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An American Childhood (1987)

by Annie Dillard

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2,172347,026 (4.08)101
An autobiography describing the author's childhood and life in Pittburgh during the fifties.
Recently added byDaniellemjohnson0515, private library, Test_Infinite, YPlfl, eranderson, BCLD, ek0998, kgslaw, shyannelynn
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Read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek; then you'll know if you want to read this book. It's not earth-shaking (as Pilgrim was for me), but I basically just like reading Dillard's prose. ( )
  mmparker | Oct 24, 2023 |
In some ways I wish I had read this years ago, when it was published, but in fact I would not have appreciated it nearly as much. She paints a mid-century childhood in vivid colors. My growing up overlapped with her time and I was reminded of so many things that I had forgotten or deemed unimportant but I now see in a different light. Wonderful. Excellent writing and the child comes through in superb detail. Highly recommended. ( )
  Cantsaywhy | Aug 31, 2023 |
Too boring and mundane for my taste. For those who like nostalgia, you might appreciate it, but there's literally no drama and no plot. Some beautiful descriptions of nature partially offset the tedium. ( )
  Anita_Pomerantz | Mar 23, 2023 |
I confess, I am a fiction junky and rarely read non-fiction. I took this one from my mother's bookshelf and am grateful that I did. The beauty of the writing is mesmerizing. She makes a little girl's obsession with drawing or collecting rocks or insects fascinating. Her detail brings you right into the child's experience and makes the mundane precious. I do wonder how she remembers these childhood experiences so clearly. She also shares the pain of those teen years when most adults and all rules were intolerable. One can see, as well, how her love of poetry were the foundation of her elegant writing. ( )
  bookfest | Feb 2, 2022 |
This memoir is beautifully conceived and written: Intense, vivid, at times hilarious. Since it was from the library, I transcribed sentence after sentence to my copybook but had to restrain myself. There are many keepers throughout.
For instance, here is the vivid way she captures what it is like to pass out of childhood: “the interesting things of the world engaged my loose mind like a gear” (35). The other end of her adolescence crescendoes in the closing chapters of the book; she seems a danger to herself and others. Again, I marveled at how she could, with a few deft strokes, capture so precisely this feeling I remembered all too well.
Once in a while, she uses a word in an unusual way, but correctly: “She held against a living-room window a curtain rod from which depended heavy, flower-print curtains” (60). Too much of that, and she would be showing off. As it is, there is just enough of it to convince me she is a great writer. Some of her favorite arcane words crop up more than once. The first time, I read on, since I more or less know what she’s saying. When it shows up again, I realize it behooves me to know what it means exactly, and I turn to the dictionary. For instance, sempiternal. I could guess that it combines Latin semper and aeternus; the result seems a tautology (always eternal?). It turns out it denotes a concept of everlasting time that can never come to pass. So I have to go back over her paragraph to see if she knows this, too. One is always safe to assume she does.
At times, though, my credulity was stretched. Dillard seems precociously aware of herself and the world around her. Her intense interests—rocks, bugs, World War Two, the parables of Jesus—and her ambition to remember everything. Did she really as a child have such a vivid sense of transience? Was she really able to divide her attention so that it was as if she was watching herself from above? It matters little. This is one of the best evocations of a consciousness growing from childhood to adolescence, making its personal thrust forth from Eden to the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
At one point, Dillard writes: “I loved living at my own edge.” That, in a nutshell, is what the 255 pages of this account describe. This book is personal but not solipsistic; it is universal. It’s like a message in a bottle dropped in the ocean by someone almost painfully aware of what it means to live and afraid that others are missing out on the show. I’m glad it drifted up on shore where I was standing. ( )
  HenrySt123 | Jul 19, 2021 |
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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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An autobiography describing the author's childhood and life in Pittburgh during the fifties.

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