Where the bluebird sings to the lemonade springs : living and writing in the West

by Wallace Earle Stegner

Hardcover, 1992

Status

Available

Publication

New York : Random House, 1992.

Description

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.… (more)

User reviews

LibraryThing member nittnut
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.… (more)
LibraryThing member Arctic-Stranger
If Wallace Stegner had never published a book, we would still lionize him as the father of modern American Western Lit, for his work at Stanford's creative writing program, which produced such greats a Thomas McGuane, Larry McMurtry, and Wendell Berry, to name just a few. But he did write two Great Novels, as well as incredibly thoughtful and articulate essays. Here is a collection of his essays, which range from Outdoor writing, to his reflections on modern literature. If you like Wendell Berry, this book is a great chance to hear from the man who helped Wendell get his chops. This is a great book for times when you read in bits and pieces. The essays are non-related, and you can jump around and pick and chose as you enjoy them.

I highly recommend this book for anyone who enjoys the art of a good essay, outdoor writing, or literary reflections. There is also a bit of autobiography here.
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LibraryThing member kohsamui
“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.… (more)
LibraryThing member nemoman
This is a beautifully written collection of essays that contain Stegners reflections on his craft, other writers and a landscape that he and I both love. Stegner is the Dean of Western American literature and mentored numerous other famous writers through the creative writing program at Stanford. He is above all a man of consummate integrity with a love of nature that shines through in his writing. I keep a copy of this book in my place in the Eastern Sierra and continually dip into it.… (more)
LibraryThing member phebj
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.
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LibraryThing member tloeffler
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.
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