Round Rock New Neighbors is a social organization of women welcoming women in the Round Rock area since 1978. Both "new" and "old" neighbors are welcome. For more information: rrnewneighbors.org [Barnes & Noble requires that RRNN's book club be open to the public, so you do not need to be an RRNN member to attend book club, and both men and women are welcome and do attend. ]
The Friends of the Georgetown Public Library’s Hill Country Authors Series events will be listed here.
Round Rock Public Library Book Group meets monthly at 7:00-8:30 PM. Check the library website for more information, or ask Carla.
Sunday, March 26, 2017
Stoner Lets Things Happen and Embraces His Life
Stoner, by John Williams, was first published in 1965. The book was reissued in 2003 and again in 2006. We filled 2 full rows of chairs plus the bench at Barnes & Noble for our discussion of Stoner, and we covered lots of thoughts about the book but didn’t touch on why the book went 38 years without republication and then was reissued twice within 3 years. The book industry is interesting, but the books we read interest us more.
I counted 7 or 8 hands raised for “liking’ the book, and 1 raised for a “didn’t like,” with an explanation later.
The first topic we discussed was the introduction. This was added to the book in 2003. Introductions can be dull and analytical at worst and enticing at best. This one was, to me, analytical without being dull, but instead infuriating. I, and some other readers in the group, thought that too much of the story was given away in the introduction. I stopped reading it before finishing it, because I didn’t like the spoilers. Jay, who nominated the book, explained that introductions to novels were originally for enjoyment and later became more of a venue for analysis. Jay somewhat vindicated the introduction by saying that reading the book means experiencing the book, regardless of whether you read the summarized part in the introduction before reading the book. This did turn out to be true. While reading, I only occasionally thought of the introduction, though it was mostly with disappointment at remembering it as foreshadowing a part of the plot. To write this blog post, one of my rewards for the effort is that I reread the introduction after reading the book, and I found it most interesting and understood it better than I had before reading the book.
As a retired professor, Jay mentioned that he had changed majors in college 5 times before working on his doctorate and starting his life’s work; he also needed an extra year of college to graduate with all the requirements fulfilled for a major. Dennis changed majors once before graduating, earning a doctorate and becoming a professor. Cindy T. changed once to major in something that was more practical for the job market. I changed from an interpretive to a more concrete and literal major that I felt worked better in a structured educational environment. My notetaking lagged behind the conversation, but I think there were a few others in the group who had changed majors during college. This makes me think of a difference between older generations and newer ones; that youth who are interested in their education today might be more focused on future work prospects as they enter the expensive system of higher education.
Talking about the character Stoner, Jay mentioned Stoner’s “stumbling blocks:” his wife (creepy feelings set in just thinking about her), Lomax, money, and later the whole gossip mill of his university. Jay thinks that Stoner's passive attitude may have come about because of his strong commitment to teaching all that he learned and loved about English literature. Pam said that Stoner let things happen rather than making them happen. Then, when Dennis used the word, “spineless” to describe Stoner and said that this trait caused him to consider the book one that he didn’t enjoy reading, Pam said that when the book was written, people were often spineless about letting things happen to them and stayed with jobs for as long as they could. (Jobs used to reward those who stayed, whereas we now see much more job-changing and less loyalty or rewards for loyalty in work.) Dennis said that Stoner seemed to always avoid confrontation. Ken noted that while reading, he was glad when Stoner did stand up for himself. Joyce found the first half of the book frustrating because Stoner didn’t stand up for himself, and she liked when he stood up to Lomax. I would say that Lomax won the war, but Stoner did win some battles. Or maybe it was that Lomax won all the battles, but Stoner won the war?
Pam said Stoner wanted to move away from his dead-end job; and though Edith refused to move and threatened to keep Stoner’s daughter from him if he moved away, Pam thought Stoner could have worked harder to convince Edith to move. With the conversation turning toward Edith, Linda H. asked us what we thought was wrong with Edith, because she was clearly “not normal.” Florence remembered the episode when Edith went to her father's funeral and then burned all the toys her father had given her. There was perhaps a hint of abuse here, though only the lack of communication in Stoner’s family had been mentioned.
Some theories arose during our discussion. Ken suggested that Stoner was depressed and said that chapter 12, paragraph 1 describes a depressive syndrome. Ken said that Stoner knew the first day of the marriage that Edith was a poor choice for a wife and that he shouldn’t have married her. Dennis thought Walker might have written Katherine Driscoll’s paper. Someone said that Stoner did Walker a disservice by not trying to help him develop. Dennis agreed that Walker might have developed well with some encouragement. Florence suggested that Walker might have been Lomax’s son; Lomax certainly expressed that he felt a kinship with Walker. Joyce said that Stoner didn’t like Walker’s habit of cutting corners. Linda H. said that Walker was arrogant and that Stoner thought he was using his disability to get away with cutting corners. Linda also noted that Walker had a narrow range of knowledge of his subject and that this is not a valued trait in a doctoral program.
Jay suggested comparing Stoner to 2 other books our group read about professors: Straight Man, by Richard Russo and Famous Writers I Have Known, by James Magnuson. Also, there was Wonder Boys, by Michael Chabon. I don’t think there were enough of us present who had read those books with the group to go into that topic. We had great discussions about all of those books, and you can read about the discussions in the blog. Further discussion centered around the university culture, past and present. Stoner is yet another of our chosen books that seems to lend itself to numerous extended discussions.