Saturday, April 30, 2016

The Abundance by Annie Dillard

I don't know why I have not written about Annie Dillard before. She is one of my favorite authors. As I look at my bookshelf, I can see right away three of her books leaning casually against one another: Teaching a Stone to Talk, An American Childhood, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.

I can never look at a tiny spider weaving its web in the corner of my bathroom without thinking of Ms. Dillard's story of living in harmony with a spider that had taken up residence in a corner of her cabin at Tinker Creek.

It has been a long time since I have dipped into any of her books - much to my loss.  If you have not read anything by Ms. Dillard you now have a chance to read examples of her wide range of intellect and interests. The Abundance, a collection of her essays new and old, was published last month.

There are four selections from Teaching a Stone to Talk, eight from An American Childhood, and two from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. But I dove in right away to her essays from sources that I had not read.

Encounters With Chinese Writers is based on her experiences as part of a delegation of American writers who visited China and also hosted Chinese writers in America. The essay from that book is the story of a trip with the Chinese visitors to Disneyland. You can just imagine the culture clash!

Reading this narrative reminded me that there was a time when I lived not too far from Disneyland and I would sometimes go to the park after dinner. Merely an evening's entertainment for me. I was often struck by the fact that some families had saved for a long time to afford the trip to Disneyland and here I could just drive over after dessert.

The text of the short commentary Tsunami that she recorded for NPR is also included. It is her attempt to come to terms with the devastation that in one day, twenty-five years ago on April 29,1991, a tsunami took the lives of 138,000 people in Bangladesh. Her reading of the essay is online and you can listen to it here.

And there are others.

The Abundance is a wonderful collection of Ms. Dillard’s thoughtful prose. I am sure reading these essays will send you in search of the books whence they came. I can tell you that the three that I own are now down off the shelf and next to my reading chair. I will be revisiting them soon.


P.S. The preface to The Abundance is written by British author Geoff Dyer who will be speaking at the library here in May. You can be sure the date is circled on my calendar.

P.P.S. Let there be cake! Today, April 30, is Annie Dillard’s 71st birthday .


  1. Thanks for reminding me of this great author. I need to dig out my copy of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and reread it.

    1. Hi, Joyce. I felt the same way when I heard about this new book. Why, oh why, have I let her books languish on my shelf? No more! I think Tinker Creek is my favorite.

  2. Happy birthday, Ms. Dillard! I love essays, and have liked the few things I've read by her. Definitely adding this to the list of books I'd like to read.

    1. Oh, Kathy, you are in for a treat. Start with Pilgrim at Tinker Creek and then her memoir 'An American Childhood'. See if your own writing doesn't become deeper. Mine does after immersing myself in her words.

  3. I had forgotten all about Annie Dillard and yet she is one of the most brilliant American essayists. Oh, I must read this one. I'm a big fan of Geoff Dyer's book on D. H. Lawrence: It's really a travel book, organized around his trying to write a book on Lawrence but not really feeling like rereading him, but he does revisit a lot of places. Anyway I wish I lived in Kentucky and got to see all these great writers.

    1. Kat, I too was glad of this reminder of Ms. Dillard's powerful writing. I have not read a thing by Mr. Dyer. His new book, White Sands, looks to be a gathering of travel experiences which provide the background for all sorts of asides and observations. My favorite type of tale. I am looking forward to meeting him.