The summer of 2006, this book was the buzz among blogs I frequented. I believe a speaker at some conference named Wendell Berry’s Jayber Crow the best book he had read that year. Since those glowing reviews this book has been waiting for me. Recently Angie and Deb both gave it a mixed review; they liked some parts, didn’t like others.
I think the order in which one read books plays into his or her response, quickly acknowledging that the chronology of my book reading is quite random. But I know I would not have benefited as much from this book if I had not first read Wendell Berry’s collection of short stories, That Distand Land and Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.
I have only read 2 1/2 Wendell Berry books. But I would encourage anyone to begin Berry (fiction) with That Distand Land. His short stories span a century of Port Williams characters and give you the back story of his other Port Williams fiction. When you have read about and come to love Burley Coulter, encountering him in Jayber Crow is finding an old friend. You understand him better because you know his story.
Pollan’s book (non-fiction) focuses on a farmer who regularly reads Wendell Berry’s nonfiction and subscribes to his ideas. Having read this apology for sustainable farming made me a sympathetic reader to the conflict between Troy’s “progressive” farming and Athey’s “traditional” methods. When I read the sentence, “The law of the farm was in the balance between crops (including hay and pasture) and livestock” I comprehended the philosophy behind those words.
Wendell Berry is a talented wordsmith. He makes you slow down, his words give you pause. I look forward with anticipation to reading through his published works. But I’m not interested in gulping him down like a 32 oz. soft drink. One does not gulp Berry. One sips him, one savors the words, the thoughts, the poetry.
into a principled unwillingness to stop. p.187
This grief had something in it of generosity,
some nearness to joy.
In a strange way it added to me what I had lost.
I saw that, for me, this country would always be
populated with presences and absences,
presences of absences,
the living and the dead.
The world as it is would always be a reminder
of the world that was,
and of the world that is to come. p.132
Uncle Stanley had no more
sense of privacy than a fruit jar. p.156