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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New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – Portsmouth Book and Bar, Portsmouth, NH

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Last fall I had the opportunity to (individually) catch up with two of my favorite ladies from Maine. Portsmouth, New Hampshire is roughly ‘half-way’ between us these days, and therefore we chose that as a meeting point. We spent hours poring over the months or years since we’d last been in the same space, and in both cases it was (as I prefer to feel most of my friendships are) as if we’d just sat down together the day before.

On the first outing, my fellow literary-obsessed friend Leslie and I also ventured into a couple of Portsmouth’s used book stores to check their offerings. In the first shop I came across a book I had just finished a few weeks before, The Bells, by Richard Harvell and one other book I had heard of but not yet read, The Paris Wife, by Paula McLain. Leslie purchased the former and I the latter.

After indulging in lunch at nearby RiRu, a converted bank turned eatery, Leslie and i were sitting outside on a bench, and I looked up information on any other book stores in the area and am thankful that I did.

Just down the street from where we sat lay an (for me) untapped venue – Portsmouth Book and Bar. Located in the former Custom House and Post Office, built in 1860, and home of several other businesses over the years, the Book and Bar is a worthwhile stop if you happen to venture to Portsmouth and have some time to kill.

Granted, the selection may not look as substantial as other places I’ve visited, but don’t be fooled by that. The neatly spaced and stacked shelving holds a world of treasures at very reasonable prices. Their fiction section (my immediate go-to) is extensive, and their non-fiction and children’s equally impressive.

Aside from the books accorded for sale, the venue boasts an enticing menu of sandwiches and small plate offerings, a decent selection of beer and wine, and of course coffee, tea, and soft drinks for those who choose to not imbibe. I have yet to eat or drink at this location, but the smiles on the faces of the patrons each time I have visited lead me to believe the food and beverages, like the book selection, do not disappoint.

The book store also offers live music to patrons, as well as comfy couches and cafe tables  on which to alight and enjoy the eclectic mix of musical styles performed regularly.

Located in the historic downtown district of a beautiful sea-side city, this is a locale I plan to visit again and again. Most recently I left the store with newly owned books by George Gissing, Orhan Pamuk, and Edmund White. There were other editions of interest that caught my eye – and hopefully they’ll be there for future perusal.

Portsmouth Book and Bar can be found at:

40 Pleasant St
Portsmouth, NH 03801
603.427.9197

OPEN 7 DAYS
SUN – THU : 10a–10p
FRI – SAT : 10a–midnight

http://www.bookandbar.com/index.html

Happy reading!

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New England, By The Book, Reading

New England, By The Book – The Montague Bookmill, Montague MA

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Books You Don’t Need, In A Place You Can’t Find is the tagline on the website for this gem of a bookstore.

But they were wrong, on both counts.

The Montague Bookmill claims residence in an 1842 Grist Mill in the little town of Montague, Mass. Bordering the Sawmill River, the Bookmill invites visitors to wile away a long afternoon perusing the shelves and stacks (don’t be fooled, it’s very organized) of books for sale – and then the multitude of other items for sale.

The property boasts not only their general and scholarly interest books, but a vinyl and cd shop, an artists collective, and a rustic restaurant all within steps of each other.

The Bookmill also invites musical artists to entertain, with reasonably priced seats, yet they entice audience hopefuls to arrive early for seats in their armchairs and couches for the best and most comfortable view of the musician playing.

Two summers ago I decided to make the two hour trek to Montague, which is west of me as the crow flies, to see what was in store for me. I was not disappointed. I left with, amongst others, a wonderful novel by a ‘forgotten’ author – The Stones Of Summer, by Dow Mossman (who might feature in a ‘Faded Pages’ blog post in the near future, even if this book was his only commercial output). It’s a delightful read, big and sprawling, taking place over decades, and a wonderful way to pass a summer week, or month, depending upon the pace you take with reading it.

