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An American Childhood

3.93  ·  Rating Details ·  6,567 Ratings  ·  584 Reviews
A book that instantly captured the hearts of readers across the country, An American Childhood is Pulitzer Prizewinning author Annie Dillards poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s. Dillards luminous prose painlessly captures the pain of growing up in this wonderful evocation of childhoodDillards mother, an unstoppable force, had energies too vast ...more
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Published January 17th 2011 by Blackstone Audiobooks (first published 1987)
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I adored this book from start to finish.

First let me praise the audiobook narration by Alexandra O'Karma. She reads slowly. She reads softly, but you hear every word she says. She leaves it up to the listener to interpret the lines, to recognize the subtle humor. Some may think she doesn't read with enough spark. For me the soft tone fit the beauty of the lines. Parts read as prose poetry. She gives you time to think.

I loved this book because of the wisdom of the author, what she says about gr
Feb 05, 2013 Pragya rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
My biggest problem is that you don't get the vibe of precocious child but pretentious adult: There is a whole chapter on her fucking rock collection. Her favorite book is about moths. Shut up.
Jan 05, 2009 William rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What is it like to "grow up?" How thrilling and disconcerting is it to discover our distinctness from our parents? What do we do with freedom as found in a bicycle? What changes when we discover boys (or girls)?

Annie remembers, and helps you remember, too. Some of her memories seem like my own, and this is one of those great reads as an adult where you feel the reality of a book blending with your soul. I have many such books in my heart of hearts from childhood. I can't remember if I felt wet m
Already at twenty-three, childhood seems to me a very remote region of my past, and as I was impinged upon with a small pang of nostalgia for youth, I picked up Annie Dillard's An American Childhood - her memoir of her Pittsburgh youth. While there are a number of poignant moments, and elegant turns of phrase, the work as a whole feels a bit shallow, a bit too much on the surface of things. In his Nobel Speech, William Faulkner said that the only thing worth writing about was the problems of the ...more
In An American Childhood Dillard traces her life from early childhood into adolescence. Her self-stated project is to show how a child “wakes up” to life, moving from the self-absorbed now-ness of early childhood to the rumblings of consciousness, the awareness that one is alive.

As if to underscore Dillard’s position as an “example” of childhood rather than the work’s actual subject, she begins her autobiography by describing Pittsburgh’s topography and history, followed by a chapter about her
Mar 24, 2013 Cheryl rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs, nature
Annie Dillard grew up in Pittsburgh during the 1950s, and she captured those days in this memoir, documenting her childhood, while also detailing the rich history of Pittsburgh--I especially loved the information on Andrew Carnegie and of Pittsburgh's wealth which came from, "aluminum, glass, coke, electricity, copper, natural gas--and the banking and transportation industries that put up the money and moved the goods."

Reading with the expectation of drama does not get you anywhere because Dill
Dec 20, 2011 Michael rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Annie Dillard has an odd style that grates on my readerly ears. She makes big, dubious generalizations to talk about a small detail. That wears on me enough. Then, a paragraph later, she sometimes simply contradicts the original generalization. The first time or two were when I wanted to throw the book across the room, had it had enough heft to make that enjoyable.

It doesn't. And this is no more "an American childhood" than yours, mine, or a thousand thousand others might be considered. I tried
Jan 19, 2009 Holli rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: book-group
I chose this one for the Book Discussion group because I was looking for a memoir and I remembered really liking this when I read it 21 years ago on the eve of Gabe's birth. I liked it just as much the second time around and reading it again now, on the eve of Gabe's transition into adulthood, made me realize what an impact this book has had on my life and the way I have raised my children.

When I read it the first time, I kept thinking about how I spent too much of my own childhood watching Gil
Dillard's writing is amazing. I couldn't put her memoir down. Born in 1950 to her parents, Frank and Pam, Dillard tells us vignettes of her life-- first part focused on her childhood and her family; second part covers her preteen and teenage years; and the last section when she rebels (quits, and later returns, her Presbyterian Church.) The Epilogue reflects her adulthood. What I loved most was how she shared vivid memories of her life, which in some cases brought back some of my childhood memor ...more
Sep 29, 2016 Connie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir


I am glad I read her memoir before reading others of Annie's books. Though I would like to hear her tell about her life after her childhood and teen years, I feel as if I almost know her in person.

