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A Childhood: The Biography of a Place

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A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews' earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him--and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews' earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him--and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grinding poverty, poor soil, and blood feuds, it was also a deeply mystical place, where snakes talked, birds could possess a small boy by spitting in his mouth, and faith healers and conjure women kept ghosts and devils at bay.At once shocking and elegiac, heartrending and comical, A Childhood not only recalls the transforming events of Crews's youth but conveys his growing sense of self in a world "in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives." Amid portraits of relatives and neighbors, Bacon County lore, and details of farm life, Crews tells of his father's death; his friendship with Willalee Bookatee, the son of a black hired hand; his bout with polio; his mother and stepfather's failing marriage; his near-fatal scalding at a hog-killing; and a five-month sojourn in Jacksonville, Florida. These and other memories define, with reverence and affection, Harry Crews's childhood world: "its people and its customs and all its loveliness and all its ugliness." Imaginative and gripping, A Childhood re-creates in detail one writer's search for past and self, a search for a time and place lost forever except in memory.


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A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews' earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him--and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of A Childhood is the unforgettable memoir of Harry Crews' earliest years, a sharply remembered portrait of the people, locales, and circumstances that shaped him--and destined him to be a storyteller. Crews was born in the middle of the Great Depression, in a one-room sharecropper's cabin at the end of a dirt road in rural South Georgia. If Bacon County was a place of grinding poverty, poor soil, and blood feuds, it was also a deeply mystical place, where snakes talked, birds could possess a small boy by spitting in his mouth, and faith healers and conjure women kept ghosts and devils at bay.At once shocking and elegiac, heartrending and comical, A Childhood not only recalls the transforming events of Crews's youth but conveys his growing sense of self in a world "in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives." Amid portraits of relatives and neighbors, Bacon County lore, and details of farm life, Crews tells of his father's death; his friendship with Willalee Bookatee, the son of a black hired hand; his bout with polio; his mother and stepfather's failing marriage; his near-fatal scalding at a hog-killing; and a five-month sojourn in Jacksonville, Florida. These and other memories define, with reverence and affection, Harry Crews's childhood world: "its people and its customs and all its loveliness and all its ugliness." Imaginative and gripping, A Childhood re-creates in detail one writer's search for past and self, a search for a time and place lost forever except in memory.

30 review for A Childhood: The Biography of a Place

  1. 4 out of 5

    Zoeytron

    Bacon County, Georgia. The Great Depression is in full swing. Weekly baths are taken in a large galvanized tub with homemade lye soap, with the whole family using the same water. Slop jars, outhouses, and clothes made from feed sacks. Where everyone knows a farting mule is a good mule, though prone to bite. You have to wonder if the term "dirt poor" was coined there. At any rate, you made do with what you had and nothing went to waste. The Sears-Roebuck catalog was a wonderment, a wish book with Bacon County, Georgia.  The Great Depression is in full swing.  Weekly baths are taken in a large galvanized tub with homemade lye soap, with the whole family using the same water.  Slop jars, outhouses, and clothes made from feed sacks.  Where everyone knows a farting mule is a good mule, though prone to bite.  You have to wonder if the term "dirt poor" was coined there.  At any rate, you made do with what you had and nothing went to waste.  The Sears-Roebuck catalog was a wonderment, a wish book with perfect models.  Memoir of author Harry Crews.  It ain't pretty, but it is a mighty fine read.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Howard

