Eric Aiello's Reviews > Ecology of a Cracker Childhood

Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray
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Apr 09, 10

bookshelves: 50-book-challenge-2010
Read from March 25 to April 08, 2010

Perhaps this book received five stars from me out of a certain bias. I did, after all, attend Janisse Ray's reading at SUNY Oneonta in March 2010. I was entranced by a passion I had never witnessed before. Her Southern drawl, her soft voice that spoke so boldly was with me while I read through her book. I could hear every word come out of her mouth and I knew that every thing she said she meant. Maybe had I not experienced Ray's unrelenting passion, I'd afford this text one less star. I spoke with her after the reading, too. A more genuine, honest, and passionate person may very well not exist.

Her objective here is not to facilitate or perpetuate a loathing of nature's enemies. Her objective is a call to bear arms (metaphorically speaking, of course) - a call to reinstate in humanity a love and respect for the natural world that nourishes us. Her voice is soothing, her words poetic. Referring to a teacher, "Her eyes were black as little universes." This book is one that makes you wake up the next morning and plan a hike through whatever wilderness you have available to you - it will make you stop on the trail and look around and actually count the different trees, maybe commit some of them to memory and learn about their history, and maybe you'll be surprised to even learn that something inanimate like a tree actually has such an intimate history. Her book is one that will force you to stop quietly on the trail and observe the passing snake, to see its beauty and not to be frightened. What makes her so much more lovely than, say, Edward Abbey is that she has hope. She believes firmly that "there is a miracle for you if you keep holding on" and she imagines one day rising from her grave to see her granddaughter's granddaughter roaming the second coming of the forests we are losing today. Abbey, while enjoyable and rather humorous, believes anyone not appreciative of nature is a deadbeat earthling. Abbey is a cynic. Ray believes that we can restore an appreciation - believes that those who underestimate the value of nature simply haven't been shown its wonders. And what she aims to do (and indeed succeeds beautifully) is to show the reader these wonders and drives the reader out of doors to experience them first hand.

Ray's book, though, is more than a eulogy to nature. It is also a memoir that tells of her life growing up in a strictly fundamentalist and dogmatic religious household. She writes this book as a series of vignettes, writing one chapter about a family member, another about a species of bird, and another about growing up in a junkyard. Her book transcends any sort of chronology. But the lack of a fluid narrative (that is, this happened then this happened then this happened) does not detract from the telling of her life story. Life, after all, is not recollected from childhood up to this morning. As you experience your day to day life simple memories are conjured or at once you have this sudden urge to remember everything you can about a family member since deceased. This is Janisse Ray's book - a telling of a story worth telling, a telling of a love worth having, and a plea to save a relationship (man and nature) worth saving.
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message 1: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill One of our T.A.s is using excerpts from this book for one of her classes. Glad to see it getting some love. :)


Eric Aiello Where do you teach/go to school? Janisse Ray is visiting SUNY Oneonta (the college I currently attend) this semester in April to do a reading.


message 3: by Jill (new) - added it

Jill I'm an admin assistant at Oklahoma State. Everything the instructors teach tends to wander through my hands. :)

Let me know how the reading goes! Just the pictures alone in "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood" were just fascinating, so I'm really interested in hearing what she has to say. :)


message 4: by Kristen (last edited Apr 08, 2010 05:23PM) (new)

Kristen Sure, nature's great . . . until you accidentally run over a baby soft-shelled turtle with your bike, breaking his tiny little leg, and then you're so distraught with guilt you refuse to go outside for the next month out of fear of inadvertently maiming another adorable animal.
:-(


Eric Aiello Ouch... but so it goes. I was DD tonight for some friends and when I was going to one of their houses I had to dodge about fifty frogs that were hopping in the road in the rain. I think I missed all of them :-)

But please go outside again! Just watch out for adorable animals!


Eric Aiello Benjamin, I have not read him. But I certainly appreciate the recommendation! I'll look his work up!


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