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Modern American Memoirs Paperback – August 30, 1996


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 464 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (August 30, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060927631
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060927639
  • Product Dimensions: 8 x 5.3 x 1.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (17 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,260 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

From Library Journal

Annie Dillard and publisher Cort Conley have collected excerpts from the memoirs of 35 20th-century American authors. The selections represent the best in autobiographical writing published between 1917 and 1992. Included are nine women and 26 men, both black and white, some better known than others, all distinguished writers and wonderful storytellers. Chris Offutt's "The Same River Twice" tells about the author's stint working in the circus; Anne Moody's "Coming of Age in Mississippi" describes her participation in the 1963 Woolworth sit-in. The editors precede each entry with a biographical and contextual note. There's an opening essay on the art of the memoirist and an afterword listing additional classics in the genre. This rich collection serves as an introduction to the nation's best modern writers and a primer on the American experience. Highly recommended for all libraries.?Carol A. McAllister, Coll. of William and Mary Lib., Williamsburg, Va.
Copyright 1995 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

In her introduction to this anthology of well-chosen excerpts from memoirs by a satisfyingly diverse group of writers, Dillard muses on the many forms memoirs take. The author is free to interpret his or her life in any way he or she chooses. Memoirists are shrewd editorialists, leaving out entire facets of their lives--husbands, wives, siblings, bad habits, boring everydayness, outrageous behavior--anything that doesn't conform to the image they want to project. Many memoirs focus sharply on the author's childhood, that time in every life when even the most ordinary things loom menacingly or magically large. Some memoirs resemble fiction, others have the pleasing momentum of essays. Dillard and Conley have selected vibrant examples of all these approaches, showcasing the work of a distinctive and, in some cases, unexpected group of writers, including Wallace Stegner, Kate Simon, Maureen Howard, Frank Conroy, Richard Selzer, Harry Crews, Loren Eiseley, James Baldwin, Margaret Mead, and Maxine Hong Kingston. Whatever tinkering these writers may have done with the facts of their past, they've done nothing to conceal the truth of their lives which shines from every beautifully, often courageously composed page. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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This is my one of my favorite books that I have read in quite awhile.
K. Draper
Annie Dillard, the editor of this collection, is widely considered one of the foremost American writers of nonfiction.
E. B. Brinkley
Each story is written by such a wealth of talent and told with a depth of passion from each authors own life story.
Sherryl L. Duncan

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

45 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Francisco X. Stork on July 1, 2002
Format: Paperback
This wonderful collection of autobiographical pieces is extraordinary in the variety of lives that are represented. I cover my eyes from Wallace Stegner's Saskatchewan dust and then I open them to witness the East River sunset from Barry Lopez' window. I sneak books out of a Memphis library with Richard Wright and then I'm with Cynthia Ozick digging out of a crate from the Traveling Library. The book's radiance comes not only from the rainbow of lives reflected but from the craftmanship, the nuts and bolts of changing the stuff of life into art. So many ways, so many self-less, ego-less ways to transform the personal into the universal, to say I am you and you are me and we are all.
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28 of 28 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
This is one of the most intoxicating books I have ever read. Annie Dillard, one of America's most well known authors for her detailed illustrations of nature, has magnificently compiled a book of memoirs that colorfully describes the American society and its struggles throughout history. This book gives you the bitterness of struggles by various well known figures such as Malcolm X and Maxine Hong Kingston. It builds an intense image of the daily life in the most detailed and delicious way possible.
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31 of 37 people found the following review helpful By E. B. Brinkley on September 29, 2005
Format: Paperback
Annie Dillard, the editor of this collection, is widely considered one of the foremost American writers of nonfiction. Akin to the sophisticated, peerless, but somewhat dry,"The Art of Fact, " a fabulous, though now somewhat-dated anthology for those journalists who wanted to expand their rule-driven pieces, these are only somewhat relevant as contemporary examples, mostly useful to the writer studying how the genre of creative nonfiction has evolved over the last century into modern-day anthologies, such as the "Best American Magazine Writing," or even, "Literary Journalism." The writing is, line by line, richly artistic (far too many people are misusing the word "artful" lately--my pet peeve, but maybe I should just give up and start using it to mean "full of art"). On a positive note, Dillard has carefully chosen varied forms to show the genre's possibilities. Loren Eiseley's, "The Star Thrower," depends heavily on symbolism and theme to great effect, while Chris Offutt's stunning piece is one of the more contemporary. All have heart and emotional honesty; every writer here showed great courage. Scholars and writers of creative nonfiction should have this on the shelf, and certainly there is much to learn from studying these ("study" being the operative word; all are investments of time). A better selection for the younger writer in the genre looking for a quicker fix of literary gems might be Dave Eggers new anthology, "The Best American Nonrequired Reading," (not exclusively nonfiction but a winner) for more new and exciting experimental techniques. Nevertheless, a valuable and well-chosen classic work. Extra half-point for nice cover art. (This is not a yearly anthology). Also see "In Fact: The Best of Creative Nonfiction," ed. Lee Gutkind, for peerless, and more contemporary, work in the genre.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful By Gary Parks on December 19, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
For the person who has come to the point in their life where they have discovered the value of beginning to write their own memoirs, this is an excellent collection with several well chosen examples for that starting point. Very inspiring with highly charged emotions. Many examples of varying styles. Time well spent living vicariously the intimate lives of others.
Gary Parks
New Memoirist
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By K. Draper VINE VOICE on December 8, 2010
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is my one of my favorite books that I have read in quite awhile. I read quite a bit, and have a fondness for memoirs, having read many actually "modern" memoirs, but few so luciously literary as these. Several other reviewers have nicely analyzed this book, so let me just add my whole hearted recommendation for it. All of the 35 sections in this anthology are excerpts from memoirs of varied lengths written by truly prize winning authors. I am very glad to have met every one of them. They were by turns eye-opening, hilarious, sardonic, erudite. The stories range from the beginning of the 20th century until 1996, so, while it says "Modern" it is really a bit of a look toward the past.

One thing I noticed is that, unlike many newer memoirs, none of the authors seems to being trying to "prove" anything. Yet many have dealt with incredible obstacles so out of the experience of most people, such as grinding rural poverty, deadly racism, the Great Depression, wildly difficult parents. They don't seem to make themselves out as heros or try to teach anything. Yet I learned something valuable from practically every one. It was quite a mind-expanding experience to look through a window into lives I had not previously imagined.

I wish everyone could read this book. It is that good.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful By Sherryl L. Duncan on July 7, 2009
Format: Paperback
I loved this book! Such an interesting and diverse study of characters that make up the american story and heritage. Each story is written by such a wealth of talent and told with a depth of passion from each authors own life story. I could hardly put it down and have lost alot of sleep since I normally read before going to bed. although each story could be read in a normal sitting they are all so engrossing that I had a difficult time not moving on to another story after finishing one. A very good read for someone who wishes to understand the feelings and experiences of the lives of those we call "American"
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