The irony of writing about Wendell Berry on a computer, especially for a blog, doesn’t escape me. Since Berry refuses to own a computer, and has widely (and trenchantly) written about the negative repercussions of technology, there is almost a note of friction simply by covering him in such a technological medium. Nonetheless, it’s time to talk about him because he just released a new title, Andy Catlett: Early Travels, his sixth novel set in Port Williams.
I’ve read little of Berry’s fiction, but a lot of his essays, and I have to say I enjoyed his essays more. Since I was introduced to him by way of his essays, it was interesting to read his fiction later and see his ideas of the world embodied in concrete stories. As far as his essays, I’ve spent a few years teaching various essays of his, especially Feminism, the Body, and the Machine, and students either see him as visionary or moronic, both reactions that mean he’s imprinted himself on them.
Berry has been claimed, to some degree, by the Christian community as a writer of their own, because of his familiarity with Christian culture and knowledge of the Bible, but I think he stands a bit outside the Christian camp. What I mean is that he utters a rather prophetic message, or at least the best we can get in these days. As a prophet, he doesn’t fit into neat societal grooves. A prophet is always a loner. Despite his religious convictions, or rather because of them, he’s had no problem vilifying the Christian community for their complacence in permitting and even condoning environmental degradation. On that note, the richness and complexity of his view of the world is refreshing, albeit uncomfortably challenging. We all need to be challenged though, as iron sharpens iron. Berry’s done that for me.
If you’re new to Wendell Berry, I would suggest starting with this collection of his essays: The Art of the Commonplace
There aren’t many reviews online that I’ve found of Andy Catlett (readers – any suggestions?) but here’s a link to a brief synopsis.
Labels: Wendell Berry