I have been a delinquent reader the past many months. I was optimistic for a spell and then found myself just wanting to sleep when I used to stay up reading. I am currently listening to James Clear’s Atomic Habits book, which seems to be enjoying something of a resurgence — I feel like everyone is listening to this at the moment. I remember it making a big splash back when it came out in 2018 and I was peripherally aware of its agenda. At the time, I thought — “Not for me.” But after a long season of permitting myself small pockets of grace in my various pursuits (go easy on yourself! it’s a pandemic!), I now feel as though I could stand to lace up the boots a bit. Perhaps others feel the same way, which might explain why I’ve been seeing it everywhere lately, and why the library indicated a 10-week wait for the audiobook. Anyhow, reading the book feels meta, mirror-like: I am reading about habit formation in order to form the habit to read more. I wish I’d read it earlier because making my way through Marilynne Robinson’s Home just prior required massive commitment and energy on my part. It was a slow read. I don’t know that I’d have finished it were it not for the arbitrary convening of a few girlfriends to discuss it over a bottle of red wine. Here is the thing: Robinson is intellectually dazzling. As a component of her constellation of writings, Home is, well, a home run. It is a sibling to her highly-praised Gilead book, re-telling much of the same story (the return of a wayward son to a religious family/community) from the perspective of another character. I typically enjoy such set-ups, which remind us rather vigorously to exercise circumspection in accepting the stories others put before us or — put more generously — the richness of approaching the same concept from multiple perspectives. They are also phenomenal feats of dexterity and intellectual clarity on the part of the author. In this case, there is such a dense and intellectually interesting nest of patterns and inversions to sort through, too: homes and exiles; siblings; sins lived out and atoned for across multiple generations; recursions; plot repetitions; etc. The main question I pondered: what is a home? It is provocative that Robinson named her first book “Gilead” (the geographical setting and “hometown” for the characters in both books) but the other the more metaphorical “Home.” Isn’t Gilead home for all of its characters? Is it not? What are we meant to take away from the delta between the two? There are also complex social issues raised, and head-on grapplings with Gospel, faith, and specifically predestination. This is Big Stuff — metaphysical! — and she writes through and around it all with precision and authority.
However. I feel as though the writing gets in the way of Robinson’s hyper-accurate grasp on the complicated and nuanced dynamics between family members and faith. Her writing reads like exposition. It is impressive, well-formed, but difficult to connect with on an emotional level, which presents as a problem in a book about family. At points, I felt as though I was reading something exegetical where I wanted something personal. I don’t know whether this critique is valid. Perhaps that is just her mode of writing, or perhaps it is her carefully calibrated tone for the book for reasons more esoteric than I can fetch. She is, certainly, writing within the context of the ecclesiastical, and several characters are ministers, so perhaps it all tracks in a general sense — but still, it felt as though something was out of key. And that made reading and specifically connecting with the characters difficult.
However, I did find myself musing on the gently overlapping themes of home, exile, movement, stasis, prison, escape, departure. She is clearly trying to tell us something about the homes we grow up with and the ones we choose. Perhaps, too, the ones chosen for us in some sense owing to familial dynamics? I feel a tug at the end of the line there: just last weekend, I was chatting with a mom who mentioned that she tries hard not to label any of her three children in a specific way. She mentioned one of her children has “particularly big emotions” and then rewound and said: “I mean, we all do – I am sensitive to not labeling her in any way, of making her feel like ‘the really dramatic one.'” And my goodness have we been wearing out the “Encanto” soundtrack (any other moms with “Encanto”-obsessed children?) and there, too, the theme of being pushed into and then finding oneself stuck in certain roles in a family. There is something sticky there: the observation that homes can be both safe spaces and quagmires, often with no mal-intent.
What else are you reading?
+There are many ways to read.
+An essay I revisit every few months.
+My longtime relationship with language.
+I am currently reading this thriller as a palate cleanser.
+Extra 25% off Mille’s sale section with code EXTRA25! I absolutely love (!) this dress and wore it a ton last summer. Can’t wait to pull it out again this season. I had to use the promo to buy this fun green printed top. Note that this brand runs really big.
+OMG these string lights are adorable.
+This scalloped sham!!!
+Love these Chanel-inspired espadrilles for around $100.
+These Jimmy Choos are spectacular.
+Cutest scalloped cheese board for your next wine night with girlfriends!
+I know I’ve mentioned this touch and feel book a bunch, but both of my children have loved it. The letters are raised and the illustrations are really dynamic/dramatic. It makes a great gift because it looks adorable (and it’s substantive — like 2″ thick!) on a bookshelf. More of my children’s favorite books here and here.
+Adorable, well-priced mirror for a child’s room or powder room!
+Just ordered this exact dutch process cocoa powder for a baking project! It’s supposed to be le best.
+I had to buy this dress — it’s so me. I love this cut and length for easy everyday dresses in warmer weather.
+Sometimes Old Navy has really great, cheap denim — this is a super on-trend cut and wash.
+The prettiest beach toys for a little.
+Such a sweet swimsuit! Reminds me of Zimmermann.
+Another Target slam dunk!
+This perfect Easter tablecloth is only $17!