Saturday, June 10, 2017

Jayber Crow....

Well, after five months of slow reading, today I finished Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry. I'm still trying to find words to say other than, WOW! The last two paragraphs brought me to my knees. Beautiful, would definitely be another word to describe Jayber Crow. Berry's writing is slow, beautiful, and poetic. There is not much action in Jayber Crow, and yet, so much is happening....longing for a sense of place, mourning the loss of rural America, transcendental love....the list of larger than life topics goes on and on.

In the early chapters, we learn that Jayber Crow was conceived out of wedlock and is eventually orphaned at age 4, around the small town of Port William in rural Kentucky at about the time of WWI.
The marriage was a have-to-case. I was not thought of until too late, and this was something I seem to have known almost from birth. Around here it is hard for an interesting secret to stay a secret. (Ch 2, p. 12)
After that, "Aunt" Cordie and "Uncle" Othy take Jayber in and love him as their own until their passing, when he is orphaned a second time at age 10.
I was a little past ten years old, and I was the survivor already of two stories completely ended. (Ch. 3, p. 28)
From there, Jayber is sent to The Good Shepherd, a church orphanage, where he lives for eight years. After which, he became a "pre-ministerial student" at Pigeonville College. Jayber eventually leaves college and makes his way back to Port William, where he becomes the town barber. In subsequent chapters, we see the story of Jayber's adult life unfold through and along with the patrons of his shop.

I will not spill the rest of the story, but suffice to say, it's a must read! Whether you too have a heart for rural America or even a calling for a beautiful story from a simpler time, Jayber Crow delivers. It is a modern novel written like a classic. It is conversational poetry. I felt like I was sitting on the porch listening to Berry's story fan before me. His writing is slow, as good writing should be, and yet, so satisfying. Tim McIntosh, in a CiRCE Close Reads podcast, said, "The book is like melancholy you want to wrap up in - to wear like a robe." This is exactly how I felt. Jayber Crow is beautifully sad. It's also romantic without the physical sex, violence, language, and other ploys many modern authors use in an attempt to hook the reader. Wendell Berry is a patient story teller, who masterfully weaves his craft.

Jayber Crow was my first Wendell Berry novel, but will definitely not be my last. As a matter of fact, a few days ago, I checked out Nathan Coulter from my public library because I want to go back to the beginning and not miss a bit. Although, I'm hesitant to start another book too soon because I want to let this one settle. Jayber Crow is deep, leaving the reader with much to ponder. My only regret is not having someone to discuss the book with. Jayber Crow would be a wonderful book club book!!

While reading Jayber Crow, I listened to all the CiRCE Close Reads podcasts, starring David Kern, Angelina Stanford, and Tim McIntosh discussing the novel. Here are links to each podcast with chapters discussed...

CiRCE Institute Close Reads Reading Schedule

Podcast 6 - Chapters 1-2 
Podcast 7 - Chapters 3-6
Podcast 8 - Chapters 7-9
Podcast 9 - Chapters 10-12
Podcast 10 - Chapters 13-15
Podcast 11 - Chapters 16-18
Podcast 12 - Chapters 19- 22
Podcast 13 - Chapters 23
Podcast 14 - Chapters 24-25
Podcast 15 - Chapters 26-28
Podcast 16 - Chapters 29-32

I've lived in rural America my entire life. The Farmer and I have never left our native town. We both come from a long line of agrarians and are still living on his family farm. Our native community is a village of approx. 1400 people. Berry's Port William was like home to me. His characters were like family. I have seen the unraveling of rural America first hand. I have felt the emptiness of loss. Jayber Crow felt like an acknowledgment of my life on many levels. I have pages and pages of commonplace entries, but will leave you with only a few, as I hope to wet your appetite for more so you go read for yourself....
You would need to draw a very big map of the world in order to make Port William visible upon it. In the actual scale of a state highway map, Port William would be smaller than the dot that locates it. In the eyes of the powers that be, we Port Williamites live and move and have our being within a black period about the size of the one that ends a sentence. It would be a considerable overstatement to say that before making their decisions the leaders of the world do not consult the citizens of Port William. Thousands of leaders of our state and nation, entire administrations, corporate board meetings, university sessions, synods and councils of the church have come and gone without hearing or pronouncing the name of Port William. And how many such invisible, nameless, powerless little places are there in this world? All the world, as a matter of fact, is a mosaic of little places invisible to the powers that be. And in the eyes of the powers that be all those invisible places do not add up to a visible place. They add up to words and numbers.
A town such as Port William in this age of the world is like a man on an icy slope, working hard to stay in place and yet slowly sliding down hill. It has to contend not just with the local mortality, depravity, ignorance, natural deficiencies, and weather but also with what I suppose we might as well call The News. The obliviousness of Port William in high places unfortunately is not reciprocated. The names of the mighty are know in Port William; the news of their influence is variously brought. In modern times much of the doing of the mighty has been the undoing of Port William and its kind. Sometimes Port William is persuaded to approve and support its own undoing. But it knows always that a decision unfeelingly made in the capitols can be here a blow felt, a wound received. (Ch 13, p. 139-140)
But the mercy of the world is time. Time does not stop for love, but it does not stop for death and grief, either. After death and grief that (it seems) ought to have stopped the world, the world goes on. More things happen. And some of the things that happen are good. My life was changing now. It had to change. I am not going to say that it changed for the better. There was good in it as it was. But also there was good in it as it was going to be. (Ch 26, p. 296)
Why is hate so easy and love so difficult? (Ch 29, p. 328)
It is not a terrible thing to love the world, knowing that the world is always passing and irrecoverable, to be known only in loss. To love anything good, at any cost, is a bargain. It is a terrible thing to love the world, knowing that you are a human and therefore joined by kind to all that hates the world and hurries its passing - the violence and greed and falsehood that overcome the world that is meant to be overcome by love. (Ch. 29, p. 329) 

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