An American Childhood

An American Childhood

by Annie Dillard

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A book that instantly captured the hearts of readers across the country, An American Childhood is Pulitzer Prize-winning author Annie Dillard's poignant, vivid memoir of growing up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780061843136
Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date: 10/13/2009
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 272
Sales rank: 143,512
Lexile: 1040L (what's this?)
File size: 690 KB

About the Author

Annie Dillard has written twelve books,including in nonfiction For the Time Being, Teaching a Stone to Talk, Holy the Firm, and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.

Read an Excerpt

American Childhood Chapter One

When everything else has gone from my brain — the President's name, the state capitals, the neighborhoods where I lived, and then my own name and what it was on earth I sought, and then at length the faces of my friends, and finally the faces of my family-when all this has dissolved, what will be left, I believe, is topology: the dreaming memory of land as it lay this way and that.

I will see the city poured rolling down the mountain valleys like slag, and see the city lights sprinkled and curved around the hills' curves, rows of bonfires winding. At sunset a red light like housefires shines from the narrow hillside windows; the houses' bricks burn like glowing coals.

The three wide rivers divide and cool the mountains. Calm old bridges span the banks and link the hills. The Allegheny River flows in brawling from the north, from near the shore of Lake Erie, and from Lake Chautauqua in New York and eastward. The Monongahela River flows in shallow and slow from the south, from West Virginia. The Allegheny and the Monongahela meet and form the westward-wending Ohio.

Where the two rivers join lies an acute point of flat land from which rises the city. The tall buildings rise lighted to their tips. Their lights illumine other buildings' clean sides, and illumine the narrow city canyons below, where people move, and shine reflected red and white at night from the black waters.

When the shining city, too, fades, I will see only those forested mountains and hills, and the way the rivers lie flat and moving among them, and the way the low land lies wooded among them, and the blunt mountains rise in darkness from the rivers' banks, steep from the rugged south and rolling from the north, and from farther, from the inclined eastward plateau where the high ridges begin to run so long north and south unbroken that to get around them you practically have to navigate Cape Horn.

In those first days, people said, a squirrel could run the long length of Pennsylvania without ever touching the ground. In those first days, the woods were white oak and chestnut, hickory, maple, sycamore, walnut, wild ash, wild plum, and white pine. The pine grew on the ridgetops where the mountains' lumpy spines stuck up and their skin was thinnest.

The wilderness was uncanny, unknown. Benjamin Franklin had already invented his stove in Philadelphia by 1753, and Thomas Jefferson was a schoolboy in Virginia; French soldiers had been living in forts along Lake Erie for two generations. But west of the Alleghenies in western Pennsylvania, there was not even a settlement, not even a cabin. No Indians lived there, or even near there.

Wild grapevines tangled the treetops and shut out the sun. Few songbirds lived in the deep woods. Bright Carolina parakeets-red, green, and yellow-nested in the dark forest. There were ravens then, too. Woodpeckers rattled the big trees' trunks, ruffed grouse whirred their tail feathers in the fall, and every long once in a while a nervous gang of emptyheaded turkeys came hustling and kicking through the leaves-but no one heard any of this, no one at all.

In 1753, young George Washington surveyed for the English this point of land where rivers met. To see the forestblurred lay of the land, he rode his horse to a ridgetop and climbed a tree. He judged it would make a good spot for a fort. And an English fort it became, and a depot for Indian traders to the Ohio country, and later a French fort and way station to New Orleans.

But it would be another ten years before any settlers lived there on that land where the rivers met, lived to draw in the flowery scent of June rhododendrons with every breath. It would be another ten years before, for the first time on earth, tall men, and women lay exhausted in their cabins, sleeping in the sweetness, worn out from planting corn.

American Childhood. Copyright © by Annie Dillard. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

