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An American Childhood

3.94 of 5 stars 3.94  ·  rating details  ·  5,743 ratings  ·  501 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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Steve Sckenda
She grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1950’s, in a house full of comedians, reading books. Annie Dillard tells us about the joy of growing up a book lover and nature worshiper in forested hills. Dillard is best known for her meditations on nature and spirituality in “Pilgrim at Tinker Creek,” which won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize, but in “An American Childhood,” Dillard chronicles her growth out of childhood selfishness into enlightenment. “I woke in bits…piecemeal over the years. I discovered myself and ...more
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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
Larry Bassett
I loved Pilgrim many years ago, one of my lifetime favorite books. After reading An American Childhood I should go back and read Pilgrim again.

You could open this book randomly to any page and likely find a great paragraph that by itself might make it worth reading the book. The "chapters" are short following chronologically Dillard's growing up year. I had not realized it before that she grew up a very priveleged family with private schools and full time mom with home help. I must admit that th
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 3 of 5 stars  ·  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
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
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
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
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
A perfect book to end the year, I have to say that I was honestly surprised by how much I enjoyed this memoir.

I know that makes it sound terrible, but while I enjoyed the other book by Annie Dillard that I read (Pilgrims at Tinker Creek), I didn't love like I loved this one. This one really affected me, and in a good way.

Having grown up in central/western PA myself (albeit during a different decade), I found I could relate to a lot of what Dillard had to write about. Anyone from this area will
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
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
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 5 of 5 stars  ·  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
John David
It’s not often that I read memoirs; they seem, as a genre, somewhat too self-indulgent for me to spending several hundred pages mulling over at a time. I think I remember mentioning this to a friend of mine shortly after I graduated high school, a friend whose passion for books mirrored my own and who genuinely appreciated my interest in nineteenth-century German philosophy. In response to what I told him of the memoir, he mentioned the name of Annie Dillard, and said that I might like “An Ameri ...more
P.J. Sullivan
Everything you ever wanted to know about growing up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, in the 1950s. The author sticks to the facts as she experienced them, but embellishes them with creative wordplay and philosophical and psychological observations. She occasionally uses semi-intelligible poetic imagery.

She digresses into her hobbies: rock collecting, mineralogy, insects, moths, butterflies, etc. But are they really digressions? She describes her life as “crawling on my pin,” as if she were an insect
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
Cynthia Egbert
I love it when I see books "to-read" come up on my friends' feeds and realize that I have not recorded that as read or need to add it as a "to-read" on my own list. I cannot believe that I have never listed a rating on this one. I love this book and this author. I have used this book, or portions of it, many times with students as a wonderful example of a memoir. I cannot recommend this highly enough.
this story reminds me of a conversation at a family gathering where your grandma just wont stop talking about her adventures in Albany when she was 16. you try and pretend you're interested in what she's saying, but you really can't and you just want mom to bring out the dessert and for grandpa to say: "okay honey, I think that's enough".
A keenly and humorously observed account of growing up (or waking up). The book is as quotable as a transcendentalist work, but as full of wonder as any blessed childhood. Confused adolescence tangles with the "thought that joy was a childish condition that had forever departed," but the child's wisdom that "There was joy in effort, and the world resisted effort to just the right degree, and yielded to it at last" prevails. (235, 107)

On books...
"What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces,
I really love Annie Dillard's writing, so I was interested to read about how she became the remarkable thinker and writer that she is. There seem to be two main reasons.

First, she was raised by loving, intelligent parents who allowed her significant independence of thought and activity. They respected and allowed her full personhood. They were also prosperous enough to put her in an excellent girls school.

Second, she was an incredibly curious, focused child with a strong inner locus of motivatio
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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
More about Annie Dillard...
Pilgrim at Tinker Creek The Writing Life The Maytrees Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters Holy the Firm

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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.” 455 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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