All Over But the Shoutin’
by Rick Bragg
Summary: Rick Bragg is a celebrated author and former journalist for the New York Times. He is even a Pulitzer Prize winner. But Bragg didn’t always live a glamorous life. In fact, he came from a very poor area of Alabama, was a son of an alcoholic father and was raised by a hard-working mother that would often go without so he and his two brothers would have enough to eat. This book was written to honor his mother. “Maybe, if I tell it right, she will live again in these pages, that all the things she could have shared about who we are, who I am, will not be so badly missed. I like to believe that.”
Bragg’s account is such a great example of why I love memoir. His sparse language takes out all of the over-dramatization of his tough upbringing and yet gives it enough weight to feel the oppression of his poverty. Bragg is unapologetic about his successes, but equally as resistant to self-glorification. One of our book club member said he seemed so humble about his success, he was almost self-righteous about it.
In his words, “This is not an important book. It is only the story of a strong woman, a tortured man and three sons who lived hemmed in by thin cotton and ragged history in northeastern Alabama. Anyone could tell it, anyone with a daddy who let his finer nature slip away from him during an icebound war in Korea, who allowed the devil inside him to come grinnin’ out every time a sip of whiskey trickled in, who finally just abandoned his young wife and sons to the pity of their kin and to the well-meaning neighbors who came bearing boxes of throwaway clothes.”
One of the most fascinating aspects of the book for me was his exploration of the relationship with his father. Though Bragg was angry to have lost his father to alcoholism, he seemed to never hold the man himself in much contempt. His analysis of what traits of his father were passed on to the three boys was also interesting. I think it was Bragg’s very honest and transparent analysis of his own qualities that made him all the more endearing to me.
Bragg said of his brother Sam: “Sometimes I wonder what will happen if Sam and I are called to stand before Saint Peter on the same day, and my sins include everything from trifling with loose women to sleeping in church, and Sam just says, ‘Well, Pete, once I did fish on a Sunday.'”
Finally, Bragg’s use of language was fresh and almost sizzling. His use of words and descriptions were among some of the best I have read. Some of the people he encountered when on the job were fascinating. I have said before (though maybe not here just yet), that a book’s rating will be decided by simply how it makes me feel. This book was funny in the descriptions of southern life. It was heart-wrenching as Bragg told of poverty, the loss of his father and trying to use his craft to get out of town. He covered heart-breaking stories. But above all these, the whole book was written to honor his “Momma,” as she was adoringly called. His conversational style and highest regard for Momma made me fall for this beautiful, southern story.
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What is your favorite memoir? Does it matter to you how a book makes you feel? Which book has drawn the strongest reaction from you?