Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Book of Ruth” as Want to Read:
The Book of Ruth
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Book of Ruth

3.85  ·  Rating details ·  65,151 ratings  ·  1,317 reviews
Winner of the 1989 PEN/Hemingway Foundation Award for best first novel, this exquisite book confronts real-life issues of alienation and violence  from which the author creates a stunning testament  to the human capacity for mercy, compassion and love.
Paperback, 328 pages
Published December 1st 1989 by Anchor Books (first published November 1st 1988)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Book of Ruth, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Josephine Briggs May told Ruth that he was sick and tired of the kids always fighting. Ruth, when a teenager, threw it in her mother's face that all her griping and co…moreMay told Ruth that he was sick and tired of the kids always fighting. Ruth, when a teenager, threw it in her mother's face that all her griping and complaining, plus her negativity about everything chased him away. He sent the kids money on birthdays but nothing for May.

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 3.85  · 
Rating details
 ·  65,151 ratings  ·  1,317 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Book of Ruth
Christina Ramos
Jun 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
I am really surprised by all of the negative reviews of this book. I think it is so strange that the characters are discounted as "white trash", their story thus, uninteresting or too dreary. While the story is by no means a happy one it is highly engrossing and worth telling. Hamilton's narrator Ruth is by turns despairing and joyful of life and Hamilton's writing manages to be lyrical and poetic, blunt and simple at the same time. I personally like to connect with other people, to imagine what ...more
May 11, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This is one of my all-time favorite books. It's a book that changes one's perspective on people and walking a mile in other's shoes before judging. Did your school have one or two or maybe more kids that were just "off" -- easy targets for bullies and even kids who usually seemed nice? In this book the main character's name isn't even mentioned until the end because she's someone who is constantly minimized ... or even worse, unnoticed.
Deborah Katz
Dec 17, 2007 rated it did not like it
Here's what I'm learning about myself:

I despise po' country lit written by women.

Is that terrible? Does that make me a bad feminist?

In Country? Hated it. All these poor white trash stories about kids growin' up harder n' poorer than those other kids over there, wearing ugly clothes, and having lots of scrap metal in the yard...

...yeah I just can't deal.

Because these stories never GO anywhere. It just sounds like a lot of whining through the front, middle, and back of life.

As if whining was coura
Mar 20, 2008 rated it really liked it
people complain about ruth being "white trash," but i think they are missing the whole point - putting yourself in a world not your own. i grew to adore ruth as i experienced her small-town world. i found her ability to daydream and fantasize intelligent and mesmerizing. people also complain about the ending - let me just say that while it is harsh, it is an eye opening juxtaposition between hum-drum and madness.
Nov 18, 2007 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: any of my book club friends, but it's not for those seeking something light
This is Jane Hamilton's first novel and it is a whopper. It's the story of a small-town girl and her struggles with growing up with a mother who's lost any compassion or sweetness and a brother she can't relate to. This girl, Ruth, despite an intelligence that she's unaware of and so is everyone else, ends up marrying a dangerous, drug-riddled fellow. Throughout the story, which lags at times in Ruth's simple cadence, there are bits of foreshadowing of some life-changing, terrible day. So you ke ...more
Sep 08, 2007 rated it really liked it
Shelves: faves-literature
This book is quite sad but has an amazing voice. The protagonist, Ruth, was never encouraged to do much with her life and has always been told she was not quite that bright. However, she has some incredible insights into human nature and her story is very barebones. Hamilton writes Ruth in such a way that her thoughts about the world are those that many of us have but never reveal because of social custom. Ruth's ideas are often right on and her "alleged" stupidity allows her to state things in ...more
Noir par excellence.

The book just lost me, despite the picturesque, but dark dragging and dragging and dragging and dragging and dragging prose. No oomph. No spirit.

The first third of the book had me excited. The next third had me counting the pages. The last third was just more of the monotonous same. How long should we wait before the paint will dry on this wall of misery?

So Ruth was born in misery, which means Ruth will die in misery. The end. Just like that. And the pity party will remain
Rebecca McNutt
Oct 06, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, family
Aside from being rather depressing at times, The Book of Ruth is an incredible story of family, loss and life.
Andrew Breslin
Dec 30, 2009 rated it really liked it
I gave this book four stars, but I can't say I actually enjoyed it. I turned the pages out of a compulsive voyeurism, the way one might stick one's ear against the wall to eavesdrop on the dysfunctional family next door. It's not that you enjoy hearing the domestic violence break out--the screams, the profanity, the smashing of hurled glassware. You just can't bring yourself to turn away, let alone turn up your own radio to drown it out. Shhh. Quiet! They're at it again!

I agree with some of the
BIPL Reads
Mar 21, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: skye
Book of Ruth is Jane Hamilton's first novel. Just reading the first lines again grants me the profound pleasure of stumbling on beauty and hard-earned wisdom (about losing one's naivete, or maybe innocence) in the lingua franca of rural Wisconsin.

