Posted by: zhiv | March 9, 2010

Tom Hanks recommends Stoner by John Williams

Thought I would just leave a quick note, since I haven’t posted in awhile. I was at the dentist today and looked at a brand new Time Magazine, with Tom Hanks on the cover, with an article talking about how important he has become in shaping the understanding of history for many Americans. It’s a fascinating topic, actually, but you don’t get much meat on the bone in a Time story, even when it’s a renowned writer (I think this might have been Douglas Brinkley–not going to bother to check it). Everything is pithy and heavily edited.

At any rate, there are some fleeting, interesting moments about how Mr. Hanks became interested in history and its onscreen depiction. They go hand in hand. He’s a very smart guy, but he has an Everyman’s view and isn’t much interested in scholastic specialization. He seems to have a strong appetite for well told true stories and he likes to look at the picture of history and how it’s painted. While he does so, he’s thinking of how to tell the stories onscreen.

He seems to like to read a lot, and to take a thoughtful, “lettered” approach, but with a corresponding fear of getting too academic and spoiling the interest and drama. The article does a good job of surprising us with something that perhaps was obvious: that he has produced a lot of material with historical subjects, more than we might have guessed.

It’s all straightforward enough, and a pitch to watch the expensive HBO Pacific project that he produced with Spielberg. I’m not particularly interested in it at the moment, but I may be at some point. I could think more about historical adaptation, but that’s not why I decided to post. In the article a number of history books are mentioned, most of them in the Stephen Ambrose vein, solid wide-ranging bestsellers. A fair number are cited in the body of the text, but then there’s a box runs down 5 books that are “Tom Hanks Favorite Page-Turners,” or something like that. One of them is John Hersey’s Hiroshima, I think. At the bottom of the quintet is John Williams’ Stoner, the teacher/academic novel republished a few years ago by NYRB press, that I read and wrote about in January. It’s a fantastic book, and it was nice to see Hanks mention it.

I was skimming the article and then saw the boxed text and mention of Stoner, and then went through the article trying to see if it was mentioned anywhere, wondering if these “page-turners” were books that related to the content about Hanks and history. The answer, apparently, after looking around as carefully as possible, seems to be no, no connection. Just one novel on his list, no mention of fiction anywhere in the whole article. I was curious to see if Hanks was thinking about playing Stoner, or if he had optioned it from the estate and might be producing it as a film. Doesn’t appear to be, but you never know. He would have been excellent playing the character about ten years ago or longer, but there are so many great scenes in the book of Stoner as a young man, and he wouldn’t be able to do those now.

It’s just a bit odd, but in a nice way, to see Stoner get this shout out. My guess is that it will be a film at some point, if it’s not already on its way. And it would be a film, like Revolutionary Road, that is relatively unsatisfying, no matter how well done it is. The book is that good, that reading it will always be its own special experience, and the movie would never measure up. A film version might be quite good on its own terms, and very well made, and there are all the right materials for a solid adaptation. Just the old tricky storytelling equation.



  1. This is funny – I was in my eye doctor’s waiting room yesterday when I read the same story and had the same reaction. I was surprised how that one novel was so randomly listed in a completely unrelated article. I ended up googling “Tom Hanks 5 Page Turners” and your blog came up first, pretty interesting, I enjoyed reading your take.

  2. Thanks for posting this. I read, loved, and reviewed Stoner back in February but I hadn’t seen your review from January until now. I am glad there are people out there reading this fantastic book.

  3. […] book. As Stoner has climbed from obscurity to fame, with such celebrities as Ian McEwen and even Tom Hanks recommending it, the air of obscurity has still clung to the novel—it is, in The Daily […]

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