Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard

I’m on vacation though October 25, so for the next few posts, I’ll be sharing brief reviews of some of my favorite books.

I don’t remember what English class I had to read this for in high school, but I was probably sixteen or seventeen at the time, and I remember vividly that the rest of the class hated it. It wasn’t unusual for me to be at odds with my friends at school when it came to books. I hated Catcher in the Rye, and everyone else thought it expressed the deepest recesses of their souls (I have since made a promise to reread it in hopes of discovering something redeemable in what I considered the most puntable book I’ve ever been forced to read – or at least something more than the single paragraph I loved, which incidentally refers to the title of the book – but so far, I haven’t been able to make myself sit down with an open mind). I even remember, way back in the third grade, we had to memorize a poem and recite it in front of the class; I chose Edgar Allen Poe’s “The Raven.” Everyone else picked something from Seuss or Silverstein. It didn’t occur to me then that other eight year olds might choose children’s poems, and it was a painful realization when my turn finally came.

Likewise, it was difficult to try to argue Dillard’s case to a class full of people who had probably skimmed the book about an hour before. It’s a tiny volume, packed with her own particular poetry of language, and it shouldn’t be rushed. It can’t be. The book is about pain and solitude and exquisite natural beauty. It’s about loss and acceptance, and for me, every time I read it, another layer of her experience is revealed. I thought it was lovely back then, but now, I appreciate how she chose every line – every word – with absolute precision. She doesn’t waste a line.

The day is real; the sky clicks securely in place over the mountains, locks round the islands, snaps slap on the bay. Air fits flush on the farm roofs; it rises inside the doors of barns and rubs at yellow barn windows. Air clicks up my hand cloven into fingers and wells in my ears’ holes, whole and entire. I call it simplicity, the way matter is smooth and alone. (p 12)

To read more about Annie Dillard, go here.

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