Read Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard Online


In 1975 Annie Dillard took up residence on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person." For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice death, and the will of God. In Holy the Firm she writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, about a seven-year-old girl burned inIn 1975 Annie Dillard took up residence on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person." For the next two years she asked herself questions about time, reality, sacrifice death, and the will of God. In Holy the Firm she writes about a moth consumed in a candle flame, about a seven-year-old girl burned in an airplane accident, about a baptism on a cold beach. But behind the moving curtain of what she calls "the hard things -- rock mountain and salt sea," she sees, sometimes far off and sometimes as close by as a veil or air, the power play of holy fire.This is a profound book about the natural world -- both its beauty and its cruelty -- the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dillard knows so well....

Title : Holy the Firm
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ISBN : 9780060915438
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 76 Pages
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Holy the Firm Reviews

  • Kend
    2018-11-21 18:15

         Annie Dillard's Holy the Firm is a classic.  By that, I mean a lot of things.  This slender volume--only seventy-six pages!--includes her famous moth essay, which I was required to read in my second year of college, and which I required my students to read in their first.  It's a good essay.  Apart from being an instrument of learning (or torture, depending on the student you're talking to), Holy the Firm is classic for another reason: it deals with the classic (or universal) question of suffering.  Dillard spent over a year crafting these seventy-six pages, even though the observations they record took place over only three days.     Some scholars suspected Dillard of being high while writing this book, and I can well see why: the language is so elevated, the tone so enthusiastic, and the dialectic between head and heart so amplified, that she seems to have spun out of this earth's orbit entirely.  She accomplishes the nonfiction writer's primary goal, and makes the familiar unfamiliar.  I, for one, do not suspect her of imbibing hallucinogenics.  What of those fourteen months spent drafting so few pages?  I suspect Dillard was obsessing over her craft, and tinkering with verbs.  I cannot escape them; they enfold me, beat me round the head.  I am continually surprised when I re-read a passage and find Dillard using ordinary words and ordinary structures; her arrangements are precise and powerful, carefully calculated for maximum effect.  She makes me giddy with words.     Dillard is, after all, a poet.      I must force myself to look at this book through the lens of a student, too, and of someone who will be expected to connect the dots between Holy the Firm and the subject of the interior journey.  Sometimes Dillard herself asks the necessary questions.  Questions of existence ("Why are there all these apples in the world, and why so wet and transparent?" [65]), of reality ("But how do we know--how could we know--that the real is there?" [48]), of worthiness ("Who are we to demand explanations of God?" [62], and "Who am I to buy the communion wine?" [63]), and of God's identity and how we figure in ("Has he no power?" [43], and "The question is, then, whether God touches anything.  Is anything firm, or is time on the loose?" [47]).  Unlike Boethius, who I spent the other half of my day reading, Dillard doesn't make Philosophy some exterior person and begin a lengthy dialogue.  She keeps Philosophy on a tight leash, interrogates herself, and drowns her reader in impressions.  The questions crystallize into story, and Dillard's energetic self seizes upon the exterior world as a metaphor for her inner life.  A pipe is not a pipe, a cat is not a cat, and pain is transformation's other face.      Dillard has a terribly modest view of the artist (and therefore, the writer--and therefore, herself): she writes, "What can any artist set on fire but his world? ... His face is flame like a seraph's, lighting the kingdom of God for the people to see; his life goes up in the works; his feet are waxen and salt.  He is holy and he is firm, spanning all the long gap with the length of his love, in flawed imitation of Christ on the cross stretched both ways unbroken and thorned" (72).  So you see, she is unafraid to state what all artists think but rarely feel free to broadcast: we are just so awesome, aren't we?  I'm afraid I find this kind of self-gratifying back-patting to be rather a boost to my ailing ego--but I can't stand by it, if only because I've run out of matches and my kindling is damp.  I cannot think of myself as a lynchpin for global change--but hey, it's kind of a nice thought, and well in keeping with Dillard's go-gettum attitude.  This world does not go quietly into the good night of her senses; it leaves its impressions with all of the rough and tumble fierceness of a tomcat's duel, and all of the sharp clear pain that loss and love can muster.

  • Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
    2018-12-06 01:17

    Three days in the life of Annie Dillard.Day One, November 18, "Newborn and Salted." She wakes up in a god ("every day is a god"), alone in her small dwelling in Puget Sound, Washington State, nature all around her. She has a cat named Small and a spider in her bathroom. She reads often. She writes what she sees: the moths dying into her burning candles, her cat, the spider in her bathroom and its kills, the land, the trees, the mountains, islands and the sea. She muses about time ("eternity's pale interlinear, as islands are the sea's. We have less time than we knew and that time bouyant, and cloven, lucent, and missile, and wild."). November 18 is a day, so it is a god, a god-child, newly-born and, like what the Armenians and the Levites of old did to their babies, salted. This god is a boy, "pagan and fernfoot," whose power is enthusiasm and whose innocence is mystery. Day Two, November 19, "God's Tooth." A small plane falls to the earth, hits the ground, fuel explodes. Julie Norwich, seven years old, a neighbor's child, she who likes to play with Small and is learning to whistle, gets her face burnt off by the ignited plane fuel. With such horrifying third-degree burns, maybe she'll die. Or live dead to the world, never learning how to whistle, or kiss, and be kissed by a man who loves her, for her lips are gone. Faith wobbles. What kind of god is this day, asks Dillard. Maybe days are not really gods at all. "There are only days. The one great god abandoned us to days, to time's tumult of occasions, abandoned us to the gods of days each brute and amok in his hugeness and idiocy." A bewildered cry like Job's--"The great ridged granite millstone of time is illusion, for only the good is real; the great ridged granite millstone of space is illusion, for God is spirit and worlds his flimsiest dreams: but the illusions are almost perfect, are apparently perfect for generations on end, and the pain is also, and undeniably, real. The pain within the millstones' pitiless turning is real, for our love for each other--for world and all the products of extension--is real, vaulting, insofar as it is love, beyond the plane of the stones' sickening churn and arcing to the realm of spirit bare. And you can get caught holding one end of a love, when your father drops, and your mother; when a land is lost, or a time, and your friend blotted out, gone, your brother's body spoiled, and cold, your infant dead, and you dying: you reel out love's long line alone, stripped like a live wire loosing its sparks to a cloud, like a live wire loosed in space to longing and grief everlasting."That day Dillard espies a new island. She names it Terror, the Farthest Limb of the Day, God's Tooth.Day Three, Friday, November 20, "Holy the Firm." Here is a thought, while reading about Esoteric Christianity. It is said that there is a substance--in the "spiritual scale"--lower than all the metals, minerals and earths known to anyone. Its name is Holy the Firm. It is in touch with the Absolute at base, and in touch with everything else upwards ascending to the Absolute. An unbroken circle of reality, eternity sockets twice into time and space curves, God having a stake guaranteed in all the world. Julie Norwich is in the hospital, fate uncertain, salted with fire. Dillard holds on to these ideas, by the single handful, of the Absolute, in touch with Holy the Firm, at its base, the latter in touch with everything, even those which appears senseless, seeing all the possibilities for the young child Julie Norwich: dead, alive and consecrated to God, or living a fairly normal life like everyone else.

  • Daniel Chaikin
    2018-11-30 00:40

    12. Holy the Firm by Annie Dillardpublished: 1977format: 72 page hardcover, large print editionacquired: inherited from my neighbor upon his moveread: Feb 26rating: 4Read this in a sitting. It's an experience, but one I find very difficult to explain without showing by quoting a lot. The first part is a self-absorbed praise of every tiny detail of life. She opens "Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time." She goes through an intense bending of language and reality, an almost surreal and poisoned optimism."The God of today is rampant and drenched. His arms spread, bearing moist pastures; his fingers spread, fingering the shore. He is time’s live skin; he burgeons up from day like an tree. His legs spread crossing the heavens, flicking hugely, and flashing and arcing around the earth toward night."Then in part two there is a plane crash, a small plane with a father and 7-yr-old daughter. Both survive, but the girls face is burned off. A sobering clash with the opening. Having contradicted her optimism, she looks, in the third and final part, for a way forward and looks to god and holiness in various concepts, touching heavily on Catholicism and some of its more obscure philosophies. She is, I imagined, looking to find something to hold all this together. Thought provoking and exhausting, a poem in prose, magical and also not. I think this is one that could be read over and over, as one might a poem, perhaps with some reverence.Some more quotes:On bringing communion wine:Here is a bottle of wine with a label, Christ with a cork. I bear holiness splintered into a vessel, very God of very God, the sempiternal science personal and brooding, bright on the back of my ribs. And, just because I love this line:The hedgerows ... leafless stems are starting to live visibly deep in their centers, as hidden as banked fires live, and as clearly as recognition, mute, shines forth from eyes.

