“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.”- “Stoner,” p. 36
I distinctly remember a time in high school in which I listened to all of the adults around me explain how emotional teenagers can be, and how they tend to over-dramatize every situation needlessly. The phrase, “It’s not a phase, mom!” was tossed around ironically as we kids all pictured ourselves in the pits of despair while listening to edgy Evanescence tunes and flat ironed our hair until it was stick-straight.
Post-grunge when most of us had figured out how not to destroy our hair, my senior year English teacher handed us the syllabus and let us know that, “Although you’re already in one, I’m going to teach you about existential crises in literature. Try not to panic.”
Mrs. Johnston, ironically throwing fuel on the fire, literally defined our immature musings and required us to express it more minutely than we ever had before. She started us off with one of the best books I’ve had the pleasure to read: “Stoner” by John Williams.
Although it involves absolutely no THC to speak of, “Stoner” begins a conversation about existentialism front-and-center through the story of William Stoner. While he starts as a quiet, unassuming farmer boy with little to no ambition, Stoner leaves his small town existence and becomes the first person in his family to attend a university. His father has sent him there in order to learn how to be a better farmer, but Stoner soon falls in love with literature and abandons his traditional family farm for university life.
While this book is pretty old (published in 1985), it expresses a lot of thoughts and feelings that college students can sympathise with. How many of us have come to college expecting to be or do one thing only to do a complete 180 and switch our majors? How many of us learn the altogether painful lesson Stoner learns: “that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another?”
“Stoner” is sure to strike any reader with a fresh dose of existentialism and give students a renewed view of life. Give it a go, and try not to panic!
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