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4.28 of 5 stars 4.28  ·  rating details  ·  16,715 ratings  ·  2,820 reviews
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...more
Paperback, 278 pages
Published June 20th 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published 1965)
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Jeffrey Keeten
In his extreme youth Stoner had thought of love as an absolute state of being to which, if one were lucky, one might find access; in his maturity he had decided it was the heaven of a false religion, toward which one ought to gaze with an amused disbelief, a gently familiar contempt, and an embarrassed nostalgia. Now in his middle age he began to know that it was neither a state of grace nor an illusion; he saw it as a human act of becoming, a condition that was invented and modified moment by m...more
I was going to start out this review of Stoner by feigning comic incredulity that the former conductor of the Boston Pops wrote a novel about potheads, but that is far, far too obvious and unsatisfying even for the likes of me. Instead, I am going to confess that I read only half of it (and, thereby, my ignorance has been properly disclaimed) but that this aborted reading filled me with such unmitigated contempt for the author that I plan on mounting every soapbox (if soapboxes haven't been tech...more
UPDATE December 2010:

I just submitted this to Better Book Titles. I hope they accept it.

Original Review October 2009:
This is the most straight-forward linear narrative type of novel I've read in the past year. So at first, I was not impressed. But I soon realized that the novel is impressive precisely because it is able to be so damn linear, the writing style so damn plain, and the characters so damn dull and yet... and yet it manages to make me continue reading on, driven by what I don't know....more
John Williams's Stoner blew me away. I've never read anything like it and some passages left me moved to the point of exhaustion. When I finished I put down the book (well, the Nook), picked it up again, and re-read highlighted pages. Stoner gave me strength; if you believe that the right books find you at the right time, as sometimes I believe, this book found me at the right time.

Stoner outlines the life of a farm kid who, at his dad's recommendation, attends college for agricultural studies b...more
Maria Headley
Devastating novel of academia, unfulfilled hope, and a life not-entirely-lived. Gorgeous writing, heartbreaking plot, and if you're a fan, as I tend to be, of stories set in the dark halls of libraries and universities, this is one to read. The love story within this book is suddenly out-of-nowhere rapturous, and the marriage is brittle, delicate, insensible and perfectly done. The book feels so modern, though the bulk of the action is set in the 30's and 40's. I kept stopping to check that this...more
The US does not have sadness on its agenda. Its psyche is a constant concern with happiness, fulfillment, the American Dream and the way to this god given of all rights. Never has the isolated country been brought to its knees. Never has the culture and creed and thought of civilization of the American people been forced to view sadness as something other than an error to be fixed. Sadness is the result of tragedy, grief, a lightning strike catastrophe that time will heal. Naturally.

America, you...more
Jun 12, 2008 S. rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: Ellen
I didn't find this as sad or sorrowful as it’s often said to be. For me it’s about how the inner life redeems the outer, how a satisfying life of the mind makes the rest of life bearable. In that way, despite all the protagonist’s misfortune, I found Stoner an affirmative and even uplifting book.

May I add what an incredibly handsome paperback it is? The cover portrait by Thomas Eakins is gorgeous and perfect, grave and balanced.

I should give it five stars. I will.
Bleak and monolithic, the eponymous Stoner rises from the tumult of a Boschean sea of humanity as a testament of Everyman: if Botticelli gave us the ‘Birth of Venus’ to accentuate the apex of human endeavour for beauty, love, aesthetics, truth and poetry, and Molierre, Machiavelli and Goethe gave us the quintessence of human failure, hypocrisy and deceit, then Williams, quietly, and unobtrusively, erects a pithy monument to the hopelessly forlorn, ‘small’, and non essential bios of the most mund...more
This book is surprising, not so much for any plot twists or odd behavior, but for how we come to regard an overtly unremarkable man as interesting and likable. William Stoner was the only child at his family’s farm in Missouri, with a work-to-play ratio that was high even by turn-of-the-last-century standards. When he came of age, his father sat him down and explained in about two minutes’ time how he thought it best to send his son to college to study modern agriculture. It was the longest Ston...more
Apr 04, 2014 Louisa rated it 5 of 5 stars
Shelves: 2013
William Stoner, you broke my heart in several different ways and in several different places. There will always be a place for you in my imaginary life. I felt your pain, your quiet desperation and loneliness, your endless integrity and love for all things literary. It was difficult for me when the book came to an end, I felt that I'd lost a friend and my life is richer for having known you.
Reading "Stoner" gave me another one of those parallel universe experiences. In the goodreads universe, where everyone else lives, this is apparently a much loved and lauded book. Heck, those good folks at the New York Review of Books tell us it's a classic. And has this to say about the main protagonist:

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 unforg...more
They had been brought up in a tradition that told them … that the life of the mind and the life of the senses were separate and, indeed, inimical; they had believed … that one had to be chosen at some expense of the other. That the one could intensify the other had never occurred to them ...

