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The Givenness of Things: Essays Hardcover – October 27, 2015
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One of Time's Top 10 Nonfiction Books of 2015
"A sense of wonder pervades the powerful essays in The Givenness of Things . . . Robinson's heroic lamentation is magnificent . . . Robinson's insistence, throughout these essays, that we recognize the limitations of our knowledge is timely and important." ―Karen Armstrong, The New York Times Book Review
“These are beautiful essays . . . beautiful in thought and beautiful in expression.” ―Bill Marvel, Dallas Morning News
“The Givenness of Things is so rich that I'm tempted to quote it to death.” ―Michael Robbins, The Chicago Tribune
“Over the course of 17 provocative essays, Robinson, a ‘self-declared Calvinist from northern Idaho,’ brings both her formidable intellect and powers of plain speaking to deliver a clarion call against the culture of fear that she believes is eating away at American society.” ―Yvonne Zipp, The Christian Science Monitor
“Marilynne Robinson displays the same passionate concern with matters of faith that suffuses her majestic trilogy of linked novels.” ―Wendy Smith, The Boston Globe
"Robinson’s handiwork is capacious and serious, but also mysterious and wondrous; like the night sky, it deserves our attention." ―Casey N. Cep, The New Republic
"A new book of essays by Robinson is a major American literary event." ―Jeff Simon, The Buffalo News
“Robinson's genius is for making indistinguishable the highest ends of faith and fiction . . . The beauty of Robinson's prose suggests an author continually threading with spun platinum the world's finest needle.” ―Michelle Orange, Bookforum
“These bravely and brilliantly argued, gorgeously composed, slyly witty, profoundly caring essays lead us into the richest dimensions of consciousness and conscience, theology and mystery, responsibility and reverence.” ―Donna Seaman, Booklist
“The prose is as finely wrought as in any of Robinson’s novels . . . any reader not tone-deaf will be enchanted by her grave, urgent music.” ―George Scialabba, Bookforum
"Eloquent, persuasive, and rigorously clear, this collection reveals one of America's finest minds working at peak form, capturing essential ideas with all 'the authority beautiful language and beautiful thought can give them." ―Publishers Weekly
From the Back Cover
One of Time’s top 10 nonfiction books of 2015 shortlisted for the 2016 Pen/Diamonstein-Spielvogel award for the Art of the Essay.
The incomparable Marilynne Robinson has delivered an impassioned critique of contemporary society—our addiction to technology, our materialism—while arguing that reverence must be given to who we are and what we are: creatures of singular interest and value, despite our errors and depredations.
Robinson has plumbed the depths of the human spirit in her novels, including the National Book Critics Circle Award—winning Lila and the Pulitzer Prize—winning Gilead, and in her new essay collection she trains her incisive mind on our modern predicament and the mysteries of faith. These seventeen essays examine the ideas that have inspired and provoked one of our finest writers throughout her life. Whether she is investigating how the work of the great thinkers of the past, Calvin, Locke, Bonhoeffer—and Shakespeare—can infuse our lives, or drawing attention to the rise of the self-declared elite in American religious and political life, Robinson’s peerless prose and boundless humanity are on display.
Exquisite and bold, The Givenness of Things is a necessary call for us to study our cultural heritage in search of both wisdom and guidance and to offer grace to one another.--This text refers to the Preloaded Digital Audio Player edition.
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Top Customer Reviews
I'd hire her for her sincerity, for the breadth and depth of her reading, and for the chance to tell folks in unguarded moments that I'm Marilynne Robinson's boss. And after I'd hired her I'd sit at her feet every damn day and learn what she had to teach.
More than a series of essays, "The Givenness of Things: Essays" is an extended contemplation on contemporary society and what the hell has gone wrong with it. For those who have read her previous essays and lectures - Absence of Mind; When I Was a Child I Read Books; and The Death of Adam - you will soon discover that Marilynne is hunting similar prey here. She includes familiar, necessary rebuttals of scientism and positivism; a succulent, layered response to the age-old question, i.e., 'why does God, being God, allow evil, suffering, death?'; elegant appeals for universalism; and, tucked away in a deeply moving essay on the humanity of Christ, a passage of great encouragement to those most easily marginalized in a world that's all about knowing, sans merci, the margins:
"Chrysostom would have been speaking to...people who would have known the stigma of servitude and poverty, and the harshness and turbulence of ancient life. In their best moments such people were clearly worthy to shape the faith. It is moving to think how servants and slaves must have felt, hearing their lot and their labors proposed as the pattern of a sacred life, and as a force that could transform the world."
