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Living by Fiction Paperback – January 5, 2000

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Editorial Reviews


"Living by Fiction is a stimulating book, one of those in which quality of thought and felicity of prose seem consequences of one another." -- Vance Bourjaily, New York Times Book Review

"Everyone who timidly, bombastically, reverently, scholastically--even fraudulently--essays to 'live the life of the mind' should read this book. It's elegant and classy, like caviar and champagne, and like these two items, it's over much too soon." -- Carolyn See, Los Angeles Times

"Stimulating." -- -- New York Times Book Review

About the Author

Annie Dillard, winner of a 2014 National Humanities Medal, is the author of many works of nonfiction, including An American Childhood and Teaching a Stone to Talk, as well as the novels The Living and The Maytrees.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 192 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Revised edition (January 5, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060915447
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060915445
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.4 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #261,270 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Annie Dillard is the author of ten books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as well as An American Childhood, The Living, and Mornings Like This. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received fellowship grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Born in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Dillard attended Hollins College in Virginia. After living for five years in the Pacific Northwest, she returned to the East Coast, where she lives with her family.

Customer Reviews

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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful By Jon Linden VINE VOICE on October 21, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"Living By Fiction" is in essence a treatise by Annie Dillard that attempts to interpret art, and thereby includes fiction as art, and as an interpretation. The book is well constructed and the sentences are beautifully crafted. The treatise starts by discussing in vast detail, the styles and forms of writing. Then it concentrates on "modernistic" fiction. This type of fiction takes numerous and varied forms.

Annie distinguishes between styles of writing. She does this very much by example. She uses the work of many, many authors as her examples and illustrations of the different manners in which a writer can craft a work. Specifically, she describes works of fiction. After detailing these different styles and their characteristics, she then turns to the purpose of fiction as a subcategory of art.

She posits that art is an interpretation. It is the artist's perspective on the relationship between something in the universe and a representation of that vision of the item. Her analysis inevitably leads her to state that art and religion are the modes by which people explain and interpret the unexplainable. Art produces an interpretation of a vision that is meant for others to see.

The interpretation, interestingly enough, is in fact non-existent without the reader and the critic to observe. While opining that fiction needs readers and critics to be interpreted, the interpretation is the very purpose of the creation. Without the reader and the critic, the work does not really exist. It exists in form, but not in value. The work is a creation that only carries a message if someone reads it; and more so if someone such as a critic helps us to interpret it.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By John P. Jones III TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on March 18, 2011
Format: Paperback
... the subject phrase grates like chalk pulled across an English classroom's black board. At least for me. It conjures up images of writing critical papers on a school-assignment novel, struggling with concepts like symbolism, and at more advanced levels, "deconstructionism." All in an effort to get the "right" answer, which was how the teacher wanted us to "see" a particular novel. I still remember giving a verbal "book report" to the class on Aldous Huxley's The Doors of Perception and Heaven and Hell (P.S.), and the "right" answer was to assure the teacher that drug use was bad. In the sciences the "right" answer seemed to come easier, and certainly more objectively. Which was why I only "had" to take two years of English in college, which may be a key reason why I still read.

Annie Dillard is best known to me for her excellent Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (Harper Perrennial Modern Classics) and An American Childhood. My appreciation of these works helped me overcome my natural aversion to the "subject" of literature. And I was richly rewarded. She wrote this book almost 30 years ago, when she was about 35, and just her erudition is dazzling (and humbling). Not only had she read so many of the major and minor contemporary writers, but she can deftly compare their strengths and weaknesses. There is Carlos Fuentes, Marcel Proust, James Agee, Nabokov, Borges and on and on. As she says in the introduction, she "...attempts to do unlicensed metaphysics in a teacup.
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on June 2, 1998
Format: Paperback
I thought Ms. Dillard distinguished herself with this literary piece of literary criticism. She got into some pretty deep and convoluted places with this book, but I felt that every point was well-made and well-taken. I feel the book is an education in itself. Loved it!
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Metaphysics in a teacup! What a lovely metaphor, calling up the ubiquitous Gypsy Tea Rooms, Madame Rosie and the ilk, of an innocent bygone age, before flow-through tea bags. Sip a cup of leaf and get your fortune conjured up from the tea leaves left in your teacup, all for pocket change. A time of Shave and a Haircut, Two Bits and Get Your Fortune Told, Fifty Cents.

[page 11] This is, ultimately, a book about the world. It inquires about the world's meaning. It attempts to do unlicensed metaphysics in a teacup. The teacup at hand, in this case, is contemporary fiction.
Why read fiction to think about the world? You may, like most of us most of the time, read fiction for other things. You may read fiction to enjoy the multiplicity and dazzle of the vivid objects it presents to the imagination; to hear its verbal splendor and admire its nimble narrative; to enter lives not your own; to feel, on one hand, the solemn stasis and immutability of the work as enclosed art object -- beginning and ending the same way every time you read it, as though a novel were a diagram inscribed forever under the vault of heaven -- and to feel, on the other hand, the plunging force of time compressed in its passage, and that compressed passage like a river's pitch crowded with scenes and scenery and actions and characters enlarged and rushing headlong down together. You may, I say, enjoy fiction for these sensations and turn to nonfiction for thought.

What a magnificent sentence, the penultimate one of the above passage! She uses this sentence to set up the last sentence, but her dichotomy between fiction and nonfiction is belied by her own skillful evocation of sensations in her ever-thoughtful nonfiction, such as Holy the Firm.
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