Until recently I thought I’d read every Barbara Kingsolver book. I was wrong. Somehow I managed to miss this wonderful book of essays published in 1995. Fortunately, our local three-legged bookstore cat pointed this gem out. She covers everything from single parenthood to disagreeing with United States’ stance on war to the art of writing and art in general. Usually when I hear the word “essay,” I cringe. I think dry and humorless. Not so with these essays. The same clear, no nonsense style that permeates Kingsolver’s fiction comes through in her essays. What’s more is that she’s not afraid to turn the joke on herself. She tells of one instance of touring for a month in basically the same outfit and after first not being allowed in a trendy New York restaurant on the last night of her tour because of her outfit, then getting a back table instead. As someone who travels light myself, she’s not the only one that’s happened to!
What spoke to me most was her comments on art and politics in the essay “Jabberwocky.” “Art is the antidote that can call us back from the edge of numbness, restoring the ability to feel for another. By virtue of that power, it is political, regardless of content.” She discusses how art helps those of us who cannot, for whatever reason, experience a particular truth. Kingsolver gives the example of Jane Eyre can help men (perhaps only some men) understand some of what it is to be a woman; how Toni Morrison’s Beloved can make those of us who have never experienced slavery understand that truth.
All in all, this is a great book and I could spend all day picking out examples. Instead, I highly recommend it and I thank Spencer for pointing it out – what he lacks in body parts (he’s also missing a tale) he has gained in taste.