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The Spectator Bird

really liked it 4.00  ·  Rating details ·  6,074 ratings  ·  724 reviews
This tour-de-force of American literature and a winner of the National Book Award is a profound, intimate, affecting novel from one of the most esteemed literary minds of the last century and a beloved chronicler of the West.

Joe Allston is a cantankerous, retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "just killing time until time gets around to killing me". His parents
Paperback, 214 pages
Published November 1st 1990 by Penguin (first published 1976)
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Gretchen Guzman It deals with some of the same issues: marriage, aging, change. I have to say that I enjoyed Crossing to Safety more. Not sure why. Both are excellent…moreIt deals with some of the same issues: marriage, aging, change. I have to say that I enjoyed Crossing to Safety more. Not sure why. Both are excellent.(less)
Andrew Queisser Just finished this book and loved it. Apparently he was a tennis player and I found this (

Stegner wanted to wr…more
Just finished this book and loved it. Apparently he was a tennis player and I found this (

Stegner wanted to write a story about crossing the Atlantic on the Stockholm. “I had to write that up and, having written it, I began to cobble on the basis of that. We did live in Denmark for six months so I had a notion of the country. I did run across the trail of a Danish nobleman, a great breeder of horses, who was thrown in jail for incest which struck me as a nice theme, and we did meet Karen Blixen. So I was pulled into the Gothic tale, by a succession of recollections that didn’t come all at once.”(less)

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Elyse  Walters
Feb 16, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I’m Back.....

My first comments below: (Update follows)....
I need some time to cry in peace.
My GOD......
F#cking..... Hell......
This book will never leave me!!!!
Paul and I read pages together.....
I’m soooo thankful I read this....
The timing was perfect!!!!

Wallace Stegner is MY NUMBER 1 favorite author —
Three for three....
“Angle of Repose” and “Crossing to Safety” ... and now
“The Spectacular Bird”.... are ALL TOP *EVER* favorite books!

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more thankful for a book in my l
Feb 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Patient observers
Recommended to Dolors by: Stephen P
Shelves: read-in-2018
When do we cease to be actors in our lives to become mere spectators?
Do we really get a chance to decide who we are, what we do, where we go and with whom we share all these choices as we grope in the darkness of time?

Joe Allston, a retired literary agent, is seventy years old… and has turned into an adorable curmudgeon. With no ancestors or descendants, a tragedy involving his only son still weighting on his shoulders, and his wife Ruth as remaining companion, Joe ponders about the paths he’s
Sometime in the mid-80’s, I read Wallace Stegner’s All the Little Live Things, which was published in 1967 and set in that decade. Despite being an admirer of his work, I wasn’t impressed. I found his main character, Joe Allston, a retired literary agent pushing sixty and living with his wife in the hills near Palo Alto, California, to be tiresome. How would I describe Joe? How about crabby, curmudgeonly, crotchety, bitter, brooding, acerbic, opinionated, argumentative? Yes, any one of those wil ...more
Dec 01, 2016 rated it really liked it
Ever notice how, on rare occasions, certain writers really stand out for their ability to capture the subtle and complex ways of folks? It’s usually a reason to celebrate since these insights are there for us to imbibe. But it may be a source of distress if what’s revealed is a difficult truth. For me, Wallace Stegner is that sort of author, and this book is one I celebra-hate. Actually, hate is too strong a word, even when it’s combined with a good thing. I should say I felt twinges of disappoi ...more
Feb 08, 2020 rated it really liked it
Shelves: public-library
Joe Allston, a 69 year old retired literary agent, has immersed himself in a self-imposed old age state of mind.  Life lessons have soured Joe.  Dissatisfied with his life and the things he hasn't accomplished, the chip on his shoulder is approaching the size of Mount Rushmore.  He feels his body winding down, "sees" that he is becoming invisible to younger people.  A waylaid postcard from an old friend arrives, and spurs him to reread a journal that he kept from many years ago.  Ah, the sympath ...more
Oct 17, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Am I allowed to declare my undying love for Stegner's writing after only reading two of his books? Is it presumptuous, hasty? I do not care. I love his writing!

The Spectator Bird is narrated by Joe Alston, a depressed, morose, seventy-year-old, retired literary agent. He lives with his devoted wife, Ruth, in Northern California. Their life is quiet and he seems to be happier with just staying home reading rather than socialising.

There's a more exciting, distracting episode relating to the coupl
Feb 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: u-s-lit, stegner
An observant soul, that spectator bird.

Joe Allston is a literary agent, perhaps polishing brighter stars. If he was in Denmark, one or more poets might call him “an attendant lord.” So it is not just chance that takes Allston in fact to Denmark. Well, it’s a postcard actually, a postcard that arrives now that Allston is retired. The postcard is from a countess he once knew in Denmark and it gets him to rummage through his boxed memories for a journal he kept of those days. His wife, Ruth, who w
Diane Barnes
Dec 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
"The truest vision of life I know is that bird in the Venerable Bede that flutters from the dark into a lighted hall, and after a while flutters out again into the dark. But Ruth is right. It is something--it can be everything--to have found a fellow bird with whom you can sit among the rafters while the drinking and boasting and reciting and fighting go on below; a fellow bird whom you can look after and find bugs and seeds for; one who will patch your bruises and straighten your ruffled feathe ...more
May 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed every minute I spent with this book. Every line spoke to me. The lines had me alternately thinking or smiling.

