Wendell Berry: “What I stand for is what I stand on”

Berry BrushWendell Berry has a new book out.  It is a collection of essays, short stories, and poetry titled The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings.  Brian Barth reviews it at Modern Farmer.

Here is a taste:

In his latest book, The Art of Loading Brush: New Agrarian Writings (available in November from Counterpoint), Berry continues to rage against machines: the laptops and high-tech tractors he believes are causing us to lose touch with each other and our environments. He laments the “dispersed lives of dispersed individuals, commuting and consuming, scattering in every direction every morning, returning at night only to their screens and carryout meals.”

Yes, Berry’s a bit of a curmudgeon, who likens our smartphone obsession to drug addiction and prefers horse-drawn plows to simulated horsepower. He writes longhand before his wife, Tanya, converts the manuscripts on a Royal Standard typewriter. Such anachronistic tendencies, however, point to more than mere nostalgia—namely, a clear-eyed view of the ways in which modern society is wrecking the Earth under the guise of progress. As the journalist David Skinner noted in 2012, “Instead of being at odds with his conscience, he is at odds with his times.”

God willing, the times may have finally swung back around to meet the man. Though Berry would no doubt heap scorn upon today’s $8 heirloom tomatoes and $200 farm-to-table dinners, he did participate in the new documentary Look & See: A Portrait of Wendell Berry, produced by Robert Redford and Nick Offerman. The reluctant subject never shows his face in the film; rather, he shares selections from his work in powerful low-pitched voiceovers. (Visit lookandseefilm.com for information on how to host a screening.) Not coincidentally, the rare photographs on these pages were captured by his intimates: former students and dear friends.

Read the rest here, including a new Berry poem.


Jill Lepore: Microhistorian

Over at Dissent, Francesca Mari (associate editor of Texas Monthly) reviews two collections of essays by Harvard history professor Jill Lepore: The Mansion of Happiness: A History of Life and Death and The Story of America: Essays on Origins.  (The essays in these volumes originally appeared in The New Yorker). Mari uses the review to reflect on the genre of microhistory, a style of history writing that Lepore has raised to an art form. 

Here is a taste:

In The Story of America’s introduction, Lepore says that she joined The New Yorker because she “wanted to learn how to tell stories better,” which is sort of like saying one wanted to hike Mt. Kilimanjaro to learn how to walk. But, indeed, the success of a microhistory is very much about storytelling, and rests on strengths not always prioritized in academia—a sensitivity to character and idiosyncratic detail, an ability to amplify the plot turns in a life or an idea while letting go of those that are unimportant. To wit, Lepore writes a whole essay about Samuel Eliot Morison, “the last Harvard historian to ride a horse to work,” who, “once interrupted at his desk by the incessant barking of a neighbor’s dog, went outside and shot it.” While some academics might think such a detail a barking distraction from their larger argument, Lepore recognizes that it is often the detail that pegs a person’s character but also that triggers an epiphany.

Best Essays of the Last Sixty Years

I am not a big fan of end of the year lists and I try to avoid them here at The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but I found this list of the “best essays since 1950” to be worthy of a post.  The list was created by Robert Atwan, the founder of the Best American Essays series.

Here they are, by date of publication:

James Baldwin, “Notes of a Native Son” (1955)

Norman Mailer, “The White Negro” (1957)

Susan Sontag, “Notes on ‘Camp'” (1964)

John McPhee, “The Search for Marvin Gardens” (1972)

Joan Didion, “The White Album” (1979)

Annie Dillard, “Total Eclipse” (1982)

Philip Lopate, “Against Joie de Vivre” (1986)

Edward Hoagland, “Heaven and Nature” (1988)

Jo Ann Beard, “The Fourth State of Matter” (1996)

David Foster Wallace, “Consider the Lobster” (2004)

Read Atwan’s commentary on each essay here.

Eric Miller’s New Collection of Essays: "Glimpses of Another Land"

If you are not a fan of Eric Miller‘s work, you should be.  Cascade Books has recently published a collection of his essays: Glimpses of Another Land: Political Hope, Spiritual Longing. These essays original appeared in places like Books and Culture, The Cresset, First Things, Christianity Today, and Touchstone.

Here are some blurbs:

“Eric Miller is one of the most thoughtful and graceful writers today—a combination of intelligence, humility, and faithful insight. I try to read everything he writes. What a gift to have so many of his essays collected in one place!”
—Mark Galli, senior managing editor of
Christianity Today

“Whether he writes about the Amish, popular Christian music, or the Pittsburgh Steelers, Eric Miller’s prose sings with grace, passion, wit, Pennsylvania patriotism, and, suffusing it all, a sense of hope. His is an America of neighbors, faith, and peace, not vacuous pop culture and political cant. In the tradition of Christopher Lasch and Wendell Berry, Eric Miller illumines for us a way back home.”
—Bill Kauffman, author of
Ain’t My America

“It’s fitting that Eric Miller begins this book by talking about hope and longing. Grounded in a specific time and place, clear-eyed about our troubles, these essays offer bright glimpses of another land.”
—John Wilson, editor of
Books & Culture

“Eric Miller is quickly becoming one of the best evangelical cultural critics at work among us today. Always timely, never trendy, usually salty, never cynical, his essays have a winsome way of delighting us in the good, drawing us out of ourselves in longing for a better, more humane and divine mode of living in the world . . . May his tribe increase and find a way of loving the rest of us in. May they help us keep our hope alive.”
—Douglas A. Sweeney, author of
The American Evangelical Story

“These essays invite a new generation to appreciate an older legacy of post-partisan political hope. Here is a voice that echoes with Burke, Chesterton, Berry, and above all, Christopher Lasch. Miller’s pointed insights and intimate prose are invitations to both reflection and delight.”
—James K. A. Smith, author of
The Devil Reads Derrida

“Eric Miller is my favorite Christian cultural critic. I have been absorbing his writings for over a decade, and they never fail to inspire me with hope for something better, something real. If you haven’t read him, you must. These essays will challenge you to think differently about what it means to be a human being in this world.”
—John Fea, author of
The Way of Improvement Leads Home

And while your at it, I would also check out Miller’s Hope in a Scattering Time: A Life of Christopher Lasch.  And I also heard he co-edited a pretty good book called Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian’s Vocation.