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Ecology of a Cracker Childhood (The World As Home) Paperback – July 28, 2000

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Editorial Reviews Review

The scrubby forests of southern Georgia, dotting a landscape of low hills and swampy bottoms, are not what many people would consider to be exalted country, the sort of place to inspire lyrical considerations of nature and culture. Yet that is just what essayist Janisse Ray delivers in her memorable debut, a memoir of life in a part of America that roads and towns have passed by, a land settled by hardscrabble Scots herders who wanted nothing more than to be left alone, and who bear the derogatory epithet "cracker" with quiet pride.

Ray grew up in a junkyard outside what had been longleaf pine forest, an ecosystem that has nearly disappeared in the American South through excessive logging. Her family had little money, but that was not important; they more than made up for material want through unabashed love and a passion for learning, values that underlie every turn of Ray's narrative. She finds beauty in weeds and puddles, celebrates the ways of tortoises and woodpeckers, and argues powerfully for the virtues of establishing a connection with one's native ground.

"I carry the landscape inside like an ache," Ray writes. Her evocations of fog-enshrouded woods and old ways of living are not without pain for all that has been lost--but full of hope as well for what can be saved. --Gregory McNamee --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Ray, a poet and an environmental activist, takes a tough-minded look at life in rural southern Georgia in this blend of memoir and nature study. She presents detailed observations of her family members, most notably her grandfather Charlie, who was "terrifying, prone to violent and unmerited punishment"; her father, whose decision to buy a tract of land near Highway 1 and turn it into what became a massive junkyard with a house in the middle set in motion the key events in Ray's life; and her mother, whose total devotion to her family was tested when her husband began a three-year bout with mental illness. Interspersed with these portraits are various chapters describing the beauty of the longleaf pine flatwoods and other natural treasures found, and often endangered, in her home state. Ray's writing is at its best when she recalls her most harrowing memories, such as when her father gave her and her two brothers a whipping after they stood by and watched a friend kill a turtle. These scenes resonate during the interpolated naturalist chapters, which evoke the calm of the landscape and give readers a respite from the anger and pain that drive much of the family narrative. In a final chapter (in which she includes appendixes on the specific endangered species of the South), Ray laments the "daily erosion of unique folkways as our native ecosystems and all their inhabitants disappear." What remains most memorable are the sections where Ray describes, and attempts to prevent, her own disconnection from the Georgia landscape. (Nov.)
Copyright 1999 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: The World As Home
  • Paperback: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Milkweed Editions; Reprint edition (July 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1571312471
  • ISBN-13: 978-1571312471
  • Product Dimensions: 0.8 x 5.5 x 7.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (78 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #123,639 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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More About the Author

Janisse Ray grew up in a junkyard along U.S. Highway 1. She is the author of Wild Card Quilt and Ecology of a Cracker Childhood, which won the American Book Award, as well as the Southern Book Critics Circle Award, Southeastern Booksellers Association Award for Nonfiction, and the Southern Environmental Law Center Award.

A naturalist, environmental activist, and winner of the 1996 Merriam Frontier Award, she has also published her work in Wild Earth, Orion, Florida Naturalist, and Georgia Wildlife and has been a nature commentator for Georgia Public Radio. She moved this year to Vermont, but still spends much of her time in Georgia.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