Annie was born in 1945. Most of her young life was lived in Pittsburg with her two younger sisters and her intelligent, adventurous, jokester parents who provided what Annie needed for her explorations, explained science and reviewed history to her in details, but otherwise did not express intere
Bentley Gallo
Feb 17, 2016 Bentley Gallo rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: assigned-reads
I finally made it through what I can only refer to as the worst book I have ever read in my life. Assigned reading for a Contemporary Literature course I'm taking in college, I had no idea what to expect when I went into this book. I knew it was a memoir, and although I am not the biggest nonfiction fan, I started it with an open mind, expecting to come away with some frame of reference about Dillard's life and times growing up as a child in the 1950s. What I came away with instead was a headach ...more
Janine Graves
I am a huge fan of non fiction, especially autobiographies.

If I had wanted to read a thesaurus or a book of poetry I would have purchased one.

I didn't. I purchased this book.

Unfortunately, I thought I would be taking a trip through Ms. Dillard's "American Childhood". No, instead I stepped into a sodden, wordy mess that makes the reader have to stumble over painfully verbose prose to even get to the point.

I was bored by the extreme abundance of words to describe *anything* For example, how her mo
Mar 28, 2015 Melody rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoir
I tried to read Annie Dillard when I was in college, but I just didn't get it. Last summer I read Pilgrim at Tinker Creek for the second time, and this time it made sense, not just intellectually- though it was intellectually gratifying-but this time somewhere in my soul.

So I approached _An American Childhood_ with expectation, and I was not disappointed. Dillard manages to create a memoir at once both nostalgic and brutally honest, hazy but precise, idealized yet imperfect--as though this is wh
Rebecca McNutt
Aug 08, 2015 Rebecca McNutt rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This book captures the steel town industrial look and rolling hills of Pittsburgh and the nostalgia of growing up with vibrancy and extremely well-written characters and scenery. I loved it, I'm glad I found a copy of it. :)
Jan 27, 2011 Noelle rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This is one of the best books I have ever read. Annie Dillard writes about growing up in Pittsburgh. She dabbled in everything as a child -- drawing, sports, music, dancing, intense and extensive reading, collecting, finding "small creatures" under a microscope. She more than dabbled; she seems to have thrown herself into every endeavor. She writes about becoming awake to the world, and is the first writer I've ever read who has captured my own amazement at waking up to the world and realizing t ...more
May 07, 2013 Krista rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
My mother is just a year younger than Annie Dillard, so I kept thinking of her as I read this memoir. Their places in time might have been the same, but their circumstances could not have been more different: While Dillard was raised with privilege in the big industrial city of Pittsburgh, complete with private schools and lake homes and country clubs and wearing white gloves to the right Presbyterian church, my mother was raised in relative poverty in an Irish Catholic family in Charlottetown, ...more
Jan 17, 2011 Mike rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Jesse DeWitt
I was hooked from the very first sentence:

"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."

And how could she not think that, having grown up in Pittsburgh, the city
Apr 17, 2013 Dan added it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2012
i like to think i'm old enough to no longer require brooding, existential "grittiness" from every object on my bookshelf. that said, i have real trouble believing anyone's childhood was idyllic as the world described in annie dillard's an american childhood.

i loved the author's earlier pilgrim at tinker creek, which provided an acute, worm's-eye view of the natural world around us. pilgrim seemed to recognize the small-scale "otherness" of our physical surroundings - the way that leaves, insects
Oct 04, 2007 Nathanial rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: former mouseketeers
Shelves: fiction
Okay, Dillard, show us what you got. She bluffs, she holds, she raises the stakes. I love her broad scope and her precise portraits. Also, her self-consciousness is crucial in this - her narrator doesn't take herself too seriously as she addresses serious topics like race prejudice, class discrimination, and religious intolerance. However, Dillard's own limitations remain irksome, even as she points towards them: on one page, she claims that "Every woman stayed alone in her house in those days, ...more
An American Childhood captivated me in a way that no other book has before. It wasn't because of its content- Annie Dillard had a fairly ordinary childhood- but the way she brings familiar childhood memories alive by describing them so succinctly you feel like you're experiencing your childhood all over again. Her writing style is concise but manages to effortlessly draw you into her stream of conciousness, and her choice of words is beautiful and often surprising. I never thought reading about ...more
Nov 11, 2010 Mara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
So many sections worthy of copying out and keeping close at hand, some of the themes and stories are familiar from Pilgrim at Tinker Creek only there is this more social dimension to it. I found the third section the most awe-inspiring and terrifying and sort of wish she had put out a separate volume "An American Adolescence" because that's where things were suddenly lurchingly familiar and completely alien. I do when I read her always have that "Yes, that is exactly how it is!" feeling and this ...more
In the 1950's Annie grew up loving books and nature. Her dad also loved books but one special one in particular, Life on the Mississippi. He dozens of copies of the same book. One day the book got inside his head and he quit his business to travel down the river. Annie found depth in the books she read. She asked herself, What was she missing? She could not get enough of the world or books in her. She saw the Bible as misunderstood. She did mot understand why adults did not hide the Bible after ...more
Nov 26, 2010 Carrie rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Before committing random acts of kindness became a popular cultural imperative, Dillard, still herself a child, recognized that leaving pennies around her Pittsburgh neighborhood for young children to discover gave birth to her own experience of joy. I haven't read the book in 15 years or so but these 2 things stuck with me: Annie Dillard's gorgeous writing would be impossible without her wisdom, and never drop a coin without making sure it's head-side up.
Liz VanDerwerken
I love Annie Dillard so much. She has been cool and quirky from day one, and this account of her growing up years in Pittsburgh is witty, charming, and full of interesting ideas and memories. She talks about her rock collection, her insect collection, her neighborhood exploration, her friend's lake house on Lake Erie, high school, you name it. Most of all I loved the theme—that of realizing you are alive while living.
Apr 26, 2015 Casey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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 th
Nov 30, 2014 Dave rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Easier to get into than Pilgrim at Tinker Creek--perhaps because I recognized the Pittsburgh locales. Also because the music of this book is more harmonious. It really does feel less like a book of essays or a narrative and more like a collection of short piano pieces. And each piece shows a little more, or introduces a theme, or adds a comic restatement, or highlights and emphasizes and reworks things you missed in the earlier pieces.

