Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Memory of Old Jack” as Want to Read:
The Memory of Old Jack
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Memory of Old Jack

(Port William)

4.29  ·  Rating details ·  2,219 ratings  ·  297 reviews
In a rural Kentucky river town, "Old Jack" Beechum, a retired farmer, sees his life again through the sades of one burnished day in September 1952. Bringing the earthiness of America's past to mind, The Memory of Old Jack conveys the truth and integrity of the land and the people who live from it. Through the eyes of one man can be seen the values Americans strive to ...more
Paperback, 170 pages
Published October 8th 1999 by Counterpoint (first published February 1st 1974)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Memory of Old Jack, please sign up.
Popular Answered Questions
Bienzrw Only halfway finished, but it certainly feels that way to me. It's universal in that it explores the inner thoughts and feelings of individuals, some…moreOnly halfway finished, but it certainly feels that way to me. It's universal in that it explores the inner thoughts and feelings of individuals, some of whom have a conscious awareness of them and others perhaps sense them obliquely but would find it difficult to put them into words. Hannah seems more fully conscious: Old Jack both is, and is not, I think. (less)
Dawn Rainey Wow! I can’t believe someone hasn’t responded to your question sooner. But I just saw it this morning. In any event, there is a whole series of books…moreWow! I can’t believe someone hasn’t responded to your question sooner. But I just saw it this morning. In any event, there is a whole series of books set in Port William and they are all wonderful. Perhaps you should read Hannah Coulter next. It is about the people who were closest to Old Jack. Happy reading!(less)

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.29  · 
Rating details
 ·  2,219 ratings  ·  297 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of The Memory of Old Jack
Oct 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
A beautifully written and intimate portrayal of A farming man at the end of his days in rural Kentucky in 1952. As Jack reminisces about his life on the land, the town and his memories of bygone days we see the importance of community, family and the land and the struggles he endures with all of these.

While this was set in rural Kentucky America, I could identify with Jack and his love and struggles with the land. I loved how the author drew us into this community and made us care about the
Aug 21, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Gorgeous, gorgeous, gorgeous. Reading this book is like dreaming coherently--it just unfolds in front of you like liquid, with images so clear and so simple that you're instantly standing in the bodies of the characters--treading the dirt they walk on, breathing through their mouths... It is a patient book, and you must be patient with it and trust its pace. Wendell Berry is incredible in many ways, and this book is beautiful. It is a journey through Old Jack's life, but the imagery and ideas ...more
A lovely book and it has such gorgeous writing. I dare you to read this and not tear up.

I have come to read several of Wendell Berry’s books set in the fictional Kentucky town of Port William. They focus on the families of the town, related by birth and their ties to the land. All are as kin, they rely on each other, know everything about one another and share common joys and sorrows. There is a shared understanding of each one’s weaknesses and strengths. The land on which they live and the
Apr 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: five-star-books
The Memory of Old Jack took me back to Port William, Kentucky, a fictional town that is home to a farming community that I have grown to love. This is my fifth book by Wendell Berry; it is also by far the saddest and most deeply affecting. Leave taking always is. In this story set in 1952, Port William bids farewell to one of their oldest kinsmen, Jack Beechum who is 92.

In the opening pages, Berry paints a tender portrait of Old Jack standing on a hotel porch, leaning on a cane, in the early
Jack Beechum is old now. He is unable to help when the men gather the crops, he is a fixture when old men gather at the local store, he has had to give up his farm to a tenant and reside in the Port William hotel, where he is one of several permanent roomers. But, Jack has had a full life, was once a strapping man who sat a horse like a king, has known love and failure and heartache, and his memories are richer than his current life would allow. Most importantly, he has friends and family who ...more
Joel Pinckney
Jun 07, 2015 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2016
What stood out to me in this reading of Old Jack were the narrator's words on ambition, in conjunction with the well established sense of place present in all of Berry's fiction. Through his narrator, Berry offers a critique of unconsidered ambition, or ambition that adheres thoughtlessly to the ladder of success offered by the surrounding culture. This emerges first in the character of Andy Catlett, who wrestles with the knowledge that he has a powerful and able mind and wants to make something ...more
Wow, this one is kind of hard for me to review. I have tried to read so many things by Wendell Berry, probably for about the past ten years, and I've never managed more than a short essay or a dozen pages of a novel before giving up. I've always felt guilty for this. A farmer from Kentucky who writes about the evils of modern agriculture, the joys of engaging in meaningful work, and the importance of being connected to nature and place, it is all right up my alley, why couldn't I get into it? ...more
Simon Stegall
Apr 23, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Hold on. Trying to reattach my heartstrings here.


