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Shannon Iverson

All Things Wendell Berry

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I notice in a previous post SO many people have one or many of Wendell Berry's books on their reading lists. I, myself, have read a few also and enjoyed his writing very much. Without asking an essay question, why do you think we relate to his novels or poetry the way we do? Have you, or will you assign one of his works to your children? Would you use his poetry or novels as a read aloud? What about your favorites? Thoughts?



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I've read very little Berry, but I think one of the reasons he resonates is because of his desire to relish natural beauty and honor those who conserve it. Most classical education folks (all?) appreciate the pre-modern outlook on nature, and, while thankful for many modern technological advancements, are probably more wary than most of the dangers of modernity. Berry taps into those dangers. I also think the aspect in Berry's writing of being grounded in a concrete community resounds with classical education folks, because that is where we live--in small, close knit communities that probably wouldn't survive without everyone (or a good portion) chipping in to make things go. I'm sure there's more to be said, but that's what occurs to me.



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@Shannon Iverson, I am a huge fan of Berry's fiction, as are my kids (college-age and young marrieds). We have collectively read a good bit, and even hosted a summer study series here in our home to discuss his ideas of community as they relate to our church community. So fruitful, and such a lovely bit of summer scholé! I began reading Berry about 10 years ago, and just enjoyed the books, but then began to realize how important his ideas are to the recovery of a classical education in our families and communities. My youngest is 18, and he is the resident Berry scholar. He began reading the books on his own initiative about 2 years ago, and he spurred on his older siblings to read it. I do not think I would read it with younger children, though; I think the value of the stories is enhanced with at least a bit of life experience. 

I agree with @JTB_5, the community aspect is the thing that resonates; also he explores some really important ideas about education in all of his books. I just purchased his essay "The Loss of the University" to complement those thoughts, and try to contemplate them a bit more deeply. So...my first foray into Berry non-fiction is now in my (towering) to-be-read stack. :DThere was a discussion about Berry on the Close Reads facebook group a while back, when someone posed the question about whether Berry wants everyone to move out of the city to a farm (short answer: NO way. He will actually tell you in person that you will probably fail if you try to do that). Here are some thoughts I shared:



I know there's been a good deal of discussion about Berry as an agrarian apologist, and I agree that there is that element. On my first read of Hannah Coulter about 10 years ago, I did a lot of talking back to Berry, telling him what he was really longing for is not to be found on this earth. I still think that in some ways, but in my opinion, the larger picture really is a plea for true community in our daily lives. He would be the first to point out that you may or may not find this if you sell everything and move to a farming community. But what Berry describes as the membership is exactly what I have in my covenant community at church. Different in particulars, but identical in substance.

While I can read Berry as exclusively mourning a dying agrarian world, I can also read it as the loss we as Christians have experienced in the modern age of mega-churches, fractured families, and rootlessness in both community and church. If Berry makes you long for this kind of community, the local church might be the best place to start. And chickens are optional! :



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I have only read Jayber and Hannah, but I think because he doesn’t come to us with a “team” agenda - Republican, Baptist, Liberal - he appeals to many people, and therefore humanity. He truly contemplates the really human, sacred, communal things. I have a friend in New Orleans who found a WB group. She said they each have a different reason why they love him, but she is able to be included in their conversation because of the nature of Berry’s approach. 

Is there a favorite essay or poem any of you have?

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I've read Berry's novels, essays, and poetry over the years and what I remember most is his portrayal of "membership". Therein lies the appeal; many of us long for community. Probably the closest thing to Port William that I have seen on this earth are Old Order Amish communities. Both are "high context" cultures as described by Edward Hall. The difference is that the "glue" of Amish communities is their shared faith which involves a binding commitment to intentionally live together. A shared faith seems to be less of a factor in the Port William stories.

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