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Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

4.20  ·  Rating details ·  4,730 ratings  ·  413 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.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
Jan 09, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was not my favorite of Dillard's books, which is similar to saying a certain Renoir painting is not my favorite - the opinion is supplied by subjective lenses and in no way denies the mastery of the artwork. And no one masters the art of prose quite like Dillard.

My favorite segments of this collection were God in the Doorway, Aces and Eights, On a Hill Far Away, and Sojourner. But all are beautifully written and worth the reading.

“I alternate between thinking of the planet as home–dear and
Nov 30, 2014 rated it really liked it
Adventurous collection of essays, generally on the intersection of God, humans, and nature. I could wish the whole book more unified, and more descriptively personal (like An American Childhood) than spiritually/emotionally so. But she writes so musically well that I enjoy every piece, no matter how strange or discordant the tune. Favorites: "The Deer at Providencia" and "On a Hill Far Away."
Michael Galdamez
2.5 Stars

*Disclaimer: I read the majority of the essays in the book, but only the ones required for school*

When I remember that books are primarily for our entertainment and edification, I come down hard on this book.

It didn't do much of either for me.
Oct 25, 2008 rated it it was ok
Shelves: essays
Beautifully written and it bored the hell out me.
Emily Browne
Jul 08, 2014 rated it it was ok
I gave up reading after 1/3 of the way through. Too random for me.
Apr 10, 2016 rated it liked it
3.5 stars

I wanted to like this more than l did. I think I'll try another book by Annie Dillard, because I have heard such good things of her. Maybe I was just reading this at the wrong time.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
No one ever succeeds in teaching a stone to talk, but if Dillard could teach me how to write even half as well as she does, I think that'd be about the same thing.
Oct 16, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: nature, essays
Like all of Dillard’s non-fiction, this fairly short book of essays is overflowing with strange word combinations and unique reflections, rife with gorgeously vivid descriptions, and filled with insights that give one regular moments of pause.

Having added this one to my collection some years ago, recently another author’s (Eugene Peterson's) brief reference to a particular essay, “An Expedition to the Pole,” led me to comb through my boxes of un-shelved books in search of this collection. The t
May 13, 2019 rated it it was ok
What start out as lucid, descriptive stories about nature, animals, geology, short holidays and her church very gradually and deliberately morph into confusion and uncertainty.

Some stories begin with the viewing of an eclipse or observing trees on an island and somehow turn into the pondering of the world and the unknown. She looks through the telescope lens, shifts view and then splurges into lens related distorted realities. I was wavering between fascination and confusion.

I did enjoy the boo
Marian Beaman
Feb 25, 2018 rated it really liked it
Some travel as tourists. Annie Dillard roams the earth an explorer. In Teaching A Stone to Talk she invites the reader into her expeditions and encounters with creatures, both human and animal, but also inanimate ones, like stones.

From Puget Sound to the Galapagos Island, the author uses microscope, telescope and polarized sunglasses to examine her world. I learned something about an expedition to the South Pole through her eyes, a deer caught in more than headlights and a man named Larry who, i
Rick Homuth
Aug 30, 2017 rated it it was ok
This is one of those books I, a person with an English degree, are supposed to pretend I like a lot more than I do. Maybe it's because I listened to this on audiobook instead of actually reading it (I wanted to revisit the essay "the Eclipse," which begins this collection, while driving en route to the actual eclipse), because the woman doing the reading, I think, did a great disservice to Dillard's voice by being overtly cheerful in her narration, but after a certain point there's only so much ...more
Mind the Book
Nu blir det Dillardpaus p.g.a. naturskildringsoverload efter tre D på kort tid.
Några rader från slutet av boken möter min egen verklighet, så här i början på sommarledigheten:

"You know what it's like to open up a cottage. You barge in with your box of groceries and your duffelbag full of books. You drop them on a counter and rush to the far window to look out [...] Opening up a summer cottage is like being born this way: at the moment you enter, you have all the time you are ever going to have."
Bree Hill
Jan 02, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2020-nonfiction
‘The Point Of going somewhere like the Napo River in Ecuador is not to see the most spectacular anything. It is simply to see what is there. We are here on the planet only once, and might as well get a feel for the place. We might as well get a feel for the fringes and hollows in which life is lived, for the Amazon basin, which covers half a continent, and for the life that—-there, like anywhere else—is always and necessarily lived in detail’

Annie Dillard is a gangster with words. Her descriptio
Nov 27, 2017 rated it liked it
Reading other reviews of Annie Dillard was more enjoyable than reading her book. She never taught that stone to talk. I am still trying to comprehend what either of them were trying to say. I do feel I need to apologize because i too love to write. I enjoy beautiful phrases that evokes human emotion but at some point the reader must leave fulfilled. Ask my husband, and he says the same of my attempts at writing my thoughts. I have stopped letting him read my pieces.
Jul 12, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Annie Dillard is one of my favorite authors and I have enjoyed reading and re-reading her books ever since I discovered and loved Pilgrim at Tinker Creek fifteen years ago. She captures the natural world in all its everyday glory and mystery and makes you want to walk in the woods and listen to the wind or maybe travel to the arctic and walk on the ice.
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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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