When I Was a Child I Read Books

By Marilynne Robinson

(FSG, $24, 224 pages)

Who is this author?

Greatly admired for her luminous prose and sharp intellect, Marilynne Robinson has earned many prestigious awards. Her debut novel, “Housekeeping” (1980), won the PEN/Hemingway Award for best first novel and was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. In 2004, her second novel, “Gilead” won the National Book Critics Circle Award, the Ambassador Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize.  She has also published several nonfiction essay collections, has written for such prestigious literary journals as Harper’s, Paris Review and The New York Times Book Review and teaches at the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop.

What is this book about?

Her new book is a collection of 10 essays in which she defends that which you may feel needs no defense: the God of the Old Testament. She also laments the coarsening of contemporary culture and the misuses of religion in regards to politics and public discourse. In addition to her pieces about religion, education, politics and the pitting of faith vs. science, she muses about the craft of writing and her own life.

Why you’ll like it:

Robinson is a consummate stylist who manages to take on dense and difficult subjects in a conversational, often humorous tone that makes following her arguments smooth and easy. That is no easy feat. Her ideas can be controversial, but she backs up her opinions with deep research and her own considerable intelligence.

She has said that writing can be like prayer because “it’s exploratory and you engage in it in the hope of having another perspective or seeing beyond what is initially obvious or apparent to you.”

What others are saying:

“Brilliant . . . As the credo of a liberal Christian, Robinson’s new book of essays stands on its own. But it is also an illuminating commentary on her novels . . . This collection is a rewarding reminder that the author’s faith infuses every word she writes . . . Like every good preacher, Marilynne Robinson judges others while including herself—in theory at least—in the judgment,’ says Andrew Delbanco in a New York Times Book Review piece.

“There is more food for thought in one of Robinson’s well-turned paragraphs than in entire books. Esteemed for her award-winning novels Gilead (2004) and Home (2008), Robinson is a consummate and clarion essayist. In her third and most resounding collection, she addresses our toxic culture of diminishment, arguing that as our view of society shrinks, public discourse coarsens, corruption spreads, education is undermined, science denigrated, spirituality and loving kindness are siphoned from religion, and democracy itself is imperiled . . . Intellectually sophisticated, beautifully reasoned with gravitas and grace, Robinson’s call to reclaim humaneness beams like the sun breaking through smothering clouds . . .” says Booklist in a starred review.

Robinson weighs in with a series of tightly developed essays, some personal but mostly more general, on the Big Themes: social fragmentation in modern America, human frailty, faith. Her project is a hard-edged liberalism, sustained by a Calvinist ethic of generosity. … In these times of the ever-ascending religious right, in the aftermath of what she sees as the ideologically secularist-driven cold war, Robinson bravely explores the corrosive potion of “Christian anti-Judaism” and what it really ought to mean to be “a Christian nation,” says Publishers Weekly.

“The Pulitzer Prize–winning novelist returns with a collection of essays that are variously literary, political and religious . . . Robinson is a splendid writer, no question—erudite, often wise and slyly humorous (there is a clever allusion to the birther nonsense in a passage about Noah Webster). Articulate and learned descriptions and defenses of the author’s Christian faith,” says Kirkus Reviews.

“….Robinson, though some of her views are well known, is never predictable, for her discipline is to look at every question as though she were considering it for the first time. It is impossible not to be fortified and enlarged by a few hundred pages in her company,” says Stefan Beck in a Barnes & Noble review.

When is it available?

It is available now at the Downtown Hartford Public Library.

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