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An American Childhood 3.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 47 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Initaially, I was reading 'An American Childhood' only because it was mandatory ... but, to my pleasant suprise it turned out to be an engaging, thought-provoking, and beautifully written story. Annie Dillard's ability to capture character, personality, and emotion on paper is truely astounding. This book makes you enter the mid-1900's through the eyes of a growing child and makes you reflect on your own life. Although typically a fan of mystery and adventure stories, I would recommend Annie Dillard's 'An American Childhood' to anyone wishing to read an engaging story of curiosity, detrmination, observation, imagination, change, and personal reflection. (Please do not rush through this book -- read, think, and enjoy!)
Guest More than 1 year ago
Because thats exactly what this novel was like...jumpy, painful, and irritating. Sure, you may get where you are meaning to go, but its a bumpy ride and not enjoyable. I was forced to read this novel for summer reading and normally love everything I read, but this was unbearable. If you can get through it, it does provide some valuable lessons, but they are not necessarily worth the pain.
Amanda_Rivers More than 1 year ago
I was required to read this narrative novel over the summer, and although it will never make my favorites list, I must give it a few commendations. First and foremost, her diction and ability to paint living, breathing images with words is phenomenal. That being said, the text can get a bit overwhelming and verbose at points. However, if the reader's wish is a novel which presents several pleasurable images to be enjoyed at a slow pace, this is an excellent choice. Dillard's unique method of writing through a child's perspective shows an incredible amount of talent, and her impressions are breathtakingly accurate. Overall, this is a choice piece of literature for anyone who enjoys reading and digesting a novel piece by piece, image by image.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Dillard's novel captures the essence of adolescence in America. Her writing is simple, yet vivid, and enjoyable for any age. Dillard's metaphors are exact and true. Highly recommended for anyone who is nostalgic about their younger years.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
An American Childhood, a Very Enjoyable Book. An American Childhood takes place in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania during the 1950's. The plot of this book is separated into three sections. Each section, Annie becomes older and we discover a whole new side to Annie. Throughout the book Annie Dillard paints a picture of her mistakes, the things she learned and the wonderfully entertaining adventures she had while she was growing up. Annie Dillard creates such beautiful imagery. As I was reading I really did see the open lot surrounded by trees where Annie played baseball with the school boys. I saw the dark street covered with snow where Annie and her family watched her neighbor ice skate under the lamp post. There are many things you can take from this book, but the largest message I got from An American Childhood is to follow your dreams and let the world take you where it wants to take you. All throughout the book Annie discovers she has many interests. She discovers her many interests at the library. There Annie discovers books about anything she could possibly think. One of those books is The Field Guide to Ponds and Streams. For hours Annie explores a nearby park filled with streams. Annie's large sums of interest fill the pages of An American Childhood and molded her into what she is today. My one dislike of this book was Annie Dillard sometimes rambled on and on about the silliest things, and I know that detail in a book is important, but sometimes Annie was a little to overly descriptive. Some of many likes of this book is just the mood in the book, sometimes it would be very serious and then the mood would be hilarious. Also, I loved the many silly adventures Annie took us on. All in all, I enjoyed this book
KikiRoo More than 1 year ago
I recently read this book for AP assigned reading and found it to be one of the most breathtakingly exquisite books I have ever read (this coming from someone whose first word was 'read'). Though I am agape that this book could be so under appreciated, I cannot say that I am bereft of any idea as to why. This is one of those rare gems of a book that's depth speaks of the poignant subtleties of life- something many people miss to begin with and certainly might not appreciate on paper if that is the case. Also, I feel the people who will love this book the most are those who share personally an affinity with the author's I certainly do. It reminded me of me and my experience growing up (and continuing to grow up) in many ways. I felt nearly drunk on its succulence for the majority of its pages (though it does have a slightly slow start through the first chapter or so). It had a bit of a raw, off-putting ending, but given the content she was describing at the time, it made sense. Regardless of how well one can relate to this book however, Annie Dillard has one quality that should always deserve 5 stars and ought never to be ignored: she is a writer with true voice. Even someone who has not read many books could recognize her writing style anywhere. And that individuality is quite admirable.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of the best books that i have ever read. I don't think that you read it for the plot or the story. But read it for the beauty of her writing. Her words and sentences are nothing short of moving. I turn to this book over and over if I need comfort or just need to read something good. I think that Annie Dillard's writing is near sacramental.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I once was a student myself, and I hope that the students above who gave the terrible reviews will someday return to this book and realize what magic it holds. Dillard's use of words, the way she comes out of the blue with these thoughts that you swear were taken out of your very own head, is amazing. I can only HOPE to have a fraction of her talent and ability when I write. If you are at ALL a nostalgic person, or if your childhood plays an important part in who you are (how could it not?) you will enjoy this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I had to read An American Childhood for a class presentation. While I was confused by the way Dillard jumps topics, I think she was merely trying to show us the disconnectedness of any person's daily life. Also, I don't think we always read to find answers for our lives...we read because we are looking at what else is out there that we haven't experienced. Dillard's description is beautiful. I enjoyed reading her much more that I thought I would.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this book was defenitely not a book to read for pleasure. if you dont have to read it, i suggest you dont. its not intersting and drowns on forever about things that dont have any significance and then jumps to something new out of nowhere. if you dont like stream of conciousness writing then defenitely do not read it because taht is the hole book. there is no plot and it is ahrd to follow. there are a couple of intersting parts but it was hard to even finish.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I've been a fan of Ms. Dillard's for a few years now, and this is probably my favorite book of hers. It's tender and sad and funny and wise all at once. I found it comforting.
Anonymous 6 months ago
mundane and wordy. had to stop 1/3 of the way through
cmbohn on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Annie Dillard describes her childhood in post-WWII Pittsburgh. She opens the book with the metaphor that as children, we are all asleep to the wonder of life. Then at some point, we awake and realize how amazing life is. My problem is that I never remember feeling that way. She uses the metaphor over and over in the book, and every time, I just couldn't relate. Maybe it's a personal thing, or maybe it's a generational thing - maybe children in the age of divorce and family stress 'wake up' so much earlier that we aren't even aware of it.I think the book is better if read in small portions, as a series of individual essay. Reading it all at once (well, over several days) I found myself losing interest. Just not my cup of tea at all.
yamzell on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Beautiful descriptions and memorable metaphors. Can be slow at times, but understandable to get lost in memories, yes?
laytonwoman3rd on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh that I could remember and describe my childhood with such grace and beauty. There is not a sentimental line in this memoir, nor a wasted word. Great stuff.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Drunk on words and remembered sensations, the author recaptures the exhilaration of childhood and reminiscences of a vanished time & place.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent book!  Annie Dillard never disappoints.  I have issues with the seller, but book is terrific!
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This book is definelty geared for an older generation. Not the most enjoyable book but has alot of meaning and i can see why they make us read it for honors english.
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