Wednesday, October 8, 2014

Stover at Yale - A Book Review

That they called each other, “Old Sport” (whisps of Fitzgerald here) regularly, made it even more fun to read.

As one who likes novels about the social and academic challenges of high school and college, I recently finished reading Owen Johnson's 1911 work , Stover at Yale. Besides that the novel's subject matter fit well with one of my favorite genres, I was excited to read it because a close relative I'd never known attended another Ivy League school in the same general time period as the story in this book and I was hoping to get hints of what college life might have been like for him back then. I was not disappointed.

What probably hooked me was a quote that Andrew Delbanco in the The New York Review of Books refers to F. Scott Fitzgerald as having said about the book, (this is paraphrased, I assume) It is “the textbook of my generation.” That I could download Stover at Yale to my electronic reader for nothing, since its copyright had expired, was an added perk.

Reading Stover, what I learned was that while things were quite different back then, many things have not changed. Much of the text revolves around the protagonist's desire for the other students' approval, including decision to join a society club (aka a fraternity) or not, and his own youthful rebellion and epiphany. For many of us who went to college in the latter Twentieth or even early Twenty-first Centuries, those stories still relate.

Still there are some that do not, like trying out for and making the varsity football team; being seen with a low-class woman and having it splashed across the newspapers; and my favorite, smoking a pipe in your dorm room by the fireplace. That they called each other, “Old Sport” (whisps of Fitzgerald here) regularly, made it even more fun to read.

I'll recommend Stover at Yale to anyone who likes the genre as I do. It is well written and comes in at around 350 pages (my estimate). Be forewarned, it has some blatant unapologetic attitudes towards other classes of people that one can assume was commonplace for the time and place, but may be a bit jarring for the Twenty-first Century reader. If you can get past that fault—and let's all hope those days are past—and take it for what it is, symbolic of its era, you may find you enjoyed this book as much as I and perhaps even learned something along the way.