An American Childhood - Annie Dillard

Where was this book read? At summer's dusk on my back porch; these were 90 degree days and I couldn't stand reading inside our air conditionless house. I finished this book on the shores of Lake Tahoe.

Where did this book come from? This is a shameful story. I checked this book out from the Seattle Public Library and then I lost it. I paid my fine to replace the book and then, because this always happens, I found it. I then decided it would be okay to keep the book since I had paid to replace it. It must be strange that a woman of late fines and book replacement fees wants to be a librarian.

The Specs: Annie Dillard's memoir about growing up in Pittsburgh in the 50's. I will give you 5ish words to describe this glorious book (or else I could go on forever): mystical, nostalgic, hopeful, and intricate in detail.  


“Skin was earth; it was soil. I could see, even on my own skin, the joined trapezoids of dust specks God had wetted and stuck with his spit the morning he made Adam from dirt. Now, all these generations later, we people could still see on our skin the inherited prints of the dust specks of Eden.” 

“If even rock was interesting, if even this ugliness was worth whole shelves at the library, required sophisticated tools to study, and inspired grown men to crack mountains and saw crystals--then what wasn't?” 

"...whole stacks at the library held books devoted to things you knew nothing about. The boundary of knowledge receded, as you poked about in books, like Lake Erie’s rim as you climbed its cliffs. And each area of knowledge disclosed another, and another. Knowledge wasn’t a body, or a tree, but instead air, or space, or being—whatever pervaded, whatever never ended and fitted into the smallest cracks and the widest space between stars.” 

"What is a house but a bigger skin, and a neighborhood map but the world's skin ever expanding?" 

“What I sought in books was imagination. It was depth, depth of thought and feeling; some sort of extreme of subject matter; some nearness to death; some call to courage. I myself was getting wild; I wanted wildness, originality, genius, rapture, hope. I wanted strength, not tea parties. What I sought in books was a world whose surfaces, whose people and events and days lived, actually matched the exaltation of the interior life. There you could live.” 

"Treasure was something you found in the alley. Treasure was something you dug up out of the dirt in the chaotic, half-forbidden, forsaken place far removed from the ordinary comings and goings of people who earned salaries in the light: under some rickety back stairs, near a falling down pile of discarded lumber, with people yelling at you to get away from there."

An excerpt of my favorite chapter, when Dillard recalls a time she was chased through the streets of Pittsburgh after hitting a mans car with a snowball.

"I would have died happy, for nothing has required so much of me since as being chased all over Pittsburgh in the middle of winter- running, terrified, exhausted - by this sainted, skinny, furious, red-headed man who wished to have a word with us."

An interesting quote on the difference between boys and girls in the 1950s...

"They had been learning self-control... We had failed to develop any selves worth controlling."

Should I read this book? Yes, a thousand times yes.

Buy it or borrow it? This book is full of beauty. Buy it so you can underline that beauty.