Book Review: The Abundance by Annie Dillard

I’ve tried to write this review a dozen times now. But how do you summarize and evaluate a book that so thoroughly and immediately permeated your innermost thoughts that it is now one of the chorus of silent voices in your head? It’s a dilemma similar to the one I experience when living in Asia a few years ago. People want to know what it’s like, how your day to day is different from your life before, what you see and hear and smell, who you talk to… But it’s just your daily life. How do you explain it?

The Abundance, a collection of essays, is the work of my greatest inspirations, Annie Dillard. Abundance is curated by the author herself, some of the articles published in previous works, some brand new to the public eye. Every one of them seemed to echo or illuminate secret thoughts and experiences from my own life. And all she did was write openly, honestly, about life.

The two essays in particular which rocked the earth beneath my feet spoke of two experiences, a total lunar eclipse Ms. Dillard witnessed in the 70’s, and her experience with adolescence. The story of the eclipse transported me. The story of adolescence broke through decades of loneliness and secret shame and set me free.

Everyone should read Annie Dillard. Start with An American Childhood. Graduate next to Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Sip and savor The Abundance.

Then call me.

We’ll meet for coffee.

We’ll chat.

About eclipses and pursuits on foot through deep winter snows and vicious waterbug attacks. We’ll talk about Abundance.

Go On, the World is Round

Every once in a long while, I wake to the world as it is.

Every once in a long while, a veil lifts, and I see the little ruts that have been dragging at my footsteps, guiding my path by centimeters and by finger widths until I find myself miles from the distant point on the horizon where I thought that I’d been headed.

Every once in a long while, I stop asking myself why I’ve not been writing, why my kids aren’t sleeping, why my heart is pounding, and I jump.

It doesn’t always go well. With writing, most particularly, the first few forays back into discipline and exercise are painful, exhausting, producing almost nothing I can stand to read. Reestablishing healthy routines with my children often goes much the same way, for the first three days or so. And there’s a very, very good reason for the fecundity of exercise plans, diet regimes, and self-help guides available on the internet these days: we none of us care for ourself very well at all.

Annie Dillard says that leaving your writing alone for a while is a dangerous thing, once you try to reenter that room and begin again. While you were gone, she says, that clever bit of writing will have grown teeth and claws and will be hungry for a pound of flesh. We have to go back with chair and whip ready, she says, like lion tamers. (The Writing Life)

I propose the same goes for any discipline which we have relaxed and seek to restore. Restoration is a messy, exhausting, often painful business. We know the good things that come at the end of long days of discipline. But we’ve been enjoying too well the gluttonous indulgences and laziness that seem to cost so much less, in the short run.

But then, every once in a long while. We wake. We see. We leap.

We write.