Sunday, October 6, 2013

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

I posted my review of this Pulitzer Prize winning book on Goodreads today.  Here is what I said:

This book was not what I thought it would be. I was expecting observations and ruminations on rural life from some time alone in the country. It is that. But that is just the launching pad for a view of the natural and supernatural worlds that is unlike anything I've ever read before. The book combines observations of the natural world in a Virginia valley with information learned from a host of other sources about science, nature and spirituality. It is a fairly short book but it took me several weeks to read - in part due to limited time, in part due to a few challenging sections, and in part due to the beauty and elegance of the writing. In places deeply spiritual, in places horrifying in its descriptions of nature (particularly the insect world), in places surreal - this small volume serves up a wide variety of "moments."

Here is the first thing I underlined in my copy of the book:

Peeping through my keyhole I see within the range of only about thirty percent of the light that comes from the sun; the rest is infrared and some little ultraviolet, perfectly apparent to many animals, but invisible to me. A nightmare network of ganglia, charged and firing without my knowledge, cuts and splices what I do see, editing it for my brain. Donald E. Carr points out that the sense impressions of one celled animals are not edited for the brain: "This is philosophically interesting in a rather mournful way, since it means that only the simplest animals perceive the universe as it is."

This is followed by many, many more intriguing combinations of information and observations. In the end, it is an incredible meditation on the world and universe in which we live, filled with horror and grace, each making the other more powerful. Annie Dillard was not yet thirty when she wrote this masterpiece, and so it is not perfect, though perfect enough to win a Pulitzer Prize. A more mature writer may have toned down some of the more self-indulgent forays that read more like writing exercises, but a more mature writer would probably also shy away from the fearless ambition of this book. Still, this is one of my favorite books I've ever read. Ms. Dillard's worldview and writing style is not for everyone - some people apparently loathe this book. I would suggest you read a snippet at Amazon, or buy a used copy like I did. I know I will read this one again so I plan to buy a hardback next.

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