Beware the hype

Gilead by Marilynne Robinson

More than two years ago, I first learned of Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead, set in Iowa, and heard people rave about it. “One of the best books I ever read!” “OMG you have to read it.” “You’re going to LOVE it!”

When I started my project, to read 3 books set in each US state, I thought, Oh goodie! I can read this one when I get to Iowa. When I hit the “I” states — Idaho, Illionois, Indiana — I started getting excited. I was almost there.

A couple of weeks ago, I finished my final Indiana read. The moment I closed the book, I picked up my Nook and purchased Gilead.

I started reading. I puzzled. I kept reading.

I waited for the goodness. I waited for the Iowa.

For me, they never came. The narrative — letters from an aged, ill pastor to his small son — did not engage me. The spiritual questions did not interest me. There were a couple of lovely passages, like this one, but overall, it was a huge letdown.

Often, a hyped book works out for me. The Goldfinch for example, or The Woman Upstairs. I loved those. I devoured them. They were massively exclaimed over: I expected 5 star reads from those, and they delivered. With this one, though, I expected 5 stars and ended up with 2. Maybe I would have given it 3 had I had no expectations.

The good news is that Iowa presented me with four books I really wanted to read, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to pick only three. Gilead eliminated itself and made that choice for me.

A Thousand Acres by Jane SmileyNow I’m onto the next Iowa book I was excited about. I’m trying to temper my enthusiasm so as to not fall into the same trap as with poor Gilead. It was on a pedestal and had a long way to fall.

My excitement this time is based on something much more superficial, though. It’s not based on the hype of professional readers, book bloggers, or literary critics. It is based solely on the cover: it has a hay bale on it!