PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

On Steve Almond's ​Feeling-Fueled Rant on John Williams' 'Stoner'

From the cover of Catalan Publishing's Stoner (paperback, 2015)

Sink into the metatextual delights of a touchstone ranting about his own touchstone with Steve Almond's Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life.

William Stoner and the Battle for the Inner Life
Steve Almond

Ig Publishing

June 2019


It's only just come to my attention that there is a potentially really excellent book series that Ig Publishing has been curating since 2016. Bookmarked has ten entries at this point, all of which are 200 pages of a reasonably esteemed prose writer discussing their personal and literary connection to someone else's reasonably esteemed book.

What we have here is a series of very strong voices with moderate name recognition talking about the books that have inspired them deeply. These are often minor works by widely acclaimed and prominent authors like Vonnegut and Fitzgerald. The series includes Steve Yarborough on Larry McMurtry's The Last Picture Show (1966), Michael Seidlinger on Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves (2000), Brian Evenson on Raymond Carver's What We Talk About When We Talk About Love (1981). Do you know these guys? Have you read these books that they love? They finally published one of my favorite guys, Steve Almond on John Williams' Stoner (1965).

I read all of Almond's nonfiction books. He's one of my favorites because we get interested in similar subjects about which we usually conclude with similar opinions, and I admire the fact that he's found a voice that makes him seem like a mensch despite frequent confessions of his faults. If he'd bottle that and sell it to me as a salve for the worst of my meanness, I'd totally buy it.

So I came by the Bookmarked series most honestly and was extremely psyched to study Almond's study of one of his own touchstones—even though I'd never even heard of Stoner or John Williams. How much of an uphill battle is it to immerse yourself in and enjoy a book by a dude you like, when that book is about some other guy's book that you have never read? Turns out, none whatsoever.

For me, Almond's enthusiasm for a subject has always been infectious. I knew a lot about junk food and rock 'n' roll before diving into his books on those subjects and loved those books for the way I could involve myself in a dialogue with them. But sometimes it's also quite nice to learn something new, isn't it? This is why we take book recommendations from our friends in the first place. Almond once briefly caused me to feel interested in football, so why not get metatextual and allow him to persuade me that I should pick up Stoner? Spoiler alert: he did convince me and it's been added to my reading list.

The entirely of the Bookmarked series seems aimed at recommending for revival some books that for one reason or another were underrated in their own time, and it is a good deed for Ig Publishing to proliferate them more widely. Perhaps the majority of people reading Almond's take will be rowing my boat, and Almond carefully ensures that we can keep afloat through bits and pieces of quotation from the source, but the main thing is that readers can drift along on the tide of his profound approbation for Stoner.

This series is for feeling-fueled rants, not stuffy block-quote-laden analyses. We don't need to have read the page by page original conflict between Stoner and his antagonists; we just need to see the play by play application of the lessons that emerged from Stoner as they occur to Almond during a lifetime of rereading this book. He first gets his hands on it in graduate school, and it deeply imprints his evolution as an academic, in addition to later making him a more reflective husband, father, teacher, and citizen.

He is also clear on the faults of Stoner. It was written in 1965, so you probably already know what its faults are: the man is quietly overburdened and slowly martyred, the woman is flatly and hysterically evil, and other conventions we can file away under #yesallmodernism. And yet there is some interested analysis of classism in a more agrarian Gatsby mode, some courageous anti-war sentiment well before it was fashionable, and a type of restraint in the prose that was almost laughably against the grain at the time of its publication.

Almond zooms in on the way Stoner articulates the battles of every inner life, including ours and Almond's and Williams'. These battles have an innate timelessness in their motifs that Almond then artfully tracks through the shifting contexts of his apprehension of its lessons. He pokes at old wounds, opening them again and again in homage to and in service of the legacy of the unrelieved narrative technique that impressed him so mightily in Stoner in the first place.

If you've ever read Stoner, you have no doubt of the need of Almond's moving tribute to it. If you have not read Stoner, Almond will convince you that you should. If you have not read Steve Almond, hopefully I have convinced you that you should do that first. And now I've got to go pick up a copy of Stoner. For now, our metatexual circle is complete—but Almond says there's likely to be a movie.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.