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.