  • Lela
    2018-11-18 22:32

    I still love this book as much as I did first time around. Beautifully written with much to ponder! Best nature spiritual book ever!

  • Michael
    2018-12-02 23:33

    This slim volume electrified and astounded me with its depth and poetry. Dillard writes of her time spent in a one-room shack on an island in Puget Sound in northeast Washington with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider, and one person". With marvelous metaphors and surprising turns of phrase, this prose poem explores the eternal in the particular and vice versa, reaching for a solution for the paradoxes evident in the most common perspectives of our place in the universe. The view of God acting only occasionally in our world begs the question of the emptiness of the rest, while the pantheistic view of immanence throughout undercuts reality in a different way. A tragedy that befalls a young girl in the community (terrible facial burning in an airplane accident), as well as more mundane intimations of mortality from moths in candle flames and predations of spiders and cats, provide the stimulus for pondering the fragile aspect of existence. She strives well to portray a vision of the world creating itself and reaches toward a conception of the "Absolute" as something present at the most fundamental levels of matter, time, and space, which she calls "Holy the Firm". But "These are only ideas, by the single handful" and "What can any artist set on fire but his world? What can any people bring to the alter but all it has ever owned in the thin towns or over the desolate plains? What can an artist use but materials, such as they are?" This book will linger in my mind for a long time. Powerful and spiritually enlightening, even for an atheist such as me.

  • Rachel Bash
    2018-11-11 18:29

    I read this book in a literary theory class as a sophomore in college, and it shook the very foundations of my thought. I know this sounds (and is) vague, but this is a book about EVERYTHING, written with poetic economy, concrete images, and, I imagine, some kind of grace. Dillard reflects on what it means to be an artist (it's being a nun, being a moth on fire, being a little girl burned, being a tired, burnt out writer), and in the process takes on time, mortality, and fury at the spitefulness of God, while trying, again and again, to move towards some kind of peace, all at the edge of the North American continent, the Puget Sound. I just can't convey what the experience of reading this book is like, except to say this: you must be willing to read slowly, out loud, and savor every word, because literally every word is important. Just a "wow" kind of a book, and, according to Dillard, her best.

  • Mickey
    2018-11-19 18:35

    This is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read. Annie Dillard at her mesmerizing, rambling, inscrutable best. The theme of this book (and from what I've heard, she's claimed only one reviewer from Harvard has managed to figure it out) is less concrete than Pilgrim or An American Childhood, so it might be a frustrating read for those of us that require point to a book. (Personally, I'm not one of them. I'll happily float along, immersed in her amazing words and phrases, untroubled with thoughts of 'So, what exactly are you trying to say?' or 'Jeez! Not another foray into ancient Jewish law! Get on with it already!') This book is for people who enjoy the trip, not the destination. This is a book you meditate about rather than understand. Don't let the slight appearance fool you.So many of the images have stayed with me over the years: the moth scene, Julie Norwich. These scenes are so well written, that they reach the level of incantations. You feel that you are in the vicinity of something otherworldly and foreign. Immense and Terrible. Something that could burn your eyes out or warp your soul. An awe-inspiring book.

