Small Wonder

Small Wonder

Small Wonder

Small Wonder

Paperback(Reprint)

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Overview

In twenty-two wonderfully articulate essays, Barbara Kingsolver 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

From the author of High Tide in Tucson, comes Small Wonder, a new collection of essays that begins with a parable gleaned from recent news: villagers search for a missing infant boy and find him, unharmed, in the cave of a dangerous bear that has mothered him like one of her own. Clearly, our understanding of evil needs to be revised. What we fear most can save us. From this tale, Barbara Kingsolver goes on to consider the chasm between the privileged and the poor, which she sees as the root cause of violence and war in our time. She writes about her attachment to the land, to nature and wilderness, trees and mountains-the place from which she tells her stories. Whether worrying about the dangers of genetically engineered food crops, or creating opportunities for children to feel useful and competent - like growing food for the family’s table - Kingsolver looks for small wonders, where they grow, and celebrates them.


Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780060504083
Publisher: HarperCollins
Publication date: 04/15/2003
Series: Harper Perennial
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 288
Sales rank: 306,816
Product dimensions: 5.31(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.79(d)

About the Author

About The Author
Barbara Kingsolver was born in 1955 and grew up in rural Kentucky. She earned degrees in biology from DePauw University and the University of Arizona, and has worked as a freelance writer and author since 1985. At various times she has lived in England, France, and the Canary Islands, and has worked in Europe, Africa, Asia, Mexico, and South America. She spent two decades in Tucson, Arizona, before moving to southwestern Virginia where she currently resides.


Her books, in order of publication, are: The Bean Trees (1988), Homeland (1989), Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike (1989), Animal Dreams (1990), Another America (1992), Pigs in Heaven (1993), High Tide in Tucson (1995), The Poisonwood Bible (1998), Prodigal Summer (2000), Small Wonder (2002), Last Stand: America’s Virgin Lands, with photographer Annie Griffiths (2002), Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life (2007), The Lacuna (2009), Flight Behavior (2012), Unsheltered (2018), How To Fly (In 10,000 Easy Lessons) (2020), Demon Copperhead (2022), and coauthored with Lily Kingsolver, Coyote's Wild Home (2023). She served as editor for Best American Short Stories 2001. 


Kingsolver was named one the most important writers of the 20th Century by Writers Digest, and in 2023 won a Pulitzer Prize for her novel Demon Copperhead. In 2000 she received the National Humanities Medal, our country’s highest honor for service through the arts. Her books have been translated into more than thirty languages and have been adopted into the core curriculum in high schools and colleges throughout the nation. Critical acclaim for her work includes multiple awards from the American Booksellers Association and the American Library Association, a James Beard award, two-time Oprah Book Club selection, and the national book award of South Africa, among others. She was awarded Britain's prestigious Women's Prize for Fiction (formerly the Orange Prize) for both Demon Copperhead and The Lacuna, making Kingsolver the first author in the history of the prize to win it twice. In 2011, Kingsolver was awarded the Dayton Literary Peace Prize for the body of her work. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.


She has two daughters, Camille (born in 1987) and Lily (1996). She and her husband, Steven Hopp, live on a farm in southern Appalachia where they raise an extensive vegetable garden and Icelandic sheep. 

Date of Birth:

April 8, 1955

Place of Birth:

Annapolis, Maryland

Education:

B.A., DePauw University, 1977; M.S., University of Arizona, 1981

Read an Excerpt

Letter to My Mother

Imagine you putting on your glasses to read this letter. Oh, Lord, what now? You tilt your head back and hold the page away from you, your left hand flat on your chest, protecting your heart. "Dear Mom" at the top of a long, typed letter from me has so often meant trouble. Happy, uncomplicated things -- these I could always toss you easily over the phone: I love you, where in the world is my birth certificate, what's in your zucchini casserole, happy birthday, this is our new phone number, we're having a baby in March, my plane comes in at seven, see you then, I love you.

