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Stoner by John Williams

In 1999, the New York Review of Books quietly embarked on what has become a blessing to readers of great literature, its Classics reprint series. If you’ve not seen these books, they have a very distinctive, uniform look. In fact, the imprint’s blog often links to photos fans have taken of the distinctive spines of these books their bookshelves. I’ve been a sucker for this series for years.

Years ago, near the beginning of my obsession with NYRB Classics, I had the great pleasure to come across a fully merchandised display of these wonderful books at Three Lives and Company, a delightful bookshop in the West Village. (Booklovers: please visit this gem of a bookshop whenever you’re in NYC.) Of all the books on display, the strikingly stark cover of Stoner piqued my attention; the description on the back of the book intrigued me further. I soon read it, and it more than surpassed my expectations.

Stoner is the quiet, entrancing story of William Stoner, the son of hard-scrabble Missouri farmers. Sent to the University of Missouri by his parents to study agriculture in order to return to and inherit the family farm, Stoner discovers the magical world of literature and scholarship which alters the path of his life dramatically. He continues his studies to become a Ph.D. in English and ends up working as a faculty member at his alma mater. The book follows the quiet life of a quiet man. Williams is a gifted writer who writes in what he refers to as “plain style.” This book enchanted me from start to finish. It describes the drama of a simply lived, quiet life. It is a classic waiting for you to rediscover it. – Brad Allen, Director

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