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 May 13, 2002
I am a long-time fan of Kingsolver's work, enjoying both her writing style and her biologically accurate depiction of the natural world. I think this is a beautiful book that I have already sent to a friend, and highly recommend to anyone interested a better world for all peoples and all species. She approaches her material with reverence, zeal, and laced with personal anecdotes that brings understanding to simple things like how eating bananas and global warming could be related.
I read the reviews of people who found this book too preachy or pedantic. Yes, it is uncomfortable to realize that our own personal habits and attitudes are contributing to world problems - it would be easier to find some kind of external fix rather than the daunting task of changing our own individual lifestyle. And, in many circles it is unpopular to question ANY of our government's programs - even though such questioning was one of the main tenets in founding a democracy. But, to me, it is appropriate that she use her fame as a novelist to shed light on what she sees as the sources of society's ills. I admire her integrity to speak her truth in an effort to wake us up out of a collective stupor. She is not the only person to be questioning the American "consciousness" since 9/11, but she does so with such an approachable and occasionally heartbreaking style that you can't help but be moved.
"Small Wonder" would be ideal for a weekly group discussion. It is a compelling read, while offering glimmers of hope throughout, and a sense that our individual lives and actions do indeed matter.
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 May 5, 2002
Kingsolver, an extraordinary writer that I usually admire, has fallen with this set of essays. She has taken advantage of her bestselling author role to promote her political views. While it is certainly her right and her freedom that America has bought her to state those views, she would do better to stick to subjects other than political. Many people buy her books because they expect quality from her, not to read her views on living in America today. How quickly her editors and publishers jumped to get a book that was started on September 11, 2001 to the bookstores in April 2002! It says that anything with Barbara Kingsolver on the cover can and will be printed and sold.
She says in one our her essays that she is distressed when her daughter comes home from school and announces that the next day they are to wear red, white and blue in honor of the victims of September 11. Kingsolver would rather them wear black rather than patriotic gear. Why? Why honor a country that is dishonest and murderous is her theory. She also suggests cutting up the uniforms of dead soldiers to make a flag rather than the current one so that the nation knows how the ease that we live in in this country was bought. I suggest that Ms. Kingsolver take her lofty ideas with her to Afghanistan perhaps, and live in idealistic freedom there. This will keep her from being angry at the kind of price that is paid for her to live as she does here.
on April 8, 2002
"Maybe life doesn't get any better than this, or any worse" Barbara Kingsolver observes in one of the twenty-three essays collected here, "and what we get is just what we're willing to find: small wonders, where they grow" (p. 264). Although Kingsolver is better known for her fiction (THE POISONWOOD BIBLE, PRODIGAL SUMMER), I am partial to her essays (HIGH TIDE IN TUCSON). Kingsolver began this latest collection on September 12, 2001, the day after the World Trade Center terrorist attack (p. xiii). "Compiling this book quickly in the strange, awful time that dawned on us last September became for me a way of surviving that time," she writes in the book's Foreward, "and in the process I reopened in my own veins the intimate connection between the will to survive and the need to feel useful to something or someone beyond myself. In fact, that is a theme that runs throuugh the book" (p. xv). Kingsolver's book is dedicated to "every citizen of my country who has suffered bereavement with honor, trepidation without panic, and the insult of fundamentalist condemnation without succumbing to similar thinking in turn. We may yet show the world we are worth our salt" (p. xvi).
Kingsolver has a talent for writing life-affirming essays. For her, "God is in the details, the completely unnecessary miracles sometimes tossed up as stars to guide us" (p. 6). We find her taking heart in "a persistent river, a forest on the edge of night, the religion in a seed, the startle of wingbeats when a spark of red life flies against all reason out of the darkness. One child, one bear" (p. 21). Rooted in the "small wonders" of daily life and full of hope, her essays ultimately touch the canopy of life's bigger questions. Kingsolver's diverse subjects include September 11th; democracy ("the majority rules so hard; we seem bent on dividing all things into a contest of Win and Lose, and declaring that the Losers are losers," p. 18); the Grand Canyon ("that vermillion abyss attenuates humanity to quieter internal rhythms," p. 22); mothers and daughters; tv, the "one-eyed monster;" raising chickens; Columbine ("in a society that embraces violence, this is what 'our way of life' has come to mean," p. 182); genetic engineering ("I'm a scientist who thinks who thinks it wise to enter the doors of creation not with a lion tamer's whip and chair, but with the reverence humankind has traditionally summoned for entering places of worship: a temple, a mosque, or a cathedral," p. 108); the homeless ("their presence is a pure, naked shame upon us all," p. 198); the "demise" of independent bookstores; short stories ("A good short story cannot be simply Lit Lite. It should pull off the successful execution of large truths delivered in tight spaces," p. 212); writing poetry ("poems fall not from a tree, really, but from the richly pollinated boughs of an ordinary life, buzzing as lives do, with clamor and glory," p. 231); the San Pedro River (near my childhood home in Southern Arizona); and even the "colorful" art exhibit "pinned to a clothes line" here in Boulder (my new home) that recently made national news (p. 157).
