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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  5,348 ratings  ·  510 reviews
Here, in this compelling assembly of writings, Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard explores the world of natural facts and human meanings.
Paperback, Perennial Library, 177 pages
Published 1988 by Harper & Row, Publishers (first published October 13th 1982)
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Thomas Watson
Sep 18, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Reading Dillard is like watching a figure skater. You don't really understand or appreciate what you've just experienced until you try to walk across an icy sidewalk. ...more
Dec 13, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Every time I read Annie Dillard I become more responsible. In general. Her words are purposeful, she addresses sorrow, beauty and terror with nouns and adjectives that, if you aren't careful, look like every other noun and adjective you have ever read. But this isn't so. There is not a wasted syllable. Read about the Deer at Provenance, a story about a young fawn tied to a tree, resigning to the despair of its own death, and the people that circle around, quietly, and watch. And then read how sh ...more
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Wholly unexpected and completely amazing. I see the reviews of my fellow Goodreaders and I can echo them, Dillard is an artist and her words both perplexed and thrilled me (the polar expedition histories interspersed with detailed observations about the eclectic praise band at her church - finally meshing together with a trippy baby christening on an arctic ice flow??) WOW.

She made me laugh out loud.

It is madness to wear a ladies straw hat and velvet hats to church - we should all be wearin
Jeremy Forstadt
Jan 03, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Annie Dillard is one of the most satisfying essayists I know. Although I am not, generally, a reader of nature studies, Dillard's essays seem just perfect to me. If I had a single criticism, it would be that she generally ties in a theme or moral to her story to the extent that it would almost seems forced , but the language is so beautifully descriptive and the resolutions so elegant, that I am willing to forgive her for it.

In "Total Eclipse" she manages to describe the experience of witnessing
Nov 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: environment
Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Here are my favorite stories in this collection of fourteen nature essays

Total Eclipse - Annie and her husband travel to Eastern Washington to see the solar eclipse.

In the Jungle - a perfectly written article of her observations while visiting a remote jungle in Ecuador.

On a Hill Far Away - a touching story about a precocious boy at the farm next door.

Sojourner - a metaphoric article on mangrove forests and floating islands. I’ve always had a fascinati
Jan 06, 2009 rated it liked it
This is a book of essays: some reflective, mostly descriptive. Sometimes I was reading and thinking, "What the hell is she talking about?" But, it's worth it to keep reading because there are phrases and paragraphs that are just golden:

From "Total Eclipse": "The mind—the culture—has two little tools, grammar and lexicon: a decorated sand bucket and a matching shovel."

From "An Expedition to the Pole": "It all seems a pit at first, for I have overcome a fiercely anti-Catholic upbringing in order t
Dec 19, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ll-books
There is some beautiful prose and imagery within each essay. And some of the connections between different things that Dillard makes are interesting and give insight into her thinking. But, there are also essays in the book where even by the end of the essay I have a hard time understanding the link between the two things.

