Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Disjointed and Wonderful

Annie Dillard has long been a favorite author of mine. Yesteday I picked up a copy of her book, For the Time Being, a creative non-fiction work that just shakes every preconception I have of how to structure a book. She demands a great deal of trust. How will the early references to the history of archeology in China, the production line style of care for newborns in the US, the strange detours in human evolution and the Kabbala all fit together? Reading this book is like watching a huge picture gradually come into focus. The ancient bones recovered in China, the unearthing of the buried clay army, the birth of infants, both well and unwell, the meditations on God's involvement in human life--they do connect in a sweeping and provocative way. The style is still her own, with the conversational asides that remind us that a real person, an individual, is producing this work. As always her language entertains while her ideas challenge.

Dillard's audacity has freed me from some of my recent angst over writing. If I learn nothing from the content of the book, I will have yet spent my time wisely and learned writing from a master. I suspect that by tomorrow, though, I will have finished the book and tucked it onto a shelf with my favorites to remind me to read it again and again. I'll use it as a model of what's possible when a writer dares to reach for the clouds, (oh, yes, clouds as individuals also figure in this story) to pierce the veil between us and It. To write what she wants to write, no matter how difficult it is for a publisher or bookseller to categorize. If all you read for is plot, forget this book. The plot is too big to fathom. But the sense that one is in touch with a real person who thinks big thoughts about something other than financial bailouts is, as the credit card ad says, priceless.

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