Stoner by John Williams

I’m not sure I can explain to you how much I loved this book. Surely the most pure, quiet and understated work of fiction I have read in a long time.

Stoner was first published in 1965 with no fanfare. Fifty years later, it was discovered by the general public and became a bestseller across most parts of Europe. It took me a further seven years to stumble on it and now I am sharing it with you.

The author was an American poet, academic and novelist called John Williams. He lived in Denver and died long before anyone was talking about his book.

Stoner is surname of the main character and the story spans his life. Born a poor farm boy in Missouri, William Stoner went to university to study agriculture. The idea, hatched by his barely literate father, was that he would learn modern farming techniques to help improve his family’s lot. However, once there, he discovered English literature and wanted to stay.

Stoner’s story is no more or less remarkable than anyone else’s, and it is replete with disappointments and failures, both large and small, but it is the way it is told that matters.

As a sheltered, earnest and unsure young man, Stoner is awkward and unprepared for life. But he is also stoic and honorable and almost a hero to me. His life is not always easy and hands him many disappointments, some might say sadness, but I didn’t see it that way.

To me, the true beauty of this book is its complete lack of judgement or commentary. There are also no big themes or deep observations other than the travels of life itself. It is neither optimistic nor pessimistic, just quiet, humble and true.

I can’t think of a single person, of any age or demographic, that wouldn’t enjoy this little cult classic. Yes, it’s old, but it isn’t dated in any way and is a page turner for no other reason than you just want to see how things turn out for Stoner.

That said, I want to particularly recommend it to the men I know. Frankly, there aren’t enough stories out there that delve into the kind of unaware awkwardness young men have when they move into the world. This book will make you stop and think about their physical and emotional shyness and where it can lead without support.

And that’s my 2 cents worth.