  • Longfellow
    2018-11-26 01:13

    Just yesterday someone told me that Annie Dillard has said this is one of her least favorite books. Regardless, her self-standards are exceptionally high, and amongst our choices, her "worst" works must still be some of the most profound in thought and most unique in their creativeness. I haven't read much Dillard, but each time I do, I am astounded by her attention to detail and by her ability to create shockingly clear images with words. Indeed, her gift for using words is beyond explanation. One must experience her writing to see that, truly, using words in unique combination allows her to express ideas in a way no one else ever has. It is almost as if she understands the world in another language and yet is able to translate this other understanding into English for those of us less gifted in vision. Holy the Firm might blow out of your window and fly away on a windy day; it's a skinny little 76 pages, weighted with the contemplation of a much larger work. Dillard questions the injustices and sufferings of life without feeling obligated to express the skeptic's doubt in the power and goodness of God. I think she would say this is not our realm. Rather, we must realize our own responsibility, to observe, to blunder, to turn our heads and blink our eyes in constant awe. Humility and gratitude are mixed with honest but unaffected sorrow. One suspects that laughter may be both Dillard's way of expressing joy as well as a substitute for her tears. She does seem to be, as Van Morrison would say, one who has "let go into the mystery." Some favorite quotes:(To a little two year old boy) "Hullo, short and relatively new. Welcome again to the land of the living, to time, this hill of beans.""I often think of the set pieces of liturgy as certain words which people have successfully addressed to God without their getting killed.""There are no events but thoughts and the heart's hard turning, the heart's slow learning where to love and whom. The rest is merely gossip, and tales for other times.""There is no such thing as an artist: there is only the world, lit or unlit as the light allows.""Ladies and gentlemen! You are given insects, and birdsong, and replenishing series of clouds."

  • Elise
    2018-11-11 22:37

    When I first read this book my heart had been deeply stirred by a compelling desire to experience God in his wild, untamed attributes, knowing that the experience would be terrifying and purifying. It was then that my deep desire was birthed to spend at least one year in the Pacific Northwest where I would experience the gray, windy, blustery, wet winter that only the Pacific Northwest knows. I knew it would be at once terrible and transformationally beautiful. Well, I got my wish when I moved up to Seattle to attend grad school. I have experienced the wild fury of God in ways that make me tremble and make me wish for a tamer God. Yet somehow I know deep inside that a tamer God than our Lord Christ would not be powerful enough for me. I have been buffetted by the blustery, cold winter winds of hardship and suffering. I have reached the end of my rope many times, but as I look back to the beginning days of my desire, I realize my prayers were answered. Why is it that I want to know Christ in this way? I can only say that a desire that is not of me has been planted in me, and it is a desire that can be satisfied in no other way than through the winds of adversity. You can see that this book has had a profound mystical affect on me--an affect that goes far deeper than the words could convey.

  • N
    2018-11-21 01:29

    This is heady, abstract, concrete, brilliant, and beautiful. At times I feel the essayist has meandered away from her readers, but I am happy trying to follow.

  • Jenny
    2018-11-28 22:30

    In my top ten all-time favorites. Dillard's prose is haunting. Moths have never seemed the same since.

  • Matthew
    2018-11-24 20:33

    "Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language, at the corner where eternity clips time."- pg. 20"Esoteric Christianity, I read, posits a substance. It is a created substance, lower than metals and minerals on a 'spiritual dcale,' and lower than salts and earths, occurring beneath salts and earths in the waxy deepness of planets, but never on the surface of planets where men could discern it; and it is in touch with the Absolute, at base. In touch with the Absolute! At base. The name of this substance is: Holy the Firm."- pg. 72

  • Christian Engler
    2018-11-11 19:20

    In Holy the Firm, Annie Dillard certainly can not be accused for excess verbiage. Her little book, consisting of less than eighty pages, is a thoughtful and sometimes intense investigation into the soul. One can almost imagine her staring deeply at a flowing river or a particular kind of tree and genuinely seeing Divinity in and around it, authentically feeling it and being transportated to the nether reaches of the unexplained. Yet, it is a good place or moment where nothing can touch you or hurt you. It is the zone where you have that elongated, never ending epihany. However, in Holy the Firm, she has that exact moment or moments, citing a couple of specific occasions and or happenings: a moth engulfed in a candle flame, a child severely burned in an airplane mishap and lastly, a baptism on a chilly day on a beach. Her stabbing gaze and visual processing is an inherent endowment for us all but very seldom used, sad to say. Each example that she bethinks, on the surface, looks violent and harsh and horrible. But behind that mask of the unpleasant, there is profound cheer at the transformation of the perception, of soul development, and yes, of course, of the logical, humanistic and psychological plain of thought processing, filtering and transforming. The essay, in no uncertain terms, conveys a kind of WOW factor that says, I don't really know how this whole thing operates, but isn't it amazing nonetheless? The deity of God has to be here, right in front of our very eyes, every moment, every instance, every half second. Holiness is under a rock, in people, in nature, in moments (good and bad), one giant gelatinous glob with so many tags and definitions attached to it. But only the Holy makes it cohesive and function. This work is not so little in its implications and gratitude. There is a majesty here, an august celebration. And we're all in it together, a gem of a book!

