Marilynne Robinson, well-known author of books such as Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home, made the New York Times’ Best Books list again this month with her new collection of essays, When I Was a Child I Read Books. She has described this latest project as a collection of essays that are very personal and critical. Robinson’s analysis of her own thoughts and behaviors makes for an incredibly interesting read. She bends the ideas of what feelings and behaviors we think of as “normal” and weaves a personal tale of breaking everyday emotional and personal rules.
In the book, Robinson looks upon the idea of being lonesome with a great deal of positivity. Rather than meaning she is isolated, she explains that lonesomeness actually, as one reviewer explained, “envelops the mind and heart of creation, as when she remembers kneeling alone as a child.” Robinson wrote, “by a creek that spilled and pooled among the rocks and fallen trees with the unspeakably tender growth of small trees already sprouting from their back…there is only one thing wrong here, which is my own presence…” Even as a child Robinson was incredibly aware of her surrounding and her impact on the world. Further on in the book she has many musings and explanations of her personal journey through religion, and offers many poignant points about spirituality. She discusses both Christian Scriptures and the Hebrew Bible, making the book a great read for anyone curious about religion.
Robinson’s work has been called nothing short of illuminating. Growing up in Idaho, and now residing in Iowa, Robinson brings a very down-to-earth and honest writing style into a world of writers who are more concerned with book sales than with the quality of their writing. This is not to say that Robinson is not intelligent. She even references Max Weber’s famous book, The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, and also discusses famous abolitionists and their famous written works. Several sections of the book are absolutely enlightening. The Christian overtones of the book are obvious, but they are not alienating or uncomfortable. Robinson does an incredible job of analyzing herself, with one eye open to the rest of the outside world.
Her incredible imagination also takes time to travel throughout time and history to defend certain ideals and philosophies of the past, such as in ancient Carthage or Puritan Massachusetts. She has always savored literature, all of which is highlighted in the essay, “When I Was a Child I Read Books Slowly”. This essay is incredibly powerful and can leave even the most hardened literary critic asking deep questions. Overall, When I Was a Child I Read Books is an incredible series of essays that will honestly make the reader think deeply about life and their own personal goals and relationships. This “must read” can be found at bookstores around the country for around $11.00 and it is worth every penny.