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4.5 40
by John Williams

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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


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.

Editorial Reviews

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 2006 Reed Business Information.
From the Publisher
“A beautiful, sad, utterly convincing account of an entire life…I’m amazed a novel this good escaped general attention for so long.”  —Ian McEwan

“One of the great unheralded 20th-century American novels …Almost perfect.” —Bret Easton Ellis

Stoner is a novel of an ordinary life, an examination of a quiet tragedy, the work of a great but little-known writer.” —Ruth Rendell

“A beautiful and moving novel, as sweeping, intimate, and mysterious as life itself.” —Geoff Dyer

“I have read few novels as deep and as clear as Stoner. It deserves to be called a quiet classic of American literature.” —Chad Harbach

“The most beautiful book in the world.”  —Emma Straub

"A poignant campus novel from the mid-'60s—an unjustly neglected gem." —Nick Hornby, People

“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
“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, 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 Kreider, 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
“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 fine...it’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, The 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

Product Details

University of Arkansas Press
Publication date:
Reprint Series
Product dimensions:
5.29(w) x 8.52(h) x 0.78(d)

Meet the Author

John Williams (1922-1994) was born and raised in northeast Texas. Despite a talent for writing and acting, Williams flunked out of a local junior college after his first year. He reluctantly joined the war effort, enlisting in the Army Air Corps, and managing to write a draft of his first novel while there. Once home, Williams found a small publisher for the novel and enrolled at the University of Denver, where he was eventually to receive both his B.A. and M.A., and where he was to return as an instructor in 1954. Williams remained on the staff of the creative writing program at the University of Denver until his retirement in 1985. During these years, he was an active guest lecturer and writer, publishing two volumes of poetry and three novels, Butcher’s Crossing, Stoner, and the National Book Award–winning Augustus.

John McGahern (1934-2006) was one of the most acclaimed Irish writers of his generation. His work, including six novels and four collections of short stories, often centered on the Irish predicament, both political and temperamental. Amongst Women, his best-known book, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize and made into a popular miniseries. His last book, the memoir All Will Be Well, was published shortly before his death.

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Stoner 4.5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is a book that should be on the book lists for most high school and college literature programs. Stoner is great literature and an instructive life lesson on how one man stoically accepts and overcomes what life has thrown at him. Stoner is the 'Job' of the early 20th century. A very enjoyable and easy read...
eenreads More than 1 year ago
Author John Williams was asked who would want to read the sad story of a University of Missouri English Literature Professor during the early to mid 1900's? SURPRISE...many many readers! It's a captivating story. IT was selected as our Book Club read and what a gem. The story of this Missouri man, his wife, his daughter and all the connections he has to his students and teaching job will quickly wrap you into his world. William Stoner is like an 'everyman' of those times. His wife is an example of the shallow, mean spirited empty life of a housewife of those times. The conflict Stoner has with his Dean and other Professors could easily have happened. They story is believeable, enjoyable and you just get sucked in to wanting to learn more about the pathetic life of Stoner.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
William Stoner, the protagonist, will remain in the imagination of the reader long after the final page has been turned: this man's arduous life is saved by his "love affair" with the English language and the result is 288 pages of delicious prose.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was sucked into 'Stoner' within the first few sentences. The characters are believable and their situations -- though heart-rending -- are presented with such skill, such beautiful effortless prose, that I experienced powerful emotional reactions, which for me indicates a great book. I felt a strong connection with Stoner -- there's much of him inside of me. I bought copies for all of my friends.
Gurdonark More than 1 year ago
The novel Stoner is sometimes described as the story of an ordinary man. Yet this description minimizes the author's achievement. In Stoner, John Williams tells a narrative biography of a farmboy who becomes a professor. He does so in spare, reflective text that never condescends to the characters or the reader, and never goes astray. The result is a a novel which is both an old-fashioned "good read" and a thoughtful examination of finding one's way amid difficult challenges. Stoner is not Mr. Chips, nor Job, nor a heroic figure. The author instead presents a man who makes choices, both wise and unwise, and lives them out. There's a quiet kind of nobility in the character of Stoner, and the novel holds the reader's interest by exploring it.
anne40 More than 1 year ago
This is a wonderful character study and a book you will not want to put down. The writing is superb as is the story. I plan to read it again. John William's other two books are not as compelling but still wonderful books.
BurtShulman More than 1 year ago
After finishing this book I was amazed that I'd never heard of Williams before NYRB's re-discovery. For me, he proves to be a rare prose master just on the strength of this book (he wrote others but I haven't yet read them). The prose isn't showy, but is pitch-perfect in its alignment with its protagonist. The reading experience becomes exhilarating largely because of the precision of the prose -- which is perhaps even more remarkable, in my opinion, than Williams's darkly wonderful contemporary Richard Yates. Williams manages to impart a sense of hope to what could have easily come off as a lonely, even desolate life.
TheReadingWriter More than 1 year ago
This book has no extra words. The scenes are drawn with a sensitivity and skill that made me squirm with remembered anguish. The disquiet we feel when Stoner's father stares long and hard at Stoner's financée and makes an assessment, the brutal and pointless faculty fights in college departments, the uncertainty and unreasonable joy one feels before one's love is declared--these things so precisely described are authentic truths we can all recognize. Tightly written, and polished reverently, Williams creates a fictional world that feels so real we ache with despair. It is a primer for writers, and a lesson for readers. It deserves to be read widely.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Reading this, I thought at first that these circumstances would be so different today. But they would not. People still marry the wrong partner and encounter manipulative and vindictive bosses. We still get stuck. It left me feeling sad but determined to never fear following my heart.
Anonymous 6 months ago
Slow read that picks up intensity with every chapter
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
What a remarkable novel! "Stoner" is another example of a great American novel that nobody seems to know about. It's a sad reality that books like this go unread by so many when the same novels, some of which are overrated, are used again and again in our schools and universities. Stoner is a story of how a young son of a farmer became an English Professor at the University of Missouri. His life sets out in a direction he never could have imagined but he quickly learns that life is often not what you expect it to be. It's smart and honest and heartbreaking. It brought me back to my time studying literature in college and how much I enjoyed that part of my life. I can't wait to read more from John Williams.
emannepnyc More than 1 year ago
The language is amazing. The story goes nowhere. Williams builds this character, and his life, with all these potential twists and turns ... and then nothing. The story just putters out.
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Boring, slow moving, depressing
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Excellent study of human nature. As human nature can be sad, poignant and beautiful, sometimes simultaneously, this is a very complex book, even though the writing style is simple. There is something emotionally evocative that stays with you long after you finished it. Highly recommended, as are John Williams other two known books: Butcher's Crossing and Augustus.
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