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Small Wonder

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Sometimes grave, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately persuasive, Small Wonder is a hopeful examination of the people we seem to be, and what we might yet make of ourselves.

In her new essay collection, the beloved author of High Tide in Tucson brings to us, out of one of history's darker moments, an extended love song to the world we still have.

Whether she is contemplating the Grand Canyon, her vegetable garden, motherhood, genetic engineering, or the future of a nation founded on the best of all human impulses, these essays are grounded in the author's belief that our largest problems have grown from the earth's remotest corners as well as our own backyards, and that answers may lie in both those places.

Sometimes grave, occasionally hilarious, and ultimately persuasive, Small Wonder is a hopeful examination of the people we seem to be, and what we might yet make of ourselves.

264 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 2002

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About the author

Barbara Kingsolver

76 books17.5k followers
Barbara Kingsolver is an American novelist, essayist, and poet. She was raised in rural Kentucky and lived briefly in Africa in her early childhood. Kingsolver earned degrees in Biology at DePauw University and the University of Arizona and worked as a freelance writer before she began writing novels. Her most famous works include The Poisonwood Bible, the tale of a missionary family in the Congo, and Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a non-fiction account of her family's attempts to eat locally.

Her work often focuses on topics such as social justice, biodiversity, and the interaction between humans and their communities and environments. Each of her books published since 1993 have been on The New York Times Best Seller list. Kingsolver has received numerous awards, including the UK's Orange Prize for Fiction 2010, for The Lacuna and the National Humanities Medal. She has been nominated for the PEN/Faulkner Award and the Pulitzer Prize.

In 2000, Kingsolver established the Bellwether Prize to support "literature of social change."

Kingsolver was born in Annapolis, Maryland in 1955 and grew up in Carlisle in rural Kentucky. When Kingsolver was seven years old, her father, a physician, took the family to the former Republic of Congo in what is now the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Her parents worked in a public health capacity, and the family lived without electricity or running water.

After graduating from high school, Kingsolver attended DePauw University in Greencastle, Indiana on a music scholarship, studying classical piano. Eventually, however, she changed her major to biology when she realized that "classical pianists compete for six job openings a year, and the rest of [them:] get to play 'Blue Moon' in a hotel lobby." She was involved in activism on her campus, and took part in protests against the Vietnam war. She graduated with a Bachelor of Science in 1977, and moved to France for a year before settling in Tucson, Arizona, where she would live for much of the next two decades. In 1980 she enrolled in graduate school at the University of Arizona, where she earned a Master's degree in ecology and evolutionary biology.

Kingsolver began her full-time writing career in the mid 1980s as a science writer for the university, which eventually lead to some freelance feature writing. She began her career in fiction writing after winning a short story contest in a local Phoenix newspaper. In 1985 she married Joseph Hoffmann; their daughter Camille was born in 1987. She moved with her daughter to Tenerife in the Canary Islands for a year during the first Gulf war, mostly due to frustration over America's military involvement. After returning to the US in 1992, she separated from her husband.

In 1994, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, DePauw University. She was also married to Steven Hopp, that year, and their daughter, Lily, was born in 1996. In 2004, Kingsolver moved with her family to a farm in Washington County, Virginia, where they currently reside. In 2008, she received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Duke University, where she delivered a commencement address entitled "How to be Hopeful".

In a 2010 interview with The Guardian, Kingsolver says, "I never wanted to be famous, and still don't, [...:] the universe rewarded me with what I dreaded most." She says created her own website just to compete with a plethora of fake ones, "as a defence to protect my family from misinformation. Wikipedia abhors a vacuum. If you don't define yourself, it will get done for you in colourful ways."

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 861 reviews
Profile Image for Jeanette (Ms. Feisty).
2,179 reviews1,909 followers
January 12, 2009
4.5 stars

I was inclined to think I would like Kingsolver's fiction much better than her essays. Happily, I was wrong. This is a collection of beautifully written essays covering everything from raising chickens to raising children, from global war to birdwatching. There are so many perfectly expressed ideas and sentiments in these essays that I know I'll be reading it again. I laughed with her as she shared her young daughter's pronouncements, cried with her as she briefly shared her rape experience at age nineteen, and continually marveled at her ongoing hopefulness and idealism about the future of the world in general. I've very much enjoyed most of her novels, and now with these essays I've gained a great new respect for her as a person and a writer.

