Category Archives: 2021 Book Reviews

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 88: Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner

“And so, by circuitous and unpredictable routes, we converge toward midcontinent and meet in Madison, and are at once drawn together, braided and plaited into a friendship. It is a relationship that has no formal shape, there are no rules or obligations or bonds as in marriage or the family, it is held together by neither law nor property nor blood, there is no glue in it but mutual liking.  It is therefore rare.”

Wallace Stegner gives the clearest definition of friendship I have ever seen written.  This definition comes from Larry Morgan, protagonist of Crossing to Safety, the author’s last published novel.  I read Stegner’s excellent The Spectator Bird last year and knew Crossing to Safety would be the next one in his oeuvre to read.

Crossing to Safety tells the story of two couples, the Morgans (Larry & Sally) and the Langs (Sid & Charity) who meet in Madison, Wisconsin, at the beginning of their academic careers during the Great Depression.  The novel chronicles their lifelong friendships and marriages. Stegner does a wonderful job of creating four fully fleshed out characters and how the dynamic amongst each other changes over the years.

Larry is the writer of the group and has a sense of independence that I could relate to.  Also, he is a devoted husband to Sally, as she suffers a disease that will alter the course of her life.  Sid is the professor that comes from family wealth and feels he has not had a fulfilling life and his wife, Charity, is a determined, strong-willed woman that bends life to her wishes. Stegner provides an excellent landscape to make this reader ponder about friendship and marriage.

Crossing to Safety is a quiet novel.  There are no affairs or betrayals of friendships to create the story’s conflict.  Stegner shows how stable friendships and marriages can actually make interesting fiction.  I could imagine if John Updike or John Irving had attempted to write this novel, it would have affairs between the couples and scandalous behavior that could have destroyed a career, marriage, or friendship.  Stegner chooses a different route, and this reader is delighted with that choice.

It is refreshing to read a novel about the interworkings of human behavior in a genteel fashion. You don’t always need to go over-the-top to make a point about life.  A stable and consistent approach can provide enough drama without having to become melodramatic.

Crossing to Safety will be one of my favorite reads of 2021 and I’m looking forward to reading more Wallace Stegner’s work.  After reading The Spectator Bird and now this one, he is an astute observer of human nature and excellent writer of characters.

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 87: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin

I have a question for readers.  Has there been an author or authors you have tried repeatedly to read? N.K. Jemisin has been one of those authors for me. Jemisin has gained recognition in the science fiction and fantasy genre over the past several years with groundbreaking works like the Broken Earth and Dreamblood series.… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 86: The Moon Lady by Amy Tan

Over the past weekend, I watched author Amy Tan’s Netflix Documentary: Unintended Memoir.  The documentary focused on the family relationships (especially with her mother) that helped form her art. I had read none of Amy Tan’s books before and the documentary gave me insight into how she became the writer that is beloved by readers… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 85: Where Do We Go From Here-Chaos or Community? by Martin Luther King Jr.

“We still have a choice today: nonviolent coexistence or violent co-annihilation. This may well be mankind’s last chance to choose between chaos and community.” Martin Luther King’s last sentence from his last book, Where Do We Go From Here: Chaos or Community sums up his powerful and convincing argument for nonviolent coexistence for humanity. I… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 84: The Autobiography of Malcolm X by Alex Haley

“Grace meets you exactly where you are and it doesn’t leave you.” I heard the author Anne Lamott say this quote on the Tim Ferriss podcast a couple of days ago and knew this would be the opening sentence to my latest book review.  Grace would be the proper view about Malcolm X’s life after… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 83: Wild Women and the Blues by Denny S. Bryce

If you live to be 110, how would you look back at your life?  With Fondness? With Regret? Missed Opportunities? Or At Peace? The protagonist of Denny S. Bryce’s debut novel, Wild Women and the Blues, gets to answer that question. Honoree Dalcour is in mid-1920s Chicago during the heart of the jazz age where… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 82: Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman

What does it mean to being smart? It seems we have judged intelligence by IQ and rational knowledge throughout human history. However, there was a book published over twenty-five years ago that challenged the notion and looked at emotions as an important factor regarding intelligence. Emotional Intelligence by Daniel Goleman presents a claim that it… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 80: Planting Stories (The Life of Librarian & Storyteller Pura Belpre) by Anika Aldamuy Denise & Paola Escobar

The joy I get in reading with my daughter Norah is you learn about someone that you have never heard of before.  This is the case with the book, Planting Stories: The Life of Librarian and Storyteller Pura Belpre by Anika Aldamuy Denise and Paola Escobar. Pura Belpre was the first librarian of Puerto Rican… Continue Reading

Wisdom From Kammbia Book Review 79: Respect-The Life of Aretha Franklin by David Ritz

Sometimes after reading one book will make you want another book with a similar topic. My previous review was a fictional music documentary in a novel titled The Final Revival of Opal & Nev by Dawnie Walton. Opal Jewel was one half of a groundbreaking punk rock duo from the early 1970s that nearly made… Continue Reading