Thursday, June 6, 2013

All Over but the Shoutin'

Sometimes I read things out of order.  For some reason, I read Rick Bragg's memoir about his grandfather Ava's Man years before I finally got around to reading All Over but the Shoutin'.  I loved that book, not only its Alabama setting (the northeast, not the northwest--my own neck of the woods) but the natural, poetic way he wrote about this  man he loved and respected.  As he repeats more than once in his earlier book, he doesn't give his subjects dignity; he just recognized the dignity that was already there.

I finally managed to pull my copy of All Over by the Shoutin' off my shelf this week, resisting the urge to choose an eBook instead for a little road trip.  I am so glad I did. The book gives an up-close look at Bragg, from his childhood through his early career success (including his Pulitzer Prize), but he would be the first to tell anyone the book is really about his mother. To be honest, it's almost a love letter to his mother, a good country woman who survived tough times, always putting others--especially her sons--before herself.  Bragg tells how he took his one strongest talent--storytelling--and built a journalism career that took him to the New York Times and a fellowship to Harvard. He describes reporting on the chaos in Haiti, the Susan Smith murder case, and the Oklahoma City bombing.

He admits to avoiding long-term commitments and always fearing his success would disappear.  That fear led to his delay of the one promise he made to himself--eventually to buy a house for his mother, who had always lived in houses owned by someone else.

Throughout the book, reveals as much about his own writing style as he does about his life.  He managed to plop me right down in the middle of Alabama in a time that was all too familiar, even though I was fortunate not to have lived with all the limits he faced. If he comes across as jaded, even bitter at times, he is also honest.  While he demonstrates a lifelong suspicion of those he encountered from the other side of the tracks, he also admits to genuine friendship, kindness, and acceptance from unexpected places.

For the record, he presented an insider's view of Alabama football. At times, I had to stop and read out loud.

Since I'd heard Bragg read at a book event in Nashville a few years ago, I could imagine I was hearing his voice as I read, a distinct advantage. Sometimes, I imagine my own audiobooks.

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