The story of a man’s life. A boy, born in 1891 near Booneville Missouri (fictitious), 40 miles from Columbia; growing up on a small farm; quiet, few friends, boyhood spent helping on the farm (at school “he d...more

Albrecht Dürer: Job and his Wife

Vintage books seem to specialise in producing beautiful paperback editions of titles which have been out of print or are only recently translated into English. I have a small collection of their red-spined covers sitting on my shelves. They all have something in common apart from the red spines; they are books I may read again sometime in my life because of the quality of the writing, the depth of the characterisation and the overall worth of the contents. They a...more
This might be for me the best book of the year.
Sublimely told and with such a subtle narrative which flows easily displaying the life of an ordinary man during an extraordinary time in America. This might be the story of a whole becoming country or only the unheroic account of a simple existence.
But its simplicity is what makes it unearthly beautiful, nostalgic and moving.
Early 1900's, Missouri, although Stoner comes from a modest family of farmers his father sends him to the state university to...more

Harrowing. It broke me up inside to read it. I'm not saying it was a bad novel or a badly written one, not at all. I'm saying that it put me in an awful mood several times, several hours of anguished, uncomfortable reflection when I'd put a certain passage or chapter aside.

Kafka says that a book should be an axe for the frozen sea inside us. I couldn't agree more, but I definitely caught a couple glimpses of the be-careful-what-you-wish-for feeling a time or two.

Reading it qua reading it, the...more
Con Stoner, preparatevi ad andare in bianco.

Mi è sempre parso che iniziare un libro, sia come salire su un treno. Ci si sale sopra, ci si sceglie un posticino vicino al finestrino e si guarda fuori. All’inizio è pur vero che state fermi. Ma fermi fermi. Allora guardate il cartello blu della stazione, i ritardatari che corrono, i fidanzati che si salutano, insomma vi abituate all’idea del viaggio. Poi il treno parte, ma non veloce, anzi, molto molto lento; è una cosa che quasi vi irrita, siete de...more

I knew I had to come to this book some day, after reading somewhere that the French novelist Anna Gavalda had decided to take it upon herself to translate it into French. She had loved it that much. It was that good.

And good it certainly was. It feels like a classic in the best sense of the word. The writing is superb, strong and evocative. The main character is heartbroken and heartbreaking.

Yet, it was a harrowing reading experience. I cannot say that I looked forward to getting back to it. Per...more
Rebecca Foster
Waterstones, a leading bookstore chain in the UK, chose as its Book of the Year for 2013 a novel that was first published in 1965, sold a paltry 2,000 copies and fell out of print within a year. That novel is Stoner, long the obscure preserve of a few dedicated American scholars but finally entering into popular knowledge. It was re-released in the US and UK in 2006, and has been championed by authors such as Ian McEwan, Bret Easton Ellis, Colum McCann and Julian Barnes, who calls it “one of tho...more
The prose was graceful, and its passion was masked by a coolness and clarity of intelligence. It was herself he saw in what he read, he realized; and he marveled at how truly he could see her even now.

The prose in this book, too, is graceful and masked by a coolness. This central idea of regret, personified through scenes and written with a simple, yet intricate delicacy that makes it an enjoyable read. The lucidity of Stoner's life story, his thoughts, his integrity, moves the story with brea...more
Feb 10, 2014 Melanie rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: everyone
Recommended to Melanie by: Louisa
Shelves: favourites, maps

……Well, what shall I say? Do our inner thoughts ever show outwardly? There may be a great fire in our soul, yet no one ever comes to warm himself at it, and the passers-by see only a wisp of smoke coming through the chimney, and go along their way.

The Borinage/July 1880, V. Van Gogh to Theo

William Stoner’s soul may not emit even a wisp of smoke but there is fire, difficult to detect at first, but soon enough his soul’s capacity for passion becomes undeniable. If only all small, narrow, mute live...more
Jan 14, 2014 Sue rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Sue by: Kitty
This book has some passages that demanded re-reading immediately, some moments that call out for the reader to simply stop...and think about Stoner or Edith or Grace and their lives. Not many books pull you in so deeply.

Stoner was not born to be a teacher but he was fated to be one once he entered his Freshman English course and came under the influence of the language. That moment dictated the remainder of his life, for better or worse. The university would be the setting for love, marriage, d...more
Justin Evans
I first read Stoner a few years ago, when I was a graduate student, writing a dissertation on literature, far from my parents who had not gone to university. This serves as your bright red light warning that my feelings about this book (about a man who becomes a professor of literature, far from his parents, who, I'm pretty sure, didn't go to high school) are entirely conditioned by my past experiences. I have more than once read aloud, to my wife, who didn't care the first time, the scene in wh...more
"That time of year thou mayst in me behold
When yellow leaves, or none, or few, do hang
Upon those boughs which shake against the cold,
Bare ruin'd choirs, where late the sweet birds sang."
William Shakespeare

John Williams's Stoner is that rare novel which is almost perfect in every way, from its plain prose style to its subtle portrayal of themes and evocative descriptions of events that are common enough for all adults to have experienced them - in ways that make the narration a pleasure - and w...more
Mar 10, 2014 Tfitoby rated it 5 of 5 stars
Recommended to Tfitoby by: Melanie, Daniel, Jeffrey Keetan
Shelves: lit, favourites
"There was a softness around him, and a languor crept upon his limbs. A sense of his own identity came upon him with a sudden force, and he felt the power of it. He was himself, and he knew what he had been."

