Sunday, July 29, 2007

Recent reads, Stoner

“William Stoner entered the University of Missouri as a freshman in the year 1910, at the age of nineteen.”

This is the opening line of the novel I finished this week, Stoner, by John Williams. This was my first book by Williams, but I hope to read more. Stoner is the story of a man’s life, from his first days fresh off the farm entering the university, through his marriage and working life as an English professor, to his final moments. The setting is the Midwest, through W.W.I, the Great Depression and W.W.II, times that were difficult for the country, and also for this character.

Stoner was published in 1965. I had never heard of it until some online friends raved. I know a person shouldn’t judge a book by its cover, but when my paperback edition arrived in the mail, the portrait of the serious, sad looking man on the cover didn’t call out to me as good summer reading. However, the story, written in a direct and unembellished style, captured my attention immediately. I identified with the farm boy who enters the university, discovers literature as a passion in his life, and who leaves his parents and the farm behind. Much of the rest of the plot, particularly his difficult marriage, does not mirror my life, but his wish to impart his love of literature to others does. I recognized in the author a person who has thought deeply about teaching, about personal goals and feelings of inadequacy, about office politics, about the nature of love, and about what makes a person honorable. Stoner has something to say about all of this, and it says it in a way that rings true as much now as it did when it was published, more than forty years ago.

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