Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard

Really, what is more fun than finding an unopened box in a hidden bookstore in a hidden little town? You know, the kind of place that smells like old books and rain? With faded cardboard boxes looking as if no one has peeled back the box top for fifteen years?

I was at said store a short time ago, rooting through said boxes, and found a treasure: a slim volume, sticky with what looked like raspberry jam. It was one of those books that make the agony and angst of loving books and ideas worthwhile. I love Annie Dillard, so this went straight into the basket when I dug it out from underneath a few newspapers and a beat-up Farmers Almanac, smelling like the dirt it prognosticated.

I knew it would be good. What of anything from Dillard’s pen isn’t? Using the whole of Puget Sound for her moat, she repaired away to an island for a couple years to think things through. I’m wondering if more of us should stop and watch and think and write for a couple of years? There is a quiet and almost imperceptible inner longing that runs throughout the book. A longing for meaning amidst spiderwebs and boat motors and frosty windows. I imagine Dillard straining over every word and every nuance, and her effort comes through to the reader in great depth. She’s not always accessible, and I know people who refuse to wade through her books and wonderings. I don’t argue – she’s never breezy and is always deep, but I find her writing to be satisfying, challenging, and expanding. A rare gem. Please read. And if you’ve already read the book, please, read it again. The earth will be a better place for it.

Regarding the book’s tone, here is a slice from Dillard herself, spilling the beans about the content. Some of you will run:

Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time.

There is some biology, she’s surrounded by the sea and mountains, after all, and some psychology. There is lots of theology. Not academic theology with parsed Greek tenses, but the kind that comes from living among weeds and waves, from observing and thinking hard. I don’t know her intent in writing this, but it makes me want to be more observant and think deeper about what I see.

Thank you for reading.

You can find the book here on Amazon. Here at Powell’s in Portland.

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