Reading Roundup: Two Favorite Book Club Classics
Readers often admit that joining a book club offers opportunities to try books that might not be at the top of their reading lists. Sandy and Gwen, members of the John Marshall evening book club, share insights on two classics recently read and enjoyed by our book club.
Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner
Many readers today are unfamiliar with the works of Wallace Stegner, one of the great writers of the 20th century. His body of work includes novels, non-fiction and short stories written from 1937 until shortly before his death in 1993. His most well-known novel, Angle of Repose, won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and another, The Spectator Bird, won the National Book Award in 1977. Our book club chose to read Crossing to Safety, Stegner’s last novel, which was published in 1987 when he was 78 years old.
“Crossing to Safety” explores the bonds of friendship between two couples, Larry and Sally Morgan, both from modest backgrounds and no family, and Sid and Charity Lang, more established with deep family roots and money. The story is told by Larry, looking back on their decades-long friendship. They meet in 1937 as young, idealistic couples, just starting their married lives, with both men on the faculty of a university English department. It’s a quiet but powerful novel that follows the couples as life deals its inevitable blows. The novel is very much a character driven story with Charity as the main force behind many of the novel’s ups and downs. She is certain she knows what’s right for everyone, particularly her husband, Sid. In spite of this, she is loved by those around her. Our group enjoyed reading a novel written by an older author with a narrator looking back on his life, with wisdom gained through the years. Everyone agreed that Stegner’s way with words was beautiful and a pleasure to read.
Sandy, Marshall Evening Book Club
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter is the first novel of Carson McCullers. Published in 1940, the book received critical acclaim and is now an American classic. Many consider it to be the work that most fully realizes the themes of isolation, alienation and what McCullers considered the “grotesque,” characters who view themselves as exiles or chronic outsiders, present in all her writing.
The novel is set in a small southern town in the 1930s and the five main characters’ paths cross often, yet are unable to connect with anyone other than John Singer, a deaf-mute who can only partially understand and communicate with others. Singer is just as isolated as the others and really only cares deeply about Spiros, another deaf-mute who is taken away in the first chapter. Yet because of his disability, Singer appears to be listening closely and guiding the behavior of the other characters. One of the most compelling characters of the story is Mick Kelly, a young tomboy who spends much of her time yearning for music and trying to build a violin from an old ukulele, when she is not caring for her younger brothers. She is benevolently observed by the gender-fluid owner/bartender of the New York Café who winds up being the most content with their lot in life. Café visitors include a well-educated, black doctor who is disappointed that his children have settled for fairly average lives and a drunk who would like to start a revolution. Against the backdrop of small town desperation, racial tensions, and the 1930’s lure of communism, the central characters all lack the inner resources to understand each other, grow as individuals, or significantly change their circumstances. The poignant conclusion of the book reflects on the death of John Singer, the deaf-mute. It was his quiet life that had the most powerful influence over all the characters in the story.
Gwen, Marshall Evening Book Club
Deborah, Branch Manager, John Marshall branch library