BOOK REVIEW: A Selection of Thirty Perry Mann Essays Now Collected in a Quality Paperback Book

Reviewed by David M. Kinchen

BOOK REVIEW: A Selection of Thirty Perry Mann Essays Now Collected in a Quality Paperback Book
Readers of Huntington News Network need no introduction to Perry Mann. His essays on nature, philosophy, religion and many other topics have struck a chord in readers — often provoking angry letters to the editor. That said, overwhelmingly most of the readers love his columns.
I take credit for this because quite a few years ago, I convinced the publisher of Huntington News Network to run Perry’s columns. I’ve known Perry and his family since 1992 when we moved to Hinton and I consider him a friend indeed. This article will not be unbiased, if only because I share many of Perry Mann’s views on a wide range of topics.

It took Ann Farrell Bowers,  a former student of Perry’s now a teacher in Wisconsin, when he taught English at Hinton High School in the 1960s, to convince the teacher-lawyer-farmer-philosopher-renaissance man to collect 30 of his essays in a beautifully printed book “Mann & Nature: A Collection of Essays” (Kettle Moraine Publishing Co., Delavan, Wisconsin, 156 pages, $20.00 from the publisher www.kettlemorainepublishing.com).

Ann Bowers considers Perry Mann to be a major influence in her life. She wrote in an email:

“Public education in America bears the brunt of public scorn because so many seem to carry baggage from their experiences and are quite eager to discuss the few, I have found, incompetent teachers in their lives.

“I too had those experiences, but it has been said it takes only one good teacher to change a life forever, and mine was Perry Mann who arrived in my high school in the turbulent ‘60’s breathing fresh air and new ideas into all of us who hungered for knowledge of the events shaping our nation.

“Motivated by him, I went off to college armed with my list of college bound books he gave me, and inspired by him I became a teacher.

“I lost track of him, but I never forgot him, and in May, 2011, we were reunited through a comment I made on social media and posts from former classmates who told me that at 90 he was still practicing law in my hometown.  I wrote him to tell him I turned out okay and to thank him for his profound influence on me in my teenage years of confusion.  He responded, and we have been in daily contact since.”

* * *

As I said, I share many of Perry’s views and I have jokingly called him West Virginia’s answer to  New York Times columnist Verlyn Klinkenborg, who often writes about rural life. Perry knows who Klinkenborg is and takes this as a compliment.
Born in Charleston, WV in 1921, Perry spent many summers on his grandparents’ farm in Summers County.  I spent the first 10 plus years of my life on a dairy farm, actually a subsistence farm, in Van Buren County, Mich., so we both know farm life as insiders. We know why farmers always have cats, to keep the rodents from devouring their corn and grain, and are often leery of dogs, especially if they — as we did — raise chickens.
 From Ann Bowers:   “His [Perry Mann’s] description of his imagined sleeping spot for a butterfly convinces us to consider all creatures in the web of life:   ‘Where does this creature, constructed with spider webs and filaments of silkworms, wings woven of cumulus clouds, sculpted by Michelangelo and painted by da Vinci go to relax, relive the day and dream of zinnias?’

‘I like to think she wings to a hemlock forest shaded in day and dark at night. Her nest, formed with the gossamer of milkweed and dyed purple with the juice of elderberries, is in the fork of a hemlock where a limb leaves the trunk and touches the clouds. An outgrowth of bark serves as her canopy. The queen of flowers lies there for the night looked over by fairies and guardian angels sent by the Maker to protect this delicate, beautiful, and innocent creature, one that preys on nothing but just purloins pollen from zinnias.’

So,dear readers — and all readers are dear to this English major! — get a copy of “Mann & Nature” and enjoy the thoughts and lifetime reflections of a truly great writer and philosopher. He’s our own living John Muir, Ralph Waldo Emerson  and Henry David Thoreau.

We can only hope that “Mann & Nature” is the first of many collections of Perry’s essays. We desperately need more writers like Perry Mann.   To conclude, here’s another sample of Perry’s poetic prose, describing life many decades ago on that Summers County homeplace:
 “The hog lot ran to the sugar orchard, a cathedral of trees, nearly all of which were sugar maples ranging in age from fifty to two hundred years or more.  In summer it was a sequestered island of cool and quiet; in the fall, a wonderland of yellow and red leaf.  In the winter it was a vault of memories.  A walk among those trees any time was a spiritual experience for me.  It was my playground and my world of dreams.  I would have built a cabin there for my dog and me were boyhoods longer and dreams for real.”
About the author
Perry Mann  was chosen as one of fifty Americans who tell the truth and was featured in Robert Shetterly’s book of the same title. His connection to nature through his gardens and mountains is the substance of his truth. A resident of Hinton, West Virginia at 90, still practices law with his daughter Amy. For past columns by Perry Mann, use the search engine on www.huntingtonnews.net. It’s at the top right hand side.   Publisher’s website: www.kettlemorainepublishing.com
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