From Publishers Weekly
Berry, an outspoken cultural critic, agrarian and prolific author (with more than 50 books), writes that imagination "brings what we want and what we have ever closer to being the same. It is the power that can save us from the prevailing insinuation that our place, our house, our spouse, and our automobile are not good enough." In these 15 essays, culled from the past two decades, Berry consistently backs up this bold statement while discussing everything from the Civil War to Shakespeare to religion. Each piece illustrates Berry's assertion that there is an unbreakable connection between a literary work and the place in which it is conceived; to that end, he examines the influence of place on his own creation, the fictional Kentucky town of Port William, as well as the integral role of the natural world in Shakespeare's As You Like It and King Lear. Some of the selections feel redundant-the point is made time and again that we must cultivate our imaginations in order to exist harmoniously with our surroundings-but this thought-provoking volume does reinforce Berry's relevance as one of America's preeminent thinkers.
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*Starred Review* The essays of Berry’s new collection are of two kinds. Most are short appreciations of other writers who have taught him, formally (Wallace Stegner) as well as in the way all writers teach those who respond to them, as exemplary observers of humanity and truth. These small pieces’ subjects include, besides novelist Stegner, poets John Haines, Hayden Carruth, and Jane Kenyon; fellow Kentuckians James Still, Gurney Norman, and James Baker Hall (the last a fine photographer, to boot)—all personal acquaintances and friends of Berry’s—California’s Buddhist-ecologist bard, Gary Snyder; and the great English poet and scholar of Blake and Yeats, Kathleen Raine, whom he knows primarily from their work. The longer pieces weigh in with congenial gravity on how it has been to live and work in the same place for 40-some years; the effects of the Civil War on literature and public consciousness, especially in his own region, the upper South; self-knowledge and adversity in As You Like It and King Lear; and a typical scientist’s rant against theism. The Shakespearean piece, rebutting currently fashionable “dark” interpretations, particularly of Lear, is very probably destined to be a classic essay, while the concluding defense of belief and science rather obviates one side of the religion-science controversy while demolishing the other. --Ray Olson
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