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It was Speer Morgan, back in grad school, who introduced me to the work of John Williams.  That’s John E. Williams, not John A. Williams, to “disambiguate” (to borrow the peculiar but appropriate Wikipedia word).

Speer’s favorite book of Williams’ was Stoner, which despite the modern connotation of the word has nothing to do with pot smokers. Stoner is the last name of the novel’s protagonist, a doggedly persistent and flawed professor of English who sticks to his scholarly and pedagogical choices despite (or perhaps because of) the lack of recognition or reward they bring him.

My favorite is Butcher’s Crossing, set in 1870s Kansas. It was published in 1960, and I think a lot of the more recent “revisionist Westerns” owe a debt to its tone and sensibility, though few can match its grim lyricism.

What I liked in all of Williams’ books was the classicism of his style. Williams was never showy with words, and at first glance his style might seem simple. But as any classicist can tell you, sometimes simplicity is achieved through immense effort.

I wrote Williams a fan letter once, years ago, and received a courtly reply. I still have it here somewhere.

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