Reading: I first read Annie Dillard's writing in my freshman English class in college. I hated it. Then I read it 2 years later, in a writing class and I loved it. The difference was two things: my teacher and my attitude. I won't get into the issues that I had with the first professor, but they were partly related to my attitude. The writing class, however, was when I first really felt like a writer. Our professor was kind and nurturing. He gave helpful feedback and encouraged us to be open to receiving others' criticism. The class was creative non-fiction, and it turns out that is the kind of writing I enjoy most. I am digressing, though. This post is about Annie.
Annie Dillard is a mostly known for her non-fiction. She won the Pulitzer Prize in non-fiction in 1974 for her first published prose, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Her memoir, An American Childhood, is the type of memoir you don't see much anymore: that of a childhood not filled with abusive, neglectful parents, nor tragedy, loss and unspeakable grief, but a childhood of wonder and happiness. Her parents are best described as quirky. Her mother loves practical jokes and takes delight in particular words and phrases ("Terwilliger bunts one!" is one of my favorites - you must read the book to appreciate this). Her father, when Annie is 10, quits the firm his great-grandfather had founded, and takes his boat down the river, leaving Pittsburgh for New Orleans. Annie explores the her neighborhood, her city, and here in one of my favorite passages in the book, the library.
"I had been driven into nonfiction against my wishes. I wanted to read fiction, but had learned to be cautious about it.
'When you open a book,' the sentimental library posters said, 'anything can happen.' This was so. A book of fiction was a bomb. It was a land mine you wanted to go off. You wanted it to blow your whole day. Unfortunately, hundreds of thousands of books were duds. They had been rusting out of everyone's way for so long that they no longer worked. There was no way to distinguish the duds from the live mines except to throw yourself at them headlong, one by one." (page 83, An American Childhood)
I find something new to love every time I read this book. Some of my other favorites by Ms. Dillard are Teaching a Stone to Talk (essays) and The Writing Life (about life as a writer). She has incredible observation skills, and can write about even the mundane with such freshness and creativity that I can't stop thinking about it even after the book has been put away.
“I think it would be well, and proper, and obedient, and pure, to grasp your one necessity and not let it go, to dangle from it limp wherever it takes you. Then even death, where you're going no matter how you live, cannot you part.” (from "Living Like Weasels" in Teaching a Stone to Talk)
Pick up some Dillard today. Read, think, enjoy, repeat.
Until we read again,