Friday, December 27, 2013

Evanston: STONER and others; my Christmas cooking

        I have been fortunate recently in enjoying a number of exceptional works: 
        The opera MOBY DICK which I admire so much I ordered CD’s of Heggie’s earlier opera, DEAD MAN WALKING.  They arrived late yesterday and I’ll listen to them this afternoon.
        Mary Parker’s THE FORBIDDEN ZONE.
        The documentary, BLACKFISH; and films, THE TREE OF MAN, which I don’t think quite works but is visually stunning and includes a fine performance by Brad Pitt; and HEAVENLY CREATURES, directed in 1994 by Peter Jackson, of LORD OF THE RINGS fame, based on an actual murder by two teen age New Zealand girls of the mother of one of them.  The opening credits show, “And introducing, Kate Winslet”, who plays one of the girls in her first film performance.  HEAVENLY CREATURES opened the way for both Peter Jackson and Kate Winslet to bigger, if not necessarily better things, and is well worth watching.  We did on Netflix streaming.
        I just finished John Williams’s novel, STONER, about the unassuming life of an English professor at the University of Missouri in the first half of last century.
        I’ve had STONER on my Kindle for a while and got around to reading it now because of the heading of an article I saw a few weeks ago in the GUARDIAN naming it the Book of the Year.  Odd because as I knew it was published fifty years ago and its author has been dead for twenty.  
        I like to read books unfiltered by the perceptions of others, so did not read the article until after I finished STONER.  I found it pompous and pretentious; but then that is the nature of criticism, which is more often about trying to impress us with the reviewer’s cleverness than the work ostensibly under discussion.  The most useful information in the article is that STONER has become a bestseller in Europe, largely through word of mouth, though not in America. 
        The reviewer offers generalizations about why this might be so, and like all such generalizations, they are shallow.  He admits to not previously having heard of John Williams.  I, who am in some ways an un-American American, but an American nevertheless, have known of John Williams as a fine writer for decades.  I’ve read his novel, AUGUSTUS, a couple of times; and BUTCHER’S CROSSING once.  Both are on my Kindle to reread again.
        I started to write that nothing exceptional happens in the life of William Stoner in the novel, but instantly realized that is not true.  Stoner had an exceptional love for his work.  He was not fortunate in other ways, not his marriage, his child, a love affair, even his academic career, though he cared little for the career and everything for the work.  Such a man is most exceptional and fortunate, as despite disappointments, William Stoner knew himself to be.
        What is also exceptional is John Williams’s ability as a writer to make a superficially uneventful life so interesting and so moving.  I finished the book with great sympathy and admiration for William Stoner and wished he could have found more happiness in his life.
        Most of you reading this are Americans, so, according to the man in the GUARDIAN, the book is not for you.  But reportedly Tom Hanks likes it, and he’s American, and so very much do I.  If you like fine writing, be daring, give STONER a try.


        Carol and I spent a pleasant Christmas at home in the frozen flatlands.
        We cooked what is becoming our traditional Christmas or New Year’s dinner of pork chops, apples and calvados, from a recipe sent to me several years ago by Adrian in England, for which I again thank him.  And yes, the plural pronoun is correct.  I really can do more than boil water.  Well, not much more.
        One stage of the preparation requires pouring flaming calvados over the still cooking pork chops and apples.  Assigning this to a half blind man with poor depth perception might seem curious, particularly when as we have learned the necessary first step is to turn off the smoke alarms, but mine were the only other hands at hand, so pour I did.
        Our building still stands; and the results were wonderful.
        Boil water.  Eat nuts.  Uncooked oatmeal.  Pour flaming calvados.

        My future cook book is coming right along.