Stegner Ultra Marathon

After a hiatus of several months, we met this past week to discuss Vonnegut’s collection of essays. It was nice to be back together again and I’ll do my best to keep our meetings more regular.


It’s no surprise that many, if not all of us, are big fans of Wallace Stegner. In the past we have read The Big Rock Candy Mountain, Recapitulation, Wolf Willow, and I think Crossing to Safety.  We also took a field trip to Salt Lake City where we perused some of the archives of Stegner’s things at the University of Utah, visited several of the places he lived, and went to the cemetery where his parents and brother are buried. The other night we got talking about Stegner (again), and decided to do a Stegner marathon this summer. Anja is our resident Stegner expert so she compiled a list of books for us to read, alternating fiction with nonfiction. It is an ambitious list, but the plan is to read as much as we can, and meet each month to discuss what we have read. Here is the list, in the order that we will read.

Angle of Repose

The Sound of Mountain Water

Remembering Laughter

Conversations with Wallace Stegner on Western History and Literature (1983)

The Spectator Bird 

All The Little Live Things (seems to be a sequel)

The Uneasy Chair: A Biography of Bernard DeVoto

Joe Hill

Marking the Sparrows Fall

A Shooting Star

Collected Stories of Wallace Stegner

The Gathering of Zion

The Women on the Wall

Clarence Edward Dutton: An appraisal

Below are short summaries for the first three books (the first two from Amazon, the next from Goodreads). Let’s try to get through these before our next meeting.

Angle of Repose (1971)

Lyman Ward is a retired professor of history, recently confined to a wheelchair by a crippling bone disease and dependent on others for his every need.  Amid the chaos of 1970s counterculture he retreats to his ancestral home of Grass Valley, California, to write the biography of his grandmother: an elegant and headstrong artist and pioneer who, together with her engineer husband, made her own journey through the hardscrabble West nearly a hundred years before. In discovering her story he excavates his own, probing the shadows of his experience and the America that has come of age around him.

The Sound of Mountain Water

The essays, memoirs, letters, and speeches collected in The Sound of Mountain Water encompass memoir, nature conservation, history, geography, and literature. Compositions delve into the post-World War II boom that brought the Rocky Mountain West–from Montana and Idaho to Utah and Nevada–into the modern age. Other works feature eloquent sketches of the West’s history and environment, directing our imagination to the sublime beauty of such places as Robbers Roost and Glen Canyon. A final section examines the state of Western literature, of the mythical past and the diminished present, and analyzed the difficulties facing any contemporary Western writer.

Written over a period of twenty-five years, a time in which the West witnessed rapid changes to its cultural and natural heritage, and by a writer and thinker who will always hold a unique position in modern American letters, The Sound of Mountain Water is a hymn to the Western landscape, an affirmation of the hope embodied therein, and a careful and rich investigation of the West’s complex legacy.

Remembering Laughter (1937)

Margaret Stuart, the proud wife of a prosperous Iowa farmer, sets high standards for herself and others. Happy in her marriage, she tries to look the other way when her genial husband, Alec, takes to the bottle. When Elspeth, Margaret’s sister, comes to live with them, the young woman is immediately captivated by the beauty and vitality of the farm, and by the affection she receives from those around her. But as summer turns into fall, and the friendship between Alec and Elspeth deepens, Margaret finds her spirit tested by a series of events that seem as cruel and inevitable as the endless prairie winters.Long out of print, Remembering Laughter (1937) marked Wallace Stegner’s brilliant literary debut

We will meet again Wednesday, June 26, 8:30 pm. 

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A Man Without a Country

We are currently reading Kurt Vonnegut’s, A Man Without a Country. Here is the summary from Amazon,


NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER • “For all those who have lived with Vonnegut in their imaginations . . . this is what he is like in person.”–USA Today

In a volume that is penetrating, introspective, incisive, and laugh-out-loud funny, one of the great men of letters of this age–or any age–holds forth on life, art, sex, politics, and the state of America’s soul. From his coming of age in America, to his formative war experiences, to his life as an artist, this is Vonnegut doing what he does best: Being himself. Whimsically illustrated by the author, A Man Without a Countryis intimate, tender, and brimming with the scope of Kurt Vonnegut’s passions.

We don’t have a date yet for our next meeting. Stay tuned.

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Next meeting: October 30

We will meet next on Tuesday evening, October 30, to discuss Can’t we talk about something more pleasant by Roz Chast. The usual time and place.

Hope to see you all.

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Can’t we talk about something more pleasant, by Roz Chast


For this month we are reading the memoir Can’t we talk about something more pleasant by the New Yorker cartoonist, Roz Chast.  We will meet next on Thursday, September 13, 8:30 pm.

Here is the summary from Amazon:

In her first memoir, New Yorker cartoonist Roz Chast brings her signature wit to the topic of aging parents. Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.

While the particulars are Chast-ian in their idiosyncrasies–an anxious father who had relied heavily on his wife for stability as he slipped into dementia and a former assistant principal mother whose overbearing personality had sidelined Roz for decades–the themes are universal: adult children accepting a parental role; aging and unstable parents leaving a family home for an institution; dealing with uncomfortable physical intimacies; and hiring strangers to provide the most personal care.

An amazing portrait of two lives at their end and an only child coping as best she can, Can’t We Talk about Something More Pleasant shows the full range of Roz Chast’s talent as cartoonist and storyteller.

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Wolf Willow

For this month we are reading Wallace Stegner’s memoir, Wolf Willow. We will meet next on Thursday, August 9, 8:30 pm. See you all then.


Here is the blurb from Amazon:

Wallace Stegner weaves together fiction and nonfiction, history and impressions, childhood remembrance and adult reflections in this unusual portrait of his boyhood. Set in Cypress Hills in southern Saskatchewan, where Stegner’s family homesteaded from 1914 to 1920, Wolf Willow brings to life both the pioneer community and the magnificent landscape that surrounds it.

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Edward Abbey


This month we are reading Edward Abbey. If you have never read anything by him, I recommend Desert Solitaire. Or if you want fiction, try The Monkey Wrench Gang. He also has a number of essay collections and other novels. Good reading, and a nice compliment to the environmental writings of Wallace Stegner.

We’ll meet next on June 19.

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100 Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God


Our next selection is Ashley Mae Hoiland’s 100 Birds Taught Me to Fly: The Art of Seeking God. Several of you have personal connections to the author as she graduated from BYU’s English department. We will meet next on Tuesday, May 15, 8:30 pm. Below is the synopsis from Amazon.

This book is for restless souls who desire to know God more deeply. Ashley Mae Hoiland bids us follow her down the hallowed and well-trodden path between the heart and mind, where glimpses of godliness are discovered in rainstorms, bus rides, temples, and mountains. As a Latter-day Saint, Hoiland explores the complexities of faith in everyday life where laughter and creativity matter as much as faith, hope, and charity.


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