Excerpt from Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

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Small Wonder

By Barbara Kingsolver

Small Wonder
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  • Hardcover: Apr 2002,
    288 pages.
    Paperback: Apr 2003,
    288 pages.

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Print Excerpt

God's Wives Measuring Spoons

Most of the time I go right on growing tomatoes and basil and broccoli simply because they are good, we like them, I'm determined to figure out the right planting time for cole crops, and broccoli attracts hordes of green looper caterpillars that throw Lily's chickens into paroxysms of chicken joy. I do it because the world has announced to me, loudly, that it's time to make a choice between infinite material entitlement or a more modest, self-reliant security, and this is a step I can take in the right direction. Most of the time I raise up my wonderful daughters to have what I hope will be a useful blend of smart-aleck acuity and politeness, and once in a while we go down to help out the homeless shelter or dig a community vegetable garden because I want my kids to understand that compassion involves not just the heart but the hands. I write my poems, my congressmen, my letters to the editor, and I go on believing as I do, whether it makes any sense from the front and the back or not.

But like anyone else I am liable to be misunderstood, or scolded for standing apart from the crowd. I'm just one of a multitude of writers who venture outside the approved current of opinion du jour to get a better view of the complex struggle to reconcile cultural, national, and moral imperatives. Inevitably, some extremists will not tolerate this kind of art or dialogue. I've been called all the predictable names and some unpredictable ones; I've been misquoted in inflammatory ways by hate radio and its print equivalent in an attempt to impugn my patriotism and scare away readers. The historical mode of attack on writers (which continues into the present) is to avoid discussion of our actual ideas and instead declare us un-American for fabricated reasons and pronounce direly that no one had better listen to us, they'd best play it safe and just hate us. Inevitably, a few citizens will oblige: Some irate souls have vowed to uncover my true identity(!). Some are praying for my immortal soul, and two have offered to buy me a one-way ticket out of the country. (If I used them both, where would I end up?) I accept these gifts with the understanding that these people haven't the faintest idea who I am. It's important and worth noting here that the vitriolic mail almost never comes from anyone who has read me, but only from those who've read about me. It seems a certain sector has been led to associate my name with treason and sedition. Wow. The public may expect a circus, and fireworks—as Mark Twain wrote in bold-faced type on a handbill announcing one of his lectures—"in fact, the public may be invited to expect whatever they please." But they'll find no treason or sedition at my house, and they've rather pathetically missed my point, which is that it's love for my homeland that obliges me to participate in the discussion of preserving its integrity, and to take any risk necessary on my country's behalf. Otherwise, believe me, I'd live a safe and happy life writing cookbooks, or better yet, just cooking. It seems bizarre that a firm dedication to peace and the goodness of life should draw violent ire, but it does. Think of Gandhi, of Martin Luther King Jr. I'm hardly a drop in this river of tears and belief. Sometimes my heart catches in my throat and I just have to stop for a second with my hand on a doorknob or the cold metal of a key, assemble in my heart the grace of all we have to believe in, and say my own prayer for us all—that we will find the way through each hour of our lives that will have been worthy of the task.

Excerpted from "God's Wives Measuring Spoons" in Small Wonder. Copyright © 2002 by Barbara Kingsolver. HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.

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