An American Childhood

by Annie Dillard

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Why did Annie Dillard repeatedly read the Field Book of Ponds and Streams and what effect did it have on her life?

Quick answer:

Dillard reads the Field Book of Ponds and Streams repeatedly because she is drawn to the idea of collecting samples in remote, waterlogged "fields," and because she feels a commonality with the many other people who have also checked this book out from the library.

Expert Answers

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Dillard finds the Field Book of Ponds and Streams in the basement of the Homewood public library. She is fascinated by the way of life she imagines the book advocates. She loves the idea of venturing into "a field"—so unlike the fields she knows from Pittsburgh—with a rucksack full of jars and test tubes and collecting water samples and insect larvae. Her attraction to these activities has more to do with a love of being busy in nature, learning things, than with the actual science.

The book as an object also fascinates her. She scrutinizes the library card in the back of the book and sees that the book has been checked out many times, often over and over by the same people. She is surprised by this, and imagines a kind of secret community of readers of the Field Book of Ponds and Streams who all appreciate the book in the same way she does. This idea is so powerful for her that she sometimes goes to the library just to "visit" the book and contemplate these other borrowers.

A third reason she is attracted to the book is because it is nonfiction. Dillard expresses a deep suspicion of fiction; the idea that just anything could happen in a novel is problematic for Dillard, who describes feeling that "a book of fiction was a bomb." Dillard also finds most "children's books" disappointing, singling out Thomas Hardy's Jude the Obscure as particularly disappointing.

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