Excerpt from The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg, plus links to reviews, author biography & more

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio

The Rural Life

by Verlyn Klinkenborg

The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg X
The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Dec 2002, 224 pages
    Jan 2004, 224 pages

  • Rate this book

Buy This Book

About this Book

Print Excerpt


Every year about now, I feel the need to keep a journal. I recognize in this urge all my worst instincts as a writer. I walk past the blank books — gifts of nothingness — that pile up in bookstores at this season, and I can almost hear their clean white pages begging to be defaced. They evoke in me the amateur, the high school student, the miserable writerly aspirant I once was — a young man who could almost see the ink flowing onto the woven fibers of the blank page like the watering of some eternal garden. It took a long time, a lot of pens, and many blank books before I realized that I write in the simultaneous expectation that every word I write will live forever and be blotted out instantly.

It's hard to keep a journal under those conditions. It's harder still when it becomes clear that the purpose of a journal — at least of those journals begun in earnest on the first day of January — is not to record, day by day, just a fragment of thought or observation but to herd all one's days, like so many sheep, into a single pasture and prevent them from escaping. What drives the impulse toward New Year's journal keeping is also the shocking realization that the only thing left of the old year is a few tufts of wool caught in the barbed wire. What I want a journal to do could be done just as well by a more aggressive savings program.

A conscientious journal keeper is really the natural historian of his own life. His model is the amateur naturalists of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, writers like Gilbert White or collectors like George Eliot's Camden Farebrother. It often seems as though science in this century has little use anymore for amateur observers of that kind, that science has grown too institutional, too complex, to value the private watcher of a small patch of ground. It seems that way too when it comes to our own lives. They're cross-referenced, indexed, cataloged, and witnessed by the public and private institutions whose job is to tabulate and codify us. Even the task of introspection has been jobbed out to the professionals. A personal journal in our time comes to seem less like a valuable cache of perceptions than a naive recitation of symptoms that the writer lacks the authority to analyze.

But many of the great journals — I think especially of Samuel Pepys's seventeenth-century diary and James Boswell's eighteenth-century journal—are not marked by self-consciousness. They're marked by a dogged absence of self-consciousness, a willingness to suspend judgment of the journal itself, if not of its author, in order to keep the enterprise going. The value of Pepys's diary and Boswell's journal is the world they depict and only incidentally the depiction of their authors. Their journals weren't read until long after the authors had died. Both men wrote for an audience of one. Judging by my own fragmentary journals, that's one too many. It's not enough that I should be dead before anyone else reads them. I should be dead before I reread them myself.

So at the beginning of this new year, I'll try to hold out against more journal making. There are lots of good reasons to do so. I have enough to write as it is, and I know enough about writing now to distrust the words that seem to flow onto the page. A journal always conceals vastly more than it reveals. It's a poor substitute for memory, and memory is what I would like to nourish.

But if I do give in, this is what I have in mind. I want to count the crows in the field every afternoon. I want to record the temperatures, high and low, every day and measure the rain and snow. If a flock of turkeys walks into the barnyard, I want to mention the fact. If one of the horses throws a shoe, I want to say so, in writing, before I call the farrier; and I'd like to be able to tell from my journal just how many bales of hay I have squirreled away in the barn. It's no longer the writer in me that wants to keep a journal. It's the farmer — or rather the son and nephew and grandson of farmers.

This is a complete excerpt of the chapter entitled 'January' from The Rural Life by Verlyn Klinkenborg. Copyright 2003 © by Verlyn Klinkenborg. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced without written permission from the publisher, Little, Brown & Co.

Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" backstories
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $10 for 3 months or $35 for a year
  • More about membership!

Editor's Choice

  • Book Jacket: Speak No Evil
    Speak No Evil
    by Uzodinma Iweala
    Young Nigerian American writer Uzodinma Iweala is fast becoming known as a powerful chronicler of ...
  • Book Jacket: Winter
    by Ali Smith
    "God was dead; to begin with." This first sentence of Winter perfectly sets up the dreamy journey ...
  • Book Jacket: A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    A Land of Permanent Goodbyes
    by Atia Abawi

    When you're a refugee, everyone has lost, at least for the time being... And the journey ...

  • Book Jacket: Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano
    Munich matron and self-described worldly sophisticate, Isolde Oberreiter, has decided to retire to a...

First Impressions

  • Book Jacket

    Sometimes I Lie
    by Alice Feeney

    This brilliant psychological thriller asks: Is something a lie if you believe it's the truth?
    Reader Reviews

  • Book Jacket

    Auntie Poldi and the Sicilian Lions
    by Mario Giordano

    A charming, bighearted novel starring Auntie Poldi, Sicily's newest amateur sleuth.
    Reader Reviews

Win this book!
Win The Balcony

The Balcony
by Jane Delury

A century-spanning novel-in-stories of a French village brimming with compassion, natural beauty, and unmistakable humanity.


Word Play

Solve this clue:

One N U G

and be entered to win..

Books that     

 & enlighten

Visitors can view some of BookBrowse for free. Full access is for members only.

Join Today!

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends books that we believe to be best in class. Books that will whisk you to faraway places and times, that will expand your mind and challenge you -- the kinds of books you just can't wait to tell your friends about.