Last week I shared some first words from A House in the Sky by Amanda Lindhout and Sara Corbett, a book on my to-read list.
This week I’m sharing from one of my favorite books, one I’ve read and reread and occasionally slice through–An American Childhood by Annie Dillard. My word, that woman can write. From Amazon’s reviews:
“Loving and lyrical, nostalgic without being wistful, this is a book about the capacity for joy.” –Los Angeles Times
“[An American Childhood] combines the child’s sense of wonder with the adult’s intelligence and is written in some of the finest prose that exists in contemporary America. It is a special sort of memoir that is entirely successful…This new book is [Annie Dillard’s] best, a joyous ode to her own happy childhood.” — Newark Star-Ledger
Anyway… on to Dillard’s first words. It’s the first time I noticed how she tied up the book, prologue to epilogue, like connecting a crochet chain into a circle with a slip stitch.
The very first page prior to the Prologue has words not her own:
“I have loved, O Lord, the beauty
of thy house and the place
where dwelleth thy glory.” ~ Psalm 26:8
First words from the first part of the Prologue:
“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.”
First words from the second part of the Prologue:
“In 1955, when I was ten, my father’s reading went to his head.
My father’s reading during that time, and for many years before and after, consisted for the most part of Life on the Mississippi. He was a young executive in the old family firm, American Standard; sometimes he traveled alone on business. Traveling, he checked into a hotel, found a bookstore, and chose for the night’s reading, after what I fancy to have been long deliberation, yet another copy of Life on the Mississippi. He brought all these books home. There were dozens of copies of Life on the Mississippi on the living-room shelves. From time to time, I read one.”
First words from first part of the Epilogue:
“A dream consists of little more than its setting, as anyone knows who tells a dream or hears a dream told:
We were squeezing up the stone street of an Old World village.
We were climbing down the gangway of an oceangoing ship, carrying a baby.
We broke through the woods on the crest of a ridge and saw water; we grounded our blunt raft on a charred point of land.
We were lying on boughs of a tree in an alley.
We were dancing in a darkened ballroom, and the curtains were blowing.
“The setting of our urgent lives is an intricate maze whose blind corridors we learn one by one–village street, ocean vessel, forested slope–without remembering how or where they connect in space.”
First words from the second part of the Epilogue:
“I grew up in Pittsburgh in the 1950s, in a house full of comedians, reading books. Possibly because Father had loaded his boat one day and gone down the Ohio River, I confused leaving with living, and vowed that when I got my freedom, I would be the one to do both.
Have you read this book? Do you have a favorite Annie Dillard book?