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February 13, 2006

Small Wonder




Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver
Non-Fiction

Finished on 1/27/06
Rating: B+ (7/10 Good)




I discovered Barbara Kingsolver several years ago when I read her debut novel, The Bean Trees. I fell in love with her writing and since then have read everything she’s written, with the exception a nonfiction work entitled Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 and a National Geographic coffee-table book (Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands). You might say I’m a fairly devoted fan, buying everything as it’s published. Yet when her second collection of essays was released in hardcover, I held off. I’d heard negative reviews and complaints of her overbearing political opinions, and decided to wait until the paperback was released. But even then, once I finally got around to buying a copy, it sat on a shelf for over two years. It wasn’t until this past winter when I was struggling to find something that would grab my attention and reading more nonfiction than usual, that I was tempted to give it a try. It wasn’t a quick read and I was tempted to give up a couple of times. In “What Good is a Story,” Kingsolver admits to being a demanding reader, granting a mere thirty pages to be impressed before tossing the unfinished book in to the donation box. Ironically, had I adhered to such a strict guideline, I never would’ve reached the second half of the book in which 11 (out of 23) favorite essays lay in wait. I would’ve missed gems such as “Letters to a Daughter at Thirteen” and “Letters to My Mother.” “Marking a Passage” and “Flying” resonated so much more than “Knowing Our Place” and “A Forest’s Last Stand.” It’s not that I don’t care about our country and environment. It’s just that right now I’d rather read about family and gardening -- things that bring me comfort rather than anger or fear. To quote Kingsolver, I’d found “words that might help me become a better mother, a wiser friend.”

Two favorite passages:

“I learned a surprising thing in writing this book. It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper – by ‘diving into the wreck,’ to borrow the perfect words from Adrienne Rich. You can look at all the parts of a terrible thing until you see that they’re assemblies of smaller parts, all of which you can name, and some of which you can heal or alter, and finally the terror that seemed unbearable becomes manageable. I suppose what I am describing is the process of grief.”

“It used to be, on many days, that I could close my eyes and sense myself to be perfectly happy. I have wondered lately if that feeling will ever come back. It’s a worthy thing to wonder, but maybe being perfectly happy is not really the point. Maybe that is only some modern American dream of the point, while the truer measure of humanity is the distance we must travel in our lives, time and again, ‘twixt two extremes of passion – joy and grief,’ as Shakespeare put it. However much I’ve lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love.”

4 comments:

  1. I really like your new format. It's easier to read, and I like your having the book covers. I often pick up a book that looks new to me only to find I've already read it. I only wish there were a way to print out your reviews, so I could take them with me when I "shop" for something new!

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  3. I love your new book blog! I will pass the link on to all my book club friends and others who have become your fans in the past few years. You have inspired many women to begin reading again.
    Nancy

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  4. Cathy6:03 PM

    I like the look of your new page. I love having the covers on there. Good job!

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