"What it begins with, I know finally, is the kernel of meanness in people's hearts. I don't know exactly how or why it gets inside us; that's one of the mysteries I haven't solved yet. I always tried to close my eyes and believe that angels, invisible
Aug 29, 2007 rated it did not like it
Recommends it for: no one
This is the story of a white trash girl named Ruth, her white trash mother and her white trash boyfriend/husband with bad teeth. It was very difficult to make it through this book because I didn't like any of the characters--they were stagnant and annoying throughout. Ruth had great potential but never realized any of it. A bad story was made even worse when about 4/5 of the way through, there was suddenly a horrific and bloody scene that took about 4 pages of graphic descriptions. I was caught ...more
Jul 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, own
I must admit, after spotting many negative reviews of this on Goodreads, I was a little wary to read this. This book has been sitting on my shelf for a few years, and I thought I'd give it a try.

I ended up really liking this book. It's not the easiest book to read, in regards to its subject matter, but I think it's an important one, all the same.

Basically, this is the story of Ruth and her life. I liked Ruth. She may have been simple-minded, but sometimes, she'd say something that really just
Laurel Wicke
Nov 18, 2008 rated it did not like it
Shelves: books-i-despise
I should have known better. I really should have. First, it was an Oprah book club pick, and second, it won some Hemingway writing award. I always find Oprah's picks terribly dark and I despise Hemingway. Sorry to all the Hemingway fans out there. BUT, on the back cover a review said the book was very "Dickensonian" and another said it had quirky off-beat characters in the vein of Anne Tyler--two authors that I happen to love, so I gave it whirl.

Ugh, ugh, ugh. I loathe ignorance. And the charac
Sep 08, 2011 rated it liked it
After all last month in the company of, how can I put this delicately, white trash (with the insupportable Harry “Rabbit” Angstrom) I got my hands on this, another American Family tragedy. As much as I loathe Norman Rockwell portraits, inversely I adore AmFamTs. Andre Dubus III, Joyce Carol Oates, Philip Roth…they are ALWAYS welcomed in my bookshelf. This, a “first novel,” seems like a breeze to read since its protagonist is, according to those that surround her, “slow.” Theme & form are the sam ...more
May 09, 2008 rated it did not like it
We were assigned this book as part of a writing course, with the intention that the instructor would have us read a few chapters per week, for us to discuss the author's use of craft. Our first discussion opened with the group unanimously loathing the book so much that it was never brought up again. I read it to the end to see if things got better - they did not, a tedious downer to the final sentence.
Lynne King
Feb 16, 2013 rated it did not like it
Shelves: abandoned
I admit that I purchased this book on a whim as I liked the title. The reviews also looked good and I could see that it was the winner of the Pen/Ernest Hemingway Foundation Award. I also thought that perhaps it was a modern day version of Ruth from the bible, which, in my opinion, is one of the most beautiful Books there. However, that soon proved not to be the case.

Initially I thought the book was rather good. It had a rather humorous, odd and yet self-effacing way about it. However, after a w
Mar 15, 2008 rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: People who want to be depressed
Recommended to deLille by: My mom
I finally finished this book which has been on my "could-not-finish" shelf for ages. What can I say... it is a lyrical book with beautiful prose, but the subject matter is extremely depressing and it never lifts itself up. It's like Hamilton has never heard the term "comic relief". I loved Jane Hamilton's "A Map of the World" and "A Short History of a Prince", but this book made me weary of Hamilton's metaphor-a-minute writing and her continuous dwelling on everything ugly about people. Everyone ...more
Sophie Carter
Jun 03, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Hands down probably one of the most disturbing books I have ever read in my life. At the unexpected climax of the novel, I got physically sick reading the description and almost fainted. Fun. But that's one of the reasons this book is so special; Ms. Hamilton does not even hesitate in her honesty.

The characters in this novel are unforgettable. I would like Jane Hamilton to write six more books as sequels: Book of May, Book of Ruby, Book of Justy, Book of Aunt Sid, Book of Matt, Book of Daisy, y
Emi Bevacqua
Oct 11, 2011 rated it really liked it
I absolutely loved the story that main character Ruth tells about her pathetic family in rural Illinois, I can't believe this was the author Jane Hamilton's first novel, it's brilliant and made me laugh and gasp in horror too. Ruth's mother May had a hard life - her first husband and love of her life was killed at war, her brilliant son Matt never returned her love, her second husband abandoned her, she's alienated her entire family, and as far as she's concerned her daughter Ruth can't do anyth ...more
Lauren Hahn
Jul 21, 2007 rated it it was ok
This book was a huge dissapointment. The reader is forced to listen to the story of a woman who leads an unhappy and meaningless life. Throughout the eventless book you keep waiting for something to occur to make reason of the narrator's purpose in life, but instead find out that she is simply a pathetic and unhappy person. In the last few pages a huge twist occurs, but it is simply too late to indulge the reader, and is to much to take into too short of an amount of time. The only thing stoppin ...more
Aug 06, 2007 rated it it was ok
Shelves: oprah, fiction
Didn't really care for this book, but didn't hate it either. Not sure that I would recommend it. One of the reviewers of this book called it "a sly and wistful ... human comedy" and another said the "small-town characters are ... appealingly offbeat and brushed with grace" but I wonder if those reviewers read the same book that I did. I found the novel dispiriting, depressing, and rather boring. Perhaps if this was part of a series, and we could also hear others' stories (May's and Matt's and Ru ...more
Mar 21, 2016 rated it liked it
The Book of Ruth, by Jane Hamilton, is the story of a girl growing up on the Illinois-Wisconsin border, born into a world that simply doesn’t love her. It is a study on the culture of the American boonies, on the failed education system, and of a flawed family, as Ruth struggles for hope. It raises the question- how does one prevail over ignorance, when ignorance is the only world to know, when it is an essential part of one’s identity?

