I love Annie Dillard. Non-Fiction, anyway. I can’t speak to her fiction. But her NF is brilliant.
It’s interesting to me how I can forget things so easily.
I was in the middle of An American Childhood when it had to go back to the library many months ago, and I never did get it back. Plum forgot.
I inherited a copy from my bookhound of a mother since then, but still, I didn’t pick it back up. As though it wasn’t worth picking back up.
What was I thinking?
Number one on Mohs’ scale was soft rock, to wit, talc. Can you crumble it in your fingers? It’s soft. What you have there is talcum powder. Can it scratch a fingernail, a copper penny, a pane of glass, and a knife blade? It’s quartz. You can scratch quartz with topaz, ruby, and diamond. If it makes your diamond saw clog, it’s a meteorite.
When Ms. Dillard was a young one, she delved into rockhounding, among a million other intense pursuits, and she is here pressurizing a lifetime of knowledge down into eight thrilling pages, turning every reader to an instant closet geologist. (Lest you think I am in love with the writer of a book on the Mohs’ Hardness Scale. Not that I couldn’t be.)
But here, she’s only driving us through all the glories of learning. Everything is up for grabs; everything exciting. Damn, I could ride forever.
All alone, I just don’t know that this passage will really demonstrate why I love her writing, but it is the one that sticks with me this week. If you’re left reading that handful of words and wondering if I’ve gone off the deep end, you’ll just have to pick up a larger handful for yourself, and see what you see.
I am sometimes exasperated with Dillard’s raw and unfiltered prose, but I am always in awe. She is so very straight and not at all narrow. So very pragmatic, yet so lively. Dry and juicy, commingling til they make your head spin.
How does she take the facts and spin them into such a passion-filled narrative? How does she manipulate words to make them into an entire history, plain and simple bits and bobbles into so much more than they were before? Without pomp. Without an eye-bat. Seemingly without effort or concern or even a hint of care at whether her reader will be smart enough to follow her. She just does it.
Take it or leave it.
Here I am on paper.
How do you like me now?
The flipside of Annie Dillard is her unmitigated intensity. Those eight pages about rocks leave you tired. Before you delve into three more spotlighting the joys of a basement microscope and captive amoebas, it is time for a break. The woman practically writes in poetry, and the energy it takes to consume is comparable. You’ve got to pace yourself, or you’ll certainly burn out.
Maybe this is where I was back when she toddled back to the library without me and I didn’t even have the decency to ask her back for tea. It’s entirely possible. But absence did it’s work, and I’m enjoying my daily dose of Dillard once again.