Tag Archives: Stoner

Review: Stoner 50th Anniversary Edition by John Williams

I received an advance review copy of this title from New York Review of Books.

My Review:
Stoner 50thFor those of you that are not new to my blog, you might have noticed that this book has a place in my “favorites” section. In this book we are introduced to William Stoner who is born at the turn of the century into a very poor farm family in rural Missouri.   Stoner would have also become a farmer like his father and when he is given a scholarship to the state university, he fully intends to study agriculture.  But through the influence of a tough but inspiring English professor, Stoner changes his major to English and he himself becomes a University English professor.

One of the aspects that I enjoyed most about the book is Stoner’s contemplation about what it means to be a good teacher. He also doesn’t always play the university politics game and his career suffers for it.  He is forced to teach Freshman English courses over and over again and he does so in a stoic manner without protest.  Whether he is in a graduate seminar class or a beginning Freshman English class he always gives his best teaching to his students.

Stoner meets a charming young woman at the home of his professor and he immediately decides that he wants to marry her.  He courts Edith for about two weeks and they have a modest wedding ceremony at her parent’s house.  But Edith soon reveals her mental instability and Stoner realizes very quickly that his marriage is a miserable failure.   But Stoner never even contemplates leaving Edith and instead he endures a miserable life at home with a wife who is crazy and unpredictable. I was glad to see that at one point in the book, though, he does find real love and intimacy, which I think is what he craves all along.

The prose in this book is exceptionally elegant. This is one of those books that my thoughts keep wandering to over and over. It makes one contemplate so many different ideas: career, family, love, marriage, and even death.  The 50th anniversary edition issued by the New York Review of Boks is a hardcover book with an introduction by John McGahern.  Even if you have already read Stoner on the Kindle or in the original paperback, this beautiful hardcover edition is very special and worth having on one’s bookshelf.

About The Author:
John WilliamsJohn Edward Williams was born on August 29, 1922, in Clarksville, Texas, near the Red River east of Paris, Texas and brought up in Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office. After flunking out of junior college and holding various positions with newspapers and radio stations in the Southwest, Williams enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a half years as a sergeant in India and Burma. Several years after the war, Williams enrolled in the University of Denver, where he received his B.A. in 1949 and an M.A. in 1950. During this period, his first novel, Nothing But the Night, was published (1948), and his first volume of poems, The Broken Landscape, appeared the following year. In the fall of 1950, Williams went to the University of Missouri, where he taught and received a Ph.D. in 1954. In the fall of 1955, Williams took over the directorship of the creative writing program at the University of Denver, where he taught for more than 30 years. Williams’s second novel, Butcher’s Crossing, was published by Macmillan in 1960, followed by English Renaissance Poetry, an anthology published in 1963 by Doubleday which he edited and for which he wrote the introduction. His second book of poems, The Necessary Lie, appeared in 1965 and was published by Verb Publications. In 1965 he became editor of University of Denver Quarterly (later Denver Quarterly) until 1970. In 1965, Williams’s third novel, Stoner, was published by Viking Press. It has been recently been re-issued by The New York Review of Books. His fourth novel, Augustus, was published by Viking Press in 1973 and won the prestigious National Book Award in 1973 and remains in print.

The critic Morris Dickstein has noted that, while Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus are “strikingly different in subject,” they “show a similar narrative arc: a young man’s initiation, vicious male rivalries, subtler tensions between men and women, fathers and daughters, and finally a bleak sense of disappointment, even futility.” Dickstein called Stoner, in particular, “something rarer than a great novel — it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away.”

After retiring from the University of Denver in 1986, Williams moved with his wife, Nancy, to Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he resided until he died of respiratory failure on March 3, 1994. A fifth novel, The Sleep of Reason, was left unfinished at the time of his death

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Review: Journey by Moonlight and Agostino from NYRB Classics

A few months back I read Stoner by John Williams.  I was so moved by this book that I did a little research and found that it was a reissue of this book by the New York Review of Books.  I was very eager to find more books like Stoner and I was pleased when I found so many fantastic books available on their website.  Many of their titles are translations of literature into English. You can read more about their unique titles on their website: http://www.nybooks.com/books/about/

I have recently read two more wonderful titles in translation from the New York Review of Books.  I received advanced copies of both of these titles from the publisher through Edelweiss.  The first novel, translated from the Hungarian and originally published in 1937,  is entitled Journey by Moonlight. The novel begins when Mihaly and Erzsi are on their honeymoon in Italy. Journey by Moonlight They are accidentally separated when Mihaly takes the wrong train and this physical separationfrom Erzsi mirrors Mihaly’s mental separation from reality.  We are brought on a journey through Italy and through Mihaly’s many mental states: he vacillates among many moods which include anxiety, depression, paranoia, euphoria and numbness. Throughout his lone journey he encounters some of his childhood friends from Budapest that make him terribly nostalgic for his youth.  He really can’t go home and face the mundane life of working in his father’s firm and dealing with his family.  He feels that he is trapped in Italy but really has no plan or purpose for being there either.  The author also writes the story from Erzsi’s point of view at several times in the narrative.  Erzsi, once left on her own, is also forced to make important decisions about her life and future.

There are so many interesting aspects to this book that it is difficult to truly do it justice in a brief review.  The characters, although they tend to make stupid and impulsive decisions, are fascinating nonetheless.  The way that the author simultaneously explores major themes such as love, relationships, and death throughout the narrative is truly an amazing literary feat.  JOURNEY BY MOONLIGHT is a fascinating study of the human mind and I highly recommend it to anyone who appreciates true literary genius. For more on this book and where to preorder here is the link on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/20176024-journey-by-moonlight.

The next book is entitled Agostino and is a translation from the Italian that was first published in 1944.  This brief Agostinostory is a bold and daring peak into one boy’s transition from boyhood to adulthood.  The author tackles some taboo and Freudian issues through a brief period of time in Agostino’s life.  Agostino is a 13 year old boy who is vacationing at a beach with his mother, whom he still views with innocence at the beginning of the story.  His mother starts to take boat rides with a man and Agostino grows very jealous.  When Agostino starts to hang around with a rough gang of older boys they clue him in to the possible sexual relationship his mother is having with her gentleman friend.

This book has so many complex layers in its few pages.  Agostino struggles with fitting in among his peers, his blooming sexual awareness, and his changing relationship with his mother.  He is left frustrated at the cruel nature of this transitional period in his young life.  I highly recommend AGOSTINO to anyone who wants to experience a true coming of age story that is realistic and eye opening. For more information on this title and where to preorder here is the link on Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/18666080-agostino

Up next on my reading list from the New York Review of Books is the The Mad and The Bad and Tristana.  What classics are on your reading list?  Let me know in the comments!

 

 

 

 

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