But before you dismiss this collection as just too fussy, too serious, and conclude that theology has no practical purpose in a world of apps, credit default swaps, and suicide bombers, you need to ask yourself why you loved her Pulitzer Prizer winning "Gilead" so much. What was the fuel that stoked that slow burning, deeply impassioned love song? Well, this is. This. All this talk about Christ, and charity, and being your brother's keeper, about rejoicing in creation, about reveling in the joy that arises from the knowledge that there is so much invisible life, so much that can never be known, and that life is given to us, in part, to search and never stop searching for those things that we cannot know with absolute certainty, not as long as we have breath in our bodies.
Ms. Robinson issues this appeal out of left field, drawing exclusively on a discrete, obscure, and too-readily-dismissed-in-our-age body of human thought - theology - and yet her appeal is far from impractical: it is made in the hope of addressing a world going/gone wrong, and a people losing heart. Certainly its frequent point of reference - ante-Nicene theology (100-325 A.D.), particularly that of St. John Chrysostom, as illuminated in and filtered through Calvin, Locke, William James, String Theory, and Noam Chomsky, among others - may have us rightly complaining that those writers, those subjects, are unfamiliar to us. But that is hardly to our credit, or to Marilynne's reproach.
Yes, this book will challenge you. Not least because Marilynne Robinson's theological writing has a delightful footloose quality to it. She can be tough to parse. Her method is to start off an essay with a serious intent to address Christology (the person & work of Christ) or Eschatology (the question of What's Coming Next?), but somewhere in the middle there she wanders over to her true forte - Soteriology (practical religion for folks looking for answers, or, ways of thinking about hard, ancient questions). And all the while, despite the complexity, despite the tangential quality, her goal is unapologetically anthropological. Her goal is You: your reassurance, your admonition, your restoration. And when, tell me, has that ever been simple, straightforward, or uncontentious?
And so these seventeen essays, theological treatises, and rambling meditations. As if you'd sat down for coffee and pie in the sunny kitchen of your favorite aunt - the one with the PhD and the chart-topping vocabulary - and asked her to tell you why the world is so. And she starts off by saying, "oh my, this could take a while." And then she talks to you about where we came from and where we're going, and about much of the stuff that usually happens in between. And in her talking she loses you once in a while, and seems to lose herself. But in the end, what grabs you is her grace, her patience, her sober consideration, free of desperation, free of fear.
Magno cum gaudio.
Being original, she is also unpredictable, almost predictably so. For example, she is a Calvinist, and makes no apology about it. (She makes no apology about anything really, though her prose style might occasionally justify a gesture in that direction.) Being a devout Christian, she might be expected to join in the chorus of those who complain about the commercialization of Christmas. Instead, true to form, she goes rogue, complaining about those who complain about the commercialization of Christmas. The passage is so delicious that I can’t resist citing it at length:
“The clichés about Christmas are so utterly weary and worn that it is difficult to mention them even to attempt to be rid of them. Still. The reality of the phenomenon is this—people mob the stores looking for gifts to give to other people. All this is swept into the broad category of consumption so that we can speak of it as if it were greed and self-indulgence in an artificially heightened state. It is really inflamed generosity. All those people are thinking about what someone else might want, need, look good in, be amused by. . . . Every one of them knows that if they chose to celebrate Epiphany, January 6, the day when the Magi actually, traditionally speaking, brought their gifts, or any day after December 25, which most of them know is a date chosen arbitrarily by the early church, they would save a tremendous amount of money. So the investment they are making is only secondarily in stuff, and primarily in a particular evening or morning that is set apart by this singular ritual of giving and receiving. . . .these evenings and mornings focus benevolent feelings that would otherwise be unexpressed, unacknowledged, or merely routine. Families tend to provide, but Christmas reminds everyone that there is joy in it. A small gift to or from an acquaintance is expressive, a kind of courteous language. If we wanted to, we could find a considerable loveliness in all this, but that is prohibited by the conventions of social critique. We would rather think darkly about those materialists who have emptied the shelves of things we had on our lists, who stand with their carts full of loot between ourselves and the cash register.”
Who but Marilynn Robinson could have written this? Wonderful!
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But she's amazing, nonetheless.Read more