  • Kevin Spicer
    2018-11-23 21:23

    "The question is, then, whether God touches anything. Is anything firm, or is time on the loose?"Spirituality is always at the tip of our tongue. We know, or have remembered, that it requires engagement with the elements, embodiment in living. We want to find springs and lap water into buckets, see it spilling into light, we want to build fires and feel the darkness at our backs. But the world is in endless motion, our lives refuse stillness. And after all this, what do we make of violence? If we can start from Christian assumptions about God, his goodness and love, how can we look the world in the eyes and not retreat toward a limited or a distant view of God? How can we keep this taste on our tongues without reduction and abstraction?So, like Isaiah with coal touched lips, Annie Dillard writes, she writes about the mountains and the sea of Puget Sound, she writes in movements, with a building sense of motion, simple sights become oddly hinged, almost wrecked. She writes about random violence, a plane crashes, a little girl's face is badly burned. How pain seems to be the only clear and unfading reality, the powerlessness of love. And she writes, finally, incredibly, about God and her desire to worship him. This is a brilliant book and benefits from multiple readings. The writing is poetic, a highly variable rhythm, tending toward the unwieldy and chaotic. I found it personally clarifying and exciting on a number of fronts.

  • J Douglas
    2018-12-03 19:13

    This is one of the top five books that have shaped my life. The person who gave it to me told me to read it twice. That was amazing advice. The first read was beautiful. It was obviously packed with symbolism I wasn't quite apprehending and it was jammed to the gills with gorgeous florid language and vibrant imagery. And by 'jammed to the gills' I mean that by the time you are a few pages in you can not help but see how she has already begun to knit words together so that everything references at least one other thing in the book as well, if not three other things. Water, land, time, eternity, salt, wax, trees, and fire burning with or without light.In the first reading I thought it was pretty, a brightly colored creature. Then the second reading stung me like brightly colored creatures are prone to do. To avoid spoilers, I will just say that after the second read I closed the book to discover I had been crying and my heart, racing. I sat it down to find I was already praying a prayer I couldn't seem to quit: that I would become part of God's answer to the suffering in this world. To say the book has changed me is....adorable. When I opened the book the first time I was a depressed graduate student, when I set it down the second time, I was a nun with her face on fire. Now I read it once a year.

  • Laura
    2018-12-01 18:42

    Yesterday I felt like going to the Arboretum and reading some Annie Dillard, so I chose this book and a lovely maple to sit by and enjoyed both very much. I won't explain here what this book is about, because finding out what it is about was part of what made this short book so enjoyable. Dillard wrote this book while she was living in Puget Sound and, like in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, writes a clever mixture of reflections on nature, God, and various fascinating facts that she has read about the world and/or philosophy. This combination wouldn't work for most authors, but she is so great at it that it really works. The book is moving and profound, but written in such an earthy way that it didn't feel pretentious. I recommend it as a good afternoon or short vacation read.

  • J. Alfred
    2018-11-28 18:21

    Confusing as you can believe, heartbreaking, and absolutely gorgeous. This book deals more honestly with the problem of God and pain than anything else I've ever read except Job. The majority of the book is about a young girl whose face is badly burnt in a freak accident. From what I understand, it is based on a real event, but Dillard names her child Julie Norwich; her mother's name is Anne. Thus the child is Julie of Anne Norwich. This is interesting in that there was a fourteenth century mystic named Julianne of Norwich, most famous for her vision in which an angel came to her with something the size of a jewel in his hand. When she asked what it was, he replied "it is everything that was made." Thus God is outside time and views all things from all angles; "He's got the whole world in His hands." Julianne of Norwich also said "All will be well, and all manner of things will be well." Probably you should read this book.

  • Rimas
    2018-11-11 19:41

    In brief, this book is one case where I'd urge readers of this review to go find more interesting reviews of it to read, I imagine this one has spawned passionate comments from thousands of readers and writers. The beginning two sentences read like a revelation: "Every day is a god, each day is a god, and holiness holds forth in time. I worship each god, I praise each day splintered down and wrapped in time like a husk, a husk of many colors spreading, at dawn fast over the mountains split." I wish I could remember those lines each morning when I wake up. The curious thing is that the book itself reads like an extended poem, or a prose poem, and I don't know how it can be categorized. I love the book simply for those first two sentences - that's enough, actually, for me, and I could stop there and be happy with it.

