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message 1: by Alias Reader (last edited Sep 24, 2010 07:18AM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Our October 2010 Group Read.


Book: The Spectator Bird by Wallace StegnerThe Spectator Bird

Author: Wallace Stegner
Wallace Stegner (1909-1993) published more than two dozen works throughout his life, including Angle of Repose, which was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. An early environmentalist, Stegner was instrumental-with his now famous "Wilderness Letter"-in the passage of the 1964 Wilderness Act.


When: The discussion will begin October 1, 2010

Where: Right here in this thread.

Spoiler Etiquette: Please put a spoiler warnings at the top of your posts when giving away a plot element or when replying to a post that gives away a major plot element.

There are 5 parts. Please put the Part # at the top of your post.

Book Details:
Paperback: 224 pages
Publisher: Penguin Classics (July 27, 2010)

synopsis: contains possible spoilers
Amazon Product Description
Joe Allston is a retired literary agent who is, in his own words, "just killing time until time gets around to killing me." His parents and his only son are long dead, leaving him with neither ancestors nor descendants, tradition nor ties. His job, trafficking the talent of others, had not been his choice. He passes through life as a spectator.

A postcard from a friend causes Allston to return to the journals of a trip he had taken years before, a journey to his mother's birth­place where he'd sought a link with the past. The memories of that trip, both grotesque and poignant, move through layers of time and meaning, and reveal that Joe Allston isn't quite spectator enough

Amazon Link:

http://www.amazon.com/Spectator-Bird-...


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) One of the pleasures of this book for me was meeting the author Karen Blixen, aka Isak Dineson. I read Out of Africa years ago and fell in love. This web site tells about her personal and literary life:

http://www.karenblixen.com/

Apart from the fact that Blixen lived in Denmark, do you think there is any other reason Stegner might have chosen to include her in this particular story?


message 3: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Sherry:
Apart from the fact that Blixen lived in Denmark, do you think there is any other reason Stegner might have chosen to include her in this particular story?
---------------

I thought it quite odd. Maybe they were friends? John Irving mentioned other authors in Last Night In Twisted River. However, that was just a mention, not an actual scene as in this book.


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) I should never ask questions about which I have an opinion about the answer. I think that many people know about Blixen's fascination with the gothic and strange, and also know about her famous extramarital love affair while she lived in Africa. Certainly she would sympathize with anyone whose affairs of the heart led them away from a spouse, even if it was what people these days call only an "emotional affair." But also, I imagine the notions of the eccentricity of the rich is introduced by our meeting her. Perhaps eccentricity isn't a strong enough word to describe the subplot involving incest amongst the elite.

Seven Gothic Tales
Out of Africa


message 5: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments Not too far in the book (p. 43). Enjoying book so far. Yes, the narrator is whiny and cranky and I would certainly see that as a 'put-off' for many. But, unfortunately, I can relate to the narrator. He is 70 and focuses too much on his degrading health. I am mid-40s and I do the same.

I especially was 'amused' by the reference to a friend (of the narrator) off in Iraq helping the Iraqis put down the Kurds (the time of the book is 1974 I believe). Alliances sure have changed. That is a nice way to put it.


message 6: by kate/Edukate12 (new)

kate/Edukate12 | 183 comments I'm going to start the book this weekend and i hope to get here often enough to participate.

kate


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) Sure the narrator is crank and whiny, but his wife is a sort of counter-balance to him.

I love it that she gets him to read the journal aloud. It's really a very intimate act, and I'm not sure that many men - or women - would agree to it.


message 8: by J (new)

J (blkdoggy) | 131 comments Mad Dog wrote: "Not too far in the book (p. 43). Enjoying book so far. Yes, the narrator is whiny and cranky and I would certainly see that as a 'put-off' for many. But, unfortunately, I can relate to the narrator..."

