I historically never was one for essays. I’m far too addicted to the drama of novels and the in depth intellectualism of well written nonfiction. But recently I find myself drawn to short stories and collections of essays. Perhaps it is a deficit in attention span, my brain unwilling to commit to follow through. But perhaps it is also (or instead) an appreciate for the succinct, the simple, the ability of a writer to capture meaning in merely a few pages. Barbara Kingsolver does just this in her essay collection from the mid 90s, High Tide in Tucson.
A marvelous collection of pieces that is at once academic and emotional, Barbara eloquently recreates moments in time, from wild pigs uprooting her Arizona garden to the silently horrifying experience of touring an old missile site outside Tucson. The latter essay spoke to me in particular in its wild array of reactions and reflections, from calculated observation of statistics on nuclear spending in the United States to raw grief.
“Why did I not scream at the top of my lungs down in that hole?”
Barbara has held a high place for years in my list of favorite authors, particularly Prodigal Summer, and remains so despite many years of many marvelous tales, triumphs, and tragedies. A key element of this standing is Barbara’s quiet encouragement of the reader (and, I would argue, an aspiring writer such as myself) to both think critically and feel deeply. Far too many authors fall one one side or the other of this false dichotomy, either relishing in overwrought emotionality or denying the feeling brain in favor of the cerebral. As a human being, an activist, and a creator of any number of things I value fellow creators that can hold both of these things as Barbara does, a precarious balance to be sure, but one that is critical to our humanity.