A WRITER'S WIT
What divides men is less a difference in ideas than a likeness in pretensions.
Pierre Jean de Béranger
Born August 19, 1780
My Book World
My aunt, who lives in the Netherlands, recommended this book to me almost a year ago. Evidently, years after its release, the book has become a great success in Europe by way of various translations. I bought the Kindle version, figuring I would read it in airports during my travels but actually didn’t get around to it until now. Stoner is a difficult book to read at times, not because of the prose or the structure. No, the words flow in a sort of drudge-like way, like the protagonist’s life as an academician at the University of Missouri in the early part of the twentieth century. I’ve never read a novel that so flawlessly used a spare amount of dialogue. Instead, Williams reveals much by way of interior monologue or narrative description. He pens entire decades in the stroke of one sentence, and yet the act seems natural. We were there; now we’re here.
The novel is also difficult because there are a number of emotionally grueling scenes or sections. William Stoner is born to Missouri farmers in 1890—about the age of my late grandparents. At eighteen he is mildly encouraged by his parents to attend the University of Missouri in agricultural studies. The idea is that he will return to the farm one day. Instead, however, he is drawn into the world of literature by a rather cynical professor, and after his first two years Stoner changes his major to English. He does so without informing his parents, and when graduation nears, Stoner’s professor sees that he is awarded some money to pursue his master’s degree and then a PhD. Then in sort of a fluke, he applies for and receives a position on the faculty at MU.
Williams, perhaps more than any writer I’ve ever read, reveals what it is like to teach university level students. Any number of novels take place in the university setting, but Williams actually takes the reader into the life of a professor: the books he teaches, his classroom, his office as he advises. We see him as he grows, becomes more confident in his field. Williams, like Stoner, enjoys teaching, loves it in fact.
“His job gave him a particular kind of identity, and made him what he was . . . It’s the love of the thing that’s essential. And if you love something, you’re going to understand it. you’ve got to keep the faith.”
“He wondered again at the easy, graceful manner in which the roman lyricists accepted the fact of death, as if the nothingness they faced were a tribute to the richness of the years they had enjoyed; and he marveled at the bitterness, the terror, the barely concealed hatred he found in some of the later Christian poets of the Latin tradition when they looked to the death which promised, however vaguely, a rich and ecstatic eternity of life, as if that death and promise were a mockery that soured the days of their living” (41).
Black Witch Moth
NEXT TIME: PHOTOS OF RENO/LAKE TAHOE AREA