    UPDATE: Here is a link to a wonderful retrospective look at Crews' book by Dwight Garner in his "American Beauties" column in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/29/bo... I especially agree with his conclusion: His novels, which are mostly out of print, aren’t for everyone, despite my abiding fondness for several of them. This memoir is for everyone. It’s agile, honest and built as if to last. Like its author, it’s a resilient American original. UPDATE: Here is a link to a wonderful retrospective look at Crews' book by Dwight Garner in his "American Beauties" column in the New York Times: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/06/29/bo... I especially agree with his conclusion: His novels, which are mostly out of print, aren’t for everyone, despite my abiding fondness for several of them. This memoir is for everyone. It’s agile, honest and built as if to last. Like its author, it’s a resilient American original. ------------------------------------------- When Harry Crews died in 2012, Elaine Woo in the Los Angeles Times wrote, “[t]he word ‘original’ only begins to describe Crews, whose 17 novels place him squarely in the Southern gothic tradition, also known as Grit Lit. He emerged from a grisly childhood in Georgia with a darkly comic vision that made him literary kin to William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and Hunter S. Thompson, although he never achieved their broad recognition.” In 1968, he began a long tenure on the University of Florida faculty. Woo writes, “[d]uring his three decades there, he swore, drank and generally fractured the academic mold. With piercing blue eyes set deep in his craggy face, a limp caused by one or another violent encounter, a wardrobe that ran to sleeveless T-shirts and denims, and an assortment of tattoos (including one of a skull with a line from ee cummings, ‘how do you like your blue-eyed boy/Mister Death’), he looked like the type of person one would cross the street to avoid meeting.” I have read most of his novels and though I have to admit that they are not among my favorites, I will always have vivid memories of each of them, for they are impossible to forget. How could I forget a story about a man who sets out to eat an entire car, a Ford Maverick, piece-by-piece (Car, 1972), or a man who makes a living by knocking himself out (The Knockout Artist, 1988)? His books never made the best-seller lists and that was because, as one critic wrote, “in part because they bewildered some readers and repelled others.” But he did develop a cult following, a huge one. His novels are a bit too bizarre for my reading tastes, but I am a huge fan of his memoir. A Childhood: The Biography of a Place, primarily a straight forward account of the first six years of his life, is just as memorable as his novels, and will always be one of my favorites. I say primarily for there is one event in his life that he describes that is characterized by supernatural elements. The son of agricultural sharecroppers, Crews grew up in extreme poverty in south Georgia during the '30s and '40s. In 1937, when he was a small boy, his father died as the result of a heart attack. Crews description of what happened the night after his father was buried is one of the most devastating descriptions of grinding poverty that I have ever read: "The night after the day daddy was buried, somebody went in the smokehouse and stole all the meat that had been cured and hung there before he died.... "Mama knows who got the meat, not because she has any hard proof, but because in her heart she knows, and I know too, but the one who got it is himself lying in the same graveyard daddy's in and I see no reason to name him. "He was one of my daddy's friends. I do not say he was supposedly or apparently a friend. He was a friend, and a close one, but he stole the meat anyway. Not many people may be able to understand that or sympathize with it, but I think I do. It was a hard time in that land, and a lot of men did things for which they were ashamed and suffered for the rest of their lives. But they did them because of hunger and sickness and because they could not bear the sorry spectacle of their children dying from lack of a doctor and their wives growing old before they were thirty." Harry Crews life proved at least one thing: It is possible to overcome what appear to be the insurmountable odds of one’s childhood. However, it should be added, that only a few people – a mighty few – could have surmounted the odds he faced. But not only did he have to survive a harrowing childhood, he also had to survive an adulthood that would have finished off anyone who was not blessed with his iron will and intestinal fortitude.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Diane Barnes

    "A man does not back away from doing whatever is necessary, no matter how unpleasant." That pretty much describes the men AND women in this memoir. Harry Crews was born in 1935 into grinding poverty in southern Georgia. Just having a roof over your head and anything at all to put in your belly was something to be proud of. Crews blessing was that he had family who loved him. And that may be the only reason he survived a crippling disease and a horrible accident back to back, because it certainly "A man does not back away from doing whatever is necessary, no matter how unpleasant." That pretty much describes the men AND women in this memoir. Harry Crews was born in 1935 into grinding poverty in southern Georgia. Just having a roof over your head and anything at all to put in your belly was something to be proud of. Crews blessing was that he had family who loved him. And that may be the only reason he survived a crippling disease and a horrible accident back to back, because it certainly wasn't due to what little, uninformed medical care he received. He relates the particulars of these events without any whining or "why me" attitudes, but the horror of what he endured comes through loud and clear. There is also much understated humor in these pages as well as instructions for things I dearly hope I never need to know, such as how to skin and cook a possum, and how to tell the age of a mule from it's teeth. "The only thing worse than my nerves was my curiosity, which had always been untempered by pity or compassion, a serious character failing in most societies but a sanity - saving virtue in Georgia when I was a child." This quote precedes a scene where he watches a hired man tortured by a bad tooth pull it out with a pair of pliers, with nothing but freezing water from the well to deaden the pain. I rate memoirs by two criteria: The quality of the writing, and how effectively it pulls me into the life of the person who lived it. Harry Crews wowed me on both fronts. My library edition also had some wonderful pen and ink drawings by Michael McCurdy, which managed to evoke the emotion of the scene in simple lines.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Cody

    Were anyone to doubt that Crews’ minimal style was an affectation, I would kindly turn their head to Childhood for proof that HC could’ve written up a storm had he chose to. Easily his most verbose work, this autobiography could pass as some obscure Faulkner book to the unsuspecting. The result is one of his best, evoking the environs of a Depression-soaked American people living so far below the poverty line that they’re practically interred. This is largely a meditation on dignity and Were anyone to doubt that Crews’ minimal style was an affectation, I would kindly turn their head to Childhood for proof that HC could’ve written up a storm had he chose to. Easily his most verbose work, this autobiography could pass as some obscure Faulkner book to the unsuspecting. The result is one of his best, evoking the environs of a Depression-soaked American people living so far below the poverty line that they’re practically interred. This is largely a meditation on dignity and community, two prehistoric commodities that existed in this country sometime between the Iguanodon and The Beatles landing at JFK. What racial divisions linger in Bacon County, GA are largely bridged by necessity. Of course, were Crews black his point of view would likely be different. As we have to take him at his word—which we should, as there is no evidence to the contrary—one must cede that subsistence outpaced the luxury of discrimination. Almost all of his first flush of books would feature characters named after the real life black families and friends who so nurtured and helped raise him as one of their own, and I take this honoring as a testament to the man's constitution. Check that sub-title: this isn’t a salacious retelling of Crews burning dope and fucking in the streets, rather, it is dreamy and panoramic portraiture of landscape and its inhabitants (in that order). It is also a painfully detailed rendering of his earliest years as an incipient dirt farmer and the horrific occurrences that frequent his family with the regularity of moon cycles. I’ll give none away, but let it be said that tragedy looms grossly large—a demon amok in the tobacco fields, ever-ready to snatch away innocence and sacrifice hope upon the loam.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    Harry Crews. You think you had it rough growing up? Just look at him. Take a close look. What you see is a man that's been through some things in his childhood and that's in relation to the time period and place he grew up. What you see is that scowl, that continuous look of 'leave me the hell alone'. What you see is a stereotypical country boy that you may point and laugh at, but with a quick look in your direction, the intimidation makes you run for your life. What you don't see is the pain of Harry Crews. You think you had it rough growing up? Just look at him. Take a close look. What you see is a man that's been through some things in his childhood and that's in relation to the time period and place he grew up. What you see is that scowl, that continuous look of 'leave me the hell alone'. What you see is a stereotypical country boy that you may point and laugh at, but with a quick look in your direction, the intimidation makes you run for your life. What you don't see is the pain of childhood - whether it be from a random disease that keeps you immobile for months, being submerged in a boiling pot of lye up to your neck, or the emotional anguish of losing a parent too soon while gaining one that beats the pain out of you, that pain no longer felt on the skin or muscles, pain that's crept into the mind and created the distance between child and man. This is not just a childhood, but a life. Life can be horrendous, yet comical, depressing, yet enlightening. Crews makes an otherwise overlooked, invisible place fascinating, no matter how crude and horrible it may be. One of the best biographies you'll read of a childhood and place that shaped that person through his writing and the rest of his life. Recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Lawyer

