With school back in session and the end of the summer not too far off (despite the continued hot days I remain optimistic that we're going to enjoy some temperate days soon--the kind that are nice in the afternoon and cool at night), I've done a little book organizing. I've returned a few library books and set aside a few books that I had only just barely started but hadn't had a chance to really properly get into and pared down my reading pile so it is slightly more manageable (my definition being fairly flexible!). Anything I set aside wasn't due to a lack of enjoyment but simply so I would feel a little less overwhelmed. I intend to work them back into my current reading as I finish other books. Besides, Carl has just announced details for RIP V for which I fully intend to participate and have been greatly looking forward to. My own details to follow in the next day or two.
I love starting new books, but I also like feeling like I am in control of the reading pile and the choice of books to read has been a little excessive lately--even for me. The titles on my right sidebar are almost all books that I am well underway in terms of reading, so this juggling of books means I can get back to a few that I started a while ago and was enjoying but got sidetracked on somewhere along the way.
It was only a matter of time before I got around to reading Wallace Stegner. I've heard only good things about him, which is no surprise after finally having a chance to start Crossing to Safety and get a feel for his prose style. The novel was published in 1987 and is set in the 1930s. By this time Stegner had already won the National Book Award and the Pulitzer Prize for two earlier novels. Crossing to Safety seems like a story filled with grand themes yet it approaches them in a quiet, introspective sort of way. Well, first impressions anyway. Since I've been reading it this afternoon I thought I'd share a little teaser from it. The story is about the friendship between two couples which spans decades. They meet when the husbands take up teaching positions at a midwestern university in the English department. As the story is set in academia there are some interesting conversations about poetry and literature, which I'm enjoying listening in on.
"Are writers reporters, prophets, crazies, entertainers, preachers, judges, what? Who appoints them as mouthpieces? If they appoint themselves, as they clearly do, how valid is the commission? If Time alone makes masterpieces, as Anatole France thought, then great writing is just trial and error tested by time, and if that's that, then above all it has to be free, it has to flow from the gift, not from outside pressures. The gift is its own justification, and there is no way of telling for sure, short of the appeal to posterity, whether it's really worth something or whether it's only the ephemeral expression of a fad or tendency, the articulation of a stereotype."
They go on to talk about outside inducements and the need for money, that libraries are full of masterpieces that were written for money. "Grub Street turns out good things almost as much as Parnassus."
Although I'm only a third of the way through Crossing to Safety I've already decided I need to read more of Stegner's work and am particularly interested because he was also a nature writer and conservationist. I've read a number of excellent nature essays this year and have discovered that I enjoy nature writing very much, so will be adding Stegner to my repertoire.