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.


Faded Pages - Out Of Print Authors

Faded Pages – Out Of Print Authors: Mary Renault



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!




What I’ve Been Reading Lately


Over the past few months, I’ve read some really wonderful books. I’ve not posted anything in a while about what has captured my attention, so this is a list of several books that I’ve enjoyed recently.

James Rollins’ Sigma Force series continues to hold my interest. I have read two of the more ‘recent’ entries, The Devil Colony and Blood Line. To compare the two stories, Blood Line is stronger, and more ‘gripping’ of a read, involving a long-buried secret regarding the President Of The United States (in this fictional universe). Both books are entertaining, as the rest of the series has been, and I am continually grateful that my least favorite character of the series, that of ‘Omaha Dunn’ in the first novel Sandstorm, has never made a reappearance. A literary low-rent Indiana Jones (with a name mimicking Jones) came and went quickly, but the series continues to be highly enjoyable.

Simon Toyne’s ‘The Tower’ is the conclusion of the Sanctus Trilogy. All three books in the series, Sanctus, The Key, and The Tower were very clever and enticing to read. I chose to read The Tower (#3) not long after finishing The Key to round out the trilogy, and keep the events of book 2 fresh in my mind. Well worth a look.

Jeffrey Archer’s ‘Paths Of Glory’ was a more recent find in one of my favorite genres, that of isolation/exploration in frozen climates. Concerning early 20th century attempts to summit Everest, this story regards the Mallory expedition, and encompasses Mallory’s early life as a burgeoning explorer through his death. A wonderful read from a more recently (for me) discovered author that I look forward to investigating further.

Jules Verne’s ‘The Lighthouse At The End Of The World’ – One of Verne’s lesser known works that was published posthumously by his son Michael, and even revised and reworked by Michael received a 21st century restoration to Verne’s original tale. Regarding shipwrecks, pirates, and a fight to stay alive against all odds, this brief, fast-paced story ranks up with many of my favorite Verne tales.

The Amazing Absorbing Boy – Another author I’d not heard of, Rabindranath Maharaj, concerns a boy who, upon his mother’s death, is sent to live with his unknown and long decamped father in Canada. There he finds a man very reluctant to take up his duty to his son, and an even stranger cast of characters in this very foreign land. A very engrossing read as this young man strives to find himself in relation to his father, his adopted country, and the world itself.

The Map Of Chaos – Having read the first two books by Felix Palma in his trilogy that re-works well known tales of H.G. Wells, I couldn’t imagine where the story might go to reach its conclusion. Palma borrows ‘The Invisible Man’ as the main antagonist in this book, and works characters from the prior two books into the story as well. As Wells and his wife Jane leap through time trying to save humanity and avoid the Invisible Man who has come to life and intends to stop their attempts to save the world, the story itself leaps back and forth between multiple universes as Wells and Jane, watchers of an infinite number of ‘twins’ in parallel multiverses, attempt to stop the spread of a virus unleashed by Wells. Only a mathematical tome, authored by Wells, called ‘The Map Of Chaos’ can bring a halt to the destruction of life as we know it. A very satisfying conclusion to the trilogy.

Finally, ‘The Fall’ by Bethany Griffin. The third work by the author to expand upon a universe created by Edgar Allan Poe, this pastiche work tells the ‘backstory’ that leads up to The Fall Of The House Of Usher, examining and uncovering Madeline and Roderick’s family curse and how it plagues them, as well as ‘The House’ haunting them and breathing madness into Madeline as she grows to young womanhood. Billed as a ‘young adult’ novel, and a very easy read, there is still a lot to be found here for fans of Poe’s original wanting to know more about the Usher twins and what led to their demise in the original. Fascinating, and set up so that a sequel is entirely possible for the author to produce.

So there you have it, the past few months of what I’ve read. All very entertaining, none in the least bit disappointing.

Happy Reading.


What I’m Reading Now – The Map Of The Sky by Felix J. Palma


A couple of years ago I read and fell in love with Felix Palma’s ‘The Map Of Time’ – it’s a riff on H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine that features Wells himself as a character.

An amazing variation on a classic story, author Felix Palma had me captivated from start to finish. A hokum ‘time travel’ attraction purporting to transport gullible travelers to the year 2000 to witness the destruction of our planet – a man desperate to save the life of a prostitute with a heart of gold – and the discovery that Wells’ time machine may actually be a reality….it’s a thrilling tale from the opening to the final chapter.

In a second go-round featuring Wells, the author has decided to incorporate another H.G. Wells classic novel, The War Of The Worlds, into his tale.

I’m only two chapters into this book, given the time constraints of the impending holiday this week, but completely enamored once again of Palma’s ability to draw a reader into his tale, especially since he has incorporated Antarctic exploration (a personal favorite in reading matter) as part of the story.  Wells, in the opening chapter, meets an aspiring author who has penned a sequel to ‘War Of The Worlds’ and hopes to elicit Wells’ endorsement for publication. Wells agrees to meet with the would-be sequel author to disparage his work and put him in his place as a talentless hack trying to ride the coat-tails of a decidedly superior novel, and yet finds himself intrigued when the aspiring author incites Wells to accompany him to the British Museum to see a ‘real alien’ in a secret area of the building.

Recalling Palma’s acumen with crafting a highly original tale from a time-honored and well-known existing story, I anticipate loving this sophomore effort every bit as much as I did the first.