    Perhaps the best memoir/autobiography I have read. Crews must not only deal with the past, but the future. Only four months old when his father died, Crews knew nothing about his father. After three years in the Marines, Crews returns home and asks his Uncle to tell him about his father. Uncle Alton spent the day driving Crews to talk to Men who had known his father. A vivid portrait of a man dead for a quarter century. Crews then sets out telling of his own life. Infantile paralysis. Being Perhaps the best memoir/autobiography I have read. Crews must not only deal with the past, but the future. Only four months old when his father died, Crews knew nothing about his father. After three years in the Marines, Crews returns home and asks his Uncle to tell him about his father. Uncle Alton spent the day driving Crews to talk to Men who had known his father. A vivid portrait of a man dead for a quarter century. Crews then sets out telling of his own life. Infantile paralysis. Being scalded over 2/3 of his body on a hog killing day. His best friend he learns is a "nigger." Something he had to be taught. To Crews' credit they remain friends. It would be stretching it to say it is a pleasure to read this book. The life Crews describes is told dispassionately. There is no sentimentality here. Not does Crews resort to humor to lighten the load on the reader. As Crews wrote in his epigraph, "Survival is triumph enough."

  7. 5 out of 5

    Josh

    3 Points: 1) At a recent lecture by Clyde Edgerton, he explained to the audience how Southern writers have the advantage of a slew of outlandish stories from their immediate and peripheral lives from which to draw. It helps them in crafting work and words in a way that adds interest. Well, I got it when Edgerton said it, but there is no question this book illustrates the root of what he was explaining. By the time Crews was 10 years old, he had had enough "coming of age" to overshadow anything I 3 Points: 1) At a recent lecture by Clyde Edgerton, he explained to the audience how Southern writers have the advantage of a slew of outlandish stories from their immediate and peripheral lives from which to draw. It helps them in crafting work and words in a way that adds interest. Well, I got it when Edgerton said it, but there is no question this book illustrates the root of what he was explaining. By the time Crews was 10 years old, he had had enough "coming of age" to overshadow anything I could imagine as possible in today's culture. In some places rough as a cob, in other places smooth as silk. Not going to give it away by describing any of them, but suffice it to say you will not believe more than 10 events described in this book..........and I believe they were true. 2) Memoirs........some people hate them. I get that. This, is not that memoir. This reads like fiction. Good fiction. Except it isn't fiction. It's a memoir. But if all memoirs were like this one, you would like memoirs. 3) The most eye opening part of this story was his take on story telling and how "place" was (and is) so key to the stories we get to hear. In today's Facebook, goodreads, Twitter world we think we get to experience everyone's story with them.......except we don't because we only get the perspectives of those we already know or want to know. In Crews' mind, part of the fullness of story telling is hearing the story for the first time from a perspective you haven't heard or known, and the only way that can be accomplished effectively is through association that only happens in a physical proximity. Like it used to happen when you were killing hogs, or pumping gas, or sitting in church. With the same small population that has been around you all your life. My daughter while she may one day hear new stories about me from different friends of mine, but she will never get to experience the same story being told by all those people at the same time because we are virtual in connection now not physical. Great read- highly recommended- highly southern- puts me in a place to know how he gained his unique slant on life which would have been required to write the way he did.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Connie G

