Katie asked:

Is it best to read "Gilead" before reading "Lila"?

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Molly I have observed that most people's preferences reflect their own experience. I read them in the order they were written (Gilead first, Lila last, Home in between), and can't imagine reading them any other way. They do stand on their own, but they are also, taken together, a very full experience, one you'll likely remember as its own season ("In the days when I was reading Marilynne Robinson..."). In that regard, however you read it will seem like the only way a person could read.

If I were to give any reason for my preference—other than that I prefer the publication order because it's the order I know—it would be that each book examines an increasingly more mysterious or reluctant character. So the cumulative effect is of dropping more deeply into a well.

Structurally speaking, Gilead uses certain revelations to form its central character especially in the final pages which, should you read Home first, you would already know—and as a result wouldn't find yourself growing along with that character through his story. Home pretends to keep those revelations till the end as well, but it's not really trying very hard in that regard. A reasonably seasoned reader won't be surprised by the ending because of pretty obvious suggestions throughout. Given that, I feel you'd be doing yourself a favor to read Gilead first, so the structure can actually do what it's intended to do for the reader. And I wouldn't suggest reading Home last because its overall tone is not definitive of all three in the same way Lila seems to be. I don't think most people would want Home to be the final sense they're left with of these characters. I could be mistaken.
Rebecca Willis I just finished Lila, and loved it, but it is the only book of the trilogy I have read. I think it works just fine on its own!
Mary Wood That would be my preference. In fact I'd say read Gilead twice before reading Lila! That will attune you to the reflective pace of the small town characters. They become friends.
Jenny Dunning They aren't sequential--read in any order.
Sylvia Johnson And I'm seconding (thirding?) Martha and Mary Wood. And oh, this is a lovely, lovely book.
Martha I would definitely read Gilead first. It sets the tone, the type of reflection and questioning that works through all the books. You will never regret reading any of them! Robinson is a great American writer.
Suzanne St.lawrence I read Lila then I read Gilead, then Home.

I think that was a good way to travel through this story :)
Ellie Pojarska I second the readers who recommend reading Gilead and Home first. I also second the idea of reading Gilead twice, as it is such a rich book and it really pays to read it again, maybe after you've read Home also. Lila is a wonderfully complex characters, but you'd appreciate her better if you know the protagonists from the other books.
Ruth I read Home before I read Gilead, and I wasn't sorry that I did that. I think you could read these books in any order. The one reason to read Lila last is that she's a mysterious character in the previous two books, and that enhanced my experience of finally reading the story from her point of view. The problem with reading Gilead first is that it's written from the point of view of an authoritative, older male character. Perhaps it would be more exciting to read Lila first.
Mariette Wille I have only read Lila so far, but what a wonderful story. It makes you think deeply about people living on the fringes of society, and how they view the ones that live in warm, safe houses with normal lives. I loved the fact that the preacher she married was patient and sensitive to Lila's background and insecurities and made provision for it
Josephine Briggs No, but it would be a good idea.
Christian Hendriks Gilead opens theological questions which are advanced in Home and closed in Lila. In terms of plot, you can read them in any order or as stand-alone books (though I agree that Home should be read after Gilead), but in terms of theme and tone, I would definitely recommend publication order.
Jeanette Grant-Thomson I'd read Gilead first but Lila could stand alone. I think it gains a lot from Gilead and even Home.
Johnny There's something to be said for reading Gilead -> Lila -> Home. I just think that Home's trajectory wraps up the entire trilogy so well.

But it really doesn't matter. They're three wonderful books, in relation to each other and themselves.
Jessica Norris I don't think it matters, but you should read both!
Charlotte I've read them in order, all recently (well, I am still reading Lila). I'd say it's important to read Gilead before Home because Robinson builds such suspense into Ames's feelings towards Jack Boughton. If you have read Home before that you will not get the effect of that tension, which to me is critical to the turn that takes place in the book, as you will already know the outcome. These are three of my most favorite books ever.
Dora Mossanen I actually read Lila before reading Gilead and I'm happy I did. It is an entirely different experience, having come to know Lila in her own wonderful voice and then hearing the preacher's story in his compelling voice.
Jennifer You can read Lila as a stand-alone book, but I believe you will get more out of it and understand the characters better if you read Gilead first. I just read Gilead (again) before starting Lila and was glad I did. It refreshed everything and put me in the right mindset.
Helen O'Toole I believe that you should read the Gilead and Home first. I was so excited to see Lila in my local book shop especially when I read that the same characters would be in it, albeit on the fringes. I have begun reading it this weekend and I love that Lila is central to the narrative. I love Robinson'scharacters and there is such a strong sense of place as well.
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