Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty
laid bare, life heightened
and its deepest mystery probed?
. . . We still and always want waking.
― Annie Dillard
The Writing Life
I'm late to the party, again.
I just now read The Writing Life by Annie Dillard. It's a stellar collection of essays, and is considered a sort of writer's manifesto. When writers gather, it is this book they quote, or worse — for the uninitiated like me — they give a subtle nod, a slight gesture to suggest their knowing is so deep as to not require enthusiasm. The seminal work was published in 1989, and I just now read it.
And you want to know why?
I resist hype. If everyone is raving about something, I usually walk away. Examples: maxi skirts, mainstream movies. Exceptions: Fifty Shades of Grey (don't judge, I was curious), and the sale rack at Anthropologie.
When writers trilled over Dillard, my mind hit ignore. I recalled the long slog through The Shipping News, and couldn't bear another grey and dismal tale set in some grey and dismal hinterland. When the book won the Pulitzer, I abandoned my "don't be a sheep" mantra, and embarked on the longest, most laborious, read of my life.
But here's the rub: The Shipping News is a novel by Annie Proulx. Not Annie Dillard.
All these years, in my haste to gather, read, learn and log, I had confused the two Annies.
But wait — the admission deepens.
I also confuse the two Richards: Richard Russo and Richard Ford. Both accomplished contemporary novelists. Both with the same dang name. Too many times to count, I have bought and borrowed a book by Richard Ford thinking it was Richard Russo, and vice versa. Just as I am sinking into the couch with book and enthusiasm, I realize it's not "my" Richard, but the other, less favored, one.
And don't even start about multiple book covers. How many times have I bought a book by Elizabeth Berg, thinking it was one I had somehow managed to never read, then realized just a few pages in that, yes, in fact, I had already read the book.
So, what's the lesson, the message?
If you're a writer, pick a unique pen name.
Too many Richards confuses dimwits like me.
If you're a reader, slow down.
Admittedly, I spend much of my life skimming. I call it getting the gist. This annoys my husband to no end. He's a slow, take-it-all-in-and-remember reader. Conversely, I read quickly and retain little, which explains, well, everything.
Read The Writing Life.
It's a really good book by Annie somebody.