Ok. Now I can start. With many readers, reflective/poetical/memoir-type fiction can, depending on the readers' experiences and dispositions, cause either eye-dabbing or eyebrow raising; the eye-dabbers over-empathizing with the pregnant emotional themes of memoir types and the eyebrowers perhaps unable to empathize with too much sentiment. Wendell Berry's fiction is impossible to see this way. When his writing risks sentimentalism it plants
Dec 08, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
I believe this to be one of Wendell Berry's finest. In it, he recounts the memories of an old man at the end of a long and eventful life. A man who spanned a good bit of the history of the fictional community of Port William, Kentucky. As he remembers or greets different characters, he remembers some story about that character and each one comes alive for those few, brief pages it takes to recount the tale. I cried at the end, but they were tears of recognition of a life well-lived.
Jan 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Yes, yes, yes. Each sentence is a jewel from this farmer/poet/novelist. Read it carefully and within a few days' time. Don't miss it if you value land, relationships, reflection, drama.
Apr 06, 2018 rated it really liked it
I was realizing as I read this book how few novels slow my thoughts down and make me reflect. Most either speed it up or don't affect it at all. And yet the ones that slow me down have stayed with me in a way that others haven't. Why do so few authors try this approach? I could use a lot more pauses for thought. I could use a lot more sit-with-it thinking.

And what a strange book this is. The memories of an old man. A man who failed in so many ways. Going over what was good in his life and in
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
4.5 stars. Wendell Berry's writing is so beautiful and elegiac, it makes my heart hurt. In a good way.
Jan 12, 2014 rated it really liked it
Full of himself, confident and cocky as a young man, Jack belongs to a farming community where families and neighbors work side by side to plant the fields, raise a barn or harvest the annual tobacco crop. Confusing lust with love, Jack plucks from a distant town a wife, Ruth, taking her into a marriage doomed by misunderstanding to leave both lonely and alone for all the years they share the farm house. You can't help but sympathize with both of them even as their walls grow thicker by the day, ...more
Apr 20, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019, book-girl
This story is slow and steady and takes place in one day. Having said that, Jack is reflecting on his life and how the events took place. He is a man with much tragedy and much satisfaction. He and the land are one. He is respected by those in the town where he lives. This story is one of community and love, respect and tolerance, misunderstandings and grace.
Aug 16, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: pacific-u-mfa
Jack Driscoll, my MFA advisor, recommended this book to me and I recommend it for many reasons: long lines, ambling and ample rhythms, and full-mouthed words like ripe fruit, anabashedly poetic in their slowness but never showy. I agree with the reviewer in Library Journal that the chapter about Jack’s courtship of his wife is especially beautiful, and so sad: “He was misled not by Ruth but by his own desire, so strong for her that it saw possibilities that did not exist, and believed in what it ...more
Mar 03, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Kate by: Brian Russ
This is actually the second time I've read this book, which says a lot about how much this book means to me as I rarely re-read books. This is one of my all-time favorite books, although it is probably not for everyone. I just read it with a book group this time, and we talked a bit about Wendell Berry's unique writing style. Suffice it to say, it's not for everyone. Everything he writes is like poetry, and as such some may find him a bit ponderous, maybe even opaque. Nonetheless, I think this ...more
Oct 22, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction, audiobook
Another beautiful book by one of my favorite authors, an eloquent writing surrounding Jack who in his old age reminisces about his life, in particular his marriage. There is a common thread that explores not only marriage but relationships in general which also includes the relationship of these people to the land.
Kathryn Bashaar
Apr 29, 2017 rated it really liked it
This book is the story of Jack Beechum's last day on earth, and the story of his whole life. Over the course of his last day, 92-year-old Jack drifts back and forth between keen observation of the present and even keener memories of the key events of his long life. His first memory is of watching his much-older brothers leave to fight in the American Civil War. They will not return. And that is only the first of the heartbreaks that Jack will endure.
But overall Jack is fortunate. He is strong
Hannah Reeves
Aug 29, 2017 rated it liked it
I'd probably give 3.5 stars. Such a sad, painfully sad book. And it especially hurt the times it felt like a mirror being held up, seeing myself in different characters. It left me with much to think about life.
"That a whole roomful of people should sit with their mouths open like a nest of young birds, peering into a picture box the invariable message of which is the desirability of Something Else or Someplace Else; that a government should tax its people in order to make a bomb powerful enough
Nov 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Berry’s novels always evoke a strong awareness and appreciation for the land, and also for the caretakers, the farmers of it. This poignant one tells how hard Jack worked for his land, to the exclusion of his family. It is another one to read slowly, and to savor the richness of his language and descriptions.
Kathrine Holyoak
Jan 22, 2018 rated it really liked it
Reading Wendell Berry in January is comfort food that sticks to the ribs of my soul. I'm warmed by the steady grace he paints in a seemingly ordinary day or life. His heroes are those among us who aren't exceptional, just finishers who stay their course. The plot is no more or less than living true, which in itself is extraordinary. "The like of him will not soon live again in this world, and they will not forget him."
Oct 09, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I am at a loss for words to review and it is because this book hits very close to home. The importance and weight of history and family runs all through this story and certain passages made me shake my head in sadness or wonder or joy, and look away when reading. I had thought to share some quotes but when I went back to find them, they didn't seem to stand on their own without the context of the whole story. I cannot recommend Wendell Berry enough.
Feb 15, 2014 rated it it was ok
The Memory of Old Jack is a two-part love story; a love affair with the land he lives and works on and the lost love in his failed marriage. Berry is beautifully poetic in his description of Jack's deep connection to the land. Although I am not a farmer I have a deeper sense of appreciation for those that survive by their own hands, working hard sun up to sundown in their land in the midst of unpredictability and instant destruction by weather. Berry paints a clear picture of rural America and ...more
Oct 09, 2008 rated it liked it
Wendell Berry is a true poet of the land, and imparts its cadences to every word he puts to paper. What in another might be a maudlin seriousness is crafted by Berry into a heartfelt beauty. What might otherwise be taken as a pointless sentimentality for times and ways long past is transformed by his deep affection for and knowledge of his characters into the communication of a deep yearning for connection. Those of us so thoroughly urbanized that such a connection to the land is purely ...more
Jun 22, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Berry's poetic sensibilities really allow the prose to sing. There's a rhythm to the language that seems to follow the rhythms of natural things--seasons, rivers, harvests.

