This is a post in my 50 Nifty series, in which I’m reading through 50 books that embody each of the 50 United States. Find out why I’m doing this and which books I’m reading when (so you can read along) by checking out my first 50Nifty post, or else browse all 50Nifty posts by clicking here!
Gilead, Marilynne Robinson
Several friends have suggested this book in the past, so I was excited to see it on the 50Nifty list for Iowa, as I’ve been meaning to read it for a while. The story is essentially a long letter from an aging and dying father to his young son, recounting in its pages tips for living, revelations of the narrator’s relationship with his own father, disclosure of family stories long hidden, hopes voiced for his son’s future, declarations of love for his wife, and other various wanderings that necessarily visit someone contemplating his own mortality. I listened to this book while walking around my neighborhood in Chicago, and while it was enjoyable that way, I feel like the book would have been even more delicious had I been physically reading it (with a cup of coffee in hand) or even walking through the country roads of Iowa (or somewhere else in the Midwest) where I would not be distracted by all the signs, cars, buildings, and people everywhere in a city.
Marilynne Robinson’s prose is beautiful but avoids being flowery, resulting in a realistic depiction of the main character and narrator, John Ames, a retired Congregationalist minister. While it does necessarily delve into Christian theology, it does so in a gentle way that I think would engage even non-Christians in the spiritual discussions in the pages, as Ames openly respects and often quotes (among various Christian theologians) famed atheist Ludwig Feuerbach. Ames’s open, patient willingness to listen to and not become flustered by those questioning or ridiculing his beliefs is admirable, and makes me wonder how Robinson captured that sense of wisdom so poignantly.
Through Ames’s description of journeys through Iowa’s countryside and his discussion of his town’s involvement with the Civil War and the abolitionist movement, the reader gains a sense of place and time throughout the novel. The writing exposes the beauty of the mostly quiet ordinariness of everyday life in the Midwest; perhaps without much excitement and action in the typical sense, but not without meaning. I’d definitely recommend the book (I mean, they don’t hand out Pulitzer prizes for just anything), and enjoy the story, complete with heartache and joy, loneliness and great gratitude.
(By the way, have you seen this year’s Pulitzer winners announced today? Guess I have more to add to my reading list!)