A couple of quick notes before I dive into my review of this amazing book. First, as you may notice, things look a little different. I decided I needed a more readable theme for these reviews, and Tanner Hobin (my good buddy and a great CSS’er) was obliging enough to help me out. So what you see is essentially a modified version of my Twitter account, which I love because it’s simple and neat. As you may notice at the bottom of my posts, you can now subscribe to this blog via Twitter (because I always post on Twitter when I have a new blog post out), subscribe via email, or if you use an RSS reader you can subscribe there if you choose.
On to my review. Last Saturday I picked up Gilead by Marilynne Robinson. I don’t really know what I expected from this book, but to be honest I got the name Gilead confused with Galahad, so I suppose I was thinking it was some kind of grand adventure. Far from it, but no less enjoyable for all that.
Gilead is named after a fictional Southeastern Iowa town. An old man, having lived a full life of being a congregationalist pastor is writing a letter to his son. He was married very late and at the time of the letter he is 76, with a seven year old. So he decides to try to write out as much wisdom as he can to make up for all of the years of his son’s life he will miss.
The entire novel is is the letter, so it seemed rather not like a novel to me at first. Since there is a lot of reflection and philosophy, it was also a much slower read at first for me. But soon I didn’t even notice any of that. It’s going to be hard for me to really articulate how I viewed this book because it is very complex and evoked a wide array of emotions.
There is deep sadness and resignation as John Ames (the writer of the letter) is approaching his death. Yet there is also humor, friendship, family, and overarching all, a deep and abiding sense of love for the beauty God has granted humanity. John sees this beauty in nature to be sure, but where he reflects on it the most seems to be the nature of relationships between people and how blessed he feels to have lived his life. Coming from a man who lived through the depression, droughts, and three great wars, this is all the more impacting. Reverend Ames seeks to show his son why life is worth living, and in the process I found myself rediscovering all that as well.
I don’t do spoilers, so I won’t get into any details, but at a point in the book some events take place (John is writing this letter over time) which cause the book to feel more and more like a novel. It’s a great story, and much is revealed in it, but to be honest I think I’d have still been perfectly content to read this old man’s reflections for as many pages as his heart would last. The real author Marilynne Robinson does an incredible job at making you feel like this man really lived, and that you’d love to have known him.
There were times reading this novel when tears filled my eyes. There were also times when I laughed out loud. This book crosses such a vast array of emotions, being both simple to understand and complex in its effect. I’m glad I gave myself two weeks per book, because even though I finished this one in four days, I am going to take a day or two to reflect on it and gather myself a bit.
Bottom line: 5/5. I can’t give this any higher recommendation that to say that anyone who can read should read it. It greatly increased my capacity to perceive and think about joy, beauty, and the wonders of creation, the pinnacle of which is humankind. For all our evils we are capable of, there is also much good, love, and intense beauty we can give to each other, and that, I think is what affected me the most. I’ll leave you with a quote that I feel sums up the message of the book pretty well, and you can think/debate/comment on it as you will.
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”