For the Time Being by Ann Dillard


In my somewhat infinite boredom I often just click around on Amazon and see what other books are out there. That is certainly how I came across this one and I have no idea why I decided to read it. I liked the title and it certainly added mystery to what it was about, and believe it or not I actually read the description for this one. Still though, it was not quite what I expected.

Ann Dillard is writer and poet from Pittsburgh. She studied literature and writing at Hollins College and later taught at Wesleyan University. She has written quite a few books including poetry. Her most famous works include  Holy the Firm; For the Time Being; An American Childhood, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, and The Maytrees. She has also won a Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek in 1975.

I know I say this often but, this one is truly hard to describe and quite difficult to really understand what this book is about. It is divided into about 6 chapters and in each chapter there are a few pages that discuss the following topics, newborns and different diseases, sand, the terracotta warriors in China as well as some Chinese history, Teilhard de Chardin, clouds, and religion. Honestly, that is all I can really say about the book as each chapter is not really connected in any way, just a few pages on these topics.

This is without a doubt one of the strangest book I have read in quite some time, and what is most surprising is that this book is nonfiction. Usually I reserve terms like strange, unique, and odd for fiction stories, and believe me I have read some truly strange stories. But this one is really different, and I am not quite sure how to really put this one in context. To me it is just a collection of short essays and or random thoughts or subjects from Dillard that she put into a sort of memoir. I don’t think that is true but that is what it is, in my opinion. I liken it to taking 30,000 words from my Random Thoughts posts and putting them into categories and combining them into a book. Pretty strange.

When I bought it I, as usual, had no idea what this on was truly going to be about. It had good reviews so I thought, sure why not. To me the most interesting points of the story were the chapters talking about the Terracotta Warriors in China along with the Chinese history, and the discussion about Emperor Quin Chi Huang. I had not read anything about Chinese history so I found this the most interesting to say the least. Emperor Huang not only commissioned the building of the Terracotta Warriors but he also built the Great Wall of China along with so many other feats. He was also ruthless in his reign killing many during his time in power. Still I think most regard him as a hero for unifying ancient China.

Other than that I thought the book was mostly boring and had little to offer. The sections about clouds were the absolute worst and in my opinion a waste of ink and paper. I still cannot fathom why this book was written as it kind of reminded me of just some random nothingness thrown together to try make some money, which is very surprising from a writer who has won a very prestigious award (Pulitzer Prize). Not saying that is how and or why this was written, but just really makes you wonder how and why some things get popular, or even published for that matter, again especially from a respected writer. This could have been just an experiment from Dillard just to publish something unique and just to write, not anything deep just put something out there. Maybe that is what Dillard was after, and if that is the case then I think you have to respect Dillard and this book on some level.

The other somewhat interesting or aspect of this book that I could not quite put my finger on the religious motivation and or affiliation of Dillard. At some points during the book I felt that she was very and deeply religious, while in the next passage I felt that she was done with organized religion and warned of its dangers and past atrocities. She also wrote heavily about Judaism and about speaking to different Rabbis and other religious figures in Judaism. I did find on Wikipedia that she said, “I quit the Catholic Church and Christianity; I stay near Christianity and Hasidism.” Which is obviously a contradiction in the upmost sense of the word. The statement was made about the book but to me makes pretty much no sense. Perhaps she means that she still believes in the Judeo Christian God, but wants nothing to do with the church? Hard to make sense of that statement.

I will only mention this because there is a school locally named for this man, but she also discusses Cardinal Bellarmine. If you are not familiar with this person he was one of the prominent figures who condemned Galileo to death for his “radical” ideas about the universe. I am not sure how someone who condemned one of the greatest minds of humanity has a school named after him, but I suppose history is stranger than fiction sometimes.

This is a very strange book, not in terms of subject matter, although I will say that it has no real direction. With that being said I think that is some of the lure and beauty of the book. It just sort of wonders aimlessly and to me has no real point. To some extent I think it mimics life, just kind of keeps moving forward. It is somewhat an anti-book book, as there is not real plot, characters, or direction. As I have already mentioned it just kind of is just a bunch of random subjects thrown into a binding. All in all I really cannot recommend this one. It is a quick read so if it does appeal to you it won’t take up much of your time. Nothing really worth the time in my opinion. While that is what I think , another part of me still enjoyed that book on the level of just strangeness and randomness, but those attributes are not enough to make me recommend this one.



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