This is what I did BEFORE I wrote my book review for Gilead.
So it would appear that beer has quite an influence on my a) perception of spirituality and b) choice in vocabulary. In particular, after tossing back six drinks at a happy hour with friends last night, I proceeded to come home and write a rather angry review of Gilead that features no fewer than four instances of the word “beautiful” and a sentence that includes both “bequeath” and “kin.” I am a rather verbose drunk.
I feel in retrospect that I was a little harsh on Gilead (or maybe I’m feeling residual guilt about having panned a Pulitzer Prize winner). So to make amends, and reiterate how impressed I was by the book’s language, if not its subject matter, here are my favorite quotes from Gilead. (Full disclosure: I have a rather neurotic habit of dog-earing the bottom of pages when a particular quote resonates with me, so perhaps sharing these lines would be a way of turning what is otherwise a literary quirk into useful blog fodder).
“A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.”
“I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books.”
“Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.”
“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.”
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
Confession time: I didn’t care for Gilead.
Now I know what you’re thinking: The book won a Pulitzer, how bad can it be? Well I’m glad you asked. Gilead isn’t bad, not at all. Rather, it’s one of the more beautiful things I’ve ever read, filled with lines that address spirituality in a way uncommon among modern literature, in a way meant to resonate with people who have themselves considered the implications of being religious in the modern era. In fact, I can’t emphasize enough how truly beautiful and poignant the language in Gilead is.
Unfortunately, no amount of beautiful language could have saved this book for me. Rather, my objection lies with the subject matter. Gilead is told from the point of view of a priest, spending his dying days writing a letter to his rather young son, a letter intended to bequeath upon his kin all the various thoughts and suggestions he might have otherwise shared in fatherhood. Alone, this sounds charming. In practice, Gilead is an exercise in religion, and more specifically in what it might mean for a religious man in the 20th century to decide which parts of his life and thoughts are worth sharing with his child. Lest this still sound appealing, for me personally it read a lot like a father describing to his son his impression of unicorns, and how their supposed presence had affected his outlook on life. Which is to say I found it almost entirely irrelevant. Continue reading
So I kind of had a relapse this weekend. Encouraged by the wonderful weather—60 degrees, in November!—I dragged my generally unmotivated self to the gym, which meant going to Union Square, which meant being near…Barnes & Noble.
I only spent $50 ($51 if we’re being picky, though with $7.89 in member savings!), so it could have been worse, and I walked away with a good mix of new books: Marilynne Robinson’s “Gilead,” which has never interested me on its own but the resounding praise makes me willing to take the risk; David Rakoff’s “Half Empty,” which I’ve written about on this blog; and “Between the Bridge and the River,” a debut novel from Craig Ferguson. Yes, that Craig Ferguson, of kilt-wearing, late-night-television-show-hosting fame. All in all, a good trip, as I made off with an award-winner, something on my Wishlist and a book I didn’t know existed but has all the markings of a good find. As you can see, I’m more than adept at justifying my completely unnecessary literary purchases. After all, I’ve had years of practice.
Since I bought it in hardcover (even more difficult to rationalize), and because “Devil in the White City” was such a dense book, I’m taking the easy road this week and plowing through the whopping 220 pages of “Half Empty.” In a bit of karmic retribution though, I saw “127 Hours” last night, which (outside of arm-chopping) is very much about learning to appreciate life and take nothing for granted. Needless to say, reading a book that essentially praises the tenets of negative thinking is proving a little tricky in my post-James-Franco glow (though Rakoff’s argument has nuances). It’s TBD whether I’ll spend this weekend ogling at nature or crying into a pint of ice cream.
I’ll keep you posted.