Her husband is an ornithologist, and there are some wonderful pieces the two of them wrote together about their birding experiences south of the border and closer to their own backyard. Nature-loving bird freak that I am, I really got into these essays.

I grew up without television and long ago chose to continue living without it, so the essay about why she keeps "the one-eyed monster" out of her home had special resonance for me. She articulated so well all the things I think and feel about the topic and am not able to put clearly into words. I feel like making photocopies for all my friends so we can understand each other about this.

Much food for thought and warmth and humor in this collection.
Profile Image for ☮Karen.
1,492 reviews9 followers
May 30, 2019
Small Wonder published in 2005 when the wounds of 9/11 were still fresh and forefront in our minds.
In the wake of the tragedy, Kingsolver analyzes as best one can why those in power think that the solution to world problems is to kill each other and why it is that America is so hated by other countries. Ours may not have been exactly the most generous or friendly country, or ecologically-minded in 2005, and this concerns her greatly, as it does I. Now, though, taken in the perspective of today's world, Kingsolver must be absolutely apoplectic, as am I.

A socially responsible environmental defender, who so happens to love this country and hopes for a better world. She also loves her daughters and the art of writing, both covered in the essays, among other topics.

Her narration of her own stories is rather comforting to the ears even when the subject matter is not. She has an interesting accent having grown up in KY but appears to have lost most (but definitely not all) of it through her many relocations throughout her life.
25 reviews5 followers
March 20, 2008
If I had to pick one book that would come with me wherever I went, it would be this one. This is my all-time favorite book. My favorite Kingsolver, my favorite book of essays (my favorite medium), my favorite. She is my hero.
Profile Image for okyrhoe.
301 reviews86 followers
July 27, 2009
In general terms I, too, am on the same side of the fence as Kingsolver. Maybe that’s why I was disappointed to find that this was not as engaging a read as I expected it to be.
As I was reading through these post-9/11 "essays" I found it increasingly difficult to be sympathetic with Kingsolver's earthmother-y stance, her frequent recourse to phrases such as 'balance,' 'salvation,' 'spirit' and 'small wonder' in the face of pressing global political and environmental issues. These are generalities that sound very nice, but practically speaking, can mean different things to each reader. Or worse, they can mean nothing at all. I wish Kingsolver would be more specific and precise when offering her viewpoints or even her advice.
Speaking of 9-11, Kingsolver writes, "This new enemy is not a person or a place, it isn't a country; it is a pure and fearsome ire as widespread as some raw element like fire. I can't sensibly declare war on fire, or reasonably pretend that it lives in a secret hideout like some comic-book villain, irrationally waiting while my superhero locates it and then drags it out to the thrill of my applause."
One cannot reduce human beings, no matter how disagreeable their ideologies or their destructive their actions, to a metaphysical abstract. I get the sense, by the end of this collection, that Kingsolver has the tendency to perceive the 'enemies' in what she considers the pressing issues of the day through the prism of morality and abstraction. She makes it seem as if by being a responsive mother, a conscientious gardener, or a socially-conscious consumer, then the inherent benevolence of her convictions and her life choices will act as mental duct-tape and shield her from the existential angst of the post-9/11 reality.
When discussing specific issues - ecology, global warming, genetically modified food, poverty, etc. - it’s irritating when she shies away from specifically identifying those 'other people' she perceives as the 'evildoers.' She tells us of the dangers of GMOs, for example, but does not venture to name names, to identify the governments, multinational companies, etc. which are releasing these organisms/foodstuffs into the market without notifying us or soliciting our consent. If she is a biologist, a scientist, then she must be aware of exactly who or what is behind this movement, and I expect her to inform the reader on this count.
Maybe she assumes we’ve already done our ‘homework’ and are informed on these matters. But if that is so, then why does she waste her breath on such a truly pedantic argument against television (“The One-Eyed Monster, or Why I Don’t Let Him In”)? Come on, we all know too much TV is no good, regardless of the many reasons why.
It's only in the last essay, "God's Wife's Measuring Spoons," that she begins to take a less dove-ish stance. Unfortunately, by this point, the 'enemies' she's railing against are her critics. After having enjoyed reading her fiction, I didn't think I'd end up being one myself.
Profile Image for Book Concierge.
2,768 reviews332 followers
January 10, 2023

