on June 24, 2004
Barbara Kingsolver is an excellent writer and I have no trouble with anyone espousing her political views. It is her right as it is anyone else's. I admire her courage of conviction and many of the practices in her life. That said, however, I did find it a little hard to swallow the not-so-subtle lectures from an environmentalist who writes books that kill trees, lives in Tucson (aren't the organic gardens she writes of so glowingly all irrigated? How is that such a resource savings?), maintains two homes, jets around the world, and lives the way she chooses, not the way she has to. But then, I have always been a big fan of ironies.
Another irony that struck me was the unpleasant whiff of commercialism in packaging a collection of essays that seemed to capitalize on the events of 9-11 from someone who writes so eloquently about the soul-destroying aspects of rampant commercialism. While her writing is always a pleasure, her views seemed a tad simplistic at times. The 9-11 attacks were caused by global warming and multinational corporations -- nothing about US policies in the Middle East, religious fanaticism, and bad foreign policy in general. Homelessness can be solved by seeing that everyone has a home. (Having worked with several homeless people, I can testify that the solutions are just a tad more complicated than that.)
I was genuinely confused by her views on trade. If I buy food even from other parts of the United States is that a Bad Thing or a Good Thing? She points out that much of our food travels a long way to get to us -- conveniently ignoring the fact that people have sought goods from other lands for millenia -- but justifies her coffee because it is shade grown; I guess that cancels out the distance it is transported and the middlemen who also profit. And she rightly criticizes the big corporations who profit by using others and destroying land, but has nothing to say about the poor people in other lands who are using their little bit of commerce to feed their families.
She describes an encounter with several teachers who were nervous and afraid to come to work the day after the Columbine shootings. She is able to calm these silly gooses by pointing out that they are no more likely to die than any other day. But she herself is upset at 9-11, even though she doesn't live anywhere near the attacks, lost no one, and has no television. It just seems as though her feelings are genuine but others are shallow.
A final, personal quibble: I'd love to read something from a Southerner who doesn't have to point out that They Have Standards. I suppose that her comment about not being able to have company without doing some tidying because she is a Southerner was meant to be a little self-deprecatory humor, but the implication from her and others who keep doing this is that Other Folks are comfortable just sitting around in their underwear and throwing more trash onto the carpet. Believe it or not, other folks tidy up and invite people to dinner, can you imagine?
on May 23, 2004
Having recently read High Tide in Tucson, Barbara Kingsolver's first book of essays, I was looking forward to Small Wonder. I plowed into it, intending to read it in one- or two-hour chunks, in a few days. Big mistake.
The essays in Small Wonder are depressing and serious for the most part. It starts with thoughts on September 11, 2001, and revives the theme often. While we were all obsessed with those events for some time, it was a bit jarring to return to that obsession almost three years later. Not that it isn't relevant or that we aren't obsessing about our current crisis, the Iraq War and its consequences. And not that these things aren't obsession-worthy. It was just that after the mainly upbeat and diverse essays of High Tide in Tucson, I found these dark and troubling essays tough going.
Don't get me wrong. I like Kingsolver's writing and I agree with nearly everything she says. I was just overwhelmed by the sadness and gravity of the subjects. I should have read the essays in shorter spurts. Instead I overdosed myself into a funk. Fortunately, a brisk walk to the nearby creek to check up on this spring's first batch of ducklings put things back into perspective.
I highly recommend High Tide in Tucson, and I recommend Small Wonder with a warning -- read in in small doses.
on March 18, 2004
Having read High Tide in Tucson (and pretty much everything else BK has written), I was expecting more of the same in this collection of essays. Nope.
While there are several that put you RIGHT THERE in the desert or the rain forest, loving every second of it, there are some that are a little more difficult to stay with ... Not because of the writing, but because Kingsolver doesn't let the reader off the hook. She doesn't have the smugness of other ecologically-minded writers ("I raise my own vegetables so I'm better than you") but she also doesn't let you simply cruise across the surface without thinking twice about your own lifestyle.
Do you really NEED that gas-guzzling SUV to make it through the rough terrain of the McDonald's drive-through? In fact, do you really need to be going to McDonald's in the first place?
