Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors, Reading, Writing

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Wallace Stegner

 

 

Earning the title of ‘The Dean Of Western Writers’ amongst such company as Louis L’Amour, Zane Grey, and Larry McMurtry, you must know you’ve done something right. Wallace Stegner was given this title during his career as a writer.

Beginning his career as a professor at the University of Wisconsin and Harvard University, Stegner settled eventually at Stanford University, and founded a creative writing program. During his tenure as a professor, Stegner taught Larry McMurtry who eventually became a peer in his novelistic genre.

In 1937 Stegner published his first novel, Remembering Laughter – a novel about an Iowa farmer’s wife whose sister comes to visit and falls in love with both the beauty and vitality of the land, and the way of life her sister enjoys. Stegner continued to produce works that were published steadily throughout the mid-20th century.

In 1971 he enjoyed great success with his novel Angle of Repose, which won him the 1972 Pulitzer Prize for Literature. He continued on in his writing career with his last published works being story collections in the late 1980’s and into the 1990’s.

Stegner’s life ended in 1993 when he succumbed to injuries received in a traffic accident in Santa Fe, New Mexico where he had travelled to deliver a lecture. He left behind a legacy that included an impressive list of published works, both fiction and non-fiction, several story collections, annual lectures, fellowships, and literary prizes named in his memory.

Stegner wrote passionately about an area of the country that some describe as mere scrub land – non-farmable, lifeless, and barren. Stegner himself once remarked that “You have to get over the color green; you have to quit associating beauty with gardens and lawns; you have to get used to an inhuman scale.” In his writing he overturned notions about iconic American figures of folklore and history like the cowboy and the bar maid and turned them into something that transcended the stereotypical images of Western themed movies, novels, and television shows.

Nearly two years ago now I took a ride with a friend to a book store in Bath, Maine. I had been there once before with a different friend and wanted to revisit it’s shelves and walkways bursting at the seams with books old and new. I purchased a couple of selections, and as we left the store we noted that there was another one up the street that hadn’t been there the last time I had visited. We decided to check it out, discovering it to be a ‘Friends Of The Library’ bookstore where most selections were to be had for a mere four dollars each. Nearly an hour and thirty dollars later I left the store with several more reads under my arm.

One of these books was Stegner’s Pulitzer Prize winner, Angle Of Repose. I had heard Stegner’s name one other time, and when I mentioned to the store clerk that I was developing a greater interest in mid-20th century literature, she recommended this book, and I took her up on the recommendation. I brought it home and started it a few days later, once my current read was done. In the pages I found a wonderful tale of a wheelchair bound historian who, lamenting a lost connection with his ex-wife and son, has decided to pen a chronicle of the life of his frontier-era grandparents, and in writing their story comes to add new chapters to his own. A tranquil, alluring book from start to finish.

More recently I revisited Stegner with his last published novel, Crossing To Safety, about a friendship that develops between two married couples in the 1940’s and lasts until their later years – and how the nature of our relationships with others can impact our relationship with ourselves in a ripple effect. Again, the quiet, temperate beauty of Stegner’s style and prose shone through and I found myself once again enchanted by this second venture into his works and the world he had created within.

Incidentally, five of Stegner’s novels were published in fine leather around the time of his Pulitzer Prize win. I have since traded in my original Angle Of Repose for the more durably bound edition, and purchased three of the other four, a bit of an indulgence for me, as far as what I typically invest in used books, but well worth the cost.

Wallace Stegner, to me, embodies the type of writer you want to pick up on a gray and somber day and curl up under a blanket next to a crackling fire to wile away the hours of an autumn afternoon. His brilliance was in the subtle rather than the sublime – his literary themes nothing more than the simplicity and complexity of human beings and their natures. He was a wonderful writer that I look forward to revisiting many more times before I exhaust my supply of his published works.

 

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Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Christopher Isherwood

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Twenty years ago I found myself cast in the show Cabaret. I knew of it, of course, having heard the music from the score, and having seen the film version with Liza Minnelli, Michael York, and Joel Gray…and had learned that there was a (non-musical) film based upon the story called ‘I Am A Camera’ with Julie Harris in the lead.

What I didn’t have any experience with as yet was the source material – The Berlin Stories of Christopher Isherwood.

I have dubbed this section of my blog as ‘out of print’ authors, and I am pretty confident that many of Isherwood’s works are out of print and therefore can be a bit of a challenge to find. Truth be told, I’ve not looked for a brand new Isherwood book in a store for years. I own much of his catalogue in hardback, snatched from the coffers of used book stores here and there over the years, devoured as I went along, and worth every penny and every moment spent to read them.

