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Stoner | [John Williams]

Stoner

William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th 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, far different from the hardscrabble existence he has known. And yet as the years pass, Stoner encounters a succession of disappointments.
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Publisher's Summary

William Stoner is born at the end of the 19th 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, far 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.

©1965 John Williams (P)2010 Blackstone Audio, Inc.

What the Critics Say

“A perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, it takes your breath away." (Morris Dickstein, New York Times Book Review )

“A masterly portrait of a truly virtuous and dedicated man.” (New Yorker)

“An exquisite study, bleak as Hopper, of a hopelessly honest academic at a meretricious Midwestern university. I had not known…that the kind of unsparing portrait of failed marriage shown in Stoner existed before John Cheever.” (Los Angeles Times)

What Members Say

Average Customer Rating

4.1 (802 )
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4.1 (689 )
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4.2 (680 )
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Performance
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  •  
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 07-11-13
    Raleigh greensboro, NC, United States 07-11-13 Member Since 2009
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "understated midwestern beauty"

    this book was published in 1965
    it sold all of 2,000 copies that year
    looking back, we probably shouldn't be surprised

    it was later rediscovered by european critics
    they had the wisdom to recognize its' true worth
    it is a real masterpiece of understated beauty

    how does an introverted intellectual live life on his terms ?
    how can a man fight the world's pressing him into its' mold ?
    how can you recover from betrayal and disappointment ?

    the book uses a college professor's career to answer these questions
    the steady adversity of midwestern life provides the plot
    the book is an extraordinary meditation on an ordinary life


    4 of 5 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 10-16-12
    Mark Raglan, New Zealand 10-16-12 Member Since 2011

    I love listening to books when cycling, paddleboarding, etc but I press pause when I need to concentrate. Its safer & I don't lose the plot!

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Dry, but engaging"

    This is quite a downbeat, somewhat depressing, story about a very passive country boy who goes to college to learn agriculture, and switches to become an English teacher. He repeatedly, frustratingly, allows other people's actions to influence his life profoundly. He is talented but unselfish, resilient and tolerant to a fault. He allows other people to suppress his happiness and seems to accept whatever misery others inflict upon him without offering much resistance.

    Despite this, it is a good book to listen to. The story is well written and well read, and engages the listener with its poetic melancholy charm.

    9 of 12 people found this review helpful
  •  
    David 07-15-15
    David 07-15-15 Member Since 2012

    Indiscriminate Reader

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    "Stark and fine, sad and solitary"

    This is possibly the most depressing book I've ever read.

    It's not grimdark, it's not maudlin or sentimental, it's not a hopeless tale of a broken life. It's the biography of a young farmboy who goes off to college to learn agricultural science, falls in love with English literature, and spends the rest of his life as an English professor. And through bad luck, principled refusal, and a certain amount of passivity, enters into a loveless embittered marriage, watches his career stagnate, his daughter become estranged, and everything he ever loved fall away like browning leaves. Except his love of literature, which never leaves him and is often his sole consolation across the long years.

    The author, a former English professor, sets his novel in a university much like the one where he taught, though he assures his former colleagues in the foreword that it is entirely fictional. His familiarity with the ins and outs of university life and the vicious nature of academia (as the old saying goes, the fights are so bitter because the stakes are so small) bring Stoner to life in hushed academic vivacity.

    William Stoner, a tall, lanky young man, has the beginnings of a promising career when he sets out on his academic path. The publication of his first book heralds what the rest of his life will be like - it is received as a "competent" work by reviewers. It would be easy to say that Stoner is a tale of frustrated mediocrity, except that Stoner the man is vividly self-aware, aware even that he has the potential for something more that he will never quite achieve.

    First it's his wife, Edith, a pale, tall, awkward girl from an affluent family, whom Stoner woos and wins because she can't seem to think of a good reason to say no. And from the moment of their wedding night, it's a disaster, his marriage to this spiritless, unhappy woman who will first be swallowed in depression and then wage subversive war against her husband, seeing that he has no peace or solitude at home, no comfort at her side, no hope of moving on to a better opportunity, and worst of all, when she sees that their daughter takes after her father with quiet, devoted seriousness, goes about driving a wedge between them and in the process destroys her daughter's spirit as well.

    At work, in one of the few moments when Stoner stands his ground, against an unqualified, farcically unprepared graduate student pushed forward for a doctorate by one of his colleagues, this turns into the defining millstone of his career, because it makes his colleague, who will soon thereafter become the Department Chair, a bitter enemy. And so Stoner will spend the next 20 years with a superior who despises him and sees to it that nothing good ever comes his way.

