At her best, and in this collection of essays she's many times at her very best, Barbara Kingsolver writes with an almost unmatched lucidity and warmth. There are gems of essays here on a variety of subjects, like local food; mothers and daughters; 9/11 and patriotism; and the business of editing.
As with other books that've already found large audiences, I don't need to say much about Small Wonder, but I kind of want to anyway. Here are some capsules:
- the pair of essays "Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen" and "Letter to a Mother" rise high above the stereotypical, even though (because?) they're so firmly anchored in the predictable in women's lives -- I almost forgot I had a beard while reading these two
- Kingsolver navigates 9/11 with remarkable sensitivity, especially in one wise essay written almost immediately after the events, so much so that Chomsky's 9/11 is going to stay on my shelf for a while yet
- I wish I ate from her garden, pantry, and oven. Her comment on the relative costs of organic food and Costco, a retort I've already been using myself: "Cancer is expensive, too" (125)
- God bless Nikolai Vavilov
- The wonderful American poet Lucille Clifton apparently once explained that she mostly wrote short poems (20 lines or so) because that's all she could remember all day until she could sit down at night with a pen. Bless us parents, and listen to Clifton read her "Homage to my Hips."
I could read these essays all day. I actually finished the book a week ago, but I left this post until I had time to flip back through them again. As it happens, they were better when I stormed through them -- the isolated lines don't flash at you with as much effect as there is in the larger draughts you get from paragraphs and pages and whole essays.
Read this book, and buy it for the sensitive you know who don't read much. Once they start Small Wonder, they'll get why you can't stop reading.