The theme of the popular essay, "This Is the Life," by Annie Dillard is the discovery of the meaning of life. In it, Dillard wonders, "What would you do differently [in life], you up on your beanstalk looking at scenes of all peoples at all times in all places?"
"This Is the Life" was first printed in Image magazine in the spring 2002 issue and later reprinted in Harper's magazine, renamed as "How to Live," in the June 2002 issue. Dillard lists 33 other uncollected essay works on her website AnnieDillard.com. Dillard edited the book, "The Best American Essays 1988," by Robert Atwan. In the book's introduction, Dillard states, "A great many narrative essays appear in the guise of short stories…My guess is that the writers (quite reasonably) want to be understood as artists, and they are not sure that the essay form invites the sort of critical analysis the works deserve." Dillard believes that essays are the short version of non-fiction in the same way that short stories relate to fiction. She urges writers to explore the essay as a writing tool to “demonstrate the modern writer’s self-conscious interest in writing.” Dillard wants to coax essay writers "out of the closet."