything O’Gieblyn writes, but then I believe any time you find yourself agreeing with someone 100% you are probably overlooking something. The essays in this collection center around Christianity, O’Gieblyn’s history with the faith and its place in modern society, and the author’s longtime love-hate affair with the Midwest.
O’Gieblyn admits that her work has been accused of being too subtle, and that her endings tend to be cryptic. Those same comments could be ap
Ashley Poetz
May 22, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nonfic
I would give this more like a 4 7 if I could. Some of the essays weren't as good as others which is the only reason I'm not giving this 5 stars. Meghan O'Gieblyn is clearly an accomplished writer who thoroughly researches the topics with which she has an interest. She articulates so well the feelings of being a Midwesterner living an existence post-religious upbringing. She also illuminates how deeply the roots of Christianity go in this country, particularly in the realm of politics. I would re ...more
Jen Hirt
Mar 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I first read Meghan O'Gieblyn in Best American Essays, with "Dispatch From Flyover Country." I was teaching BAE to English majors in Pennsylvania, and they had no idea what "flyover country" alluded too. Those of us from the midwest (Ohio for me) can certainly relate to many of these essays. O'Gieblyn takes us into and under and through many cultural issues, not just religion, and how a life rooted in the midwest helps (or hinders) your thinking on those issues. There are takes on music, faith, ...more
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I received this book from NetGalley. I was somewhat skeptical of this collection coming into it after reading a few reviews, but I actually really enjoyed it. O'Gieblyn is an incredibly thoughtful and well-read writer and her reflections on evangelical culture, Christian transhumanism, and the craft of writing were all well done. I think the title and description are both somewhat misleading, which may well have been spin that came from the publisher; the book is much more about the Midwestern e ...more
Feb 26, 2019 rated it really liked it
I almost dismissed this as a bunch of fundamentalist ramblings; however, it is far from that. O'G.'s writing style is deep and thoughtful. She describes an almost bizarre, myopic upbringing, one that she has moved well beyond in her far-reaching philosophical and existential musings. Another reader made the very astute comment that this author seems much older than her years would suggest--I very much agree with that assessment!
Well worth reading for anyone grappling with faith matters, Midwes
Dec 09, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays
4.5 stars. I first encountered Meghan O'Gieblyn in the 2018 edition of the Pushcart Prize, which included her Dispatch from Flyover Country. Thematically, this collection includes mostly thoughts of a lapsed Christian and/or resident of the heartland. There are also great essays on AA, Mike Pence, and the possible techno-resurrection.
Dylan Weir
Feb 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best book of essays I have read in recent memory. Interior states is a clear, comprehensive, and sober look at the modern existential crises facing our generation. This is the first book I've felt compelled to write a review for. I highly suggest everyone read this - especially those born in the 80's/90's.
Feb 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: favorites, memoir
She's insanely talented at navigating the cultural elitism of the academy and representing a much wider swath of intellectual but not cynical people. Her essays are both full of ideas and light on their feet and I wanted to devour each new essay in a way that I rarely do when confronted with a thinkpiece or a review in the times or new yorker.
A fascinating glimpse in to topics related to modern, midwestern, fundamentalist Christianity. As one who grew up in the Midwest, in Wisconsin, I also found her descriptions and commentary intriguing in that regard. For example, "niceness." I'll be keeping my eyes open for more of her writing.
Paul Carlson
Jan 31, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the best books of essays I've read in a long time. Coming from a similar background (although close to twice the author's age), I connected with--resonated with--many of her experiences and thoughts about faith, life, and how we live now.
Mar 21, 2019 rated it liked it
As a Midwesterner from an evangelical family, I expected to relate to the author, but I didn’t. This book was more about faith than place and she seems to struggle with the loss of her faith in a way that I don’t.
Apr 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Book Challenge Category: A Book Published Prior to 2019 With Fewer Than 100 Reviews

The essays in this book are mixed-- some are amazingly brilliant- others are boring. They are best when directly addressing religious sub-culture and the contrast to popular culture.
Michael Smith
Jan 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This is an exceptional book of essays on the theme of spirituality and American culture. The final essay on Pence is terrifying, a must-read for anyone who cares about what’s happening in American life right now.

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“There's a widespread misconception that biblical literalism is facile and mindless, but the doctrine I was introduced to at Moody was every bit as complicated and arcane as Marxist theory or post-structuralism.... In many ways, Christian literalism is even more complicated than liberal brands of theology because it involves the sticky task of reconciling the overlay myth—the story of redemption—with a wildly inconsistent body of scripture. This requires consummate parsing of Old Testament commands, distinguishing between the universal (e.g., thou shalt not kill) from those particular to the Mosaic law that are no longer relevant after the death of Christ (e.g., a sexually violated woman must marry her rapist). It requires making the elaborate case that the Song of Solomon, a book of Hebrew erotica that managed to wangle its way into the canon, is a metaphor about Christ's love for the church, and that the starkly nihilistic book of Ecclesiastes is a representation of the hopelessness of life without God.” 0 likes
“But people who've gotten that far into the faith never totally shake it. To be a former believer is to perpetually return to the scene of the crime. It's been ten years since I left Moody, and I still find myself stalling on the Christian radio station to hear a call-in debate, or lurking around the religion section of chain bookstores, perusing the titles on the Christianity shelves like a porn addict sneaking a glance at a Victoria's Secret Catalog.” 0 likes
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