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An American Childhood
Annie Dillard
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An American Childhood

3.93  ·  Rating details ·  7,084 Ratings  ·  643 Reviews
A book that instantly captured the hearts of readers across the country, "An American Childhood" is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard's poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.
Hardcover, Large Print, 396 pages
Published December 31st 1988 by G. K. Hall & Company (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 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.
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
Jan 05, 2009 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
Jul 24, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: memoirs
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
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
Dec 20, 2011 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 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
Dec 01, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
"What can we make of the inexpressible joy of children? It is a kind of gratitude, I think—the gratitude of the ten-year-old who wakes to her own energy and the brisk challenge of the world. You thought you knew the place and all its routines, but you see you hadn’t known. Whole stacks at the library held books devoted to things you knew nothing about. "

“Private life, book life, took place where words met imagination without passing through the world.”

I could just pack this little review with q
Bentley ★
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
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 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
May 10, 2013 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 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. :)
Apr 30, 2013 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
Apr 08, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This was a delightful read that brought back wonderful memories of living in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful chance to get into Dillard's childhood head. I'd give it 3.75 if I could as it had some less captivating moments, but overall an enjoyable read.
Oct 28, 2012 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
Jan 17, 2011 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
Aug 06, 2007 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
Aug 23, 2016 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: school-books
This is a lie, I didn't finish this, but I feel like I've spent too much time on this book and it's going to push me into a reading slump. It was well written, but this book is exactly as the title suggests, "An American Childhood." I guess the genius or whatever behind this is Dillard managed to reenter her younger selves' minds. And that's fantastic and all, but ask this, "Do I really want to read about your childhood?" What is it about your childhood that makes it worthy of being written down ...more
Jan 27, 2011 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
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
Joanna Mugglin
An American Childhood is hailed a classic, and the reasons are quite apparent. Annie Dillard's mastery of imagery is displayed throughout her story, filling the reader's mind with sights and tastes and feelings and sounds and a kind of nostalgia that other books only attempt to describe.
With that said, I cannot say that I enjoyed this book, unfortunately, for the very reasons that others love it. Although Dillard's imagery is vivid, I found most of the book to be overly blunt, raw, and random a
Oct 12, 2010 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
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.
Nov 26, 2010 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.
Jan 26, 2013 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
Dec 30, 2015 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.
Heather Honeycutt
This isn't a "bad" book, it just wasn't my type of book. The writing was too flowery and it didn't really feel like a story - felt like a random compilation of memories (and parts rambled on too long about her rock collection, etc.). Part 3 finally started to weave it together into a story, but I really didn't feel like I got to know her story, just her random memories. Underlying theme of the power of reading and what you learn from it. Overall, I felt I wasn't "smart" enough to enjoy this one.
Apr 02, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Interesting memoir of a upper middle class way of life in Pittsburgh that no longer exists. Annie shows the beginnings of her love affair with prose and her beautifully searching mind. But the abrupt ending (her going off to college) detracts. A little reflection and tying of strings together would have gone a long way.
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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.” 466 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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