November 15, 2011 by Reader's Connection
Thanksgiving is a little over a week away, and the holiday season is at the gate. If you feel threatened by that approaching frenzy, you need to read a novel that will level your head and sober you up. You need to read Stoner, by John Williams. This paperback in your purse or bookbag will be your sturdy rudder as you navigate the yuletide.
William Stoner is the only son of a Missouri farming couple. He goes to the University of Missouri to study agronomy, but has a life-deepening experience in a literature class when the professor asks him what a certain Shakespeare sonnet means.
Stoner falls in love with literature, and confounds his parents by becoming a lit major and leaving the farm behind. He serves as a teacher during the world wars and the depression. There is much unhappiness on his chosen path–a sorrowful marriage, and the sort of campus politics with political-correctness-based accusations that I associate with a later era–but in a 1985 interview, author Williams (who died in 1994) said some interesting things about Stoner’s trials.
A lot of people who have read the novel think that Stoner had such a sad and bad life. I think he had a very good life. He had a better life than most people do, certainly. He was doing what he wanted to do, he had some feeling for what he was doing, he had some sense of the importance of the job he was doing . . . Teaching to him is a job–a job in the good and honorable sense of the word. His job gave him a particular kind of identity and made him what he was.
The paperback’s cover art, from a painting from Thomas Eakins, was well chosen, and should help you decide if you’re likely to enjoy the book. Happy Holidays.