  • Scott
    2018-11-16 18:36

    I read this much too fast and will read it again soon.I feel like Dillard's work, and this book in particular, is to writing what impressionism is to painting. I don't always get it, but I love it. I wish I could write like her.She lost me at points, but blew me away at others. Not a long enough book to get bogged down in either. Must be I am trying to sell my favorite authors tonight, but I feel like this one would be a decent taste of Dillard for those who can't quite get into her otherwise: short, enough rewarding images and accessible passages to make it worth it.I love this, about 10 pages in, out of nowhere and it's own paragraph:"Nothing is going to happen in this book. There is only a little violence here and there in the language at the corner where eternity clips time."

  • Tara
    2018-11-19 22:43

    Inspired reading for my upcoming trip to the Oregon coast. Written during Dillard's stay on an island in Puget Sound, this short collection covers familiar territory: faith, nature, mystery. But also anger, injustice, and our collective obsession with The West."When I first came here I faced east and watched the mountains...since they are, incredibly, east, I must be no place at all. But the sun rose over the snowfields and woke me where I lay, and I rose and cast a shadow over someplace, and thought, There is, God help us, more...and turning my head, as it were, I moved to face west, relinquishing all hope of sanity, for what is more. And what is more is islands: sea, and unimaginably solid islands, and sea, and a hundred rolling skies. You spill your breath."

  • peter
    2018-11-16 19:38

    I'm happy reading Annie Dillard just for the words most of the time, but this book asks difficult questions about pain and about the presence of God in the world. It's probably her least focused book (other than Pilgrim At Tinker Creek), not surprising since it's only her second, but it got down inside me somehow and I haven't been the same since.

  • Nanette
    2018-11-29 19:14

    Beautiful lyric essay on God, life, suffering, holiness and humanity. So many sentences & paragraphs to re-read. Dillard reclined and pouncing in syncopated rhythm. Just try to keep pace!

  • Amanda
    2018-11-13 00:21

    Love her writing, but not the Christian god aspect of this one.

  • Nick Swarbrick
    2018-11-14 20:41

    I think Holy the Firm is one of the hardest reads I’ve done for a long time. It wasn’t enjoyable-but the insights were often joyful; it wasn’t technically complex writing - but the ways ideas of landscape and beauty and the Divine fold in on themselves are astonishing. If the first essay, which sets the tone, is shocking (beautiful and engaged but somehow dispassionate as Dillard watches a moth burn in a candle flame), the second draws the reader more deeply into the mysteries she Is exploring. True to her style, there are passages where Augustine meets Wordsworth: “The god of today is a child... He thrives in a cup of wind, landlocked and thrashing.” In the second part we meet the subject of her meditation on human suffering, Julie Norwich, and Dillard’s despairing theodicy: “God despises everything, apparently... a brute and a traitor.”It is in the final, eponymous essay that all this comes together. It would truly be a spoiler - odd to think of essays needing this decision- to say how the author resolves (or doesn’t resolve) her lines of argument, but the opening of essay three is both an indication of her faith and an exhibition of her writing power: “I know only enough of God to want to worship, by any means ready to hand. "I know only enough of God to want to worship him, by any means ready to hand. There is an anomalous specificity to all our experience in space, a scandal of particularity, by which God burgeons up or showers down into the shabbiest of occasions, and leaves his creation’s dealings with him in the hands of purblind and clumsy amateurs." Simply awe inspiring.

  • Dave
    2018-12-05 02:27

    Highly concentrated, complex music by Annie Dillard--sometimes I think I'm only getting the harmonies, and missing the themes. But such brilliant instrumental passages! There is no one but us. There is no one to send, nor a clean hand, nor a pure heart on the face of the earth, nor in the earth, but only us, a generation comforting ourselves with the notion that we have come at an awkward time, that our innocent fathers are all dead--as if innocence had ever been--and our children busy and troubled, and we ourselves unfit, not yet ready, having each of us chosen wrongly, made a false start, failed, yielded to impulse and the tangled comfort of pleasures, and grown exhausted, unable to seek the thread, weak and involved. But there is no one but us. There never has been.

