Our October book club selection is Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson. If you are in the Sacramento area, please join us at Arden Dimick Library at 10:30AM on October 29, 2016 for an in-person discussion of this lyrical book.
Marilynne Robinson was born in 1943 in Idaho, where she set her first novel, Housekeeping. She lives in Iowa City and is divorced with two adult sons. Robinson is a Congregationalist, and many of her works, both fiction and non-fiction, deal with issues of faith and human relationships.
In 2015, Robinson and President Obama had a conversation that was recorded by the New York Review of Books. In this conversation, which you can find at New York Review of Books, they talk about Robinson’s family, her faith, and her interest in politics.
There’s another interview with Robinson in the Paris Review. In this nterview, she discusses the relationship between science and faith, her background, and her writing process. At one point in this review, she has this to say about beauty, a major theme in her fiction:
You have to have a certain detachment in order to see beauty for yourself rather than something that has been put in quotation marks to be understood as “beauty.” Think about Dutch painting, where sunlight is falling on a basin of water and a woman is standing there in the clothes that she would wear when she wakes up in the morning—that beauty is a casual glimpse of something very ordinary. Or a painting like Rembrandt’s Carcass of Beef, where a simple piece of meat caught his eye because there was something mysterious about it. You also get that in Edward Hopper: Look at the sunlight! or Look at the human being! These are instances of genius. Cultures cherish artists because they are people who can say, Look at that. And it’s not Versailles. It’s a brick wall with a ray of sunlight falling on it.
At the same time, there has always been a basic human tendency toward a dubious notion of beauty. Think about cultures that rarify themselves into courts in which people paint themselves with lead paint and get dumber by the day, or women have ribs removed to have their waists cinched tighter. There’s no question that we have our versions of that now. The most destructive thing we can do is act as though this is some sign of cultural, spiritual decay rather than humans just acting human, which is what we’re doing most of the time.