Jayber Crow–chapter 1-3

I am reading Jayber Crow  by Wendell Berry with the folks who gather around Michele Morin at Living Our Days.  See my ABOUT page for the reading schedule and come along to enjoy this folksy tale. This week (September 7, 2017) we’re talking about Chapters 1-3.  The following are bits and pieces I found savory ( ;


Persons attempting to find a ‘text’ in this book will be prosecute; persons attempting to fin a ‘subtext’ in it will be banished; persons attempting to explain, interpret, explicate, analyze, deconstruct, or otherwise ‘understand’ it will be exiled to a desert island in the company only of other explainers.


I had to chuckle at this introductory notice by the author, for what he is forbidding is precisely what I have commenced to do!  I suspect he wants mostly for the reader to just enjoy the story and his beautiful prose that evokes a time when life was simpler…but I can’t help wondering if, for instance, Jayber’s given name–Jonah is symbolic…

A barber chair is an excellent place to read or sleep. It tilts back and has a footrest and a headrest. –p.4

I should quite like to have one of these by a sunny window, for reading is never so sweet as when one can put up her feet!

The brief, laughing look that she had given me made me feel extraordinarily seen, as if after that I might be visible in the dark. –p. 10

Ahhhh…what a sweet way to put it ( :

I don’t remember when I did not know Port William, the town and the neighborhood. My relation to that place, my being in it and my absences from it, is the story of my life. That story has surprised me almost every day—but now, in the year 1986, so near the end, it seems not surprising at all but only a little strange, as if it all has happened to somebody I don’t yet quite know. Certainly, all of it has happened to somebody younger. –p. 12

I find this deep connection to place and its sense of community enviable.  I grew up in a little and closely connected community, one which had known both of my parents as children… When I was young I envisioned always living there. Even though I moved away after highschool I feel that this place gave me a deep feeling of acceptance and belonging I wouldn’t otherwise possess.  Now we have moved multiple times and lost so much of our moorings.  On the other hand, we have friends in far-flung places and have experienced life in a wide breadth of places, and we know the value of belonging to the family of God wherever we settle.  There are blessings either way but I can’t helping feeling a little envious of Jayber’s life.

“I remember too how spring came, just when I thought it might stay winter forever, at first in little touches and strokes of green lighting up the bare mud like candle flames, and then it covered the whole place with a light pelt of shadowy grass blades and leaves.  And I remember how, as the days and the winds passed over, the foliage shifted and sang.” –p.16

I love the coming of spring, always have.  This is a beautiful characterization of it.  The foliage singing… reminds me of the aspen leaves that whisper here in all seasons.

And yet it is hard to look at the river in its calm, just after daylight or just before dark, and believe that history has happened to it. The river, the river itself, leaves marks but bears none. It is only water flowing in a path that other water has worn. –p. 19

The surface of the quieted river, as I thought in those old days at Squires Landing, as I think now, is like a window looking into another world that is like this one except that it is quiet. Its quietness makes it seem perfect… As I did not know then but know now, the surface of the river is like a living soul, which is easy to disturb, is often disturbed, but, growing calm, shows what it was, is, and will be. –p. 20

River imagery figures often in Jayber’s story.  I like this figure of the river’s surface reflection as a window into another world, much like a living soul. How often do we take time to imagine what lies below the surface of another’s outward appearance?

Back there at the beginning, as I see now, my life was all time and almost no memory. Though I knew early of death, it still seemed to be something that happened only to other people, and I stood in an unending river of time that would go on making the same changes and the same returns forever. And now, nearing the end, I see that my life is almost entirely memory and very little time. Toward the end of my life at Squires Landing I began to understand that whenever death happened, it happened to me.

That is knowledge that takes a long time to wear in. Finally it wears in. Finally I realized and fully accepted that one day I would belong entirely to memory, and it would then not be my memory that I belonged to, and I went over to Goforth to see if there was any room left beside my parents’ graves. –p. 24

Is this why time seems to pass so slowly when you’re a child and so fast as an adult?

And then I lift my head and look about me at the river and the valley, the great, unearned beauty of this place, and I feel the memoryless joy of a man just risen from the grave. –p. 25

‘Unearned beauty’ — Is this a way of pointing out that beautiful scenery is free for the viewing?  ‘Memoryless joy’ has a unique ring though I can’t say that I entirely grasp its meaning.  Lazarus comes to mind, but how was his joy memoryless?

I was a little past ten years old, and I was the survivor already of two stories completely ended. –p. 28

Ahh. Poor little guy. What an apt way to express that he was orphaned twice by the time he was ten.


Thus endeth my quote collection for chapters 1-3.  I hope I’ve piqued your interest in this peaceful and folksy tale.  May I add that Jayber Crow is especially perfect as an audio book; it’s as if Jayber were sitting there telling you his story.  I’ve been listening via Hoopla, available through my local library.  But for grabbing quotes nothing beats a Kindle ( :


4 thoughts on “Jayber Crow–chapter 1-3

  1. I love the way that you gathered the remnants of his beautiful imagery and storytelling, Linda! I highlighted so many that it was hard to choose between them. Thank you for stringing them together for a beautiful overview of the chapters! Enjoying this journey with you!

    1. The ease of collecting quotes is the one thing I like about an e-reader. Otherwise I really crave paper (and a pencil to underline!) I’m glad you’re along for the read!

  2. Oh, how I love this gathering of quotes!
    Wendell Berry’s writing is just that way — the first time I read Jayber I had borrowed him from the library, so I wrote quotes in my journal like mad because there was so much I wanted to remember.

    I never know quite how to take that introductory warning from Berry. It’s almost as if he is daring us to find a “subtext” and doing a teensy bit of reverse psychology, because really — how can we resist looking at all the great stuff that’s lurking between the lines in this story?

    1. Exactly! And what would be the fun of reading without noticing the gems between the lines?! Is this what being a non-fiction reader does to people?! Always foraging for truth!

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