I've been trying for a week to sink comfortably into reading Marilynne Robinson's Home. I'm finding it a hard slog. I'm finding it boring. I hate to say that. Her other novel, Gilead, was so good. Is there a significant difference in the quality of the two books, or has my preference in reading shifted so dramatically in seven years? That's how long it's been since I enjoyed Gilead. I also have Housekeeping on my shelves and haven't read it, I'm embarrassed to admit.
So last night I put Mrs. Robinson back on the shelf and pulled down Miss Austen.
(I didn't know whether to call Robinson "Mrs." or Ms.," so I went to look. That took me to an article about her that I'm reading now. And now I feel I must go get Home back off the shelf and try again. Clearly the weakness was in my brain and not in her prose. Here is the article from the NY Times. I'm only about 1/3 the way through. Repeatedly I find my mind wandering away like a car with bad alignment, and I must jerk it back and refocus on the sentence I just didn't comprehend. "Comprehension has an ethical content," Robinson tells me. What would Robinson tell me? To keep plugging away at Home or switch to Persuasion, which I've read before?)
As an aside (to a few of my bookish friends), Marilynne Robinson is a strong rebuttal to Peter Leithart's recent ridiculous assertion that non-Protestants can't write. Robinson is a Presbyterian/Congregationalist. His article was shallow and arrogant. Her writing is deep as Dante's hell and complex enough to weary the mind. Does the woman never stop thinking? Of John Calvin (the ultimate Protestant), she says, "Calvin has a strange reputation that is based very solidly on the fact that nobody reads him."
Her attack on Americans' defense of fearfulness first grabbed me in the article. Listen to this: "I hate to say it, but I think a default position of human beings is fear .... What it comes down to -- and I think this has become prominent in our culture recently -- is that fear is an excuse: 'I would like to have done something, but of course I couldn't.' Fear is so opportunistic that people call upon it under the slightest provocations: 'He looked at me funny.' -- 'so I shot him.' -- 'Exactly.' -- 'Can you blame me?' -- 'Exactly.'
(The last there is a short dialogue with the article writer.)
My mind is tired from ... what? Age? That's no excuse. Robinson is 70. Work and busyness? Hardly. Many work harder than I do. Perhaps I'll blame it on the 50 mg of benadryl I take nightly to help me sleep; it's connected somehow to Alzheimer's according to some studies.For whatever reason, my lazy mind rebels against the deep comprehensive reading that might make it work and flex its mental muscles.
If I were you, I'd go read the article from the NY Times. Ask yourself when was the last time you thought that deeply. I'm ashamed of my mental chicken-heartedness. Perhaps it's simple fear, and not exhaustion, that keeps us from thinking as deeply as we ought. Thinking deeply might compel us to change our positions, to act or feel guilty for not acting. "If you do not object strenuously to a superior's bad behavior, you are as bad, as guilty as he is of what happens." That's Robinson, quoting Wycliffe. Against the opinions of her culture, she defends the old theologians and reformers.
Well, I intended to tell you why I was more interested in the Introduction to Persuasion than I was in Home, but instead I've persuaded myself to stay the course. Anne Elliot, you'll have to wait.