Customer Reviews: When I Was a Child I Read Books: Essays
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on November 26, 2014
On Bill Moyers' recommendation, I happily discovered Marilynne Robinson's thoughtful essays. As a psychologist and former English Major, I appreciate deeply her willingness to take on vast and weighty topics (e.g., love, the meaning of life, human nature, God, evil, etc.). It also feels good to stretch my vocabulary, having to look up a fine word at least every page or two. On the other hand, Ms Robinson's looooooonnnng and often convoluted sentences slip into pretentious tedium too often for me. I quite love the chapter Bill Moyers also prizes most, "When I was a child...." Most of the other essays, however, seem to be earnest defenses of theism and Christianity on of all things logical grounds -- an ill-fated enterprise at best, and for me quite unnecessary, ones answers to such questions being more a matter of comfort (like broken-in shoes) and taste (like satisfaction from old scotch, fine Bordeaux or gourmet chocolate). Whoops! Those long sentences really are tempting LOL!
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on June 7, 2014
Marilynne Robinson is among the finest prose essayists and novelists of her generation. It is a joy to read her; there is delight, discovery, and wisdom on every page. She instructs without being pedantic; she is a kindly polemicist. Ms. Robinson offers a much need re-interpretation of American history, religion, and culture; she's a devoted, sensible patriot -- one who celebrates what is best about our native land without mawkishness or propaganda, as she connects us to our Biblical and historic foundation.

Marilynne Robinson makes me proud to be an American because in her novels and essays she digs into wells of gratitude and compassion from which, whether we know it or not, we have all drunk. She shows us the shoulders on which we stand, and without which we would not stand at all, precarious as our present day perch my be. She is not to be missed.
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on March 10, 2015
I love Marilyn Robinson's writing but I do think in the non fiction, essay writing world it can be very challenging to access. Marilyn is a highly intellectual writer who, you can tell, has spent much time thinking deeply about subjects. At times I found myself reading and re-reading her comments in order to truly understand what she was trying to say. I don't think there is anything wrong with that except I don't know that I am smart enough to really grasp what she was trying to convey. I think for the average reader this work is a commitment and will require you to stretch yourself.
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on October 4, 2014
Interestingly, I alternated this book with Susan Sontag's At The Same Time, a collection of her essays, and had a wonderful reading experience. I admire them very much, both extremely brilliant, conscientious, cerebral, amazing writers but their writing styles and foundations of consciousness are very different. In these profoundly spiritual and intellectual essays, she covers various topics, and in the basis, I found her deep commitment in humanity and humility. She sharply criticizes many types of bigotry justified in the name of many things, whether, religious hubris, intellectual or regional snobbery. deliberate dumbing down of the country for political purpose. But she does it with the perfect balance of calm emotions and sound mind and her deep faith. I found her writing so refreshing when our 21st Century is overflowing with barking words in books and media. She is marvelous!
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on May 30, 2015
Hard work but worth it. Borrowing from Anne Shirley, I would call Marilynne Robinson a "kindred spirit". Not 100% of the time but much of the time. Her insights and observations do not have judgmental companions. Her arguments stand solidly on their own merits. I consider her an apologist for Christianity but not in the modern sense. She requires you pay close attention and stretch your intellectual comfort zone as well as your imagination. Her breadth of knowledge in history, the Old and New Testament, science, reason and logic are joined together in these essays. I am so glad I found her work. Her other essays and novels are well worth the read.
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on September 28, 2012
I disagree emphatically with the reviewers here who say that this book is difficult to understand. It is lucid, extremely well written, and EASY to understand compared to books I read when I was a college freshman. She intends to communicate with educated adults, but if she is now deemed too difficult this supports her argument.

The book is profound, sometimes challenging, and worth reading slowly. Also worth re-reading. I agree with that.