I also can relate to Joe, he is very much like my mother and something I am trying not to be : ) . I too am a bit of a grump. I love his avoidance to go see the shut-ins calling them 'dim ,enfeebled tottering dead' something I guess he does not want to see since he knows he's headed in that direction himself.


message 9: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Sherry (sethurner) wrote: "I should never ask questions about which I have an opinion about the answer. I think that many people know about Blixen's fascination with the gothic and strange, and also know about her famous ext..."
-----------------

Well, I am glad you did ask. I didn't make that connection and you helped me to understand why she might have been included in the book.


message 10: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments This book has been even more interesting to me in that I just read "The Remains of the Day". Remains and this book are both similar in that they are first-person narrations where the narrator is reflecting back on his life (with the focus on the failures of his life). But where the Remains narrator is very 'restrained', 'dignified', and somewhat in denial, this Bird narrator is candid and self-effacing. While reading Remains, I was thinking that it would be interesting to read this type of book where the author is more candid and open. Voila! Along comes The Spectator Bird. I loved Remains and I am liking this book so far. But my 'early returns' would go with Remains as the more impactful, moving, and entertaining book. Score one for 'dignity' and 'restraint'.


message 11: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I can't seem to find any discussion questions for the book. :( They sometimes help in starting a discussion.

If anyone has discussion questions that they can think of and that they would like to throw out there, please do ! My copy was a library book and I've already return it, so I am not going to be much help.


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) I wondered if you thought that by the end the narrator would be a little less angry and sarcastic, considering what he and his wife were able to hash out over the course of reading the old journal aloud. Did revisiting the events set in Denmark, and also talking about his son who died help him?

Would you ever consent to reading an old journal to a spouse? I am thinking that I might not.


message 13: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 04, 2010 01:53PM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Sherry, I think I would have enjoyed the story more if the author persued the son's suicide more. The whole Denmark story didn't grab me. It seemed contrived and at times I forgot who was who.

I liked the concept of the journal reading and having the book run on two tracks like it did. It was just that the journal story didn't click for me. I would have liked it if the journal story was connected to their son.

As to reading the journal. I don't know. I would think it would just hurt the other person if it was, as in this case, an infidelity.

BIG BOOK SPOILER TO FOLLOW
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I thought the infidelity was pretty tame. A kiss? It didn't energize the story for me. It was almost on the Jimmy Carter I lusted in my heart, sort of level.

As to not seeing any change in the narrator's demeanor, I think that might also be a problem. There wasn't a big change. If the narrator doesn't really grow/change....well where is the arc in the the main character's story line? He was sort of the same, from start to finish. The wife really, too.

What did you think ?


message 14: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 04, 2010 01:56PM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Commentary on entire book to follow that means
SPOILERS !!!



In Susan Wise Bauer's book on reading she gave some questions to keep in mind while reading. Of course, not all book warrant such introspection and not all questions apply to all novels. I think SB is a literary novel that can stand such scrutiny.

Title- what does it mean?-
the main character felt he was a spectator in life. I would have titled it The Spectator. Why he added bird, I'm not so sure.

~ What title would you give the book?

I am not even sure if he was just a spectator in life. He may be depressed now, but I don't think that is the same thing. He seems to have done a lot in his life. Married, children and an interesting job.

~What does the writer want me to believe?
Again, I'm not sure. Is he saying follow your heart? If so, would he really have been happier with the other person than his wife. I didn't really see any evidence of that. Don't be an agent, be the talent? It's a nice thought, but not very practical. Not everyone can be the Talent. If it was otherwise, it wouldn't be as special as it is.

When you evaluate a novel, Bauer says to ask:
Am I persuaded? Am I transported? Do I see, feel, hear this other world? Can I sympathize with the people who live there? Do I understand their wants and desires and problems? Or am I left unmoved?

For most of these question, I would answer, no. I certainly didn't feel transported, like when you fall into a novel and forget all time and place. I was always aware I was reading. It's hard to explain that feeling. That click. When you move over to the other side. Whatever you call it, it didn't happen for me with this book.

I did sympathize a bit with the main characters unhappiness in growing old and facing his own mortality. That's not an easy or pleasant thing to do. It also no fun when you start to feel your body betray you. But did I gain any insight into this topic from reading SB. I have to say no.

The rest of the story I also didn't connect to. The whole Denmark part of the book. I didn't feel that part of the story. I guess I was a bit unmoved. Perhaps if the son's story was part of some "secret" and not the Denmark thing, I would have been into it more. I also would have liked it more if the genetic angle was played up a bit more. I've read books that told the eugenics story and I really found that quite interesting.Even the little bit that Jodi Picoult had in one of her books, I think Second Glance, is the title, moved me more. In fact, it made me want to research the whole topic on the internet. I didn't know about the whole eugenics movement in the U.S. so I also learned a lot. Which is also a big plus for me when I read a book. I like to come away with more than I started. I want to feel I've changed in some way from reading a book.

