I first listened to Marilynne Robinson’s Pulitzer Prize winning novel Gilead on Audible and now have read it, alongside her two follow-up novels (Home and Lila). The trio share overlapping characters and stories from the vantage of three different characters. It’s similar in ways to what Wendell Berry has done with some of his Port William characters in his stories and vignettes.
In Gilead, John Ames is a dying old pastor writing his memoirs to his surprisingly young child. The memoirs go back-and-forth from his past memories to present day circumstances, but both receive commentary.
It raises spiritual and theological questions. It shows the beauty of a place through the town of Gilead and the interdependent relationships making up the town and the people. It notes the simple joys and the wonder of life in everyday moments and sacred moments alike. For me, it raised questions about what things I would tell my child, what lessons to pass on, and how I would reflect on my own life. It’s now one of my favorite novels. Below are some of my favorite short quotes from the book.
“There are many ways to live a good life.” (3)
“There’s a lot under the surface of life, everyone knows that. A lot of malice, dread, guilt and so much loneliness. Where you wouldn’t really expect it either.” (6)
“Solitude would be a balm for loneliness.” (18)
“There is a reality in blessing, which I take baptism to be, primarily. It doesn’t enhance sacredness, but it acknowledges it, and there is a power in that.” (23)
“This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.” (28)
“Well, but you two are dancing around in your iridescent little downpour, whooping and stomping as snake people ought to do when they encounter a thing so miraculous as water.” (63)
“One of the pleasures of these days is I notice them all, minute by minute.” (93)
“Put yourself in the way of the gift.” (114)
“Adulthood is a wonderful thing, and brief. You must be sure to enjoy it while it lasts.” (166)
“Cataract that this world is, it is remarkable to consider what does abide in it.” (193)
“Love is holy because it is like grace—the worthiness of its object is never really what matters.” (209)
“I wish I could help you carry the weight of many years. But the Lord will have that fatherly satisfaction.” (210)
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.” (243)
“Wherever you turn your eyes the world can shine like transfiguration. You don’t have to bring a thing to it except a little willingness to see it.” (245)
“There is more beauty [in this world] than our eyes can bear, that precious things have been put into our hands and to do nothing to honor them is to do great harm.” (246)
“I love this town. I think sometimes of going into the ground are as a last wild gesture of love—I too will smolder away the time until the great and general incandescence.” (247)