A Kinder, Gentler Thoreau

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It is a lazy Sunday morning. I am seated in my comfortable chair, wrapped in my old dressing-gown, my coffee in hand, having turned the final page of Jayber Crow: The Life Story of Jayber Crow, Barber, of the Port William Membership, as Written by Himself. It is a novel by Wendell Berry. Jayber was placed in my hands as a gift. A box of emeralds would not have pleased me more. He has become one of those rare friends with whom I look forward to sharing the rest of my life.

Jayber Crow is a book to read slowly, savour repeatedly and forget not at all. I lay it down, enjoy the last of my coffee, and look to the four thousand expectant faces inhabiting the shelves of my library in search of an afternoon companion. No one is speaking to me. There is a respectful and contemplative silence. Jayber’s voice has settled on the room like a benediction.

We began our journey together with a cautionary note from the author:

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, analyse, deconstruct, or otherwise ‘understand’ it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.

I thought, you and I will get along just fine, Mr Berry.

Port William is a small river town in Kentucky, the kind of place where ‘people don’t have what you would call their own business’ and where memorable characters abound: Burley Coulter who ‘won’t own anything I can’t carry or that won’t follow me when I whistle’; Sam Hanks with ‘his pipe clenched in his teeth as if he expected to be picked up and swung by it’; Cecelia Overhold, the town snob, who ‘always went by without looking at me, her head tilted to indicate not that she did not see me but that she had already seen me, and once was enough’; and wise, old, lame Athey Keith

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About the contributor

An analogue man deeply suspicious of the digital age, Richard Platt was born at least a hundred years too late. He enjoys a life of leisurely pleasures and quiet anachronisms, and his library is cross-referenced on index cards.

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