Perhaps part of the issue is that this book goes against the grain of certain preconceptions (by secularists and conservative Christians) about mainstream liberal Christianity, a variant of which Robinson brilliantly defends here. That does not make her too difficult to understand, just too hard to pigeonhole and too easy to dismiss if one prefers not to think too hard.

This is one of the best books I've read in the past year or two. It includes powerful critiques of the reigning free market ideologies, but from an angle that is much fresher and more deeply rooted than average. Highly recommended.
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on January 6, 2015
Marilynne Robinson writes amazingly fantastic fiction and her essays are insightful and thought provoking. Never a misplaces word, each is exactly the word that conveys the meaning and without useless embellishment. I sometimes need a dictionary to understand a word but it does not take away from the flow of the reading, rather it adds to the learning experience. I read a lot of books from many countries and on a variety of subjects and I may not agree with Robinsons religious views but it is not necessary to do so to appreciate her writing. I am always given much to ponder and ruminate upon.
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on March 5, 2015
I loved this collection! I read Christopher Hitchens's God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and was disappointed, not because of what he was arguing, but by the lack of research he presented with his argument. He seemed to want to say, "I'm Christopher Hitchens and here's what I think ..." and that was that. Marilynne Robinson is polar opposite from Hitchens, not only in beliefs, but in her presentation style. She argues for an Old and New Testament God and uses her many years of research to present logical arguments to support her belief. I suppose I should disclose that I tend to agree with Robinson more than Hitchens, but it's the background information she provides that makes me love this book.

I must say, I was totally unprepared for this book. I've read all three of Robinson's fiction works, and assumed this would be a series of short story fiction pieces. I approached this book of 200+ pages looking for a quick piece to breeze through. What I found was challenging writing, a deep intellectual discussion, something a graduate student in Religious Studies would easily grasp, but which kept me sitting with my google search open to get a better understanding of the various subjects.

Robinson writes at an intellectually challenging level which I found, at times, difficult, brilliant, but on occasion sanctimonious. She discusses slavery, ideology, Calvin, Nietzsche, Freud, More, Hume, Old Testament, Judaism, Christianity, politics all the things were not supposed to discuss at dinner parties.

I will re-read this, but for now it's moving to my husband's night stand.

Loved this!
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on September 10, 2013
Marilynne Robinson demonstrates with shrewd and beautiful prose that such a thing as a liberal Christian humanist still exists both in the academy and the world. Robinson, the author of the profoundly moving novels Housekeeping and Gilead, provides a collection of essays that sharply critique lazy thinking from science to politics to theology. Robinson's key assets, beside her penetrating writing style, are her ability to complexify issues and to read texts carefully for their multiple ramifications against the modern tendency to oversimplify. She defends the American project while being all too aware of its constant shortcomings. She provocatively argues that true liberalism is rooted in Calvinism and the Old Testament. Robinson reserves her sharpest critiques for the materialist and capitalist tendencies in modern American society which seek to undercut our historical values of communal responsibility and liberalism in its widest sense - even though we fail at them all the time.

As a religious scholar, I found Robinson's defense of the Old Testament as a source of justice toward the poor and immigrant particularly useful at a time when self-described liberals seek to discard the Old Testament entirely and self-described conservatives seek to discard the poor and the immigrant. I also found her phrase "toxic heritage," a description of a recent tendency to wholly discard any thinker or historical movement that has displayed any negative ramifications, a useful summation of a phenomenon I have also observed. Robinson believes that together we can work, with proper humility, graciousness, and careful intelligence, at being a society all together. For that hopeful realism, if not for all the other virtues of this book, I am grateful.
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on February 1, 2013
I so enjoy this author's beautiful prose in her novels and was pleased to learn about the sources of her wisdom and style. Take your time reading this to follow the depths and breadths of her reading and reasoning and the devopment of her philosophy of life and human relationships. How fortunate we Americans are to have access to Public Libraries and teachers who help us explore the world beyond our immediate environment and time, encouraging us to become more than we imagined possible.
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