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Nathan Coulter

(Port William)

3.97  ·  Rating details ·  2,368 ratings  ·  306 reviews
Nathan Coulter begins Wendell Berry's sequence of novels about the citizens of Port William, Kentucky- a setting that is taking its place alongside Yoknapatawpha County, Mississippi, and Winesburg, Ohio, as one of our most distinctive and recognizable literary locales.
Paperback, 180 pages
Published April 1st 1985 by North Point Press (first published 1960)
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Average rating 3.97  · 
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Jeffrey Keeten
Nov 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
”Grandpa had owned his land and worked on it and taken his pride from it for so long that we knew him, and he knew himself, in the same way that we knew the spring. His life couldn’t be divided from the days he’d spent at work in his fields. Daddy had told us we didn’t know what the country would look like without him at work in the middle of it; and that was as true of Grandpa as it was of Daddy. We wouldn’t recognize the country when he was dead."

There is this moment in time, with proper longe
Nathan Coulter: Wendell Berry's Creation of the Port William Community

This novel was chosen as the Moderator's Choice by Laura Webber, "The Tall Woman", for On the Southern Literary Trail for December, 2014.

1To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven:

2a time to be born, and a time to die; a time to plant, and a time to pluck up that which is planted;

3a time to kill, and a time to heal; a time to break down, and a time to build up;

4a time to weep, and a time
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
Recommended to Zoeytron by: Wyndy's review
Shelves: public-library
Life and death in Kentucky circa 1930.  A strong sense of family shines through as the Coulters farm their tobacco fields, the livelihood of the household completely dependent on the whims of the weather.  A pure love of the land is at their core, and so it has been for generations.  A trip to the fair with Uncle Burley and the brothers is not to be missed.  A slice of life served up simply, written without benefit of thrills, chills, or mysteries.  And it works.
Diane S ☔
Nov 19, 2014 rated it really liked it
I think one of the best compliments one can pay an author is to say I felt like I was right there, in Port Williams his made up town, and with Nathan and all his other characters. I felt like I was with them walking through the woods, fishing and coon hunting. At the fair watching Uncle Burly and his ducks, picking tobacco and watching the fight between his brother and father.

The book opens with Nathan and his older brother always together, and then felt the anguish of Nathan as his brother out
This is the first in the sequence of books written by Wendell Berry, set in the fictional town of Port William, Kentucky. I did like this, but I liked A Place on Earth much more. Everything in the first book of the series is in fact told of in A Place on Earth, which I have just recently read Everything that happens I knew would happen! Only a few incidental events are added.

Nathan Coulter is terribly short. It did not bring me close to the characters, as the other book did. I considered giving
Nov 19, 2019 rated it liked it
I hurts my heart to give anything by Wendell Berry only 3-stars, however, this was his first Port William novel and it truly reads like a first effort in comparison to his later work. Two of my favorite characters in the later books, Nathan and Burley, are prominently featured, however, I felt like they were different characters altogether. Nathan is very young, and Burley does several things that just did not seem in keeping with the Burley I have come to know.

Everyone starts somewhere, and th
Diane Barnes
Nov 18, 2014 rated it really liked it
I think I love Wendell Berry's books so much because they always make me feel like there's much more to life than my petty little concerns. Nature girl I am not, but even just reading about the working of the land, the turning of the seasons, and good people maintaining connections with land and family makes me feel the whole "circle of life" thing. It sounds like such a cliché, but it's real. As Uncle Burley comments on a day when an old woman dies and a baby is born: "They put one under, and p ...more
After being introduced to the gorgeous writing of Wendell Berry in November through the GR group On The Southern Literary Trail (‘Fidelity - Five Stories’), I decided to read his eight novels in chronological order this year. ‘Nathan Coulter’ is Berry’s debut, originally published in 1960 when he was twenty-seven, and is the first book in his much loved fictional Port William, Kentucky series. Told through the voice of young Nathan, the story begins and ends with death, but in between is a whole ...more
Connie G
A reverence for the land is evident in Wendell Berry's first novel, set in the fictional Port William. Narrated by Nathan Coulter, this is a 1930s coming-of-age story of a boy in a Kentucky family who grow tobacco on a riverside farm. Nathan's father and grandfather are hard men whose lives revolve around working the farm, driving themselves and their family members. The tension between the fathers and sons is broken by Uncle Burley, a relaxed nurturing man, whose vices provide a humorous contra ...more
Jul 17, 2020 rated it really liked it
Loved the writing ~ Loved the story!