This isn't a comforting book, and Kingsolver is blunt about her concerns with environmental issues. If you read it and are feeling defensive ... maybe there's a reason for that.
on January 19, 2004
I hated this book. I hated the preachy, self-righteous tone that kept popping up regularly. I don't think many women who work away from home but must take care of their house and families in addition to their job, would appreciate the not-so-veiled contempt for people who don't have the time or money to stay home, eat bonbons, commune with nature, and raise all their veggies from scratch. Just because someone chooses to grab a cup of joe from Dunkin' Donuts instead of making their own shade grown coffee does NOT mean they are evil, ignorant or lack compassion, self-awareness and respect for the planet. This kind of mindset is dangerous, juvenile and only serves to alienate people who might otherwise be open to your views on how to make the world a better place.
Read Anne Lamott or Nancy Mairs on much the same themes that Kingsolver does here and you'll come away feeling like the author is a real and flawed person like 99 percent of the population, not someone who does not practice the compassion she preaches. The only passion this writer has is for judging others - and finding them lacking.
on November 13, 2003
I have read all of BK's books and short stories. I was excited to read personal essays from an author I so admire. Her essays are beautifully written. She speaks her mind and she discusses topics that are critical in our nation. After reading many of the reviews here it is clear that many Americans can not handle critical analysis of their nation and of their culture. If BK's essays make you feel guilty or unsure of yourself or even defensive....GOOD.....she was effective in making you think. That appears to be missing from a large segment of the American populace. Her essays require you to think. You may not agree but you do need to think. BK is not just standing on a soap box but calling out the American people to THINK and CRITICALLY ponder you day-to-day life. A mark of a good author or essayist is one who makes you think and leaves you thinking or leaves you with strong emotion. Clearly BK is successful at her craft considering the various reviews on this site.
I was moved by BK's essays. She gave me impetus to think about aspects of our society that i had not thought about for a few weeks. I found the critical views of our current governmental regime to be refreshing. She may be a quiet voice in our current political and social climate but voices carry and as more voices join hers we can have a choir singing out the praises and injustices of the current American Republic.
Give yourself an opportunity to expand your mind and clarify your views....buy this book. Enjoy this book. Think about this book. You will be happy you did.
on July 14, 2003
Small Wonders is a thought provoking collections of essays by the great wordsmith Barbara Kingsolver. In this collection the reader is treated to heart wrenching descriptions of the natural beauty surrounding us everyday. Kingsolver has an eye that many of us do not possess and is able to write in elegant, flowing prose and capture on paper the heart and soul of the land, animal or body of water she is describing. She uses some of these essays to promote her political views which consist mainly of environmental conservation and peace. She does not shy away from blatant statements about the wastefulness of the American culture and the desicions made by the American government. This may be an irritant to those who do not agree with Kingsolvers views and she acknowledges that many people find her conclusions offensive and quotes one instance in particular, in which during a protest for peace a man shouts to her; "hey lady, love it or leave it." I found that Kingsolver was able to weave her statements so beatifully with her stories that the message did not come across so much as staunch political statements but as common sense. If the environment is exhausted to the point of destruction, it can't support any life. My own criticism is that I did feel hopeless and overwhelmed at times by her descriptions of the rate of extinction, the devastation of rainforests, the wastefulness of modern day culture and the propensity for human destruction. But as Kingsolver states at different points in her essays, all any one of us can do is to become more conscious of the small wonders in each of our own backyards and try to protect them with the ferocity that Kingsolver writes about. A very thought provoking look at our culture, the environment, and the rhythms and beauty of life.
