Further cultural and agricultural writings from the dean of modern literary agrarians.
As a novelist, essayist, and poet, Berry (Roots to the Earth, 2016, etc.) has been writing work that is all of a piece for more than half a century; reduced, if it must be, his aim is the old agrarian ideal of standing for what one stands on, defending one’s place on Earth. The author notes his wife’s observation that “my principal asset as a writer has been my knack for repeating myself,” a gentle jibe that is true, but necessarily so. There’s no end to threats to small farmers, or an economy of health, or “good work,” the opposite of which is “waste of fertility and of the land itself.” Apart from a little peevish attention at the beginning of the book to the thought that old-time Southern agrarianism, its roots in tobacco and tradition, is by definition racist—it isn’t, he insists, and never mind what a postmodern ecocritic might say—Berry looks keenly into the future and the possibilities of locally based economies that are “reasonably coherent, reasonably self-sufficient and self-determining.” If that’s a little ecotopian, so be it. Berry’s essays, continuing arguments begun in The Unsettling of America 40 years ago, will be familiar to longtime readers, blending his farm work with his interests in literature old and new. To them he adds a fine long poem and several new stories set in his Port William, Kentucky, the latter centering on yeoman hero Andy Catlett, who reiterates a Jeffersonian ideal: “If you want people to love their country, let them own a piece of it.” Some of Catlett’s guiding principles align very neatly with the author’s: he counsels against buying anything one doesn’t strictly need and for going out in the world to do good—advice that always stands repeating.
Vintage Berry sure to please and instruct his many admirers.