This is a series of essays Kingsolver wrote in the year following the 9-11 attack on the World Trade Center. It started when “someone from a newspaper asked me to write a response to the terrorist attacks.” As she wrote – and wrote, and wrote – she found that writing at times “seemed to be all that kept me from falling apart in the face of so much death and anguish.” What we have here are the ways Kingsolver found to refresh her soul, to think about the joys in life, the small wonders, the possible solutions to seemingly intractable problems, and the activities that renewed her sense of peace and purpose and hope.

Kingsolver can come across as preachy, but she also writes elegant passages about the restorative power of connecting with nature. I am reminded of long walks in the woods, or taking my lunch break in the park, ostensibly to read, but more often just staring out at the scenery, absorbing all that green and fresh air.

There’s plenty of horrible in the world still, but reading this book of essays reminds me of those things that can help me relieve the terror, fear, anguish, and find joy and hope again. Recently, I’ve spent quite some time sitting by the guest-room window which has a perfect view into a robin’s nest in my backyard. As I write, her eggs are about 10–12 days old, and any moment they may hatch. It’s a marvel of life and I cannot stop watching it unfold.

I read this as a book, and it’s due back at the library now, but I think this is a collection that would be good to have handy to read a chapter or two every once in a while.
Profile Image for Joy D.
1,895 reviews218 followers
July 12, 2022
Collection of twenty-three essays, published in 2002 and written in the wake of the 9/11 tragedy. Topics include nature, ecology, power, family life, love, society, and politics. Kingsolver is a keen observer of the world, and she writes beautifully detailed anecdotes that are incorporated into broader messages. Many of her points are still pertinent, such as environmental responsibility, sustainable agriculture, and building understanding across cultures. She speaks of her sadness at the decline of the independent bookstores and conveys her experiences as a writer. A few of these essays feel a bit dated, which is not surprising since I am reading this in 2022, looking back twenty years, but the distance also provides perspective. She elegantly portrays her attempts to overcome grief and recapture her optimism for the future, finding solace in the small wonders of everyday life.
Profile Image for Jocelyn.
144 reviews26 followers
July 10, 2016
I get the feeling that Barbara Kingsolver wrote this book mostly for herself. Sure, there are the great environmental, feminist, and pacifist morals, which I must note now that I did often strongly agree with, but they are overshadowed by Kingsolver reveling in her own writing.

At several points, Kingsolver takes on an insultingly self-righteous and condescending tone, and in these sections most of what I got out of the book was "gardens, hope, nature, I'm better than you, peace." She's got it all--the humble brag, the outright boasting, the subtle jab at everyone who isn't her. Halfway through, I thought it would be fun to place sticky notes on sections I found particularly disgusting, and soon ran out of sticky notes.

Mostly, it's the superior tone that puts me off. Kingsolver seems to believe that she does most things better than everyone else and urges everyone to do the same--eat from vegetable gardens, support local growers, don't take many airplane flights--even though 1) a lot of people can't afford those organic or pesticide-free foods, 2) most of us don't have the time or land to plant our own vegetables, and 3) she mentions taking so many flights that she has "enough frequent-flyer miles to go to China."

And anyway, I'm here to read about your ideas and your suggestions and then judge them for myself, not have them shoved down my throat and denounced if I don't agree with them. Admittedly, I do often agree with them, so I'm not as offended as, say, a reader who doesn't have such strong beliefs regarding feminism would be. Even so, at some really low points, I did groan out loud (out of both exasperation and anger).

Kingsolver seems to ignore those not-so-little things that could weaken her case: staunchly supporting global warming without even mentioning scientific evidence (or lack thereof), check; completely disregarding the cost of those "healthier" foods, check. Coupled with her bragging (she has an entire section devoted to telling us how badly she thought of herself in high school, then gleefully telling us that she was actually very pretty and was valedictorian, even though this has nothing to do with her point whatsoever), this book was nearly intolerable.

