by Rick Bragg
In this touching memoir, a New York Times journalist reminisces about his childhood in the South. He grew up in a small community in the Alabama hills, his family struggling with abject poverty. His father was a Korean war veteran, an alcoholic tormented by memories. His mother was constantly abused or abandoned, but she never failed to step between her sons and their violent father, to do her best to give her children more than she had herself. She raised her three boys alone, picking cotton, taking in laundry and scrubbing floors to supplement the assistance welfare and family gave them. They always got by somehow, and while Bragg's brothers made lives for themselves working with their hands- at carpentry and in the local cotton mills- he found his vocation in writing stories. From small town papers all the way up to the Times, he was a man self-built on talent and hard work. He sought out the downtrodden people wherever he went to cover stories, winning awards for his heartfelt writing, eventually earning the Pulitzer prize. In the end he returned to his hometown, to give his mother one thing she had always longed for- a house of her own.
I've never been to the South or read much about it, so I can't really compare, but All Over but the Shoutin' really has a feel of place. The heat and dust, the Southern culture and close-knit communities. What it was like growing up in a family where men were expected to fight, and everyone looked the other way when they drank, then quietly stepped in to help each other out and pick up the pieces. It's a story with heartache, but also some sweet moments and dashes of humor. The author isn't afraid to admit people's failings- of his father, his colleagues, himself. His story is one of pain alongside determination, of unashamedly brushing the dirt off when you fall down and moving forward. It was an engrossing read.
I read this book for the Random Reading Challenge. It was #72 off my list.
Rating: 3/5 ........ 329 pages, 1997
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