August 12th, 2019


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Small Wonder, by Barbara Kingsolver

Second paragraph of third chapter:
One is a log cabin in a deep, wooded hollow at the end of Walker Mountain. This stoic little log house leans noticeably uphill, just as half the tobacco barns do in this rural part of southern Appalachia, where even gravity seems to have fled for better work in the city. Our cabin was built of chestnut logs in the late 1930s, when the American chestnut blight ran roughshod through every forest from Maine to Alabama, felling mammoth trees more extravagantly than the crosscut saw. Those of us who'll never get to see the spreading crown of an American chestnut have come to understand this blight as one of the great natural tragedies in our continent's his tory. But the pragmatic homesteaders who lived in this hollow at that time simply looked up and saw a godsend. They harnessed their mule and dragged the fallen soldiers down off the mountain to build their home.
I've very much enjoyed Kingsolver's fiction; this is a collection of essays, some co-written with her husband, on various issues. As with her fiction, she is on very solid ground when writing about family life and about the places where she lives or has lived. A recurrent theme is finding harmony with the environment, both locally and globally. There is a memorable clash of cultures with a visiting journalist in the last chapter, who "went back to the big city and reported that I am not very open with strangers, have quaint ideas, and pay too much attention to my kids." There are a lot of good insights into the human condition here. She is on less firm ground with political commentary; I am pretty aligned with her instincts, but her pieces are emotional reportage rather than the analysis which I find more interesting. Anyway, it's an interesting insight into the daily preoccupations of an author whose work I like. You can get it here.

This was my top unread book acquired in 2018, my top unread book by a woman, and my top unread non-fiction book. Next respectively on each of those piles are Grimm Tales by Philip Pullman, Pigs In Heaven by the same Barbara Kingsolver, and The Writing Life, by Annie Dillard.