A search for Wendell Berry's name calls up several threads here at A&F, but none dedictated to the writer. I thought I'd start one, knowing he has fans here.
I'm afraid that I can't say much about Berry. I've never read anything by him! I have a vague idea that I may have read a Berry essay years ago, but considering that I can't remember a thing about it, I don't feel right saying I've read something by him.
What got me thinking about Berry was his recent visit to Arlington's Central Libary -- my main library, as some of you know, having heard me mention it on this board every now and then.
Arlington's Central Library has been hosting author events for some time. I saw George Pelecanos there a few months ago, then listened to Novella Carpenter, author of Farm City, speak there just a week ago. During that presentation, the library publicized that its next event would be an appearance by Wendell Berry. Those last two appearances are part of the Arlington Reads program (I don't know if Pelecanos' appearance was part of that same series, or part of another speaker series).
I'm learning a bit about Berry right now, watching the video of his appearance, which is available at the linked site. I'm 13 minutes into Berry's talk, and he's claiming to be a solitary person by nature -- a farmer and writer, not what one might think of as a community advocate, if I'm understanding him correctly.
Berry fans: Share your thoughts on the writer, recommendations of his work, and reflections on the video presentation (if you watch it).
I should say that I've heard Berry criticized for being against the church, or organized religion. I know nothing about that charge, so forgive me if it's inaccurate. I raise it in case those of you more familiar with Berry's work might be awared of the charge, and whether or not it can be found in his writings.
I'm a fan. I've read most of his eight novels, but only a few essays and snippets from his much more voluminous non-fiction, so my knowledge is skewed. Given that, though, I think I have a fair understanding of and appreciation for his main themes, and for his most cherished values. I find him to be a marvelous novelist, a creator of absolutely luminous works of beauty. I can't recommend his novel Jayber Crow
highly enough. It's one of the most moving and beautiful things I've ever read.
Berry is all about connectedness -- humanity's connectedness to the planet on which it finds itself, an individual's connectedness to the community in which he or she lives. There is an elegiac quality to much of his work, a sense of loss, a grief over what has been forfeited in our headlong rush to mechanized, technological "freedom." At the same time, Berry avoids the sentimental nostalgia that such an approach could easily suggest. The fictional town of Port William, Kentucky, where his novels are set, is beset by the same ills that plague all of society; suicide, alcoholism, familial tension, death, heartbreak. But within that context miracles occur, almost all of them of the small, homely variety that involve nothing more nor less than human beings forsaking the forlorn kingdom of Me and embracing something bigger, something outside themselves. I love him for that.
Yes, he's critical of the Church at times. But that's the way prophets tend to be, and I very much view him as a prophet, although Berry himself might reject that label. He believes the Church has abdicated its responsibility in standing for people and standing against those forces that divide and alienate people from one another. He's a farmer, so naturally much of his worldview is centered on caring for the earth, a practice he takes quite seriously, and a practice that he believes America has abandoned for the pursuit of Mammon. It's a little hard to argue with the basic premise, in my opinion, although I'm sure some will find fault with it. In any event, he's a very, very gifted writer, something of a national treasure. I'd drive a long way to hear him speak. The fact that he's at your local library, Christian, makes me want to visit you in D.C.