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Stoner Audible – Unabridged

4.5 out of 5 stars 1,098 customer reviews

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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
On the first page of this fine novel the author tells us that the protagonist is a man of no particular esteem, a university professor who, after 38 years of teaching at the University of Missouri rose no higher than the lowly rank of Assistant Professor.

William Stoner came to the University of Missouri from a poor farm, became entranced by medieval and renaissance English literature and went on to get a PhD in that field. He was a shy man, and throughout his life had but two real friends. His wife was not one of those two. Within a couple of months of marriage Stoner realized his marriage was doomed to failure. Early on, a situation arose at the university in which Stoner, adhering to principle, earned the lifelong enmity of his department head. Another situation arose that offered Stoner a chance at happiness, and that failed.

One reviewer of this book wrote that he didn't see why anyone would want to read this book about a loser. But was he a loser? In an interview the author, John Williams, stated that he felt that Professor Stoner was a "hero." Surely this is a story of a man who really never got anywhere in life, his marriage was a failure, his parenting poor, and he never was really a vibrant member of the university faculty. Yet in some ways Stoner never gave up. Lacking innate teaching skills he worked hard at it, and became a popular teacher. He was never bitter, and, though struggling as a parent and father, he held on.

So there are two ways of looking at our "hero" or "loser." I found the book to be a wonderfully different view of a man's life. Certainly we can identify with him in some of our own failures, with our own wishes that maybe somethings in our lives might have been different.
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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback
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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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Every once in a while, a worthy but largely unknown novel registers on the literary radar screen and receives deserved attention. Dow Mossman's verbally hyperactive but extraordinary THE STONES OF SUMMER is one such example, rediscovered a few years ago by Mark Moskowitz's STONE READER documentary. John Williams's STONER is another, revitalized by Morris Dickstein's June 2007 paean in the New York Sunday Times Book Review. A thousand thanks, Mr. Dickstein - STONER is indeed a marvelous tale of American life and academia in the first half of the 20th Century.

Published in 1965, STONER was the second of Williams's three novels. Despite the date and serendipitous title, this is far from a beat or hippie generation story. To the contrary, hero William Stoner is a salt of the earth middle American, born and raised on a modest family farm in Missouri at the beginning of the 20th Century. Through intelligence, hard work, and good fortune, Stoner enters the University of Missouri to study modern agriculture. Williams presents his hero as a classically naïve farm boy, utterly awed by the buildings, the books, the other students, and the general aura of academe. All goes well until Stoner the freshman literature class of Archer Sloane. Despite being publicly embarrassed by Sloane for his inability to explain a Shakespearean sonnet about lost love (which also foreshadows his own later life), Stoner nevertheless discovers his true calling in literature. He changes majors, obtains his degree, and ultimately accepts a teaching position at his alma mater. One of his few good friends from the university, Dave Masters, subsequently describes the young Stoner with dead-on precision as "our own midwestern Don Quixote without his Sancho" - prophetic words, indeed.
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