I am struggling to respond to the book I just finished, so I wrote a letter instead.
Mr. Rick Bragg,
I make a very small living as a book reviewer these days, but reading your books I am no kind of book reviewer, because I don’t know how to write about what you do when you write about your life.
Of course I believe that the best books for us find us at the right times, and yours have found me at the time when they can hit me the hardest. I am having a crisis of identity and place, having moved from my hometown of 32 1/2 years in Texas to a small town on the Canadian border of Washington state, which I have found largely unworkable. Your writing about places I have never lived and know only a little or not at all – Miami, New Orleans, rural Alabama – makes me feel homesick. Your writing about being a displaced Southerner at Harvard, or in New York City, resonates with me, although I am not the same as you. I’m from a big city – the fourth largest in the country – and have moved to a small one; but your displacements feels familiar all the same.
You are, of course, one of the finest writers about food that I’ve encountered. At the risk of offending, I will say I don’t eat pork, because I don’t like pork; but your descriptions of cracklin’s (etc.) still make me wish I were there and not here.
I am not one of those “who went to speech school to get rid of their accents,” in part because I don’t have much of an accent, being from a city, but what I have I will keep – although I was at one point one of those, as you observe, who fear “they sound slow, or at least unsophisticated, to outsiders.” When I interviewed for a big-time academic job in the North, I worried about saying y’all. I shouldn’t have. I don’t apologize, any more.
Houston is many things, big and diverse, containing multitudes, and that is my single favorite thing about the place; this also means that Houston can be a bit schizophrenic, even self-loathing. You write that Atlanta “tears down its history with wrecking balls, and builds something bland and homogenized in its place.” Houston has done too much of that, although it’s done lots of other things with its history, as well.
This wasn’t supposed to be about me, but that’s the work your writing does. I see a lot of myself and my own experience, even where I see all sorts of adventures that are unknown to me. That’s a piece of work, in itself.
You’ve made a big difference to me. Keep up the good work. I wish you and yours all the best; you feel like friends to me now.
Tomorrow I’ll try again to write a book review.