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Culture Watch

And Consider This:



by Marilynne Robinson, © 2004

Published by Picador, for Farrar Straus & Giroux, NY

Paperback; 247 pp

Houskeeping , Marilynne Robinson’s first novel, was published in 1981. It and won the PEN/Hemingway Award for the best first novel of the year, and was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize. Thereafter, Ms. Robinson wrote articles and essays, and a couple of non-fiction books, but Gilead is her first novel since Housekeeping.

 It is well worth the wait. It comes in the form of a diary written by John Ames, an elderly Congregational minister, to his six-year-old son. Ames is suffering from heart problems, and knowing that he will not live to see the little boy into adulthood, he begins the diary in hopes that the child will one day read it.

This is not a maudlin, “Oh, I’m going to die!” book. It is a triumph of the human spirit, full of profound thought as well as deep love. The writing is deceptively simple, as all good writing is, and it soars.

The life of the Rev. Mr. Ames touches because of his deep self-knowledge of personal fallibility, and of his struggles with those failings. We are, in this age of Bible-thumping, self-proclaimed moralists, reminded of what it is to be open of mind and heart.

Gilead is a beautiful, beautiful little book.


Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules

Edited and introduced by David Sedaris, © 2005

Published by Simon and Schuster Paperbacks; 337 pp

This collection of short stories was given to me during a period of enforced inactivity, the kind of gift that strikes just the right note for someone restless and in need of distraction.

The seventeen stories, along with a lively introduction by David Sedaris, are an eclectic assortment from writers old and new. There is something here to interest just about anyone. The standard of the writing is satisfyingly high, with a preponderance of authors well-known to those of us who admire the short story, some older (Dorothy Parker, Joyce Carol Oates, Flannery O’Connor, Katharine Mansfield, Alice Munro), and some newer (Jhumpa Lahiri, Jincy Willet, Frank Gannon, Akhil Sharma).

A short Epilogue by Sarah Vowell tells us that “All proceeds from Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules go toward 826NYC, a nonprofit organization offering free writing workshops and after-school tutoring to students, ages 6 to 18.” This information alone makes the book well-worth buying.


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© 2006 Julia Sneden for SeniorWomenWeb

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