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Jayber Crow by Wendell Berry

Jayber Crow (2000)

by Wendell Berry

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1,0563011,880 (4.47)22



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I'm going to struggle to give this book the review it deserves. One might describe this as one of a series of books that the author wrote about the fictitious town of Port William. One might compare this community to the ones in Andy Griffith's Mayberry or Northern Exposure's Cicely, but Port William and its inhabitants are less eccentric, while still showing plenty of human frailties and a reasonable amount of drama. This particular book is the narrative of the title character, who in some respects is a loner without being lonely. At the beginning of the book, I felt like I was getting little more than a quick guided tour of the area, much like a innkeeper giving the facility highlights for a new customer in record time. "Here's the bathroom, here's the ice machine, here's the thermostat, anything else? No? Goodbye." But then Mr. Crow settles into a more comfortable disposition with his reader and starts to let you into his view of his entire life, and it's easy to listen to what he has to say. In many respects, he is only describing life as it must happen in a thousand other places. And yet, Jayber has a way of repeatedly seeing a clarity and a depth of understanding about people and situations, that don't so much make him look wise as it does make him look very observant and reasonable. There is much truth in what he relates, truth for all of us. I would argue that the author struggles toward the end of the book at times. The tone gets much more reflective, to excess, I would contend, and then starts emphasizing a belief about Jayber Crow as a "given" that has not been substantiated by the rest of the book. Nonetheless, the author recovers nicely at the very end to provide suitable satisfaction for the reader. I am very inclined at this point to read more of the author's Port William fiction. ( )
  larryerick | Apr 26, 2018 |
“Jayber Crow: A Novel - The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership as Written by Himself” by Wendell Berry

A sweet - and sad, and beautiful story of small town America...and the large, full lives of those who lived there. If you’d like to read what Wendell Berry says about progress, and farming, and science, but would rather read it in novel form this is the book for you.

The tittle character - by planting his roots in one place - and by virtue of his profession - comes to embody the hopes and dreams, and deaths, of rural life.

Spanning the first 75% of the 20th century, it’s also a treasure-load of historical fiction - of what life was like in the countrysides for most of the people who lived there during that time. ( )
  Pastor_Doug | Mar 30, 2018 |
This probably deserves more stars. It's the life story of a man from childhood to late in life, living in Appalachia and observing how the world changes over the course of his life. There are some really beautiful insights, the writing is excellent. But it was just. So. Slow. It's definitely a book you have to take the time to slowly digest. I think I'm just in the wrong stage of life for it right now. ( )
  Janellreads | Oct 18, 2017 |
I have read Wendell Berry non-fiction and found him thoughtful and challenging. I have imbibed his poetry and loved his images. I did read some short stories several years ago and loved them, but this book is the one that brought me into the world of the Port William membership. This book makes me want to read more Wendell Berry. ( )
  Jamichuk | May 22, 2017 |
Before reading this book, I knew vaguely of Wendell Berry as an environmentalist and was not familiar with his writing. [Jayber Crow] is one of several novels set in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. Jayber, the town barber, tells his life story from birth in 1914 to old age. Themes of love, friendship, and community are intermingled with warnings about the impact of the automobile, the dangers of large-scale farming, and the futility of war. The prose is quiet and reflective; Berry's societal critique almost sneaks up on you as you find yourself nodding along with him. I'll be reading more of his Port William novels.


I marked a couple of passages that struck me -- such beautiful writing:

She had come into her beauty. This was not the beauty of her youth and freshness, of which she had a plenty. The beauty I am speaking of now was that of a woman who has come into knowledge and into strength and who, knowing her hardships, trusts her strength and goes about her work even with a kind of happiness, serene somehow, and secure. It was the beauty she would always have.


My vision of the gathered church that had come to me after I became the janitor had been replaced by a vision of the gathered community. What I saw now was the community imperfect and irresolute but held together by the frayed and always fraying, incomplete and yet ever-holding bonds of the various sorts of affection. ... I saw them all as somehow perfected, beyond time, by one another's love, compassion, and forgiveness, as it is said we may be perfected by grace. ( )
  lauralkeet | Dec 24, 2016 |
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Magnanimous Despair alone

Could show me so divine a thing...
Virginia Berry


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I never put up a barber pole or a sign or even gave my shop a name.
Persons attempting to find a "text" in this book will be prosecuted; persons attempting to find a "subtext" in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise "understand" it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

I had a conscientious objection to making an exception of myself. p. 143
On pretty weekends in the summer...the river is disquieted from morning to night by people resting from their work. This resting involves traveling at great speed...These people are in an emergency to relax. (p. 331)
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Jayber Crow, born in Goforth, Kentucky, orphaned at age ten, began his search as a "pre-ministerial" student at Pigeonville College. Eventually, after the flood of 1937, Jayber becomes the barber of the small community of Port William, Kentucky.

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