Saturday, 22 September 2007

All Over but the Shoutin'

At one point in my life, I did something that something regrettable. I stopped reading.

I won't go into details. It's suffice to say that I lost a lot precious learning opportunities during that time, and that is one mistake I sincerely believe no one should repeat.

Getting back into the habit wasn't as easy as I thought. I realised my reading speed had declined greatly. I used to finish one or two books a week. Now a book every few months is enough reason to climb to the top of the nearest hill and yell, "Yeah!!!".

When I was struggling to become an active reader again, I resorted to friend's bookshelves. My long time bro profar loaned me a couple of John Grishams, and I got my first glimpse of the so-called beautiful South. From those pages, places like St. Louis, Biloxi and Baton Rouge became familiar sounding.

And after a long time apart, I felt like I was summoned to come back and visit. This time it would be Alabama, and the voice calling me was Rick Bragg's.

If you have very little idea about life in the South, then All Over but the Shoutin' is a good place to start. But it won't be a happy start. This book may cost you a few boxes of tissues. This is the story of Bragg's childhood, and what it's like to white, and poor.

White poverty is somewhat a taboo subject in America. Most people tend to think that white, Caucasian folks as affluent people or at the least well-to-do. In reality, poverty does not discriminate. Like many who struggled, the Braggs did everything that they could to go on living. This book will also change what we might think about living in poverty, and that it often never as what we imagine.

Bragg went on to carve himself a career in journalism. He started covering sports and local stories, went further to the big name papers including the New York Times. His shining moment came when was able to get his mother to New York (she disliked the idea of travelling so far at first) and witness him accept the Pulitzer Prize. The proud look on her face, the mother of a simple reporter man from Alabama, meant more to Bragg than the prestigious award itself.

If there's one thing the writer wouldn't want readers to forget about his book, it would be his mother's great sacrifice for her three sons. She went 18 years without a new dress, while she cleans and irons other people's clothes, and starved herself so her boys could eat.

There is no doubt Bragg is a gifted writer (the Pulitzer was rightfully awarded, IMHO). I enjoyed the book tremendously. Having to put it down after finishing it felt like having to reluctantly say goodbye to a bunch of people you've grown to like, because the express bus home is leaving in half an hour's time.


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