Monday, October 28, 2013

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

"Crossing to Safety" first published in  1987 was a "must read" recommendation of Mary Anne Schwalbe in "The End of Your Life Bookclub" written by her son Will. They  read many books that I have read and enjoyed but this was one totally unfamiliar to me.  Based on that, I purchased a new edition of the Modern Library reprint in 2002, with  an afterword by T H Watkins.  I needn't have done so, the book is well written but I had to force myself to continue reading this 327 page paperback novel about two couples in  academia who develop a life long friendship during the Great Depression beginning their careers in Madison, WI.  I was bored throughout with much of the intellectual discourse.  Obviously  the discourses among couples is fiction, people really do not speak in such high brow  ways, do they?.   Perhaps those who have similar career paths as professors and  struggle to gain tenure might enjoy  it and relate to it; one couple is very wealthy despite striving for tenure while  the other is opposite, poor as church mice.

 The introduction by Terry Tempest Williams claims, "It is a love story not in  the sense of titillating dialogue and actions but in the sense that it explores private lives.  No outsider ever knows the interior landscape of a marriage.  It is one of the great secrets kept between couples."

 At times the idyllic carefree lifestyle  reminded me of the movie  "On Golden Pond" as the couples summer at a cottage on Bartell Lake.  Here is one example of the descriptive narrative, page 12,  The second paragraph< beginning  "Leave a mark on the world..."
Page 191, is a rather  lyrical way of saying, watch out for life, because stuff happens.   "Order is indeed the dream of man, but chaos, which is only another word for dumb, blind witless chance is still the law of nature.  You can plan all you want to.  You can lie in your morning bed and fill whole notebooks with schemes and intentions.  But within a single afternoon, within hours or minutes, everything you plan and  everything you have fought  to make yourself can be undone  as a slug is undone when salt is poured on him.  And right up to the moment when you find yourself dissolving into foam you can still believe you are doing fine."

So life does not always go as planned, something  those of us who have  survived well know.  I will be passing this book along.   Because of the good  writing I give it a 3 ***, but I cannot identify anyone to pass this to.  So to the book sale donation stack, it goes.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Books read pending posting reviews

Funny how I have less and less time here as I spend more and more time on physical fitness...good thing I am retired because I really would not have time at all for those 12-14 hour career   days.

I have completed several books, but not yet posted my reviews here.  The first, "Killing Jesus" by Bill O'Reilly is another hit for him and Martin Dugard.  Of his 3 Killing books it may be my #3.  I have a funny tale of the book club fiasco to share when I post that review..

Months ago I read my first book on my tablet Kindle app, "The Rose Hotel" by Rahimeh Andalibian.  Not one I'd recommend as I found it tiresome in parts.  An OK.

"Crossing to Safety"  by Wallace Stegner, a classic from the late 50's or early 60"s.  Another OK read.

Two more Kindle reads by the same author, Helen Bryan--"The War Brides" and The Sisterhood.  Both good fast reads..

More later...I am  moving outside to take the sunshine in on this crisp day.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Until They Bring the Streetcars Back by Stanley West

By StanleyGordon West, published in 1997, 274 pages, a well written, fiction,  based in St. Paul, MN in 1949, when the replacement of streetcars by buses was imminent.  Another very quick read and a great book by the Author.  This is fiction, the life story of Cal Gant through late adolescence.  His father is a man set in his ways, a veteran of WWII who drives streetcars with pride.  There is a bit of whimsy  when the description of  hanging onto the street cars happens as the teens amuse themselves.  There is the interlude with Gretchen Luttermann whom Cal befriends in a strange pitiful alliance and her  world with her mysterious  but brutal father.    But over all, it is a tale of  choices one makes in life and  paying the consequences, or living through the results of ones actions.  I would have liked a different outcome for Cal, another chance, a bit more time. Some of life's events  can overtake us, and this fiction is  in that way a tear jerker.

The opening lines caught my attention immediately,  "If I'd never run into Gretchen Luntermann I wouldn't have landed in that crummy jail.  And better still, her father wouldn't be trying to kill me.  I know it sounds pretty normal that a girl's father wants to kill some kid, but he really wanted to kill me and she wasn't even my girl  and it kept getting all mixed up when I tried to explain it."

 I enjoyed this book and am fortunate that a friend loaned it to me.  I give it 4 ****.

Friday, October 4, 2013

I Married the Klondike by Laura Beatrice Berton

I purchased this book in Dawson, the Yukon and would have missed it if not for one of the locals with whom I was talking in that book store of sorts.  I am so fortunate to have picked it up, as it is not a book available or known in the states, or lower 48 as they refer to us up north.  This  is the memoir of Laura Berton who went to the Klondike in 1907 as a 29 year old kindergarten teacher from Toronto leaving her family and life of upper  class comfort for the wilderness.  She was drawn to the life in what they called the Paris of the North, met  the man who would become her husband and  raised her family, having her first child at  42 years old.  I was familiar after traveling there with Pierre Berton's, her son, excellent historical chronicles of the  far north.   Because we  were there in August, this historical writing resounded with me. 

It is a  concise, well written book, at only 231 pages but filled with her perspective in the rugged land and winters.  A magnificent forward by Robert Service, the poet of the north and her son, Pierre are in this republished edition.  Her opening line, is almost an understatement of the life she would have in the bitter cold and the wilderness in the early 1900's, "I imagine that in everyone's life there eventually comes a moment when a simple question or a change meeting or a knock on the door changes the entire course of one's future."   It is a wealth of history and personal anecdotes as well as a unique chronicle of the decline of Dawson after the gold discovery of 1898 peaked. 

In talking about the journey to Whitehorse to Dawson on foot in winter, I shuddered.  It is a rugged land and although we on tour made that trek in train, dome car and by motor coach bus with all amenities  I  appreciated and imagined the hardships endured back in the day. Page 136.mentions the walk ins when the stage would take a fort night, considered too long for the seekers.    "I'm walking in you know, he said, talking as casually as if he were about to take a stroll down Regent Street.  And, off he went, in his brisk way, on a 360 mile hike through deep snow, lonely forest, frozen river and high plateau, in the dead of winter with the thermometer well below zero and the blue Aurora his only beacon.  A short time later we had a letter from him from Dawson describing the experience." 

Seldom do I  include this much from the cover but it conveys the
outstanding historical content and excellent writing of this book. 
 It is a book I will keep for future reference and one I suspect few of my friends will ever read.  I give it 4 ****.