    In the end, William Stoner stands tall and alone, stooped by years and adversity, but never quite defeated. He has stood on his principles and suffered for them. He has had the chance to take the easy way out more than once, and never has, never abandoned his responsibilities or his promises, no matter how much they cost him. He is a man alone and apart.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    loix 06-30-15
    loix 06-30-15 Member Since 2004
    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Frustrating "read""

    The narrator's clipped and deliberate style may be responsible for my lukewarm response to this title; I admit I may have had a completely different reaction had I simply picked up the written word version instead. On the other hand, the writer's style was not the easiest to warm up to: it was strange encountering so much adverbial modification (I wasn't even sure if some of these adverbs could ever be found in the dictionary). And although I understand that the impossibly impassive and stoic protagonist might actually have a counterpart in the real world, I found it very unfortunate that he had not learned anything from the extensive reading he had done. It is hard to reconcile his professed passion for literature with such a glaring absence of all the major themes of literature from his everyday life, whether physical or emotional.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Emily - Audible NJ, United States 06-25-15
    Emily - Audible NJ, United States 06-25-15 Member Since 2010

    As an Audible Editor I listen for a living! British classics, YA novels, speculative fiction, and anything quirky, fascinating, or heart-wrenching.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Gentle, Beautiful, and Completely Engrossing"

    John Williams' classic, which is having a bit of a renaissance at the moment, goes against the advice of every writing coach out there. It doesn’t show, it tells. It recounts the utterly quiet and straightforward life of a farm boy who becomes a mid-level English professor at the University of Missouri. He marries and has a child, and faces endless disappointments with a stoic and believable resolve. And if you don’t think that sounds like a story that would suck you right in, then you’re be wrong. Stoner is filled with equal parts melancholy and joy. It’s unputdownable - almost suspenseful in its own way - as it guides you thorough an unremarkable life that is nothing if not honorable, recognizable, and filled with truth. I don’t know how John Williams wrote a page-turner with such a subject, but he did, and I feel like my life is richer for having experienced it.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Ryan Baumann 06-16-15 Member Since 2013
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    "A good reading of a bad book"

    I got the Audible version of this because I knew that was the only way I was going to be able to finish this poorly-written one-dimensional solipsistic dreck. I had to see it through to the end, just to see if it ever redeemed itself (it didn't).

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Parola138 Czech Republic 04-14-15
    Parola138 Czech Republic 04-14-15 Listener Since 2005

    We bite

    HELPFUL VOTES
    373
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    "This is literature"

    This book, believe it or not, is NOT about smoking weed. No, it's about a kid who grows up on the farm and basically has no character, personality or goals in life. His family saves money and sends him to college to learn agriculture so that he can become a repeat of what his father has done his entire life.

    This story is not exciting by modern standards. It lacks vampires, soap-making and terrorism. However, the author has that special ability to paint very vivid pictures with very few words. It is the author's talent that makes me care about some random dude in a university during and after the first world war. I had never heard of this writer and by chance discovered him. He is quite talented. I thought I would hate this book based on the content, but the delivery and the crispness of each human subject that is introduced has that sort of magic that few books have.

    This is what you call literature- where though it is fictional, it is somehow truer than real life.

    Magic.

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 11-24-14
    CHET YARBROUGH LAS VEGAS, NEVADA, United States 11-24-14 Member Since 2015

    Faced with mindless duty, when an audio book player slips into a rear pocket and mini buds pop into ears, old is made new again.

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "ADRIFT"

    John Williams’ book, "Stoner", is not a page turning delight; partly because of the monotone delivery of Robin Field but principally because of the somber story of a life adrift. "Stoner" seems almost like an autobiography. Though published in 1965 when Williams would have been in his early forties (Williams died at age 71), the story is about the adult life and death of a man who cannot take control of his life; i.e. a man who drifts through life, a life managed by others.

    Only one incident in William’s story shows Stoner capable of making a decision. Only in the narrow context of his academic career does Stoner show any inclination to take a stand. Stoner prevails in an argument with the Dean of his department by deciding to teach what he wants to teach rather than what he is assigned to teach. The irony of this one decision by Stoner is that tenure, with few exceptions, protects teachers from being fired. The prescience of Stoner’s student friend, who died in the war, is fully revealed.

    Williams’ story is frustrating for reader/listeners who view life differently than Stoner. In one respect the book seems like a mid-life crises apology; in another, it seems a simple story of a cloistered, protected life of a person adrift, who does not care about living, or for that matter, dying. (A lesser point of the story is that Williams shows how academic tenure is both good and bad. It protects both good and bad teachers.)

    1 of 1 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Annie Allerton 12-19-12

    DIY critic

    HELPFUL VOTES
    3
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    3
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    "Stoicism rather than communicating"
    Would you recommend this audiobook to a friend? If so, why?

    I found it moving and some beautiful writing, but so bleak, so frustrating that he was unable to be more assertive and express his needs, and he was such a withered character in himself – depicted powerfully by the writer. However my sympathy was engaged with him and the other unfulfilled characters – his bitter wife, his destroyed daughter, the envious, revengeful and bitter academic rivals, and his briefly involved parents - like scarecrows in themselves.


    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
  •  
    Rhonda USA 10-13-12
    Rhonda USA 10-13-12 Member Since 2014

    Rhonda478

    HELPFUL VOTES
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    "Depressing"

    It must have been very difficult for john Williams to write such a depressing book. Robin Field did an excellent job reading. Would look for him again.

