Novelists Writing Essays . . . and a Novel

I had an hour to kill in a university bookstore a while back. The results were more less predictable. I read several pages each in two books of essays and was hooked.

I’m been working my way through them both, reading an essay now and then. I’m enjoying both so much that I don’t really want to finish anytime soon. I’m not in too much danger of that, either. I keep going back to savor essays I’ve already read: both the writing and the thought — not that the two can be separated.

Novelist Marilynne Robinson, of whose fiction I have read exactly none, has enraptured me with her collection of essays entitled When I Was a Child I Read Books. She takes up large, serious topics, like politics, society, Christianity, and individualism. I think she’ll take up the American West somehow, in essays I haven’t read yet. So far her writing serves her themes very well; this is not a small thing.

I’ve read as much of Ann Patchett‘s fiction as I have of Marilynne Robinson’s. Her writing and thought have an irresistible personal charm and candor; in fact, these essays are part memoir. The book is called This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage, after the title of one essay. (That story is quite a story, to be sure.) Other essays are about reading, writing, books, and topics I haven’t yet discovered.

When I want to savor rich writing, but I’m in a mood for fiction, lately I’ve been turning to Richard Russo‘s Pulitzer Prize-winning Empire Falls. I picked it up on remainder or at a library sale somewhere, because I saw it as a miniseries years ago and found it charming. The writing is dense and rich so far. The long, pseudo-historical Prologue — annoyingly set all in italics — is something to savor. I suppose a prologue ought to be that good, if it is to exist. I don’t resent the existence of this one at all.

(Links to books in this post are to my Amazon store. Purchases help to support this site. But libraries are great, too. So is Barnes and Noble. And Powell’s. And Sam Weller’s. And so forth.)

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