36 of 38 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 2, 2000
Format: Hardcover
this book is a must for any Southerner and for anyone interested in the environment. Though I was born and raised in Georgia I was ignorant of the ecology of the longleaf pine forests. And though I have often drive through the region described in the book I knew nothing about the people there. The book alternates between a memoir of Ray's family and upbringing and lyrical descriptions of the land in which they lived. She also tells the story of the magnificent pine forests which grew from Virginia to Mississippi and which are almost nonexistent today. There are many books today about "my childhood" but this is far superior to any I have read with the exception of Mary Karr's "The Liar's Club." It will be of interest to environmentalists and lovers of good writing alike.
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41 of 46 people found the following review helpful By Bruce J. Wasser on November 18, 2000
Format: Paperback
Oooooooo-eeee. I cannot tell you the number of times you will pause while reading this extraordinarily sensitive and profoundly moving life-story. Some of your pauses will feature your face wreathed in smiles, for Janisse Ray's "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood" is a celebration of both place and family, and her finely-delineated family sketches and gloriously-rendered anecdotes and teeming with respect and affection for her family. Other pauses will find you, I am sure, hands on knees, weeping. For there is great pain in this book as well...the pain of a place that is gradually disappearing, the pain of understanding your place in that place, the pain of coming to grips with the flaws of your heritage.
One reviewer, Wes Jackson, said, "Janisse Ray is a role model for countless future rural writers to come." I believe that he understates Ms. Ray's importance. To tell the truth, she is a role model, plain and simple. It is my hope that this stirring memoir will vault her into our nation's consciousness and conscience. This daughter of a Cracker junkyard owner has a significant message to tell us, and her language is simply remarkable. Her verbal imagery is astounding; her precise descriptions -- of humans, flora and fauna -- are models of elegance.
I am willing to bet that there are more than a few readers who could only imagine the possible union of Ms. Ray and Rick Bragg ("All Over but the Shoutin'"). These two white Southerners have much to teach us about family, conscience, commitments and reverence of place.
"Ecology of a Cracker Childhood" will emerge as one of our century's most important works. Be glad to have read it when it first came out.
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16 of 17 people found the following review helpful By Albert K. Culbreath on February 6, 2000
Format: Hardcover
Ms. Ray presents a refreshing approach to a "growing up" memoir that is simultaneously heart-tugging, entertaining and convicting. All of our personal and family histories are closely linked to the natural history of some place. Ms. Ray gives us a wonderful reminder of that through the interweaving of her personal experiences and the history of the long leaf pine ecosystem. She also tells us just how tragic it is that so much of what should be the current part of that "history" is lost or about to be. Ms. Ray helps us experience the joys and the heartbreaks of her own family, and the dangers and adventures of a junkyard. The uncommon combination of what on the surface might seem to be diverse topics could have come across as disjunct had they not been so wonderfully melded. This book is a renewing flame for the mind and the heart.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on October 23, 1999
Format: Hardcover
It is difficult to capture the everyday incidents of a life and intersperse them into a broader view of world thought, but Ms. Ray has accomplished this. She has presented an accurate picture of a lifestyle in America, in a segment of society often mis-understood and neglected, if not resented by a fast and hedonistic society. Her ability to weave the memoirs of a simple life into a broader world-view. I am impressed with her style, her easy ability to make us see inside her viewpoints, and the reflection that her book has brought to me about a life that is quickly passing us by.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Little Old Me on November 12, 2003
Format: Paperback
I originally read Janisse Ray's memoirs and essay collection, "Ecology of a Cracker Childhood", for a class in college. To be honest, I hated it at first and told two of my classmates that if Janisse was so conscious of the environment, then why had the trees died to print this book. I ate those words before I was half way through. Janisse Ray has an immaculate voice and breathtaking experiences to share with us about her childhood, spent living with her family in a junkyard.
The book alternates each chapter between memoirs and essays on the natural forests of Georgia. My preference was on Ray's childhood - where she describes in rich detail about the family bonds that arise out of poverty. There is a certain mystical fantasy about her childhood playgrounds, as she talks about being in a family with money prolbems and numerous mouths to feed. Ray exposes the dark sides of her father's religious fanaticism and mental instability. These stories are honest and refrain from sentimentality. Ray tells talks about her life with simple facts and observations. We experience with her a full view of her introducing a college boyfriend to the wreckage that has been transformed into a home.
"Ecology of a Crack Childhood" is a powerful read that everyone should have the opportunity to experience. I, myself, have spent most of my life growing up in cities, but at least now I have a taste of what the rural world has to offer.
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