This collection will appeal to anyone longing for hope after September 11th, or to anyone who cares about the times we're going through. Barbara Kingsolver is a national treasure, and in these of essays she delivers exactly what she promises: small wonders.
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 August 20, 2002
I am a long-time fan of all of Barbara Kingsolver's novels (The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summers), so I was interested to hear more about the person and the views behind the stories. Small Wonders did not disappoint. Kingsolver makes it clear that for her, the personal is political, meaning that the choices that we make as individuals have political impact. So, the essays are wide-ranging, from her family life and her garden, to her concerns about the natural environment and thoughts about the U.S.'s reaction to Sept. 11. The essays are well-written, interesting, and thought provoking. I found myself agreeing with most of the points that she makes, and many of her ideas linger afterward; for example, she asks us to consider the environmental costs of shipping food all over the world, instead of eating what is grown locally. Or what it means to have TV streaming into your home every day. Or what the consquences of genetically engineering food might be, not just for our health, but for the environment. I recommend the book highly to fans of her novels as well as to people interested in a thoughtful read.
Some may disagree with her post-Sept. 11 analysis -- her concern about our country's agressive response. To those I would say, all the more reason to read the book, and hear her side of it, even if you ultimately disagree, exactly because voices such has hers have received little airplay. Here, her own words say it better than I could:
"Questioning our government's actions does not violate the principles of liberty, equality, and freedom of speech; it exercises them, and by exercise we grow stronger. I have read enough of Thomas Jefferson to feel sure he would back me up on this. Our founding fathers, those vocal critics of imperalism, were among the first leaders to understand that to a democratic people, freedom of speech and belief are not just nice luxuries, they're as necessary as breathing. The authors of our Constituion knew, from experience with King George and company, tha governments don't remain benevolent to the interests of all, including their less powerful members, without constant vigilance and reasoned criticism. And so the founding fathers guarenteed the right of reasoned criticism in our citizenship contract--for always. No emergency shutdowns allowed. However desperate things may get, there are to be no historical moments when beliefs can be abridged, vegetarians required to praise meat, Christians forced to pray as Muslims, or vice versa. Angry critics have said to me in stressful periods, "Don't you understand it's wartime?" As if this were just such a moment of emergency shutdown. Yes, we all know it's wartime. It's easy to speak up for peace in peacetime--anybody can do that. Now is when it gets hard. But our flag is not just a logo for wars; it's the flag of American pacificists, too. It's the flag of all of us who love our country enough to do the hard work of living up to its highest ideals."
on June 6, 2002
I always enjoy Barbara Kingsolver's writings, be they fiction or non, so when I heard that Small Wonders was available, I found myself a copy as quickly as possible. Small Wonders is Kingsolver's second book of essays, but instead of focusing largely on environmental issues as she has done in the past, she has included a number of pieces of a political bent, stemming from the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center.
Her writing is clear and fluent and readable as always. But I had a difficult time getting through this one, because -- and I'll admit this is a personal quirk that others do not share -- I find I have little patience with people who use September 11th to prove their own points. For instance, in one essay in which she talks about what the American flag stands for, Kingsolver is distressed because the children at her daughter's school wear red, white and blue one day in memory of the people who died, and because people are buying flags rather than maps at the local flag and map shop. She is speaking out against intolerant behavior, which is fine, but is seems here that she is equating buying a flag with beating up someone in a turban. She is ascribing motives to people that she has no way of knowing.
She says she wasn't in New York or D.C. on that day, but that she knew people who were; she didn't know anybody who was killed, but she knew somebody who could have been. (I'm sorry, but it's just not the same thing -- no one could possibly believe that a few hours of panic are equivalent to a loss for a lifetime.) So using that as her basis of authority she compares the death tolls in Manhattan to those racked up in other countries during famines or natural disasters, as if that lessens what happened in the United States. She completely ignores the after-effects of what happened here, including the thousands and thousands of people who have been thrown out of work. Again, this is my personal take but: Does she truly comprehend the pain caused that day? If she did, would she really use it as a personal soap box?
on May 27, 2002
Ok, your life is busy and you drive a lot and you buy that 99 cent burger. Kingsolver doesn't condemn you. She just looks at your life with kind understanding eyes, points out the disasterous unkind consequences of millions and millions of people living that way, and suggests that we think twice before we consume.
She's helping us make sure that we get value, real value, out of what we buy. And real value is found in community and connection, not in that pair of shoes that perfectly matchs that new dress. In the quality of what we read, not in how fast our computer is. In a sense of stewardship for the earth and our grandchildren, in a sense of pace, not in hurry-hurry-hurry.
These principles apply whatever our income. As a wealthy American, Barbara Kingsolver sets a good example by consuming much less than she has the means to. Yes, she flies in jet planes. But not as much as she could, and not frivolously.
That's all she's asking us to do. Just take a deep breath, look around, look at ourselves, and slow down. "In relationships, slow is fast and fast is slow." And everything depends on relationships, personal and national.
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.