June 12, 2018

High Tide in Tuscon

High Tide in Tuscson by Barbara Kingsolver
Nonfiction - Essays
1995 HarperPerennial
Finished on November 11, 2017
Rating: 2/5 (Fair)

Publisher's Blurb:

In these twenty-five newly conceived essays, Barbara Kingsolver once again turns to her favored literary terrain to explore themes of family, community, and the natural world. With the eyes of a scientist and the vision of a poet, Kingsolver writes about notions as diverse as modern motherhood, the history of private property, and the suspended citizenship of humans in the animal kingdom. Kingsolver's canny pursuit of meaning from an inscrutable world compels us to find instructions for life in surprising places: a museum of atomic bomb relics, a West African voodoo love charm, an iconographic family of paper dolls, the ethics of a wild pig who persistently invades a garden, a battle of wills with a two-year-old, or a troop of oysters who observe high tide in the middle of Illinois. In sharing her thoughts about the urgent business of being alive, Kingsolver the essayist employs the same keen eyes, persuasive tongue, and understanding heart that characterize her acclaimed fiction. In High Tide in Tucson, Kingsolver is defiant, funny, and courageously honest.

"Barbara Kingsolver's essays should be savored like quiet afternoons with a friend.... [She] speaks in a language rich with music and replete with good sense." ~ New York Times Book Review

During last November's Nonfiction challenge, I decided to spend some of my time rereading a few of my favorite books of nonfiction. I loved this collection of essays when I read it in 1996, but this time wasn't nearly as enjoyable. I wasn't interested in a lot of the essays and the book started to feel like a slog. I had hoped for it to pick up, but at the halfway mark I was still frustrated. It was so disappointing to realize I no longer felt the same about it as I did in 1996. What I raved about in the past was now dry, pedantic and slow and I wound up skimming the last few essays, eager to be finished. Sadly, this is no longer a keeper.

The following is from my previous "Looking Back" post of September 1, 2016:

Actual Rating: 4.5/5

My Original Notes (1996):

Excellent! A variety of essays (25) exploring "themes of family, community, and the natural world." I especially enjoyed the essay about Kingsolver playing keyboard in a band with Stephen King, Amy Tan and Dave Barry. I know someone who saw them perform at ABA in Anaheim a few years ago.

Definitely a book to re-read. She sounds like a woman I'd like to have for a neighbor. I even considered sending her a fan letter... maybe I will. [I didn't.] I bought two copies of the book to give as gifts. I wonder if my friends will enjoy it as much as I did.

My Current Thoughts:

I have read (and loved) all but two of Kingsolvers' books. I still need to get a copy of Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, as well as The Lacuna. I'm not sure why I've held off reading those... She is such a marvelous writer! With that said, I didn't care for her other collection of essays (Small Wonder) nearly as much as this book. I've had this one on my "keeper shelf" for a future re-read for 20 years and I plan to read it in 2017. I hope it lives up to my memory!

Thumbing through my dog-eared copy of High Tide in Tucson, I came across several passages that I will share when I read and review the book for a second time, but this one in particular caught my eye, particularly since I marked it with an ink pen and not a removable Post-It flag. (Gasp!) And since one of my earlier "Looking Back" posts is about Beloved, I thought it especially important to share it now rather than later:
I know, for example, that slavery was heinous, but the fate of sixty million slaves is too big a thing for a heart to understand. So it was not until I read Toni Morrison's Beloved that I honestly felt that truth. When Sethe killed her children rather than have them grow up in slavery, I was so far from my sheltered self I knew the horror that could make infanticide an act of love. Morrison carved the tragedy of those sixty million, to whom the book is dedicated, into something small and dense and real enough to fit through the door, get in my heart, and explode. This is how a novel can be more true than a newspaper.
What I love about a collection of good essays is that sense of validation of a particular belief or idea. It's nice to have someone share the same sentiments and express them in a literary or inspiring fashion.

Here is another passage that I'd like to remember:
Every one of us is called upon, probably many times, to start a new life. A frightening diagnosis, a marriage, a move, loss of a job or a limb or a loved one, a graduation, bringing a new baby home:  it's impossible to think at first how this all will be possible. Eventually, what moves it all forward is the subterranean ebb and flow of being alive among the living.
In my own worst seasons I've come back from the colorless world of despair by forcing myself to look hard, for a long time, at a single glorious thing: a flame of red geranium outside my bedroom window. And then another: my daughter in a yellow dress. And another: the perfect outline of a full, dark sphere behind the crescent moon. Until I learned to be in love with my life again. Like a stroke victim retraining new parts of the brain to grasp lost skills, I have taught myself joy, over and over again.
Have you read this collection of essays? More than once? I'd love to hear your thoughts! 


  1. I, too, love Kingsolver's writing but I've yet to read any of her essays. I think I need to pick this up.

    1. Kathy, I hope you enjoy the essays. I did like the one about her experience in the Rockbottom Remainders band (with Amy Tan, Stephen King, Dave Barry, etc.)

  2. My favorite part of the snippet your shared is 'I have taught myself joy, over and over again.' I agree. I've done that too. I love the word 'joy'. Doesnt' meant happy. It's a small, fleeting thing to me. It can come and go. But while it's with you...you are in a wonderful place.

    1. Kay, I too love the word "joy." I feel very joyful when I am on my camping trips with Rod, especially when I'm out biking or walking in the woods or near a lake or river.

  3. I haven't read this one probably because I wasn't a big fan of essays. I'm slowly getting into them but I this is one collection I may not rush to. I have really loved some of her other books though, especially The Bean Trees!

    1. Iliana, I like essays if they're casual in a conversational manner. Nothing to heavy or scholarly! I'm ready to read The Bean Trees again. I hope the second reading isn't disappointing!

  4. That is a wonderful quote. I think I need to save it and add it to my list of quotes.

    1. Deb, welcome back!! I hope you had a wonderful trip. Yes, this is a lovely quote. I might need to go back through all of my reviews and compile a post of favorite quotes. I wonder how many I have?!


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