Did any of you watch that 50’s-60’s show called ‘What’s My Line?’ where four people come on stage and say something like, “I’m Annie, and I’m an author”?
Only one of them was really an author named Annie but they all answered author-ish questions from a panel of celebrities (Dorothy Kilgallen, Arlene Francis, Bennett Cerf) who would then guess which contestant was the real Annie.
Finally the host, John Charles Daly, would say, “Will the real Annie please stand up?” and the audience would gasp at how cleverly the contestants fooled the panel.
That’s how I felt back in January when Elizabeth wrote about reading Anne LaMott’s book Small Victories.
The gist of our comments was:
Me: “I’m so glad you are enjoying Annie Dillard …
Elizabeth: “Who is Annie Dillard?”
I’d done it again. Been flummoxed by the Annies.
Mixed up Annie Dillard, Annie Proulx and Anne LaMott – authors I couldn’t keep straight; couldn’t remember whether I’d read; couldn’t remember who wrote essays, short stories, novels or non-fiction narratives; or who was called Annie, Anne, Ann or …
Chagrined, I committed to reading something written by each; researching a little about each; and figuring out a way to keep them straight.
The Annie Project has finally been launched.
You’ll understand my ‘keeping them straight’ challenge because in the ensuing five months since Elizabeth’s post, I’ve convoluted my own memory to thinking she wrote about Annie Dillard and I commented about Annie Proulx.
Reading and research? That I can do.
Remembering who wrote what and who is who? In the words of our infamous Slovenian bike guide, Damien, “I’ll do my best.”
I know the most about Annie Proulx because I’ve actually read her short story compilation, Bad Dirt, Wyoming Stories 2. Proulx writes gritty, sometimes humorous stories about ranchers, cowhands, homesteaders and the circumstances they face living in the American West. Like Wallace Stegner, she gives me a profound sense of place.
I’ve tried to read Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Shipping News twice and couldn’t find a connection. Thus I chose to read another of her compelling short story compilations, Fine Just the Way It Is, Wyoming Stories 3.
What do I know about Annie Dillard? I know I like her name.
Say it out loud.
Cadence … lovely drawn-out vowels … solid consonants.
And dill reminds me of Dad and Michigan – dill growing wild mixed with a multitude of other unruly plants in swampy areas; resembling Queen Anne’s Lace, but with the unmistakable scent assuring it is safe to snap a piece of its frilly bloom or harvest a couple of autumn seeds for a little chew.
The other thing I know about Annie Dillard is I think I’ve read her and am shocked repeatedly to find I haven’t. I thought about reading her Roanoke Valley, VA-based narrative, Pilgrim at Tinker’s Creek, (and might eventually), but – currently steeped in my ‘sense of place’ – I wandered from the description of Dillard’s book to a link for Edward Abbey’s 1968 masterpiece Desert Solitaire about his summer working in Arches National Park, located just across Colorado’s western border in Utah.
Sometimes that cyber-linky-wanderlust gets the best of me, and now I’m as eager to read Abbey’s treatise as I am to cozy up to the Annies.
Along with Abbey’s Desert Solitaire, I settled on two of Dillard’s many collections of essays, Teaching a Stone to Talk and The Writing Life. I hope I like what she has to say and how she says it as much as I like her name!
To explore Anne LaMott’s work, I chose Small Victories; Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace. (I can’t swear to it, but I THINK this is the book Elizabeth mentioned that started me down this twisted path of Annie-awe.) The big question for this book is will Anne refer to herself affectionately as Annie, which will surely mess with my head.
In a fit of cavalier ‘what the hell, why swim when I can sink?’ used-book-buying-nirvana, I also picked up two of Alice Munro’s short story collections. A name like Alice could easily be confused for Annie (at least by me) and Alice Munro is every bit as respected for her works as the other A’s. I need to find out what Alice is all about.
And speaking of ‘signs’, I am currently reading God Never Blinks; 50 Lessons for Life’s Little Detours by Regina Brett. Coming upon Lesson #18 ‘A Writer Is Someone Who Writes, If You Want to Be a Writer, Write’, lo and behold it is about Anne LaMott and her famous quote, “Bird by bird, buddy. Just take it bird by bird.”
Surely my Annie project is meant to be. I will be taking it book by book; perhaps writing a post or two during my explorations.
Come along if you’re so inclined!
cruel well-meaning suggestions to add Ann Patchett, Anne Tyler, Anna Quindlen or Alice Walker to my project …)