Oct 1, 2009

All Over but the Shoutin'

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

More opinions at:


  1. I really enjoyed this book - I thought Rick Bragg's mother was a wonderful woman. I actually got to hear the author speak when we lived in Alabama and he was very entertaining.

  2. I listened to the audio version of this. It was great, but I wasn't thrilled with the reader. I wish Bragg had read it himself. Still a great book.

    Thanks for linking to my review.

  3. I found a nice used copy of this one in my library sale, last year. Someday I'll get around to reading it!

  4. I just finished The Glass Castle, which sounds like it has a similar plot line. It is hard to read about kids growing up in such a life. It just breaks your heart. I find it amazing and awe-inspiring that kids can rise to the challenge and make something of themselves despite the odds.

    I'm also reminded of a chapter in Outliers that talks about the culture of the South, and the fighting, and behaviors that are reinforced by heritage. It is a whole different world in the South, especially the deep South, versus the North.

  5. I sometimes avoid books that take place in the South. Sometimes there is a sensibility that I don't get. But I have always loved this book title and think of it often. Sometimes I even yearn to use it in social situations but then realize folks would probably look at me like I was a little touched. I guess I should pick it up one of these days.

  6. Bermudaonion- That would be wonderful to hear him speak. I thought his writing was pretty entertaining, too.

    SuziQoregon- You're welcome! According to what Bermudaonion said, he probably would have done a great job narrating his own words.

    Bookfool- My copy came from the same place. Library discard sale. Lucky find!

    Sandy Nawrot- Some parts of it made me think of the Glass Castle, too. Except in this book they had one parent who bent over backwards to do all she could, whereas in Glass Castle both parents were neglectful...

    Thomas- It is a great title, isn't it?

  7. I came here from Across the Page.

    I had to comment on this book because I read it (last year, I think), and perhaps I have a little different perspective on it because I am an Alabama native. Just last week I talked to a lady last week who has a relative who regularly talks to Rick Bragg's aunt (or some such relation).

    Anyway, I thought I'd link up my review here in case you're interested---> http://hopeistheword.wordpress.com/2008/10/17/book-review-all-over-but-the-shoutin/

  8. Amy- Thanks for visiting and sharing your perspective. You have a nice blog- I'll be coming by more often!


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