I finished a couple of books recently. The first was Marilynne Robinson's Gilead: A Novel. This book won the Pulitzer prize for literature in 2006, which is the primary reason I chose it. The premise is that a 70-something preacher with a failing heart is writing an extended letter to his seven year-old son, as he knows the boy will most likely grow up without him. We learn about the preacher, his family and friends, and the life he had in the past and currently with the boy's mother.
Given that Gilead, on the surface, appears more or less religious in nature (and here I will take a very short tangent - I'd like to say, for the record, that I am an agnostic. Swearing up and down that you know for a fact that there is no god is as silly as swearing up and down that you know for a fact that there is one. The simple fact of the matter is that we don't know - period), I thought I would read a few lines and put it down, never to finish it. Instead, I found myself settling into the pages like one finds ease on a hot day with a glass of lemonade under a shade tree. The pace of the story is slow, but so is Iowa, where the story is (mostly) set. This slowness was surprisingly soothing and comforting and familiar, and as I've spent a little bit of time in Iowa with my father's family in the past, the familiarity returned me to a simpler and more easy-going place in time.
This brings me to the other book I finished (just the other day): Toni Morrison's Love. Love is also set in another place and time, although I don't know if it was necessarily simpler. Morrison is one of my favorite authors. I've read and re-read Beloved, and was memorized by The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon. I liked Love, but I didn't love Love. I liked what I always like about Morrison's writing - the way she can say in a sentence what many writers can't say in a page. Her writing is both easy and challenging to read - the sentences are easy enough to read and understand, but each word is chosen so very carefully that it often takes a much closer read to really get what she's saying. Her books appear short, but take every bit as long to digest as novels twice the size. I love that, because when I do finally get what she's doing, it's like finding a $10 bill on the sidewalk. Overall, though, the story of Love didn't grab me and shake me and leave me wanting more like some of her other novels. I recommend it for Morrison fans, but if you've never read Toni Morrison, read Beloved. Now.
I'm currently reading a short story collection compiled by David Sedaris called Children Playing Before a Statue of Hercules. Sedaris says he chose the stories in this collection because they have stuck with him, whether they remind him to be a better person, or take him to another place and time, or make him laugh or cry or both. I've just finished the first story in the collection, a story by Richard Yeats called, "Oh Joseph, I'm So Tired." Like so many short stories, this one starts out going in one direction, but ends up in a completely different and more creative place than I could have imagined.