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The Living
Annie Dillard
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The Living

3.84  ·  Rating details ·  2,405 Ratings  ·  320 Reviews
Ninety miles north of Seattle on the Washington coast lies Bellingham Bay, where a rough settlement founded in the 1850s would become the town of Whatcom. Here, the Lummi and Nooksack Indian people fish and farm, hermits pay their debts in sockeye salmon, and miners track gold-bearing streams.

Here, too, is the intimate, murderous tale of three men. Clare Fishburn believes
Hardcover, Large Print
Published July 1st 1993 by Thorndike Press (first published 1992)
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Luci Shaw I reviewed Annie Dillard's The Living many years ago in, I think, Eternity magazine. No longer published.
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Sep 17, 2008 marked it as 1-mfa-finished  ·  review of another edition
There are many fine sentences in this book. The plot is perfectly laid. The characters are well-drawn and the themes are profound. Nevertheless, there is something wrong with this book. It is possible that the author does not love her characters. Or maybe it is that she doesn't love the place, the northwest. It doesn't surprise me that she left the northwest after 5 years and moved back east. I think she doesn't understand what we, and those who lived here before us, really love here on Puget So ...more
Donna Davis
Oct 09, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: reviewed, blogged
When I got home from my annual pilgrimage to Powell's City of Books, I looked over my treasures. Those that had been on my wish list got read first. Now I am down to the books I bought because a Powell's employee liked them, or from impulse (rare). I also sometimes buy a book if it has won awards and is in a subject area of interest to me.

This book made me wince when I saw I had paid 75% of the original price. It did not look promising.Stained, or fly-specked around the edges; pages yellowing an
Aug 11, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
On its surface, The Living is the story of the settling of the American Northwest, told through the eyes of early settlers in Bellingham bay in Washington. It is an epic, intergenerational account of hardship, boom and bust, the destruction of Native American populations, the felling of the old growth forest, the building of the railroads and successive gold rushes. It's more than that, and deeper. Like her nonfiction, it's a meditation on what makes life worth living, on the unpredictability an ...more
Jul 12, 2011 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Whew... this was much more about the dying than about the living. I picked this up because it was about the settling of the Puget Sound area and I'll be vacationing there soon. I thought I might get some insight into the history of the Northwest. It IS informative in a Michener sort of way. There is a lot of effective descriptive writing about the moody beauty of this coast My friends tease me about liking stark, spare, dark novels but this was VERY stark. You just get interested in a character ...more
Larry Bassett
Aug 30, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am a fan of Annie Dillard. I first read A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek when I was a teenager and could still remember those earlier days when I spent time out in the wilds. Today it is the suburbs but back in the 1950s there were still fields and streams. But this book, The Living: A Novel, is a trip into the unknown for me. But, it turns out, a very enjoyable trip.

The name of the author and the cover with a rustic homestead first attracted me to this book and GR BookSwap made it available to me at
Questo romanzo l’ho letto nel 1994. Temporalmente si colloca nella seconda metà dell’Ottocento e narra delle vicende di alcuni pionieri che presero parte alla colonizzazione del nord-ovest dell’immenso territorio americano. Lo sfondo storico, se veritiero (io non ho le conoscenze sufficienti per poterlo affermare), è interessante, ma lo stile dell’autrice è un filino troppo soporifero e distaccato.

Ad ogni modo, non mi è dispiaciuto.
Jun 23, 2010 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book got into my skin like the good pioneer dirt and the deathsong of burning redwoods. I think Annie Dillard is my new favorite. I loved the epic sweep of this novel; every character became as irritating and loveable as my own household mates, every animal and being took my breath away with his or her particular awareness and being. I am inpsired to research, to write, to learn, to think, to breathe, to climb, to swim, to drown in the waters of life and literature.
Matt Dean
This book is beautifully written. The prose is as fine and as lovely as anything I've ever read. The book is majestic and magisterial, as formidable as the densely forested lands that the characters strive to master and tame.

