By Lindsay Norcott, Director of Community Programs, Entrepreneurs Foundation
Northern California Grantmakers (NCG) Annual Meeting in 1987 used great literary texts to examine complex social and moral dilemmas. Since that meeting, a group of members has continued the conversation through a book club that meets approximately 4 times a year for facilitated discussion. Usually held over a weekday lunch, and limited to ten people, the conversation stays refreshingly focused on the book; no wine or gossip digressions for this group. Recently the group has read modern and controversial novels such as Fury by Salman Rushdie, and The White Tiger by Aravind Adiga, but for the most recent session they dove into a well-loved classic by Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety.
In Crossing to Safety, two couples develop a deep and complicated friendship over the course of their lives. The Langs and Morgans meet in Madison in 1937, where the husbands are both young professors at University of Wisconsin. The friendship of the four characters develops in the shadow of the university through literary debates, poetry readings, appreciation for classics and classical music, and a mutual determination to succeed in the competitive institutions of academia. Larry Morgan narrates the tapestry of their friendship, from children through grown grandchildren, weaving the strain from both successes and setbacks through the joy of finding friends that truly become family.
Perhaps predictably, since we are a self-selected group of book lovers within a generally pensive and educated group of grantmakers, the NCG book club loved Stegner’s quiet novel about friendship among intellectuals. All members conceded that it is not plot-driven and that some characters are drawn more fully than others, but our fondness for the genuine relationships, human flaws and gentle flow of the novel forgave any perceived technical shortfalls. One member contributed insight from Stegner’s biography that the story was written about close friends of Wallace and Mary Page Stegner, “in gratitude…to the friends we were both blessed by,” as Stegner writes in the dedication. His ability to sincerely convey the love of those friends, flawed as they were, makes this a truly lovely book.