Reading Wendell Berry's "Roots to the Earth"

I just read Roots to the Earth, a collection of Wendell Berry’s poetry and prose on American rural life. It is a meditation on living well.

The book first appeared a quarter century ago in a portfolio illustrated with Wesley Bates’ woodcuts. Three years ago, Larkspur Press released a limited edition of one hundred copies. Last year, Berkeley’s Counterpoint Press made the book available to the general public.

Even at one remove from a letterpress printing, this affordable volume is lavish. Bates’ illustrations recall the work of Rockwell Kent, Lynn Ward, and other midcentury traditionalists. However, while Kent and Ward foregrounded their figures against midnight-dark skies, Bates opens his to the light. That echoes the generosity of Berry’s poems and recalls as well some of the cheer found in children’s books, which may explain why Skylight Books displayed the copy I bought in the store’s kiddie section. I think that’s a mistake. True, there’s no reason that older children can’t read Roots to the Earth. Yet it’s adults who are likely most receptive to Berry’s themes of faith, frugality, steadfastness, dignity and humility. Adult experience often teaches something about the cost of abandoning traditional values.

Read the whole article at Left, Write & Centaur


Starting Wendell Berry

Today is the birthday of Wendell Berry, the writer, farmer, and activist from Port Royal, Kentucky.

Berry is my favorite author. Only twice in my life have there been authors I loved so much that I wanted to read not only everything they wrote but also everything that had been written by the people they considered to be friends, mentors, and influences.

C.S. Lewis was the first. Lewis, the Inklings, and his favorite medieval writers dominated my reading lists in my late teens and most of my twenties. Wendell Berry is the other. His fiction, poetry, and essays, as well as his published letters and interviews, have profoundly changed my thinking over the last ten years. They’re changing my actions too…slowly. (Side note: What’s been interesting has been to go back to C.S Lewis now and notice in retrospect the parallels between the two writers.)

Which Wendell Berry Book Should I Start With?

Every couple months I get a text from a friend or family member who is at a bookstore right now. They want to read some Wendell Berry but don’t where to start.

Those are fun messages to get. I tailor my answer to the person asking the question, and so the string of texts they get from me is probably longer, more detailed, and more earnest than they expected.

To mark Berry’s birthday, Chris and I put this question to our friends on Facebook and Twitter: If someone asked you which Wendell Berry book they should start with, how would you answer?

Read the whole post by John Pattison at Slow Church.

Check out Getting Started on this site ... and thanks for the link & kind words, John!


Review of Wendell Berry study

Wiebe argues convincingly that imagination functions as a hermeneutical key for Berry. Wiebe recognizes that Berry does not attempt to develop a consistent program or systematic ethic. Wiebe recognizes that through his fiction, Berry, like other great writers, functions on the “subflooring” of an ethic, what we might call a pre-ethic. As Wiebe points out, great literature does not engage the human will first, rather the imagination (25). Therefore, Wiebe interprets what Berry attempts to do in his fiction as parables. His storytelling does not attempt to provide models for moral instruction, but parables about experiences of people with neighbors, enemies, misfits, and strangers. Experiential communities are not idealized, have no romanticized heroes and are unsystematic—they are never “complete.” Wiebe makes his case by leading the reader through an analysis of how Berry uses his fictional characters as parables of life in its fullest and frailest measures—with chapters focusing on Old Jack Beechum, Jayber Crow, and Hannah Coulter. Wiebe could have added weight to his argument by consulting David Buttrick’s works on the function of biblical parables. Buttrick argues that biblical parables do not intend to provide morsels of morality to live by. Rather, they construct a “world” that combines both ordinary yet unexpected features, and then ask readers how they would make decisions in that constructed world. Parables draw readers into a world and challenge the shallowness and exploitations in our present culture.

Read the complete article by D. Dixon Sutherland at Reading Religion.


