Later this week, Radiolab goes to northeastern Alabama in our new hour-long podcast. For more on that part of our country, and for one of the most honest American memoirs out there, pick up Rick Bragg's All Over but the Shoutin'.
In the mid-90s, a guy named Rick Bragg won a Pulitzer Prize for his writing in The New York Times. Not long after that, he stopped writing for the paper, and there’s a story behind that, but it isn’t in this book. This is the story of all the things that happened to Bragg before then. It’s the story of his childhood in Northeastern Alabama; the story of his mother’s strength (and his father’s weakness) and his two brother’s two very different kinds of power; and the story of a man from Possum Trot, Alabama, making his way in big cities like Atlanta, New York and Port au Prince, Haiti.
I’ve been a fan of Bragg’s newspaper stories for a while – a published collection, Somebody Told Me: The Newspaper Stories of Rick Bragg, is available here – but I hadn’t picked up his memoir until a few weeks ago. I’ve become kinda obsessed with Alabama since visiting for the first time a few months ago to report a Radiolab piece set in Stevenson, a small town just up the road from where Bragg was born. (Gotta mention another mind-blowing nonfiction book out of this part of Alabama: Salvation on Sand Mountain, by Dennis Covington.) For our story out of Stevenson, check back here (or in your iTunes) later this week; it's part of our new hour-long episode.
I’ll leave you with one more argument to pick up Bragg’s book: He’s a true master of the analogy-in-a-line. If you get nothing else out of Bragg’s book – and I’m pretty sure you will – you’ll get some killer lines you can steal and use when you meet your friends at the bar after work. A few of my favorites:
On the absence of any kind of monument to Bull Connor, the one-time mayor of Birmingham, Alabama, who ordered cops to blast civil rights marchers with fire hoses: The city forgot him “like a gun left behind at the scene of a crime.”
On a piece of advice from his Uncle Ed: His words “rest on my mind like an arm on my shoulder.”
On a traveling musician who used to hang with the homeless: He was “as cool as the other side of your pillow.”
Plenty more in the book. You could pick a copy up at the library, but I suggest buying it, so you can underline and highlight your favorite lines. My copy is a dog-eared mess of marginalia, always a sign of a good read.