Monday, January 15, 2007

Read This Book

One commenter asked me to post again if and when I finished Gilead by Marilynne Robinson, which I did this weekend. It immediately joined a list of my very favorite novels -- at least top 10, probably better, for those of you who only understand things in list form.

Stick with me while I try to describe part of its appeal... This weekend, a friend reminded me of a very funny excerpt in Sasha Frere-Jones' review of Justin Timberlake's latest album in The New Yorker. He wrote:
Justin Timberlake is under an equally strange impression on "SexyBack," the first single from his modest but satisfying new album, "FutureSex/LoveSounds," where he bafflingly claims to be "bringing sexy back." Does anything need bringing back less than sexy? It's like proposing to bring back petroleum, or the N.F.L.
Well, in Gilead (and in her previous novel, Housekeeping), Robinson is bringing back a few things that need reviving -- considered prose, humble reflection, focus on religious thought for its potential use in an individual's life rather than in a politician's office. Gilead is not flawless, but it's a stunningly beautiful book. Its pace and tone will be considered glacial by even some serious readers, much less those whose brains marinate only in celebrity-gossip blogs. But I can't recommend it highly enough. I think it's that rare thing: an enjoyable work of art that might also actually make you, in however small a way, a better person.

Here's another excerpt to try to convince you to pick it up, if you haven't already:
Your mother came up the road to tell us our supper was ready. It was a cold supper, she said, so there was no hurry. She agreed to sit with us for a few minutes. She always has to be coaxed to stay in company even a little while, and then it's all I can do to get a word from her. I believe she worries about the way she talks, or the way she talked when I first knew her. "It don't matter," she would say, in that low, soft voice of hers. That was what she said when she meant she forgave someone, but it had a sound of deeper, sadder resignation, as if she were forgiving the whole of the created order, forgiving the Lord Himself. It grieves me that I may never hear just those words spoken by her again. I believe Boughton made her self-conscious with that little trick of his of correcting people. Not that he ever corrected her.

"It don't matter." It was as if she were renouncing the world itself just in order to make nothing of some offense to her.

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