On the Recent Wendell Berry Collection and Conversation

Wendell Berry, an avid environmentalist himself, is not opposed stirring the pot. He just released a book of essays optimistically titled The World-Ending Fire and is the subject of a documentary produced by Nick Offerman — yep, that Nick Offerman — called Look and See, neither of which pull any punches. But any idealistic or rhetorical blow proffered aside, Berry isn’t one to engage eagerly without putting serious thought into solutions first. Something I have been noticing over the last few years of his work, interviews, and lectures is that he seems to be in a sifting, distilling season of his life. Now in his 80s, Berry seems to be even more thoughtful (if that is possible), listening closer, speaking clearly yet humbly. We also do the same with him, increasingly mindful of the shortness of days.

Read the compete article by Josh Retterer at Mockingbird.


On the Letters and Friendship of Wendell Berry and Gary Snyder

Say the names Wendell Berry or Gary Snyder in some circles and you will elicit everything from abject worship to ennui. I belatedly came to awareness of both of them in the late Seventies and early Eighties—Berry for his finely wrought essays and stories (I did not have the maturity to appreciate his poetry then) and Snyder for his poems that were so authentically rooted, many of them, in the Cascades and Sierra Nevada. And though I appreciated both writers, and regarded both as exemplars of environmentally conscious writing, it never once occurred to me that they might be friends.

I pictured Berry plowing with mules on his Kentucky farm, and I pictured Snyder in the Sierra, running the ridges like a wolf. I thought of Berry as a student of the Scriptures, working out a biblically based land ethic, and I thought of Snyder as a Beat practitioner of Zen. But in spite of these differences they have been friends for almost half a century, first brought together in correspondence by their mutual publisher, Jack Shoemaker, and kept together all these years through mutual admiration—and sometimes by mutual consternation.

In Distant Neighbors, Chad Wriglesworth has done us the service of collecting and selecting forty years of their correspondence, from 1973 to 2013. In the fall of 2015, I was asked to introduce and interview Gary Snyder at a reading, and I told him before we went on stage that I was halfway through this book. “Wendell and I argued about two things for forty years,” Snyder declared: “Buddhism vs. Christianity, and wilderness vs. agriculture.”

That pretty much sums it up.

Read the whole article by Paul Willis at Education & Culture.


Reading Sutterfield's "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

Sutterfield synthesizes Wendell Berry’s writings and his vision that our world and our life are gifts to be lived in and through a moral compass focused on ‘the other’, our neighbor. Much of the book fitted neatly with my Benedictine experience of living a virtuous life in a world often neglectful of those spiritual principles.

There is the humility of our creatureliness that comes through a reflective wisdom of interdependence, as Berry says “…that is born from soil…and home.” As Sutterfield’s essays highlight, Berry emphasizes the importance of stability and community of place.

We have come, as Elizabeth Scalia has written, to a generation of strange gods, where ‘virtual community’ is only one step away from imaginary. Sutterfield’s book reminds us of Wendell Berry’s conviction that we are designed to reach out—in our place, whether city dweller or along farm lanes—and touch our neighbor, our land, and embrace our Lord within the creation we were given.

Read the whole review by Margaret Realy at Morning Rose Prayer Gardens.


New Wendell Berry collection for October 2017

Wendell Berry’s profound critique of American culture has entered its sixth decade, and in this new gathering he reaches with deep devotion toward a long view of Agrarian philosophy. Berry believes that American cultural problems are nearly always aligned with their agricultural problems, and recent events have shone a terrible spotlight on the divides between our urban and rural citizens. Our communities are as endangered as our landscapes. There is, as Berry outlines, still much work to do, and our daily lives—in hope and affection—must triumph over despair.

Berry moves deftly between the real and the imagined. The Art of Loading Brush is an energetic mix of essays and stories, including “The Thought of Limits in a Prodigal Age,” which explores Agrarian ideals as they present themselves historically and as they might apply to our work today. “The Presence of Nature in the Natural World” is added here as the bookend of this developing New Agrarianism. Four stories from an as-yet-unfinished novel, better described as “an essay in imagination,” extend the Port William story as it follows Andy Catlett throughout his life to this present moment. Andy works alongside his grandson in “The Art of Loading Brush,” one of the most moving and tender stories of the entire Port William cycle. Filled with insights and new revelations from a mind thorough in its considerations and careful in its presentations, The Art of Loading Brush is a necessary and timely collection.

