All Over but the Shoutin

All Over but the Shoutin'

by Rick Bragg

Overview: This haunting, harrowing, gloriously moving recollection of a life on the American margin is the story of Rick Bragg, who grew up dirt-poor in northeastern Alabama, seemingly destined for either the cotton mills or the penitentiary, and instead became a Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter for The New York Times. It is the story of Bragg's father, a hard-drinking man with a murderous temper and the habit of running out on the people who needed him most.

But at the center of this soaring memoir is Bragg's mother, who went eighteen years without a new dress so that her sons could have school clothes and picked other people's cotton so that her children wouldn't have to live on welfare alone. Evoking these lives--and the country that shaped and nourished them--with artistry, honesty, and compassion, Rick Bragg brings home the love and suffering that lie at the heart of every family. The result is unforgettable.

Deanna Boe (10/21/18): What can I say? I am “shoutin” about this book! I have probably been reading Rick Bragg’s short essays in the magazine “Southern Living” for years but didn’t discover his books until recently. Rick Bragg is about as “Southern” as one can be and so are his books. But, that doesn’t mean they aren’t great reading for anyone in the United States or the world. His books are wonderful! His writing style sounds exactly as a “true” southern man talks. The words flow in such a way you don’t want to stop until the book is finished. This is the first book of a trilogy, which I have also read, but decided to only review the first one even though the other two of the trilogy are of equal enjoyment and value. I can’t wait to read his latest book: “The Best Cook in the World….Tales from My Momma’s Table.” Yes, it is a type of Southern Cookbook!

This first book of the trilogy gives us the background of Rick’s life growing up and how he ended up writing for the New York Times and winning a Pulitzer Prize for his writing. But, it is also a book honoring his mother, Margaret, and the hard life that she had growing up as a girl and then after she married. Margaret was the sixth child born into her family. Most people today would view them as “white trash.” They were poor; in fact the doctor who delivered her was paid with a jug of her father’s homemade whiskey. But no matter how they might have been viewed, her father was an extremely hard working man, and the same was true of Margaret’s mother.

Rick’s mother was a beautiful young lady who unfortunately fell for a handsome young man who never should have married. He simply didn’t know how to be a responsible husband or father. He left her many times with no money and no way to support her children, forcing her to swallow her pride and return to her parent’s small home who also didn’t have much to spare. Rick tells how he can remember how he “rode” on the cotton sack behind his mother as she was picking cotton. This was still picked that way on the smaller farms where machines couldn’t do it. Margaret could only work menial jobs which was simply not enough to survive and support her three sons. This meant she had to take government support, even though it hurt her dignity. Rick tells what it was like to receive “free” lunch at school and other similar times in his young life. But as Rick spins the tale of his youth, at no time does he want you to feel sorry for him, only for his mother, who he dearly loved and has always respected.

This is one time where my book review can’t begin to do justice to the author’s writing. You simply have to read it to get the full benefit of Rick’s life and how he went from having nothing, and only one semester of college (which basically consisted of a writing class and working for the college newspaper) to ultimately writing for one of the best newspapers in the US, if not the world. But Rick never forgot his upbringing and his writing shows it and the love he has for his mother, brothers, grandmother, and the grandfather he never knew but only heard about. This book should make you think twice about the ability that lies in even the poorest of those around us, if they were only given half a chance.
Rating: *****

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