I seem to be on a reading roll at the moment, a determined tackling of some of the books that have defeated me for reasons various in recent years.
My Gilead failure has invariably been received with anguished cries and furrowed brows in that 'But how could you not see it?' mode of shock and horror, almost on a par with the Suite Francaise disaster.
I had initially had my eye on the book long before it appeared here in the UK and was so covetous that I did a Chicago to Devon book exchange with Bluestalking, possibly in pre-blog - online reading group days, who kindly sent me her copy the minute she'd finished it.
I can't begin to describe my disappointment when I went for first summit attempt, full of excited anticipation and failed miserably, second attempt not much better, and in the end I'm flailing around in that old trying-too-hard abyss and the book just has to go back on the shelf and sit forgotten until its moment comes around again. These are the books I don't give up on, somehow I just know there is something in there for me but the reading planet alignment needs to be very exact.
First Booking of the year, as opposed to First Footing, offers a wonderful opportunity for some thoughtful reading, my mind is perfectly attuned and my soul conditioned to something quietly reflective and before I knew it I'd settled very positively on Gilead.
There is of course a balm therein and this time I think I came as close to it as I think is possible on a first read of a book which I suspect requires several readings to secure all the revelations and wisdom. It's a book that does just wash over you and I frequently felt surrounded by words I hadn't quite taken in, so there was a good deal of reversing and back-tracking to fully grasp the thread. Some of it invested with such an intensity that a few pages at a time was a rich enough feast.
There is an excellent book called When a Doctor Hates a Patient by Richard Peschel which deals with those less-acknowledged moments in the caring professions which happen to us all and amongst them, what happens when you really don't like the person you are supposed to be caring for. It's a book which addresses anxieties and limitations in abundance, gives permission to acknowledge imperfections and relates those incidents to moments in literature as a means of exploring them less painfully and explaining them more fully. It's a good book to have on the shelf regardless of profession because it's littered with valuable and relevant psychological insights on life and people per se and I suppose you could call Gilead the Pastor's equivalent.
Ageing and dying father and preacher John Ames more than faces up to his own inadequacies and anxieties when confronted by demons from his past which seep into the present, and look likely to impact on the future he won't be seeing, as he struggles with one person in particular.
The first person narrative is written by John to his young son, and in a series of advances and retreats his life story slowly unfolds. Sometimes pitched several generations back and laced with overtly religious sentiment which surprisingly didn't cloy, whilst frequently all melting into one single existence, those might have been the moments when, if my concentration lapsed, I lost my bearings and had to retrace my steps and listen more carefully to the words on the page.
The moment of resolution for good or ill, and I won't give that away because if you are one of those who haven't read Gilead, nothing is certain, but it is one of the most profoundly moving scenes I have read since I last mentioned a profoundly moving scene I have read, because you know what I am like about those.
They don't need to be hugely dramatic but they can be the defining moment of a book for me, that moment of complete emotional engagement when the words gently radiate the book's success and the world around you recedes as you are drawn in, and this was certainly the case with Gilead.
In the end it proved itself a very worthy First Booking of 2009 and Ruth at CraftyPeople thought so too, and I love her thought that we were both stumbling along that Gilead reading road at the same time.