on May 20, 2003
They say "don't judge a book by it's cover" but I did & do not regret it because that's how I discovered this very unique and compelling book. Most of the stories are tremendously enjoyable: particularly the ones about the natural wonders the author has viewed, conserving the environment, and family stories. Rarely, the author feels the need to "lecture" us about world events and politics which makes the reader feel one has fallen for a "bait and switch" tactic. It is unfortunate but the very first story uses this technique to air personal politics. Entitled, "Small Wonder", it starts out about a lost baby in Iran, who is discovered the next day in a cave, being nursed by a she-bear. How that connects to the diatribe that follows about terrorism, 9-1-1, and politics, I am uncertain. Once one gets past the first story, the rest of the book is truly a work of art. Ms Kingsolver would be pleased that *her* book was prominently displayed at a major national bookstore & is the reason I found it. Her essay, "Marking a Passage" is a wonderful story recalling her experiences at an old bookstore, which catered to customers preferences & eccentricites, but which sadly closed forever. It is particularly nostalgic for her because that one bookseller, rcommended the author's first book to everyone who walked in the store. Some of her best "essays" are stories about 'real life' experiences, such as her daughter's chickens or her visit to Japan and the cultural barriers she overcame with wit and humility. Two stories which begin as "Letters", one to her daughter and one to her mother, are very effective and revealing - each has a universal message and appeal. Recollections of family life and descriptions of precious time together viewing the Grand Canyon, hunting, as only a bird-watcher can, to catch a glimpse of a "scarlet macaw" in Costa Rica, and setting a crab free on Sanibel Island in Florida are among my favorites in the book. Another masterpiece is the story, "A Forest's Last Stand" in which Mayan Indians in the Yucatan, near the city of Merida, learn to build an ecosystem that sustains the life of trees, along with sustaining the lives of the human beings who are the descendants of the original inhabitants of the region. Near the end, the author *again* feels she must jab the reader with her views on US politics within and outside our borders, in the story entitled "And Our Flag Was Still There". Ms Kingsolver would be better served, saving her opinions on imperialism, the Middle East, wars in Central America, and the Gulf War, the Bill of Rights, and her feelings about "the rockets red glare" for her next book. Unfortunately, in today's US climate, I do *not* think *that* book would be a bestseller. It is much easier to scatter opinions and controversial ideas in an essay format in a book which has the appearance to be about *anything* else *but* that, uch easier to take the unsuspecting reader unaware. The best features about this book are it is about the neighborhood, the country, and the world, from a natural, environmental, and family perspective. The reader does not have to agree with the author's politics to enjoy the majority of the book. Erika B. (erikab93)
on May 14, 2003
For all the outcry about Barbara Kingsolver's anti-American, anti-war stance in this book, I was expecting some sort of long winded, rant of a diatribe against U.S. policy in the wake of September 11, 2001. That is what I was expecting. That is what some readers of the book had claimed, that it was ultra-left wing, too preachy, too mired in politics, and riddled with hypocrisy.
I disagree. I thought that this was a well written and interesting collection of essays. Also, the collection was not the amount of politicized essays that I had expected and was led to believe. Most of the essays reflect Kingsolver's ecological interests and themes that we see in her novels (most notably in Prodigal Summer). While some essays skirt around the reality of September 11, most deal with the day to day living that Kingsolver experiences and how she tries to live her life in the most environmentally friendly way possible. She writes about independent booksellers are going out of business and how her first novel "The Bean Trees" was heavily pushed through independent stores and this is how the word of mouth spread. And yes, Barbara Kingsolver does write about September 11. She refuses to accept that the attack was at all justified but does acknowledge that there was an explanation for how the hatred for the United States has probably come in part from our foreign policy. To me, this does not seem like it such a radical opinion. While she does spend a little bit of time (one or two essays, really) on some of the political aspects of 9/11, the other times she addresses the subject is in the impact that it has had in her life and her family, and in communities. She grounds most of her writing in the commonplace that is the focus of her fiction.
I don't agree with everything that Kingsolver believes in and writes about, but she is eloquent in her essays and I am glad to have read them. As she provides an alternate viewpoint to that which is normally presented in the media/society/government today, it is even more important read such dissident voices. Disagree as we may on a given subject, one of the most important freedoms in America is the right to speak against what one believes is wrong. Barbara Kingsolver is a small voice, but a well spoken one. We should at least listen before dismissing out of hand.
on January 22, 2003
The themes woven throughout this collection of personal perspectives on human living are passion, compassion, and extraordinary logic. Barbara Kingsolver plunges into her convictions convincingly with a style at once unabashed yet charmingly self-effacing. With every page turned, I felt as though she had somehow read my mind and heard my heart, having captured the essence of her own living so eloquently well that I was consistently left resonating with the truth of her words, and breathing deeply with fulfillment. Alternately in tears then laughter, I lost count of the number of passages that I mentally bookmarked to return to, again and again and again, for solace and wisdom and encouragement.
