For her critically acclaimed and wildly popular novels, such as Animal Dreams and The
Poisonwood Bible, Time magazine has declared Barbara Kingsolver "a gifted magician of
words." In her newest book, Small Wonder, she demonstrates that her facility doesn't
confine itself to fiction. Kingsolver uses this collection of essays to tackle controversial
themes directly; many of these topics will be familiar to her readers, but several of these
pieces brave new ground. A biologist as well as a writer, she combines scientific and
emotional arguments for a rigorous look at farming, genetic engineering, the ecology of food,
and how our choices are affecting or destroying the natural world. She also includes
explorations of the writing and reading process, homelessness in America, the role of
television in our lives, and parenting and family (two of the most moving essays in the
collection are "Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen" and "Letter to My Mother"). Most of the
essays here are compact and packed with an astonishing amount of information, yet they
read fluidly and logically, thanks to Kingoslver's graceful prose. For fans of Kingsolver's
other books or anyone interested in the state of our world, Small Wonder is an aptly titled
gem. Jill, Powells.com
Synopses & Reviews
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. From its opening parable gleaned from recent news about a lost child saved in an astonishing way, the book moves on to consider a world of surprising and hopeful prospects, ranging from an inventive conservation scheme in a remote jungle to the backyard flock of chickens tended by the author's small daughter.
Whether she is contemplating the Grand Canyon, her vegetable garden, motherhood, adolescence, genetic engineering, TV-watching, the history of civil rights, 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 those places, too. In the voice Kingsolver's readers have come to rely on—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.
"Kingsolver seamlessly combines the personal and the political." Library Journal
"[P]enetrating....Food, motherhood, gardening, literature, television, homelessness, globalization, scientific illiteracy, selfishness, and forgiveness all come under sharp and revelatory scrutiny." Donna Seaman, Booklist
"All of Kingsolver's issues are worthy, certainly, but the work is made less palatable by what seems to be a naivete....Her best pieces a discussion of adolescence addressed to her daughter; an essay on the difficulties of writing about sex have a narrow focus. Good intentions and craft marred by sanctimony." Kirkus Reviews
About the Author
Barbara Kingsolver was born on April 8, 1955. She grew up "in the middle of an alfalfa field," in the part of eastern Kentucky that lies between the opulent horse farms and the impoverished coal fields. While her family has deep roots in the region, she never imagined staying there herself. "The options were limited--grow up to be a farmer or a farmer's wife."
Kingsolver has always been a storyteller: "I used to beg my mother to let me tell her a bedtime story." As a child, she wrote stories and essays and, beginning at the age of eight, kept a journal religiously. Still, it never occurred to Kingsolver that she could become a professional writer. Growing up in a rural place, where work centered mainly on survival, writing didn't seem to be a practical career choice. Besides, the writers she read, she once explained, "were mostly old, dead men. It was inconceivable that I might grow up to be one of those myself . . . "
Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where she majored in biology. She also took one creative writing course, and became active in the last anti-Vietnam War protests. After graduating in 1977, Kingsolver lived and worked in widely scattered places. In the early eighties, she pursued graduate studies in biology and ecology at the University of Arizona in Tucson, where she received a Masters of Science degree. She also enrolled in a writing class taught by author Francine Prose, whose work Kingsolver admires.
Kingsolver's fiction is rich with the language and imagery of her native Kentucky. But when she first left home, she says, "I lost my accent . . . [P]eople made terrible fun of me for the way I used to talk, so I gave it up slowly and became something else." During her years in school and two years spent living in Greece and France she supported herself in a variety of jobs: as an archaeologist, copy editor, X-ray technician, housecleaner, biological researcher and translator of medical documents. After graduate school, a position as a science writer for the University of Arizona soon led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her numerous articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian, and many of them are included in the collection, High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now or Never. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing, and in 1995, after the publication of High Tide in Tucson, Kingsolver was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Letters from her alma mater, De Pauw University.
Kingsolver credits her careers in scientific writing and journalism with instilling in her a writer's discipline and broadening her "fictional possiblities." Describing herself as a shy person who would generally prefer to stay at home with her computer, she explains that "journalism forces me to meet and talk with people I would never run across otherwise."
From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Married to a chemist in 1985, she suffered from insomnia after becoming pregnant the following year. Instead of following her doctor's recommendation to scrub the bathroom tiles with a toothbrush, Kingsolver sat in a closet and began to write The Bean Trees, a novel about a young woman who leaves rural Kentucky (accent intact) and finds herself living in urban Tucson.
The Bean Trees, published by HarperCollins in 1988, and reissued in a special ten-year anniversary hardcover edition in 1998, was enthusiastically received by critics. But, perhaps more important to Kingsolver, the novel was read with delight and, even, passion by ordinary readers. "A novel can educate to some extent," she told Publishers Weekly. "But first, a novel has to entertain--that's the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I'll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessiblity. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with--who may not often read anything but the Sears catalogue--to read my books."
For Kingsolver, writing is a form of political activism. When she was in her twenties she discovered Doris Lessing. "I read the Children of Violence novels and began to understand how a person could write about the problems of the world in a compelling and beautiful way. And it seemed to me that was the most important thing I could ever do, if I could ever do that."
The Bean Treeswas followed by the collection, Homeland and Other Stories(1989), the novels Animal Dreams(1990), and Pigs in Heaven(1993), and the bestselling High Tide in Tucson: Essays from Now and Never(1995). Kingsolver has also published a collection of poetry, Another America: Otra America(Seal Press, 1992, 1998), and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of l983(ILR Press/Cornell University Press, 1989, 1996). The Poisonwood Bible, published in 1998, earned accolades at home and abroad, and was an Oprah's Book Club selection.
Barbara's Prodigal Summer, released in November of 2000, is a novel set in a rural farming community in southern Appalachia. Small Wonder, April 2002, presents twenty-three wonderfully articulate essays. Here Barbara raises her voice in praise of nature, family, literature, and the joys of everyday life while examining the genesis of war, violence, and poverty in our world.
Barbara Kingsolver presently lives outside of Tucson with her husband Steven Hopp, and her two daughters, Camille from a previous marriage, and Lily, who was born in 1996. When not writing or spending time with her family, Barbara gardens, cooks, hikes, and works as an environmental activist and human-rights advocate.
Given that Barbara Kingsolver's work covers the psychic and geographical territories that she knows firsthand, readers often assume that her work is autobiographical. "There are little things that people who know me might recognize in my novels," she acknowledges. "But my work is not about me. I don't ever write about real people. That would be stealing, first of all. And second of all, art is supposed to be better than that. If you want a slice of life, look out the window. An artist has to look out that window, isolate one or two suggestive things, and embroider them together with poetry and fabrication, to create a revelation. If we can't, as artists, improve on real life, we should put down our pencils and go bake bread."
Table of Contents
Illustrated Catalog of Wonders
Small Wonder 1
Saying Grace 22
Knowing Our Place 31
The Patience of a Saint 41
Seeing Scarlet 50
Setting Free the Crabs 60
A Forest's Last Stand 75
Called Out 88
A Fist in the Eye of God 93
Lily's Chickens 109
The One-Eyed Monster, and Why I Don't Let Him In 131
Letter to a Daughter at Thirteen 144
Letter to My Mother 160
Going to Japan 176
Life Is Precious, or It's Not 180
Household Words 195
What Good Is a Story? 206
Marking a Passage 215
Taming the Beast with Two Backs 222
Stealing Apples 228
And Our Flag Was Still There 235
God's Wife's Measuring Spoons 246