There are books that stick with you in life. My prized possession for the majority of my life has been a weathered copy of Ernest Hemingway’s short stories. It’s a hardcover second or third edition that belonged to my mother, I think. I grew up blessed with a pretty extensive bookshelf in my room that was used more as the family library than anything else. Britannica took up the majority of the real estate, but the choice gems acquired by my folks, pretty bookish people, were aplenty.
I blew through the Hemingway stories my last year of high school. Before I was allowed to drink scotch, my favorite method for inducing sleep had been a thick book and Claude Bolling. I read a lot of stuff just to fall asleep. I’d walk over to the bookshelf, pull something out, crack it to the first page, and I’d be counting sheep in moments. With the Hemingway book – the short stories – it was a little different. I couldn't sleep. I wanted more. The Big Two Hearted River and Hills Like White Elephants did something to me. There was a physical change. I was to leave the following year for college, and I was admittedly not really prepared for it emotionally. Reading that book, and the majority of his other work the summer before I left for school was like a pep-talk for young adulthood. Something very stark and masculine, but fundamentally, about love.
Books stick with you like I said. And they shape us as people. I don’t really understand people who can’t read a book and have an experience. Recently, sort of on a lark, I was helping someone with a school project that required the reading of A Pilgrim at Tinker Creek by Annie Dillard. I read it basically in one straight shot over the course of two days, slammed it shut and felt immense, overwhelming frustration that I hadn't read it earlier in my life. It was like hearing an older, more intelligent version of yourself tell you a very long, very intricate story that sounds so familiar.
I've spent many of my days as an young adult in the woods and as an older adult, I long for them still. I used to spend whole summers out there, but now it’s more fleeting. Dillard’s book was a like a trip to the loamy, expansive wilderness of my childhood and the vividness of the world she builds is a souvenir of a feeling that is hard to reproduce. The wonderment of the smallness and bigness of the woods strikes you just as much on the pages of her book as on observing a pine forest that seems to go on forever. Or the fear and restlessness of sleeping in the woods alone for the first time, miles from anyone or anything civilized.
If you’re a woodsy person and you’ve made it this far without reading Pilgrim, I’d go fix that.