If you have not yet discovered Palma’s first H.G. Wells inspired tale, give it a try – then move immediately on to this one. I highly doubt you will be disappointed.


Some Of My Favorite Books About ‘Isolation’

Recently I finished a book called ‘The Ice Child’ that weaves a story between the present and the past involving the ill-fated Franklin Expedition in the 1800’s to find the Northwest Passage aboard two ships, The Terror and The Erebus. Countless non-fiction accounts of this doomed expedition have been published, though I confess I have stuck to the fictional treatments.

This has prompted me to write a post about some of my favorite works that involved ‘isolation’, or characters in remote locations, separated from society and assistance either by their own choice or by circumstances beyond their control.  I have chosen four of my favorite works to post about here, with The Ice Child being a new favorite.



The Ice Child, by Katherine McGregor (no, nor Mrs. Oleson from Little House On The Prairie, that was Katherine MacGregor) centers on a journalist who becomes fascinated with a missing tv show host, Doug Marshall, who has held a decades-long fascination with the Franklin Expedition, and has gone AWOL in search of artifacts from that trek through the northern-most reaches of the planet.  McGregor tells her story by switching back and forth from the 19th century to present day and chronicles the actual expedition itself in juxtaposition to the modern day search by Marshall for Franklin artifacts and her subsequently falling in love with him.  The seamless interweaving of the two tales is well presented and capped off by a time-sensitive search for Marshall’s adult son, who seems to carry the same obsession as his father before him with finding something of the Franklin Expedition to claim as his own.  A wonderful read, very engaging and fast paced.

The first fictional treatment I ever indulged in about this same subject matter was Dan Simmons’ ‘The Terror’. Simmons’s reputation was built upon horror tales, and I first discovered him in a bargain bin of books in a supermarket with one of his earlier offerings, Summer Of Night, which reminded me of Stephen King’s ‘It’ and ‘Stand By Me’ in many ways.  Simmons used recurring characters from this book in later works, such as Fires Of Eden, Children of Night, and A Winter’s Haunting, but The Terror is a standalone novel about the two ships of the Franklin Expedition and what ‘horrors’ they encountered marooned in the ice for years at the top of the world.  It is more ‘psychological suspense’ than horror, and easily one of my favorite books that I’ve read in the past ten years.  The relentless cold, along with ‘monsters’ real and imagined kept me hooked from start to finish.  



After reading ‘The Terror’, I indulged in Admiral Richard Byrd’s ‘Alone’ – a story of his solo manning of an Antarctic outpost in the 20th century, to gather weather data, and ‘to taste peace and quiet long enough to know what they really are’.  Byrd’s account of his solitary existence in subzero temperatures, and his improvisational methods of surviving are truly riveting from start to finish.  This has long been hailed as a ‘classic’ polar adventure, and it lives up to its reputation.



Several years ago I fell in love with the stories of Jack Kerouac having read On The Road for the first time in my late 20’s.  Since then I’ve read several more of Kerouac’s alcohol-induced ramblings and have never been disappointed. Desolation Angels chronicles a time in Kerouac’s life when he spent months alone in a fire-station outpost in the mountain. Below is a short review of the book that I put on Amazon.com after reading and loving this work. 

Jack Kerouac’s ‘Desolation Angels’, written about a period of his life roughly 10 years before his death, acts as a nice bridge between ‘On The Road’ (which was awaiting publication during the course of events described in “Angels”) and a subsequent publication, Big Sur, both of which I’ve read.

During his two month self-imposed exile to work as a fire ranger on Desolation Peak, Jack Kerouac was forced to confront many of his pre-existing or emerging demons. The location for this period of his life is especially apropos for the ‘desolation’ surrounding Kerouac, much of which was self-created, as he sank further into depression and alcoholism.

The book covers more of his life than just the two months on Desolation Peak, but as Jack re-emerges into society, you get the sense that this ‘loner’ was only comfortable being ‘alone’ amongst others…that while he could see, smell, and wander amongst others, and feel tolerably ‘isolated’…he could not stand the true isolation he could achieve, to remove himself from society altogether.

Jack wanders from the American Northwest to Florida, to Mexico, to Tangiers, to California with his mother in tow, and eventually back to Florida, when his mother grows further depressed with their cross-country move after only a month.

Many players from Kerouac’s former novels appear in this one as well, albeit with different names…the poet ‘Gregory Corso,’ to whom Kerouac lost ‘Mardou Fox’ in “Subterraneans” is called ‘Raphael Urso’ in “Angels”…’Dean Moriarty,’ from “On The Road” is ‘Cody’ in this incarnation.

Kerouac’s detachment from the Beat Generation, his status as their reigning ‘king’, his fame, and his Buddhist beliefs all come into focus during this novel, one of his finest, in my opinion. If you rode shotgun with Kerouac for On The Road, explore his life further, and you will uncover far more about this dark and troubled yet fascinating author.

I have found upon searching Amazon.com that there are many, many more novels of ‘isolation’ out there waiting for me, and hopefully will get to indulge in more of them over time.  The above are just four examples of ones that I’ve truly enjoyed from start to finish.  I hope that these brief descriptions are enticement enough for others who enjoy stories of this nature to investigate one or more of them further and take a look for themselves. All are worth the effort.