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January 2009

Indexing WB's Non-fiction

Chicago architect Daniel Burnham famously said, "Make no little plans; they have no magic to stir men's blood." So I figured I'd take a shot at some such for the new year.

Strangely enough, one thing that stirs my blood is indexing books that I love. I've been involved with three such projects -- all works of fiction.

So I have come upon the notion (based on the hope that somewhere there's a need) to index the major non-fiction work of Wendell Berry. It's kind of shocking to notice that not even the great Unsettling of America has an index. Sometimes a reader wants to know where it was that WB wrote of that struggling furniture maker ... or where WB wrote about marriage, industrial capitalism, or threats to local communities.

So here's what I've done:

I've set up a wiki: The Wendell Berry Indexing Project as a collaborative workspace for a WB indexing project.

And I invite any of you who might be touched by an interest (and/or slight madness) to join me in this effort.

Again, take a look around at The Wendell Berry Indexing Project ... and follow the directions on the front page there, if it's something you'd care to tangle with.

Bright idea?

If you would be interested in participating in an indexing project for Mr. Berry's non-fiction works, please let me know.

I have some small experience with indexing fiction and have been pondering the possibilities for WB's essays. What say you (who have too much extra time on your hands)?

01 UPDATE 12.16: Maybe not such a bright idea. I just indexed the first essay in The Long-Legged House ("The Tyranny of Charity") and am underwhelmed by the result. But it needed doing, just to get the lay of the land.

Big Issue: The job would be easy if I only listed proper names (Harry Caudill, T.V.A., etc), but what about controlling ideas, prominent themes, resonant detail ... ? Always remembering that

  • an index is not a concordance
  • an index must be USEFUL to a reader
  • index-writing requires an active brain

02 UPDATE 12.16: I've composed an index of key terms under the sway of a WB Idea Index. So this could provide some structure into which to place the names (not page #s?) of essays that are concerned with a given term ... hmmm, could be tricky. Don't mind me ... just talking to myself here.

Site Update

Today I have worked on Port William: The People, adding characters from Hannah Coulter, Andy Catlett, and even Whitefoot.

That page still lacks a long-overdue completion of the stories from That Distant Land, reason being: characters are already listed under their originally published short story collections, so the duplication hasn't been given a high priority ... and may not yet, for a while.

The Coal Action Open Letter

Dear Friends,

There are moments in a nation's--and a planet's--history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington D.C. on Monday March 2 in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill.

We will be there to make several points:

- Coal-fired power is driving climate change. Our foremost climatologist, NASA's James Hansen, has demonstrated that our only hope of getting our atmosphere back to a safe level--below 350 parts per million co2--lies in stopping the use of coal to generate electricity.

- Even if climate change were not the urgent crisis that it is, we would still be burning our fossil fuels too fast, wasting too much energy and releasing too much poison into the air and water. We would still need to slow down, and to restore thrift to its old place as an economic virtue.

- Coal is filthy at its source. Much of the coal used in this country comes from West Virginia and Kentucky, where companies engage in "mountaintop removal" to get at the stuff; they leave behind a leveled wasteland, and impoverished human communities. No technology better exemplifies the out-of-control relationship between humans and the rest of creation.

- Coal smoke makes children sick. Asthma rates in urban areas near coal-fired power plants are high. Air pollution from burning coal is harmful to the health of grown-ups too, and to the health of everything that breathes, including forests.

The industry claim that there is something called "clean coal" is, put simply, a lie. But it's a lie told with tens of millions of dollars, which we do not have. We have our bodies, and we are willing to use them to make our point. We don't come to such a step lightly. We have written and testified and organized politically to make this point for many years, and while in recent months there has been real progress against new coal-fired power plants, the daily business of providing half our electricity from coal continues unabated. It's time to make clear that we can't safely run this planet on coal at all. So we feel the time has come to do more--we hear President Barack Obama's call for a movement for change that continues past election day, and we hear Nobel Laureate Al Gore's call for creative non-violence outside coal plants. As part of the international negotiations now underway on global warming, our nation will be asking China, India, and others to limit their use of coal in the future to help save the planet's atmosphere. This is a hard thing to ask, because it's their cheapest fuel. Part of our witness in March will be to say that we're willing to make some sacrifices ourselves, even if it's only a trip to the jail.

