Gilead is a very beautiful book. We have book club today, and La Bella asked us all to consider the question, “Why is this book important?”
I’m having some trouble with that question.
For one thing, I find books important in general. Gilead is lovely, with tasty language and interesting things to think about and a story unfolding with great delicacy behind the deep thoughts of the narrator. His humility and integrity and devotion to what is important are the surface of the book, with the story going along underneath it. I think that in our real lives, the story generally does go along underneath what we are thinking about and who we are, and it is only after the fact that we can look back and see what the story is, but books are not generally like that.
And that may be a good thing.
But does my pleasure in the book and my admiration for the skill of the writer make it important?
Compare that with The World is Flat, a book which was not lovely and which had no tasty language, and which revealed a level of amorality in the narrator which I found both fascinating and repulsive. I bet that it had a lot more influence on people, and created more change, than Gilead. Does that make it more important?
A thing of beauty is, after all, a joy forever.
I’m also still reading Keeping House: A Litany for Everyday Life, and I read a bit of it out last night to the women in my study group, for which I am going to be reading Having a Mary Heart in a Martha World. And I am also reading Poetry in Stitches, a book which I have been lusting after for years. Literally, years, ever since I saw an item knitted from it in a knitting blog. It has gone out of print, and I saw (at Fiberarts Afloat) an announcement that there were only a few copies left at an online shop. I got the last one — or maybe they told everyone that they were getting the last one.
I shouldn’t have bought that book, of course, since I have resolved to buy nothing till #1 son graduates, but I had signed the form to receive payment for a piece of writing, for a sum which will cover (when I at last receive it) the cost of that expensive book.
Is it an important book? I guess it is to me.
The two books about, as Joanna Weaver puts it, “finding intimacy with God in the busyness of life” are important, it seems to me, insofar as that is an important goal. It is for me. Not for everyone.
But the notion of an important book in the context of literature means that the book had some effect on literature thereafter. Important books, in the context of literature, are those that change the way that we look at books, or the way that people write books.
There is a certain amount of sheer momentum involved in important books. People begin to read them because they are important, and someone tells them that this was the book that created a genre or changed a convention or opened a new vista, and that reinforces the importance of the book.
I don’t know that Gilead is important in that sense.
And I can’t help but notice that none of these books fits the autumn challenge to read four creepy, spooky books by October 31.
Clearly, I need more reading time.