In this story, I was of course shocked by what took place, but I felt it need way more explaining.

I'll take up more questions in another post.


message 15: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Commentary on whole book to follow- That means SPOILERS



~What does the central character ( or characters ) want? What is standing in his or her way? And what strategy does he or she pursue in order to overcome this block?

What is the central question of the novel?
I'm not sure. Is it don't be a spectator in life? Is it why the son killed himself? This isn't explored at all so that can't be it. Is it his marriage to his wife? Is it the love that got away?

~What is blocking the characters from the goal?
Family secrets. Maybe lack of communication between the married couple. They use the journal to overcome that. I guess it is successful to a degree. Though not completely as I don't see a change in either the wife or husband. Though the family Denmark secrets are out now. Though what that really accomplishes I couldn't say.

~Is the novel an accurate portrayal of life?
I would say yes. People have a hard time facing their mortality. They also have a hard time communicating. Sometimes it is hardest to communicate with those closest to you. The Denmark angle is weird, but so is life.

~Do yo sympathize with the characters?

To a limited degree. I sympathize with the getting older part. I think the adultery part was way overblown. I felt the husband had a case of not counting his blessing for having a loving wife and a good life. And perhaps thinking the grass is always greener on the other side.

~ Did the writers time affect him ?

I think so. Stegner is an older man. Maybe I can't relate so much. His morals and the world view probably are different than mine.

~ What exactly is the author trying to tell you? Do you agree with the author?

I don't really know if the author had a moral or a point to this story. If so, I didn't get the message.


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) Well darn, I'm leaving again tomorrow for a couple days, and we're just getting going.

I'm not sure I think the son's suicide is the biggest thing contributing to the narrator's general dissatisfaction with life. It's part of it, certainly, but I wasn't that curious to explore that part of the past.

To me the central issue is the relationship between the narrator and his wife, her essential openness and desire to communicate, and his essential tendency to keep things to himself, or to cloak everything in sarcasm. I think his uneasiness with changing culture has to do with that openness. He keeps saying that modern books are awful because they are full of sex, which may be true, but it shows his reluctance to talk about the subject. I'm going to have to go dig, but there was something at the end that suggested that the reading of the journal did bring the husband and wife closer together.


message 17: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I guess he was working it out when he went walking in the driveway in the cold night. I really no longer recall what was said after that.

Maybe someone who is still reading it, can remind me when they get to that point.


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) Do you really consider the attraction Joe Alston had for the Countess is adultery? I sure don't.


message 19: by J (new)

J (blkdoggy) | 131 comments *******WARNING -SPOILERS AHEAD********

Title- what does it mean?-

I agree with Alias, Joe felt he was a spectator in his life, just walked around looking but never really participating. Maybe bird in the title was that like a bird he fluttered from tree to tree looking from different views, hidden in the branches never really participating in anything.

What title would you give the book ?

??? Just The Spectator seems to apply.

What does the writer want me to beleive ?

To get involved in life, to do something not to wait around till you're older to regret that you did not do anything in life. Joe feels that he did not do enough for his son, maybe if her would have been a little more involved his son might have turned out different, or maybe would have changed. Joe laments on how he could br more like the Dr, have his spirit his way of looking at life.

When you evaluate a novel, Bauer says to ask:
Am I persuaded? Am I transported? Do I see, feel, hear this other world? Can I sympathize with the people who live there? Do I understand their wants and desires and problems? Or am I left unmoved?

As I mentioned earlier there I related with the main character since I see some of my mother in him. Just going around life being grumpy, lamenting what has happened but never really doing anything about it. Taking the path as if you have no control over your life (to an extent). In addition I am an only child and growing up I hung around a lot with my grandfather and his friends, so some of the characters in a way reminded me a little of my childhood. I sympathize with Joe in the sense that we are all getting older and it is sometimes frustrating as you note the physical differences from being young. I now have to take medication for blood pressure, cholesterol have some aches and pains : )
I feel Joe wants to be a bit different but either he thinks he does not know how to go about it or he feels to old to make any changes.

