Though I review books, I often am not convivial about book recommendations myself. Often, books are praised too quickly, when they are basking in the warm days of their launch, when positive reviews are sometimes tied to backroom handshakes and the cozy blurb reciprocity of authors. I also avoid taking recommendations from friends for fear of not liking the book and having to tell them as such. I evade book clubs too, even though I’d love to join the literary fun.
In the period between the sizzle of book launch and the fizzle of declining sales, I may buy a book, however, I sequester it away until the white noise of its newsiness has died down. If the book becomes a bestseller, it may sit on a shelf for years before I even crack the cover. Simply said, I am skeptical of anything that shines too brightly and quickly and leaves a comet’s tail of transitory appeal.
Russell Perrault, VP/Director of Publicity for Random House, posted on his Facebook wall that Stoner was one of his favorite novels. I vaguely knew Perrault and I had never heard of the author, John Williams (1922-1994), which seemed in perfect synchronicity with my book buying habits. A few of Perreault’s FB friends posted emotional praise for the novel too. John Edward Williams grew up in Texas, lived in Denver, and taught at U. of Missouri (which it appears his book Stoner took cues from). He also won a National Book Award for another novel, Augustus. Thus I bought it, curious about an obscure book from an obscure author, recommended by people I didn’t know.
I finished the book in two days, reading in bed until my arm hurt so much I had to take ibuprofen. I never repeat a plot, and in this case, that’s easy because there really wasn’t one. There was only time marching on to the restrained emotions of the characters, the exquisite prose, and the one shining point in the novel where there is so much hope and love, I considered, briefly, joining a book club. Stoner is a work of immutable beauty and I wonder, as did C. P. Snow writing in The Financial Times in 1973, “Why isn’t this book famous?”
Stoner was reissued by New York Review Books in 2006 (it’s 20% off on their website today).