Thursday, June 13, 2013


Literature is about evoking a world in the mind of the reader. If the author fails to do that—what genre writers call "world-building”—then he has arguably failed the task. How we learn to read, in a post-industrial, highly textual society, is basically how we learn to think, how we learn to be. Psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman's work on how we think shows us that we have a lot of heuristics we apply to everyday situations—shortcuts, really—and we are often unreliable narrators, even to ourselves.
Wallace Stegner was no cognitive scientist, but he was a particularly astute observer of human nature. We can consider him a model reader, one who has a telescopic view of the bustling city below and the human lives it contains. Much as one would read a text, one can “read” architecture. Recapitulation is grounded in the real streets, buildings, and institutions of Salt Lake City.
Philippe Hamon, a French literary theorist of the realist movement, asked, “Is there a specifically ‘literary’ vision of the city, different from the vision of the architect, the painter, the public health officer, the photographer, the politician?” (“Voir La Ville,” 1994, translation mine). Yes, there is a specifically “literary” vision of the city, and Stegner has perfectly captured what it is like to live through a city, within a city, and without (both outside and deprived of) it.
Courtesy of The Telegraph (UK)

Though we can perhaps never directly know ourselves, literature gives us a heuristic for understanding motive, love, loss, and the effects of time. In this metaphor, we may have to invert the typical image of the author as fly-on-the-wall. Here, the reader is observer and the writer is the builder. The reader, through the book, can survey both her life and society at large in the metaphorical foothills, and the author is down in the valley, erecting hotels and tennis courts with his pen.


  1. I like the way you think, Charly- BIG, really BIG! Your perspective is broad and wide as all outdoors. Stegner would be so impressed with you and so grateful for your admiration and loyalty. Thank you for sharing your wonderful thoughts!

  2. I would add that you are "a particularly astute observer of" Wallace Stegner and would have to agree with Dawn that he would be grateful for your admiration. I look forward to reading some of his works. What would you suggest I start with?

  3. @Kimara I'd suggest you start with Crossing to Safety. Even though it is his last published novel, it's possibly his best, and you can jump right into it.

    1. Thanks, Charly, I will let you know what I think about the book. I am reading Anna Karenina now. When I am finished, I will read Crossing to Safety. I am really looking forward to reading something of Stegner, especially after everything you have written about him. Thanks!