IN THIS POST: This collection of Marilynne Robinson quotes is pulled from two of her essay collections: When I Was a Child, I Read Books and The Givenness of Things. They are only a small peek into her thinking, but they exemplify the depth and breadth of her writing.
Marilynne Robinson is one of my all-time favorite authors. I have read her fiction and non-fiction and always find a depth of insight that is gracious and challenging.
Gracious and challenging are the types of quotes that I find myself highlighting the most often – regardless of the author. I rarely highlight quotes that are inspiring or entertaining. I am drawn to writing that either expresses an idea with novel kindness or that illuminates ideas with striking clarity or provocation.
The Marilynne Robinson quotes that follow are only a sliver of the places that I’ve bookmarked her words for further consideration.
Why Highlight Quotes?
There may be some debate as to whether you should write in a book, and sometimes (when it’s a library book, for example) I can’t write in it. From time to time, or when circumstances dictate, I take a picture of the page or I copy the note on my phone notetaking app. If you’re a hardcore never-ever-write-in-books person, what other strategies do you use?
I am not the type of reader to keep my books underline-free and so I have markings in many of my books.
Highlighting or underlining sections of books that I want to remember is a useful learning strategy for me. It forces me to pause on a sentence or paragraph. It usually requires that I reread the part in which I’m interested which helps me retain the idea better. Finally, it allows me to find those sections that I want to reference over and over in a book without tackling the entire work repeatedly.
Fiction by Marilynne Robinson
I picked up my first Marilynne Robinson book at a community yard sale. The hardback book was in good condition, the description was intriguing enough, but I knew nothing about the author. Nevertheless, I paid the meager fee for Home and dived into her fictional world of Gilead.
Ignorance is a level of bliss perhaps. I had no idea Home is the second book in her Gilead series. It didn’t matter. It became one of my favorites, and even after reading the other books in the series, it still is.
Her first novel, Housekeeping, has stayed with me through the years as well. I read it without high expectations simply because it was not part of the Gilead series. Indeed, I don’t remember being completely “wowed” after my initial read. Still, the characters and the conflicts seem to grow larger and more meaningful to me the longer that I sit with them in my mind. That probably means it’s time for a re-read.
Non-Fiction by Marilynne Robinson
I will admit that I don’t love all of Robinson’s work equally. Just as I have favorites in her fiction, there are two of her non-fiction books that stand out to me above the others.
My two personal favorites are When I was a Child, I Read Books and The Givenness of Things. These collections of essays require careful and patient reading and re-reading. They widen and deepen the longer they sit and the more they are considered.
Initially I wanted to create a post with quotes from a range of her published works. But as I compiled my list, I realized that most of my favorite quotes came from those two books. I hope they will encourage you to check out some of her work – either fiction or non-fiction. And I hope their content will challenge your thinking.
Marilynne Robinson Quotes
Quotes from When I Was a Child, I Read Books
“My brother David brought home the fact that God is a sphere whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
“It may be mere historical conditioning, but when I see a man or a woman alone, he or she looks mysterious to me, which is only to say that for a moment I see another human being clearly.”
“And it is certainly to be noted that no conditions limit God’s largesse toward the poor. They need not be pious, or Jewish, or worthy, or conspicuously in need, or intent on removing themselves from their condition of dependency.”
“But if we let these things distract us, we have lost the main point of the narrative, which is that God is of a kind to love the world extravagantly, wondrously, and the world is of a kind to be worth, which is not to say worthy of, this pained and rapturous love.”
Quotes from The Givenness of Things
“Say the universe has no boundary and the stars are numberless. Still there is an infinite qualitative difference between life and the most opulent and glorious reaches of lifelessness.”
“Christian ethics go steadfastly against the grain of what we consider human nature. The first will be last; to him who asks give; turn the other cheek; judge not. Identity, on the other hand, appeals to a constellation of the worst human impulses.”
“What we have expressed, compared with what we have found no way to express, is overwhelmingly the lesser part.”
“We are unique in nature for our ability to be consistently, even catastrophically, wrong.”
Other Quotable Sources?
Who is an author that you read all their work? Who is an author that you often find yourself pulling quotes from? Do you use quotes from authors as a tool for thinking intentionally and learning?
For quotes with a different angle – exploring the connection between travel and learning – check out this compilation of ideas on the topic.