Friday, August 28, 2009

Gilead by Marilyn Robinson

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
256 pages
Published November 2004 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Reverend John Ames is 77-years-old and in ill health in 1956 when he begins writing a letter to his young son, hoping to tell his son, through the letter, all of the things he would have told him if he'd lived longer. In the letter, Ames writes about the two generations of Ames preachers before him, he talks about the death of his first wife and daughter, life in a small town, life in the Midwest and religion. While writing the letter, he is confronted with one of the biggest crises of his life when his namesake, and son of his best friend, returns home. In trying to come to an understanding of the younger man's previous actions and to find forgiveness in his heart, Ames must also face questions of his own self worth.

I am not a good reader when it comes to books that should be read slowly. If I love a book (and I loved this book), I want to devour it. Robinson will not let the reader plow through Gilead. It is simply too beautiful; there is simply too much to be absorbed. The writing is spare and thoughtful. The book has a quietness.
"I was struck by the way the light felt that afternoon. I have paid a good deal of attention to light, but no one could begin to do it justice. There was the feeling of a weight of light--pressing the damp out of the grass and pressing the smell of sour old sap out of the boards on the porch floor and burdening even the trees a little as a late snow would do. It was the kind of light that rests on your shoulders the way a cat lies on your lap."
Ames spends a great deal of time contemplating faith but the book never reads as "preachy." Robinson raises questions but does not attempt to leave the reader with easy explanations or answers.

The Washington Post says: "one feels touched with grace just to read it." The New York Times called it "demanding, grave and lucid."

I had started reading this book when Amy, of My Friend Amy, asked for bloggers to review the fifty books that Newsweek had declared "Books of Our Time." Each of us was to decide if we felt the book we had read was a book of our time. Gilead is not only a book of our time, but I felt that it really is a book for the ages. To see reviews of all of the books, check them out here.


  1. Great review although I think I read a different book than you by the same name! No, just kidding. I was one of those people who hated the book, however. Unfortunately I didn't write a review so I don't remember quite what I didn't like so much except for sloooooowness. But your review is lovely!

  2. I Liked this book a lot when i read it; the writing was beautiful. I did not like her latest book: Home though.

  3. I have been eyeing this book for years! And now your review has convinced me to finally read it!

    Great job.

  4. Thanks for this great review! Gilead is on my shelf just waiting to be read! Have a great weekend!

  5. Another book from our book club list - can't wait to see what you read next :)

    We missed you on Thursday - you would have enjoyed talking with Christina.

    She just finished selecting new novel writing software programs as she prepares for her next book and highly recommends 'Power Writer'. She says its the only software she has found allowing the writer to drop/click content (within all facets of the software).

    Back to Gilead... This was not a BC favorite. I agree with your review though. It's beautfully written.

  6. I'm with Lisa -- your review makes me want to read this book, at long last. I don't know why I have put it off. I just put it on my "to read" list. Thanks for the lovely review.

  7. I agree with everything you've said. A good review too. I loved this book.

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  9. Wow, what a review! You've really made me want to pick this one up.

  10. Outstanding review! I'll have to look for this one.

  11. Sounds like an interesting book. I might check it out at some point.

    I notice that you're reading Night of Flames right now. So am I, and I'm enjoying it. Looking forward to your review!

    Diary of an Eccentric