Posted by: zhiv | January 22, 2010

Reading Notes: Starting Stoner: Academic Novels and Teacher Novels

Friday, January 15

When I was ready to do some reading last night I had a bunch of choices in front of me, per usual. I stopped right in the middle of Richard Russo’s Empire Falls about a week ago, distracted by doing research on The Awakening and Kate Chopin, reading a few stories. It already seems like a while since I was reading Russo, but I guess work stuff has been creeping in too. I thought I would get started last night by glancing at my new “Essays on the Essay” book, just to see if it was going to be promising, and both of the pieces I looked at, reading just two pages of each of them, seemed excellent.

There’s also Chekhov. I have a new, cheap book which contains a bunch of unread (by me) stories. I had found and read “Journey in a Cart” in one of my old, seemingly exhausted collections just after New Years, and then “Overwroght” last week. It seems like a great time, still in January, to get organized on the Chekhov front and get after it again, and I want to look at Chekhov alongside Chopin anyway, and delve into Maupassant and the connection there too. So I looked at one story, “At Home,” and realized I had read it, and read two pages of another story but didn’t feel like going further. And I had Empire Falls sitting on the stack, and I wanted to get back to it. But I also had my new copy of Stoner, by John Williams, which came today.

Another thing I did last week, before my Tuesday book hunt, was that I fired up and made a few purchases. The first to arrive, on Saturday, was Lucky Jim, the classic Kingsley Amis Academic Novel: that’s another one that distracted me from Empire Falls over the weekend, as I read the first chapter. I’m looking forward to getting to it, and I’ll mention, as it’s actually pertinent to today’s topic, that after reading Straight Man I decided I want to delve into the Academic Novel a little more deeply. It turns out that I’m fairly well-read already in the topic, using the handy Wikipedia list of titles, which has some good books on it. There is also some low-hanging fruit on the list, starting with Lucky Jim and Mary McCarthy’s Groves of Academe, which I’ve wanted to read for awhile, and I’m happy to find a way to continue McCarthy studies. And Mary McCarthy’s book may or may not be the first Academic Novel, the at best semi-reliable Wikipedia tells me.

It turns out that I have recently encounted gather forces on this very tangent. I was back on on Monday going on a modest spree, picking up more cheap Awakening books. The Norton Critical Edition is on its way, as is the Case Studies in Comtempoary Criticism edition (Bedford/St Martins), along with a few other items. I want to talk about the Case Studies series in general, on its own, another time. I had read Elaine Showalter’s essay on The Awakening, and I decided to look at her books in my search. And so I discovered by chance that she has written an entire book, fairly recently, on the Academic Novel. At the time, way back on Monday, even though I had my copy of Lucky Jim and my evolving reading plan, I didn’t bite, having cut down my list of Chopin purchases already, and one of the books I bought was by Showalter. But now, this morning, after glimpsing the bigger picture last night, I know that her book on Academic Novels will be coming this way. And so now I’ve got my eye on Showalter, who works at Princeton I think.

So like I said I’m looking at the stack, with Empire Falls resting there. But I’ve also got my copy of Stoner, which had just arrieved. I’m very happy with my copy. It’s a great thing that this book is in print through NYRB. But the copy I have is an extremely handsome University of Arkansas Press paperback, published in 1988. I can’t resist it and just want to take a look, and so it sneaks ahead of Empire Falls, which is going to have to wait a while longer.

From the first paragraph I know this is a great book for me, and it has the feel of a true classic. I read happily, greedily, and if I wasn’t old and exhausted at the end of the day I would gulp it down and go through it in a single sitting. It’s not exactly what I expected: it’s much better. I don’t know what’s going to get in the way over the course of the next couple of days, but I want to read through this book right away.



  1. I’m looking forward to getting to Stoner myself (who knows when, probably not soon, but still). I love academic novels and so was happy to call up the Wikipedia list, which I haven’t looked at before. There’s lots on there I haven’t read, which is good. There are several Alison Lurie novels that could go on the list too.

  2. […] Lurie’s Foreign Affairs. I was just thinking about this book because Zhiv wrote a post on academic novels that made me want to read more of them. I really liked this book […]

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