Monday, 14 October 2013

When I Was A Child I Read Books

Well the house sitting job finished up in good order and I am happily taking care of our own animals and sleeping in my own bed now. Always nice. The weather hasn't improved at all and yesterday afternoon we watched snow, sleet, rain pour down, fog over the river, and wind that almost bent my juvenile trees over in the front yard.

What is there to do when the weather refuses to cooperate for long bike rides or playing frisbee on the beach with the dogs?  Read, of course.

I caught up on lots of the blogs I follow which was motivating. I also read the book of essays by Marilynne Robinson, When I Was a Child I Read Books.

I put this book on hold at my local library ages ago and after reading again and again I still had more than 100 days in the queue I somehow managed to finally get hold of it.

I am not familiar with Marilynne Robinson.  The first thing I did was to research her a bit on the web.

She is an American author born in 1943 and her first novel Housekeeping (1981) won the Pen/Hemingway award for first best novel and was nominated for a Putlitzer Prize.  She later won the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Critics Circle award and the Orange prize in 2009 for her book Gilead.

She is held in high esteem by reviewers by the New York Times, The New Yorker and the Guardian publications.  So please take my comments about this particular book with a grain of salt.

Now knowing what I know about her writing excellence I knew I was in with a really interesting and intellectual read.  Both of these were true.

However I was really disappointed with the book as a whole.  The book is extremely well written so of course that does not disappoint me. It was the title.   I know, silly.  I expected to find another version of a book about books. Well this wasn't the case.  Not really.   I was thinking along the line of Howard's End is on the Landing the way I would have liked that book to have been written.  But no, it was preachy.  Now I know I am not a writer and I in no way am an academic always capable of understanding the finer points of good literature.

But this book of essays is very much overlaid with religious overtones as well as continually pointing back to her first two award winning books I kept thinking, " Yes but what books DID you read as a child.?"

It is the title that completely threw me off base.

I did learn quite a bit from this book. The topics of the essays are  Free of Thought, Imagination and Community, Austerity as Ideology and then came Open Thy Hand Wide: Moses and the Origins of American Liberalism.

Finally at page 85 the essay was entitled When I Was a Child, a chapter I really enjoyed.   Then we are straight back into Moses in the next essay.

Not being a religious person I got tired of the continual references to it.   I also got tired of reading about her previously written books. Though no doubt had I actually been reading the two books she refers to I would probably have understood this book better.

However to be fair, as I said before I am not a literary academic and there is no one here to sit down and discuss all of the issues she raises. That would be beneficial. This book should be discussed with others because there really is so much in it and she is a highly recognised author.  It was just not the book I was expecting though I understood it with out any difficulty.

When I read a book about books and what people read in their childhoods I really love knowing how those books affect the readers.  There is a great deal of substance in this book and had I been connecting more to it I would have gotten more out of it.  It seems her life rather than the books she read had the greatest impact on her.

I would recommend this book to people because there is a great deal of interesting content in it. But it was raining, sleeting, snowing and it was cold and I was surrounded by dogs and cats and a husband reading his own interests and the time just wasn't right for this book.

She certainly has a great deal to say though I just wasn't expecting much of it to not relate to books that had influenced her. I know, I am just too shallow at times.

I would love to know what others thought of this book if they read it outside of academia.


  1. Very well-written. And I can tell that the book is not for me at all. I run from anything that 'preaches' and any religious tones. I find that I am mostly disappointed with books about books. Maybe it's because they are so very personal that it is hard to break into the author's thoughts. I don't know. I did love Howards End on the Landing. I thought it was a perfect book and very different from anything else I'd ever read. I don't think you need to doubt yourself as a reader. You aren't 'shallow' - and maybe it isn't the 'time' that wasn't right, but the book itself.

    1. Thanks Nan for your comment. You are most likely quite right when you say how personal a person's book list is. Thanks for visiting.

  2. It's mostly the religious aspect that has kept me from reading this one myself, I had a flick through it when my library first bought copies and the two pages I randomly sampled both had thoughts on God on them. I rather bluntly decided there were more relevant books-about-books for me and left it on the shelf. I did wonder if I'd been too hasty but it looks like you found the whole book suffering from those issues. Have you tried Anne Fadiman's essays? They sound far more to your taste. :)

    1. Thanks Alex, No I have not heard of her. I will have to see if the library has her. Though I have such a pile of books in the house I should be reading that I need to stop the library but it is just so much fun to bring yet more books home. I even read some of them! haha


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