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

by Wallace Earle Stegner

Hardcover, 1992




New York : Random House, 1992.


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 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
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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,
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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
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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
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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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LibraryThing member b.masonjudy
Stegner's collection of essays on writing in the West, living in the West, writing about other writers writing in the West, and growing up in the West is cohesive and absorbing collection if you're interested in, you guessed it, the West. For the most part, the overlap and repetition is justified,
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but if you're looking for some standout pieces I'd recommend: "Striking the Rock" (on man's relationship to the land and the dominance of the hydraulic society); "Variations on a Theme By Crèvecoeur" (on the culture and an attitudes of the West, particularly, the difficulty in solidifying a distinct western culture); "The Sense of Place" (on man's relationship to the land, and the power of names); and "The Law of Nature and the Dream of Man" (on writing fiction).
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LibraryThing member bell7
This collection of essays brings together sixteen essays, primarily published in the 1980s and 1990s, on Stegner's reflections of "living and writing in the West" as the subtitle expresses it. The first grouping includes personal reflections on Stegner's life growing up, the second reflect on the
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West as (an arid) place, and the third focuses on authors of the West and Stegner's take on their writing.

My reading of this collection suffered primarily from the fact that the only other book I have read by Wallace Stegner is Crossing to Safety, which was mentioned in some detail in the final essay and consequently is the one I liked the most. However, that's not to say that someone else couldn't get a lot out of it. I recommend reading Big Rock Candy Mountain in particular first, because it's mentioned often and in some ways is autobiographical. I also had a hard time with his essays on conservation, because I wondered to myself what had happened in the 30-odd years since he'd written, and had no personal memory of, say, water issues in the West in the 1980s. And finally, I had read very little of the books written about the west or by authors he admired, though that by far was my favorite section because I enjoy seeing what makes other readers tick. His essay written as a letter to Wendell Berry was fascinating, and made me want to track down some of Berry's fiction. Don't be discouraged from reading this collection by my lukewarm reaction. There's a lot to like, from his turns of phrase to his honesty of reflection on his own growing up, the West he loves so much, and the authors he admires. I think it would work best for readers familiar with much of his fiction already, and those somewhat conversant in the authors he discusses.
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