With any luck, this will be the largest such protest yet, large enough that it may provide a real spark. If you want to participate with us, you need to go through a short course of non-violence training. This will be, to the extent it depends on us, an entirely peaceful demonstration, carried out in a spirit of hope and not rancor. We will be there in our dress clothes, and ask the same of you. There will be young people, people from faith communities, people from the coal fields of Appalachia, and from the neighborhoods in Washington that get to breathe the smoke from the plant.

We will cross the legal boundary of the power plant, and we expect to be arrested. After that we have no certainty what will happen, but lawyers and such will be on hand. Our goal is not to shut the plant down for the day--it is but one of many, and anyway its operation for a day is not the point. The worldwide daily reliance on coal is the danger; this is one small step to raise awareness of that ruinous habit and hence help to break it.

Needless to say, we're not handling the logistics of this day. All the credit goes to a variety of groups, especially EnergyAction (which is bringing thousands of young people to Washington that weekend), Greenpeace, the Ruckus Society, and Rainforest Action Network. A website at that latter organization is serving as a temporary organizing hub. If you go there, you will find a place to leave your name so that we'll know you want to join us.

Thank you,

Wendell Berry, Bill McKibben

P.S.--This is important: Please forward this letter to anyone and everyone you think might be interested.

Wendell Berry and Bill McKibben to protest at coal-fired plant

Coal to action | Gristmill: The environmental news blog | Grist

There are moments in a nation's -- and a planet's -- history when it may be necessary for some to break the law in order to bear witness to an evil, bring it to wider attention, and push for its correction. We think such a time has arrived, and we are writing to say that we hope some of you will join us in Washington, D.C. on Monday, March 2, in order to take part in a civil act of civil disobedience outside a coal-fired power plant near Capitol Hill. Read more ...

Mad Farmer - Limited

We in the WB Discussion Group (join us!) have just been made aware of the present availability of about twelve copies of the precious small press edition of WB's Mad Farmer. It's a bit beyond my budget, but it does set those bibliophilic bibliomanic impulses a buzzin'. The regular old (but still wonderful) Counterpoint edition will have to do (and it does) for us regular old readers. Think of it as The Mad Farmer UNlimited.

Press on Scroll Road | Bob Baris | Mad Farmer.

The Mad Farmer Poems by Wendell Berry, With contents chosen by Mr Berry, this book forms the definitive collection of his Mad Farmer family of poems. It includes a Foreword by Ed McClanahan, an Introduction by James Baker Hall, an Afterword by William Kloefkorn, and Engravings by Abigail Rorer. The text was printed from handset type, with title page lettering by Jerry Kelly, on handmade Twinrocker paper in an iron handpress. The sheets were bound by Priscilla Spitler at Hands on Bookbinding in quarter leather with papers marbled by Pamela Smith covering the boards. The book’s forty-eight pages measure 13.25 x 8.25 inches. Sixty numbered copies were made and signed by the author, and forty-six of these are offered for sale at $400.00 each.

Children's Book Reviews - 12/8/2008 - Publishers Weekly

Children's Book Reviews - 12/8/2008 - Publishers Weekly.

This small-format, gifty offering from an acclaimed author is not necessarily a children's book; the story it tells, in prose, will absorb adult admirers of literary craftsmanship as thoroughly as it does children.

WB's Whitefoot: A Story from the Center of the World has received a starred review at Publisher's Weekly. My copy arrived a little while ago, but I haven't been able to dive in yet ... though I have looked at the good pictures by Davis Te Selle. The pathos of the one on page 26 reminds me of Lillian Gish's thought in the great Night of the Hunter: "
It's a hard world for little things."


In the sidebar to your right under Content, you will find pages with many resources related to Mr. Berry's work.

This site is not owned, operated or sanctioned by Mr. Berry, whose disapproval of computer technology is well-documented. "I hear that I have a website, but I didn't do those things. My instrument is a pencil."

The one person responsible for all of this is me, Br. Tom Murphy ([email protected]). I am not a personal friend or employee of Mr. Berry and am thus not able to arrange interviews or appearances by him.

Please support the work of The Berry Center: "like" them at Facebook and follow at Twitter. And whenever possible, please support your local, independent bookstores.

Thanks for stopping by.