It’s been a trying year here at Sorry Television. Sidetracked by work—and, let’s be honest, an endless procession of binge-worthy Netflix inventory—I am set to close out 2014 with a mere 32 books under my belt, near enough to bi-weekly that I should probably rebrand as You’re Welcome Television (subtitle: Reading Books Every So Often, Like When the Power Goes Out). I’m already planning redemptive 2015 reading goals (a book a day? a book an hour?) but for the time being I’ll have to accept mediocrity, and foist as much blame as possible on a shorter commute’s ability to stymie even the most dedicated bibliophile.
But I can claim a smidge of productivity this month, which is why I’m Indiana-Jonesing under the content door that is Christmas week to bring you The Irrefutable Best Books of 2014, a master list of this year’s greatest hits, as determined by 21 other “best of”s written by people who have actually read them. Let’s get into it.
So it would appear that beer has quite an influence on my a) perception of spirituality and b) choice in vocabulary. In particular, after tossing back six drinks at a happy hour with friends last night, I proceeded to come home and write a rather angry review of Gilead that features no fewer than four instances of the word “beautiful” and a sentence that includes both “bequeath” and “kin.” I am a rather verbose drunk.
I feel in retrospect that I was a little harsh on Gilead (or maybe I’m feeling residual guilt about having panned a Pulitzer Prize winner). So to make amends, and reiterate how impressed I was by the book’s language, if not its subject matter, here are my favorite quotes from Gilead. (Full disclosure: I have a rather neurotic habit of dog-earing the bottom of pages when a particular quote resonates with me, so perhaps sharing these lines would be a way of turning what is otherwise a literary quirk into useful blog fodder).
“A little too much anger, too often or at the wrong time, can destroy more than you would ever imagine.”
“I’ve developed a great reputation for wisdom by ordering more books than I ever had time to read, and reading more books, by far, than I learned anything useful from, except, of course, that some very tedious gentlemen have written books.”
“Sometimes the visionary aspect of any particular day comes to you in the memory of it, or it opens to you over time.”
“These people who can see right through you never quite do you justice, because they never give you credit for the effort you’re making to be better than you actually are, which is difficult and well meant and deserving of some little notice.”
“There are a thousand thousand reasons to live this life, every one of them sufficient.”
Now I know what you’re thinking: The book won a Pulitzer, how bad can it be? Well I’m glad you asked. Gilead isn’t bad, not at all. Rather, it’s one of the more beautiful things I’ve ever read, filled with lines that address spirituality in a way uncommon among modern literature, in a way meant to resonate with people who have themselves considered the implications of being religious in the modern era. In fact, I can’t emphasize enough how truly beautiful and poignant the language in Gilead is.
Unfortunately, no amount of beautiful language could have saved this book for me. Rather, my objection lies with the subject matter. Gilead is told from the point of view of a priest, spending his dying days writing a letter to his rather young son, a letter intended to bequeath upon his kin all the various thoughts and suggestions he might have otherwise shared in fatherhood. Alone, this sounds charming. In practice, Gilead is an exercise in religion, and more specifically in what it might mean for a religious man in the 20th century to decide which parts of his life and thoughts are worth sharing with his child. Lest this still sound appealing, for me personally it read a lot like a father describing to his son his impression of unicorns, and how their supposed presence had affected his outlook on life. Which is to say I found it almost entirely irrelevant. Continue reading “Oh, God…”
So I kind of took a week off last week. I know! I know, it’s bad. But you guys, there’s just so. much. television. And work. And dinners to attend, bars to frequent, friends to visit. And iPhone Tetris. Oh sweet Lord, the iPhone Tetris. Truth be told, my 2011 hasn’t gone well so far in terms of distractions from the printed word. On the upside, I haven’t bought any books either (hey, every cloud has a silver lining).
But I’m determined to get back on the wagon after a series of defeats (though I maintain that Too Big To Fail was, well, too big). This week’s read comes highly recommended from a friend/coworker, whose suggestions always stand out to me since she tolerates more or less nonstop book and TV chatter from my side of the cube farm. (Think about it–can you imagine sitting next to me all day?) Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson, is something of a reflection on life, written in the voice of an aging rural preacher who is hoping to bequeath his knowledge of this world and the next to his son before he dies (the father, not the son).
I have anticipatory angst over this book, since it won both the Pulitzer and the National Book Award in 2005. Which is to say that if I don’t like it, I’m probably an uncultured idiot (something I’ve refused to accept despite bountiful evidence). So, wish me luck–at the very least with avoiding the remote control this week.