Gilead: On the Lighter Side

A parishioner told me that I need to read more than theology.  I do, but her point was well taken, so I’m reading the book she loaned me: Gilead by Marilynne Robinson (New York: Picador, 2004).  The story is about an elderly Congregationalist minister who – in a very creative and lyrical way – is recounting his life (including the 25 feet tall stack of 40 years of sermons in the attic that he just can’t forget about).  Here’s one little blurb.

After lamenting his age, Reverend Ames (the one writing the story) says he wanted to recount the old days by doing a little waltz in his study (sort of a way to defy his age, or fight it).

“I have thought I might have a book ready at hand to clutch if I begin to experience unusual pain, so that it would have an especial recommendation from being found in my hands.  That seemed theatrical, on consideration, and it might have the perverse effect of burdening the book with unpleasant associations.  The ones I considered, by the way, were Donne and Herbert and Barth’s Epistle to the Romans and Volume II of Calvin’s Institutes.  Which is by no means to slight Volume I” (p. 115).

The book is a flowing narrative, so it is good for the sake of story (it won a Pulitzer Prize).  There are some great episodes in it as well.  The oddest thing for me, however, apart from the gun-totin’ abolitionist preacher is that the book doesn’t have chapters!  Still, go get it if you want a light-hearted enjoyable read.

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 Replies to “Gilead: On the Lighter Side”

  1. It’s more than a light-hearted read, though! Robinson has some profound word pictures in the book–of things such as the Sacraments. This is really a “deep” read; I found myself lingering over every word. I wish more Christians were writing fiction of this sort.


  2. True; “light-hearted” maybe isn’t the best choice of terms. I was referring more to the style – sort of flowing, journalistic-story telling bright brilliance. The content is not “light-hearted,” as you rightly mention!

    By the way, what is Robinson’s background? Are her other books as captivating?



  3. Shane, “Gilead” is her best, in my opinion; she just put out a companion book, “Home.” Her religious background is Congregational. You should read some of the interviews she gives to some of the major news organizations. She recently talked to a Washington Post reporter and led her to her “favorite books”–the commentaries of Calvin! The reporter was a little surprised. Robinson also wrote a series of essays contained in a book–“The Death of Adam.” Parts of the book contain defenses of Calvin and the Puritans. I have been trying to get Ken Myers to interview her for the Mars Hill Audio, but so far she has declined to talk to him.


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