Before going into detail about this book, I have to be honest, it is a bit of a downer. With everything going on, I will not blame you if that puts you off this week’s recommendation. So, for those of you who need a pick me up from what you are reading, this one probably is not for you. However, for those of you like me, who don’t mind a gloomy story line, this book is definitely a must read. ‘Stoner’ by John Williams, is one of those books that did not initially get the fanfare it deserved until after the death of the author. It was first published in 1965 and has actually gone out of print two times… Don’t let that put you off! Some of the greatest writers (Herman Melville, Emily Dickinson, William Blake etc.) only became household names after their death.
‘Stoner’, named after the protagonist, follows the life of a rather inconsequential English professor at the University of Missouri. This book starts with Stoner’s childhood on a farm, moves onto his time as a student and goes on to the very end of his life. Stoner’s whole story is contained in this novel. The ins and outs of life on a farm and the perhaps mundane events of being an English professor are not just the only events that this book contains. Instead, the thoughts, emotions and desires of Stoner are told. So why read a book with such a seemingly random and boring storyline, especially one that is not optimistic?
What I love about this book is William’s view and understanding of life and his fantastic ability to portray it. Unapologetically, this book shares the trials of the characters contained within its pages. Although this book contains many despairs and heartbreaks experienced by Stoner, and does not have an optimistic outlook, it does not leave Stoner despairing at life. Williams lays life out with all its blemishes, yet still shows life’s amazing moments through it. By following the whole life of Stoner, you see his thought processes and world views change. This quote shows this beautifully:
“In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by moment and day by day, by the will and the intelligence and the heart.”