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Upstream

Mary Oliver

Upstream is the last collection of Mary Oliver’s essays published before her death. Her style cuts, with the kind of simplicity that’s anything but.

Like Annie Dillard, like Joan Didion, Mary Oliver can write about anything around her, the most simple, present, mundane facts, and see through them to the underlying eternities.

It’s the kind of writing that changes the way you see.

She led me to reconsider what I read for. Because if I’m being honest, I’m not one of those people who loves reading for its own sake. I can get lost in books, but mostly because they present some rich & unexplored landscapes of mind.

I read because I’m looking for something, and Oliver reminds me it’s not knowledge:

“Knowledge has entertained me and it has shaped me and it has failed me. Something in me still starves. In what is probably the most serious inquiry of my life, I have begun to look past reason, past the provable, in other directions.”

If pressed for an answer, I’d return to Rob Burbea’s metaphor of ‘ways of seeing’. The books I’ve cherished most are those that enable different ways of seeing, that unsettle my routinized ways of experiencing myself in relation to the world. Oliver’s work lives in this canon.