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An American Childhood Paperback – October 15, 2013
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Top Customer Reviews
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...Read more ›
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: "...it 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.
[on boys] "... Their breathtaking lack of subtlety in every particular, we thought -- and then sometimes a gleam of consciousness in their eyes, as surprising as if you'd caught a complicit wink from a brick." (p90)
This is a fine book, to be read in a gulp (it's not long), or sipped over weeks, taking the chapters -- or very paragraphs -- as funny, fizzy little drinks of description or story. Her style is, in this book of urban reminiscence, still that of the nature writer, that intoxicating blend of the particular and general, close observation and little riffs on the meaning of it all.
Her milieu was of the working well-off; her father ran the successful family business and they lived in a Pittsburg that still was in the shadow of the Carnegies and Mellons. They had a housekeeper and a pretty, energetic mother. Annie and her sister attended dancing school and country-club functions, and collided with the boys in her "set", from whom she was expected to find her future husband. But she also played ball until it was too dark to see, and went compulsively to the woods to watch and to wonder. She collected rocks, and she read and read.
Annie Doakes was born the same year I was, but is both older than me, having lived at greater speed, and younger, having, I think, maintained more youthful enthusiasm. What is essential in this life story is its total focus on the years of childhood. Most biography skimps this, perhaps planting a few useful images of the wide-open ranchland, or the repressive parents, or the early bereavement that later can do explanatory duty. Each person is a mystery, of course, but I feel I know Annie Dillard, at least somewhat, after reading the adult describe the child. After all, we must believe that the child we were is where the adult we are came from.
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Loved every chapter of this book. Thoughtful and often tear jerky but overall a great read. So much of it brought back childhood memories I had completely forgotten.Published 8 days ago by Patricia Ezzell
Excellent! I was very happy with item and seller. Plus shipping was fast.Published 22 days ago by French Quarter
I thoroughly enjoyed this book. I love her use of language and her sense of humor. I rarely have to look up words as I read, but I did here, to my delight. Read morePublished 26 days ago by Pat Pank
Beautifully written. I feel that Ms Dillard was inside my childhood experience.Published 1 month ago by S. Avramis
This book is improperly titled. Instead of "An American Childhood" of which it is absolutely not representative, it should be "An Extremely Privileged Childhood of an... Read morePublished 1 month ago by bookwormgrrrl
I come from and live in Somerset County, PA. This book was fascinating to me.Published 1 month ago by Pastor Linda
This is a wonderfully written book from a very talented author. Excellent summer reading!Published 1 month ago by Deb127