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Interior States: Essays

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  389 ratings  ·  76 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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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
Jacob Gibson
Dec 22, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: own
A harrowing set of essays to read directly proceeding a return to West-Michigan and a visit to the church of my youth. I feel dizzy. I want everyone I know to read this book
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 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."
B. Rule
Apr 19, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
While I did not grow up in the evangelical community, I have a longstanding fascination (or is it fascinated abhorrence?) with that culture. It's always struck me how indelibly growing up fundie affects people; no matter how far they may run from that worldview, it's always there in the background, vividly influencing their thoughts as both a traumatic wound and perhaps a fatal attraction. Like many of my friends, no matter how distant her connection to the church of her youth, O'Gieblyn cannot ...more
Brett Vanderzee
Mar 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Interior States is a splendid collection of essays from Meghan O’Gieblyn. I was entranced from start to finish by the beautiful prose and charitable nuance she afforded each subject-matter. Never content to resort to caricature, O’Gieblyn’s frequent writing around the early zeal and eventual loss of her Christian faith is particularly plaintive and moving.

I also noticed something intriguing and even a bit haunting at the heart of the book. As the title suggests, this is a work pervaded by the Mi
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.”
Rob Schoonover
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Great collection of essays about evangelical Christian culture and the Midwest in general. I especially appreciated the essay titled “sniffing glue” about CCM music and the church’s obsession with consumer capitalism.
Jason Scarbrough
Oct 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Great book on the midwestern mindset and the author's loss of faith.
Jul 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Loved this book. These essays grapple with some big questions and several of them feature Michigan. Highly recommend.
Wendy Liu
Mar 10, 2020 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: anyone who has ever experienced a loss of faith in some form
I really enjoyed this. I'd encountered some of these essays previously in n+1 and The Point. The n+1 essay (Ghost in the Cloud) is by far my favourite.
May 26, 2020 rated it really liked it
Smart essays about the Midwest and losing faith after being raised deep within the evangelical fold (homeschooled, Bible college, the works). The familiarity of the territory was enjoyable to me. And O'Gieblyn avoids the rancor and bitterness that often flavors apostate memoirs; instead, she is meditative and thoughtful and eager to dive deeper into what drew her away from the 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.
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
Meghan O’Gieblyn’s “Interior States” is a collection of her journalistic essays. A former evangelical Protestant, what themes many of these pieces is the psychological dislocation brought about by the loss of her faith. The title of the collection puns on her exploration of this process, on the one hand, and on the other her observations upon her Mid-Western upbringing in the Rust Belt, the former industrial heartlands sold short by a generation of governments, and now ripe for Trump’s conspirat ...more
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
Paul Scott
Mar 21, 2020 rated it it was amazing
WINNER OF THE 2018 Believer magazine prize for non-fiction book, and an excellent choice. O'Gieblyn grew up in a Midwestern evangelical family. She was at the Moody Bible Institute training to be a missionary when the wheels suddenly came off her faith. A difficult period apparently followed--we don't learn much about it in this collection, but it involved lots of alcohol. The good news is that O'Gieblyn found her vocation, somehow, and turned into an excellent writer.

The excellence of the writi
Mar 29, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
4.5 stars. Excellent in nearly every way. I thought it was quite lofty to compare O'Gieblyn with Joan Didion on the back cover, and after reading Interior States I still have some reservations. But for the most part, I do think O'Gieblyn is carrying the tradition sustained by Didion (though I think the latter was more interested in observation and the objective, rather than "confessions," as O'Gieblyn describes her own tendency).

What I found most admirable were the smooth transitions into resea
Reader Variety
Dec 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: essays, religion
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
John Benson
Nov 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The author's collection of essays center around religion and the Midwest, two topics that have been part of my whole life and that I have also spent a lifetime trying to understand, as a Lutheran missionary kid raised by Midwestern parents and living most of my adult life in the Midwest. Meghan O'Gieblyn was raised in a fundamentalist Evangelical family but gave up her faith as she was attending bible school. She writes very insightfully about the faith in which she grew up. As someone who is cl ...more
Brian Hutzell
Apr 23, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: essays, religion
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
Jonathan Hiskes
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
Intelligent, probing, funny essays reflecting on growing up Midwestern and evangelical--two identities generally disdained by coastal cultural tastemakers. O'Gieblyn cultural observations and scene-building are excellent (she describes a chain restaurant she waitressed at in college as a place that "cycled through twenty gallons of ranch dressing a week"). I enjoyed the snippets of biography and concrete scenes and her reflections on leaving her faith more than some of the more abstract stretche ...more
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“Many of our friends who grew up here now live in Brooklyn, where they are at work on “book-length narratives.” Another contingent has moved to the Bay Area and made a fortune there. Every year or so, these west-coasters travel back to Michigan and call us up for dinner or drinks, occasions they use to educate us on the inner workings of the tech industry. They refer to the companies they work for in the first person plural, a habit I have yet to acculturate to. Occasionally they lapse into the utopian, speaking of robotics ordinances and brain-computer interfaces and the mystical, labyrinthine channels of capital, conveying it all with the fervency of pioneers on a civilizing mission. Being lectured quickly becomes dull, and so my husband and I, to amuse ourselves, will sometimes play the rube. “So what, exactly, is a venture capitalist?” we’ll say. Or: “Gosh, it sounds like science fiction.” I suppose we could tell them the truth—that nothing they’re proclaiming is news; that the boom and bustle of the coastal cities, like the smoke from those California wildfires, liberally wafts over the rest of the country. But that seems a bit rude. We are, after all, Midwesterners.

Here, work is work and money is money, and nobody speaks of these things as though they were spiritual movements or expressions of one’s identity.”
“Over time, I came to dread the parties and potlucks. Most of the people we knew had spent time on the coasts, or had come from there, or were frequently traveling from one to the other, and the conversation was always about what was happening elsewhere: what people were listening to in Williams-burg, or what everyone was wearing at Coachella. A sizeable portion of the evening was devoted to the plots of premium TV dramas. Occasionally there were long arguments about actual ideas, but they always crumbled into semantics. What do you mean by duty? someone would say. Or: It all depends on your definition of morality. At the end of these nights, I would get into the car with the first throb of a migraine, saying that we didn’t have any business discussing anything until we could, all of us, articulate a coherent ideology. It seemed to me then that we suffered from the fundamental delusion that we had elevated ourselves above the rubble of hinterland ignorance—that fair-trade coffee and Orange You Glad It’s Vegan? cake had somehow redeemed us of our sins.” 0 likes
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