Weekend Review: Teaching a Stone to Talk by Annie Dillard

Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters

"...there's a deep feeling of unsettledness, of discomfort."
In Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters (1982), Dillard brings us into a world of dichotomies: silent/sonorous, full of beauty/disgust, and suburban/natural. Through her weaving together of natural observations and religious experience, she shares how alienated she feels by nature. Her encounters with it are clearly fraught, describing close interaction with nature as being "like dying." She sees herself as part of a system in which people are observers and if there are no observers, nothing matters.

The titular story expresses a desire to go beyond this; a desire for communication with nature, not just observation. She's tired of the one-sided conversation where only she talks. "Nature's silence is its one remark" (69), and in response, there is only silence. I'm sure if you counted the words "nothing" "lost" and "silence" throughout, they would represent at least 40% of the book.

There is a recurring theme of lenses. She uses them to frame how we see the world (through our eyes, binoculars, microscope) and how that fact focuses and restricts our view. It also makes us forget the big picture and we end up lost.

In Dillard's world, we are strangers and sojourners, like the rootless mangrove island that she describes, we are all floating unattached in a great ocean, without direction, without purpose, but clinging to each other and to our notions.


  1. Beautiful review.
    Have you read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek?

  2. Courtney-

    I absolutely love this book and was so happy to see you review it. My favorite essays from it are "Total Eclipse" and "Aces and Eights."

    Hope you're having a good week!