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Book review

The Writing Life

by Annie Dillard

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard

Re-read #3 for me on this, I think. It’s such a beautiful little book, only a little over a hundred pages. The prose shines like the highly polished brass of a cannon, gleaming in the sun, catching your eye with its beauty whilst simultaneously capable of blowing your mind into tiny little pieces. I found myself captivated, reading sentences or paragraphs again and again.

It’s about us reading a book:

“The line of words feels for cracks in the firmament. The line of words is heading out past Jupiter this morning. Traveling 150 kilometres a second, it makes no sound. The big yellow planet and its white moons spin. The line of words speeds past Jupiter and its cumbrous, dizzying orbit; it looks neither to the right nor to the left. It will be leaving the solar system soon, single-minded, rapt, rushing heaven like a soul.”

It’s about the process of writing a book:

“I had to discover a method to remind myself that I had water boiling on the stove… so I stuck a clothespin on my finger. It was, as it happened, a strong clothespin, and I had to move it every twenty seconds. This action, and the pain, kept me in the real world until the water actually boiled …. So that is how I wrote those nights, wrote a book about high holy art: moving a clothespin up and down my increasingly reddened little finger. Why people want to be writers I will never know, unless it is that their lives lack a material footing.”

Much of it is of course just the process of being alive – all of our lives.

“What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing. A schedule defends from chaos and whim. It is a net for catching days.”

All of it is remarkable, and much of it is also very poignant. The final chapter, on its surface about Dave Rahm, a geologist who also happens to be a world class stunt pilot, makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up every time I read it. The clouds part, and just for a moment, your imagination conjures up, with the help of these little black shapes on bits of smashed trees and rags, a thing of Platonic beauty.

Breathtaking stuff. Five golden stars.