Where to Start Reading: Wendell Berry


There are certain authors that I have latched onto deeply in my life, devouring every word they write, following their work closely, and finding myself impacted immensely by their writing. Wendell Berry is near the top of that list for me, and he is somebody I have come to admire and respect for the way that he cares about the world, appreciates beauty, and crafts such rich stories. His life is fascinating to me, and his work is lovely and important. He's always the person I say I'd most like to have dinner with in this world, so that's really saying something!

If you've never read Wendell Berry, or if you just want to know more about his body of work, here are my best recommendations for where to start:


Leavings: Poems // This collection was the first thing I read from Berry. His simple yet intricate words struck deep chords in me as he tackled topics I feel strongly about with such elegance. 

A Timbered Choir // These are Berry's Sabbath poems from 1979-1997, so they are the oldest of his poetry collections. The way Berry observes life, nature, and beauty through these poems is deeply moving, incredibly meaningful, and worshipful, too. I love them so much, and have found them to linger with me long after I've finished reading.

A Small Porch: Sabbath Poems 2014 and 2015 // Obviously these are the poems from just two years, and this book also includes a longfkrm essay called The Presence of Nature in the Natural World: A Long Conversation (which I wasn't expecting, but found to be a deep and thorough read). If you want just a taste of Berry's poetry and a taste of his nonfiction reading, this is a great one to start with.

This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems // This is the largest book of Berry's poetry in my collection, and I haven't made my way through it all yet. If you're wanting one book to be a comprehensive collection of his poems, this is the one to grab! It includes his Sabbath poetry from 1979 through to 2012, while the other books are smaller collections of just a handful of years at a time.

Essays/Short stories:

Watch With Me: and Six Other Stories of the Yet-Remembered Ptolemy Proudfoot and His Wife, Miss Minnie, Née Quinch // This admittedly wasn't my favorite of Berry's fiction, but the short stories of this country couple were well-written and charming and just felt like days in the real life of a slow-paced small town.

Fidelity // These are both collections of a few stories from his Port William focus-- the fiction books I mention below are set there too. If you just want a sample of his fiction, this or Watch With Me might be a good place to start.

Our Only World: Ten Essays // These area all about taking action in the world today, focusing on a variety of different environmental, social, and slightly political issues -- he really is advocating for the planet in all of them, and they're really convicting.


Hannah Coulter // This is another one of his Port William series -- you can read them in any order really, but I loved starting with this one. Jayber Crow is another one, Andy Catlett, Nathan Coulter, The Memory of Old Jack, etc. They're basically all different characters in the same town, so the stories tie together but aren't a strict series.

Jayber Crow // This is next on my list, but I wanted to mention it since it's one that many folks start with when it comes to reading Berry's fiction.

Overall, my top recommendation is:

This Day: Collected and New Sabbath Poems

ps-- I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of my earliest Wendell inspirations-- this post from local friend Rebecca Parker Payne is a great resource. (And she recommends very different books to start with!)