Berry uses memory here in a couple of intertwining ways. On the one hand, the book follows the memories of "Old Jack" Beechum as he reflects back on the eight-plus decades of his life. While they build slowly, his courtship with Ruth and the episode with Will Wells take the book in surprising and heartfelt directions.

Bob Brinkmeyer
May 13, 2017 rated it it was amazing
For the past few months, I've been working through Wendell Berry's fiction, which overall is just marvelous. His novels and stories are consistently fine, but The Memory of Old Jack is just flat out the best Berry that I've read (I still have a few of his books to go). The Memory of Old Jack has all the virtues of Berry's other work (wise, deeply felt, environmentally and ethically challenging), but it has a level of emotional and sexual intensity that carries Berry's fiction to new heights, ...more
Jan 27, 2008 rated it it was amazing
This little book deals beautifully and gracefully with some of the biggest and most divisive issues in modern american society. It delves into those opposing forces of the "getting ahead" and the idea of a sense of place and the deep sense of unease many of us feel at ebing pulled between the two.

I agree with a review that noted, the respect Berry gives both his subject and his reader, which makes reading him a singular pleasure.
Aug 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
One of Berry's earlier stories of his Port William tales, this follows the life of one, elderly man in early autumn of 1952, as he recollects his life and yet is present in his now.

Beautiful story, with some hard edges to it, that reflects on a life that had happened, the rapidly way that life and lifestyle diminished, and yet with a glimmer of a humanity that burns deep.
Aug 06, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction
Once again, Wendell Berry knocks it out of the park. With flawless insight and remarkable brevity, Berry touches on everything that is important in human life (forgiveness, art, betrayal, family, love, work, loyalty, place, hope, redemption...) and draws out the connections and tensions between them all. On top of that, this is just a lovely story. Read it and read it again.
Betsy Alles
May 26, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: Anyone
Wendall Berry is delicious food for the soul. Simple, deep and brilliant. This is my second novel -- first was Jayber Crow.
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Around the Year i...: The Memory of Old Jack, by Wendell Berry 1 8 Jul 19, 2019 10:44AM  

Readers also enjoyed

  • Waiting on the Word
  • The Robber Bridegroom
  • Home
  • Dancing at the Rascal Fair
  • Christ Plays in Ten Thousand Places: A Conversation in Spiritual Theology (Spiritual Theology #1)
  • On the Road with Saint Augustine: A Real-World Spirituality for Restless Hearts
  • The Pastor: A Memoir
  • The Call of the Wild and Free: Schooling That Reclaims the Wonder of Childhood
  • On Reading Well: Finding the Good Life Through Great Books
  • A Crazy, Holy Grace: The Healing Power of Pain and Memory
  • Are Women Human? Astute and Witty Essays on the Role of Women in Society
  • The Kreutzer Sonata and Other Short Stories
  • Something I've Been Meaning to Tell You: 13 Stories
  • An Elegy Written In A Country Churchyard
  • Perfect Justice (Ben Kencaid, #4)
  • Zomb-Pocalypse 4
  • Zomb-Pocalypse 5
  • Zomb-Pocalypse 3
See similar books…
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)
  • Nathan Coulter
  • 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
“Now when he walked in his fields and pastures and woodlands he was tramping into his mind the shape of the land, his thought becoming indistinguishable from it, so that when he came to die his intelligence would subside into it like its own spirit.” 4 likes
“The work satisfied something deeper in him than his own desire. It was as if he went to his fields in the spring, not just because he wanted to, but because his father and grandfather before him had gone because they wanted to - because, since the first seeds were planted by hand in the ground, his kinsmen had gone each spring to the fields. When he stepped into the first opening furrow of a new season he was not merely fulfilling an economic necessity; he was answering the summons of an immemorial kinship; he was shaping a passage by which an ancient vision might pass once again into the ground.” 4 likes
More quotes…