The hard things went into letters. I started sending them from college, the kind of self-absorbed epistles that usually began as diary entries and should have stayed there. During those years I wore black boots from an army surplus store and a five-dollar haircut from a barbershop and went to some trouble to fill you in on the great freedom women could experience if only they would throw off the bondage of housewifely servitude. I made sideways remarks about how I couldn't imagine being anybody's wife. In my heart I believed that these letters -- in which I tried to tell you how I'd become someone entirely different from the child you'd known -- would somehow make us friends. But instead they only bought me a few quick gulps of air while I paced out the distance between us.

I lived past college, and so did my hair, and slowly I learned the womanly art of turning down the volume. But I still missed you, and from my torment those awful letters bloomed now and then. I kept trying; I'm trying still. But thistime I want to say before anything else: Don't worry. Let your breath out. I won't hurt you anymore. We measure the distance in miles now, and I don't have to show you I'm far from where I started. Increasingly, that distance seems irrelevant. I want to tell you what I remember.

I'm three years old. You've left me for the first time with your mother while you and Daddy took a trip. Grandmama fed me cherries and showed me the secret of her hair: Five metal hairpins come out, and the everyday white coil drops in a silvery waterfall to the back of her knees. Her house smells like polished wooden stairs and soap and Granddad's onions and ice cream, and I would love to stay there always but I miss you bitterly without end. On the day of your return I'm standing in the driveway waiting when the station wagon pulls up. You jump out your side, my mother in happy red lipstick and red earrings, pushing back your dark hair from the shoulder of your white sleeveless blouse, turning so your red skirt swirls like a rose with the perfect promise of you emerging from the center. So beautiful. You raise one hand in a tranquil wave and move so slowly up the driveway that your body seems to be underwater. I understand with a shock that you are extremely happy. I have been miserable and alone waiting in the driveway, and you were at the beach with Daddy and happy. Happy without me.

I am sitting on your lap, and you are crying. Thank you, honey, thank you, you keep saying, rocking back and forth as you hold me in the kitchen chair. I've brought you flowers: the sweet peas you must have spent all spring trying to grow, training them up the trellis in the yard. You had nothing to work with but abundant gray rains and the patience of a young wife at home with pots and pans and small children, trying to create just one beautiful thing, something to take you outside our tiny white clapboard house on East Main. I never noticed until all at once they burst through the trellis in a pink red purple dazzle. A finger-painting of colors humming against the blue air: I could think of nothing but to bring it to you. I climbed up the wooden trellis and picked the flowers. Every one. They are gone already, wilting in my hand as you hold me close in the potato-smelling kitchen, and your tears are damp in my hair but you never say a single thing but Thank you.

Your mother is dead. She was alive, so thin that Granddad bought her a tiny dark-blue dress and called her his fashion model and then they all went to the hospital and came home without her. Where is the dark-blue dress now? I find myself wondering, until it comes to me that they probably buried her in it. It's under the ground with her. There are so many things I don't want to think about that I can't bear going to bed at night.

It's too hot to sleep. My long hair wraps around me, grasping like tentacles. My brother and sister and I have made up our beds on cots on the porch, where it's supposed to be cooler. They are breathing in careless sleep on either side of me, and I am under the dark cemetery ground with Grandmama. I am in the stars, desolate, searching out the end of the universe and time. I am trying to imagine how long forever is, because that is how long I will be dead for someday. I won't be able to stand so much time being nothing, thinking of nothing. I've spent many nights like this, fearing sleep. Hating being awake.

I get up, barefoot and almost nothing in my nightgown, and creep to your room. The door is open, and I see that you're awake, too, sitting up on the edge of your...

Small Wonder. Copyright © by Barbara Kingsolver. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Reading Group Guide

Introduction

This is a collection of essays about who we seem to be, what remains for us to live for, and what I believe we could make of ourselves. It begins in a moment but ends with all of time. . . . I ask the readers to understand that these essays are not incidental. I believe our largest problems have grown from the earth's remotest corners as well as our own backyards, and that salvation may lie in those places, too.

