Crossing to Safety, by Wallace Stegner

During most of July, the Books, Brew, and Banter group read and discussed Wallace Stegner’s 1987 novel Crossing to Safety.  Although Stegner made his literary debut with Remembering Laughter in 1937 (set in Iowa Farm country where Stegner was born), and wrote prolifically and with distinction for fifty years, most of the BB&B group had never read his fiction.  And, in the end, everybody agreed that we had found a treasure in Crossing to Safety.

The story begins in 1938 and ends in August, 1972.  It’s narrated by Larry Morgan, a novelist and academic.  In 1938, Larry and his wife Sally, of modest means and low on the academic totem pole, meet Sid and Charity, also low on the academic totem pole but from backgrounds of immense wealth.  The couples quickly become close friends and remain so until the story’s end.  Through Larry’s eyes, we follow the birth of children, academic careers, literary success and failure, illness, recovery, and death.

Although the narrator is usually the most important character in a novel, in this case, the reader soon figures out that while Larry Morgan is telling this story, it ultimately belongs to Charity – much like Nick Caraway tells Gatsby’s story in The Great Gatsby.  And like Gatsby, Charity is larger than life.  She is epic.  Iconic.  Driven.  Difficult to understand.  Awe inspiring, in her way.  And at the end, the reader is left a bit shaken and full of questions.  What does “crossing to safety” mean?  Who has managed to do it?  How have they managed to do it?

Written in really lovely prose, the joy of the book is as much in the language as the action.  It’s a sensitive, imaginative look at American academia over thirty years, an examination of gender roles, a depiction of mid-century American values, and an interesting slice of American history.

— Sharelle Moranville.

A Call to Action, by Jimmy Carter

I have read many of the two dozen plus books written by President Carter over the course of his career, many of which I have found to be most enjoyable and easy reads, and all of his writings are moored by a deep-seated belief in the equality of all people.
While his new book continues in the tradition of that belief, the members of St. Timothy’s Books, Brew, and Banter book club unanimously agree that it certainly isn’t an enjoyable read as he grimly tackles head-on the subject of the subjugation of women in cultures throughout the world.  Since leaving the White House in 1981, he and his wife Rosalynn founded the Carter Center, dedicated to advancing peace and health worldwide, and they have been firsthand witnesses to the shocking and disturbing human rights abuses inflicted on women. He carefully outlines that women and girls are routinely deprived of education, forced to suffer servitude and child marriage, female genital mutilation, sexual assault and rape, and the undercurrent of discrimination that results in fewer promotions, lower pay and unequal representation in business and politics.
He examines the entrenched links between interpretations of religious texts of Christians, Muslims and Jews that exalt the status of men in the eyes of God, and connects the problems to the world’s excessive use of war and violence. In particular, he reports, that since the birth of the United Nations, American forces have been involved in combat in over twenty three nations, evidence that our previously firm commitment to peace and human rights has been largely abandoned, increasing the suffering of the innocent and defenseless.
All this makes one sad, angry, and horrified. On the other hand, though, he chronicles the Carter Center’s subsequent good works around the globe, ranging from campaigns to eradicate Guinea worm in Ghana to monitoring elections in Egypt. President Carter goes into the specifics of some important work being done, and gives numerous examples of dedicated people throughout the world who have struggled and often righted wrongs.
He concludes by listing twenty-three calls to action and invites us all to participate. It gives one hope that the world can be made better for struggling women and girls. A tough read, but a must read. —Kenneth N. Johnson, Ph.D.

Orange Is the New Black, by Piper Kerman

Piper Kerman could be your neighbor, your daughter, your best friend, or you. After graduating from Smith College, Kerman longed for an adventure, and she found it as a courier for a drug lord. She was a small part of an international operation, but ten years later, her youthful lark landed her in prison in Danbury, Connecticut, close in miles to her friends in New York and Boston, yet eons away in the life she faced.

Stripped of her clothes, belongings, and dignity, Kerman learned what it is like to be a prisoner in 21st Century America.

Our favorite part of the book was Kerman’s acceptance of her fate and empathy for the women she lived with—she seemed to completely enjoy many of them, while acknowledging impatience with those who kept making poor choices and endangering their entire families. Kerman writes with wisdom about her own poor choices and how they not only hurt her and those she loved, but ultimately hurt the women she was living with, many of whom were caught in the drug trade she joined just to have fun.

She shows how dehumanizing and pointless prison sentences are for many of these women who were given minimal rehabilitation or education and treated like they were less than human, often because of crimes in which they were more victim than criminal.

As part of the discussion, we tasted Kerman’s version of prison cheesecake and agreed it was surprisingly tasty.

We recommend the book, and those of us who have seen the Netflix series recommend it as well, although it often wanders away from the storyline of the book. Seeing the filmed version helped us visualize the prison and its women.

— Patricia Prijatel