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BethR

Gilead wins national literary award

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Marilynne Robinsons GILEAD wins the National Book Critics Circle Award for Fiction.

Oh, and Bob Dylan almost won for biography/autobiography, a history of the Reformation won for history, and my former grad school prof. and founder of Algonquin Books, Louis D. Rubin was given a lifetime achievement award--well deserved. Algonquin first published Lauren F. Winner's Girl Meets God, Wallace's Big Fish, Ellen Foster, by Kaye Gibbons, and the novels of Clyde Edgerton.

Great! biggrin.gif

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A well-deserved award, I'd say - I'm about 3/4 of the way thru 'Gilead,' and finding it to be a superb read - I'll make more comments once I've finished it. Has anyone else here read it?

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I take it the deafening silence signifies that no-one else has read this yet. Please, do yourself a favor: buy and read it. This has become a new favorite, perhaps the top of the heap for me in regards to contemporary fiction.

Robinson has a gift for simple prose that succeeds in conveying complex characters and ideas. Gilead is a fairly brief book in letter form, written by a dying Midwest pastor to his 7 year old son from a late-life marriage. It tells the story of his past relationship to his father and grandfather, both of whom were also pastors (who couldn't stand each other, due to their vastly different politics and practical theology), as his current conflicted relationship with his prodigal godson unfolds before us. Scattered in its pages are beautiful meditations on Christian doctrinal wars, an appreciation of beauty, forgiveness and grudge-bearing, etc., etc.

This is a book that I fully expect to return to multiple times in coming years - a rare treasure. Please read it - I'm eager to discuss it here.

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Kate DiCamillo, a friend of a friend and the author of Because of Winn-Dixie and Tales of Despaeraux would probably be best described as an agnostic, but she read the book and said it really helped her take a step closer to faith, for what its worth.

I've not read it, but its on my list.

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Robinson was on Fresh Air last Friday. A really fascinating and articulate woman. I especially appreciated a comment she made about the similarities between writing (or the creation of art, in general) and prayer. "Writing often feels more like prayer than prayer does," she said.

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I'm in the middle of GILEAD, and have been halted there for awhile. I got sort of distracted from it because there are about a zillion things going on in my personal and professional life right now, including lots of non-fiction reading assignments that have had to take precedence. I've found it a difficult book to pick up when I have a spare moment, as it doesn't have a fast-moving plot into whose stream it's easy to leap and get carried along. Seems like the sort of book I'd do better with when I have a wide-open weekend in which to become absorbed in the story, but unfortunately I won't for a long while. Don't get me wrong, I'm eager to finish it, because I love the characters and the reflective languidity of the story. But for now it has to wait till June, when I'll get the one full, uninterrupted week of relaxation I have coming to me--my honeymoon! smile.gif

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'Gilead' has now won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction - today's 'Slate' recycled a beautiful review of this beautiful book, by the way.

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I held this book in my hands for quite a while the other day, but couldn't bring myself to part with $34.99 at the checkout. I guess you're saying I should just spring for the hardcover and not wait for the paperback? wink.gif

(Hmmm -- just remembered... could check a great used bookstore not far from here...)

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So last night my wife surprised me with a gift -- a no-occasion, thought-you'd-like-it copy of Gilead. (She apologized that it came so late after the A&F discussion, hereby resurrected. Ain't she grand?!)

Around 12:30 last night, having finished my work for the day, I cracked it open and began to read. I still haven't settled on the best adjectives for this extraordinary work -- not delightful (though it is), not delicate (though some paragraphs are exquisite), not any one such word, due to their inadequacy. Hallowed is close, maybe the right word.

This book has a heartbeat. In only the first 40 pages, Robinson left me with moist eyes twice as she captures so much that is true and good about family, fatherhood, faith and struggle. Robinson shows restraint in her writing, not overworking a point, not pushing too hard; a musical equivalant might be Reflecting Light, by Sam Phillips -- who could belt it out, but chooses instead to lend the song added punch with subtlety and nuance.

Another gem found, thanks to A&F. Deep, heartfelt thanks. As I write this, I realize that I felt like I spent time with my own grandfather last night. He passed away in the 1970s -- the 6'6" pastor with a serious limp, a never-ending stream of good humor, and a grandson who didn't know him well enough, who would give up so much to have afternoons with him now. Yes, I recognize in Gilead enough that is true of pastors and fathers and grandfathers and people of faith to feel that Robinson is giving me a special, very personal gift. So, again, thanks....

Edited by Tim Willson

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I'm listening to the book, as I do with almost all fiction these days, and I'm liking it quite a bit. I'm not quite halfway through it.

Minor quibble: The reader has a deep, rich baritone voice -- very pleasant, but I'm not sure it's quite right for the tone of the novel.

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I'm so glad that 2 other board members are reading/listening to Gilead. 'Hallowed' seems a good word for this book - 'devotional,' too, as I found there was a profound meditative beauty to it. (I suspect Foster will be adding this to his devotional classics list sometime within the next decade or so, perhaps even sooner.)

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I keep meaning to update this thread with an unfortunate error in the book. In referring to an incident during his own childhood (sometime in the 1880s), John Ames repeatedly recalls the haunting strains of The Old Rugged Cross, a tune that was written in 1913. A minor misstep in a book which is otherwise so effortlessly sure-footed.

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I'm reading it. It's beautiful but not necessarily compelling. I read a chapter or half a chaptr at a time, and then a few days later I pick it up again.

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I thought the book was marvelous in a particular way: its treatment of Calvinism.

It doesn't endorse Calvinism, and I didn't agree with the narrator's take on it in certain instances, but the book certainly wrestles with it, engages it, and, hallelujah!, understands it! These passages were stimulating to me in a way that no other recent fiction has been.

I just found a New Yorker essay in which Robinson discusses this aspect of the novel.

Q: In your nonfiction collection,

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That is a remarkable paragraph. And sometimes I pretend that I know how to write...

But I really jumped in again to say that I was just listening to Robinson's interview on NPR, in which Calvin also came up:

Interviewer reads a quote from Gilead:

Calvin says that each of us in an actor on a stage and God is the audience. That metaphor has always interested me, because it makes us artists of our own behavior and the reaction of God to us might be thought of as aesthetic rather than morally judgmental.

Robinson:

...if you imagine Him through the lens of Christ - what in the world breaks his heart? - it seems to me it is the irreducible beauty and pathos of human beings and their capacity for love and their capacity for loyalty and all the rest that is simply beautiful even though in many forms it is in error and possibly destructive, and so on. Again, I think that, again, Calvin would say if we were -- or as Hamlet said, "Who would 'scape whipping?", you know? If we were judged on moral terms we wouldn't be worth attracting the notice of God in the way that theology assumes that we do. But it's the beauty of us, the goodness of us, finally....

(Robinson on NPR's Fresh Air, March 25, 2005, linked earlier in this thread.)

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