I share a lot with the central character of the novel. I believe this is why I relate to the book as much as I do. The book is about Joe Allston, actually not just about him, but about his wife (Ruth) too, about the couple as a pair, about their relationship and their respective attitudes. The year is 1974. He is sixty-nine years old and very much aware of the fact that he is a
The Spectator Bird is a beautifully written novel. What I loved most was Stegner's thoughtful, profound portrayal of a mature, complicated, loving relationship between a married couple. To steal from The Troggs, Wallace Stegner, you make my heart sing! ...more
Mar 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
I wonder what I would have made of this book and Joe Allston if my younger self had read it when it was initially published. I wonder if I could have understood exactly where Joe was in life and how inescapable looking back is from that vantage point, or how poignant. Joe is 70 years old and looking old age squarely in the face. He hasn’t lost it yet, but he sees it deteriorating and he watches his friends, sometimes his age or a little older, faring worse than he does or dying. It makes him cro ...more
J.K. Grice
Nov 24, 2020 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
My introduction to Wallace Stegner was his incredibly fine American novel, THE SPECTATOR BIRD. It's the tale of retired New York literary agent Joe Allston, who in 1976 has moved to northern California with his wife Ruth. It is a story of the couple's past and present, and a story of Joe's ruminations on mortality, history, identity, and regret; all infused with bits of his biting humor. His literary references to life situations are wonderful, and I admit, while I did not understand the sources ...more
Sep 21, 2013 rated it really liked it
I had wanted to read another novel by Wallace Stegner since “Crossing to Safety”. “The Spectator Bird” lived up to expectations and not because it won the US National Book Award for Fiction in 1977. Even though it was written almost forty years ago, the relevance of the issues it dealt with shone through the pages with contemplative resonance.

Set mostly in Denmark, “The Spectator Bird” centered on Joe Allston, a 69-year-old retired literary agent, his wife (Ruth), and their summer friendship wit
Blaine DeSantis
Jul 30, 2017 rated it really liked it
I have had a bunch of Wallace Stegner's works in my library for a few years but never got around to choosing one. So, about a week ago I walked over to the library and this book sort of jumped out at me. And so at age 63, an age I think is appropriate for reading this book, I settled in for what was a very worthwhile and thought-provoking week of reading.
The man writes beautifully and this book touches on things that I think cannot be appreciated until one hits these Golden Years of life. We ha
Cathrine ☯️
3.75 ★ Rated Ɱ for mature reader
“He says that when asked if he feels like an old man he replies that he does not, he feels like a young man with something the matter with him.”

Exploring the road not taken, the what ifs that rob us of happiness and contentment by fertilizing regret.
Written 9 years after All the Little Live Things, Joe Alston is now 70 and pondering the indignities of aging, loss, and choices made earlier in life that determined which directions he went.
A postcard brings back me
Mar 17, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Joe Allston, a retired literary agent, is an observer: of his past, of the current society, of life in general. He is troubled by the death of his son and the tense relationship they had had. His body is showing signs of age and so are the morals and norms he values. He has regrets, guilt, and pain, both physical and mental. Yet, he is engaging, intelligent, and known to be humorous. He and his wife have a loving, caring, and enviable relationship. Is he a curmudgeon, a grump. just an old crab? ...more
Apr 30, 2013 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction, 2015
Sartre wrote: We are our choices.

At a time of the year when many people of varying ages take stock, Stegner’s story of ageing Joe Allston was especially poignant. Whatever your age, we’ve all had those pivotal moments in life when we chose one fork in the road over the other, and go on to either live with regret, or relief. Even those who feel they’ve lived uneventful lives have, at some point, actively made decisions that altered everything forever.

I sometimes get the feeling my whole life
Jim Fonseca
Oct 06, 2013 rated it really liked it
They say that as we approach old age, some look back with satisfaction and contentment about the life path they followed, and some reflect with regret and guilt, and, in hindsight, wish they had followed other paths to supposedly greener pastures. Approaching 70, our narrator is squarely in the latter category. Despite his and his wife's relatively good health, an accomplished career as a literary agent, and a suburban villa an hour from San Francisco, he is filled with guilt for driving away hi ...more
Lynne King
Jun 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book from page 1 to the end. Joe Alston, a nearly seventy-year old is one of these miserable and depressing individuals who nevertheless brings joy to one. He's a pretty astute guy but very aware of his own mortality. He's also one of those honourable men whom I always find so very endearing and his wife Ruth of forty years or so understands him very well indeed.

But it was the journals that had me entranced with this book and the fact that he read them to Ruth. To travel
Betsy Robinson
Sep 23, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
This is my third Stegner book, and I now love the man. I first met his protagonist Joe Allston in All the Little Live Things, the follow-up to this book, which ended in an earthquake. The Spectator Bird is much quieter but just as good a literary meal.

