Feb 15, 2010

Hannah Coulter

I just finished this book. So, so, so good. Wendell Berry writes this fiction novel about an old woman reflecting back over her life in a small town.

I grew up in a small town, and even though he portrayed life in an earlier era (after World War 2), I could still deeply identify with so much of what he wrote about. The main character (now in her 80s) is telling the story of her life. As she does this, she's also processing how she feels about all that has happened. Her story involved close relational ties within her town, grief, loss, and change.

This is the first book that has ever made me cry. Movies, yes. But this is the first book.

Here are some ideas it has me thinking about:
1) how expectations affect our joy/gratitude. It seems like people from that era expected to have grief and loss in their life. When it didn't happen, they were so filled with gratitude and took great joy in what they had.

Today, we hear messages like "You can do whatever you want to do with your life." or "With enough money and motivation, you can make yourself happy." or "Fall in love and everything will be happily-ever-after." A fairy-tale of sorts. Rather than feel gratitude for all that is good, we just expect things to be good. I feel this sets us up for disappointment, because Christ told us to expect difficulties and trials. When we expect all to go smoothly, we are more likely to feel "wronged" when something hard happens. Loss and hardship are so much more heavy.

Now I'm not saying that grief and loss shouldn't feel heavy. Of course they should. I just wonder if many in my generation have gone into adulthood (myself included) with "fairy-tale" expectations that make loss harder to process and the gifts in life to go unnoticed.

2) the contrast between life in a small town (I mean small town) and life in a bigger town/city. Now, I could talk about this forever, but I won't bore you. I'll just say I've been pondering that, and there is a big part of me that resonates with the idea of living in a small community.  Most people find it strange or confusing, so I won't try to go into that here, but if you ever want to know, I could share all the benefits I see from living in a small community.

I think I will definitely be reading more in this series.  In fact, if you'd like to join me, the Manhattan Public Library is having a Book Discussion over "Nathan Coulter" on Thursday, March 25th at 7:00 pm.  I might try to make it.  Anyone interested?



  1. Oooh, Erika -- that is so cool that you read that book! I loved it, too -- had so many thoughts as I was reading. I would love to read _Nathan Coulter_ and go to the discussion at the library -- I'll have to check my calendar. It would be fun to do this with you. :)

  2. Thanks for sharing your thoughts related to these this morning. I always love hearing/reading them.