All Over but the Shoutin’

A good book is one that changes you. A good book picks at your heart until there is a part loose and then it inserts itself inside of that fissure and slowly changes how you feel and think.  A good book is devastating, in the best possible way. It shakes up our world and resettles it into something more beautiful. A good book implants itself in your mind so that you can’t help but see the world through its lens. It entertains, but even more than that it empowers a different understanding.

I am, in part, a result of all the good books I have read, and for this I am thankful. Would that there were more truly good books in our world.

A good book is not one about paranormal teen romance or intense longing for dehumanizing and perverse sexual bondage. Which means that yes, if you were reading the above paragraph and thinking about the Twilight series or the 50 Shades of Grey series, you have yet to read a good book. And I pity you. As my friend Fran said, I just wish that all of you could learn about Atticus Finch, and then you would understand what is so wrong with Edward Cullen and Christian Grey. (Disclaimer: I haven’t actually read the 50 Shades series because I have too much respect for my intellect and morals. Twilight taught me that the hard way. Also, both series are proof that feminism is dead.)

But today I want to share with you a book that I just finished. It was, as so many good books are, recommended to me by AmandaAll Over but the Shoutin’ is a memoir by Rick Bragg, Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. It is the story of his life as a poor kid growing up in rural Alabama and his fight to pull himself to greatness. But even more than that, it is about his mother and her South, and her indomitable will to survive against a life that never offered any reprieve against grief and hardship.

On the flight back from Canada I was finishing it and every other page I would bang on James’ shoulder till he would read a paragraph, until we finally just read it together. On one page I laughed, and then on the next I cried from the anguish that seemed to preclude ever laughing again. The very and the very worst of human nature coexist side by side in this book and the result is devastating, in the best possible way. And it will change you. Here is his own explanation of his story from the prologue:

“Anyone could tell [this story], and that’s the shame of it. A lot of women stood with babies on their hips in line for commodity cheese and peanut butter. A lot of men were damaged deep inside by the killing and drying of wars, then tried to heal themselves with a snake oil elixir of sour mash and self-loathing. A lot of families just came to pieces in that time and place and condition, like paper lace in a summer rain. You can walk the main street in any small town, in any big one, and you will hear this story being told behind cigarette-scarred bars, before altars, over fresh dug ground in a thousand cemeteries. You will hear it from sixty-five-year-old women with blank eyes who wipe the tables at the Waffle House, and by the used-up men with Winstons dangling from their lips who absently, rhythmically swing their swingblades at the tall weeds out behind the city jail. This story is only important to me and a few people who lived it, people with my last name….In these pages I will make the dead dance again with the living, not to get at any great truth, just a few little ones. It is still a damn hard thing to do, when you think about it. God help me, Momma, if I’m clumsy.”

What books have changed you?

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7 Responses to All Over but the Shoutin’

  1. Kate Schweiss says:

    Great post, Hannah. The most incredible book I have ever read, and can ever imagine reading for that matter, is Island of the World by Michael O’Brien. It fits many of the descriptions you gave above–exquisitely beautiful and devastatingly heartbreaking all in one. It’s about Life, with a capital “L.” I highly, highly recommend it! I actually haven’t really picked up another book since I finished it a few months ago because I can’t bear to read anything besides it! I know that’s ridiculous… Recent reads that I also love: A Thread of Grace by Mary Doria Russell and Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.

    • hs87 says:

      I haven’t heard of that one, which makes me really excited, because sometimes I worry about the world running out of good books. : )

  2. Jennette says:

    yes! I love Rick Bragg. You should definitely read Ava’s Man. It’s just as good. I love the image of “like paper lace in a summer rain”

  3. Cilla says:

    Jennette, I just scrolled down here to say the exact same thing. Ava’s Man is marvelous!

  4. Pingback: Shared Existence | The Art in Life

  5. Pingback: All Over But the Shoutin’, by Rick Bragg | Notes from Heidi

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