My husband and I have spent many hours listening to our older loved ones telling us stories of their growing up and how life used to be. RIP Bruce Hettmansperger (1895-1990)
Dec 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A nice break from the typical coming of age books I tend to read that have hard lines; journeys that spiral into dysfunctional behavior. This book hits the same points probably, it just does so in a "days gone by" way.

Nathan Coulter is a young man growing up in the transitional period where likely the agrarian lifestyle is waning into a more industrial one. His strongest influences include (in increasing order) his father, his grandparents, and his Uncle Burley (and associates). Lessons from al
Jenny (Reading Envy)
When life is work, the rest of the details have to fit around the long days spent farming tobacco, hunting racoons, and fishing. That's basically what this book is, and well written.

I have always meant to read Wendell Berry and would like to read more.
EDIT - An Afterthought: a favourite quote (page 158)
Brother was gone, and he wouldn't be back. And things that had been so before never would be so again. We were the way we were; nothing could make us any different, and we suffered because of it. Things happened to us the way they did because we were ourselves.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
Wendell Berry has been a "household name" - or ought to have been - for decades. A well-known author of poetry, essays, and fi
Vit Babenco
Jun 17, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Like William Faulkner Wendell Berry created his own patch of fictional land and started to people it with his personages.
The colourful characters of Nathan Coulter are the first literary settlers in this land.
“They’ll grieve in this old land until you’d think they were going to live on it forever, then grieve some more because they know damn well they’re not going to live on it forever. And nothing’ll stop them but a six-foot hole.”
The book is a brilliant coming-of-age story – a very special tal
As the story is set in motion, Nathan and his brother seem joined-at-the-hip and are rarely apart, while their father grows even more distant after their mother dies. The brothers go to live with their grandparents, and there is little else that changes, the daily work on the farm, their legacy, takes precedent.

’Grandpa’s farm had belonged to our people ever since there had been a farm in that place, or people to own a farm. Grandpa’s father had left it to Grandpa and his other sons and daugh
Jan 21, 2020 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: jan2020
Finished Nathan Coulter tonight. The story of a young boy and the events that propel him into young adulthood. At the beginning of the book, I wasn’t sure I was going to like it as there is some animal cruelty but as the story unfolds it becomes clear that young Nathan isn’t comfortable with it either.

As always with Berry, beautiful observations of nature.

‘I could see a mud turtle sunning himself on a log. Kingfishers flew over the willows...The surface of the river was still...every leaf of t
Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I wish that I had discovered Berry years ago, and that I had read them in order. I had already read 7 before I found this first one. However, it doesn’t matter, because even though the stories of the characters in Port William are entwined, each book can stand alone. It’s hard to believe the author was only 27 when he wrote this. I really feel I am there, inside a character’s head, back in those old quiet times, when skinny dipping was the best thing to do on a hot, dusty summer day.
Jul 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
3.5⭐️ Didn’t feel like I connected with the characters in this Berry novella like I did with his novel Hannah Coulter (which I loved). Also felt the fair scene was absolutely unnecessary to include in this book. Looking forward to more of Berry’s works.
Aug 27, 2012 rated it liked it
More like 3.5 stars (and again, Goodreads, please update your software--a 3.5 is vastly different from a 3).

Kind of interesting to go back and read some of Berry's earlier stuff. Next to Jayber Crow and Hannah Coulter, Nathan Coulter--in my opinion--does not compare. Doesn't have that sleepy quality; in fact, it seems almost cut up and choppy. Never felt like I knew Nathan as I did Jayber and Hannah. If anything, Burley steals the show.