While I can appreciate the jumping back and forth between things can give a sense of how our thought process can actually be at times, I did often find it hard to follow. That
Ashley Will
Dec 08, 2020 rated it it was ok
A couple of my favorite lines filled with beautiful metaphorical imagery are "And if you dig your fists into the earth and crumble geography, you strike geology."
And, "The continents themselves are beautiful pea-green boats." But I can't recommend a book of essays on imagery alone, separate from its substance.
Sojourner is my favorite essay of the book. OK, it's the only essay I truly like. I didn't know anything about mangroves previously and wow I was in awe learning how resilient they are and
Geoff Wyss
Jul 25, 2015 rated it it was ok
This one was recommended by readers I trust, but I simply couldn't like it no matter how much I tried. There are very nice bits here and there, but those bits are smothered by the essays' constant habit of insisting on themselves, sometimes explicitly but more often through precious repetitions; heavy, obvious images and symbols; and tortured syntax that says, 'Here comes something meaningful.' Lots of self-indulgence, self-consciousness, coyness, "voice"--all filling in the voids of thought. Ma ...more
Christine Norvell
I knew from Holy the Firm that Dillard's writings were full of wonderings, but the range of her wonderings is like riding a roller coaster! One moment she is wry and funny, the next she is cosmic and religious (or not)—"Why do we people in churches seem like cheerful brainless tourists on a packaged tour of the Absolute?" She writes that we should be wearing crash helmets and life preservers! I confess that I didn't understand everything I read, but I will always enjoy her nature and geographic ...more
Jan 24, 2010 rated it liked it
Not my favorite, though there are wonderful moments here. She seems in "An Expedition to the Pole" to get wrong what she gets so right in For the Time Being. In the latter, she lays her examinations--internal and external--side-by-side and leaves us to connect. They resonate against one another and flare out into unexpected meanings. Here, she smashes her examinations of the lives of arctic explorers together with her impressions of a largely mundane Catholic service in a surreal mish-mash that ...more
Katherine Ginensky
Sep 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
I honestly don’t know if I can tell you anything that happened or what anything means. The reviews for these essays are profoundly good and I just don’t get it. Really struggling between I’m not smart enough to understand what she’s saying and her writing is just absurd imagery and scenes that are impossible to follow. I imagine reading this in a class would be a different experience but I didn’t. I even started the whole thing over 50 pages in to try to get a better grasp on what was happen
Oct 27, 2009 rated it did not like it
Each time I tried to read this book I would notice my boyfriend laughing, what I didn't notice was that I would sit down heavily and sigh as though someone was making me do knuckle push-ups. I was loaned this book by a wealthy, bored woman that I work for and thought it would be polite of me to read the book that means so much to her. Today I decided I'm done fighting. I'm tired of hearing about "god" and self-righteous observations of nature and man conquering it. I found this book pompous, bor ...more
Mar 29, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Simply one of the best essay collections I can ever remember reading. Annie is warm and funny, but also thoughtful and quirky, and so much of the time you're never entirely sure where the essay is going to arrive. This uncertain quality is a nice feature of any essay, to my mind; I love essays that still keep Montaigne's sense of the word "essai" as "an attempt." That said, each of these pieces, long and short, is impeccably crafted, and loaded with memorable side-paths and stunning turns of phr ...more
Dec 28, 2020 rated it it was ok
I gave this book 2 stars for one main reason: it really made me uncomfortable with the way it talked about various Indigenous / First Nations people, especially those described as "Indians" in South America - as well as the way they were presented as part of the wild and part of the landscape.

Otherwise, this was a solidly 3 star book. I have to start off by saying that I am not a giant fan of non-fiction in general, and some of these essays really bored me. On the other hand, some of these essay
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: bookclubs
This book was a solid "meh" to me. There were some essays that I liked, for example "Lenses" and the one about the Galapagos islands. But there were more essays I was just incredibly bored by. It wasn't helped by her often insensitive and reductive portrayal of indigenous peoples. If I hadn't read this book for Life's Library, and had access to the wonderful discussions on my shelf, I probably wouldn't have finished it. ...more
Chris Gager
Jun 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Found this one somewhere. In the past I have found AD to be a bit of a trial. The Maytrees was unreadable but her memoir wasn't too bad. The BIG problem for me is her intensely twee/poetic prose. This book is a collection of shorter pieces. I read the first one last night and it was ... OK. I'll be reading one at a time.

"Chapter " 2("An Expedition to the Pole") Meanders for many pages between the author's experiences as a spiritual seeker in a local Catholic church(definitely NOT a cathedral) an
Bob Nichols
The book is uneven. More often than not, I don’t know what is being said or why. Words and sentences are presented with little or no meaning. Stories jump around and I miss their line.