I resented her, growing up in a richer household than me, wi
Sep 10, 2013 Martha rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
For me, it was rich and deep; abundant with nuggets of truisms, wisdom and illuminations of that which we have all experienced in our childhoods. I like to use this book as a reference for my own experiences.
An American Childhood
Mya Burns
Jul 15, 2016 Mya Burns rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
this book was too boring, couldn't finish it. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek was good, there were a few redeeming parts, but this one just felt like someone was holding me hostage at a party, telling me stories from their childhood that I couldn't care less about.
Eliot Fiend
loved it. i enjoyed "pilgrim at tinker creek" dearly--one of my favorites--so if that's your type, you might like this too. for me, dillard's reflections on childhood felt more resonant, like little keys of words unlocking and reframing revelations of my growing-up that i felt lonely in, more than anything else i've read. maybe it's more universal than i though, or maybe it's just us, or just we ones who are strange hyperconscious sensitive book-loving kids and now the same but in more grown-up ...more
Chris Birdy
Mar 16, 2016 Chris Birdy rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This book was made up of the musings of a woman who had a privileged childhood. She was a member of an elite group of wealthy Pittsburghers who traced their roots back to the Carnegies, Mellons and the other robber barons. They were Presbyterians because they hated unions, Catholics and Jews. News Flash: Those were the real people of Pittsburgh not a spoiled child who contemplated her navel while attending private schools and private events with her elitists friends. If she won the Pulitzer Priz ...more
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2015 Reading Chal...: An American Childhood by Annie Dillard 1 10 Nov 01, 2015 09:45PM  
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Annie Dillard (born April 30, 1945) is an American author, best known for her narrative prose in both fiction and non-fiction. She has published works of poetry, essays, prose, and literary criticism, as well as two novels and one memoir. Her 1974 work Pilgrim at Tinker Creek won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for General Nonfiction. Dillard taught for 21 years in the English department of Wesleyan Unive ...more
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“Like any child, I slid into myself perfectly fitted, as a diver meets her reflection in a pool. Her fingertips enter the fingertips on the water, her wrists slide up her arms. The diver wraps herself in her reflection wholly, sealing it at the toes, and wears it as she climbs rising from the pool, and ever after.” 470 likes
“What does it feel like to be alive?
Living, you stand under a waterfall. You leave the sleeping shore deliberately; you shed your dusty clothes, pick your barefoot way over the high, slippery rocks, hold your breath, choose your footing, and step into the waterfall. The hard water pelts your skull, bangs in bits on your shoulders and arms. The strong water dashes down beside you and you feel it along your calves and thighs rising roughly backup, up to the roiling surface, full of bubbles that slide up your skin or break on you at full speed. Can you breathe here? Here where the force is the greatest and only the strength of your neck holds the river out of your face. Yes, you can breathe even here. You could learn to live like this. And you can, if you concentrate, even look out at the peaceful far bank where you try to raise your arms. What a racket in your ears, what a scattershot pummeling!
It is time pounding at you, time. Knowing you are alive is watching on every side your generation's short time falling away as fast as rivers drop through air, and feeling it hit.”
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