I've made it to book eight of my 40 books for the year. I have laughed and cried during the seven books and have a feeling that my eighth, The Memory of Old Jack by Wendell Berry, will bring both laughter and tears. I am glad that I made this challenge and hope that the summer will allow more time for reaching my goal!! I have 31 books left.
For now, I want to offer a short review of my favorite of the seven: Hannah Coulter by Wendell Berry.
Berry is a farmer, poet and writer from Kentucky. His wild and poetic style keeps the reader engaged in his story, as if he was sitting next to you on a bench while you listened to him muse.
I come from a family of farmers, my grandparents grew up as sharecroppers and general-store owners. I love a country story more than a romance. My father introduced me to Wendell Berry a long time ago, reading me selections from The Memory of Old Jack (which I am reading now). So when I picked up Hannah Coulter, he smiled at me and said, "I think you'll really enjoy that one."
He was right.
Berry tells his tales through memories, mostly. Hannah Coulter is a twice-widowed, hard-working and weathered character who is growing old when we meet her. Her story begins with her childhood and works its way up to her marriage, children and life in the town of Port William, Kentucky.
Hannah is a wise woman and her story is told from her memories of days and nights that she lived before the time of the book. She speaks from experience and from love, pain and absence of those who have gone to rest before her.
Near the end of the book, Hannah is remembering a conversation that she and her husband, Nathan, had after their children had left home:
"Nathan said, "Don't complain about the chance you had," in the same way exactly that he used to tell the boys, "Don't cuss the weather." [...] And so Nathan required me to think a thought that has stayed with me a long time and traveled a long way. It passed through everything I knew and changed it all. The chance you had is the life you've got. You can make complaints about what people, including you, make of their lives after they have got them, and about what people make of other people's lives, even about your children being gone, but you mustn't wish for another life. You mustn't want to be somebody else. What you must do is this: "Rejoice evermore. Pray without ceasing. In every thing give thanks." I am not all the way capable of so much, but those are the right instructions."
This quote impacted me for the truth that it revealed: the chance you had is the life you've got. The simplicity of her statement shocked me and changed the way I thought of myself. That is the mark of truly beautiful writing.
After finishing this book, I felt whole and solemn. Whole for reading a story that filled me with a desire to appreciate the things and the people I have, and solemn for realizing that I don't always
Hannah takes the reader through her life and puts value on the variety of good and bad, the hard and fast way of life. Berry's words, through Hannah, remind the reader to slow down and recall the times that meant something to them.
I was sad to close this book when I finished. Luckily, I have several more Port William stories left to read and millions of other books to lose myself in.
If you have a chance, I would encourage you to read this slow, country tale. It is worth the time and worth the thought.