Whatever the case, I press on with reading the rest of Ber
Jan 27, 2016 rated it really liked it
This book describes life in rural Kentucky during the depression years of the 1930's. Wendell Berry is such a skilled writer, so even this story of an often stark life was a pleasure to read, except for the occasional cruelty to animals by the men and boys--that was not easy to read. But from reading other works by Berry, I think he was depicting life as it truly was. The other strong element in the lives of these rural people was the loyalty and strong bonds between family, and sometimes friend ...more
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos)(RK)
Jan 19, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
Wonderful writing. More than another coming of age story. The series of vignettes that make up the book piece together a landscape portrait of rural life in early 20th Century Kentucky. We know the land, the rivers, the wildlife and the people. The story unfolds slowly against this sometimes harsh, sometimes pastoral background. Part Faulkner. Part Stegner. Part the land. Beautiful and moving. Thanks for the recommendation William!!
Jan 18, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed this very short novel made up of five chapters, but the only thing holding it together is the title character. Each chapter is a vignette describing an event or scene in the young boy's life. I suppose it is a coming of age piece, at least that is what the fly leaf says. If you like Southern literature, this just might be your cup of sour mash.
May 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Exactly what I needed this week, being one of the busiest weeks of the year. An account of a portion of Nathan's life and his family relationships. A very relaxing read. Superb story telling.
Ryan Boomershine
Aug 27, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: audio, homespun
“Uncle Burley said hills always looked blue when you were far away from them. That was a pretty color for hills; the little houses and barns and fields looked so neat and quiet tucked against them. It made you want to be close to them. But he said that when you got close they were like the hills you’d left, and when you looked back your own hills were blue and you wanted to go back again. He said he reckoned a man could wear himself out going back and forth.”
Jul 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Berry's first novel, and the start of his 60 year long exploration of the people of Port William, I loved every page, every line, of this incredible book. Word is that when Berry wrote this book he hadn't planned to inhabit these characters and this town for so much of his career, but I'm glad he did. Of course, Berry is a wonderful writer, of both prose and poetry, and the gentleness and elegance of his words are already on display in this first book. I read the book in one sitting, and got com ...more
Nov 20, 2014 rated it really liked it
Nathan Coulter is a novel about growing up yes, but more importantly about how we grow into the land and our relationship to Nature. It’s a novel about accepting this land legacy or not for working with the land brings responsibilities and sacrifice; it necessitates unflinching dedication and this process can’t be rushed because if there is one thing that we can be certain of it is that our time to own it, work it and lead offspring along its arduous path will come when it is meant to not before ...more
Tells of the coming of age of Nathan Coulter, who grew up to marry one of my favorite Port William residents, Hannah Feltner (Coulter.) Berry doesn't sugarcoat the life of a farmer pre-World War Two, but he portrays it with a great deal of respect and dignity. After Nathan's mother dies, he and his brother are sent to live with their grandparents on the neighboring farm. Nathan is profoundly influenced by his idiosyncratic, free-spirited Uncle Burley (one of Berry's best characters.)

This is one
Amy T.
Nov 23, 2018 rated it liked it
After reading Hannah Coulter, I decided to read through Berry’s works in order of publication, so I started here. This book is very different. Hannah presents family farm life as a warm, satisfying experience. Nathan presents it as bleak and depressing. The men in the family (and there are very few women; maybe that is part of their problem) are harsh and cruel, with the exception of Uncle Burley, who is just a grown-up child. I did think Burley matured a little by the end, perhaps because he wa ...more
May 06, 2020 rated it liked it
I don't know quite how I feel about this one. Berry's prose is lovely in its simplicity, and the world he creates is vivid, though not entirely welcoming. I'm not sure quite what I expected, but the novel was bleaker than I anticipated. Not entirely without hope, but the world Berry created in Port William feels dusty and sweat-soaked, full of emotionally distant families that slog through life, repeating the sins of their parents and driving their children away.

If I didn't have friends with ov
Wendell Berry is quite a unique writer, at least in my experience. His characters are always so tied to the land, it makes sense that Berry ended up writing a whole lot of books about the people of a fictional place, Port William.

This is the first of the Port William books, and although I'm not sure of the chronology of the story itself, I'm pretty sure Nathan Coulter wouldn't be the first book in the series. But I'm choosing to read them in the order in which they were written, because I'm as i
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Wendell Berry is a conservationist, farmer, essayist, novelist, professor of English and poet. He was born August 5, 1934 in Henry County, Kentucky where he now lives on a farm. The New York Times has called Berry the "prophet of rural America."

Other books in the series

Port William (1 - 10 of 15 books)
  • The Memory of Old Jack
  • The Wild Birds: Six Stories of the Port William Membership
  • Remembering
  • Two More Stories of the Port William Membership
  • Andy Catlett: Early Travels
  • Jayber Crow
  • A Place in Time: Twenty Stories of the Port William Membership
  • A World Lost
  • The Great Interruption: The Story of a Famous Story of Old Port William and How It Ceased To Be Told (1935-1978)
  • Port William Novels & Stories (The Civil War to World War II): Nathan Coulter / Andy Catlett: Early Travels / A World Lost / A Place on Earth / Stories

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“It seemed to us that we’d never thought of him before as a man who would die. He never had thought of himself in that way. Until that year, although he’d cursed his weakness and his age, he’d either ignored the idea of his death or had refused to believe in it. He’d only thought of himself as living.” 1 likes
“Uncle Burley said hills always looked blue when you were far away from them. That was a pretty color for hills; the little houses and barns and fields looked so neat and quiet tucked against them. It made you want to be close to them. But he said that when you got close they were like the hills you’d left, and when you looked back your own hills were blue and you wanted to go back again. He said he reckoned a man could wear himself out going back and forth.” 1 likes
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