Like most of Annie Dillard’s books, THE WRITING LIFE eludes conventional categories. It is not a how-to book, though it includes some valuable observations on the writer’s craft. It is not a memoir, though it is rich in anecdote. Dillard herself describes it as “a dispatch from the desk. It is about work.” Work as a passion, difficult but fulfilling, worth a lifetime commitment: That is her subject as much as writing itself.
That image of work is appealing, especially to those who have not yet exchanged their youthful idealism for the cynicism of experience, but is it at all realistic? THE WRITING LIFE is Dillard’s answer. A short book, easily read in one night, it is really a sermon--wonderfully quirky, but a sermon nevertheless. “Why are we reading,” Dillard asks, “if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?” And why write unless to satisfy such hopes--to try at least, to risk the hours and days and years on something worth the gamble?