Thursday, December 11, 2008

Possibly the Best Book I've Read This Year

In All Over But the Shoutin', Rick Bragg writes of growing up dirt-poor in Alabama, near the Georgia state line. His father, a Korean War veteran with post-traumatic stress, abandoned the family and drank himself to death at the age of 41. Mrs. Bragg picked cotton, took in ironing, and received welfare as she raised three sons (A fourth died soon after birth.).

His junior year, Bragg was named sports editor of the school newspaper because noone else wanted it. He writes, "I had no way of knowing, then, that it would be my salvation."

After high school, he enrolled in a journalism class at the local university and started writing for a weekly newspaper. Bragg eventually won a Nieman Fellowship for journalists to Harvard University, and was a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times.

I've read about a hundred books this year, and this is the one I'm telling everybody about. Rick Bragg knows how to tell a story, and he has a bunch of good stories to tell. When I finished this one, I immediately started listening to a recording he made of his next book, Ava's Man. For that book, he gathered stories from people who knew his mother's father. It's very good, too.

Author Pat Conroy wrote, "Rick Bragg writes like a man on fire. And All Over But the Shoutin' is a work of art... I never met Rick Bragg in my life, but I called him up and told him he'd written a masterpiece, and I sent flowers to his mother." It is a masterpiece, and she deserved the flowers.


Kristopher said...

I've been a fan of Rick Bragg since hearing him speak a few years back. (Bragg grew up not far from where I live now, and he currently teaches at the University of Alabama.)

All of his stories were about his family, none of them quite ended up where they were supposed to, and every one of them was hilarious.

gonovice said...

I'm looking forward to reading his new one, The Prince of Frogtown. Have you read it?

Kristopher said...

Not yet. I've read All Over but the Shouting and Ava's Man. Both are excellent, and I'm sure Frogtown will be too.

Alex Bledsoe said...

I've read The Prince of Frogtown, and it's of a piece with his others; the relationship between his mother and father isn't as cut and dried as the blurbs on the books make it sound. I grew up in a tiny Southern town and knew people like the ones he described, so I can at least vouch for the verisimilitude. I can't, however, decide if these are valid stories of universal appeal and interest, or just a kind of public therapy for which he gets really well paid. But I guess that's true of all memoirs.