A Year in Books/Day 91: An American Childhood

  • Title: An American Childhood
  • Author: Annie Dillard
  • Year Published: 1987 (Harper & Row, Publishers)
  • Year Purchased: 1987
  • Source: My Mom.
  • About: Dillard’s impressionistic memoirs of growing up in Pittsburgh between the years 1950-1962.
  • Motivation: This is one of the definitive books of my girlhood. I nicked it from my Mom’s shelf in late autumn or early winter of 1987; I never gave it back. Why I honed in on this particular volume on that long-ago day is somewhat foggy, although I’ll venture to say that it was due to a combination of the title and boredom. I was in the midst of my own, although very different, American Childhood. What remains in my mind, as brilliant and clear as ice, is curling up on the floor next to my bed and reading it straight through in a couple of hours. Already a budding writer, with scores of stories, poems and plays to my name, I desperately wanted to be able to write like that: simply, divinely, forcefully. It’s twenty-five years later and my writing voice, developed long ago yet still tightening, transitioning, is nothing like Dillard’s; it contains no trace of my pubescent infatuation with her wordplay. What remains is a sense of gratefulness to one of my many literary heroines, one that I needed at an age when so many dreams scatter and fade away. Her book is a fine thread in the narrative of my formative years.
  • Times Read: 3 or 4 (all back in 1987/1988)
  • Random Excerpt/Page 51: “By the time I knew him, our grandfather was a vice-president of Pittsburgh’s Fidelity Trust Bank. He looked very like a cartoonist’s version of “vested interests.” In fact, he almost always wore a vest, and a gold watch on a chain; he was short and heavy; he had a small white mustache; he smoked cigars. At home, his thin legs crossed under his belly, he read the financial section of the paper, tolerant of children who might have been driven, in the long course of waiting for dinner, to beating their fingertips on his scalp.”
  • Happiness Scale: In importance and satisfaction to my young self,  is incalculable.

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