I wrote about the book here and recorded a podcast about the book here, I still wanted to note NYRB Classics’ publication of a special 50th Anniversary Edition of John Williams’ Stoner, one of my favorite books of all time.
As an ardent admirer of any row of beautiful NYRB Classics, which now publishes John Williams’ three masterpieces, the paperback with the conforming spine is still essential. So what does the 50th Anniversary Edition add, besides a new hardback cover?
The answer is both not much and an awful lot. Let me explain.
The text is obviously the same, though it has been repaginated (and I do feel like it fits a page in a more appealing way than the paperback). Both editions have the same lovely introduction by the late John McGahern. The principle difference is this: the new edition has a lengthy, previously unpublished correspondence between John Williams and his agent, Marie Rodell.
This adds “not much” to the page count (about 25 pages), and if this isn’t your kind of thing then it won’t add much to your appreciation of the book or John Williams. However, for me it adds “an awful lot.”
On the strength of three books published from 1960 to 1972 — Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and Augustus — Williams is one of my five favorite authors. While there are some common elements, these three books are very different: Butcher’s Crossing (which I wrote about here and podcasted about here) takes place in the American West in the 1870s; Stoner takes place in a college in the mid-twentieth century; and the epistolary style Augustus (which I wrote about here and podcasted about here) goes back to the first Roman Emperor.
Each book is a full fledged masterpiece. I think about them each so often that I cannot help but look for anything else I can find that concerns the work of John Williams. I didn’t know what to expect when I started reading the series of letters that accompany the new edition of Stoner, but I was more than satisfied.
The series of letters focuses on the publication of Stoner, but it begins at the publication of Butcher’s Crossing (Williams expresses his deep disappointment in the way his publisher marketed the novel) and ends looking forward to Augustus, so that fruitful decade, with its hopes and dreams, is covered. Williams recognized that his work was great and special, as humble as he tried to be in his letters. He hopes they might break open and make some good money — he believed they could, if the cosmos aligned — but he was proud of them despite commercial failure.
Despite plans for more work, never published another novel before his death in 1994. I spent some time searching for the few extent excerpts of his unpublished final novel, The Sleep of Reason, which I wrote about here. Few authors have inspired me to do so much digging. Perhaps it’s because Williams is only now getting the recognition he deserved in life, and so his own sadness, dying while his books languished out of print and his final book unpublished after two decades of work. It’s a powerful story I enjoy thinking about, and this glimpse at the author at the other end of his career is refreshing and touching.
Regardless of your preferred edition, I still highly recommend reading Stoner (and the rest of Williams’ work). I hope you do, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.