If you see a whole thing - it seems that it's always beautiful. Planets, lives... But up close a world's all dirt and rocks. And day to day, life's a hard job, you get tired, you lose the pattern. - Ursula K. LeGuin

Monday, May 24, 2010


Pumpkin gave me several books for my birthday.  Many of them are off my Amazon Wish List, which I had told her I keep public just for such purposes. She knows I love getting books as presents and did a great job picking them out from my extensive list. But she also strayed off the list, which, unbeknownst to her, is something I enjoy even more.

Pumpkin's favorite book is Gone With The Wind.  She was talking to a co-worker about favorite books and her feelings for GWTW and he mentioned that Stoner was his favorite.  He said it was an amazingly intense and emotional book and the only one he has ever had to put aside while reading because of the intensity.  She was intrigued and looked it up.  What she read about it reminded her of me and she included it in my gift.

Have I mentioned how amazing Pumpkin is?

I can't believe I've gone through 45 years of reading (or being read to) without ever having found John Williams or this novel before.  It is a quiet but brilliantly intense read.  It was published in my birth year and the story takes place at the beginning of the century but it still holds true today.  It is set in academia but it is a book about life and love and work.  It is a must read.

I told my mother about the book before I started reading it.  My entire life I have been convinced that my mother has read every book worth reading but she had never heard of the novel or the author.  Having now read it, she agrees with my assessment and offered a likeness to Marilynne Robinson's work.  I hadn't made a connection but it is definitely there.

If this post hasn't piqued your curiosity enough to go out and find a copy in your local library (or bookstore) yet, here are some quotes.

On privilege and gender:
So she grew up with a frail talent in the more genteel arts, and no knowledge of the necessity of living from day to day.  Her needlepoint was delicate and useless, she painted misty landscapes of thin water-color washes, and she played the piano with a forceless but precise hand; yet she was ignorant of her own bodily functions, she had never been alone to care for her own self one day of her life, nor could it ever have occurred to her that she might become responsible for the well-being of another.  Her life was invariable, like a low hum; and it was watched over by her mother, who, when Edith was a child, would sit for hours watching her paint her pictures or play her piano, as if no other occupation were possible for either of them.
 On gender and marriage:
She had gone into her marriage to Horace Bostwick with that dissatisfaction so habitual within her that it was a part of her person; and as the years went on, the dissatisfaction and bitterness increased, so general and pervasive that no specific remedy might assuage them.  Her voice was thin and high, and it held a note of hopelessness that gave a special value to every word she said.
On teaching and passion:
Now and then he became so caught by his enthusiasm that he stuttered, gesticulated, and ignored the lecture notes that usually guided his talks.  At first he was disturbed by his outbursts, as if he presumed too familiarly upon his subject, and he apologized to his students; but when they began coming up to him after class, and when in their papers they began to show hints of imagination and the revelation of a tentative love, he was encouraged to do what he had never been taught to do.  The love of literature, of language, of the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words, in the blackest and coldest print--the love which he had hidden as if it were illicit and dangerous, he began to display, tentatively at first, and then boldly, and then proudly.  


Annie said...

I love the quotes on teaching and passion the most. As soon as I sign off from here, I'm going to place this book on hold. Thank you!

Annie said...

Sadness- My library system used to have a copy, but no more. I'll have to check Amazon or do an ILL.

Julie said...

Pumpkin is awesome. Books from the book list are great, but the unexpected book is a treasure.

I've read "Stoner," but it was when I was younger. I do remember liking it. I'll have to read it again. I love the excerpts you include. As a writer, I really appreciate the pacing and little poetic touches, especially her invariable life "like a low hum."