This is my favorite book. I think about it almost every day.
Annie Dillard is my favorite writer, perhaps ever. What she does with the written word is so singular & potent. This is her book. It’s the book that, to me, shows what can be done with writing. It’s the furthest guidepost along the path of what she calls ‘the literature of illumination’. Setting out her aim early on, “I propose to keep here what Thoreau called ‘a meteorological journal of the mind,” she writes:
“I am an explorer, then, and I am also a stalker, or the instrument of the hunt itself. Certain Indians used to carve long grooves along the wooden shafts of their arrows. They called the grooves “lightning marks,” because they resembled the curved fissure lightning slices down the trunks of trees. The function of lightning marks is this: if the arrow fails to kill the game, blood from a deep wound will channel along the lightning mark, streak down the arrow shaft, and spatter to the ground, laying a trail dripped on broad-leaves, on stones, that the barefoot and trembling archer can follow into whatever deep or rare wilderness it leads. I am the arrow shaft, carved along my length by unexpected lights and gashes from the very sky, and this book is the straying trail of blood.”
Her subject is nothing short of life itself. Her method is astonishment, turned toward everything, anything she encounters. She once wrote that “cruelty is a mystery and a waste of pain”, but her written lucidity, the variety that conveys itself to the reader and jumps from the page into the readers own consciousness through any available orifice, is also a mystery, but a gift of writing.