Erin W's Reviews > Three by Annie Dillard: Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, An American Childhood, The Writing Life

Three by Annie Dillard by Annie Dillard
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May 27, 2011

really liked it
bookshelves: nonfiction, on-my-shelves, 2011, 2007, 2008, memoir, 12-months-12-genres
Read in February, 2011

I deeply admire what Annie Dillard does. She has a way of crafting an essay in which readers learn little to nothing about her actual life, but feel as though they've been given a glimpse of something very personal. She has a way of achieving poignancy within these hugely intellectual/philosophical musings of hers and I think it comes from her ability to craft an indelible image and build upon it.

The Writing Life was, weirdly, the least interesting of the three for me. I had just read Anne Lamott's Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, which is so amazing, that Dillard's felt a little flat. I had hoped to learn more about the nuts and bolts of what she does, the practical side, but this text veers too far into the philosophical.

An American Childhood is gentle and nostalgic; it has a very serialized feel, with each chapter delving into a particular memory, so that it can be read in spurts and bursts. It's about kids riding their bikes down streets bathed by lamplight. It's about grass stains on the knees of your pants. It's about girls in party dresses going to church-sponsored dances and whispering behind their gloved hands about the boys. It's beautiful through and through.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is Dillard's most famous work. It's all about Dillard living in a cabin in rural Virginia, walking through fields and swamps, observing bugs and frogs, and thinking about life. Her obvious jumping-off point is Henry David Thoreau’s Walden, which I read years ago. Both of these books—Thoreau’s and Dillard’s—are amazing pieces of American literature / philosophy, and it makes me feel like a total philistine, or someone entirely lacking in spiritual being, not to care for them. But I kinda don’t. I don’t like nature. I like couches. I like store-bought food. I like disinfectant. Still, Dillard made me feel, at least momentarily, like my rebellion is totally futile. That, I think is her main objective.
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