Weekend Review: Home Economics by Wendell Berry

Home Economics Wendell Berry calls upon the the ancient origin of the word economics (from the Greek oikonomikos; relating to household management) in the fourteen essays contained within Home Economics (1987), the common thread being Berry's desire to "make myself responsibly at home in this world and in my native and chosen place." His chosen topics are as disparate as the nuclear arms race, the battle of the sexes, and the trajectory of industrial agriculture, but each of his essays is rooted in the belief that becoming intimately and deeply at home in the place where we are is of dire importance to the preservation of all that we hold dear.

These essays were hit or miss for me. The ones that I loved were succinct and explored issues that are very dear to me, such as how to preserve wilderness, how to preserve traditional farming methods, and how to preserve community. The ones that had less resonance with me seemed to ramble and were disconnected due, in part, to the many changes in the world in the almost 15 years since they were penned. His thoughts on national defence and patriotism, for example, are specific to the Cold War period, but the heart of his argument can be applicable to modern military situations.

I especially appreciated his thoughts about higher education, which are similar to Wes Jackson's; that the purpose of university is not job preparation (that's what trade schools and apprenticeships are for), but to engage individuals in a way that advances them on their journey to becoming wholly human. To encourage them to return to their homes and make them a better place, rather than fleeing to urban centers in search of upward mobility. His discussions of the interrelationship between wilderness/civilization, wildness/domesticity, and nature/humanity are also very successful and remind us that even with such dichotomies, it is possible to find the middle way.

There is much of value in this volume, but it seemed a little bit laborous to read. I still have love for Berry, I just preferred the selections in Bringing it to the Table.

3 comments:

  1. I often laugh at myself when I pick up a book from the late 80's or early 90's...to me those are still "current" reads. Of course, that's because I have lived in some sort of time warp since I graduated from college (during that time)! Thanks for the review!

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  2. As you know, I just tried to plow through Jayber Crow. A good friend who is a W.B. fan said, "Stick to the essays." Duly noted. I'll add Bringing it to the Table to my list. Hope you've had a beautiful weekend.

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