The first time was when I read Mr. Bragg's other book "Somebody Told Me". In that collection of articles he had written I came across the following sentence,
"This is a place where grandmothers hold babies on their laps under the stars and whisper in their ears that the lights in the sky are holes in the floor of heaven."
It is very difficult to say something unique or clever about the way he writes. He would dismiss any suggestion that he "brings" something to a story. Even the professional reviewers have resorted to linking his name with some of the greatest writers who have taken the time to share their craft with us; Melville, Faulkner, and those who brought us "Huck Finn" and "Holden Caulfield", and Mr. Bragg is still a young writer who has scores of books to come.
The only thing this man lacks is pretense, or if you prefer, false pride. Someone said he had "lent dignity" to the people in one of his stories, he felt that comment was wrong and said "All I did was write what was there", and another time, "It wasn't that I had gotten it right-God knows I mess up a lot-but that I had gotten it true".
I believe he writes for the individuals and groups he writes about. We are just the lucky witnesses, the beneficiaries of one man's amazing talent.
This is a beautifully written memoir with wonderful phrases and images on nearly every page. Here are a few of my favorites: "I was sitting in a cramped living room in a crumbling housing project, listening to a hollow-eyed and pitiful young woman tell how her little boy had been killed one morning by a stray bullet as he stood in the doorway, his book satchel in his hand, like a little man going to work." "I couldn't hammer a nail without bending it or severly damaging myself or someone standing near, and if you had depended on me to feed the fire or the hog we would have froze to death, huddled with our emaciated pig." "The sun did not shine down, it bored into you, through your hat and hair and skull, until you could feel it inside your very brain, till little specks of that sun seemed to break away and dance around, just outside your eyes." While I greatly admire Bragg's mother for the sacrifices she made for her children, and admire Bragg for his triumph over adversity, the book does not leave me believing that Bragg is a good man. He is proud of his accomplishments, as he should be. But he is selfish, immature and a bit of a hot-head. While his book is one of the best I've read in a long time, he's not the kind of person I would seek out as a friend. And I'm sure that doesn't bother him a bit.
Lately, it seems as though all I do is recommend this book...to friends, family, co-workers, etc. It is one of the most beautifully written pieces I have read in a long time, and I believe that it will continue to be read many years from now. Some other readers who have commented here seem highly critical of what they perceive to be a certain self-agrandizing element to the book, but I don't really see that. Bragg just seems to be telling the story he has to tell in the best way it can be told. And if this includes what could be considered bragging, then so be it. Perhaps it's because I'm from North Alabama, and perhaps it's because I am only one generation removed from a similar sort of rural upbringing, but I found the book to be honest, considerate, and amazingly written. Thanks...ya'll take care.
If Rick Bragg can be given credence, there's no poverty like growing up dirt-poor in northeast Alabama. But he also has an exceptional Momma, and ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN', besides being an autobiography, is Bragg's tribute to this loving and selfless woman. Bragg was born in 1959. His father, perhaps irrevocably damaged psychologically by combat duty in Korea, was an alcoholic spouse abuser who finally deserted his family in 1966. Rick's mother, Margaret, was left struggling to support herself and three sons by picking cotton, doing other people's laundry, and swallowing her pride to accept charity from family and neighbors. This book is Bragg's account of those early years, and his career as a print journalist from reporting high school and college football games in the late 70s to winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1996 while on the staff of the New York Times. Most of all, it's about family - his Mom, her parents, and his brothers (Sam and Mark). That the author is a gifted writer goes without saying. (After all, one doesn't win the Pulitzer by scribbling book reviews for a major website.) ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN' is poignant, sad, affecting and absorbing. It's a page-turner. However, at no time did Rick convince me that he's experienced any joie de vivre. Unlike one of my favorite authors, Laura Shaine Cunningham, who penned the autobiographical SLEEPING ARRANGEMENTS and A PLACE IN THE COUNTRY, Bragg comes across as one whose difficult childhood left him one of the walking wounded. I'm not sure his numerous mea culpas scattered throughout the work added value, and the apologia began to get tiresome. Indeed, the whole book seems a prelude to chapter 40 in which the author explains why he is what he is, and apologizes for what he's not and what he hasn't done. The best reason to read ALL OVER BUT THE SHOUTIN' is to become acquainted with Margaret, and perhaps the best chapter is near the end when Rick describes his Momma's very first plane ride and foray out into the larger world - at age 59 - to see her son awarded the Pulitzer in New York City. That chapter alone is worth the price of the book. Margaret is truly the essence of the meaning of "Mom".
After reading this book, I wanted to call Rick Bragg and set him up with a nice Southern girl-someone strong and kind like his mother. His writing made me laugh, remembering certain aspects of my childhood in southern Mississippi. Mr. Bragg also made me cry with empthy, sympathy, and shame. I hope he gives us more.