And yet, well, put it this way: one character is said to have written a three-hundred page epic poem in which men battle polar bears and pack ice; although the poet is a rank amateur, I wish I could have read his no-doubt-inept poem rather than this finely wrought novel.

I w
Feb 02, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2009
This is a fascinating epic novel, a big book that paints in broad strokes. The author gallops along in her descriptions of events and people; she skips entire years; she describes people as one would describe dolls (the shapes of their heads and facial features). She describes many deaths, but the peculiarities and complications of life most fascinate her. Can one woman survive when just about everyone in her family dies in domestic tragedy? Can one man -- however twisted -- own another person's ...more
Jul 17, 2011 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition

I picked up this book after seeing that Dillard had written a review of the book I had just finished reading--John Mathiessen's Shadow County, a book that is an intense, complex, and thoroughly satisfying read. I was about a third of the way through The Living and realized something was bothering me. It wasn't the quality of the writing. Dillard writes beautifully and eloquently and the story she tells is compelling, but there is a detachment from the characters that prevents the reader from be
Aug 27, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
The only novel by Annie Dillard, and it's really amazing. A historic fiction of the settlement of Bellingham Bay. She writes the way it must have felt. Lonely, factual... a hollow accounting of the death of loved ones. Then it slowly comes alive, emotional.... one of the only "epics" that I've truly enjoyed.
Caveat: some long-winded rambling poetic passages that I need to read a few more times before I "get it". .... and some parts that are really violent.
JoAnn   W.
Nov 03, 2007 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was a book about the early settlers in the Puget Sound region of Washington and the hardships they endured, along with the Native-Americans. Ms. Dillard repeatedly made the point that many people died young, sometimes violently, sometimes very suddenly She wrote so that the reader had no warning of the sudden death of a character. She made me appreciate the transitory nature of life and the gift of life.
May 27, 2007 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
I was hugely surprised at the struggle it was to finish this. Upon first reaing, "The Living" is a testament to Dillard's considerable abilities to write in an eipc style; that sense of the epic persists throughtout, leaving the reader at times quite outside the narrative. Characterization saves this one, though-- the individuals depicted become so real throughout their stories that they are hard to let go...
Apr 06, 2008 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting story, I like historical fiction. But the characters are none of them sympathetic - it's sort of a James Michener read all over again, looking at the people who've lived in a region over time and unpacking the history of that place. But I don't really love or care at all about any of the characters. I probably won't finish this one.
Harold Titus
Mar 21, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
“The Living” by Annie Dillard portrays the numerous hardships and the strengths and weaknesses of character of the original white settlers and their immediate descendents in the northwest corner of Washington State during the last half of the Nineteenth Century. Her novel begins in the fall of 1855 with the arrival of a fictitious pioneer family, the Fishburns, and ends in July 1897 with a celebratory gathering of second and third generation friends that include a Fishburn son and granddaughter. ...more
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
I've been reading for a long time and I've read a lot of books, and I'd like to think that insofar as there are skills involved in the basic act of reading, I've mastered most of them. And yet somehow, in the 800+ book I've logged on Goodreads, I contrived to read this one backwards. The audiobook is broken into 8 parts; I read the last one first, etc, and didn't realize until I got to the third track. It seems a bit unfair to judge a book on an experience so different from its intended form. Fo ...more
As when I read it twenty years ago, I'm struck by the irony of the title. An awful lot of this book is about The Dying, which people did with far more regularity and gusto on the 19th century frontier than we see currently. But then, living and dying are two sides of the same coin, and it is true that the story continues to follow the adventures of the living characters rather than the dead ones, and this is a good thing; the dead have so few adventures, and that is one of the reasons we sorrow ...more
Sep 23, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
I think this book is sort of historically interesting, since it's set in the place where I live now, and gives a rough history of the settling of the area and etc. As a novel though, it is very slow and plodding. There are basically four or five interesting plot points spread out across four-hundred meanderingly descriptive pages. Sometimes Dillard's writing is pretty, but it doesn't really get at anything all that interesting to me.
Sep 11, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-reads
i read this for school and the only part of the book I actually wanted to read was Obenchain and Clare and their fall out
Dec 07, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-in-2011
"The Living is a vivid, populous, old-fashioned novel about the Pacific Northwest frontier.

