In 1998 I picked up a second hand copy of a book that had already been around for ages. It had won a Pulitzer and received great recognition from the general public. I assumed, being a nature lover, that its naturalist theme would make it one of my favorites but, after the first two chapters, I couldn’t read further and stuck it on a shelf.

Two years ago, knowing I’d be moving from a house to a senior building, I began to pare down my possessions. I tossed, freecycled, and gave hundreds of items to family, friends and strangers, but the book stayed.

Last October, living in three rooms, with furniture and prized belongings finally arranged, the book was stashed in the back of a cabinet and buried beneath nearly a carton of pristine 20-pound bond. Near the blank paper sit three drafts in various stages of development, each awaiting a chance to spring into a publishable novel.

Why didn’t I read that book? Why didn’t I pass it on or throw it out?

I brought it home with the expectation of curling up and enjoying a subject close to my heart; instead, the experience devastated me. After only one chapter, any dream I had of being a writer vanished. What this woman did with language and metaphor destroyed my meager and tender cache of self confidence. Her knowledge of nature and life astonished me. Her honesty was often brutal. Every page called out with a dozen writing prompts. The occasional quote, that so illuminated her beautiful prose, made me question what I’d been reading all my life.

It was obvious I had no talent. I had always acknowledged my education as minimal, my life experience limited, but somehow, I had come to believe that a love of reading plus sheer enthusiasm for the twin passions of exploring the recesses of my mind for story and character coupled with the delight of playing with and arranging words would be enough. I had no recourse but to banish the book.

Last night I reread the first chapter. It is still, and perhaps always will be for me, a formidable book, but ten years have passed and I’m a different person. Writing prompts still call out from nearly every page and may or may not lead to posting on this blog. I will never have Annie Dillard’s talent, certainly not her breathtaking skill with metaphors, but I have developed my own voice and my own strengths in these intervening years. It was a wise decision to banish Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; it would have broken my spirit and I would have given up writing. I thank God I followed my instincts and feel blessed to be reading it at last.

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