    Harry Crews was practicing the art of storytelling as a five-year-old in a poor sharecropper's shack in Georgia. He and his friends made up stories about the models in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. "I first became fascinated with the Sears catalogue because all the people in its pages were perfect. Nearly everybody I knew had something missing, a finger cut off, a toe split, an ear half-chewed away, an eye clouded with blindness from a glancing fence staple. And if they didn't have something Harry Crews was practicing the art of storytelling as a five-year-old in a poor sharecropper's shack in Georgia. He and his friends made up stories about the models in the Sears Roebuck catalogue. "I first became fascinated with the Sears catalogue because all the people in its pages were perfect. Nearly everybody I knew had something missing, a finger cut off, a toe split, an ear half-chewed away, an eye clouded with blindness from a glancing fence staple. And if they didn't have something missing, they were carrying sores from barbed wire, or knives, or fishhooks." The youngsters created stories where the perfect models had hard feelings and violent trouble between them, problems that were not visible to the eye. "I knew that under those fancy clothes there had to be scars, there had to be swellings and boils of one kind or another because there was no other way to live in the world." Crews' family was terribly poor, working extremely hard farming in Bacon County, Georgia during the Great Depression. His father died when he was two-years-old, and his mother married his alcoholic uncle. Crews survived two heartbreaking challenges when he was a young child--polio and terrible burns. But there was always a sense of love and home from his large extended family. This memoir gave me the feeling that Crews was sitting on a porch, having a drink and sharing his stories with friends on a hot Georgia night. Although there are tales of hardship, there are also many moments of humor--eccentric characters, animal stories, and superstitions. There is a real sense of place in this book, as the subtitle "The Biography of a Place" attests. So pull up a chair and spend a few evenings with Harry Crews' storytelling. I hope you'll be as impressed with his fine writing as I was.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Cbj

    A Childhood is about life on a farm during the great depression in Bacon County, Georgia. The action packed start involves Crews' father working in a swamp, piling dirt for a highway in what was to become Tamiami Trail. A short account of his father's picaresque adventures with women and alcohol and other badass characters in Bacon County follows. This is to establish the naked tribalism that prevailed during those times when it came to the tough men guarding their territory. The book is filled A Childhood is about life on a farm during the great depression in Bacon County, Georgia. The action packed start involves Crews' father working in a swamp, piling dirt for a highway in what was to become Tamiami Trail. A short account of his father's picaresque adventures with women and alcohol and other badass characters in Bacon County follows. This is to establish the naked tribalism that prevailed during those times when it came to the tough men guarding their territory. The book is filled with colorful characters who tell tall tales and superstitious allegorical tales. The one about Flo who saw a baby's hand drop out of a bleeding woman was a bit eerie. Crews' love for freaks and handicapped people, like in The Gypsy's Curse is understandable, after reading this book. He himself contracted polio as a kid and had lots of people drop in to watch him. He also fell into scalding hot water in his childhood while playing with his friends. There are detailed accounts of farming, the landscapes, the food and the animals. Towards the end of the book, Crews and family move into the city of Jacksonville after his mother separates from his violent alcoholic father. The rural family experiences the dreariness of mass production (Crews mother works in a factory folding tobacco leaves and has many stressful days) while enjoying the certainties of modern amenities. But the city is too much for them and they go back to where they came from. I did not like it much the first time I read it, when I was going through a reading funk. But I appreciated it a lot more this time. Along with Charles Willeford's I Was Looking for a Street, this might be one of the lesser known books set during the depression.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Rae Meadows

    Crews's memoir of his early years is quite an extraordinary capturing of a specific place and time we don't often get to see in this detailed way. As a young boy Crews lives in extreme poverty in a corner of rural south Georgia during the Depression, life that seems more 19th century than 20th, and he brings it to life with his signature color and empathy. The story of the tragic moment when he begins to see race I found particularly heartbreaking. Crews is a storyteller, and at points I Crews's memoir of his early years is quite an extraordinary capturing of a specific place and time we don't often get to see in this detailed way. As a young boy Crews lives in extreme poverty in a corner of rural south Georgia during the Depression, life that seems more 19th century than 20th, and he brings it to life with his signature color and empathy. The story of the tragic moment when he begins to see race I found particularly heartbreaking. Crews is a storyteller, and at points I wondered about hyperbole or at least exaggeration, but that's maybe just part of growing up hearing stories from those around him. He elicits beauty from Bacon County, from its hardscrabble residents to the landscape. A Childhood is interspersed with illustrations that resemble wood-block carvings--I'm not sure how I feel about them. They give the book a fabulist feel that I don't think is necessary given the richness of Crews's memories. Although I loved the content of this book, as a memoir it was a little roughly shaped, hence the four stars. Recommended for any fan of Harry Crews, but also more widely worth a read.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    Not your typical beach read, but hey, it worked for me. I'm a fiction junkie and snub my nose at memoirs or nonfiction. I'll let my hubby do the heavy lifting, share the highlights, and move on. However, I loved this memoir of Harry Crews. For a reader that likes fiction, this reads a lot like fiction. It's not fact after fact after fact. It was so interesting and shocking what this author endured as a kid. I highly recommend even as a "beach read", wink. This is a good one!

