Meaningfulness: Stoner by John Williams
Our August 2023 Introvert Book Club selection poses the questions: What makes for a meaningful life? What counts as success or failure?
On the very first page of Stoner, the author says straight out that this English professor at an undistinguished university left nothing behind when he died except a reminder of the oblivion that awaits us all sooner or later. The rest of the novel quietly tells the story of William Stoner’s life, especially his numerous disappointments. Some readers find the book devastatingly sad or depressing; they consider Stoner – an introvert – a paragon of failure. Others feel the book is bittersweet and view Stoner as an understated hero whom we can come away tearfully admiring.
These divergent judgments have little to do with the storytelling in the book and everything to do with the values one brings to reading. So let me briefly summarize the plot and then turn to a host of factors that people use to decide whether someone led a meaningful life. As you’ll see, many of these factors divide according to whether the factors are interior (treasured by introverts) or exterior (more precious for extroverts).