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Holy Roller: Growing up in the Church of Knock down, Drag out;: Or, How I Quit Loving a Blue-Eyed Jesus: a Childhood Memoir Hardcover – October 1, 2008

3.0 out of 5 stars 28 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her latest, shrimper and memoirist Wilson (An Unreasonable Woman) unspools the tale of her 1950s small-town upbringing along the Gulf Coast of Texas, the daughter of third-generation shrimpers. As in her first book, Wilson writes with a stylized cadence, sans extraneous punctuation, that readers will either take to or not: "Grandma ate Fritos in a glass of buttermilk for dinner and supper and that plus giving the radio evangelist all her shrimp-heading money was driving two of her daughters batty and two not so much." Her father, "a man's man who didn't talk unnecessarily to women," and is always off shrimping, leaves her to be raised by her eccentric mother and grandmother ("the original Waste Not Want Not-er... nothing was so low that it didn't get cooked into something else"), who nevertheless imbue her with strong, transcendent values. Meanwhile, a cast of characters that includes her Pentecostal Aunt Silver ("Pentecostals had faith and faith was the absence of planning") and a snake-handling Brother Dynamite lead her through a clash between the Church of Jesus Loves You and an upstart backwoods congregation. Wilson's distinctive voice makes for some whip-smart passages, and her southern Gothic world, a colorful and unpredictable place, is fully identifiable in its commitment to vice-tight family love and responsibility to some higher power.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

From Booklist

When an international chemical company nearly destroyed the Gulf Coast bay from which she eked out a living as a shrimper, Wilson’s pursuit of the polluters was nearly messianic in its fervor, as recorded in An Unreasonable Woman (2005). Brought up by a zealous family of Pentecostal believers, Wilson comes by her sense of moral outrage at blatant injustice naturally. Churchgoing was more than an occasional Sunday morning outing; it was a 24/7 occupation overseen by a grandmother who judged every aspect of life according to a strict and literal interpretation of the scriptures. In Wilson’s provocative memoir of life in the Texas Bible Belt of the 1950s, snake-handling preachers, fitful parishioners speaking in tongues, and money-hungry radio evangelists share equal billing with corrupt game wardens, outlaw fishermen, and less-than-devout male relatives whose “back-sliding” ways give their womenfolk immense cause for concern. Through a vividly kaleidoscopic voice that captures the intensity of fanatical religious rapture with pitch-perfect accuracy, Wilson exuberantly animates a feverish time, a frenetic place, and its fiery people. --Carol Haggas
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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Chelsea Green Publishing; First Printing edition (October 1, 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1933392827
  • ISBN-13: 978-1933392820
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.9 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (28 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,199,259 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Gary F. Taylor HALL OF FAMETOP 500 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on November 30, 2008
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
There is a certain amount of pleasure to had in reading stories of people your mother told you not to associate with--and writer Diane Wilson serves it up in a heaping helping with her portrait of her hard-scrabble childhood, complete with itenerant preachers, junked cars, and irate grandmothers. But in truth the stories aren't the main attraction here: its the tone of voice, which is witty, idiomatic, and distinctly wry, tossing off memorable turns of phrase with tremendous authority and aplomb.

Drawn from memories of her childhood, the central stories concern revolve around a struggle in the family's church--a struggle that leaves an opening for the so-called Rev. Dynamite, who steps in with a call to repentence. Unfortunately, the Reverend's church is of the "Written In Heaven" variety, a phrase that usually denotes snake handling; when he is bounced out of one church, he sets up his own on the edge of a misquito-ridden swamp. At the same time, one shrimper has been killed and another has gone missing; not only does Diane become involved in the search for the killer, she also gets involved with the snake handlers too.

It may be difficult for mainstream Christians and Americans to believe that such sects exist, but they do indeed--and while Wilson doesn't attack them per se, neither does she make them seem less unsavory than they actually are, laying it on the line in no uncertain terms. As for the murder, it proves a largely unresolveable affair, but the pleasure is in the journey and the way Wilson writes it. Recommended.

