The Big Read Blog (Archive)

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July 22, 2009
Washington, DC

Marilynne Robinson was the guest of honor at Marshall Public Library's Big Read of Housekeeping, her first published novel.

 Today I'm diving into The Big Read audio archive (again) to bring you author Bret Lott on Marilynne Robinson.  (Lott, whose novel Jewel was an Oprah Book Club pick, currently serves on the NEA's National Council on the Arts.)

"I've probably read [Housekeeping] seven or eight times.  I use it for my classes. All my undergrads will read it [and] my graduate students will read it because it does precisely what I think a great book should do and that is to combine language and story.  Too often, language can eclipse story and story can eclipse language but this one has both in equal measure.

When I wrote my first novel, there were many things in Housekeeping that informed it. My first novel takes place in western Massachusetts and there's a lake that plays prominently in it. . . . [I]t's one of these old 1930s-era reservoirs that were built by flooding towns in the floors of the valleys. There's this real haunting sense, not even a sense, it's just pervasive everywhere, the haunting. In fact, the lake is a character in the book, [representing] what's beneath the surface. When I finally got to this part of the novel, I realized that . . . Housekeeping was why I was so enchanted with this idea of these villages at the bottom of the Quabbin Reservoir in western Massachusetts."

Check out The Big Read Reader's Guide to learn more about Marilynne Robinson and Housekeeping.

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