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Stoner [Paperback]

John Williams , John McGahern
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (19 customer reviews)
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Book Description

June 20 2006 New York Review Books Classics
William Stoner is born at the end of the nineteenth century into a dirt-poor Missouri farming family. Sent to the state university to study agronomy, he instead falls in love with English literature and embraces a scholar’s life, so different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments: marriage into a “proper” family estranges him from his parents; his career is stymied; his wife and daughter turn coldly away from him; a transforming experience of new love ends under threat of scandal. Driven ever deeper within himself, Stoner rediscovers the stoic silence of his forebears and confronts an essential solitude.

John Williams’s luminous and deeply moving novel is a work of quiet perfection. William Stoner emerges from it not only as an archetypal American, but as an unlikely existential hero, standing, like a figure in a painting by Edward Hopper, in stark relief against an unforgiving world.

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Product Description

From Publishers Weekly

This reprint of Williams's remarkable 1965 novel offers a window on early 20th century higher education in addition to its rich characterizations and seamless prose. Sent by his hard-scrabble farmer father to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, William Stoner is sidetracked by an obsessive love of literature and stimulated by a curmudgeonly old professor, Archer Sloane. Sloane helps Stoner avoid service in WWI, and Stoner eventually becomes an assistant professor. He then meets and marries a St. Louis beauty, Edith, who quickly subjugates her contemplative, passive husband. As decades pass, Stoner entrenches himself deep into the life of the mind, developing into a master teacher but never finding solace in the outside world. Stoner's single joy is Grace, their daughter, whom Edith appropriates as a weapon in her very personal war against Stoner's quest for inner peace. Williams (1922–1994) won the NBA for Augustus (1973), and NYRB will republish his western, Butch's Crossing next year. Williams's prose flows in a smooth, efficient current that demands contemplation. (July)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


“The book begins boldly with a mention of Stoner’s death, and a nod to his profound averageness: ‘Few students remembered him with any sharpness after they had taken his courses.’ By the end, though, Williams has made Stoner’s disappointing life into such a deep and honest portrait, so unsoftened and unromanticized, that it’s quietly breathtaking.” —The Boston Globe

“Williams’ descriptions of the experience of reading both elucidate and evince the pleasures of literary language; the ‘minute, strange, and unexpected combinations of letters and words’ in which Stoner finds joy are re-enacted in Williams’ own perfect fusion of words.” —n+1

"Stoner, by John Williams, is a slim novel, and not a particularly joyous one. But it is so quietly beautiful and moving, so precisely constructed, that you want to read it in one sitting and enjoy being in it, altered somehow, as if you have been allowed to wear an exquisitely tailored garment that you don’t want to take off." —The Globe and Mail

"It is a marvelous discovery for everyone who loves literature." — Ian McEwan, BBC Radio 4

"One of the great forgotten novels of the past century. I have bought at least 50 copies of it in the past few years, using it as a gift for friends....The book is so beautifully paced and cadenced that it deserves the status of classic." —Colum McCann's Top 10 Novels, The Guardian

"Stoner is undeniably a great book, but I can also understand why it isn’t a sentimental favorite in its native land. You could almost describe it as an anti-Gatsby....Part of Stoner's  greatness is that it sees life whole and as it is, without delusion yet without despair....The novel embodies the very virtues it exalts, the same virtues that probably relegate it, like its titular hero, to its perpetual place in the shade. But the book, like professor William Stoner, isn’t out to win popularity contests. It endures, illumined from within."— Tim Krieder, The New Yorker

"It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across." — Tom Hanks, Time

"Stoner is written in the most plainspoken of styles….Its hero is an obscure academic who endures a series of personal and professional agonies. Yet the novel is utterly riveting, and for one simple reason: because the author, John Williams, treats his characters with such tender and ruthless honesty that we cannot help but love them." — Steve Almond, Tin House


"[T]he work deserves to be called a 'perfect novel' — there's not a misplaced word or a trace of contrivance." -Boldtype


"The best book I read in 2007 was Stoner by John Williams. It’s perhaps the best book I’ve read in years." -Stephen Elliott, The Believer


"John Williams's Stoner is something rarer than a great novel - it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away." -The New York Times Book Review


"Williams didn't write much compared with some novelists, but everything he did was exceedingly's a shame that he's not more often read today...But it's great that at least two of his novels [Stoner, Butcher's Crossing] have found their way back into print." -The Denver Post


“A masterly portrait of a truly virtuous and dedicated man” —The New Yorker


“Why isn’t this book famous…Very few novels in English, or literary productions of any kind, have come anywhere near its level for human wisdom or as a work of art.” —C.P. Snow


“Serious, beautiful and affecting, what makes Stoner so impressive is the contained intensity the author and character share.” —Irving Howe, New Republic


“A quiet but resonant achievement” —The Times Literary Supplement


"Perhaps the greatest example of minimalism I’ve ever read...Stoner is a story of great hope for the writer who cares about her work." -Stephen Elliott


Stoner by John Williams, contains what is no doubt my favorite literary romance of all time. William Stoner is well into his 40s, and mired in an unhappy marriage, when he meets Katherine, another shy professor of literature. The affair that ensues is described with a beauty so fierce that it takes my breath away each time I read it. The chapters devoted to this romance are both terribly sexy and profoundly wise.”—The Christian Science Monitor

