Here is my review of An American Childhood:
The autobiography of the author and naturalist Annie Dillard, up until she leaves for college. The first half, approximately, is her childhood in the literal sense; it begins with her at ten, then oscillates up and down between seven and twelve (like her other books, it is written in an apparently random way, rather than as a continuous narrative), but always coming back to ten, the age she seems to have the most nostalgia for. This is the problem; it is all very nostalgic and rosy. Granted, some things seem true enough and resonate with my experiences at about the same time (I'm seven years younger than the author) but as a whole it seems slightly false, like an adult reconstruction of childhood as a "happy, innocent time." But maybe the problem is that I've just never been that nostalgic about childhood.
The second half, mainly at thirteen but going on to the end of high school, is much better, and much truer seeming. Here she recounts the experiences that led to her later interests and writings, her introduction to minerals and insects, for example, and her early writing and drawing. Towards the end, she goes to the opposite extreme, sounding like a female Holden Caulfield. I could identify more with this part, especially her breaking with her church and beginning to question much of what she had been taught, but it sometimes seemed rather overwrought. I wonder if the first part was deliberately written as a foil to the second part, as a sort of Songs of Innocence and Experience; if so, it did not really work for me. I would have liked the book much better if it had omitted or highly abridged the first half. Nevertheless, it was a book worth reading.
A woman in another group called my attention to a good review article on Annie Dillard --- http://www.crosscurrents.org/dillard.htm
posted 3 years ago. ( permalink )