The Memory of Old Jack


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Sort order. Aug 21, Megan rated it it was amazing. Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Reading this book is like dreaming coherently--it just unfolds in front of you like liquid, with images so clear and so simple that you're instantly standing in the bodies of the characters--treading the dirt they walk on, breathing through their mouths It is a patient book, and you must be patient with it and trust its pace.

Wendell Berry is incredible in many ways, and this book is beautiful. It is a journey through Old Jack's life, but the imagery and ideas an Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. It is a journey through Old Jack's life, but the imagery and ideas and questions and observations extend far past the narrative structure's simplicity.

I will reread this book--I already cherish my relationship with it and the conversations it created with myself. View 1 comment. Feb 01, Chrissie rated it it was amazing Shelves: usa , hf , relationships , 2-itunes-library , audible-uk , life-stages , read , favorites , southern. A lovely book and it has such gorgeous writing. I dare you to read this and not tear up. They focus on the families of the town, related by birth and their ties to the land.

All are as kin, they rely on each other, know everything about one another and share common joys and sorrows. The land on which they live and the tig A lovely book and it has such gorgeous writing. The land on which they live and the tight sense of community are the essence of these novels.


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The characters become individuals you care for; they come to feel as your own friends. Readers meet the Beechum, Feltner, Coulter, and Catlett families. And others, such as Jayber Crow. There is a sense of peace and continuity that pervades the tales. This is due to the writing. There is wisdom beautifully expressed--about human behavior and the inherent beauty, importance and value of land. It passes from one generation to the next. One can draw a sense of peace and tranquility from this knowledge. In this story one learns about Jack Beechum. It is , and he is an old man of ninety-two.

He reminisces. We follow his thoughts through the years. We learn about what has occurred in the town. We learn about its inhabitants, and we learn about him. I found his thoughts about his own life revealing. It is about the appreciation of good memories and the acceptance of mistakes made. I found this to be a wise and beautiful book.


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Paul Michaels narrates this audiobook as he has narrated the others about Port William. His narration is absolutely perfect. This is how books should be narrated. The speed is perfect, and every word can be easily heard. I have given both the narration and the written book itself five stars. It is better if you already know who the people in Port William are. I suggest reading the short story Stand By Me first. There is a free online link to it in my review.

I have not yet read all the books, but have I read the best? View all 6 comments. Apr 10, Laysee rated it it was amazing Shelves: five-star-books. The Memory of Old Jack took me back to Port William, Kentucky, a fictional town that is home to a farming community that I have grown to love. This is my fifth book by Wendell Berry; it is also by far the saddest and most deeply affecting. Leave taking always is. In this story set in , Port William bids farewell to one of their oldest kinsmen, Jack Beechum who is In the opening pages, Berry paints a tender portrait of Old Jack standing on a hotel porch, leaning on a cane, in the early hou The Memory of Old Jack took me back to Port William, Kentucky, a fictional town that is home to a farming community that I have grown to love.

In the opening pages, Berry paints a tender portrait of Old Jack standing on a hotel porch, leaning on a cane, in the early hours of a fall morning.

The Memory of Old Jack Summary & Study Guide

He is cold and contemplates where he can go to seek the warmth of a stove. As his health begins to fail, Old Jack increasingly takes leave of the present and retreats to memories of his past. In the last weeks his mind seems to have begun to fail They have all found him at the various stations of his rounds, just standing, as poignantly vacant as an empty house. And they have watched him, those who care about him, because they feel that he is going away from them, going into the past that now holds nearly all of him.

And they yearn toward him, knowing that they will be changed when he is gone. We see Jack from the perspective of Andy Catlett his great grand-nephew , Wheeler Catlett his grand-nephew and lawyer , Mat Feltner his nephew. Writing this, I become aware of how three generations of men have looked upon Jack as the salt-of-the-earth role model.

An astute reviewer pointed out that The Memory of Old Jack is a communal memory. It is a beautiful collective memory of how one generation gives to another. In his younger days Jack Beechum has looked up to Ben Feltner, his brother-in-law, a man of few words who keeps his judgment to himself. When Jack is gone, then Mat will be the oldest of that fellowship of friends and kin of which Old Jack has been for so long the center. By then, I can hardly hold back my tears. There is an abundance of goodwill, love, and care in Port William that spills beyond these pages to touch the reader, too.

This may not be a book for everyone; its appeal may depend on one's season in life. It is elegiac in tone. Yet, like Old Jack, the reader will not fail to locate a warm stove between the lines to thaw the chill. Sadness is assuaged by the acceptance and love anchored in a community of faithful men and women. Lovely book! View all 27 comments. Jul 19, Sara rated it it was amazing Shelves: kindle-purchase , southern-lit , american , favorites , aty-challenge.

Jack Beechum is old now. He is unable to help when the men gather the crops, he is a fixture when old men gather at the local store, he has had to give up his farm to a tenant and reside in the Port William hotel, where he is one of several permanent roomers. But, Jack has had a full life, was once a strapping man who sat a horse like a king, has known love and failure and heartache, and his memories are richer than his current life would allow. Most importantly, he has friends and family who lo Jack Beechum is old now. Most importantly, he has friends and family who love him, respect him, and value him still.

