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When I Was a Child I Read Books (2012)

Marilynne Robinson

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#1 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 05:56 PM

I thought we had a discussion thread for this book already. Didn't we?



#2 Christian

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Posted 15 March 2012 - 07:58 PM

It's come up in the What We're Reading thread, but I don't know that we have a separate thread on it.

What do you think of this comparison between Robinson and Malick?

#3 Christian

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Posted 16 March 2012 - 08:01 AM

Another tangent/digression while waiting to read this book: The Atlantic uses Robinson's new collection as a jumping-off point to discuss today's top essayists. (Restricted to those writers who are alive, so no David Foster Wallace.)

#4 NBooth

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Posted 16 March 2012 - 01:51 PM

I've got to stop paying attention to this forum; it's getting a tad expensive. :P

EDIT: In the interest of actually adding to the thread, instead of just bumping its post-count, The Millions has an interesting review of the book in question:

The latest turn in Robinson’s thinking is toward politics, specifically her strong intuition of political crisis in America. She’s talked politics before, but it’s never been quite this intense or urgent. The Tea Party is isolated as a particularly menacing development — she sneeringly calls them “these patriots” — but the crisis goes considerably beyond them, to the bedrock of American values. “Loyalty to democracy is the American value I fear we are gravely in danger of losing,” she writes. [...] This isn’t anything new. Walt Whitman talks about all kinds of American terribleness in Democratic Vistas, which Robinson quotes from in the introduction. In this collection she wants to do roughly the same thing as Whitman did in Vistas, to respond to this American moment with a mixture of criticism and hope in a prophetic-sounding voice.

[snip]

My other big criticism is an overall sense I get that Robinson’s intellectual and political interests end in the 1960s, right around the time she left Sandpoint, ID for Pembroke College, RI. Other than a brief reference to Vattimo in Absence of Mind, she’s refused to deal with one of the most influential intellectual developments since the 1960s, the emergence of Theory. It’s like she’s not aware of how much the part of the academy she cares about most, the humanities, have absorbed the assumptions and attitudes of thinkers like Foucault. She’s still hand-wringing over Nietzsche’s superman, Freud’s primal horde, and Skinner’s behaviorism. Politically, Robinson’s liberalism looks to the past rather than the present [...] There’s also the sense with Robinson that all good things come from New England [...] her thinking would benefit from a dialogue with some of the recent shifts in the humanities, and her politics would benefit from a deeper recognition that good things can have secular sources.


In the end, it's a favorable review:

Her lonesome distance from the mainstream is eccentric, but it’s also what gives her essays their strange power to diagnose America’s discontents. It’s a perspective that’s simultaneously alienated and engaged, public and personal


Edited by NBooth, 16 March 2012 - 02:05 PM.


#5 J.A.A. Purves

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Posted 11 April 2012 - 12:43 AM

My book review.

#6 Christian

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Posted 21 April 2012 - 07:20 PM

Ever read a review that made you wonder more about the reviewer than the book he was reviewing, or the author of the book he was reviewing?

http://www.nytimes.c...html?ref=review

The following paragraph is loaded with so many assumptions about what religious people believe, and what conservatives think, and who liberals are, that it took me out of the review completely:

But if Robinson writes with a devoutness that can alienate those who don’t share it, she also avers that wisdom is “almost always another name for humility.” Not only in Christian Scripture but throughout the Hebrew Bible, she finds a “haunting solicitude for the vulnerable.” Like many conservative critics, with whom she would otherwise disagree, she is angry at America for its putative betrayal of its founding principles. She condemns “condescension toward biblical texts and narratives, toward the culture that produced them, toward God.” She decries the diminution of religion as “a primitive attempt to explain phenomena which are properly within the purview of science.” But her anger arises not on behalf of some fanciful notion that America was once a monolithic Christian nation. She is angry, instead, at our failure to sustain the capacious conception of community with which, as she shows in a brilliant essay entitled “Open Thy Hand Wide: Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism,” America began — a community founded not on the premise that human beings are motivated primarily by greed, but as an experiment in building a society on the principle of love. She persists in believing that this experiment has not been futile: “The great truth that is too often forgotten is that it is in the nature of people to do good to one another.”

EDIT: Ooops! Nothing about liberalism there beyond a title word in the essay. Elaboration arrives in the first sentence of the review's next paragraph:

As the credo of a liberal Christian, Robinson’s new book of essays stands on its own.

Edited by Christian, 21 April 2012 - 07:22 PM.


#7 Christian

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Posted 15 June 2012 - 01:41 PM

So, although my birthday isn't until November, I was asked to put together a wish list for a summer party at which birthday gifts for everyone will be exchanged. Unprepared but needing to provide some quick options, I put this book and Robinson's The Death of Adam on my list.

As those who have been paying attention to my reader reactions in this forum may have noticed, I've spent the past several months reading essay collections. I've been impressed with Pulphead and The Ecstacy of Influence, and have started (and will soon resume) The Neconservative Persuasion. I'm going to add the Robinson collections, along with a Wendell Berry primer. I'll post about the latter in a Berry-related thread.

Edited by Christian, 15 June 2012 - 01:41 PM.


#8 Christian

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Posted 19 January 2013 - 10:14 AM

The latest turn in Robinson’s thinking is toward politics, specifically her strong intuition of political crisis in America. She’s talked politics before, but it’s never been quite this intense or urgent. The Tea Party is isolated as a particularly menacing development — she sneeringly calls them “these patriots” — but the crisis goes considerably beyond them, to the bedrock of American values. “Loyalty to democracy is the American value I fear we are gravely in danger of losing,” she writes. [...] This isn’t anything new. Walt Whitman talks about all kinds of American terribleness in Democratic Vistas, which Robinson quotes from in the introduction. In this collection she wants to do roughly the same thing as Whitman did in Vistas, to respond to this American moment with a mixture of criticism and hope in a prophetic-sounding voice.

I've read, I think, the first four essays so far -- my monitoring of progress in an ebook leaves a lot to be desired -- and this aspect is coming through loud and clear, over and over. It's not unthoughtful, but it is rather disappointingly predictable. The first essay was the strongest, with diminishing returns so far.
I am enjoying reading this on my Nook, in bed, with the Glowlight turned on.





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