  12. 4 out of 5

    Cheryl

    One of my favorite memoirs I returned to this month...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jamie

    Two parts Larry Brown, two parts Wendell Berry, two parts William Gay, two parts the kinds of places and people and stories I’ve had all my life. This was so special to me. Life-giving, in a way. For all the stories and family histories I have heard, so much of it has been lost. So much of it I’ll never hear. This was like getting to find the pieces of it I might not otherwise, to borrow those shoes from someone else for a while and imagine my own people in them. That’s essentially what Harry Two parts Larry Brown, two parts Wendell Berry, two parts William Gay, two parts the kinds of places and people and stories I’ve had all my life. This was so special to me. Life-giving, in a way. For all the stories and family histories I have heard, so much of it has been lost. So much of it I’ll never hear. This was like getting to find the pieces of it I might not otherwise, to borrow those shoes from someone else for a while and imagine my own people in them. That’s essentially what Harry Crews is doing here anyway: finding the pieces of his past he’s lost. “I come from people who believe the home place is as vital and necessary as the beating of your own heart. It is that single house where you were born, where you lived out your childhood, where you grew into young manhood. It is your anchor in the world, that place, along with the memory of your kinsmen at the long supper table every night and the knowledge that it would always exist, if nowhere but in memory.” It’s tremendous. It’s the south, through and through: all of its people and its customs and its loveliness and ugliness. And it’s all stories, stories, stories. As we live and breathe. “I had already learned— without knowing I’d learned it— that every single thing in the world was full of mystery and awesome power. And it was only by the right way of doing things— ritual ways— that kept any of us safe. Making stories about them was not so that we could understand them but so that we could live with them. It all made perfect sense to me. Fantasy might not be truth as the world counts it, but what was truth when fantasy meant survival?”

  14. 5 out of 5

    Nancy Oakes

    A Childhood: The Biography of a Place is one of those books I can honestly say is nearly perfect, at least to me. I know there are people who didn't care for it, and that's cool, but I loved it. I have written something about it at my online book journal, so I'll just offer a brief look here. In the book's opening pages, author Harry Crews says that he has "never been certain of who I am," and that he's "slipped into and out of identities as easily as other people slip into and out of their A Childhood: The Biography of a Place is one of those books I can honestly say is nearly perfect, at least to me. I know there are people who didn't care for it, and that's cool, but I loved it. I have written something about it at my online book journal, so I'll just offer a brief look here. In the book's opening pages, author Harry Crews says that he has "never been certain of who I am," and that he's "slipped into and out of identities as easily as other people slip into and out of their clothes." But he knows for an absolute certainty that whoever he "has its source" in Bacon County, Georgia, and that "... what has been most significant in my life had all taken place by the time I was six years old." What he's put together here, he says, is "the biography of a childhood which necessarily is the biography of a place, a way of life gone forever out of this world." With an old shoebox full of photos by his side, Crews goes on to tell of a hardscrabble first six years of life first on a farm in Bacon County, his "home place," then in a brief move to Florida, and finally back again to Georgia. I haven't had the pleasure of reading any of Crews' novels yet, but my guess would be that themes that will be found in any of his writing are probably found in here as well. Here are a few I've discovered: the power and art of storytelling, poverty, family, "courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives," fantasy/myth as an integral part of survival, alcoholism, women, and fathers. And then, of course, looming over all of those likely candidates, there's the American South, which is why, whether or not all of the events depicted here in Harry Crews' young life are true isn't really an issue here. It is, after all, a "biography of a place," and somehow, he manages to pull it off without roaming into the usual poor-Southern farmer stereotypes, and does it in such a way that humor manages to come through the worst of harsh and tragic. The only thing left to say, since this is a book best experienced on one's own, is that the quality of the writing drew me in pretty much immediately. I know it's cliché and even trite to say this, but frankly, I was just spellbound all the way through it. Reading this book was an experience on its own -- it was so very easy, even without the help of McCurdy's drawings, to imagine it all in my head, as if Crews was writing and illustrating all at the same time. It was also very easy, once I got the reading rhythm going, to see just how his small world made sense to him in the context of his young life. Highly recommended. One of my favorite books of the year.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Camie

    This is a good biography ( although one to be taken perhaps with a grain of salt) which is the story of Harry Crews, who while living with his family in a farming community in Georgia experiences the poverty of the Great Depression ,and has a pretty tough time of it , including two very close calls almost leading to his own demise. Part of the first chapters are written from stories he garnered about his true father, Having never known him. The rest of the book focuses on his very early years This is a good biography ( although one to be taken perhaps with a grain of salt) which is the story of Harry Crews, who while living with his family in a farming community in Georgia experiences the poverty of the Great Depression ,and has a pretty tough time of it , including two very close calls almost leading to his own demise. Part of the first chapters are written from stories he garnered about his true father, Having never known him. The rest of the book focuses on his very early years from ages 5-10 . It's a short book, and it left me wanting to know more about what became of Harry. I'm new to this author . Is there a sequel ? 4 stars

  16. 5 out of 5

    Kirk Smith

    When I was a child, my Grandfather often drove me by some tenants on one of his rural properties that he said made the Best Possum and Sweet Potatoes. Well some how we never quite visited at the right time and never got around to having dinner with them. I was pretty happy about it then and that will never change. But the Recipe for Possum is here in this book! There is also a lot of other farming knowledge about rendering hogs, or breeding mules. It is rural wisdom passed along collectively by When I was a child, my Grandfather often drove me by some tenants on one of his rural properties that he said made the Best Possum and Sweet Potatoes. Well some how we never quite visited at the right time and never got around to having dinner with them. I was pretty happy about it then and that will never change. But the Recipe for Possum is here in this book! There is also a lot of other farming knowledge about rendering hogs, or breeding mules. It is rural wisdom passed along collectively by way of storytelling. I would call this book one part memoir and one part fiction, but still chock full of real recipes for just surviving. The time and place would have been nearer my fathers generation than mine, but I appreciate how much just sensible knowledge is being passed along here. Harry Crews suffered two back to back tragedies in this memoir, and I appreciated how gracefully he covered the material, knowing that it must have been difficult to re-live. A wonderful book to own. May deserve to be read again someday.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Mmars

