Stoner

Stoner

Book - 2003
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"Born the child of a poor farmer in Missouri, William Stoner is urged by his parents to study new agriculture techniques at the state university. Digging instead into the texts of Milton and Shakespeare, Stoner falls under the spell of the unexpected pleasures of English literature, and decides to make it his life. Stoner is the story of that life"--Publisher description
Publisher: New York : New York Review Books, c2003
ISBN: 9781590171998
1590171993
Characteristics: xiv, 278 p. ; 21 cm

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amyraeweaver Apr 28, 2019

There's no good reason for Stoner to be such a good novel. It's a completely prosaic story: the birth, life, and eventual death of an utterly ordinary man. He's born into poverty, manages to enter university, and becomes a professor. (He's not a very good professor--it's stated straight out.) He marries and has a daughter. (He's not a very good husband or father.) And eventually, he passes away, never notable at all.

And yet, back when I worked at a bookstore ~2014, we sold an average of 2 copies a week. I met members of the publishing imprint's marketing team at a conference and told them that, and they were pretty gobsmacked--but it was one of the most popular books on our shelves. And that was simply because everyone at that store read the book and loved it so much that we could handsell it to just about anyone who liked Serious Literature For Grownups.

So let me handsell this book to you. Stoner's a quiet, contemplative novel, and there's no good reason why it works...but it DOES. This is a novel that could only ever be a novel--there's allegedly a film in production, but if it's made, it still won't hold a candle to this book, which tells a story that only really works on paper. There's something special about that, in my opinion, the fact that this book is among the bookiest of all books. It's not trying to be anything but a novel, and it succeeds beautifully.

If you like character-driven stories, literary fiction (especially from the middle of the 20th century), academics, or beautiful prose, you owe it to yourself to give Stoner a try.

k
kkucker
Oct 26, 2018

Williams's remarkable 1965 novel offers a window on early 20th century higher education in addition to its rich characterizations and seamless prose.

m
m0mmyl00
Jul 22, 2018

I loved this novel, though it infuriated and distressed me. Stoner was simply not equipped to defend himself against manipulation nor malevolence, and retreated to a life of the mind when he could have — and should have — taken a few swings at his tormentors. One doesn’t do that in academia, though, and it didn’t seem to have crossed his mind to stand up for himself in any way. His avoidance approach to life left him with a paucity of human connections. In many ways, he was the author of his own misery; but life treated him unfairly in many ways, too. He didn’t fight for the life he should have had, but neither did he deserve the life he got. A very affecting novel.

w
wyenotgo
Jan 16, 2018

I've never found myself so strongly in disagreement with my Goodreads correspondents as I am with this book. Simply put, it infuriated me. I found nothing noble or admirable about William Stoner. He allows himself to be mesmerized by his fantasy about an empty-headed daughter of the bourgeoisie, marries her despite knowing virtually nothing about her, allows her to bully him mercilessly, abandons his beloved daughter to be victimized by his vicious wife, gets ambushed by a sneaky, dishonest student who destroys his career ... and so it goes.
I suppose in his own way, Stoner is a "nice guy". Yes, those are the fellows who finish last ... if they finish at all.
All that said, in deference to Williams' elegant prose and skillful character development, I will struggle through to the end. Not enjoying this one bit!

a
alicejeandvz
Apr 15, 2017

Great insights into the passion for teaching and learning

m
mckeett
Apr 01, 2017

This is the story of a rather ordinary man William Stoner who lived a not particularly eventful life. The author somehow makes the novel quite interesting and enjoyable to read. I don't know how he did that.

k
kwsmith
Mar 24, 2017

This book really is the greatest American novel that you've never heard of. The quality of the nearly perfect writing puts most modern novels to shame. Stoner suffers and struggles through his entirely bleak life but ultimately finds a noble sense of purpose in his life's work.

j
jannylegs
Jul 12, 2016

Compelling story of an ordinary man.
“Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.” ― Henry David Thoreau, Civil Disobedience and Other Essays

d
DWIGHT A GREEN
Mar 12, 2016

I'll skip the summary since there is a nice one from the publisher on this page.

The novel has been categorized as an academic novel and early in the book I thought it didn’t matter what the professional setting was since there are similar politics in any profession. Later, though, I realized that William Stoner not only had to be cast as a teacher but his subject had to be English—Williams uses the book to make a statement on literature’s potential. While studying literature in college, Stoner"would feel that he was out of time, as he had felt that day in class when Archer Sloane had spoken to him [about the 73rd sonnet]. The past gathered out of the darkness where it stayed, and the dead raised themselves to live before him; and the past and the dead flowed into the present among the alive, so that he had for an intense instant a vision of denseness into which he was compacted and from which he could not escape, and had no wish to escape."

Those moments of otherness, standing outside of time, happen a few times in the book and, in addition to communing with those no longer living, provide a balm to Stoner. Just as Stoner explains to his students that there is poetry in grammar and other places we don’t expect, Williams shows there is poetry within moments of our life we don’t anticipate. These moments keep Stoner’s life from being tragic, even when the moment is something as simple as his daughter’s face absorbing the light in his study while he worked. With Stoner, John Williams makes good on equating the study of literature and language with investigating the mystery of the mind and heart.

q
Qwfwq
Nov 29, 2015

I dislike using such worn out words and phrases as "inspirational" and "a testament to the endurance of the human spirit"- for these descriptions have been hijacked by the worst pap of inferior writing which dominates book clubs and bestseller lists- yet Stoner is both these things. It rings true in the heart of the reader with quiet, simple insistence. You should read it.

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