So, if you agree with every single thing she says, by all means go for the book. It's eye-opening, in an infuriating way. But remember, if you think you'll so much as question one idea she has, you'll probably start to feel irritated by Kingsolver's smug tone before long.

Note: This is the first book that I have ever quite literally thrown down in disgust.
Profile Image for Jennifer (Insert Lit Pun).
315 reviews1,971 followers
February 15, 2017
Kingsolver's in a bit of a tough position; she cares deeply about things like biodiversity, homelessness, sustainable agriculture, and pacifism, but she can't usually approach these topics from a relatable, self-deprecating angle because she's the rare human who actually plans her lifestyle around her beliefs. In light of this, she does a damned good job of keeping the preaching to a minimum, and along the way she offers down-to-earth, beautiful writing on everything from reading short stories to mother-daughter relationships to hummingbird nests. I'd probably recommend her other essay collection ("High Tide in Tucson") before this one, but you can't go wrong with either.
Profile Image for Andi.
Author 20 books175 followers
February 3, 2010
Okay, so Animal, Vegetable, Miracle was one of those books that significantly changed my life, and I really liked, as did the rest of the world it seems, The Poisonwood Bible, but I honestly cannot tell you what made me want to read Kingsolver’s essay collection Small Wonder. Maybe I read about it on a blog or in a review, and whoever turned me onto this book, I owe you a huge debt of gratitude. This is the book that helped me start my book. No joke, no questions, this book did it.

There’s something about Kingsolver’s voice in this collection that just comes off as honest and true, not overly crafted or carefully worded. This isn’t a collection of wrought language and complex metaphor. These essays are just the writer’s perspective on a lot of issues from her daughter’s decision to raise chickens for their eggs to the U.S. flag to biodiversity. Each piece is - in the way of most things - political for it states a clear perspective and opinion on something, and I really like that. I like knowing where she stands, and knowing why she stands there. I feel like I’ve just finished a really good visit with a dear friend, a trip where we spent the day walking the beach or sitting by the fire and just talking - sometimes deeply, sometimes heatedly, but always honestly, in the way I only can with my closest friends.

The last page of the book, which is the last page of the essay “God’s Wife’s Measuring Spoons,” says this.

. . . still I suspect that the deepest of all human wishes, down there on the floor of the soul underneath the scattered rugs of lust and thirst and hunger, is the tongue-and-groove desire to be understood. And life is a slow trek along the path toward realizing how that wish will go unfulfilled. Such is the course of all wisdom: Others will see the front and the back, but inside is where we each live, in that home where only one heart will ever beat. There we have to make our peace with all we need of sorrow, and all we can ever know of the divine, by whatever name we call it.
What I can find is this, and so it has to be: conquering my own despair by doing what little I can. Stealing thunder, tucking it in my pocket to save for the long drought. Dreaming in the color green, tasting the end of anger. Don’t ask me for the evidence. The possibility of a kinder future, the existence of God - these are just two of many things fall into the category I would label “impossible to prove, and proof is not the point.” Faith has a life of its own.

And well, that about says it. This book is one that will sit on my shelf to be caressed and peeked into when I, too, am seeking to conquer by own despair by doing what little I can.
Profile Image for Jennifer.
30 reviews
March 1, 2013
I just thought this was bad. Maybe it was my mood but it just seemed condescending (by that I mean it was dumbed down too dramatically) and far to preacher-y. Sorry Kingsolver, I generally love your writing but I wish I never read this.
Profile Image for Lusi.
3 reviews
January 4, 2012
Kingsolver has a way with words, that after reading the first couple of essays, you feel as though you should start a garden, start a chicken coup, and start riding a bike to limit your carbon footprints. Then after a few more essays, you feel as though, you should volunteer more often, and generally do better at being a human being. Assuming of course you weren't already. Kingsolver forces us to have questions of our own, about the state of affairs in our country, from the seemingly endless wars "we" find ourselves in, to the seemingly endless issues associated with poverty and homelessness. Will we ever be at peace with the rest of the world, and how can we? If we're starving many souls in the world, by our incessant need to consume more and waste more of the earth's resources without a thought to what we're going to do when we run out. However, far from being a "sky is falling" series of essays as I'm making it out to be, Kingsolver more than anything (from what I gather) wishes we all take time out of our busy lives to marvel at the small wonders this life has to offer. For we only have one to live, and there are only 24 hours in a day. And hopefully, life offers you many small wonders to marvel at instead of wasting hours of your life away in front of a talking box, commonly known as an idiot box, or television. But more importantly, that we find a way to help our local community, our world to be a better place for all of its inhabitant rather than a select few.
Profile Image for booklady.
2,235 reviews65 followers
February 26, 2010
My oldest daughter just climbed into bed next to me with her English 4 textbook. She said, Letter to my Mother is what I'd write to you if I could write like Barbara Kingsolver. When she left to take her shower, I asked her to leave the book with me. I read it with tears running down my face almost from start to finish. But they were tears of joy and it was one of the most beautiful tributes to mother-daughter love/relationships that I've read in a long time! Tender and oh so true!

