I finished reading this book two weeks ago, while in the UP backpacking in the Porcupine Mountains. I've yet to finish my post on that hike, but here is this book review. Hopefully I'll soon have some posts of my hiking up.
Rick Bragg, Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg (New York: Vintage Books, 2000), 277 pages.
Rick Bragg is probably my favorite living Southern writer. His book, All Over But the Shoutin’ tells his and his family’s story, about how he became a journalist after only having completed only one college semester. But he’d been raised in the South (Jacksonville, AL), surrounded by storytellers and credits the hours he spent on a front porch stoop listening to masters of the craft for teaching him what could never be learned in journalism school. “Thank God for talkers,” he begins the introduction essay in this book. Bragg suggests that the key to his success has been an ear for listening and then just writing what he hears. Before switching to writing books and memoirs, the first which was published in 2001, Bragg had a successful career as a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist. This book contains a collect of his stories that were mostly published in the 1990s. Reading this, I was taken back to the world before 911 and reminded of many of the tragic stories of that last decade of the 20th Century: the 1994 Palm Sunday tornadoes, Susan Smith murdering her sons, the Oklahoma City bombing and the stories of school yard shootings that predate Columbine. Most of these stories take place in the South at a time when things are changing rapidly. The reader gets a view of New Orleans before Katrina, learns about secret adoptions, the hardship of prisons, icons such as Elvis and Bear Bryant and George Wallace, and the racial tension that still undermines much of a changing South. These stories first appeared in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida) the New York Times.
The strength of Bragg’s writing is that he listens to everyone—young and old, rich and poor, black and white and hues in between. These columns run three to six pages, allowing him the ability to give the reader a sense of the people involved, not just a short sound-bite that makes the 6 o’clock news cut. Reading Bragg, I get the sense that likes people and honors everyone, a value that not only makes him a better writer but suggests a better way to relate to the world.
I have read five of Bragg’s books and have reviewed three on this blog: “All Over But the Shoutin’ The Prince of Frogtown, and Ava’s Man. Although I recommend his trilogy for those who never have read Bragg, I would encourage those wanting more of his writing to check this book out. I was able to pick up a used copy of this book off the internet.