UPDATE 6/25/17: This collection is now titled (somewhat ominously) The Order of Loving Care: Last Agrarian Writings.

UPDATE 7/24/17: The collection has now been (un)re-titled back to The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings.

See more information at Counterpoint Press.


Wendell Berry Fiction to be added to Library of America

Three new authors (including one living one), two returning favorites, and a pair of groundbreaking anthologies are just some of the highlights of Library of America’s list in the first half of 2018. Below is the list of publications for next winter and spring, followed by more detailed descriptions of each new volume.

LIBRARY OF AMERICA SERIES

Wendell Berry
Port William Novels & Stories
The Civil War to World War II

Nathan Coulter • Andy Catlett: Early Travels • A World Lost • A Place on Earth • Stories
Jack Shoemaker, editor
Library of America #302 / ISBN 978-1-59853-554-9
January 2018

The Library of America


A Review of "Wendell Berry and the Given Life"

If I could, I would thrust a copy of Wendell Berry and the Given Life by Ragan Sutterfield into the hands of everyone I know. Here’s why:

Sutterfield’s book is a terrific introduction to an esteemed man of letters. Wendell Berry is a poet, novelist, essayist, conservation activist, and pioneering agrarian who advocates for sustainable agriculture. Thus Berry is a man whose legacy is equally remarkable for his literary writings as well as for his pioneering work and continuing leadership in the field of responsible agrarianism. If you patronize local farmer’s markets, or if your default setting inside grocery stores is to choose local organic produce, then you have Wendell Berry to thank.

Sutterfield maintains that Berry’s work is important because it speaks to our moral integrity at the same time as it addresses our mortal future. You might say that Berry is Rachel Carson 2.0. Berry brings science, generations of farming history, startling literary brilliance, and a deeply Christian point of view all to bear on discussions of the conservation crisis. On one level, it is crucial for more people to hear Berry’s clarion call to rewind our culture, to back away from industrialism, purely in the interests of survival. On another level, Berry speaks to our moral culpability in the ruination of families, communities, and the planet as a result of our failure to obey the most basic of God’s directives to love thy neighbor.

Sutterfield argues that Berry is a sage, a lamenting prophet who connects the dots between how we live and the state of our souls. Was this what God intended when he handed over his creation to us? Is this the role we were meant to play as caretakers? Sutterfield distills a diverse body of work published over the course of nearly sixty years; in so doing, he performs the invaluable service of making the ideas of a great Christian thinker more accessible to a wider audience.

Read the whole review by Maura Zagrans at The Catholic Book Blogger.


A Review of UK Wendell Berry Essay Collection

For more than 50 years, Wendell Berry has invited people to think more intelligently about the suicidal stupidity of progress defined by limitless growth. He powerfully reminds us that this is the root cause of today’s environmental crisis, and that the manifold efforts being made today to tweak that model of progress or mitigate its increasingly destructive externalities are almost certainly doomed to failure.

One of the most critical of these externalities is the loss of soil. Paul Kingsnorth says in his excellent Introduction:

“Again and again, Berry worries away at the question of topsoil. This is both a writer’s metaphor and a farmer’s reality, and for Wendell Berry, metaphors always come second to reality. ‘No use talking about getting enlightened or saving your soul,’ he wrote to his friend, the poet Gary Snyder, in 1980, ‘if you can’t keep the topsoil from washing away.’ Over the last century, by some estimates, over half the world’s topsoil has been washed away by the war on nature that we call industrial farming.”

Berry’s credo is simple: “What I stand for is what I stand on.” Everything starts and ends there, on the small farm in Kentucky that he’s looked after since 1964, in the power of the local economy and culture, in the twin imperatives of “neighborhood and subsistence”.

Read the whole article by Jonathon Porritt at Resurgence.