Isherwood, born in the UK in 1904, emigrated to the United States in 1939 when he was already an established author and playwright, as well as mentor to other authors and poets. During his early adult years he traveled extensively in Europe and China as well as a trip to the United States prior to settling in California and becoming an American citizen in 1946.

Isherwood then spent the remainder of his life chronicling his experiences, from early childhood through his adult years  (as well as working on travel diaries, plays, and non-fiction works about a religious monastic order called the Ramakrishna) which provided the source material for his fiction works and his autobiographical offerings, with each being equally as enjoyable and fascinating as the other. Much of Isherwood’s fiction can be then deconstructed and deciphered as to his motivation and perspicacity for the fictional works by reading its non-fiction counterpart or what, where, and who Isherwood ‘was’ at the time he wrote it or not long before. His inspiration for his novels is more than just largely drawn from his own experiences.

Admittedly (which may surprise some) I’ve not yet read The Berlin Stories. That said, I have indulged in PLENTY of his other books – The Memorial, The World In The Evening, Down There On A Visit, A Single Man, Christopher And His Kind, Lions And Shadows, and My Guru And His Disciple amongst them – and still have more to go, such as Prater Violet, A Meeting By The River, All The Conspirators, The Mortmere Stories, and Kathleen and Frank – as well as his collaborative novels written with other authors, his letters and diaries, and much, much more. To begin to read Isherwood is to find yourself with a treasure trove of material to select from.  There are also, for the diligent, articles he wrote over a series of years between 1943 and 1969.

Isherwood is, to me,  one of the best examples of ‘autobiography as fiction’ writers that the twentieth century is to be credited with. Less drug and drink addled than Kerouac, less oversexed than Miller, but every bit as enjoyable to read. While it might be challenging to try to find some of the works listed above, they are all (and I mean all) worth pursuing if you try one and find that you like his style. Many (if not most or all) of his books can be found on Amazon, of course, but I highly recommend the giddy feeling of finding him in a used book store somewhere between Washington Irving and James Joyce in the literature section and slowly collecting and savoring his work over time.

There are also books about Isherwood (none that I can say I’ve read personally) which give greater insight into a man hailed as one of the best writers of his time.

He may be out of print (possibly) in brand new copies – but Isherwood and his observations of his education, life, and experiences are never out of style.

Happy reading!

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Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Mary Renault

 

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I discovered Mary Renault quite by accident. A most happy accident, indeed.

There are many ‘types’ of novels I enjoy reading (well-written ones that is). Isolation stories, The Templar Knights, thrillers involving a hunt for a religious artifact, autobiography as fiction, classics, gothic stories, and Greek Mythology and history to name a few.

Mary Renault, to me, is the ‘Anne Rice’ of Greek history with a wonderful catalogue of novels of Ancient Greece, several twentieth century set novel, and a wonderful biography of Alexander the Great. She has a few ‘romance’ type novels, but I’ve not ventured into those.

Renault’s most revered works depict numerous familiar names from Greek history and mythology and paints a far broader canvas for her characters than history books ever could. In her Ancient Greece set novels, as in her contemporary (1950’s) work The Charioteer, Renault’s writing does not shy away from depicting the ‘commonplace’ relationships that men shared with other men in their society and time. Socrates, Dionysius, Theseus, and Plato all gain greater depth and apotheosis under the skilled pen of a writer clearly in love with the society and rituals she chose to devote the greatest part of her career writing about. Under Renault’s artisan treatment, the characters, social mores, and settings all come to resplendent life where the day to day affairs of a long since passed civilization are offered in greater abundance than many textbooks can boast.

Renault herself lived with another woman, Julie Mullard, whom she met during her training as a nurse upon graduating from college. Long rumored to be in fact a gay man writing under a female pseudonym, based upon her affectionate and compassionate treatment of relationships between males (even of a significant enough age difference that they would be labeled as pederasty at the time her works were published and still today but were considered unexceptional and pedestrian at the time Renault wrote about), the writer lived relatively openly with her female partner, but sought to distance herself from being labeled as a ‘gay’ writer, either male or female, and was herself a fervent detractor of the pride movement of the 1970’s.

Finding herself wanting to forsake the repressive atmosphere and attitudes that gays and lesbians faced in Great Britain at the time, Renault and Mullard moved to South Africa where they spent the remainder of their days. Finding a much more relaxed posture and even a community of expatriated gay and lesbian compatriots in their new home, although they were still dismayed enough with some of the other non-liberal views in their adopted home and took a stand against apartheid in the 1950’s.