I finished this book just after attending my 50th high school reunion, and I could not have been better prepared to understand what Stegner grappled with and came to peace about in this National Book Award-winning novel. I came away from my reunion
Dec 28, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Another deeply satisfying book by Wallace Stegner, with themes reminiscent of Crossing to Safety and Angle of Repose: mortality, the labyrinth of marriage, the mind game that is aging and physical disability, the search for self.

I wonder if to be known to one’s self, to make transparent to ourselves the good and bad that is resident in each of us, is the “safe place” Stegner alludes to so often. Perhaps the safe place is not a physical pilgrimage after all: not returning to our origins, not Bre
3.5 stars.

Retired literary agent Joe Allston and his wife Ruth are a couple I can imagine inviting over for dinner. They’re unpretentious. They’re not that much older than my husband and me and, like us, have managed to keep a multi-decades long marriage together. They’ve been through the worst kind of hell imaginable - losing their only child - and are still best friends. They value a quiet, predictable life filled with books, walks, and a few close friends. We could all four comfortably share
Apr 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing
The Spectator Bird is a short novel by Wallace Stegner that won the National Book Award in 1977.

A profound novel with a much simpler story than Angle of Repose. There are only four characters of any importance in The Spectator Bird and one could make a case that only three are essential.

Ruminating about Joe’s past love interest and his reflections on old age are the essential elements in this story. There is a mystery connected to Joe and Astral’s relationship that is not resolved until the end
TBV (on semi-hiatus)
In the earlier novel, All the Little Live Things, Joe Allston had retired from being a literary agent and settled down with his wife Ruth in a country home in California.

This novel takes place when Joe is 69 years old, and to his dismay much has changed around him. He is working on various notes when he finds an old postcard which prompts him to locate a diary from years before when he and Ruth had visited Denmark. Ruth insists that Joe read out aloud so that she might share the memories, and in
Joy D
Introspective novel about long-term marriage and aging. Protagonist Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who feels he has allowed circumstance, coincidence, and opportunism to govern his life. He and his wife Ruth have retired to Palo Alto, California. As he approaches 70, he looks back on his passive life with regret and bitterness. A postcard from an old acquaintance leads Joe to locate the journal he kept when the couple traveled to Denmark twenty years before, after the tragic death of th ...more
May 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would read a dictionary if had been written by Wallace Stegner.
This particular one will have the most appeal I think to those of us 60+, since it’s the story of Joe Allston a retired literary agent who shares many of his symptoms of aging in the tale. Joe and his wife Rose are near 70 when they get a postcard from an old friend which has them rereading journals and reminiscing about a journey they both made to Denmark much earlier . It was an adventurous journey and reading the journals even
Dale Harcombe
Dec 10, 2018 rated it it was ok
Joe Allston is 69, a retired literary agent. He lives with his wife Ruth. Their son died years earlier and Joe still harbours a lot of Bitterness about the hand life has dealt him. He seems to be cutting himself of from friends and becoming more and more grumpy and solitary. He feels his life has been lived as a spectator. When he receives a postcard from a woman he and Ruth knew years before it sends him searching for the journals he wrote during his time in Denmark. It was during this time tha ...more
Opening: On a February morning, when a weather front is moving in off the Pacific but has not quite arrived, and the winds are changeable and gusty and clouds drive over and an occasional flurry of fine rain darkens the terrace bricks, this place conforms to none of the clichés about California with which they advertise the Sunshine Cities for the Sunset Years.

Page 6 - So far as I can see, it is bad enough sitting around watching yourself wear out, without putting your only mortal part premature
Nov 30, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: read-2017
"Most things break, including hearts. The lessons of life amount not to wisdom, but to scar tissue and callus."

I'm not going to waffle on about this one - *cue cheers at the back* - because I'm rather ill at the moment and not in any kind of mood to write an exhaustive - and probably exhausting - review.

However, what I will say is that Wallace Stegner is rapidly becoming one of my favourite authors - and I can say that with confidence after reading just two of his books. Crossing to Safety was
Octavio Solis
Aug 02, 2016 rated it it was amazing
A beautiful novel by a master of the form. As we get older and more settled, we find the past calling for its reckoning, and in this novel Stegner takes his protagonist on a reckoning from present-day (1970's) Northern California to post-war Denmark through the journals he kept stashed away among his relics. Stegner is a writer's writer who paints the most evocative and striking scenes with his finely honed descriptive eye, while also maintaining characters of sharp wit and intelligence who have ...more
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Play Book Tag: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner - 4 stars 3 22 Nov 14, 2018 08:31AM  
All About Books: The Spectator Bird by Wallace Stegner (Gill & Jenny) 46 32 Dec 28, 2014 12:24AM  
Stegner - a brilliant writer 5 25 Feb 15, 2014 10:40AM  

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Wallace Earle Stegner was an American historian, novelist, short story writer, and environmentalist. Some call him "The Dean of Western Writers." He won the Pulitzer Prize in 1972 and the U.S. National Book Award in 1977. ...more

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