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An American Childhood by Annie Dillard

An American Childhood (original 1987; edition 1988)

by Annie Dillard

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1,650214,363 (4.13)95
Title:An American Childhood
Authors:Annie Dillard
Info:Harper Perennial (1988), Edition: 1st Perennial Library Ed, Paperback, 272 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:literary fiction, autobiography

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An American Childhood by Annie Dillard (1987)



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Annie Dillard is a talented writer capable of creating vivid images in her descriptions of places and things. However, this book is very boring. ( )
  krista.rutherford | May 16, 2015 |
With the 1987 publication of An American Childhood, Annie Dillard, novelist, critic and woman of all trades helped ushered in the age of the memoir. For this alone we should thank her.

Non traditional in many ways, Dillard begins her work by claiming, "When everything else has gone from my brain...what will be left is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay." From this emerges a rich and generous history of Pittsburg, the landscape upon which Dillard's childhood is inscribed. She takes the reader on a journey through every rock she overturned with a popsicle stick in hopes of finding buried treasure, through the alleyways where childhood games were played with ferocity, to the hallowed halls of Junior League dances where children are manufactured to become the city's elite. Her personal history is so entwined with that of the city that they are artfully rendered one in the same.

Unlike other memoirs, An American Childhood flouts the traditional coming of age trope. Instead, Dillard focuses on awakening from the self absorption of early childhood and entrance into the greater world. In a sense, she chronicles the Lacanian moment of self awareness, and does so lyrically and deftly.

For me, her work most resonates when she speaks of the importance of books and reading in forming her malleable psyche and material interactions with the world. In her words, "The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world." For Dillard, reading becomes a love "most requited" (according to Wetherell's Post review). It is the medium through which boundaries are shattered, hopes are realized, and escapes are planned.

In this memoir, Dillard's prowess as a poet shines through. Her lyrical recollections of the past seem as if they are memories from your own childhood. Even if you have not read any of her previous works, read An American Childhood in order to relieve the innocence and wonder of your own youth. ( )
1 vote Casey_Marie | Apr 27, 2015 |
My parents grew up in northeast Ohio, and I grew up with Pittsburgh jokes.

I read this more than a decade ago. The only concrete image that remains for me from this book is an image of a small girl climbing the front steps of a library (which may or may not actually be from this book), but I remember enjoying the book and I remember that it's the first time I'd heard anything positive (or even nuanced) about Pittsburgh. ( )
  ImperfectCJ | Jan 25, 2015 |
It is difficult to convey how impressed I was with this book. Or even to separate which aspects of it I was most impressed by. There was the incredible skill of the author to recall and flesh out memories into these perfectly formed little scenes. There was the lyrical prose and ingeniously-combined word groupings. There was perfect capturing of the types of feelings that a child has about the most seemingly benign situations. There was the tone: neither showy nor falsely-modest. There was the time that it captured in 1950s Pittsburgh, with all the greater social issues and inner social circles it involved. It is really a wonderful book. ( )
  Ireadthereforeiam | Jan 16, 2014 |
Right after Bill Bryson's memoirs of growing up in middle America in the 50, Annie Dillard's memoirs of growing up in the 50s in Pittsburgh was a great extension. Dillard's voice is smooth and beautiful, with the perfect balance of poignant reflection and biting adolescent angst. Like Bryson, she talks about a childhood marked with atomic bomb drills and the golden age of baseball. And just like Bryson's obsession with girls, Dillard's memories are laced with boys. To match Bryson's obsession with comics, Dillard was a consumer of nature and science books which lead to high literature and poetry as she grew older. Dillard speaks of a privileged childhood, of moving up to better neighborhoods, and rocks she inherited, through the paperboy, from an old gentleman who had nobody other than the paperboy to pass on his collection. Bryson, having spent some good time as a miserable paperboy, can tell you more about this dying profession, but Dillard will captivate with moments of incredible images that will live in your mind for years. You might see a diver with different eyes, or you get the urge to go in the woods with a pickax. You will certainly appreciate having Goodreads, to share your books and opinions about books with the greater world with such ease. ( )
  bluepigeon | Dec 15, 2013 |
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I have loved, O Lord, the beauty of thy house and the place where dwelleth thy glory. - Psalm 26
for my parents Pam Lambert Doak and Frank Doak
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When everything else has gone from my brain--the President's name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family--when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0060915188, Paperback)

Annie Dillard remembers. She remembers the exhilaration of whipping a snowball at a car and having it hit straight on. She remembers playing with the skin on her mother's knuckles, which "didn't snap back; it lay dead across her knuckle in a yellowish ridge." She remembers the compulsion to spend a whole afternoon (or many whole afternoons) endlessly pitching a ball at a target. In this intoxicating account of her childhood, Dillard climbs back inside her 5-, 10-, and 15-year-old selves with apparent effortlessness. The voracious young Dillard embraces headlong one fascination after another--from drawing to rocks and bugs to the French symbolists. "Everywhere, things snagged me," she writes. "The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world." From her parents she inherited a love of language--her mother's speech was "an endlessly interesting, swerving path"--and the understanding that "you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself," not for anyone else's approval or desire. And one would be mistaken to call the energy Dillard exhibits in An American Childhood merely youthful; "still I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day," she writes, "as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 17:57:46 -0400)

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An autobiography describing the author's childhood and life in Pittburgh during the fifties.

(summary from another edition)

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