Now I must try to read some of the other essays in the book...
Profile Image for Kelly.
863 reviews111 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
February 11, 2019
I love Barbara Kingsolver's fiction, but after reading 2 of the essays in Small Wonder it's clear to me that this book is an excuse for the writer to air her grievances about the state of the union - and I'm just not interested in reading about it. First of all, the book is dated (it was written post-9/11) and secondly each "small wonder" is a thinly disguised pretext for Kingsolver to dash off into an abrupt segue to a quietly angry rant on a variation of the same dissent.

For example: the Grand Canyon. Kingsolver decides to road trip with her family to the Grand Canyon on Thanksgiving. One sentence into a not-particularly-astonishing description of the Grand Canyon, Kingsolver crashes straight through the guard rail and goes over the cliff into another pretty calm, but preachy, diatribe on her dissatisfaction with the government.

If this book was 90% about small wonders and 10% about Kingsolver's personal criticisms then I would have happily continued to follow her through the pages as I have in half a dozen of her previous books; however, this book is comprised of the inverse, and at 90% critiques it's too stifling for me.
Profile Image for Sarah.
1,209 reviews35 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
May 1, 2019
I didn't read much of this but what I did read was way too sanctimonious and condescending, wishy-washy and not nearly as profound as I think Kingsolver meant it to be. Not for me!
Profile Image for Jean Cripps.
7 reviews5 followers
April 3, 2021
A beautiful and timely collection of essays—-as timely now in 2021 as it was when first published in 2002. It is incredible to see history repeat itself in so many (unfortunate/continuing) ways.
Profile Image for Amy Ingalls.
1,075 reviews14 followers
December 28, 2019
As with any essay collection, some of these resonated in me more than others. Letter to My Mother brought me to tears. Many of the others spoke so eloquently about the way I feel about our country and the world we live in. I will continue to read anything Barbara Kingsolver writes, just as I will continue to nurture my garden and my children and grandchildren, hoping that they will change the world.
July 3, 2016
I picked up Kingsolver's compilation of essays "Small Wonder," because of how much I liked "The Poisonwood Bible." I looked forward to reading her personal stories and experiences written in the same colorful and poignant style of writing she presents in her nonfiction work.
I am currently half-way from finishing the book, and I am at a critical junction between not finishing the book and willing myself to finish a book that makes me continuously frustrated by its author. I could appreciate her first few essays like Small Wonder and Saying Grace for its unapologetic honesty about topics like war, extremism, animal ethics, and environmental conservation—especially in a time when these heady topics (though pressing) are difficult to bring up.
This is where my positive review of the book stops. It stops short because of the way the essays start to resound over and over like one long terrible, condescending, hypocritical tirade. There is no doubt Kingsolver is great at describing the majestic beauty she beholds in her own backyard and in her ventures to the Grand Canyon, Sanibel Island, and the rain forests in Latin America. However something in how she writes to say, "I'm one of the few people that truly appreciates the natural world," is aggravating and can quickly dispel the beauty of her storytelling. One strong telling sign of this came in her remark of known acquaintances who also shared her love of the natural habitats on the Yucatan peninsula and the sadness in knowing it would be destroyed by human development. When her friends wanted to take orchids from the habitat that was marked for removal, she decidedly chose to remark how they were wrong for doing so because it went against her personal beliefs (p.66).
In the essay ironically entitled Lily's Chickens, she writes excruciatingly more dogmatic, in that she is now not only telling the reader about how her life is sustainable but that it's the tried and true way others should too. In the essay she talks about how she chooses to locally source her food, raise chickens in her yard (purpose of only using them for their eggs), grows her own vegetables, and is deliberate with her usage of transportation. I found this essay to have been exceedingly hard to wrap my mind around because not only did Kingsolver come off in a condescending tone, she also comes off incredibly hypocritical to boot.
The entire time leading up to this essay has been a lot of the author's belief about protecting and preserving the last remaining natural habitats and wildlife we have on earth, so I find it extraordinary how she can still remain complacent to the fact that she still consumes "Things with faces (p. 119)." It's such an arbitrary argument to say that consuming vegetables from a field that's been sprayed down with pesticides that unintentionally kill countless animal lives justifies choosing to still eat animals raised for slaughter. Why not make an argument for not harming any of Earth's creatures? She briefly talks about the ways the food we consume affects our environment, and although she rightly points to the environmental pollution costs of consuming out-of-season/region products, she entirely fails to mention the huge costs of her own consumption of animal products on our watershed, oceans, and rain forests.
Essays definitely come in a wide variety of tones and topics and depending on their author's style of writing, they make you feel one way or another. I found myself wanting to like the author and the messages she wished to convey, but tired of the sharp criticism of others without true reflection of her own shortcomings, made reading her personal stories unbearable.
Profile Image for Donna.
3,903 reviews20 followers
December 8, 2014
This was a collection of nonfiction essays written by Barbara Kingsolver. I probably would never have read this on my own, but it was a book club read so I took up the challenge.

