“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
John Ames. Gilead by Marilynne Robinson
I am sometimes asked where I find the time to write a blog and to read blogs. I think, in this life, that you have to try to find the time to do the things that make you better; a better person, more rounded, more read, or whatever it is that makes you YOU. For me, it is, in part, putting pen to paper, reading, talking with people and interacting. I have learned so much in this process of blogging and grown in ways I would never have imagined, and in the past year or so, I have discovered some amazing people who put down their thoughts, their artwork, their photos, themselves in this amazing medium called the internet.
One of the things I have discovered is book blogs. Folks the world over who read and who write and converse about what they read. They don’t just say this book or that book is good, or not. They bring me into the books they read and sometimes into their lives. They are all ages, men and women. They are even youth, reviewing books through guest postings on a relative’s blog. They give me hope in the future with the depth and knowledge they impart. Make no mistake, there are young people out there who a learning and eager, questioning and bright beyond the measure of standardized tests. I am constantly amazed at the words, the thoughts, the insights of book readers.
I still read reviews of best sellers in newspapers and magazines, but, they don’t often grab me with the passion and intrigue that book blogs do. Someday, I’ll figure out how to add to my site my favorite blogs. Until then, bear with me as I remark now and then about a few that are especially inspiring.
One of them was a passionate review of the Pulitzer Prize novel, Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson on Rachel’s blog, BookSnob. It left me longing to read this book.
Now, I have.
Gilead is the story of John Ames. No, it is more than that. It is the story of a father’s love for his son and an endearing gift to him as he prepares for the end of his life. It is 1956. Ames is suffering from heart disease and is writing a letter, a diary of sorts, for his seven year old son to read when he is grown. A son he has late in life. A child he never expected to have. A child he knows he will not see to adulthood. John Ames is Congregational minister, the son of a preacher, who was the son of preacher. John Ames is a good and loving and godly man.
I started reading Gilead after finishing A Reliable Wife. We had such a lively discussion of A Reliable Wife last week at our book discussion group. What we all seemed to agree on was the bleak darkness of the novel. Gilead, though told through the words in a letter of a man dying, is truly a book of lightness and faith and of hope. It was a perfect book to find me in the deep coldness of mid-January, and I marveled at its words, especially coming after such a dark book.
The story takes place in the worn out town of Gilead, Iowa. An epistolary tale, Robinson’s exquisite prose is worthy of the Pulitzer Prize it received. In the act of writing a letter to be read some day by his grown son, John Ames tells his family’s story and talks of his own beliefs, his prayers and reading and sermons and the words he want to impart. He talks about everyday occurrences with such detail and love; the candle on a stack of pancakes and a sermon he couldn’t find a gift, wrapped with a ribbon on his 77th birthday by his wife, the red shirt his son is wearing, then outgrows, the qualities of sunlight and quiet. It is rich in scripture without being overbearing and gentle in a way I find hard to describe. It is told through the words of a learned man who is also a man of the cloth. John Ames words are of fathers and sons, understanding and forgiveness and it is the story of the prodigal son as much as it is the story of living a real life in a purposeful manner. It is also the telling of a life-long friendship between two aging men, both ministers of different denominations, and their love of family.
Gilead is written in brief entries rather than chapters, like a devotional or daybook, which is fortunate. They give pause in the story. This is a book I found I needed to rest in reading. It is, to me, so well written that it cannot be devoured in one sitting or two. I heard this from others, but didn’t quite understand until I began my own reading journey. It has to be savored and thought on and drawn out over time. There are passages so well and lovingly crafted that they took my breath away and brought simple tears to my eyes. There are passages I needed to read again and then again.
In a time of history where there seem to be so many unsavory stories of ministers and priests and preachers and clergy, it is so refreshing to read about Reverend John Ames. I felt heartened by this minister, a very good man, a man who could find the goodness in so many things, including his own impending death.
In the end, Gilead is the story of someone I wished I had known. John Ames.
I felt privileged to meet him in the pages of Gilead.
There is a good interview of Marilynne Robinson by Terry Gross on NPR when the book first came out. It is about 25 minutes in length. Pour a cup of coffee or tea and click onto the feed. It is rich. You won’t need a cookie.