This was his own voice, his own retrospective of his life and it left me with a much more complete and personal picture of who Jack Beechum is. Jack could easily be my great-uncle Naman. My strongest memories of him are of a man working at the end of a hoe in a vegetable garden, bent slightly, but still strong and capable--a no-nonsense man when it came to work and a generous man of laughter when the work was done. The stiffened fingers no longer move with an idle life of their own. They lie still until he has a use of them and then they move by deliberate will, like rude tools.

His hands remind Hannah of old gnarls of root such as she has found washed up on the rockbars of the river, still holding the shape of their place in the earth though that place is changed by their departure. She holds the old, clumsy hand in hers, gently, for its own sake.

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Then I realized those are the kind of hands my husband now bears, as his age slips upon him year by year. Berry also captures the exact feeling of loss that we have when we know a whole generation of men and women are lost to us.


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  4. Mat felt the change upon himself. Now he was the oldest, and the longest memory was his. Now between him and the grave stood no other man. From here on he would find the way for himself. I have often said that the moment I became a complete adult was the moment I lost my mother. Age had nothing to do with it, it was born of the loss of the heart and mind that had always guided my footsteps and could guide them no more.

    Have I mentioned that I love Wendell Berry? I love him with the fullness of a soul that you recognize in yourself. He gives me a gift that is inexplicable every time I open one of his books. He gives me my past, myself, and a little bit of himself--what more could anyone want from an author? View all 16 comments. Jun 07, Joel Pinckney rated it really liked it Shelves: What stood out to me in this reading of Old Jack were the narrator's words on ambition, in conjunction with the well established sense of place present in all of Berry's fiction.

    Through his narrator, Berry offers a critique of unconsidered ambition, or ambition that adheres thoughtlessly to the ladder of success offered by the surrounding culture. This emerges first in the character of Andy Catlett, who wrestles with the knowledge that he has a powerful and able mind and wants to make something What stood out to me in this reading of Old Jack were the narrator's words on ambition, in conjunction with the well established sense of place present in all of Berry's fiction.

    This emerges first in the character of Andy Catlett, who wrestles with the knowledge that he has a powerful and able mind and wants to make something of himself in the world's terms, in conjunction with the legacy of his community and the men from which he is descended and from whom he has learned. The narrator speaks of the "bearing of history toward such places as Port William The narrator rejects the notion that success necessarily entails departure from that which precedes success, or that "hope" is always somewhere other than where the hope is originated.

    Rather, for Andy Catlett, there is great value in the place from which he comes, and success could very well mean an eventual return to that place and continuance of that legacy. It's your only choice. It's all you can have; whatever you try to gain somewhere else, you'll lose here. It's more than enough'" And again, on the following page, "[Jack's] thoughts no longer ranged the distances of possibility but were contained inside the boundaries of his farm He still worked and went ahead as before, but now his work was healing; it restored the health of his place and his own satisfaction" The critique here is in that phrase, "distances of possibility.

    According to the narrator, that is not the best way to live; being fixated on the "distances of possibility" removes from the realities in front of you. The narrator offers a final critique through Jack's subtle shot at his son-in-law, Glad Pettit: "Had he not heard Glad already talking about what he might do when he retired? Retirement seemed to him a rather objectionable ambition--but then that was not his business" Tragic in a lot of ways, but beautiful in that it depicts the life of a man completely present in the life he lives and the work to be done.

    One thing I find so compelling about this novel and much of the rest of the work of Berry is that he depicts men and women who are not disconnected from their work. It is not a means to an end, it is not something to be put up with or endured; rather, it defines the man and emerges from the reality of who the man is.

    There's a lot of beauty in that. One section of the book that I love comes from the time when Old Jack finally escapes his years of debt, describing the realization he comes to afterwards: "He knew that his origin was in nothing that he or any man had done, and that he could do nothing sufficient to his needs. And he looked finally beyond those limits and saw the world still there, potent and abounding, as it would be whether he lived or died, worthy of his life and work and faith. He saw that he would be distinguished not by what he was or anything that he might become but by what he served.

    Beyond him was the peace and rest and joy that he desired. View all 5 comments.

    Neighborhood Book Discussion: Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry

    Wow, this one is kind of hard for me to review. I have tried to read so many things by Wendell Berry, probably for about the past ten years, and I've never managed more than a short essay or a dozen pages of a novel before giving up. I've always felt guilty for this. A farmer from Kentucky who writes about the evils of modern agriculture, the joys of engaging in meaningful work, and the importance of being connected to nature and place, it is all right up my alley, why couldn't I get into it?

    Ma Wow, this one is kind of hard for me to review. Maybe I just haven't been patient enough. The pace of this novel is really, really slow. It follows the reflections of "Old Jack," a retired Kentucky farmer. As an old man, he looks back on his life, recalling joys and sorrows, accomplishments and regrets. It's not a book I was ever really eager to pick up, but once I started, I got sucked in.

    Not in a way that I couldn't put the book down, but I just felt like I was right there with Old Jack, seeing what he was seeing, feeling what he was feeling. I think my eyes were brimming with tears almost the entire time I was reading this. Berry reached his broadest audience and attained his greatest popular acclaim through his essays. The Unsettling of America: Culture and Agriculture is a springboard for contemporary environmental concerns.

    In his life as well as his art, Berry has advocated a responsible, contextual relationship with individuals in a local, agrarian economy. The Memory of Old Jack. Wendell Berry. In a rural Kentucky river town, "Old Jack" Beechum, a retired farmer, sees his life again through the shades of one burnished day in September

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