This is a tough book to read. I don’t mean the prose, which is elegant and lucid, but the subject matter. This is not a feel-good, we-all-triumph-in-the-end-and-the-band-comes-in-swinging tale. A farmer’s son discovers his vocation, teaches English literature all his life at the same university, marries badly, struggles with office politics and personal problems, dies and is barely remembered. In today’s winner-take-all world, Stoner would most likely be dismissed by many as a total loser.

But there is triumph in this often little-noticed life. However, to understand that triumph, you have to experience not just the small victories but also the pain, frustration, confusion and missed opportunities that Stoner encounters. You have to experience the man’s whole life. And that’s the tough part: living through the pain with him. I did, though, and I’m glad I did. This is truly life-affirming.


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