Barbara Kingsolver looks out her window and sees a bobcat. She slaps a mosquito and senses that she is doing harm to more than just an insect. She reads about bombs raining over the Afghan countryside and thinks of the sons and daughters and the mothers and fathers who will never recover from their grief. She hears a story about a bear nursing a lost Iranian child and perceives it as a parable about universal kindness and grace.

The essays in Small Wonder tell us a couple of things about Barbara Kingsolver. First, that she is a very observant person. And second, that she understands connections: of humans to animals, of America to its global neighbors, of rich to poor, of parents' actions to their children's behavior. This understanding has made her one of today's most insightful writers, and it infuses every one of her luminous words.

The collection was conceived, she tells us, as a response to the terrorist attacks on September 11. But it was prompted by a wisdom and concern that existed well before those attacks; and made more immediate in their aftermath. Kingsolver takes us to places we may never visit: a remote clearing in the Mexican rainforest where innovative farmers aretending an insecticide-free crop without disturbing the ecological balance. To places that seem familiar: her own backyard, where her young daughter is raising a chicken, collecting its eggs, and proudly feeding her family breakfast. She shows us the gifts and promises of her family, her writing, and her childhood. She reveals her own failings as well as the ways our nation is failing its citizens and the rest of the globe. Finally, she asks us to take a look at our lives and see in them the world: out our windows and toward our neighbors, in our cupboards and gardens and garbage cans, at our television sets and computers and bookshelves, in our children's faces. In all these places, across the world, she demonstrates that there is a chance to make a difference, one small step at a time.

Some years back when Kingsolver was participating in a demonstration against the Persian Gulf War, a young man in a pick-up drove by and yelled, "It's your country bitch, love it or leave it!" Recalling this incident during a television interview, she reconsiders the comment. "Love it or leave it is a coward's slogan," she says. "A more honorable slogan would be 'Love it and stay.' 'Love it and get it right.' 'Love it and never shut up'."

Loving her country -- along with her family, her world, and the animal and plant life that inhabit the globe -- and not shutting up about it is what this collection of hopeful, angry, sad, bemused, hilarious, quiet, and loud essays is all about.

Questions for Discussion

  1. Kingsolver opens her collection with a story out of Iran. A young child wandered away from his home and was found, some distance away, in a cave where he was sleeping safely in the embrace of a female bear. She uses this remarkable example of maternal nurturing to demonstrate that there is good in every living being, and that we share more than we realize with those whom we presume to be our enemies. Can you, like Kingsolver, make the connection between the bear and your own private or public enemies? What does it take to understand, and act on, the idea that "our greatest dread may be our salvation"?

  2. Citing our nation's incredible wealth compared to most countries around the globe, Kingsolver writes, "For most of my life I've felt embarrassed by a facet of our national character that I would have to call prideful wastefulness. What other name can there be for our noisy, celebratory appetite for unnecessary things, and our vast carelessness regarding their manufacture and disposal?" Do you share her embarrassment? Why or why not?

  3. How would you answer her question, "How much do we need to feel blessed, sated, and permanently safe? What is safety in this world, and on what broad stones is that house built?" Do you live with much more than you need? A little more? Not enough?

  4. Woven into these essays are a number of subtle challenges Kingsolver poses to her readers. She talks, for instance, of all the things her daughter does instead of watching television, and then comes to the conclusion that there just isn't enough time in the day to watch it. Likewise, she writes of limiting herself to one national newspaper a week, usually the Sunday edition. This, she says, along with the town newspaper, provides her with all the information she needs to be a responsible citizen. Does this make sense to you? Are you on a "media diet"? If not, how would it effect your life if you were?

  5. In another essay Kingsolver writes of ways to "think globally and act locally." For instance, contributing $10 a month to support locally grown and produced food; only eating chicken and meat that have been grass-fed and buying only organically grown vegetables; attempting to feed her family on food that originated no more than an hour's drive from her house. If you are not already, is it possible for you to take on any or all of these practices? What would be the cost in time and dollars to do this? What would be the benefit to you, your family, and the world?

