I’m fairly mixed on Marilynne Robinson’s novels. I hated Housekeeping, but loved Gilead. I liked Home and Lila okay, though neither got to the level of the first novel in the sequence. I had never read any of her nonfiction, but I couldn’t resist What Are We Doing Here? when I saw it in the library. I had read Robinson’s interview with President Obama and enjoyed it thoroughly, so I wanted to see how her newest nonfiction would go.
Robinson writes on a huge variety of topics, but they deal with religion and faith, the Puritans (A LOT), and the state of intellect in the United States after 2010. A variety of lectures and talks are interspersed throughout the book, and she speaks critically to fellow liberals and academics about the state of affairs in the US.
I am mixed on this book. I think that Robinson makes many salient points. I do not share her deep enthusiasm for John Calvin or the Puritans, and as a literary scholar, I think she conveniently ignores some of the problematic aspects of Puritanism, as well as their long-lasting effects on American culture. That said, the essay “Slander” is excellent. It makes an interesting critique of misinformation and desire to live in one’s confirmation bias that plagues contemporary Christianity today. I just hope that the people who most need to read it will (though I fear that the majority of this book’s readers will be preaching to the choir, so to speak). I do wish there had been a clearer organizational structure that divided essays by rough topic (religion, politics, etc.). This book was dense and at times rather more arid than I anticipated, but it was thought-provoking, as well.
Cross-posted to my blog.