Last year, Diana Saverin wrote intelligently about Annie Dillard in The Atlantic. From 74 boxes of Dillard's jottings now housed in Yale's Beinecke Library, Saverin gleaned that Dillard had read Henry Beston's The Northern Farm and been unimpressed:
“It was a bore. Not only did nothing happen, okay, but there was no trace of mind. As a naturalist he didn’t teach me a thing. He didn’t even bother to look up fireflies. As an observer of the social scene, which is a boring thing to be in the 1st place, he’s ordinary and conservative. No imagination.”
Thinking about the book that would become Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, Dillard pondered Beston's memoir some more and concluded that she could do better.
And there it is, the fundamental nudge, confidence, and arrogance that must produce a great deal of art. The artist takes in an inspiring piece of work and concludes, Yeah, it's good. It's really good. And I can do better.
While I'm on Dillard:
“Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? Can the writer isolate and vivify all in experience that most deeply engages our intellects and our hearts?"
"The Thoreau of the Suburbs" by Diana Saverin, here