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, 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!