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An American Childhood [Hardcover]

Annie Dillard
3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 255 pages
  • Publisher: Harpercollins; 1st Edition edition (Aug 1987)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060158050
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060158057
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 15.2 x 2.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (16 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 269,350 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


A moving and vivid recollection of the Pulitzer Prize-winning authors childhood in Pittsburgh in the 1950s conveys the keen mind and sense of adventure with which she experienced relatives, neighbors, nature, friends, and changes. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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THE STORY STARTS BACK IN 1950, when I was five. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars I am a teenager, and I understand 8 Jun 1999
By A Customer
I can't comprehend how someone could miss the truth, insight, and charm of this book. I am fifteen years old and an aspiring writer. In the weeks before I read Dillard's chapters on adolescence, I was feeling the painful confusion of it more than I ever have before. Dillard voiced my feelings perfectly when I couldn't state them myself. Her childhood memories support the concept of entering various states of consciousness throughout one's life. This is brilliant work.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An exquisite, hilarious, reverent book! I love it! 14 April 1999
By A Customer
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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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars READS LIKE A WORK OF ART 18 Feb 1999
By A Customer
This is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read. I first read it about ten years ago, and did not like it. I think it takes a certain amount of maturity to understand the discovery, the examined life, and the coming into "consciousness" that Dillard writes of. It should not be required reading for high school students, who may find it dull and boring; too full of one's "interior" life, as many who wrote reviews here did. My advice to them: please read it again when you are in your late twenties or early thirties...and see how easily the book puts you under its magical spell with its reminiscences of childhood.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A childhood we all somehow shared. 25 Mar 1998
By A Customer
Anne Dillard knows herself, and her reader very well. In this fine book, she recalls memories of childhood that we all can relate to, from the idiosyncracies of our parents, to the newness of our siblings. She captures the nervousness of love, and the inevitability of change. Simply the finest book I have read in some time.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars As graceful a book as I have read 1 July 1997
By A Customer
Dillards' "An American Childhood" sings with vision:
of the eye and the soul. She describes growing
up in Pittsburgh in a loving family and reminds
us of the many ways we come awake (if we are
lucky and wise) as we cross through childhood.
Never preachy and often funny, she explores
class and religious differences, the discovery of the
natural world, of oneself and of the people in
one's family. Each chapter is short and complete
in itself, so picking it up for a short read is easy
and satisfying: a refreshing break every time. One
chapter begins, "The interior life is often stupid."
This book never is.
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By John P. Jones III TOP 500 REVIEWER
So says Annie Dillard, and having grown up there at almost exactly the same time, I would certainly agree. Her assertion preceded some reminisces about Carnegie Music Hall and the Van de Graaff generator, always a source of amazement for children. The book is replete with references and memories for a Pittsburgher of "a certain age," from the corporate buildings that once dominated the downtown area (and whose names have been transformed by the endless corporate mergers, all for "better efficiencies of scale" for sure, they will tell you), to the sparks from the wires above the trolley cars, to the fork ball pitcher for the Pirates, Elroy Face and the big snow of 1950. She struck a sentiment held by so many Pittsburghers, "Il faut travailler," it is necessary to work, "And no one who grew up in Pittsburgh could doubt that the great work was ongoing," from the steel mills, the air that was cleaned by Mayor Lawrence and others, to Doctor Jonas Salk, who ended the fear and reality of polio for all. But the book clearly transcends the specifics of the Pittsburgh locale, and the joys of the `50's.

"Draw the reader in" is one of those writer seminar's dictums, and for me Dillard did in spades, in the first paragraph: "When everything else has gone from my brain... the faces of my family- when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of the land as it lay this way and that." Was there something about the hills and dales of western Pennsylvania that produced people who felt that way? I read this book the first time in 1990, had the topography of Pittsburgh in my brain, but I was far more obsessed with the topography of a particular hill in Vietnam, an obsession like Cezanne with "Mont St. Victoire.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars It should never end
Annie Dillard does what no other author has for me--she made me wish that her story would never end. I was immersed in her marvelous tale to the point of savoring every phrase. Read more
Published on 13 April 1999
1.0 out of 5 stars Amazingly Pointless
I am in the process of a painful reading through Annie Dillard's "An American Childhood." Had it been my own will, i would have stopped after the first few pages; yet, i... Read more
Published on 30 Jan 1999
2.0 out of 5 stars Anne Dillard is a good writer, but I could barely finish it.
I had to read this book, as an assignment. I found it extremely boring. I could barely finish it. I think Anne Dillard is a really great author, with a large vocabulary, but I... Read more
Published on 2 Jan 1999
5.0 out of 5 stars Prose that feels like poetry
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... Read more
Published on 2 Dec 1998
2.0 out of 5 stars Dillard rambles on and on about the painfully mundane.
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... Read more
Published on 29 Nov 1998
4.0 out of 5 stars A window into the world of childhood
Not only is it enjoyable to witness someone elses childhood, but at the same time this book makes you discover your own. Read more
Published on 29 July 1998
3.0 out of 5 stars Insightful and amusing picture of growing up in the 1950's
Annie Dillard's ability to observe and interpret everyday occurences and then communicate the most extraordinary lessons is amazing. Read more
Published on 6 Jun 1998
3.0 out of 5 stars A collage of unusual childhood pictures
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. Read more
Published on 3 Mar 1998
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