Hannah Coulter

When I received Hannah Coulter a few weeks ago, I determined to read it slowly. I limited myself to one chapter at a time, but often skimmed the previous highlights, just for the pure pleasure. 

As I read, I kept thinking “the folks would love this”, [fill in thirty names] will want to read this.  This is a perfect book to read aloud to Curt and Collin during our long Sunday drives to church.  At 186 pages it is a small enough book to give to readers who would be intimidated by an epic tome.

Hannah Coulter is the quiet telling of a woman’s tale, a tale of sorrow, goodness, love, hurt, work, holding and letting go.  It is Ecclesiastes 3 manifested in one woman from Kentucky.  “This is my story, my giving of thanks.”   Wendell Berry gives her a voice which is modulated in a pleasing tone.  She speaks of her pains and her joys with honesty, clarity, and wisdom. 

Here is a necklace of sentences from the book.

And so I learned about grief, and about the absence and emptiness that for a long time make grief unforgettable.

“It [Hannah’s beauty] could get you an early start on a miserable life.”

When he came to work in the morning, Wheeler was like a drawn bow–lean and tense and entirely aimed at whatever he had to do.

Books were a dependable pleasure.

The days were separate and suspended, like plants in hanging pots.

Happiness had a way of coming to you and making you sad.

We had made it past hard changes, and all of us were changed, but we were together.

What could be more heavenly than to have desire and satisfaction in the same room?

“Hannah, my old girl, we’re going to live right on.”

“Margaret, my good Margaret, we’re going to live right on.”

He said it only when he knew that living right on was going to be hard.

The world is so full and abundant it is like a pregnant woman carrying a child in one arm and leading another by the hand. 

We sat down to it [Thanksgiving dinner], the four of us, like stray pieces of several puzzles.

There we were at a great crisis in our lives, and it had to be, it could only be, dealt with as an ordinary thing.

After she left, the house slowly filled up with silence.  

Hannah Coulter.


8 thoughts on “Hannah Coulter

  1. Sigh. He has such a wondrous gift, doesn’t he? I can’t wait to give this to my mom for her birthday in August; I know she’ll love it.Carrie

  2. This has been in my mind a while … can I make taking Wendell Berry to Africa a tradition and borrow some more next month?I cannot promise reading it slowly, though …KGB

  3. I read that book last winter…it made me *sob*, something that few books can do. I was saddened and inspired by Hannah’s pain as she watched her children slip away (and come back, but not the way she wished). She tried so hard to give them the best, to help them achieve their dreams, but they lost something as they were drawn to the shallowness of modern life and away from the deeper things of their home. I think there’s a lesson there.

  4. Another book to put on my list to be read! You give such thoughtful reviews of the books you read….i can see how you *savor* what you read. And what a lovely mom, reading aloud to the fam while riding!  And i love your “necklace of sentences”…beautiful. 

  5. Just wanted you to know that Donna of Quiet Life together with Lynn in WI are hostessing an online book club…. Hannah Coulter is their first try.  Dont know what the exact format or plan is, but would love to hear your insights.

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