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Small Wonder: Essays Paperback – April 15, 2003

4.3 out of 5 stars 127 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Readers familiar with Barbara Kingsolver will find that Small Wonder, a collection of 23 essays, shows the same sensitivity and thoughtfulness, the same rich knowledge of and love for the natural world, as her spellbinding novels. In "Knowing Our Place," she describes the two places in which she writes: a tin-roof cabin in Appalachia and her home in the Tucson desert. In "Setting Free the Crabs," she uses her daughter's decision not to take home a beautiful (and occupied) red conch shell from a Mexican beach to illustrate our own need to give up our sense of ownership of the earth, to resist "the hunger to possess all things bright and beautiful." Many of these pieces, like the lovely title essay, were written (or rewritten) in response to the events of September 11, which threw into relief the growing social and economic inequities that are so little remarked on in the American media. These are political essays, although Kingsolver is not a natural rhetorician; her prose is too supple and inclusive. She is more inclined to follow the turns of her mind, like water in a curving stream bed, than to hammer home a point or two. But she has a rare gift for apt allusion (from sources as wide-ranging as Robert Frost to Beanie Babies) and for the elegant use of facts and figures. And she is highly quotable. It is easy to imagine the speechwriters and activists of the next 10 years dipping into Small Wonder for inspiration and the perfect phrase. --Regina Marler --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Publishers Weekly

This book of essays by Kingsolver (The Poisonwood Bible, etc.) is like a visit from a cherished old friend. Conversation ranges from what Kingsolver ate on a trip to Japan to wonder over a news story about a she-bear who suckled a lost child to how it feels to be an American idealist living in a post-September 11 world. She tackles some sticky issues, among them the question of who is entitled to wave the American flag and why, and some possible reasons why our nation has been targeted for terror by angry fundamentalists and what we can do to ease our anxiety over the new reality while respecting the rest of planet Earth's inhabitants. Kingsolver has strong opinions, but has a gift for explaining what she thinks and how she arrived at her conclusions in a way that gives readers plenty of room to disagree comfortably. But Kingsolver's essays also reward her readers in other ways. As she puts it herself in "What Good Is a Story": "We are nothing if we can't respect our readers." Respect for the intelligence of her audience is apparent everywhere in this outstanding collection. Illus.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 267 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial; Reprint edition (April 15, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0060504080
  • ISBN-13: 978-0060504083
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 0.8 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (127 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #49,622 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a long-time fan of all of Barbara Kingsolver's novels (The Bean Trees, Pigs in Heaven, Animal Dreams, The Poisonwood Bible, Prodigal Summers), so I was interested to hear more about the person and the views behind the stories. Small Wonders did not disappoint. Kingsolver makes it clear that for her, the personal is political, meaning that the choices that we make as individuals have political impact. So, the essays are wide-ranging, from her family life and her garden, to her concerns about the natural environment and thoughts about the U.S.'s reaction to Sept. 11. The essays are well-written, interesting, and thought provoking. I found myself agreeing with most of the points that she makes, and many of her ideas linger afterward; for example, she asks us to consider the environmental costs of shipping food all over the world, instead of eating what is grown locally. Or what it means to have TV streaming into your home every day. Or what the consquences of genetically engineering food might be, not just for our health, but for the environment. I recommend the book highly to fans of her novels as well as to people interested in a thoughtful read.
Some may disagree with her post-Sept. 11 analysis -- her concern about our country's agressive response. To those I would say, all the more reason to read the book, and hear her side of it, even if you ultimately disagree, exactly because voices such has hers have received little airplay. Here, her own words say it better than I could:
"Questioning our government's actions does not violate the principles of liberty, equality, and freedom of speech; it exercises them, and by exercise we grow stronger. I have read enough of Thomas Jefferson to feel sure he would back me up on this.
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Format: Hardcover
Barbara Kingsolver, a biology graduate and author, ends her first story in "Small Wonder" by writing, "I'd like to speak of small wonders and the possibility of taking heart."
Instead of having a dangerous nationalistic attitude by saying, "Hey, America's the best!" she shows her patriotism for her country by celebrating the good and shining light on the bad so that we as a country might heal.
With great insight and compassion Kingsolver gently helps us become more knowledgeable about our country's challenges and eloquently puts into words what many of us think and feel.
About conservation she says the U.S. citizen's compromise 5% of the world's people and uses a quarter of its fuel. The U.S. belongs to the 20% of the world's population that generates 75% of its pollution. Although we are the world's biggest contributors to global warming we walked away from ratifying the Kyoto agreement with the 178 other nations in 2001. Instead of eating local produce the average American's food travels 5 million miles by land, sea and air. Yet our country possesses the resources to bring solar technology, energy independence and sustainable living to our planet.
About the Government she says we live in the only rich country in the world that still tolerates poverty. In Japan, some European countries and Canada the state assumes the duty of providing all its citizens with good education, good health and shelter. These nations believe that homelessness simply isn't an option. The citizens pay higher taxes than the U.S. and so they have smaller homes, smaller cars, and appetites for consumer goods. They realize true peace is not the absence of tension but the presence of justice.
About wars she says, "The losers of all wars are largely the innocent.
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Format: Paperback
I agree with the reviewer who cautioned to take this book in small doses. I was moved to tears by the second page, and realized I needed to pace myself. On that second page, Kingsolver was describing the story of a lost child in Iraq (who was found)....her point of view was from the parents of this child, and the heart-wrenching terror they must have felt as the babysitter came running towards them in tears, without their son. This story has an incredible ending, and an incredible message....as does each essay. Some essays are heavy and may provoke thoughts or ideology that makes you uncomfortable, or disagreeable. That is okay.....that is the point of these essays. (As for the reviewer who noted the author's "sexist" remarks - tell me how many women have started a war. Hello? Open your eyes. That is not a sexist statement, it's a fact). If more people would take Kingsolver's gentle, thoughtful manner of considering how our actions affect the global community and our future generations, maybe we could really improve upon our reputation as uncooperative, self-serving, greedy and over-consumptive Americans. Maybe.

As for reviewers who likened this to an anti-Bush or post-9/11 rant, they obviously didn't read the entire book. There are beautiful essays detailing a trip to the heart of Mexico, gardening with her daughters, and the long-term effects of the food choices we make - among many others.

All in all, I did find myself coming to this book on my lunch hour for a good dose of hope and solace. Sometimes taking time to acknowledge one small wonder in this hectic world can make your mood a little bit lighter.
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