I read or reread all three of Robinson's novels this summer: Housekeeping, Gilead, and Home. I was reading Housekeeping when Cate was born and her first literary event was attending a Marilynne Robinson event at the Los Angeles Public Library. Telfer actually had to take her out a few minutes into the event, so I am not sure how much of it stuck. My favorite quote from the evening: "I don't like plot very much – please contain your surprise. … It becomes a big machine that carries everything after it." Whether Robinson is writing about two sisters in rural Idaho, a wayward son, or a pair of elderly ministers, her characters are "performing the rituals of the ordinary as an act of faith" (quote from Housekeeping). The language is beautiful, deep and the act of reading these novels is richly rewarding.
Where has Kathleen Norris been my whole life? I read The Quotidian Mysteries, Amazing Grace, and Acedia and Me this summer…You know when you "discover" an author and they have written quite a bit and there's so much still to go through? It's such a gift. I love that she's a poet and words and language are so meaningful and deliberate in her writing (sets her apart from almost all other Christian/spiritual writers). This has been such a big year in so many ways and I truly needed the challenge and comfort of Norris's writing.
"I have come to believe that the true mystics of the quotidian are not those who contemplate holiness in isolation, reaching godlike illumination in serene silence, but those who manage to find God in a life filled with noise, the demands of other people and relentless daily duties that can consume the self. They may be young parents juggling child-rearing and making a living; they may be monks or nuns in a small community…If they are wise, they treasure the rare moments of solitude and silence that come their way, and use them not to escape, to distract themselves with television and the like. Instead, they listen for sign of God's presence and they open their hearts toward prayer." [from The Quotidian Mysteries]
If you haven't read anything by Jhumpa Lahiri yet, you really, really should. She has written two short story collections, The Interpreter of Maladies and Unaccustomed Earth and one novel, The Namesake. She writes character-driven stories about the Bengali immigrant experience; her work is accessible and her prose deceptively simple. Her stories leave you wanting full-length novels on the characters introduced.
Olive Kitteridge by Elizabeth Strout
The thirteen connected stories in Olive Kitteridge are about ordinary people living ordinary lives yet Strout manages to infuse heartbreaking moments of truth in every story. And in every story, there stands Olive Kitteridge, a retired math teacher who you can’t help but almost hate at the beginning but can’t help but love at the end. She’s complicated and difficult and prickly, but she is also real and kind. There is a scene where Olive, tired at her son’s wedding, lies down on the bed to rest and hears her new daughter-in-law berate the dress she’s wearing, the dress that she made, the dress that she thinks looks really good on her. It simply broke my heart. I much prefer a novel in stories than a collection of unrelated short stories. If you read one story in Olive Kitteridge, you'd think, yes, this is a good short story, but in reading all thirteen stories there is such a powerful, connected context in the reading experience.
Belong to Me by Marisa de los Santos
Belong to Me is pure joy to read. This is the type of book you want to just get back in bed and read until you finish it (I read it in one day during our Cancun vacation before Cate was born…those were the days…). It's a loose sequel to Love Walked In…but Belong to Me is the better of the two. Cornelia is now married to Teo and living in the suburbs but the focus is larger, chapters are narrated by not just Cornelia, but Piper, Cornelia's caustic neighbor whose best friend Elizabeth is dying of cancer, and Dev, the teenage son of Lake, one of Cornelia's first friends in the suburbs. You'll love it.