"Bellingham Bay lies ninety miles north of Seattle, on the northwest coast of Washington State. A rough settlement founded in the 1850s became the town of Whatcom. The Living tells the rich and serious story of nineteenth century Whatcom.

"Here is the intimate, murderous tale of three men. Clare Fishburn believes that greatness lies in store for him. John Ireland Sharp, an educated orphan, abandons hope whe
Arun Croll
Mar 31, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I've read all of Annie Dillard's books of prose and "The Living" is my least favorite by far.

I slogged through this novel because I'm a huge fan of Dillard's writing style. Fortunately, she doesn't disappoint on that level. The gorgeous imagery is dispensed by means of carefully constructed sentences that are full of rich language and clever juxtapositions. I highlighted her well-phrased insights and laughed out loud multiple times, but not often enough considering the novel's size and pace—both
As a fan of Annie Dillard, I enjoyed reading this one. Anyone expecting a pageturner might as well turn the other way, but I don't necessarily mean that to be a bad thing. This is a slow, languorous read; this is one you will want to sink into for a while and soak up. If you've read anything by Annie Dillard before, you sort of know what to expect here. Her writing is beautiful and it's worth it to take note of it. At times, her metaphors can be rather thick and heavy, but she forces you to pay ...more
Aug 12, 2011 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What I loved:

1) Again, I'm a sucker for a way-out-west pioneer story. Just love 'em. And the more settlement details the better.

2) Chocked full of historical tidbits of the Pacific Northwest. Made me want to move there right now (so what if I'm a few centuries late...)

3) The stark unromanticism of Dillard's story-telling. It made everything feel very authentically harsh and unforgiving---pretty apropo for the setting.

What I hated:

1) Like another reviewer, I wasn't all that interested in ANY of t
This piece of historical fiction really took perseverence! It's a lengthy story set in the mid- to late- 1800's, about settlers to the Puget Sound area of Washington. I learned a lot about that place and time--relations between white settlers and native americans and then later, Chinese immigrants, the density and enormity of the timber and the difficulties that posed, the impact of the economic crashes of that period, and just how precarious life was in that wilderness... but Dillard doesn't cr ...more
Amira Mecidova
Jul 19, 2016 marked it as gave-up-on  ·  review of another edition
Was not very intriguing. Couldn't make myself read more than 48 pages.
Dec 27, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
There is an excellent book in there, but it desperately needs an aggressive editor to bring it out.
Ghost of a Rose
4.5 stars

Who knew that Annie Dillard wrote novels, too? And, one set very close to where I live? I couldn't wait to read this.

But in some ways I was disappointed in The Living. It turned out to be slow reading, and strangely flat - I felt largely unmoved in spite of tragic and dramatic events. This was probably due to a lack of in-depth character development. Dillard focuses more on the big picture, nature, and philosophy rather than relationships or personalities. Most characters are barely des
Sep 27, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017, fiction
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Richard Wagner
Mar 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
i really enjoyed this. it's unlike any other novel i've read. it is neither character driven, although there are many wonderfully exotic characters. nor is it plot driven, although it follows closely the history of an area of the Pacific Northwest near the Canadian border, Bellingham, WA. what the novel really is, is a canvas for the author, who is a well known naturalist and natural historian, to exhibit her beautiful writing skills. it also is, despite the title, a treatise on death and the am ...more
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Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive ...more
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“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live.” 3438 likes
“She read books as one would breathe air, to fill up and live. She read books as one would breathe ether, to sink in and die.” 64 likes
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