I felt the Joe and Ruths reaction for what happened in Denmark a little light, or maybe it was that the author did not get into it much as far as the characters of Astrid and her Eigel. Astrid seems to be the only one that was really ashamed, the others sort of looked away but never really showed any emotion to it. The son like the father felt nothing wrong with it, taking more of a scientific view tossing aside any moral issues.


What is the central question of the novel?

I also feel it was not to be a spectator, to become involved. The Dr is a great example, he has a pacemaker and hip surgery yet he still has an active life, drives around in a convertible. Yes, age will slow you down but don't let it completely stop you. There is a syaing that some people die at 30 but are not buried till 60.

What is blocking the characters from the goal?

I think they are blocking themselves, not making an effort although small to start making a change. Not letting go of the past, being able to realize that it was not their fault ( Son's death) sometimes things just happen.

~Is the novel an accurate portrayal of life?

I would say yes. People start looking back at their life when they are older. They start fearing the future or specifically where they are headed. : ) Sometimes the hardest person to communicate with is the one right next to you.

~ Did the writers time affect him ?

I beleive that maybe these were issues that either Stegner himself was going through or maybe he knew of someone a friend possibly that was going through issues at getting older.

I did think the kiss incident was a little overblown. To me it was more that Joe was getting intersted in Astrid and that with time something might have happened between them. To an extent I think he also wanted to protect Astrid, take her away from her suffering, maybe being able to make a diffeence in her life, something he feels he was not able to do with his Son. Just a thought.

Forgive me for what I feel are my somewhat limited expression in my writings. I read all your posts and somewhat feel intimidated. Have not done this in quite a while and I was rusty to being with. :D


message 20: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Jorge:
To an extent I think he also wanted to protect
Astrid, take her away from her suffering, maybe being able to make a diffeence in her life, something he feels he was not able to do with his Son. Just a thought.
-------------------

Interesting. I didn't think of that. Though the author didn't really explore the son's suicide, so how can the reader know what happened. It didn't seem to affect the mother that way. I would think this would be a major event in their lives. To bring it up, and then not explore it further was a mistake by the author, imo.
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Forgive me for what I feel are my somewhat limited expression in my writings. I read all your posts and somewhat feel intimidated. Have not done this in quite a while and I was rusty to being with. :D
-----------------------

I hope you're kidding. Your post was terrific !


message 21: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Sherry (sethurner) wrote: "Do you really consider the attraction Joe Alston had for the Countess is adultery? I sure don't."
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I don't. But he sure did. And the author seemed to make a big deal out of it.


message 22: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I am not yet finished (2/3 through the book). On p. 91 of my edition(which is the end of part 2), the narrator states that the Denmark 'adventure' was not all that important (I am paraphrasing his words) to him, but a "queer little adventure". Let me play 'face value critic'. Why are we reading about it then?? Of course, the narrator may be in denial about the trip's importance. But so far the Denmark story seems inconsequential compared to the narrator's relationship with his son. Why aren't we reading father-son anecdotes?? I guess I'll learn more as I read. But I am so far in agreement with the narrator's assertion that the Denmark trip is 'not so important'. I am also seeing some 'scattershot' opining (by the narrator) on young people and suburbs that is not only 'off topic' (as far as I can deduce) but not that interesting or ground-breaking (IMO).


message 23: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I noticed that my last post was kind of variation of Alias Reader's post #13. I agree with her sentiment of the "journal reading and having the book run on two tracks". This variation of 'story within a story' is a real cool idea. But I agree that the Denmark story seems contrived. And I have not done much journalling, but my journalling has been much more raw and less 'narrative'. As to Sherry's question about reading your journal to your spouse: NO, I would not read my journal to my wife! Some things are truly better left unsaid.


message 24: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I agree with Jorge and Alias Reader that the author wants us to believe that we should become more 'involved'. I am rooting for my Hollywood Ending that the narrator will find some 'insight' and become more 'positive' and 'involved'. But I 'fear' that the ending will be 'more muddled than that' and the novel's 'message' will end up being pretty muddled.


message 25: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 100 comments WHOLE BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD

I disagree with several people here who seem to think Joe wishes he'd gone for it with Astrid. I felt it was just the opposite. He was attracted, but he really is happy he stayed with Ruth. At the end he talks about comparing himself to some kind of bird, where you have a mate who cares if you get bruised, helps you find worms, etc. He values the nest he and Ruth have made with each other. He makes it clear she means more to him than the attraction Astrid held for him. He said he'd gone for years at a time without thinking of Astrid, but he couldn't have done the same about Ruth if he'd made the other choice.

