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4.27 of 5 stars 4.27  ·  rating details  ·  26,960 ratings  ·  4,020 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
Paperback, 278 pages
Published June 20th 2006 by NYRB Classics (first published 1965)
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Mark Like many reviewers I have returned for a second reading, within twelve months of completing my first, and after recommending this wonderful book to…moreLike many reviewers I have returned for a second reading, within twelve months of completing my first, and after recommending this wonderful book to so many of my friends.

One friend's response surprised me, "I didn't like William Stoner' as he was so feeble' - she went on, ' he is a willing victim, and loses his daughter and his career, and allows himself to be beaten by his horrible manipulative wife, and humiliated in the work place, and he doesn't stand up for what he believes in'

But William Stoner stands for 'Everyman' doesn't he ! And in his struggles and misfortunes we see the way a life is put together and inevitably must unravel. He stands for the oppressed, the downtrodden and the defeated, and yet his insights illuminate the biggest lessons in life :

“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.”

This question contains spoilers… (view spoiler)
Gary He does follow his heart, but it's not always obvious. Edith, English and Grace were his passions. Anyhow, good question.…moreHe does follow his heart, but it's not always obvious. Edith, English and Grace were his passions. Anyhow, good question.(less)

Community Reviews

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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
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.
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
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
Steve Sckenda
Stoner had a calling, but things are never easy for the anointed. He was the son of earth and of hardscrabble farming who lifted his eyes up to the sky and beheld the temple of knowledge, which called unto him to forsake the life he knew to become a teacher. After his parents sacrificed to send him to university for the purpose of studying agriculture, Stoner met his true love—Literature.
The love of literature, of language, of the mystery of the mind and heart showing themselves in the minute,
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
After 63 pages: “Stunned by Stoner. This is agonisingly wonderful.”

At the end: “Finished. Him and me. Exquisite but exhausted.”
Then I immediately started rereading - something I have only previously done with children’s picture books.

It is, without question, my joint favourite book ever. (Titus Groan/Gormenghast is the other, in a very different way.) For that reason, I’ve really struggled with this review: it’s hard to explain its mesmerising power in a way that does it justice. In a departure
Life happens to Stoner, John Williams' unforgettable character in the 1965 novel that has burned into my reading soul. The situations, disappointments and outcomes in his life left me frustrated with Stoner's inability to contemplate and then sometimes avoid his existential angst. Would he be defeated in life by his passiveness? But more importantly, how does he deal with the blows repeatedly dwelt him?

Through this seemingly pedestrian life, Williams paints the Everyman. I was reading about all
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” - Henry David Thoreau

The triumph of this work lies in its self-effacing world-weariness, its tone of indifference even to the prospective reader's concerns. In the manner of the protagonist's iron stoicism in the face of misfortune and persecution, the narrative revels in its own lacklustreness, its state of diffused melancholy.

William Stoner, first student and eventually English professor at (fictiona
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
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
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.
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

The conclusion of this novel becomes apparent at the outset only and that probably attests the comedy as well as the modest tragedy of William Stoner’s life- a relentless irony coupled with utter predictability. I liked Stoner, the book and sympathized with Stoner, the character but a quandary is what I found myself in and it led me to an odd line of thinking. Somewhere around chapter 5 of the book, I became a disinterested reader, a role I hate to perform but went with it nevertheless like a re
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
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
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

In his celebrated epic Midnight's Children, Salman Rushdie claims that in order to understand one life "you have to swallow a world", meaning you have to know everything about his culture (India) and his people. With Stoner, John Williams goes to the other end of the spectrum: in order to understand everything you need to know about life, it is enough to look at one man, William Stoner, a man who is not even living out in the world, but is cloistered for most of his life in the ivory towers of

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
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

I have a problem with Stoner and I have a problem with William Stoner too . Though , quite possible it is the same problem .

On the cover of my copy there are some words of Tom Hanks that this is the best novel I have ever read . Dear Mr Hanks I dare say that you don’t know me at all . It doesn’t mean I totally disliked Stoner but probably wasn't suitable reader for it .

Narration is flat and maintained on one note , one melody . Initially , this quiet and dispassionate voice talking to me ab

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
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, riuscire a far rendere meglio la terra avara.
Un sonetto di Shakespeare lo fo
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
Jenny (Reading Envy)
Don't judge a book by its cover (I'm sure the artwork chosen is a seminal work but doesn't exactly scream "read me!")

Don't judge a book by its title. (This has nothing to do with drugs, ha!)

DO read a book when readers you respect keep bringing it up. Friends in the Misfit Readers had mentioned it and then I heard a small excerpt on Episode 4 of Dear Sugar Radio.

This is a small book about a small life and I struggle to explain why it is as good as it is. I couldn't put it down, this man from farm
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 bre
When I was in 7th grade I had an American History assignment to write a five page paper on a mid-18th century politician. I vaguely remember being extremely proud of the work I produced, but the real reason this particular assignment sticks in my head (among the hundreds of papers written throughout my schooling) is the remembrance of the shock I received when I was handed back the paper with a large "F" at the top of the first page. Mr. Hutton had written in an impatient scrawl next to the firs ...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
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
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
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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.” 235 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.” 155 likes
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