In that respect, the book is much like the store from which I procured it. It’s a sizable property with much to offer. I spent a few peaceful hours strolling through the books, picking through the vinyl, and sampling a lunch offering from their cafe menu as I sat beside a window overlooking a sun-dappled stream below that carries water twenty-two miles from Lake Wyola to the Connecticut River as it carried me away to daydreams.

Worth an hour, an afternoon, or even an entire day, The Montague Bookmill is a hidden gem just beyond the mid part of the Commonwealth heading West to the New York state border. If you find yourself out that way, by happenstance, look the store up and spend some time there – you won’t be disappointed.

The store’s information is below. Happy reading!

MONTAGUE BOOKMILL
Susan Shilliday
440 Greenfield Road, Montague, MA
(mail) Post Office Box 954, Montague, MA 01351
Phone: (413) 367-9206
Email: susan@montaguebookmill.com
web: www.montaguebookmill.com
Hours: 7 days, 10-6, and later seasonally

 

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New England, By The Book

New England, By The Book: Freeport Book Shoppe, Freeport ME

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Several years after I moved from Maine to Massachusetts I received a phone call from my mother where she was excited to share something with me that she’d found that day. It was a used book shop not far from where she lived, and she could not recall my ever mentioning having been there before to her.

She was quite correct. I quickly corrected this oversight and visit the store any and every chance I get to when I visit Maine.

Owner David Young is a self-taught antiquarian dealer in books, having spent years as a security guard and in the army reserve. Entering the shop (once you peruse the bargains set outside the door on the front porch), you typically find David sitting behind the low glass display case counter standing watch over his more valuable inventory. He offers a friendly hello and a ‘knowing’ smile, for he is aware (as you are about to find out), that ‘magic’ awaits you inside his store.

The room shown in the above photograph sits a few steps below the entrance, just beyond the signed editions and bargain closet where you will find just about anything culled from each and every section of the store’s inventory to make room for other items. The fiction (divided into mysteries, children’s, general fiction, and a very healthy section of classics) lines the perimeter of the floor space, with non-fiction (everything from arctic exploration to zebra appreciation) shelved on the spaces in between. Neatly stacked against the shelves are cartons of those items more recently obtained and are always worth digging into the boxes all the way to the bottom (where I have personally unearthed many books that I’ve purchased).

The store owner has been known to say to me, as I approached him with my selections, “Guess it was worth the drive.”, whereas I one day mentioned living out of state and always trying to put his store into my itinerary when I visited Maine. He’s quite knowledgeable about his inventory, and occasionally offers up his own experience with reading what I’ve selected to purchase for my own enjoyment. His friendly, no-pressure interaction with his customers (at least with me) always makes the conversation enjoyable, and he has even offered to try to find a book I might be looking for that he doesn’t happen to have and simply ‘set it aside’ for when I ‘come up again’.

I have yet to leave this store empty-handed, which to me always makes a stop there worthwhile. While I owe my successful shopping trips to the store in part to the two hour distance I live from the store and the fact that I (sadly) cannot visit it more often than I do, (therefore he always has plenty new for me to look at); it is also due in large part to the tremendous variety of books he carries, and the incredibly affordable pricing. While the shop does carry rare and antiquarian selections ranging in the hundreds of dollars in price; the average book will set you back only four to eight dollars apiece.

While I don’t necessarily subscribe to the theory that moms are always right – in this instance, Mom didn’t lead me astray.

Located at 176 U.S. Route 1 (locals refer to it as ‘Old Route 1’) in Freeport, ME, The Freeport Book Shoppe is a reader’s paradise just waiting for you to pay a call. Hours are (at present) listed as:

Open year-round: Hours tend to be a little more flexible in the winter months.

Summer Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:30 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 9:30 AM – 4:00 PM

Winter Hours: Monday through Saturday 9:30 AM – 5:00 PM
Sundays: By chance, usually 10:00 AM- 4:00 PM

 

Happy Reading!

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