I thought it was a realistic look at the basic nature of a life-long relationship. It has its irritations and it has its joys. It has a lot of predictability. Life has its temptations, but when we look back at the choices we've made, we often are glad for the ones we made to stick to the more realistic ones. Joe was glad with his choice.

Spectator, yes in a sense. But he chose not to follow the path of the current values he grumbles about. He chooses the moral path, and he is more satisfied with that.


message 26: by J (new)

J (blkdoggy) | 131 comments Alias Reader wrote: "Jorge:
To an extent I think he also wanted to protect
Astrid, take her away from her suffering, maybe being able to make a difference in her life, something he feels he was not able to do with his ..."


Thanks!! I guess everyone has their insecurities. : D


message 27: by Mad Dog (last edited Oct 07, 2010 01:36AM) (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments Finished the book. Spoilers below.

It is good for me to get out of the narrator's 'claustrophobic' dreary world. I think that the upbeat turn at the ending was 'unearned'. After all the gloom and doom, it seemed like the author felt like he needed to suddenly 'turn it up' a bit (to end the book). But the narrator's final upbeat analogy (about marriage) about the bird and the nest totally escapes me - this analogy does not strike me as profound or 'earned'. And the narrator displayed no PERSONAL affection or love for his wife. He summarized her as a good and practical 'nest mate'. Pity the wife/spouse that gets summarized like that.


message 28: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I didn't really like this book, but I will say that I am glad that I read it. I consider the protagonist/narrator to be selfish and immature (i.e the star of his own motion picture with all others playing bit roles). But this book did hit home a little bit for me. It has provided me some strong motivation of what to avoid. By making the narrator irritating and self-seeking, the author provided a good 'opposite example' for me. 'Opposite examples' can be pretty powerful motivators.


message 29: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I am so glad you read the book with us, Mad Dog.
I enjoy reading your comments and insights.


message 30: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments Libyrinths wrote: "WHOLE BOOK SPOILERS AHEAD


I disagree with several people here who seem to think Joe wishes he'd gone for it with Astrid.

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I don't know what I think Joe wished. For the whole book he seemed to wish he'd taken that other fork in the road. Then at the end he seemed "content" with his choice.

I guess to a degree reading the journal helped him make peace with that. Though he had no such insights while writing the journal.

What did you make of the whole Denmark/genetics part of the book, Sharon /Libyrinths? Did you think the author should have run with the son part of the story or were you happy with the searching for his mom's story in Denmark angle?


message 31: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 100 comments SPOILERS AHEAD...

Alias says: I don't know what I think Joe wished. For the whole book he seemed to wish he'd taken that other fork in the road. Then at the end he seemed "content" with his choice.

I think part of him wished he'd been a bit more than a spectator, but when he compared that to what not being a spectator meant, he was happy with his choice. He seemed to wish he'd written a novel rather than being just an agent, but then notes that what sells is stuff he doesn't want to read much less be the author of. And we've talked about the choice in Denmark. So, I think you're right that part of him wished not to feel so much a spectator, but he wasn't willing to make the choices he saw in order to do so.

Alias says: What did you make of the whole Denmark/genetics part of the book, Sharon /Libyrinths? Did you think the author should have run with the son part of the story or were you happy with the searching for his mom's story in Denmark angle?

I had the feeling he was trying to do a "gothic" tale there a la some of Blixen's stories, and thus why Blixen as a character. I felt the son's story was in the past, and I wasn't looking for anything about him. What was in the present was the ongoing guilt and questioning and grief over the son's death. I felt he did as much with the son's story as was possible.

I did feel the search for his mother's story was connected to all that. Several times early on, he talked about people looking to the past for a place of safety. I felt he wanted some kind of comfort for his grief and guilt. This was, of course, psychological safety he was seeking. Some idyllic notion of the "old country" and the past, and times when things were less complex or demanding, when life was simpler, more understandable, more clear morally. Of course, that only exists in our imaginations, not in reality. The past he searched for turned out to be anything but safe and simple and moral. I objected to the specific turn it took with all the genetics stuff. I didn't really want to read all that bizarre stuff, frankly. But it was certainly "gothic", LOL!

Sharon


message 32: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 100 comments Mad Dog says: And the narrator displayed no PERSONAL affection or love for his wife. He summarized her as a good and practical 'nest mate'. Pity the wife/spouse that gets summarized like that.


I thought his caring for her was subtly presented. Even at 70 I might want more, but I also think that a lot of what we might expect at 30 or 40 is simply quietly understood by the other at 70 and doesn't need large demonstrations and professions. I thought it was a reasonably realistic way of looking at a relationship of that duration.


message 33: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I agree with Libyrinths (in message 31) that the author(Stegner) was exploring the theme of 'new world vs. old world', 'possibility vs. safety', etc. And I think Libyrinth's insight is good that the narrator(Joe) did not find the safety he expected. I hadn't really thought of Joe's trip like that. And I also don't know what to think about the 'genetics stuff' (whether the 'genetics stuff' ties into a theme or is just 'gothic stuff' to entertain us).

I know that this 'safety vs. possibility' theme played into the son's death, as Joe felt like the son did not know what to do with his 'possibility'. Maybe Joe made some peace with his son's death because Joe know realized (after reading his journals) that there is no 'safety'. It seems like a simplistic 'theory' and I am not even sure I agree with myself, but perhaps Joe did make peace with his son's death in that way.


message 34: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I appreciate your take on this novel, Sharon. You've certainly made me see another side to the story. Thanks !


message 35: by Mad Dog (last edited Oct 08, 2010 07:28AM) (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments Alias Reader,
I 100% agree with your statement (in message 30):
I don't know what I think Joe wished. For the whole book he seemed to wish he'd taken that other fork in the road. Then at the end he seemed "content" with his choice.

Playing 'devil's advocate' here, perhaps Joe's 'contented ending' legitimately happened because of the cathartic effects of reading the journal with his wife. Although it did appear that the final journal entry of Joe's 'affair of the heart' was not read to Ruth by Joe. Catharsis can have a pretty dramtic effect on our outlook, and I guess that is what happened to Joe. He felt like he was suddenly unburdened by a great burden.

Going further, I don't think Joe was honest (with himself) that the son's death was the biggest reason for his 'gloom & doom'. I think that his 'affair of the heart' (and especially the subsequent lack of communication with Ruth about the 'affair') was the biggest pall over his life. That is one reason why much of this book centered on the trip to Denmark as opposed to Joe's relationship with his son.


message 36: by Mad Dog (last edited Oct 08, 2010 07:37AM) (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I am being more positive about this book. You know what 'they' say, "You must not think bad thoughts". I have to say that Joe's vacation story is more interesting than any of my vacation stories. Since I am going to be in Arkansas this weekend, it is interesting to find out that Denmark and Arkansas might have a lot in common. Bad joke, I know. I apologize if I offended anybody from Arkansas (or Denmark).


message 37: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 08, 2010 07:43AM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I've read Angle of Repose and like it a lot. Apparently, looking over my journal, I've also read Crossing to Safety, but don't recall the novel at all. I was shocked to see that I had read it. How pathetic is that on my part. :( This reminds me of the essay in the NY Times a few weeks ago. It was why bother to read if you can't recall what you've read. What is your opinion on this?

http://www.nytimes.com/2010/09/19/boo...

I guess I just wasn't in the right mood or place in my life to appreciate Spectator Bird. I'm glad that some of you ( Sherry & Sharon ) did enjoy it. I'm looking forward to see what the others in the group think of it. It's a fairly quick read.


message 38: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments Alias Reader wrote: "I've read Angle of Repose and like it a lot. Apparently, looking over my journal, I've also read Crossing to Safety, but don't recall the novel at all. I was shocked to see that I had read it. Ho..."


