In an introduction to the novel ‘Stoner’ by John Williams, John McGahern wrote that the author had said to his interviewer, Brian Wooley, ‘…My God, to read without joy is stupid’.
There are reasons why I habitually skip the introduction to novels –primarily because they are full of quotes: passages from the book (do we need this just before we read it?) or what someone else said about the author and his writing. Or as in this case, what the author had reportedly said to someone else.
In this case, I did read the introduction –after I read the book, because I was desperate to read more, even second/third hand, from the author.
My response to ‘Stoner’ is not unique. The book was on my Book Discussion Group’s reading list. At our meeting, everyone was so in awe that we spoke of the book in hushed tones. It was as if we’d unearthed a rare and precious object. We marvelled at it and we wondered at the way it touched us.
I had to give my apologies to the group for missing the next meeting – I am reading ‘Stoner’ again. Reading a novel for a second time, for joy, is a serious commitment, especially when there are piles of books at one’s bedside (many half-read) awaiting but I am doing it out of need. I am closing those half-read books and taking them down to the charity shop down the road. Someone else may read them with joy. I know this one will detain me awhile.
This is not a book review. Better writers have done better jobs than I can hope to achieve. All I can say is, in the book, much of Stoner’s life was bleak – so bleak that those moments of joy, when they came, will make you cry out, ‘I have felt it!!’ or make you wishful: ‘if only I have had that.”