There were parts of this that I liked. Overall, it is worth the time to read. Some of it was definitely thought provoking. It felt quite personal in that she shared so much of herself and her stand on various topics. She makes her points politely and does so in an easy manner. I thought she was careful to not offend or to beat anyone over the head with her stand on certain topics.

Now with that being said, I didn't agree with some of her opinions. There was some eye rolling on my part, but I guess that is where we agree to disagree and that is okay. I would give this 3.5 stars but will round up because it was well written and thoughtfully assembled
Profile Image for Emer  Tannam.
622 reviews16 followers
February 17, 2021
I read 18% of this book before throwing in the towel. I’m a big fan of her fiction but this is the second non-fiction of hers I’ve attempted and although it’s beautifully written, it’s terribly earnest and not very interesting. Isn’t nature wonderful blah blah blah here’s a list of plants I can see out my window blah blah why can’t we all cherish nature and all get along ? I agree with her, absolutely, but it’s not interesting to read.
Profile Image for Michael.
1,094 reviews1,509 followers
August 13, 2010
Written in the period after 9-11, this diverse set of essays advances one's sense of participation in life around us and ways to move toward sisterhood with others on the planet. The resonance of the universal in the particular shines throughout.
Profile Image for Les.
813 reviews11 followers
June 6, 2020
From my blog post of January 2006:

I discovered Barbara Kingsolver several years ago when I read her debut novel, The Bean Trees. I fell in love with her writing and since then have read everything she’s written, with the exception a nonfiction work entitled Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of 1983 and a National Geographic coffee-table book (Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands). You might say I’m a fairly devoted fan, buying everything as it’s published. Yet when her second collection of essays was released in hardcover, I held off. I’d heard negative reviews and complaints of her overbearing political opinions, and decided to wait until the paperback was released. But even then, once I finally got around to buying a copy, it sat on a shelf for over two years. It wasn’t until this past winter when I was struggling to find something that would grab my attention and reading more nonfiction than usual, that I was tempted to give it a try. It wasn’t a quick read and I was tempted to give up a couple of times. In “What Good is a Story,” Kingsolver admits to being a demanding reader, granting a mere thirty pages to be impressed before tossing the unfinished book in to the donation box. Ironically, had I adhered to such a strict guideline, I never would’ve reached the second half of the book in which 11 (out of 23) favorite essays lay in wait. I would’ve missed gems such as “Letters to a Daughter at Thirteen” and “Letters to My Mother.” “Marking a Passage” and “Flying” resonated so much more than “Knowing Our Place” and “A Forest’s Last Stand.” It’s not that I don’t care about our country and environment. It’s just that right now I’d rather read about family and gardening -- things that bring me comfort rather than anger or fear. To quote Kingsolver, I’d found “words that might help me become a better mother, a wiser friend.”