Mary Renault’s health declined into her seventies; first becoming evident when she developed an ‘irritating’ cough and fluid was found on one of her lungs which had been aspirated, but at the time it appeared there were pockets of the fluid that could not be reached. The cause of the fluid developing was cancer. Renault passed away in 1983 at the age of 78, leaving behind a legacy of having eased the stress of accepting themselves and then coming out to others that many gay and lesbian readers had experienced finding a ‘champion’ in the voice of Mary Renault. Although she was criticized by some for her negative view of the post-Stonewall push for greater tolerance and acceptance for gays and lesbians in such a public fashion, Renault believed that a person should not accept a label of being gay as their primary identifying characteristic.

Renault also left behind eight historical novels of Ancient Greece, six ‘contemporary’ novels, as well as her Alexander biography (some criticizing of this work calls it overly romanticized and not critical enough of the person and man) and a non-fiction treatment of the Persian wars. Having read all but one of her Ancient Greece works (I am saving one, just one, for a years from now revisit to one of my favorite authors), I encourage anyone with an interest, either romantic or scholarly, in the society Renault brought to vivid life to seek out her works. Her Alexander trilogy is amongst my favorites, yet all are eminently readable and highly enjoyable.

Happy Reading!

 

 

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Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors, Reading

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Sholem Asch

As I stood perusing the selection at a used book store recently (a separate blog post on that to come at a later time) I was asked what type of books I like to read.

I replied that my tastes run to classics, some modern literature, some thrillers, and biography as fiction. Truth be told I’ll read just about anything that catches my eye; although I typically don’t read science fiction and fantasy, as I find those types of stories more visually appealing (when translated to film) than I do to read in black and white.

My personal library is filled with old bindings and new ones. Very little of them are New York Times bestsellers, at least not from the past forty plus years. I buy used books because I read a lot of novels that are only available in modern paperback bindings (which I don’t typically read as I can’t prop them open on my lap and simply keep the pages from turning involuntarily), or are long out of print and hard to find in a ‘new’ book store.

Some of the authors I have most enjoyed reading are not well-known to my reading friends. When I find an author I’d not yet ventured to read whom I have initially enjoyed, I begin looking for additional titles and stock-pile them to read at a future date. Buying books used, I can easily pick up three, four titles for under twenty dollars.

Just this morning I happened to glance at my copy of ‘The Shadow Of The Wind’ on one of my book shelves. The story centers on a young man’s visit to a vast underground warehouse full of books by long-forgotten authors where visitors are allowed to select a work to take home and make their own. The authors in the ‘cemetery of forgotten books’ have long faded from popularity and many have even earned the title of ‘obscure’. The novel that the young man selects unlocks a dark mystery steeped in the history of Barcelona, Spain (and is also a wonderful read) as the young man attempts to determine whatever became of the book’s long-forgotten author.

These are authors I love to find, and have found several of in my years of being an avid reader.

Such has been the case with Sholem Asch. The first of his books that caught my eye was ‘The Nazarene – A Novel Based On The Life Of Christ’. The binding I found is not flashy at all; with only two text colors and an appealing though not altogether ornate font. There is no accompanying photo on the dust jacket, simply the author’s name and the title of another of his works.

I am not a religious person. I have merely a passing interest in theology, seeking only historical fact, not spiritual fulfillment, when I read a ‘Christian’ work. I love well-written historical tales and the recreating of worlds that existed thousands of years ago which show that the author did their research in bringing those worlds to life.

Sholem Asch delivers a tale of the life of Jesus Christ that is comprised of a series of recollections from three separate yet connected viewpoints, those of Cornelius, Pontius Pilate’s governor of Jerusalem; the Gospel of Judas Iscariot, and a young student of Nicodemus named Joseph. What I liked most about the book is that it neither preaches nor pontificates in speaking of Christ. The story of Christ, known to most, is simply the ‘thread’ that holds the tale together as the historical and cultural context of the time is presented in lavish detail. While there are several familiar literary ‘devices’ employed to present the life of Christ to Asch’s readers (the long-lost manuscript, the reincarnated being, etc.) the three connecting tales deliver a profile of Christ and of the holy land during his lifetime like few other authors ever have offered.

Sholem Asch, born in 1880, emigrated from his native Poland to the United States where he became a naturalized citizen in 1920. During his lifetime he wrote many novels and plays, and was (at the time) a celebrated writer up until his death in 1957. His works include several other novels based upon Biblical figures and tales (Mary, Moses, The Apostle, The Prophet). Of those here mentioned, The Prophet is the only one I’ve not yet read. Other more secular works such as East River, which describes the potential conflicts of coexistence between Jews and Christians and Salvation, which centers on a ‘slow-learning’ scholar in the 19th century who is kicked out of school due to his excessive time off to help his mother and support his family (neither of which I’ve yet read as I’ve not found them in my travels) are reportedly wonderful reads about the life of the Jewish people.

For anyone, such as I am, with a more ‘temporal’ interest in Christ and his life and times, Sholem Asch’s works are a great place to learn more.

Happy Reading!

 

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