    Really 1 star bumped up to 2. I wish I had never read this book. It's like "The Devil All the Time" only it takes place in childhood. I grew up on a farm and I've seen pigs castrated and vets stick their arms all the way into a cow to pull a calf. I ran a chicken over with a lawn mower (acidentally and ot was heartwrenching) and saw one run away with its head cut off when my Mom was butchering. I've seen dogs get run over by cars and I've killed mice with baseball bats. I'm not proud of it. This Really 1 star bumped up to 2. I wish I had never read this book. It's like "The Devil All the Time" only it takes place in childhood. I grew up on a farm and I've seen pigs castrated and vets stick their arms all the way into a cow to pull a calf. I ran a chicken over with a lawn mower (acidentally and ot was heartwrenching) and saw one run away with its head cut off when my Mom was butchering. I've seen dogs get run over by cars and I've killed mice with baseball bats. I'm not proud of it. This was just accepted as part of my growing up. Just as such experiences were part of Crews childhood. However my childhood didn't contain violent and drunken parents or the expectation that boys would "do it" to girls while still children. Much less when inspired by fire and brimstone preaching. My jaw just drops at the number of readers who love these stories. I've even seen it on top ten southern literature lists. Really? It's just a bunch of stomach churning stories from a boy's early childhood - including theft, sex and watching a man stab himself to death. What really brings the book down for me was that it just sort of ended with about one page of adulthood. No summation or reflection. Only statements at the beginning saying he didn't remember many many of these things happening but heard them from others. But some are obviously his own memories and they are creepy and without conscience. it's like lying or creating an excuse to cover a crime rather than face the truth and grow up. Maybe he never did. Absolutely cannot recommend this book. I bump it up to two stars because he wasn't stupid and CAN tell a story.Just not in a way that I wish to promote.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Kathy

    Both my Mother and Father's people migrated to Georgia from South Carolina and then into Florida. My Mom was born just five years earlier than Harry Crews into a farming community, in Gilchrist County, Florida - much like the home that Crews describes in his "biography of a place". So, as I read, I felt that I was learning more about the folks whose blood runs through my veins, as well as about a fantastically interesting author, Mr. Crews. The bulk of his story centers around the year that he Both my Mother and Father's people migrated to Georgia from South Carolina and then into Florida. My Mom was born just five years earlier than Harry Crews into a farming community, in Gilchrist County, Florida - much like the home that Crews describes in his "biography of a place". So, as I read, I felt that I was learning more about the folks whose blood runs through my veins, as well as about a fantastically interesting author, Mr. Crews. The bulk of his story centers around the year that he was five. A tough year for him, to say the least. He becomes aware of himself, is paralyzed by polio, boiled, and forced to leave his home in the night to escape his step-father's violence. Worst of all, he has to move to Jacksonville. I thought I would laugh, or maybe cry, when his Mother said to him as they were leaving home in the night, "Want in one hand and shit in the other, see which one fills up fastest." If I had a nickel for everytime my Father said this, or for every discarded Prince Albert can, well, I'd be living mighty grand. I have a colorful collection of my Father's "words of wisdom' - including that old nugget, " you ain't got sense enough to pour piss out of a boot". For some reason, folks like mine speak in analogies, much like speaking in tounges to those unfamiliar. My favorite line is when he describe his childhood world as one "in which survival depended on raw courage, a courage born out of desperation and sustained by a lack of alternatives".

  19. 5 out of 5

    Laura

    The New York Times said this was the best memoir ever written, and I wanted to love it but I just couldn't. It was engrossing and vividly written, but there was so much gruesomely-detailed violence against children and animals that it was painful to read. It transformed all of my romantic ideas about idyllic life on a farm. The farm of Crews' childhood was a bloody, abusive place.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Max McNabb

    Harry Crews begins his memoir of childhood in rural, 1930s Georgia with the tale of his father's nasty case of VD. It just gets grittier from there, trust me. The book covers only the first six years of Crews's life, but reads like an epic of physical, psychological, and spiritual extremes. Crews is brutal in his honesty. “What has been most significant in my life had all taken place by the time I was six years old.” The origin of one of the south's finest storytellers is revealed: Crews first Harry Crews begins his memoir of childhood in rural, 1930s Georgia with the tale of his father's nasty case of VD. It just gets grittier from there, trust me. The book covers only the first six years of Crews's life, but reads like an epic of physical, psychological, and spiritual extremes. Crews is brutal in his honesty. “What has been most significant in my life had all taken place by the time I was six years old.” The origin of one of the south's finest storytellers is revealed: Crews first began making up fictions about the people he studied in a Sears & Roebuck catalogue. The most memorable sequence of the book starts with young Crews holding blackbirds captive in a spare room of the family house. Soon after, the boy was stricken with a strange paralysis. Doctors told him he'd never walk again. An elderly ex-slave (and "conjure woman") named Auntie cared for the sickly Crews. She told him he had become ill because one of the trapped birds had spit in his mouth. Terrified, Crews had the birds freed--and then his gradual recovery began.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Richard Gilbert