  • G
    2018-12-02 21:24

    This is more of a sermon than a book, but it's intensely beautiful and thought-provoking. Some sections were too figurative for a first read, but I love Dillard's prose, depth of thought, and spiritual insight, and can't wait to revisit. If anyone will make you want to run away to a remote island and commit to the writer's life in all its vagaries, it's her.

  • Kim Fay
    2018-11-16 23:29

    For the month before I turned 50, I chose a handful of books - for reflection, for enrichment, for inspiration. I didn't quite get what I bargained for with "Holy the Firm." Written during the 1970s, that era of me-me-me, sappy Coke ads and "Be Here Now," this small but fierce book feels out of place, steeped in the Old Testament. It consists of 3 succinct and tersely poetic essays written while Dillard was living alone in a fire watch cabin in the woods on Puget Sound. In this place, nature is cruel, God is cruel, and yet somehow - somehow! - this book offers a kind of comfort. Dillard does something that is rare anymore. She spends hours/days/weeks contemplating a single idea or a moth burning in a candle's flame. She ruminates in a way that a life filled with Facebook and Instagram and texting simply doesn't allow. Think about it. When was the last time you ruminated? It's a lost art. And art is at the core of Dillard's writing. What it means to be an artist in this world over which we have no control. The entire book is worth reading over and over, but the most compelling section is about a young girl whose face is disfigured in a small-plane crash. Dillard sees herself in this girl, and through her she also explores the problem, not with God, but with the way God is believed in. In this book, she looks at what God cannot do, rather than what He can, and with this she makes peace with the ruthlessness of the world.

  • Tamara Murphy
    2018-11-26 23:28

    It's only 76 pages, so why in the world has it taken me this long to read this well-loved volume of essays by the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dillard? I don't know, but now that I've read it I guess it really doesn't matter because I've tucked the words and images from this slim volume right into place between all the other Annie Dillard treasures already sunk away into my memory and imagination. And a shimmery store of treasures it is!Reading these essays felt almost like an epilogue of Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Once again the author is hidden away in a pleasant burrow of nature -- this time an island in the Puget Sound. Once again Dillard cuts herself off from all distractions threatening to blind her vision what's really going in this dusty earth. In Holy the Firm, she sits in a wooden room furnished with "one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person" and writes minutia and tragedy with the same pen, the moth in the candle flame and the girl falling out of the sky, each receiving the same deft touch. And, thus, adds her voice to the immortal conversation of how much good is in a God. Read my favorite excerpts at my full review here:

  • Chris
    2018-12-08 18:19

    Reading Annie Dillard is like mowing the tall grass: make a pass at a sentence, back up, make another pass, repeat as necessary. Here, Dillard is perhaps at her most mystic, her most metaphorical. She's wrestling with holiness and spirit in the wake of dumb tragedy (in this case, the severe burning of a child in a plane wreck) and doing so--as her bent--with an unforgiving rigor. To Dillard, the sentence is the primary source of meaning in the world, and she works hers over until they are all pebbled. These observations took place over three days; the revision took 14 months. The result is a tome that will either frustrate or fascinate, a contraption that fits together elegantly but draws at every pivot one's eye toward its maker, who is staring fiercely back at you. So how much do you like Dillard? This wee tome might just be your measuring stick. If you love this (or can even tolerate her fierce gaze long enough to glean what this text has to offer--which is considerable), then Dillard is likely your bag. If you cannot...well then the rest had best be skipped. Me, I'm reading on, but I might carry a blade. Even on the page, Dillard will cut you.

  • Chris Via
    2018-11-29 19:32

    “Write as if you were dying.” This is the admonishment Pulitzer Prize-winner Annie Dillard gives readers of her 1989 book The Writing Life. The grim truth behind this charge, she points out, is that we are all dying. What Dillard is getting at is that the writer should jettison anything that does not matter in the face of death. It’s great advice, so long as one doesn’t wish for a lucrative writing career. The advice hints at the debate between genre and literary fiction, traditional versus experimental writing. In Holy the Firm, Dillard directly addresses her audience: “Nothing is going to happen in this book.” Amusingly, the disclaimer comes a quarter of the way into the text, as if she suddenly remembered to point this out, as if she became aware that the reader, by this point, is wondering what exactly the book is. In one way, what this slim little volume is is the embodiment of her own advice.Read the full review here: