Sunday 9 September 2012

Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

Before I start telling you how and why I loved this book can I throw two words in your direction - 'introduction' and 'afterword'.

Classics, in particular, seem to abound in these two phenomena.

Do you read them before or after you've read the main text?
Do you read them at all?
Do they add or detract from the reading experience?

My lovely Modern Library 2002 edition of Crossing to Safety has both - an introduction by Terry Tempest Williams and an afterword by T.H. Watkins.

A quick glance at the Introduction told me that it contained spoilers, so I chose not to read it upfront.

I usually save the Introduction until I've finished reading. Although this depends on how much I loved the book (or not).
The more love I feel, the more likely I am to read all the extra bits.

Sometimes this backfires if the introduction or afterword is uninspiring or reveals some major character flaw on behalf of the author.

But there are times when it just makes you love the book and the author even more.

That happened for me with Crossing to Safety.

To learn in the Afterword about Stegner's harsh childhood and all he did to rise above it was truly inspiring. It added depth and meaning to the character and relationship details within the story. Reading about Stegner's "hunger for place" and his own devotion to "what was good and just" simply highlights what he was trying to achieve in Crossing to Safety.

The Introduction was a more academic treatment. These can be off-putting at times, but Williams hit the right note by focusing on the main theme of the book "what does it mean to love". He covers the types of love to be found with family and with friends, the push-me pull-me desire for security and risk, the universal and the personal and the "geography of hope".

In this case, reading about Stegner's life, beliefs, aims and hopes only added to the pleasure I found in reading his story.

Crossing to Safety is a novel to relish and savour. The language glides and meanders with sudden insights to light the way. The characters are sympathetically drawn, they are people we all know, their hopes and disappointments are ours.

This book just sneaks into my modern classic definition by being published in 1987. For such a modern book it has a wonderful old-world charm that makes you yearn for this time gone by. I wanted to read it thanks to the unanimous rave review it got on The First Tuesday Bookclub a few months ago.

I'm glad I have another Stegner on my Classics Club TBR list - one is definitely not enough!


  1. Anonymous9/9/12

    I react much the same way to Introductions and Afterwords. I almost always skip Introductions because they tend to not only include spoilers, but also break down the main themes before I've had a chance to see for myself! There was one instance (Candide) where I went back and read the Introduction when I was half-way through the book, but only to learn a little about the context in which it was written. Once I've read the book, then I will usually go back and read the Introduction/Afterword. After all that - I'm glad you enjoyed this book! :) -Sarah

  2. Rats, I don't think I have any Stegner books on my list! (I tend to forget what I actually put on my list, lol) This sounds like such a good read.

  3. I've had this book in my TBR for about 10 years since a book group read it, but I didn't get it read. I read introductions after the book too, why do they write them to spoil the reading? Surely the people who write them are readers too? They're often incredibly boring as well.


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