GFT, Amazon Reviewer
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Shake my family tree and numerous holy rollin' preachers, - and preachers' wives, missionaries, and plenty of acting out preachers' kids -a few snake handlers, and plenty of back sliders will fall out. That's one of the reasons why I recognized so much in Wilson's wacky, seemingly implausible (but, trust me, it isn't) memoir.

This is a book that requires you to sit back with a glass of tea, turn off your brain, and just enjoy. There aren't deep revelations here. Wilson's childhood can be described as chaotic, but filled with love. Her relationship with Chief, her paternal grandfather, is touching, and the family members, neighbors, visiting missionaries, and shrimpers that populate her memories are interesting and somewhat crazy and somehow believable.

Wilson introduces readers unfamiliar with the holy rollin' life to the wonders of speaking in tongues, rogue snake handlers, and people whose faith is unshakable even in the face of contrary "evidence." The sinners sin big and the believers look for miracles. This is a fun, touching little book, and although there are no deep secrets revealed, I enjoyed reading about Wilson's experiences in her church and community and especially within her unique family. I do have to say that I wish Anthony Perkins would pop up and let us know what he thinks of his place in this story. I think he'd be pleased.
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Format: Hardcover
In "Holy Roller", Environmental and Social Justice Activist and Code Pink co-founder Diane Wilson has penned a profound memoir of deep insights, high comedy, and everyday human strengths and failings. Raised on the Gulf Coast in rural Texas in a fourth-generation family of shrimpers, Diane's tale unfolds in the hothouse environment of Pentecostal fundamentalism and the raw natural world of sea, sky and earth.

"Holy Roller" is populated by a set of hilarious characters straight out of central casting and reflects the hardscrabble existence of blue collar folks struggling to make a living, while at the same time attempting to give meaning and purpose to their lives in the larger world and cosmos. Diane's narrative is a window into a world of Americana 50 years ago - of a little girl trying to make sense of hard working, hard loving, hard drinking and hard worshipping family and extended relatives rooted (or not) in a Biblical tradition of black/white, good/bad, salvation/damnation, world/heaven and Jesus and the Devil.

"Jesus had found my hidey-holes so I slid to the floor and laid my head flat against the picture-show chair and the tears welled from my eyes and pasted my face to its red oily surface. I could taste the salt in my mouth. Then God or Jesus or, I don't know, maybe the Holy Ghost poured me into a little heap of useless powder on the floor and warned me if I moved an inch without getting myself born again, he would blow me into a fiery furnace. The time was now. The time was now. Nine years old don't mean nothing to God."

The message contained for me in Diane Wilson's rollicking memoir of magical realism is that of inclusivity and interconnectedness.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Unlike some of the other reviewers, I had no problem following Wilson's writing... although I can see where some folks might. Indeed, the first editorial review from Publishers Weekly notes that Wilson's "stylized cadence" is one that "readers will either take to or not."

I took to it.

Does the book "go" anywhere? I suppose not. A memoir of my life wouldn't "go" anywhere either, nor would those of the people I love most in my life, but they would be full of laugh-out-loud moments just like Holy Roller.

So many of the crazy characters in Holy Roller remind me of the family and friends I grew up with in New Orleans and its environs. As I giggled my way through the book, it felt so familiar... I KNOW these people! I read several excerpts to my husband - a fellow Gulf Coast southerner - and he felt the same way.

I grew up in a small town outside of New Orleans and went to a church very similar to the Church of Jesus Loves You. I *remember* that revivalist... I wanted to be a missionary, too, and I knew so many crazy grannies who sent every dime to far-away evangelists and hoped for the Rapture of the Saints.

Perhaps nostalgia is to blame but I really like this book.

A lot.

If you're looking for an in-depth discussion of Pentecostalism, this book isn't for you. If you want a fun and often poignant peek into the lives of a random Gulf Coast family of shrimpers... it is.

Recommended.
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