In the beginning of the book, when Ruth is a young girl, we
Apr 28, 2013 rated it really liked it
This book was a journey through the life of Ruth Grey. There is a beginning, middle and an end of the book, but not her life. Almost, but not quite.

The journey allows us to see Ruth's family and her situation through her words. Who the people were, what happened to them, what happened to her - all are detailed and told in her own words. How she felt and what she thought comes through clearly and is beautifully written, even when she was not quite truthful to others. She idolized her Aunt Sid and
Apr 28, 2010 rated it liked it
Shelves: fictionread
Oprah's Book Club! Hemingway award winner! Should be fantastic, right?

Well, it is very well written. Certainly it is a very in depth story of the life of a woman growing up poor in the rural midwest in the 60s and 70s. The characters are very well fleshed out for better and (mostly) worst and the main character does a fine job herself at connecting the dots from one generation to another and seeing how their lives were all intertwined. For that quality of the writing and character development I
Anne Kaufhold
Sep 28, 2011 rated it really liked it
It was well-written and psychologically astute. Painfully insightful about the characters and human nature. However, I usually gloss over 'challenging' books in favor of fluff. My life and work are challenging enough. By the end of the day, I'm ready to sit down with a book and let my mind roam while talking animals adventure with irreverent wizards.

The only time I end up tackling thoughtful modern literature is when I'm sick in bed; too sick to make it to the public library, with the kind of s
Aug 09, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Anyone!!!
I loved this book! It is written in a very unsophisticated tone, as compared to "A Map of the World." It is a wonderful book about a girl who makes her way in the world, completely unsupported by her family, with the exception of an aunt who lives out of town. The small town in which the main character lives is very nostalgic to many of us who were raised in similar places. The main character grows to become what she hates the most, her mother. The ending is as dramatic as they come, with an epi ...more
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was ok
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Kathrine Holyoak
Jun 01, 2017 rated it really liked it
Gritty. But so is life. I ponder if I'd have handled my life any better if born into that setting. Probably not. We, who are born into a life of privilege and high functioning, assume that those who aren't somehow "deserved" it and can climb out if they wanted to. A quote I heard haunts me, "He was born on third base but thought he hit a triple." May I extend more kindness and grace to the Ruths I meet.
Kaethe Douglas
Jul 09, 2014 rated it did not like it
My mother-in-law read this on Oprah's suggestion, then she asked me to read it so we could discuss it. We both hated it. There is no way the reader can accept the self-consciously literary narrator as Ruth, who tells us repeatedly how stupid and illiterate she is. Likewise I found Hamilton's attempts to empathize with her characters both shallow and condescending. The only reason I finished this book was to discover what horrible thing had happened, as was referred to on the first page...the ans ...more
Amy King
Jan 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Play Book Tag: The Book of Ruth - Jane Hamilton - 2.5* 3 15 Dec 12, 2018 10:55AM  
500 Great Books B...: The Book of Ruth - Jane Hamilton 1 14 Jul 18, 2014 03:24PM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Black and Blue
  • We Were the Mulvaneys
  • The Rapture of Canaan
  • Stones from the River (Burgdorf Cycle, #1)
  • White Oleander
  • Gap Creek
  • The Deep End of the Ocean (Cappadora Family, #1)
  • She's Come Undone
  • Icy Sparks
  • Songs in Ordinary Time
  • Open House
  • While I Was Gone
  • Drowning Ruth
  • Jewel
  • House of Sand and Fog
  • Vinegar Hill
  • Ellen Foster
  • A Virtuous Woman
See similar books…
Jane Hamilton is the author most recently of The Excellent Lombards and The Book of Ruth, winner of the PEN/Hemingway Award for first fiction, as well as A Map of the World, a New York Times Notable Book of the Year and named one of the top ten books of the year by Entertainment Weekly, Publishers Weekly, the Miami Herald, and People. Both The Book of Ruth and A Map of the World have been sele ...more

Related Articles

It’s rare that a debut novel gets the kind of love and attention that Yaa Gyasi’s Homegoing, which spanned centuries and continents, received. Her...
78 likes · 13 comments
“I feel like I don't have all the ingredients a person is supposed to have.” 20 likes
“Sometimes I couldn't figure it out, what all the living was for.” 13 likes
More quotes…