Monday, December 30, 2019

Five top books that deal with nature in a sensual way

Nina MacLaughlin’s latest book is Wake, Siren: Ovid Resung.

At Book Marks she shared five books that deal with nature in a sensual way with Jane Ciabattari:
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard

For her lyricism. For her curiosity. For her infectious enthralledness of existing on this strange planet. The raw enthusiasm Dillard shows for what we experience—see smell hear taste feel sense—is an education on paying attention, on seeing what miraculous beautiful terrifying gross-out incredible mystifying stuff can take place after ten minutes of sitting quietly underneath a sycamore tree. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is a primer on being awake in the world.

JC: What makes Dillard’s Pulitzer Prize winner work for me is the way she alternates between minute descriptions of the natural world and moments when she pulls back and gives perspective: “Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.” Do you have favorite passages?

NM: I totally agree with you about her way of microscoping down and then pulling way, way out. She allows us to see the close-up right in front of us, and also the mystery, the cosmic wildness. With Tinker Creek for me, I can open up to any page and find a sentence that gets my blood moving. It’s a book I pick up when no other book is landing and I’ll open it at random and read it before sleep. I had an editor who said he loved books with a lot of good nouns; Dillard is a great user of nouns! Like a horror writer who grounds us in the world we know so we’re comfortable and relaxed and then inserts a monster, Dillard puts us in our backyards, there are robins, kittens, frogs, tulip trees, and then, instead of a monster, she then swings back and brings in infinity or the present or silence (all of which can be terrifying in their ways), and we get there because she’s grounded us so solidly in the world we know.

I’ve just spent the last twenty minutes flipping through looking for a passage to quote here, some representative sentence or two that are especially excellent, but it’s really true, there’s something on every page for me. I could put my finger down anywhere in this book and find something good to share. So, this, at random: “The light crosses the valley, threads through the screen of my open kitchen window, and gilds the painted wall. A plank of brightness bends from the wall and extends over the goldfish bowl on the table where I sit. The goldfish’s side catches the light and bats it my way; I’ve an eyeful of fish-scale and star.”
Read about another entry on the list.

--Marshal Zeringue