    3 of 4 people found this review helpful
Sort by:
  • halex
    10/11/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Painful narrator"
    What could have made this a 4 or 5-star listening experience for you?

    Improved narrator


    Has Stoner put you off other books in this genre?

    No


    Who might you have cast as narrator instead of Robin Field?

    Myself


    What reaction did this book spark in you? Anger, sadness, disappointment?

    Disappointment as the text was quite good, just the reading style was tedious in the extreme


    Any additional comments?

    Avoid the audiobook. If you are looking for an account of a boring, aimless and obvioulsy doomed existence try reading it on your kindle.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Android
    9/22/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "pause for thought"
    Where does Stoner rank among all the audiobooks you’ve listened to so far?

    Stoner is one of the most important books I have read


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Stoner


    What about Robin Field’s performance did you like?

    The thin reedy quality


    If you made a film of this book, what would be the tag line be?

    Learn where to draw the line


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Sheila
    8/3/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Magnificent writing. Moving story of life."
    What made the experience of listening to Stoner the most enjoyable?

    Identifying with human frailties.


    Who was your favorite character and why?

    Stoner, an everyman: unique in who he is, common in how imperfect he is.


    Which scene did you most enjoy?

    His moments with his lover.


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    No, I was happy to come back to it but missed it in between listening times!


    Any additional comments?

    Highly recommend this for the quality of writing and the beauty of the story.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Madeline
    York, United Kingdom
    7/10/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Not as depressing as the blurb suggests"

    This is one of those audiobooks which can be made or marred by the reader. In this case, the reader adopts a lugubrious and melancholy voice which makes Stoner (man and book) seem more miserable than he and it actually are. Here is an ordinary man of no great achievement who is stubborn when he should give way and submits when he should assert himself. There are a lot of us like this. Yet this is an interesting book and I enjoyed it and it is well read. Recommended

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Cathy
    Oxford, UK
    7/7/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A very sweet story"
    If you could sum up Stoner in three words, what would they be?

    sweet, gentle, sad


    Which character – as performed by Robin Field – was your favourite?

    Stoner himself


    Was this a book you wanted to listen to all in one sitting?

    I could quite easily read this in one go.


    Any additional comments?

    This was a book of its time. This unremarkable man had a sad life which he wouldn't lead now

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • hfffoman
    Kent
    7/6/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A thoroughly unenjoyable listen"
    Would you be willing to try another book from John Williams? Why or why not?

    This is my second John Williams novel. The first was good, but I won't try another


    How could the performance have been better?

    The performance was rasping and pedantic, like someone reading from the bible and making an effort to be as dull as possible.


    Any additional comments?

    I could not listen to the end. I don't mind that the story is sad and depressing. I do mind that Stoner's behaviour is not only exasperating but unconvincing.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Amazon Customer
    Cornwall, UK
    5/17/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "An Unexpected Classic"

    This is a dry, quiet, stoical description of a complete life beginning in the 1890s and ending in the late 1950s. At the beginning, it seemed too dry, and I wondered whether I should continue. But, gradually, as the life of this quiet, socially-inhibited academic moves forward, it slowly exerted a grip, and I started to get eager to get back to it. It becomes a story about life itself. Happiness is ephemeral and Stoner often finds himself wondering what life should mean. A failed marriage, a beloved daughter who becomes distant, a touching but doomed love affair, and an academic career crowned by the writing of one solid but soon forgotten study of medieval English. It has moments of intense sadness and stoicism and the constant physicality of our ageing is a constant backcloth. Stoner reflects at the end, "If I had been stronger; if I had known more; if I could have understood". Unfortunately, none of us have a script before we start. We have to work it out as we go along. This novel is psychologically astute and captures the essence of what it means to be alive.I loved it. It was one of the best books I have come across. As I listened, I felt an excitement to be discovering a classic, where simple prose, has extraordinary, sometimes breathtaking, depth and power. Superb.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Gilly
    5/1/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A beautifully written book, beautifully read."
    Would you listen to Stoner again? Why?

    I may well. The gentleness of the story tells persuades me that there is much I will gain from a re-read.


    Was there a moment in the book that particularly moved you?

    Firstly, the start, describing him home life on the farm and later when he discovered what true love was.


    Any additional comments?

    Try it - it is different and better.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • Louisa
    Freshwater Bay, United Kingdom
    3/30/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "Dull and overrated."
    Is there anything you would change about this book?

    There is no real plot and frankly one never really cares about the central character. A story does not have to be a bodice ripper or a ripping yarn but it does have to have a point and I didn't feel I got much out of the story or the characters.


    0 of 0 people found this review helpful
  • G
    Northampton, United Kingdom
    2/24/14
    Overall
    Performance
    Story
    "A Work of Art"
    What did you like best about this story?

    it's a beautiful slow melancholy tale of a normal persons life


    What does Robin Field bring to the story that you wouldn’t experience if you had only read the book?

    he's not a charismatic reader but suits the book well


    Any additional comments?

    recommended to me by a stranger in a bookshop as the best book she had read thanks for the tip.

    0 of 0 people found this review helpful

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