Usually I don’t post much on this website about books I’m reading, saving any comments or reviews for the end of the year listing of Books Most Enjoyed by MillersTime Readers.
But I have just finished two books, one fiction and one nonfiction, that I particularly enjoyed, each for different reasons, and thus didn’t want to wait until December to write about them.
Stoner by John Williams
My slightly older, better read and wiser cousin Ronald sent me a note about this book, writing, “It is rare that I am affected so much by a novel. Perhaps it’s my time of life, perhaps it is because my career as a teacher of English–but mostly because this is one of the most affective finely crafted stories that I have recently read…It’s also been called the greatest French novel in the English language.”
And Ron’s email was followed by one from his wife Elizabeth, saying, “I read Stoner a couple of months ago. It is a remarkably spare story about a remarkably spare man and place. Marcus Aurelius comes to mind. And yet despite that there is a beauty to it, luminous as one reviewer said. Note: it cuts ”close to the bone” if you are or ever were a teacher.”
So with those prompts, I of course read it. In fact, I plan to read it a second time as I think this is one of those books that deserves more than one reading. The first time my focus was on what was going to happen in Stoner’s life (the main character). Even when I tried to slow down (the book reads quickly and can be finished in a few ‘sittings’) and savor the writing, I found myself moving on as I wanted to know more about the totality of Stoner’s life.
Know that the book was written 50 years ago, yet feels as if it could have been written today. Briefly, and without spoilers, it is the story of the life of a mid westerner born on a farm who becomes enchanted by literature when he is at college and consequently spends the rest of his life reading and teaching. Along the way there are triumphs and failures, joys and sadnesses, ones that the reader can easily understand.
I don’t think you have to have been a teacher or professor to find Stoner captivating, and while I know there are a number of good novels written about life and teaching at a university, this one is one of the best. Indeed, this life story goes beyond where it is set and is one that will stay with the reader long after he has finished reading it.
How is it possible that it is 50 years old and not better known?
* ** ** ** ** *
Composing A Further Life: the Age of Active Wisdom by Mary Katherine Bateson:
As you no doubt have noticed, we are living longer (20 years longer than we did prior to WW II and 30 years longer since the beginning of the 20th century). And while this additional time has extended old age somewhat, the added decades have specifically opened some new space for us beyond the usual adulthood that our parents, grandparents, and great grandparents experienced.
“Adulthood II” is what Mary Katherine Bateson calls this extended time — a different kind of adulthood. It comes after the raising of our families and after our primary work lives, yet before old age sets in. It can also be a time, she writes, of and for “active wisdom” — different from the wisdom of old age.
In her 2010 Composing a Further Life, a follow up book to her 1989 Composing a Life, Bateson focuses on what we can do with this gift of extra time. She recounts the lives of five individuals who have taken different paths with these extra decades and writes that this extended adulthood allows for activities, contributions, activism, and creative expressions that previously were limited. Importantly, she argues, there is wisdom that accompanies these years that makes this second adulthood particularly valuable.
In the three minute, twelve second video below, watch and listen to Bateson discuss this new time available to us:
And if you want a bit more of watching and listening to Bateson, click on this link for a 10:22 minute TED talk.
Bateson studied with developmental psychologist Erik Erickson and is the daughter of anthropologists Gregory Bateson and Margaret Mead. Composing a Further Life is her 11th book, and one that for me puts definition to this current time in my life.
* ** ** ** ** *
An Invitation: In the event that any of you read either, or both, of these books and want to spend an evening at the Millers some time in the future for dinner and a discussion, please let me know.
A Request: If you’ve read a book(s) you’ve particularly enjoyed in the last three months, since the posting of The Books Most Enjoyed MillersTime Readers in 2013, please send me the title(s), with or without a sentence or two about what was enjoyable, and I’ll do an ‘interim’ post about what books readers are enjoying so far this year.
Hugh Riddleberger said:
Love and War by James Carville and Mary Matalin
For those of us who lived in DC and now live in New Orleans (or someplace other than DC), it is a great love story (well, sort-of). But, fun to read as Carville and Matalin go back and forth on issues of living and growing…and I love the fact that they love NOLA for all the reasons that make this a great town…..and it reminds one of some of the important things in life.
Todd Endo said:
Thanks, Rick. I will buy Composing a Life II. I knew Bateson a little when she taught at George Mason and read her first Composing a Life book from 25 years ago. I liked it and need a recharge, so Composing a Life II should fit me. Like Gail Sheehy, with Passages and Passages II, I guess authors reflect upon the issues of their current life and write. The issues are certainly different. As Paula and I reflect on raising a family, pursuing a career, and doing all the work of the 30s, 40s, and even 50s, we wonder how we did it. We’d be interested in a discussion of Bateson’s book.
Meg Gage said:
I read Stoner a couple of years ago and also loved it. Very poignant and intentional. Definitely worth reading. I just finished The Orphan Masters Son, and can’t get it out of my head. About North Korea, an amazing, somewhat preposterous plot, but also devastating in it’s detailed description of life in North Korea.
Too bad the Sox lost today.