Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Five top novels on U.S. frontier social history

Simon Winchester's books include Krakatoa, The Map That Changed the World, and Atlantic: Great Sea Battles, Heroic Discoveries, Titanic Storms,and a Vast Ocean of a Million Stories, a history of the world’s second-largest ocean.

With Daisy Banks at The Browser, he discussed five novels about the social history of America's expanding frontiers from the late 19th century to the Great Depression, including:
Crossing to Safety
by Wallace Stegner

Your next choice, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner, is about the friendships between two very different couples who met during the Great Depression.

In a way this is an expansion of the theme in [John Williams's] Stoner, once again set in a university. It is a novel mainly about friendship and suffering. It is very sad, beginning with the death of one of the protagonists and how it ends is incredibly touching. Wallace Stegner is known as the great western novelist and is famous for books about Montana and the crossing of the west, most notably a novel called Angle of Repose which is an absolute classic. But in terms of human tenderness I find this particular book remarkable and unforgettable.

The couples are very different characters – one is a very subdued elder couple.

Yes, they are very different indeed. The differences between them are reflected particularly in the Vermont chapter, where all sorts of bizarre things happen during a walk in the woods. What I really love about this novel is the depth of friendship which crossed between these couples from very different classes, who are on the one hand academic failures and on the other academic successes.
Read about the other novels Winchester tagged at The Browser.

Crossing to Safety is on Lan Samantha Chang's five best list of novels on friendship.

Also see Simon Winchester's six favorite books about sailing.

--Marshal Zeringue