Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Summer Reading for Presidential Hopefuls

Tip o' the hat to Annie Hocker (world traveller, photographer, falconer, writer) for this link to a list of books other writers suggest for each of the presidential candidates.

How many have you read?

Not many by me, but some, and I'm happy to say my main man Wendell Berry is suggested twice (once by Barbara Kingsolver and again by Michael Pollan).

First Kingsolver:

"...They could finish with any novel by Wendell Berry. (My favorite is “Jayber Crow.”) While the farmlands and rural towns of our nation are mostly overlooked, it’s worth remembering that many people still live in them, retaining skills of self-sufficiency and neighborly cooperation that wait to be valued in the world to come."

Then Pollan:

"I would urge the three presidential candidates to read — or reread — two books from the 1970s that could help them confront the deepening (and now deeply intertwined) problem of our food and energy economies. Long before either climate change or the obesity epidemic were on the national scope, Wendell Berry’s “Unsettling of America” made the case for a way of life and a kind of agriculture that might have averted both — and could still make an important contribution to solving these problems. In “Diet for a Small Planet,” Frances Moore LappĂ© shone a light on the wastefulness and environmental costs of meat-eating, predicting that humanity’s growing appetite for meat would lead to hunger for the world’s poor. Together these two visionary writers — who fell out of favor during the cheap-food and cheap-energy years that began in the ’80s and are just now coming to a calamitous close — still have much to say about the way out of our current predicament."

I've read both "Unsettling of America" and "Jaber Crow" and will get around to reading them again, as I am now Berry's short yet comprehensive tragedy, "The Memory of Old Jack." A favorite.

"Unsettling" was a challenging read for me. I think I was too early in my exploration of W.B. and too quickly come from his shorter collections of essays. It's unabridged and unsympathetic Berry when I was accustomed to being lead more gently into his agrarian worldview.

Prompted by my constant boosterism of Berry, my father read Unsettling first and it nearly did him in. Dad is a grown farm boy from West Texas but was raised farming commodities on land already converted, fenceline to fenceline, to the kind of industrial use Berry rails against. But Dad broke horses, too, and loves hard work and his rural country roots. I suggested a diet of short novels, the Port William chronicles, as easier plowing.

Jaber Crow is the story of a small town barber and a bachelor whose life spans the divide between what Berry sees as the older way and the new one, two eras split more or less by the second world war. Like The Memory of Old Jack, Jaber Crow has elements of tragedy---small personal ones but all of them underwritten by the greater tragedy of (what was then) the coming age.

Should all the president's men and women read Wendell Berry? I've always thought so. I've wondered often how it is that none mention him in passing or even nod to his general themes. Would a single quote be too dangerous? What would the media make of it if someone once claimed Wendell Berry as his or her "spiritual advisor?"


Steve Bodio said...

I liked the reading list but thought the authors a bit ... unbalanced.

Pollan is always good.

I can never stand Kingsolver (she once snubbed me because of assumed political differences but in any case she always REEKS of self- regard.) She sniffs that no candidate seeks the support of other species. Sheesh! Like it or not, THEY CAN'T VOTE.

Matt Mullenix said...

By "other species," does she mean non-politicians? :-)

Anonymous said...

I've only read one Kingsolver but will always respect moths in heat because of her prose.

Annie in VA

margory said...

NY Times has had several book lists lately. This one seems a little precious to me, but I'm a simple girl, what do I know. I'll just be pleased for a President who has read and studied and knows the Constitution.