Here's what I read in February.
1. All Over but the Shoutin' by Rick Bragg
This is the first memoir I've read in a while. I picked it up just on a whim at a used bookstore, but the more I had it lying around, the more I wanted to read it. I didn't know anything about the author, Rick Bragg, who wrote for The New York Times, where he won a Pulitzer, and Southern Living Magazine, but I was quickly drawn in by his storytelling and stuck it out till the end (even if it took me a month.)
The first half of his book is about growing up dirt-poor in the ugly part of Alabama, in a family of three boys, a recalcitrant father, and the most sainlty mother this side of the Gospel of Luke. The second half concerns his almost accidental entry into journalism which led him to Harvard, Manhattan, south Florida, Haiti, and back.
The first half was more successful, with its despairing stories of not having enough food to eat, having teachers dicount him based on his SES, and watching his mother sacrifice everything in her life to provide for the boys. His father is physically present in only a few scenes, but his influence looms throughout and provides Bragg an ever-present example of what a man ought not to be. This was an appropriate book to read following Why Marx Was Right, as it reinforced certain facts about how a poor person's greatest crime is choosing to be born to poor parents. For instance:
The only thing poverty does is grind down your nerve endings to a point that you can work harder and stoop lower than most people are willing to. It chips away a person's dreams to the point that the hopeless shows through, and the dreamer accepts that hard work and borrowed houses are all this life will ever be (Bragg 25).And whoo-ie, that Bragg boy has the market cornered when it comes to folksiness! I don't think I've ever read a book that lays on the down-home southern charm as much as this one. It starts with that missing -g in the title and doesn't stop from there. You get "momma" instead of "mother, "likker" instead of "liquor," references to Roy Acuff songs and chapters with titles such as "If You Got To Kill Somebody, Better It Ain't Family."
Another curious effect was that it seemed terribly dated. This book came out in 1991, but so many changes have happened in the journalism world that it read like it came from a different centure.
(Iterestingly, this is the second book I've read with this title. The first one was the oral history of the Replacements, which I read years ago. Every time I picked up Bragg's memoir, I got "Nevermind" stuck in my head.)
2. Lots of Poetry
My study of poetry has continuted unabated. In addition to Simon Armitage, who I recently blogged about, I've also been reading the poetry of Philip Levine and Traci Brimhall quite a lot.