  6. How do you respond to Kingsolver's criticism of America entering into a full-scale war against terrorism? Do you agree with her comment that "Our whole campaign against the Taliban, Afghan women's oppression, and Osama bin Laden was undertaken without nearly enough public mention of our government's previous involvement with this wretched triumvirate, in service of a profitable would-be pipeline from the gas fields of Turkmenistan"? Does this response to our actions in Afghanistan strike you as unpatriotic? How do you define patriotism?

  7. Of the shootings at Columbine High School, Kingsolver writes "Some accidents and tragedies and bizarre twists of fate are truly senseless, as random as lighting bolts out of the blue. But this one . . . was not, and to say it was is irresponsible. 'Senseless' sounds like 'without cause,' and it requires no action so that after an appropriate interval of dismayed hand-wringing, we can go back to business as usual. What takes guts is to own u p: this event made sense." Do you agree that, in the environment in which our children are raised, these killings made sense? Do you agree with her calling for a zero-tolerance for murder as a solution to anything? How would such an approach help address the recent terrorist attacks?

  8. In "God's Wife's Measuring Spoons" Kingsolver makes the point that since the War on Terrorism, "No modern leader called on us for voluntary material sacrifice." She writes that the word wartime "speaks of things I've never known: an era of sacrifice undertaken by rich and poor alike . . . of communities working together to conquer fear by giving up comforts so everyone on earth might eventually have better days." Why do you think we haven't as a nation made a decision to sacrifice our material wealth, or cut back on our consumption, in this time of war? How would such sacrifices hurt us? How might they help our country achieve its goals of global peace and democracy?

  9. "Household Words" opens with a scene in which Kingsolver witnesses a man attack a woman and does not stop to intervene. As she fills in the details of this incident -- she was in her car in a busy intersection at rush hour; the people appeared to be two of the many homeless men and women who populate Tucson -- she asks us to understand her lack of action. Put yourself in your shoes: What would you have done? If you weigh the consequences of intervening with the good that might be done, does intervention make sense? What larger truths can be gleaned from this story?

  10. Kingsolver writes that she will plant a field of poppies as a memorial to all who lost their lives on September 11. How would you construct a memorial to these people? What do you think should be done with the site where the World Trade Center once stood?

  11. How have reading these essays made you feel? Sad? Angry? Hopeful? How have they encouraged you to act on these emotions? How have they changed the way you look at your world?

About the Author

Barbara Kingsolver was born 1955 in eastern Kentucky, the daughter of a rural physician. As a child, she wrote stories and essays and kept a journal religiously. Kingsolver left Kentucky to attend DePauw University in Indiana, where she majored in biology, took a creative writing course, and became active in anti-Vietnam War protests. After graduating in 1977, 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.

After graduate school, a position as a science writer for the University of Arizona led her into feature writing for journals and newspapers. Her articles have appeared in a variety of publications, including The Nation, The New York Times, and Smithsonian. In 1986 she won an Arizona Press Club award for outstanding feature writing.

From 1985 through 1987, Kingsolver was a freelance journalist by day, but she was writing fiction by night. Inflicted with insomnia, she began to write her first novel in a closet, so as not to wake her husband. The Bean Trees was published by HarperCollins in 1988, and enthusiastically received by critics. It was followed by the story 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 (1992), and a nonfiction book, Holding the Line: Women in the Great Arizona Mine Strike of l983 (1996). The Poisonwood Bible, published in 1998, was an Oprah's Book Club selection and national bestseller, as was her most recent novel, Prodigal Summer, released in 2000.

Barbara Kingsolver presently lives outside of Tucson with her husband, Steven Hopp, and her two daughters, Camille and Lily. When not writing, she gardens, cooks, hikes, plays hand drums and keyboards with her husband, a guitarist, and works as an environmental activist and human-rights advocate.

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