Perhaps I’m finally learning to read. No, I don’t mean discerning words, I mean reading deeply with attention to structure as well as story. Last night I began rereading Annie Dillard’s classic memoir, An American Childhood. I recall loving it when I first read it a few years ago, and I love it even more on second glance. I love it both for the quirkiness of her observations and mind, and for the rich observations of Pittsburgh, a city I have become deeply bonded to.

On this read I’m noticing things that I may not have recognized the first time through. For example, she uses no chapter headings at all. The book is written with chapter structure, with dropped paragraphs on the first page of each, and section breaks indicated by double-spacing. But there are no titles at all, not even numbers. Just visual breaks. She does have have units called Prologue, Parts 1-3, and Epilogue.

“Chapters” are focused on a theme and under ten pages, making for easy reading.

She uses virtually no dialogue. I’m one-third of the way through, completely entranced, even though I’ve read it before, and I recall only two instances where she has actual dialogue. She does sprinkle in a few lines of speech, putting a few words into her mother’s mouth, for example. But unless a quoted reply follows, I don’t consider that true dialogue.

This observation needs further analysis, but it does not seem that she writes in scenes.

How reassuring that a book ignoring most of the “rules” has fared so well in developing a devoted following. I’m not Annie Dillard, and I can’t replace her words with mine in her structure and have something equally compelling, but the fact that she took liberties with convention (perhaps before it was set) and created a compelling story encourages me. As I view things now, my material does not lend itself ideally to scene and dialogue-heavy treatment.

Advertisements