Sometime during the early 1990's I discovered Wallace Stegner and went on a mission to read everything he'd ever written. I couldn't get enough of this man's writing. Some writers are like that. They have a style that just flies off the page and into the imagination with the greatest of ease.
I think it started with a book I found out west in Back of Beyond, a bookstore in Moab, Utah. It was titled, Crossing to Safety. I usually open a book at random to get the flavor of the writing and if it sparks something in me then I take a chance, often falling into it with great contentment at having found something I could sink my teeth into, if not my heart. Set in academia, this story of imperfect friendships that endure, despite all the reasons that time can create as to why they shouldn't, still rests on my shelf of favorite books.
For several months, I read one after another of his books until I was sated. Then, on a subsequent trip out west, I found a collection of his short stories in a bookstore in Santa Fe and my obsession began all over again. Each story was a perfect little slice of life. I read and reread them, and with each reading they settled into my bones a little bit more. I love the medium of the short story and how our imagination can create an entire world around one.
I did, though, open it at random this morning, just to see what would turn up, and was pleasantly surprised. I opened it to where the main character is reading a letter from his wife. She's spending time at a summer house in Vermont with mutual friends, while he's spending his days immersed in English literature at the college where he teaches. In this passage she's writing to him about new friends that joined their circle the previous evening:
Comfort is terribly pretty and Lyle is one of the most fascinating men you ever met. You and he should hit it off. He comes from Arizona, and is a biologist, and works all over the world. He and Comfort were married right after he got his PhD. from Yale and they went straight to Alaska, clear up to Point Hope, and lived among the Eskimos...
Now he's given up arctic flora and is working on plants that have adapted themselves not to cold, but to drought. He's just back from several months in Libya, and he had all sorts of stories about caves with people and animals painted all over the walls, and a flint desert where the wind had teed up stones like golf balls, and when you looked, you could see that every stone was a tool left from a neolithic civilization that died thousands of years ago. I swear his clothes smelled of camel-dung fires....
Perhaps it was the reading of Stegner that prodded me into going out and having my own adventures, which include spending several years in the SW, exploring canyons, photographing ruins, and meeting some pretty interesting people along the way.
I found these photos tucked inside the book:
Doorways I fell in love with at Pueblo Bonito in Chaco Canyon, NM. (another copy of this photo found its way into my post, "Never Met a Door I Didn't Like").
Me, next to my first ruin, taken in SE Utah in the early 1990's.
And this one, taken at Zippel Bay State Park, in northern Minnesota, around the same time period. I love old fence lines with wildflowers.
What a beautiful post about the power of books to move us. I totally understand your apprehension about reading it again. Loved the pictures. Time to start new adventures....ReplyDelete
I have not read any Stegner and now feel deprived. I know what I'm getting myself for Christmas. Thank you for the glimpse into the book...ReplyDelete
I've stood in that same doorway at Pueblo Bonito. Probably thousands have done so, and taken pictures, but it still demands a photo and the fantasy that you're the only one that has been there since the builders left.ReplyDelete
BOSSY BETTY, He's an author that moved me with his style. It's always a treat to find such writers.ReplyDelete
DJAN, You are most welcome. I hope you enjoy him as much as I did.
JEANNE K, The real adventures at Chaco take place at the outliers which require some hiking. My hiking companion and I have had those all to ourselves and it makes for splendid adventures. Bonito is the most visited due to it's close proximity to roads, but I still get a charge at being there. So much history in a small area. Yes, that doorway has been photographed thousands of time. It's become almost iconic.
We have never read this author but shall certainly explore him on your recommendation. We too are fond of the short story medium and so, perhaps, this is where we shall introduce ourselves to his work.
We know exactly what you mean about discovering a writer and then reading everything in sight that he/she has written. We recently fell across Simon Mawer and have been eagerly seeking out his work and reading him ever since. he has not written a great deal so we fear that our 'love affair' may soon come to an abrupt end. It almost makes one feel bereaved.
Jane and Lance, I love short stories. They are so often like a good prose poem: a moment in time distilled into its essence. They're wonderful vehicles for the imagination.ReplyDelete
I often feel that way at the end of a good book, too, as though I've lost the character/friend to time and will never be able to visit them again. It sometimes takes days to move on... :)
I will have to put him on my reading list, it sounds as if I too would lke his ideas he shares.I was looking at a painting yesterday of a door, partly open, but it was in your imagination what was behind it. It made me think of my childhood letting my imagination get the best of me with the fear of the unknown, perhaps closet creatures.LOLReplyDelete
Good and thought provoking post my friend. I lived in SF for most of the 70's and met and friend-ed more than one author.(ie Hunter S Thompson). I too have my favorite authors and have reread their works many times. It's sure like visiting and old friend or love.ReplyDelete
He was a good writer ... Basho had a similar effect on me when I first read his haiku...ReplyDelete
When you took the book down from the shelf, did you expect to find those lovely photos? What an extra treat for you.ReplyDelete
I guess you are not only back but it looks as if you've been back for a while. thanks for nudging me.ReplyDelete
That is a cute picture of you. You could pass for 15. :) You'd get carded, for sure. I've not read Stegner which is not surprising because the only time I read novels is when I travel and I don't travel anymore.