    I loved Harry Crews's ability to write both from his boy's point of view and from his adult's. He grew up in south Georgia in a dirt-poor sharecropper family. Their poverty and ignorance were almost unbelievable. But their world also was full of love and magic, along with what you'd expect—alcoholism and domestic violence. Crews was attuned to the nature that surrounded him and took for granted his parents' fights over his father's drinking, his close relationship with a black tenant family on I loved Harry Crews's ability to write both from his boy's point of view and from his adult's. He grew up in south Georgia in a dirt-poor sharecropper family. Their poverty and ignorance were almost unbelievable. But their world also was full of love and magic, along with what you'd expect—alcoholism and domestic violence. Crews was attuned to the nature that surrounded him and took for granted his parents' fights over his father's drinking, his close relationship with a black tenant family on the farm, and everyone around him being poor, illiterate, and marked or maimed by physical labor, accidents, and animals. The father in the book is actually Crews's stepfather. After Crews's father died, when he was about two, his brother divorced his wife and married Crews's mother. He was a loving father to Crews and his brother, but he grew increasingly drunk and absent. Life on the farm was incredibly hard, but as I said, magical for young Harry. Then he was briefly and painfully crippled by polio at about age five and then horribly burned when he fell into scalding water at a hog butchering. During both protracted recoveries he was cared for at night by his best friend's grandmother, an elderly black woman who told him outlandish tales that reflected her magical understanding of the world. Even amidst a rich storytelling culture, in which stories immortalized, explained, and helped people endure an unforgiving and often desperate life, Auntie stood out. Her tales, which emphasized unknowable power and mystery and the importance of protective rituals, didn't provide comprehension of phenomena but a way to live with them. Crews learned well—what a fine storyteller is riveting our attention on his life from ages five to about 10, with a flash forward at the end. The tone that Crews creates and his sentence rhythms made this an intoxicating read for me, and the story is compelling—you really want to find out what happens. He conveys his experiences through his childhood point of view, and often in vivid scenes, but using the strong storyteller's voice of an older, wiser, sadder man looking back. Though Crews only occasionally employs an overt address—a direct aside in his adult writer's voice—his layering of both childhood and adult perspectives imbues the memoir with depth. We grasp more than he did then, even as we enjoy his childhood innocence and originality. Despite the brutality and harshness of his world, I could not help but envy aspects of its cohesion, which sets up a reader to be unexpectedly moved by Crews's ultimate plight.

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jason

    Harry Crews has been a remarkable discovery for me. A delayed discovery. A few of his books were on one of the shelves I shared w/ an ex many years ago, but I never got around to them then. His fiction is wry but cruel, because the world he knew was cruel, and a man has to remain somewhat stoic in the face of all the violence and madness that color his world, unless he wants to go mad or dissipate. A Childhood traces the genealogy of a particular outlook back into early childhood. The book is Harry Crews has been a remarkable discovery for me. A delayed discovery. A few of his books were on one of the shelves I shared w/ an ex many years ago, but I never got around to them then. His fiction is wry but cruel, because the world he knew was cruel, and a man has to remain somewhat stoic in the face of all the violence and madness that color his world, unless he wants to go mad or dissipate. A Childhood traces the genealogy of a particular outlook back into early childhood. The book is presented as outright memoir, rather than a work of autobiographical fiction, and is inflected w/ a kid of understated emotionality and reverence, without ever becoming excessively lyrical or romantic. Much of what Crews experienced - poverty, infirmity, wreckage, and loss - was painful and unpleasant, but all of it is part of the thread of his development. There is a sense of reverence for Bacon County, Georgia and its inhabitants (human and animal). If this is a biography of a place, it is the biography of a place as reflected through the experiences of a child - a child who would grow up to become a writer and a perennial outsider. We must own our origins and (in part) be owned by them. Both my parents grew up poor on the prairie. I spent a lot of time on my grandparents' farm as a child. Though I feel myself uniquely equipped to embrace Crews' book, it is essentially for anybody who grew up and moved on ... without moving on. We each of us carry w/ us the children we once were. While the book is of quasi-anthropological interest, its scope is ultimately as universal as it gets.

  23. 5 out of 5

    wally

    i no longer have my copy but i suspect it was this one. reading this one will give you an idea why harry crews writes as he does. born and raised in south georgia, poor, things happen. imagine falling into a scalding pot of water big enough to accept a dead hog, water so hot the hair of the hog falls off. and then being on display for all the people to see. if you've never visited the south, never spent time there, or maybe you did but the only people you met were transplanted from other areas of i no longer have my copy but i suspect it was this one. reading this one will give you an idea why harry crews writes as he does. born and raised in south georgia, poor, things happen. imagine falling into a scalding pot of water big enough to accept a dead hog, water so hot the hair of the hog falls off. and then being on display for all the people to see. if you've never visited the south, never spent time there, or maybe you did but the only people you met were transplanted from other areas of the country, reading this one will give you an idea of "a place," one that you might not otherwise know or ever see. well worth a read.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Jeanette