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
I'd never heard of this author or this book until I read an essay about him in an old back issue of Ploughshares by the novelist Dan Wakefield. I was suspect, too, because I'm not one for academic novels, unless they're farcical, because the only thing there seems to be at stake in academic novels is tenure, which in my opinion, doesn't make for such great reading. Well, not so in Stoner. Stoner is a quiet look at a man's largely unheroic and drab life, "an adventureless tale" as Joyce wrote (and in many respects William Stoner, the protagonist, comes right out of Dubliners). The feat of this book is that Williams makes the diurnal and fairly dull activities of an academic utterly riveting. How does he do it? By not being precious or pretentious about it, which is how so many other writers would have handled the material. Instead, Williams believes in the integrity of his hero, for whom nothing is easily achieved, or for that matter, very attractive. Even Stoner's honeymoon is a fairly squalid affair, and somehow, as bad as the story gets -- and it doesn't get bad in a dramatic or gimmicky way, just bad in the sense that Stoner never really experiences any joy in his life -- we keep reading. The book is grim, yes, and yet it will leave you feeling oddly enthralled. Read it.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Great Book About a Small Ordinary Life March 14 2004
By Mark
In this remarkable, overlooked work, John Williams chooses as his central character an undistinguished English professor (Stoner), who lives a largely uneventful life teaching at a drab Midwestern university. Neither Stoner's wife, nor his colleagues, nor his students think much of him. Yet the degree to which Williams succeeds in bringing the reader to identify with -- and care for -- his most unlikely protagonist is nothing short of a triumph. The final pages, in particular, are sad, transcendent, and unforgettable.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars nicely written but unmoving Jan. 9 2010
I thought this book was very well written, but unfortunately the dull personality and life of the main character failed to affect me. I enjoy at times reading a story that follows a more existential thread, if it evokes poignantly themes such as melancholy, incommunicability, estrangement, and sadness of the human condition, but like his family and colleagues, I didn't seem to care very much about William Stoner. I would have liked to feel for him, but ultimately his fate left me rather lukewarm.
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By A Customer
This book defies easy categorization. It's about the son of hardscrabble and proud farmers who goes to college just before WWI to learn modern farming techniques; instead he discovers he has a facility for book learning. He becomes a professor of literature but his life is an unhappy one: he marries a woman who turns out to be cold and unresponsive; he dotes on his daughter, but his wife alienates her and the daughter later becomes pregnant to get away, and becomes an alcoholic; he offends the college dean and his career is thwarted. His one chance at happiness is an affair that too is doomed. As grim as it is, the novel is oddly compelling; it's not kind to academic life. Stoner seems caught by his nature; the times; the place; a failure of will. He seems to have no real control of his destiny. Nor does his love of literature appear to give any direction to his life. His is a bleak, hard life. He's caught and can't - or won't -escape. "The unexamined life is not worth living."
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4.0 out of 5 stars engaging Aug. 31 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Stoner is a book which outwardly deals with the small mundane daily events in the life of a university professor who seems never to have taken a stance or stood up for himself. His sadness should be palpable but is only commonplace. His career should be stimulating but is only mundane. Yet the narrative is gripping of the 'I can't put the book down' type. I can't wait for my book club to discuss it! A terrific read.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A Revelation Oct. 20 2014
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
This is an excellent account of a mans life that we can all relate to. What is important when all is said and done ..integrity and love.
This is a deeply profound novel. It has so much depth. Infinitely sad and beautiful in the clear way we can see the Human condition through William Stoner.
A book that can change lives.
Thank you.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Read it. That is all. July 4 2014
By Dorothyanne Brown TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Beyond wonderful this classic needs to be read by everyone. It's not about "stoner"s in today's phraseology, so don't pick it up thinking its about drug culture. Do pick it up if you want many good hours with rich characters and a deep, fulfilling story.
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3.0 out of 5 stars Making life work Feb. 23 2014
A real life story of an ordinary person trying to make sense of life's progress, trials and temptations from rustic beginnings, through an academic career to death.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
One of the best books of 2013. A realistic view of academe
Published 1 month ago by Janine Poley
5.0 out of 5 stars Beautifully written.
Beautifully written...John Williams treats his characters with such a style that you feel part of their life's disappointments. A perfect novel.
Published 2 months ago by Sara Sonego-Young
5.0 out of 5 stars I loved the book - it was a sad story
I loved the book - it was a sad story, but very beautifully written . A best book I 've read for a while. Recommend highly.
Published 2 months ago by Eila Belton
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
Great purchase.
Published 2 months ago by Judy
4.0 out of 5 stars read this book
An intimate portal into the life of an average man. You will not be disappointed when you choose this novel. I dare you to put it down!
Published 8 months ago by Terry
4.0 out of 5 stars Insightful
Had to finish this short book finding it hard to put down but this is a contemplative novel full of life's truths with reflections of one's own journey through life. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Rob
5.0 out of 5 stars A real American Classic
I consider Stoner a real American Classic - quiet, unassuming, powerful prose. Its complex characters and their dilemmas draw you in.
Published 9 months ago by Emilie MacIsaac
2.0 out of 5 stars very ordinary
To me it seemed like a story many ordinary people might write about their lives - nothing caused any emotional response. I like credibility in a novel. Read more
Published 9 months ago by Bob Bird
4.0 out of 5 stars A Life Less Examined
Is still worth living and certainly worth reading about.

This is the understated and plain prose of a master I had never before encountered but I am most pleased I... Read more
Published 13 months ago by J. A. I.
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