Thanks for the article link. I enjoyed the article, but will (in a year's time) probably forget everything in the article. I agree with Professor Wolf (in the article) that the books can 'shape us' even if we don't later recall much about them. Likewise, I am sure that we have forgotten many 'developmentally meaningful' events that happened to us in childhood.


message 39: by Libyrinths (new)

Libyrinths | 100 comments Mad Dog, I think you're right about the cathartic effect of reading the diaries. I think that was the nexus between his seeming to wish he'd been less of a spectator, and finally realizing that the choices he'd made in life were ones he liked, even if they left him not plunging into things which would have made him less of a spectator. It not only clarified things for him as he looked back over his life, and clarified (finally) things for Ruth, but I think helped him come to grips with all the choices he'd made in life. Good call.

I also like what you said about possibilities. I hadn't thought of that in terms of the son, but you're right on with that. There were possibilities on two sides. On Joe's side, he could have been more directive as a father, but chose not to. He could have been more clarifying about what to do with some of the values he conveyed. On the son's side, he could have made other choices which wouldn't have put him in the place where the accident happened. He coulda been sumboddy. He coulda been a contendah. ;-0

Alias, like you, I also enjoyed Angle of Repose a lot. This is a very different book. I liked this as well, except for that one aspect I mentioned. I've been wanting to read Crossing to Safety, but haven't gotten around to it yet.


message 40: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments Sorry I am so late getting to this -- but everytime I go to pick up the book another project intervenes. This week looks more manageable so hopefully I will be able to breeze through this not so big book.


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) I really like Stegner as a writer, loved Angle of Repose, but even though I liked Spectator Bird, I may have appreciated it least of all his novels I have read. For me the combination of Joe's prickly personality, the the extreme strangeness of the Countess's story, and the dated political references, all combined to make me uneasy to have been the one to suggest the title for this group. That said, I still love Stegner's ability to turn a phrase. I have also really enjoyed the conversation here about the novel.


message 42: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I think the conversation has gone well, Sherry. So I wouldn't feel uneasy about suggesting it.

I always nominate books I haven't read. So I never know if it will be a terrific read or not.

And some books which I wouldn't call great, have given us some very good discussions. You never can tell.


message 43: by Mad Dog (new)

Mad Dog | 116 comments I have really enjoyed the great variety of books that we've been reading in the club. All the books have been stimulating, even the books that I haven't liked so much.


message 44: by Bobbie (new)

Bobbie (bobbie572002) | 1084 comments I agree about enjoying the variety. And while I think most of you haven't really liked The Spectator Bird I am really enjoying it.

The old political references make it kind of dated but there are just as many literary references which I dearly love. However, I think that if you don't have a wide background in literature a lot would go past.

I will definitely hold onto "I cope, therefore I am."


Sherry (sethurner) (sthurner) Bobbie - I agree both about the literary references and the quote.


message 46: by J (new)

J (blkdoggy) | 131 comments I found the book an OK read and an interesting story. I like the variety also, some of these would probably be books that I normally would not pick up. But, I give them an opportunity and sometimes I'll find myself surprised and end up liking the book. It is also nice to find other people that enjoy reading as much as I do and I enjoy the discussions and reading a different points of view. : )


message 47: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I hope that people maybe try to look over the questions up-thread. Maybe that will help us discuss the book, and also more fully help us to understand why you disliked or liked the book.

Unfortunately, there are no official questions for this book, so I had to use ones from Bauer's book on reading. Since Stegner is considered one of our top literary novelists, perhaps it would interesting to maybe discuss his writing and how effective you feel it is. Bauer's questions may help guide.

I think one may enjoy a book, but that always doesn't make it a great discussion book. Maybe SB is that type of book.


message 48: by Alias Reader (last edited Oct 14, 2010 07:08AM) (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments I was thinking about the question for what makes a good discussion book. Not only for here but also for other book groups that I belong to. Obviously, there aren't black/white rules for what makes a book a good discussion book. What do you think makes a book a good group read?

I don't think it is necessary for one to "like" a book, the characters or even the writing to make it a great discussion book. The book on Alaska (sorry the title escapes me) that we read here was a non fiction book where we didn't like the main characters and felt the writing was just OK. But the characters and their actions provoke strong feeling in us. And we were able to debate their actions. The result was a good discussion. For me, that's what makes a good discussion book. One that provokes strong reactions in the reader.

