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Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade…
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Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs: Living and Writing in…

by Wallace Stegner

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This is a collection of essays by Wallace Stegner, centered around growing up and living in the West, and discussions on some "Western" writers. I like Stegner's writing style, and I will read more of his books. But I had a difficult time with this book. I know essays are supposed to be based on personal opinion, but I didn't care for Stegner's attitude. His (inordinately high) opinion of the West seemed to preclude any good opinions of other parts of the country. For instance, I really like where I live, but I know it's not going to be for everyone. Stegner seemed to be saying that the West is the only good place to live. I also felt some discord with his constant complaining about how we've dammed all the rivers for power and to divert water to where the people lived, and yet he is still encouraging people to live there. It just rankled me.
However, I did enjoy his essays about the Western writers, and added several books to my reading list. I suspect I will prefer his fiction. ( )
1 vote tloeffler | May 28, 2010 |
This is a book of 16 essays, divided into three sections--Personal, Habitat and Witnesses, that were originally published separately between 1972 and 1991.

Stegner was born in 1909 and, as stated in the Afterword to the Modern Library paperback edition I read, "he grew up poor in a rootless and spectacularly dysfunctional family." (p. 229) He describes his father as "a rainbow-chaser" who moved the family multiple times chasing various get-rich-quick schemes that never worked out. He revered his mother, a "nester" who "believed in all the beauties and strengths and human associations of place" and one of the best essays is a letter he wrote to her many years after her death describing what she meant to him. Besides his mother, his other great love is the wilderness of the American West.

The second section (Habitat) traces the development of the West and Stegner's concerns that the land is being ruined in the civilization process. The five essays in this section repeatedly hammer home the point that the lack of water in the West makes it a fragile environment that must be protected from the short-sighted actions of those who want to remake the country and the climate to fit their own desires. He is clearly not happy about all the dams that have been built to enable more and more people to settle in the West. In a later essay, Stegner admits that he's been fixated on the aridness of the West "ad nauseam" for 50 years and I have to say I often felt the same way about these essays. They seemed to belabor the point without offering much in the way of solutions except to limit the population of the West. That said he raises enormously important issues that I now know more about.

The last section (Witnesses) is about Western writers, most of whom Stegner thinks have been misunderstood or unappreciated by the big literary publishers in the East. Stegner writes about Steinbeck but also about George Stewart, Walter Clark, Norman Maclean and Wendell Berry. He writes beautifully about Norman Maclean and how the structure of "A River Runs Through It" is similar to "shadow casting", a type of fly-fishing. He also writes a wonderful letter to Wendell Berry, a former student, observing that "Everything you write subjects itself to its subject, grapples with the difficult and inexpressible, confronts mystery, conveys real and observed and felt life, and does so modestly and with grace." (p. 213) I can only imagine what it must have meant to Wendell Berry to receive this letter.

At one point, Stegner paraphrases something Robert Frost said about a story beginning in delight and ending in wisdom. At the risk of sounding corny, that's how I felt about this book. I loved the first section and while I probably would have put the book down (if not for a LT group read) after reading one too many essays on the perils of civilizing the West, I did learn alot and I'm glad I had a reason to finish it. The essays on the Western writers have lead to a desire to read some of the books mentioned which is always a good thing for me.

I'm giving this book 4 1/2 stars and would highly recommend it. It's probably best read slowly in order to savor it and not be overwhelmed by the direness of Stegner's environmental positions. ( )
1 vote phebj | May 25, 2010 |
These essays about the west and the people who write about it are as varied as the western geography. I was particularly taken by the ones that gave some of the author's personal history. The book's title is borrowed from the song, "The Big Rock Candy Mountains," which also describes the "arrogant pipedreams" that beckoned his father to a migratory life throughout the west.

Stegner grew up to be a man addicted to the landscape of plains, mountains, mesas, and canyons who was "offended by the color green." He passionately defended the fragility of a land that receives inadequate rainfall to support the people who want to recreate the lush atmosphere of more verdant regions.

In the final group of essays, Stegner lauds the writing of other writers shaped by western myths and mountain vistas. Personally, I'm more than satisfied with the late Mr. Stegner's magnificent writing, so I'll stick with him for my western fix. If you're not acquainted with this western icon, this book would be a good introduction to him and the land he loved. ( )
2 vote Donna828 | May 21, 2010 |
A collection of Stegner's writings on the American West ranging from his own personal experiences to essays on other western writers. Whether I agreed with him or not (often not in the Habitat section) he presents his subject beautifully. I enjoy his humor and appreciate his passion for the subject. I am a native of the American West and most of his essays resonate. I recognize where he is and what he is talking about. Haunted by Waters: Norman Maclean was my absolute favorite. I loved Stegner's description of shadow casting and how he related it to Maclean's method in A River Runs Through It. ( )
3 vote nittnut | May 19, 2010 |
“But if every American is several people, and one of them is or would like to be a placed person, another is the opposite, the displaced person, cousin not to Thoreau but to Daniel Boone, dreamer not of Walden Ponds but of far horizons, traveler not in Concord but in wild unsettled places, explorer not inward but outward.”

This beautiful book spans topics as vast, varied, and grand as the West itself. Western history, literature, landscape, and character are discussed in superb detail. Wallace summons images and meanings of the West in the heart of this Westerner that are now permanently a part of my own internal landscape. His ability to capture the spirit of what it means to be of and in the West is unparalleled. I loved every moment that I spent with this book and found it nearly perfect. ( )
2 vote kohsamui | Oct 12, 2008 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0375759328, Paperback)

Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs gathers together Wallace Stegner’s most important and memorable writings on the American West: its landscapes, diverse history, and shifting identity; its beauty, fragility, and power. With subjects ranging from the writer’s own “migrant childhood” to the need to protect what remains of the great western wilderness (which Stegner dubs “the geography of hope”) to poignant profiles of western writers such as John Steinbeck and Norman Maclean, this collection is a riveting testament to the power of place. At the same time it communicates vividly the sensibility and range of this most gifted of American writers, historians, and environmentalists.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:34:49 -0400)

(see all 3 descriptions)

"Nominated for a National Book Critics Circle award, Where the Bluebird Sings to the Lemonade Springs gathers together Wallace Stegner's most important and memorable writings on the American West: its landscapes, diverse history, and shifting identity: its beauty, fragility, and power. With subjects ranging from the writer's own "migrant childhood" to the need to protect what remains of the great western wilderness (which Stegner dubs "the geography of hope") to poignant profiles of western writers such as John Steinbeck and Norman Maclean, this collection is a riveting testament to the power of place. At the same time it communicates vividly the sensibility and range of this most gifted of American writers, historians, and environmentalists."--BOOK JACKET.… (more)

» see all 2 descriptions

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