Two favorite passages:

“I learned a surprising thing in writing this book. It is possible to move away from a vast, unbearable pain by delving into it deeper and deeper – by ‘diving into the wreck,’ to borrow the perfect words from Adrienne Rich. You can look at all the parts of a terrible thing until you see that they’re assemblies of smaller parts, all of which you can name, and some of which you can heal or alter, and finally the terror that seemed unbearable becomes manageable. I suppose what I am describing is the process of grief.”


“It used to be, on many days, that I could close my eyes and sense myself to be perfectly happy. I have wondered lately if that feeling will ever come back. It’s a worthy thing to wonder, but maybe being perfectly happy is not really the point. Maybe that is only some modern American dream of the point, while the truer measure of humanity is the distance we must travel in our lives, time and again, ‘twixt two extremes of passion – joy and grief,’ as Shakespeare put it. However much I’ve lost, what remains to me is that I can still speak to name the things I love.”
Profile Image for Theresa.
1,021 reviews18 followers
July 28, 2022
Immediately after 9/11, Barbara Kingsolver found herself writing essays as she struggled to make sense of what happened. Ultimately those essays and more culled from previous publication thorugh the 1990s became this collection of truly small wonders, each headed by an illustration relevant to the subject of that essay. Kingsolver examines here war, poverty, hatred, racism, and more. She also celebrates the beauty and diversity of nature, family, books and reading, and even macaws, crabs, chickens and rattlesnakes.

I related to much here. No surprise since Kingsolver and I are the same age. Sometimes I found an essay difficult to read - primarily those directly addressing 9/11 as I like most who were in Manhattan that day have a great deal we have buried deep and never pulled out into the sun and assimmilated. It was afterall how we were able to stay and cope and return to regular day to day living rather than cowering under the bed. Others I raced through chuckling (Lily's chickens), awed (the macaws), nodding in agreement or brow furrowed in consideration. I read these one or two at a time over a couple of weeks, just as you would if you came across them in magazines or newspapers. I suspect I will return to read some in the future after some world events or a memory reminds me of a particular essay.

At times thoughtful and deeply personal, revealing painful memories, at others funny and charming, beautifully crafted, every single one of these essays unapologetically reveals the heart and soul of Barbara Kingsolver.
Profile Image for Doris Jean.
189 reviews29 followers
May 23, 2021
As one of her previous fans, I have read most of Kingsolver's books and liked them. However, she's gone off the cliff with these essays. They were written in 2002 and were influenced by her personal political judgments on the September 11, 2001 bombing of the World Trade Centers in New York City.

She is preaching her personal unbalanced politics. She praises Canada heavily and likes Europe, but seems not to like the United States, she seems to prefer Darwin and to be contemptuous of religion. She calls radio "hate radio" and the TV "a one-eyed monster". (I call the TV "the Salesman in Your Living Room.) She wants to completely ban war. (Don't we all!!!) I can wholeheartedly agree with some of her comments, but to me she's lost moderation and respect for others and has become too disdainful of opposition.

As a reader, I did not deserve her arrogance and scorn. She seems to think her readers are ignorant. Just one example: She is discussing sex and says: ".....lordosis....look it up." Assuming that her readers are not equal to her superior literacy. She has become too insulting, scornful, self-righteous, arrogant, disdainful and conceited. There were many brilliant comments in her essays, but they were cancelled by her narcissism, so I did not like this book.
3 reviews
April 18, 2020
Really enjoyed this collection of essays, many with an environmental theme. Reading this collection caused me to restart our farm CSA box delivery so that we could eat produce that is more local. I'm also inspired to do more activism for better bike commuting infrastructure.
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187 reviews
November 19, 2022
I initially read this book soon after it was first published. And I enjoyed it. This time I read it for a book group and discussed it essay by essay. I got so much more out of it this time. Great book. Highly recommend.
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