For one of my F2F book groups we are going to read
Unchosen: The Hidden Lives of Hasidic Rebels. It is not very well written. I think it was the author's dissertation. But the topic I think will give my f2f group a lot to think about and to discuss. I hope so ! I didn't actually recommend the book, but I had mentioned it during a discussion of another book, and everyone said it sounded so interesting they wanted us to read it as a group.

I've also recommended to this same f2F group, The Tortilla Curtain. It isn't the greatest book I've ever read, but the online discussion that it invoked with an online group was one of the best ever. I think the topic of illegal immigration is one people have strong opinions on and it's relevant to peoples lives today. I think the actions of the characters in the novel could be debated. So that added to the discussion, too.

Sometimes a book that presents the reader with interesting an new information makes a good group read. The Kite Runner when my f2f group read it exposed us to a lot of new information about a country we knew little about I think that helped make it a good group read.

I am hoping Unchosen will be one such book. I'm not comparing it at all to The Kite Runner, except that it is about a group of people that most know very little about. I think they will find it fascinating.

I'll let you know how the discussion goes when these two books come up in the rotation for the F2F group.

I would add I usually don't recommend books I've already read, because I don't like to re-read. So it's always uncertain if the books I recommend here will be a winner as I never know if the book will fit the above criteria that I think makes a book a good group read. The best we can do is give it a good try.

Anyway, what do you think makes a book a good discussion book?


message 49: by Alias Reader (new)

Alias Reader (aliasreader) | 17003 comments February 18 -- It's the birthday of one of our group read authors !

It's the birthday of novelist Wallace Stegner, born in Lake Mills, Iowa (1937). Although he's most often associated with the West, he himself has lived many places and written about all of them. His father moved the family around in search of the newest thing — they lived in North Dakota, then Washington, and from there his father's goal was Alaska, where he hoped he could find gold. But young Wallace got sick and his father decided he had missed his chance on Alaska, so he went to Saskatchewan. The rest of his family joined him there eventually.

In Saskatchewan, Wallace went to school for the first time — first the school was a room above the pool hall, then a makeshift building downtown, and finally a real schoolhouse. They had a house in town, and a homestead, where Stegner and his brother helped their father farm in the summers. Their homestead was a big, featureless expanse of land. He said later that he and his brother "read everything in the shack 10 times, had studied the Sears Roebuck catalog into shreds, had trapped gophers in increasing circles out from the house until the gopher population was down to bare survivors, had stoned to death the one badger they caught in a gopher trap, had lost in a big night windstorm their three captive weasels and two burrowing owls, and had played to boredom every two-man game they knew." After six years in Saskatchewan, and a failed attempt at farming wheat, the family moved to Great Falls, Montana. He said, "I left Saskatchewan mourning what I had left behind and scared of what we were going toward, and one look at my mother told me she was feeling the same way. My father and brother were leaning out of the car, exhilarated by how the fenceposts flew by on the smooth dirt road along the South Bench. They leaned and watched the roadside as if they were afraid Great Falls might flash by at any second, and they might miss it. But I was at heart a nester, like my mother. I loved the place I was losing, the place that years of our lives had worn smooth."

But Great Falls wasn't all bad; for the first time, Stegner lived near a public library. He started to read, but, he said, "It wasn't until Salt Lake City" — where the family moved a few years later — "that I began to be a real addict. I would go down to the library two or three times a week to bring away three or four books each time, without any direction."

Stegner wrote many novels, including All The Little Live Things (1967), Angle of Repose (1971), The Spectator Bird (1976), and Crossing to Safety (1987). He won a National Book Award and a Pulitzer Prize. And he started the creative writing program at Stanford and was a beloved professor — his students included Edward Abbey, Ken Kesey, Larry McMurtry, and Wendell Berry.

In his semi-autobiographical novel The Big Rock Candy Mountain (1943), he wrote: "He was a strange child. Now he clung to her skirts so closely that he hampered her walking, and she laid her hand on his head and kept it there because she knew that somewhere deep down in his prematurely old mind he lived with fear."

The Writer's Almanac is produced by Prairie Home Productions and presented by American Public Media.


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