The Writing Life, Annie Dillard


“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts?”

Funny that I’m reading this one to avoid writing a thing I need to write. Ah, well. Grad school, or a completely optional reading contest between friends? Grad school will never win that one. It’s not even a fair fight.

Many of my friends were required to read Annie Dillard in high school, and like all things we were required to read in high school, it was a completely inappropriate choice for the age bracket. I probably need another decade of living before I can begin to appreciate her. But what I’ll say is this: The Writing Life is an intensely crafted look into Annie Dillard’s process. And her process terrifies me. To give yourself over completely, body and mind, to the act of writing – is this really the only way to create something beautiful? Everyone comes at it differently, sure. But not very many writers can write like Annie Dillard.

This book has been described as a ‘spiritual Strunk and White,’ and that’s true. It reads like a long conversation with a brilliant mind, but in reality she spent endless hours crafting and re-crafting each of these sentences ’til they did exactly what she wanted. I’ve been considering more and more lately how sentences fit together, so I appreciate that. She skewers Jack London, which is lovely. I wasn’t expecting Ed Ricketts to make a cameo appearance. Her focus on learning the craft was welcome, as we forget that. This month of reading is fun, sure, but it’s also a learning exercise. We read to learn what has been done, what we like, what we want to do and how to do it. Joan Didion typed out Hemingway novels until she understood how the sentences fit together. If you consider writing a vocation, reading books is training. Given it’s my favourite thing to do, it’s sort of lucky I picked this life.

Books read: 9


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