    4.5 star voice of a Bacon County Georgia childhood during the late 1930's-early 1940's. Its prose and authentic language just first rate. There are some phrases that say more in less than 20 words than entire pages of eloquent studied verbiage. "A mosquito couldn't fly through a door he was standing in he was so wide and high, and more, he was obviously indestructible." Many people will read this early Grit.Lit. and be aghast at animal or child treatments and harbor entire judgmental critiques. 4.5 star voice of a Bacon County Georgia childhood during the late 1930's-early 1940's. Its prose and authentic language just first rate. There are some phrases that say more in less than 20 words than entire pages of eloquent studied verbiage. "A mosquito couldn't fly through a door he was standing in he was so wide and high, and more, he was obviously indestructible." Many people will read this early Grit.Lit. and be aghast at animal or child treatments and harbor entire judgmental critiques. I'm not one. It has more in common with the millennia of homo sapiens past, than our present culture. Loved it! Harry Crews could write.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Carrie Schindele Cupples

    There are so many amazing, memorable, filthy moments in this book that I don't know where to start. If you like to read Harry Crews, this book will feel even better than his fiction. It would be easy to focus the tale only on the events Crews lives through, but it is the local color of his family and neighbors that make this the richest story I've read in ages. I read the passage about slaughtering hogs and his mama making soap about ten times. My bet is that anyone who reads this will have There are so many amazing, memorable, filthy moments in this book that I don't know where to start. If you like to read Harry Crews, this book will feel even better than his fiction. It would be easy to focus the tale only on the events Crews lives through, but it is the local color of his family and neighbors that make this the richest story I've read in ages. I read the passage about slaughtering hogs and his mama making soap about ten times. My bet is that anyone who reads this will have favorite parts that they will think on time and again.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Printable Tire

    Here is all the violence of childhood, but also the magic. Here is the humor, but also the hardship and heartbreak. What a wonderful book! What a shame I was close to meeting this man but did not.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Sally Christie

    Simply amazing. Haven't read anything in a long time that drew me in like this. Read it in one day and am looking forward to reading his novels.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Andy Weston

    I don’t often read memoirs, and yet have read two this week, the other ‘Teddy Blue’ Abbott’s We Pointed Them North . I have enjoyed them both, perhaps Abbott a little more. But I will not rush to read more such memoirs, as, especially is the case with Crews, I want him to tell one of his longer, southern gothic, tales. Certainly though this autobiography of his early years has memorable anecdotes, and the way he writes about them make them compelling, and are a real insight into Depression-era I don’t often read memoirs, and yet have read two this week, the other ‘Teddy Blue’ Abbott’s We Pointed Them North . I have enjoyed them both, perhaps Abbott a little more. But I will not rush to read more such memoirs, as, especially is the case with Crews, I want him to tell one of his longer, southern gothic, tales. Certainly though this autobiography of his early years has memorable anecdotes, and the way he writes about them make them compelling, and are a real insight into Depression-era life in rural Georgie. Much of the book is told about the time Crews was between five and six years old. His childhood is a hazardous one, in close succession, he is temporarily crippled and, shortly after, scalded over two thirds of his body. Throughout the book, Crews reveres the physical world of homeland of Bacon County. He describes the farming processes and its characters in affectionate detail. The book proves that having a careful eye and a yearning to capture and share the soul of a place and its people can make for a powerful and beautiful story.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    I want to speak authoritatively on something I don't know (and can't know) which is what it was like to grow up poor in the South during the late 30s and early 40s. Okay, so here goes with the authoritative statement: This book is what it was like to grow up poor in the South in the late 30s / early 40s. In my life I've only ever read two of Crews' books - A Feast of Snakes and the incomparable collection of short stories and essays Blood and Grits. I've always meant to read more but there are so I want to speak authoritatively on something I don't know (and can't know) which is what it was like to grow up poor in the South during the late 30s and early 40s. Okay, so here goes with the authoritative statement: This book is what it was like to grow up poor in the South in the late 30s / early 40s. In my life I've only ever read two of Crews' books - A Feast of Snakes and the incomparable collection of short stories and essays Blood and Grits. I've always meant to read more but there are so many books out there, you know? and then a friend gave me this and I just feel like I know Crews now. I mean I already did, and now I do even more. Have you ever read the Foxfire books? Especially Foxfire vol. 1? This book here is like someone narrating that as their life story in an entertaining and sometimes heartbreaking way. It's just fascinating from the very first word to the last. Absolutely recommended to everyone.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Sorayya Khan

    This compelling memoir of Harry Crews' childhood, is just as much about where he grew up (in rural south Georgia) as how he did (poor) and who surrounded him (his family). The memoir evokes the family and place that made him--and it does so with abundant (and perfect) details, not one of which seems inessential. The memoir is a gorgeous rendering that I've been meaning to read for years and now, of course, wish I had long ago. Crew's book exemplifies what it means to locate story, even if he This compelling memoir of Harry Crews' childhood, is just as much about where he grew up (in rural south Georgia) as how he did (poor) and who surrounded him (his family). The memoir evokes the family and place that made him--and it does so with abundant (and perfect) details, not one of which seems inessential. The memoir is a gorgeous rendering that I've been meaning to read for years and now, of course, wish I had long ago. Crew's book exemplifies what it means to locate story, even if he does so by telling his personal childhood tale.

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