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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
on November 29, 1998
This collection of literary snapshots from Dillard's childhood is made up of short passages that spotlight and explain her inner life, as well as the curious activities in which she engaged as a child. The book is filled with glorified, painstaking explanations and descriptions of the mundane. At times, it became difficult to trudge through certain parts of the book. Forced to read at least fifteen pages dedicated to rocks and minerals, I felt like a fifth grader studying a never-ending earth science assignment. Although some of her vignettes were interesting and insightful, too many were unnecessary and boringly specific.
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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on September 6, 2009
I must start off this review of "An American Childhood" with a glance backward; when, as a teacher of 11th-grade American Literature classes during the 1960s and 1970s in a central Pennsylvania school, my late mother would assign "Walden" to her "upper level" Academic English section. A look at the reviews posted here, and the parallels are uncanny. A few (sensitive, inquisitive?) teenagers liked Thoreau. But most of them-- had they been asked-- would have given "Walden" the very same one-star reviews I see posted here at Amazon.com for Annie (Doak) Dillard. No changes necessary-- apart from the name of the book and author.

Like "Walden," this is a book that no teacher of English should blindly assign to a whole classroom of teenagers to read and report on. Using the Biblical analogy, it becomes a case of casting pearls before swine. Surely, it has to be posited that either a fair percentage of American readers have no "inner life" at all-- or that their conscious minds have been busy trying to suppress any relict memories of their once having had one. "An American Childhood" is not a novel, for goodness' sakes... and I seriously doubt that it was written in order to amuse, entertain, or fill in a boring couple of hours in the lives of those folks who dismiss without a second glance any and all questions about childhood, about curiosity, about what is meant by a "personality," or about why in the world we are all waltzing or drifting through life at a certain time and locale, in the first place.

On the other hand, if you do find yourself musing about such matters from time to time, here is a book after your own heart. To mention but one of its fine points, I have never come across a more accurate description anywhere, of precisely what it felt like (for some of us) to pass from childhood into adolescence. The child Annie Doak calls to mind another, earlier, Anne, Lucy Maud Montgomery's fictional Anne Shirley. May I presume that most of you readers have met red-haired Anne (with an "e") through the pages of a book or books? I feel confident that if you ever wished that you had had a "bosom friend" like Anne Shirley back in the days when you were young, you will be glad of the hour you first encountered Pittsburgh's Annie Doak... although their outward circumstances in life were quite a bit different.

One final note: surely by now this book can be found on most library shelves. Pick up a copy and read some pages in it at random. If you hear something saying to you that you need your own copy, to read at leisure, to put on your shelf at home... then by all means buy yourself one.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An American Childhood, will seem slow and cumbersome to some. To me, it was a recollection of my growing up years well written. It is a memory of a time irretrievable, I am sure; a time when a child could run through the neighborhood at night in complete safety while all the while thinking it a clandestine adventure. Annie Dillard perfectly captures the mundane excitement of growing up in a safe American neighborhood that unfortunately may have disappeared forever.
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3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
on December 2, 1998
This has to be one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. I read it for the first time 9 years ago and still remember the shivers I felt...I still have images in my head of a young girl ice skating on the street under a streetlight. I called my mother to read passages aloud to her...I had to share it with someone! Please read this book, you won't be sorry.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on December 19, 2005
Annie Dillard takes us to a Pittsburgh that is mostly still there, from the secluded street in Pointe Breeze where she grew up to the landmark Presbyterian church where she worshiped as a child. They are pleasant places to visit, even if Dillard is a very selective tour guide.

Throughout, the places and people are portrayed poetically; nonetheless, from time to time (like any habitual raconteur) she warps the images for effect. Her private school English teacher, for instance, was much adored by most of the girls whom she taught - never mind the eccentricities. And the particulars about Shadyside church are also a tad off - signifying that Annie's impressions were drawn from, shall we say, infrequent attendance, at best.

Most of the people Annie grew up with still reside within a ten-mile radius of the places she depicts. Many of them remember Annie. And it is fair to say that most of them would tell you that Pittsburgh, then or now, is a good place for childhood or any other of life's stages.

(Author David McCullough grew up on the self-same street as Dillard, a half-generation before her, and in an interview he gave to a Pittsburgh reporter not long after this book came out, said that his recollections of childhood there were entirely positive).

So read the book, savor the poetic language and the art of self disclosure and self concealment in it. But remember, it is a very selective memory....
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
on February 10, 2013
This Pulitzer Prize-winning book led me to believe that every childhood has a story. Annie Dillard was recommended in an Episcopal sermon. I was delighted to find it on Kindle and at such a truly affordable price.
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4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
on June 1, 2007
An American Childhood by Annie Dillard makes a vivid flashback of the years every person once had and cunningly makes her childhood seem like it was your own. She expertly describes Pittsburgh and makes the reader know the town just as well as they know the town where they grew up. Many people would never imagine a place such as the coal industry of Pittsburgh as a comforting and humble place. Annie's amazing writing skills make the transformation from a hard working town to a peaceful and lovely city.

Annie becomes a curious girl from the beginning. She sees that everything in life needs investigation and everything deserves to be noticed. She seeks to learn from all of her actions and keeps all the positive lessons in her mind. Annie describes something everyone has gone through and readers will realize that their childhood experiences lead to their personalities and talents. An American Childhood leaves readers with the memories of their times of innocence.
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6 of 9 people found the following review helpful
on March 3, 1998
It took me three attempts to finally make it all the way through this book. The problem is not the vignettes, which are often amusing, but the fact that the book lacks cohesion. On the first page of the book, Dillard says, "the story begins". But she is wrong. This is not a story. This is a collage, a scrapbook of snapshots from her youth that lacks the unity of a good biography. Many readers of the book enjoyed this sort of format, but I found it prohibitive. Once I finally made it through to the end (on the third try), I enjoyed the experience, but it was a struggle early on in the book to keep going.
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Also a child of Pittsburgh's 1950s, I read this book years ago while beginning to write fiction myself. One line, about picking up the skin of a parent's hand, simply stopped me in my tracks. I knew then that I could never possibly come close (and resorted to a doable blend of literary and genre). I selected this book for my (till then, only Pulitzer fiction) new book club in Northern Virginia, partly because I wanted my new friends to know me better, but mostly because I knew writing such Dillard's was great fare for readers who appreciated the best of the best. They loved it too. This is a great story. The telling though, the writing itself, is beyond my power to describe. A beautiful, beautiful book.
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on July 22, 2014
Annie Dillard combines a poet's gift for evocation with a novelist's talent for storytelling, and what subject matter could be more beautiful, tormented, and filled with wonder as a girl's childhood? From the first time I read this memoir as a 15-year-old girl, to my most recent re-reading at age 37, this book has been one of my all-time favorites. A must-read for any lover great writing.
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