The Friday evening started like any other we have spent in a national lockdown. I finish up my meetings, Melanie is making dinner and my daughter is setting the table. I walk in from the home office to the main house and I stop for a second, I have a text.
“Have you ever read Stoner?”Chris. 💬 iMessage
Chris is my best friend from High School and although we rarely see each other in person we still talk on iMessage a lot. We talked for another 5 minutes, about ‘Stoner’ being the greatest American novel you would not have read. About it being in his top 5 of all time. Wow that is high praise. About it being an indictment on the human condition and I was hooked. I picked up my Kindle and downloaded it. I didn’t think much more of it til time for bed.
I read every night, at least an hour in our dressing room with its reading nook purposefully built to allow me some quiet reading time. Then I retire for 30 minutes of reading in bed. So that was how I started reading ‘Stoner’ I finally stopped at 2am. I then started to read it again as soon as I woke Saturday morning and by 11am I had read it all.
What an incredible book, what a journey I was taken on, how it touched my soul it is too early to tell but it did I am certain. I can tell you that no book has touched me like this book did for a long time, perhaps no book ever has had the effect on me that this book has.
‘Stoner’, despite the title is not a drug story, it is an inconsequential story about an academic. It is an uneventful tale of one man from college to death. It could not be more simple and yet so incredibly captivating.
I have always read a lot, and so it was inevitable that I have read fiction in there somewhere. But if I am honest, I took fiction at face value, a fun, interesting or scary story that I enjoyed at that moment. It was only in the last 15 years that I really began to see the incredible beauty of the novel. How had I not seen this before then speaks more about me than maybe I would want to share. It is only in Fiction that you can reveal a truth that reality somehow obscures.
I pondered on Saturday that question, how I had not loved the novel more when I was younger. I am not sure I answered it but somethings in life you don’t enjoy and that is ok. But sometimes you are stuck in a rut of what you are fond. And so reject the unfamiliar rather than risk doing something new, trying something new, feeling something new.
If we are brave, stupid or fortunate enough we may find pieces of ourselves in unfamiliar places, places we never knew existed, places we would never have looked. If we want to find these places we must stop telling ourselves stories, we must stop kidding ourselves that we know ourselves well. If we don’t risk the new, try new things? Well then those pieces of ourselves remain untouched.
I read somewhere that there are three stages in life, you are either in the groove, in a rut or in the grave. I cannot recall where I read it but it feels true. You want to be in the groove, in touch with the world around you but not limited by it. If you do get in a rut too long it becomes your grave sooner or later.
OK, folks I have chores to avoid. I will end this Sunday morning writing with a quote from William Stoner, the protagonist in the novel that touched my soul this weekend. Enjoy.
You must remember what you are and what you have chosen to become, and the significance of what you are doing. There are wars and defeats and victories of the human race that are not military and that are not recorded in the annals of history. Remember that while you’re trying to decide what to do.Willam Stoner; The Novel Stoner