Most books that we read idolise an exciting life, a life of adventure and purpose. Stories surrounding a destiny that has to be embraced; a quest that has to be fulfilled; a monster that has to be slain. But that is as false as the monster in those books. Life is, more often than not, drab and ordinary, with many ups and downs, many tears (born both of sadness and joy), and many meaningless happenstance and coincidences. Life doesn’t have meaning; we add meaning to life, in our own unique way. And William Stoner brought meaning to his own life, and lived a satisfactory one, even if it seemed dull, boring and eventless to outsiders. 

He was born to circumstances not of his choosing, saw the light of hope leave his parents’ eyes while their bodies continued to exist. He went to college believing he is to return to that same senseless existence in a few years. But he never returned; he fell hopelessly in love with books instead. Literature, a string of ink squiggles scrawled on a plain piece of paper, wrought with the hopes of stirring the heart and the mind. And stir it did, for William. What’s more, he fell in love with a woman! Even if, as it turns out, she wasn’t—by any stretch of the imagination—the “right” woman for him, he tried to be faithful to her. True, he faltered sometimes, and sometimes he lacked strength and assertiveness. All true. But, he did the best he could, and what else could be expected of him? He realised late that he should not have been indifferent to his profession for as long as he had; he realised late that he should not have given in to pressures from his work and his wife, and spent more time nurturing his relationship with his daughter. But what can one do? Sometimes knowledge is not gleaned at the right time. Sometimes the damage is already done. Yet, one must move on. Life always goes on. As Stoner realized, life has to be lived forwards, but it can only be understood when examined in hindsight.

It was a refreshing change from my usual science fiction reads and a deep contrast from the non-fiction books I peruse. This book described--in much more beautiful words than I could ever muster--the simple life of a man who dared to choose his own fate and who learned to live with the consequences of his decisions. Something that we are all guilty of avoiding at times.

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