Very nice Teresa. Great pictures.ReplyDelete
For all who visit here - and Teresa would agree I believe that if you ever get a chance to visit the 4-Corners area do not pass it up. This spring I'm going to Chaco again. To me it probably is at the top of the list.
STEVE, Childhood certainly gave us many opportunities to scare ourselves silly, and the imagination is such a wonderful thing. Sometimes I still come across "doors" I'm certain I want to go through.... :)ReplyDelete
MICHAEL, Hunter.... that must have made for some interesting conversations....
Paul, It's nice to come across writers that affect us in this way.
LINDA M, No, I used to tuck photos in books and sometimes they were used as bookmarks, so I had no idea... It was a treat.
MANZANITA, I didn't take as long a break as I had anticipated. I wasn't sure I was coming back at all, but now I can't shut up! I don't read as much fiction as I once did.
Thank you. I did get carded long after I should have. I was 38 in that picture.
ONE FLY, Thanks, Tom. Springtime in Chaco. That's when I usually visited it. An amazing place.
More than anyone you have made me want to be well enough to make it to the library...or buy a Kindle or Nook--LOL! ;)ReplyDelete
Love the picture of the young adventurer!
This post is the quintessential you. A great quote from an author I may want to read, some cool photos, a bit about yourself. You've had a lot of grand adventures, for sure. Chaco Canyon is such a wonderful place, but I almost hated to intrude.ReplyDelete
Rita! Lovely Rita, Meter Maid. :)ReplyDelete
Hey, Shoot for the library. That would be way cool.
Thank you. :)
Nancy, Thank you. It's my zone, it seems. Re: Chaco. It's a fascinating culture/civilization that lived there. I've had some amazing experiences while camping there.ReplyDelete
Like DJan, I've never read Stegner, but will do so now.
When I read your postings, Teresa, I see that my reading of contemporary literature is sadly lacking. I know the poetry before 1958, but since then I've lost touch with poetry. And I've read many mysteries written by fine writers, but I've missed much of the literary writing of the past fifty years. I wish you'd do a posting on the books on your shelves. I could begin reading and getting an education beyond the mid-twentieth century. I'd like that.
Dee, I so love his style. I wish I had had the foresight to keep an ongoing list of all I've read over time. I purged my "library" at least twice in my lifetime during moves, but I will add a post now and then to introduce what's spoken to me.ReplyDelete
Contemporary poetry is always interesting and I'm still finding new poets to enjoy.
Teresa, you have reminded me, quite remarkably, of a book I loved when I read it and the paragraphs you picked and posted here confirm my joy in Crossing to Safety.ReplyDelete
Our book discussion group selected this, oh, at least 15 years ago. I didn't think I would like it and was pleasantly surprised at how much I did. We had such a thorough discussion that night, I still recall it. Thank you.
Did not know Stegner lived here. What wonderful photos you found. Very serendipitous.ReplyDelete
Oh I loved this post Teresa E. and how it led you back to your early adventures again..just as it may have led you before. Loved the excerpt. Thank you!ReplyDelete
PENNY, I'm so glad you've read it, too. After I read it, I recommended it to my then book club, too, and it was very well-received. It's a story that's told on different levels, as all good storytelling is, which does provoke good discussion.ReplyDelete
SANTAFETRAVELER, Clarification: he did not live in SF, but visited often, and had many friends there. He lived in CA, where he also taught. Thank you so much for visiting!
JOAN, Thank You! Perhaps it was a needed reminder to open my thought to those new adventures Bossy Betty alluded to in the opening comment.
I have authors I feel that same way about, so will have to take a look at the author who did it for you...ReplyDelete
Hi Pearl! Thanks for visiting!ReplyDelete
Great post, Teresa. I love Wallace Stegner. Truly terrific writing. One of the paintings I have posted on my website is titled, "Angle of Repose," which, as you know, is also the title of a Stegner novel, and a fine one at that.ReplyDelete
Hi George, I thought you might be a reader of Stegner. I do recall it and will be over to see that painting again. I love the colors and ideas that you explore in your paintings.ReplyDelete
Never read his books, but that excerpt has me wanting to, and sometimes a short story is just what's needed, enough to satisfy but leaving time for other duties. Every time I see the southwest photos on your blog I miss my past travels there and want to go again, some day.ReplyDelete
I've never read his short stories and will. Angle of Repose is one of the best books ever written. So glad to have you back.ReplyDelete
Love the photo...
Linda, I've gotten so I prefer short stories. They are like prose poems to me.ReplyDelete
I hope you get back out there soon.
Cletis, So good to see your name among the comments.ReplyDelete
Thanks for commenting on my blog. I'm your newest follower. Great blog with all sorts of things to discover. And you should get an award for best profile photo! I look forward to reading more.ReplyDelete
Galen Pearl, You are most welcome. I enjoyed what I found there, very much. I will return! Thanks for your visit and kind words.ReplyDelete