I picked up this book for £2 in a second-hand book shop about 8 years ago. Every year I take it away with me on my summer holiday to dabble, reflect and ponder the sheer grandeur and beauty of the stories. It’s a strange book unlike any other and worthy of a good chunk of time, or little bits here and there. What follows is a summary of the book with a link to the rest of the summary at the end.
Pulitzer Prize-winning American author Annie Dillard’s For the Time Being (1999) contains a series of essays centered on a central exploration of what it means to be a human being in the world. Dillard seeks answers to the big questions that have captured the hearts, minds, and imaginations of philosophers since time began. What does it mean to live, to be? What is the purpose of human existence? Do we each make our own contributions to the world, or do the actions of one person even really matter? How do things such as art, nature, spiritual belief, thought, good, evil, and time impact our journeys here? Like all thinkers before and since, Dillard delves deep, and what she often finds are fewer answers and more questions. Ultimately, then, these findings only underscore both the glorious complexity and innate unknowability of being human. For For the Time Being, Dillard received the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay.
Dillard presents the book in seven chapters, breaking each chapter down into 10 separate subsections, each examining the chapter’s overarching topic. The subsections are birth, sand, china, clouds, numbers, Israel, encounters, thinker, evil, and now. These subsections allow for a more thorough inspection of the topic, but their presence in each chapter highlights the commonality of so many of the issues that fall under the purview of Dillard’s lens—issues that also course throughout every human life.