I can’t wait to get my hands on Wendell Berry’s latest book, Wendell Berry: Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II). Here’s an introduction to it and Berry’s other works, by none other than Nick Offerman:
He has garnered adoration and accolades for his poetry, his essays and his fiction, but in a general sense no distinction need be drawn between these genres. All of his writing thrives on the ground water of his common sense and his affection for his place on earth and the inhabitants of that place. In the eight decades and counting Mr. Berry has been paying attention, he has witnessed his species genuflecting to the modern fashion of keeping pace with the ever-increasing proliferation of consumer goods and services. By maintaining a lifestyle that eschews that sensibility by simply choosing not to go any faster than necessary, he has maintained a perspective rife with wisdom by which we can all prosper and thrill.
We can’t all be an exemplar of the agrarian lifestyle like Wendell Berry, who produces a staggering volume of literary work while managing his Kentucky farm. But there’s a great deal we can do to restore sanity and meaning in our lives. The disease Berry diagnoses is consumerism, by which he does NOT mean various efforts to ensure the safety and quality of goods, but the modern mindset that helplessness and rootlessness are virtues rather than shortcomings. In Berry’s words, “A mere consumer is by definition a dependent.” Madison Avenue sells pre-packaged identity, esteem, and meaning, and when expensive “stuff” fails to make us happy, the answer is to buy more.
How to be less dependent? Make your own food. Make your own music. Make your own furniture. And think before you buy more plastic yuck you don’t really need. And of course, we can inform ourselves about the condition we’re in, and Berry’s work is a great place to start. I’ve found his writings inspirational.
By the way, I had no idea Offerman was something of a Renaissance man. In addition to acting, he makes boats, furniture, and has written three books. He disdains labels and ideologies, and considers himself “a free-thinking American.” We could use a few more of those.