Count me as another body on the Stoner Fanwagon, I've fallen heavily for this wonderful novel and can't quite grasp how it was achieved and why a novel published in 1965 took until 2013 to come to prominence and its rightful place in the hearts and minds of lovers of western literature.

Jul 31, 2014 Suzanne rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommended to Suzanne by: Laura
I was somewhat sad when I finished this book, not only because the writing was good enough I did not want the experience of reading it to end, but also I felt almost as though I’d lost a friend. William Stoner had become very real to me.

The prose is exceptional, in a quiet, elegant way. This is the beautifully written story of a very ordinary man born just before the beginning of the 20th century who moves from a hard rural farming life to an academic career. We follow him through all the phase...more
Shakespeare le parla attraverso tre secoli di storia, Mr Stoner. Riesce a sentirlo?... Cosa le sta dicendo, Mr Stoner? Cosa significa questo sonetto?
Stoner alzò lo sguardo con lentezza, riluttante. "Significa", disse… "Significa", ripeté, e non riuscì a terminare la frase.

William Stoner era all’università per studiare agraria e tornare in campagna ad aiutare suo padre nei campi e magari, grazie allo studio, fare rendere meglio la terra avara.
Un sonetto di Shakespeare lo folgora, come...more
‘Stoner’ es una de las mejores novelas que he leído este año. Desde el mismo principio caes presa de este genial libro y de su memorable y maravilloso protagonista. El argumento, a simple vista, parece nimio. ‘Stoner’ es la crónica de un personaje, William Stoner, desde su nacimiento, en 1891, en una granja de Missouri, pasando por su entrada en la universidad para estudiar agricultura, y el punto de inflexión que supone cuando se plantea el cambio de la agricultura por la literatura inglesa, ha...more
Nov 02, 2013 El rated it 4 of 5 stars
Recommends it for: BoCoMo
Recommended to El by: The Professor, Bookish
From the ages of, what, like 11 to 25, I lived in Columbia, Missouri. I have this habit of not reading the backs of books I'm about to read, or their dust jackets lest I'm inadvertently spoiled by something, so I didn't realize that this book takes place in my old stomping grounds. But right off the bat, I was reminded of so much by such familiar names: College of Agriculture, Ashland Gravel, Boon[e]ville. I found myself trying to recognize the buildings Williams described, as though it might be...more
Not sure exactly what to make of this one, style-wise, but after the recent vague disappointments of David Cay Johnston and Naomi Klein, I can definitely say that it helps me understand why I mostly read novels instead of non-fiction: maybe you learn a lot more from non-fiction, but the things you learn from fiction are infinitely more useful.

Stoner might turn you off at first with its telling-rather-than-showing, its didactic, stilted manner, its insistence on a Jude-the-Obscure plotline with...more
Thanks to the goodreaders (Matthew and Katie, particularly) who suggested this one. The ideal midpoint on the stylistic continuum. Blurbs talk of its "perfect novel"-ness, and somehow, amazingly, that's what I was thinking while reading: maybe the perfect traditional tone (attentive, steady, transparent prose that occasionally requires re-reading for savoring/remembering), a story perfectly paced, no gimmicks or catchy chapter titles or cleverness, and yet so deeply imagined and engaging thanks...more
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Stoner -- a real gem of a novel 15 150 Aug 20, 2014 02:40PM  
Goodreads Ireland: Spoiler Thread: Stoner 73 71 Jun 03, 2014 11:32AM  
Goodreads Ireland: January Monthly Read 2014: Stoner 76 75 Jun 03, 2014 02:11AM  
All About Books: Stoner by John Edward Williams (Laura, Katy & Jenny) 53 50 May 21, 2014 04:13AM  
Goodreads Italia: Stoner di John Edward Williams - Commenti e discussione 78 165 May 06, 2014 02:19PM  
NYRB Classics: January 2014: Stoner 34 95 Feb 09, 2014 02:36AM  
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John Edward Williams was born on August 29, 1922, in Clarksville, Texas, near the Red River east of Paris, Texas and brought up in Texas. His grandparents were farmers; his stepfather was a janitor in a post office. After flunking out of junior college and holding various positions with newspapers and radio stations in the Southwest, Williams enlisted in the USAAF early in 1942, spending two and a...more
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“Sometimes, immersed in his books, there would come to him the awareness of all that he did not know, of all that he had not read; and the serenity for which he labored was shattered as he realized the little time he had in life to read so much, to learn what he had to know.” 147 likes
“In his forty-third year William Stoner learned what others, much younger, had learned before him: that the person one loves at first is not the person one loves at last, and that love is not an end but a process through which one person attempts to know another.” 78 likes
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