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Stoner by John Williams

William Stoner is a child of the Missouri earth. Born in the early 1890s, he is the son of parents who scratch out astoner living from a farm that is more miserly with each passing year.  When Stoner finishes high school, his father expresses the wish that he attend agricultural college at the University of Missouri.  After a year of this line of study, Stoner becomes smitten with literature when he takes a required English survey class, and thereafter his lifetime obsession is the written word.  Instead of agriculture, he graduates with an English degree and commits to a life of teaching.

His is not entirely the quiet life of academia.  Stoner’s post-graduate studies coincide with the outbreak of World War I, and the rush is for most young men to enlist.  His mentor at the university talks him out of doing so, to the dismay of one of his best friends, but Stoner stays and finishes his doctorate, and then is invited to stay on as a professor, which he does until his death some years later.

I initially was skeptical about the concept of this book, and to be serious, Stoner is not an overblown page-turner.  Instead, it’s a well-written study of a quiet soul with strong convictions who is often viewed wrongly by his peers and family members.  Does Stoner have personal hardships?   Yes, in the form of a loveless marriage, and the potential for scandals at the college.  It’s his stoic survival in the face of bad opinion and spite that makes Stoner, if not exactly a hero, at least a protagonist worth rooting for.

Read Stoner if you want more grist for the mill besides your standard bestseller.

(William Hicks, Information Services)




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