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An American Childhood Paperback – Bargain Price, July 20, 1988

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Paperback, Bargain Price, July 20, 1988
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 272 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; 1st Perennial Library Ed edition (July 20, 1988)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060915188
  • ASIN: B001UE71JS
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 0.7 x 8.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (103 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,605,428 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews Review

Annie Dillard remembers. She remembers the exhilaration of whipping a snowball at a car and having it hit straight on. She remembers playing with the skin on her mother's knuckles, which "didn't snap back; it lay dead across her knuckle in a yellowish ridge." She remembers the compulsion to spend a whole afternoon (or many whole afternoons) endlessly pitching a ball at a target. In this intoxicating account of her childhood, Dillard climbs back inside her 5-, 10-, and 15-year-old selves with apparent effortlessness. The voracious young Dillard embraces headlong one fascination after another--from drawing to rocks and bugs to the French symbolists. "Everywhere, things snagged me," she writes. "The visible world turned me curious to books; the books propelled me reeling back to the world." From her parents she inherited a love of language--her mother's speech was "an endlessly interesting, swerving path"--and the understanding that "you do what you do out of your private passion for the thing itself," not for anyone else's approval or desire. And one would be mistaken to call the energy Dillard exhibits in An American Childhood merely youthful; "still I break up through the skin of awareness a thousand times a day," she writes, "as dolphins burst through seas, and dive again, and rise, and dive."

From Publishers Weekly

Dillard's luminous prose painlessly captures the pain of growing up in this wonderful evocation of childhood. Her memoir is partly a hymn to Pittsburgh, where orange streetcars ran on Penn Avenue in 1953 when she was eight, and where the Pirates were always in the cellar. Dillard's mother, an unstoppable force, had energies too vast for the bridge games and household chores that stymied her. Her father made low-budget horror movies, loved Dixieland jazz, told endless jokes and sight-gags and took lonesome river trips down to New Orleans to get away. From this slightly odd couple, Dillard (Teaching a Stone to Talk acquired her love of nature and taut sensitivity. The events of childhood often loom larger than life; the magic of Dillard's writing is that she sets down typical childhood happenings with their original immediacy and force.
Copyright 1987 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

More About the Author

Annie Dillard is the author of ten books, including the Pulitzer Prize-winner Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, as well as An American Childhood, The Living, and Mornings Like This. She is a member of the Academy of Arts and Letters and has received fellowship grants from the John Simon Guggenheim Foundation and the National Endowment for the Arts. Born in 1945 in Pittsburgh, Dillard attended Hollins College in Virginia. After living for five years in the Pacific Northwest, she returned to the East Coast, where she lives with her family.

Customer Reviews

Suddenly this book hit me, what a prize it was, out of the blue.
No matter how dull or uninteresting I have found a book, I make a specific point of finishing it and judging it on the whole.
Frederick Montgomery III
Annie Dillard has a gift for illuminating the small beauties of an ordinary childhood in a way that makes them extraordinary.
Kate Coombs

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

39 of 41 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on March 10, 2001
Format: Paperback
The first time I read An American Childhood I was so thrilled I wanted everyone I knew to read it too. It is one of the handful of books that I will keep on the bookshelf by my bed for the rest of my life. (That shelf also includes Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.)
An American Childhood was an eye opener for me and gave me pause to look back at my own childhood to see what I could see. I reread this periodically and enjoy the clarity with which Ms. Dillard writes about her memories of the start of life, the beginning of thought, the thrill of realizations when first made, and the excitement of knowing that life is ahead and it's up to the one who is living to get on with it. She sets up a scene and relates her feelings as she was living through it. A vivid memory for her is running with a friend through the backyards of her neighborhood chased by a man who was furious with them for thowing snowballs at his car. "It was an immense discovery, pounding into my hot head with every sliding, joyous step, that this ordinary adult evidently knew what I thought only children who trained at football knew: that you have to fling yourself at what you're doing, you have to point yourself, forget yourself, aim, dive." She seems to have learned lessons early that it takes many of us several decades to internalize.
One day she ran down a busy sidewalk, arms flailing, pretending to herself she might just be able to take off into flight. "I was too aware to do this, and had done it anyway. What could touch me now? For what were the people on Penn Avenue to me, or what was I to myself, really, but a witness to any boldness I could muster...
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46 of 50 people found the following review helpful By Cipriano on May 5, 2002
Format: Paperback
The furiously curious Annie Dillard! From her very earliest years she has a profound awareness of the mystery of life, nothing is without wonder, everything worthy of further scientific investigation. She HAS (she POSESSES) what Abraham Maslow called a "freshness of appreciation" meaning not only that nothing escapes her notice, but also that she tends to find some positive result out of all of her experiences. I find this to be an enviable trait.
The book, her childhood, takes place in Pittsburgh in the 1950's. She is afforded much freedom and affluence in her somewhat eccentric and hilarious family (her mother didn't like the taste of stamps, so she didn't lick stamps; she licked the corner of the envelope instead). Dillard wonderfully paints a picture of a world that is charged with wonder, and gives us a sense that this electrified world is not just hers, but also the world of the reader.
Her writing is best when describing her great love of nature. I could swear I HEARD the following sentence... "The waves disintegrated on the big beach; from the high cliff where our house stood, their breaking sounded like poured raw rice."
It's true that one has to be patient with Dillard's disconnected vignettes... there are diversions that seem to bust up the chronology of events, but overall, the book is great in that it makes the reader feel that perhaps they too have never lived an insignificant day.
She says: " is not you or I that is important, neither what sort we might be nor how we came to be each where we are. What is important is anyone's coming awake and discovering a place, finding in full orbit a spinning globe one can lean over, catch, and jump on. What is important is the moment of opening a life and feeling it touch - with an electric hiss and cry - this speckled mineral sphere, our present world."
She seems to be saying that there is a glory in the mundane.
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24 of 24 people found the following review helpful By on September 28, 1999
Format: Paperback
If you want to think about life and appreciate its nuances, then this is a book you will enjoy. If you're looking for a page turning, plot driven beach-read, this isn't for you. This book is so rich in vividness and thoughtfulness that I can't read a lot at one time. I read a chapter or two or three and then put it down and ruminate for a couple of days (while reading something a lighter). Sometimes the life in these pages seems more vivid than the one I am leading. Here is a girl discovering, with passion, what it is to be alive. And, here is a book that can remind you what that discovery felt like and put a bit of it back in your life.
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21 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Rina Provost-Smith ( on April 13, 1999
Format: Paperback
Though I have too little time for reading, I found this book so compelling I took baths instead of showers in the morning to have extra time to read, picked it up again when I got home, and as Annie describes herself doing, finished it and went straight back to the beginning to begin again. The second time was no less fresh, no less delightful, no less hilarious. I bought a copy and sent it to my brother. How did she do it? How did she remember in such painfully, exquisitely accurate detail what it was like -- what the emotions of every moment of childhood and adolescence were like, and what the obsessions were at each age? Possibly because I share her Pittsburgh childhood (though two decades later) and many of her passions (reading, drawing, science, nature, observation of detail) I felt I'd found a kindred spirit. Somehow, Annie managed make the most mundane events interesting, with a combination of wry humor and reverence. Obviously she learned something from the family joke-telling drills -- her delivery was beautiful. And her descriptions. There's something in common here with Garrison Keillor's A Prairie Home Companion -- both Dillard and Keillor seem to have begun adulthood as sharp critics of their social situations, yet when they moved away they found, despite some hypocrisies, something also loving and nurturing and solid about their places and people of origin.
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