And yet, there’s always enough to keep me going. When Dillard encountered a weasel unexpectedly, she writes that “our eyes locked, and someone threw away the key.” It’s “face was fierce, small and pointed as a lizard’s; he would have made a good arrowhead,” she observes. Reflecting on its life, she says that “The
Jun 30, 2018 added it
"I alternate between thinking of the planet as home—dear and familiar stone hearth and garden—and as a hard land of exile in which we are all sojourners. Today I favor the latter view. The word 'sojourner' occurs often in the English Old Testament. It invokes a nomadic people’s sense of vagrancy, a praying people’s knowledge of estrangement, a thinking people’s intuition of a sharp loss: ‘For we are strangers before thee, and sojourners, as were our fathers: our days on the earth are as a shadow ...more
Dec 31, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Loved this! She writes how I wish I could write. Kind of reminded me of a mix between Patti Smith and Robin Wall Kimmerer.
Definitely some convoluted storytelling and an overall melancholy tone but I found each essay striking.
Lots of themes of nature, God and creation, the purpose of humanity, etc.
Sep 08, 2010 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: favorites
Amazing short stories, heart achingly beautiful renderings of fleeting moments within the natural world. Her stories are written both with clarity and an impressionistic aura. Treat yourself to the story Total Eclipse to see what I am unable to capably put into words.
Matt Trussell
A solid "meh". Don't get me wrong, some of these essays were great, An Expedition to the Pole, Living Like Weasels, The Galápagos and Sojourner were some of my favorites, but it seemed like this collection was very hit or miss, for every essay that made me stop and think about a big idea, or had some lovely lines or interesting facts, there was one that just fell flat and I wasn't really sure what I was reading or what I should have been getting out of it. A few of them just seemed to...end with ...more
Jan 13, 2021 rated it liked it
3.5 stars?

Some of the chapters were difficult to connect with, and I'm sure I didn't fully get the meaning of all of them. On the other hand, the language was really wonderful, with some intriguing thoughts and poetic sentences.

I discovered this book through the life's library book club, and the discussion over there certainly helped me to get more out of the book.

Really glad I read this, but not sure I would immediately go for other books of the same author.
Mar 22, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In this collection of fourteen essays Dillard brings her almost forensic observation of natural world as well as a keen perception of the smallest detail to a wide variety of subjects. Starting with her thoughts on a solar eclipse that she travels to see in Yakima, we accompany her on her a journey to the Appalachian Mountains and all the way to the Galapagos Islands. With her we see the world through the eyes of a weasel and take a walk from her home. We also meet the man who inspired the title ...more
Dec 12, 2020 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
There was only one essay I really got into. I couldn't get into the rest of them. Sometimes the ending was food, but it was a struggle for me to get there.
I think if I was religious I would have enjoyed this more.
Jan 30, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"There is a place called "the farm" where I lived once, in a time that was very lonely. Fortunately I was unconscious of my loneliness then, and felt it only deeply, bewildered, in the half-bright way that a puppy feels pain."

Annie Dillard is a very good writer. Her imagery is so descriptive and captivating. Several of the stories felt un-put-down-able even though they weren't particularly tense. I just wanted to keep living inside of them. The two I felt this the most with were "An Expedition t
Dec 16, 2020 rated it it was ok
I respect and recognize the beauty of Dillard's writing, however it was not for me. ...more
Jan 13, 2021 rated it it was amazing
annie dillard has the words for everything i’ve ever felt
Jul 14, 2021 rated it it was amazing
You wouldn't catch me dead calling a book "achingly beautiful", but Annie has sorely tested my resolve ...more
Jan 08, 2014 added it
Shelves: memoir

God does not demand that we give up our personal dignity, that we throw in our lot with random people, that we lose ourselves and turn from all that is not him. God needs nothing, asks nothing, and demands nothing, like the stars. It is a life with God which demands these things.
Experiences has taught the race that if knowledge of God is the end, then these habits of life are not the means but the condition in which the means operates. You do not have to do these t
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Green Group: This topic has been closed to new comments. Summer 2013 July Read: Teaching a Stone to Talk 5 18 Aug 27, 2013 02:08PM  

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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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