Kingsolver does not shy away from the essential inseparability of living our human lives by immersing ourselves in the political, reminding us that democracy is a participatory lifestyle, and not a spectator sport. By the conclusion of "Knowing Our Place," I found myself wishing that Kingsolver would run for public office. By the conclusion of "And Our Flag Was Still There," she was in the presidential primary, 2004. Perhaps her intention was merely to share insight into her single human heart, and she has done so admirably. Yet Kingsolver's words cut to the quick of our common humanity and collective human soul, capturing the awesome spirit of the human animals we really ARE, as in "A Fist in the Eye of God." Consistently, she provides enlightenment on how to pass each moment with the intent of living with reverence for all life, and without capitulation to the knee-jerk, destructive, and mean-spirited frailties so common to our machismo-saturated culture. Her words are lessons that provide hope, inspiration, and resolve for a brighter world. What a splendid departure from the status quo cynical "leadership" we currently suffer!
This book should not only be read, but taken to heart, by every single human citizen of this planet: it is a manual drawn from the experiences of learning about what really matters. In describing her own awkward turns and how they have moved her ever onward toward the light, Kingsolver provides a living example of the inseparability of conscience and consciousness, both in the human world and the natural one. I closed this book with great satisfaction, deeply grateful that these are words that truly speak of, and for, humanity.
on September 28, 2002
Barbara Kingsolver, a biology graduate and author, ends her first story in "Small Wonder" by writing, "I'd like to speak of small wonders and the possibility of taking heart."
Instead of having a dangerous nationalistic attitude by saying, "Hey, America's the best!" she shows her patriotism for her country by celebrating the good and shining light on the bad so that we as a country might heal.
With great insight and compassion Kingsolver gently helps us become more knowledgeable about our country's challenges and eloquently puts into words what many of us think and feel.
About conservation she says the U.S. citizen's compromise 5% of the world's people and uses a quarter of its fuel. The U.S. belongs to the 20% of the world's population that generates 75% of its pollution. Although we are the world's biggest contributors to global warming we walked away from ratifying the Kyoto agreement with the 178 other nations in 2001. Instead of eating local produce the average American's food travels 5 million miles by land, sea and air. Yet our country possesses the resources to bring solar technology, energy independence and sustainable living to our planet.
About the Government she says we live in the only rich country in the world that still tolerates poverty. In Japan, some European countries and Canada the state assumes the duty of providing all its citizens with good education, good health and shelter. These nations believe that homelessness simply isn't an option. The citizens pay higher taxes than the U.S. and so they have smaller homes, smaller cars, and appetites for consumer goods. They realize true peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.
About wars she says, "The losers of all wars are largely the innocent." Seventy thousand people died in one minute when we bombed Japan in World War II. Then twice that many died slowly from the inside. "Vengeance does not subtract any numbers from the equation of murder, it only adds them." In the last 30 years our government has helped finance air assaults in Afghanistan, Chile, El Salvador, Grenada, Iran, Libya, Lebanon, Nicaragua, Panama, the Sudan, Vietnam and Yugoslavia. Most wars and campaigns are to maintain our fossil-fuel dependency and our wasteful consumption of unnecessary things. We need to stop being a nation who solves problems by killing people and to "aspire to waste not and want less."
About global commerce she says we have a history of overtaking the autonomy and economy of small countries with our large corporations. For example, U.S. corporations and the World Trade Organization are placing pressure on farmers of other countries to buy genetically altered seeds that kill their own embryos. This means the farmers will always have to buy new seeds and pesticides from these companies. The pesticides and insecticides not only kill the unwanted bugs but also the beneficial insects and microbes that sustain, pollinate or cull different species. Kingsolver does not advocate the transfer of DNA genes between species to form genetically altered seeds. We need the checks and balances of genetic variability-it's nature's sole insurance policy. Without genetic variability entire crops are wiped out when environments change or crop strains succumb to disease. Our canceling the insurance policy of genetic variability is "a fist in the eye of God!" A few large American agricultural corporations control these genetically altered seeds and crops.
Kingsover's essays are parables for a gentler, kinder country and world.