I am not even sure how to approach a review of WHEN I WAS A CHILD, I READ BOOKS. I read it based on the title and author, but certainly did not understand the deep waters into which I was headed. In 10 essays, Marilynne Robinson dismantles much of the current ideology & dogmatism surrounding not just politics, but higher education and Christian faith as well.
On the whole, I agree with all the positions she takes. I am also a Christian who believes that my faith is not incompatible with American ideals. I believe strongly in the benefit of higher education for no other reason than the betterment of the individual. I cannot stomach intolerance for differing opinions. I too think modern-day politicians (across parties) have twisted the words and intentions of this country’s founding fathers. In her best moments, she writes about these topics with clarity and even humor.
“I am so unpatriotic as to believe that most Americans are good people, committed to living good lives, and that the expansions of freedom that have been achieved by us and for us in the last few decades have been a very great moment in our history and in human history.” – Wondrous Love
She is just so damn smart that she loses me in some arguments. She digs deeper into issues to try to understand their root causes, making some of the essays feel heavy. Because she brings a lifetime of literature and study (+) to these essays, some of us smart, but less learned readers feel a bit out of our depth (-).
In “The Human Spirit and the Good Society,” she delves into models of evolution and economy, tossing in vocabulary and theories like bits of candy. I am used to reading fairly quickly, for the pure pleasure of the story. This felt more like an assignment. I was forced to really try to slow down my reading to really get what she was trying to communicate.
“My point is that our civilization has recently chosen to identify itself with a wildly over simple model of human nature and behavior and then is stymied or infuriated by evidence that the models don’t fit.”
But on the whole, this book was worth my time and commitment. She forced me to look again at my “easily” held assumptions about our country’s history, my own personal politics and how my faith informs my decisions. These are worthy accomplishments. But primarily she reinforces what we already know…
“…the extraordinary power of language to evoke a reality beyond its grasp, to evoke a sense of what cannot be said.” – Imagination and Community