Discussion of Stoner by John Williams

Offers a window on early 20th century higher education in addition to its rich characterizations and seamless prose. Sent by his hard-scrabble farmer father to the University of Missouri to study agriculture, William Stoner is sidetracked by an obsessive love of literature and stimulated by a curmudgeonly old professor, Archer Sloane. Sloane helps Stoner avoid service in WWI, and Stoner eventually becomes an assistant professor. He then meets and marries a St. Louis beauty, Edith, who quickly subjugates her contemplative, passive husband. As decades pass, Stoner entrenches himself deep into the life of the mind, developing into a master teacher but never finding solace in the outside world. Stoner's single joy is Grace, their daughter, whom Edith appropriates as a weapon in her very personal war against Stoner's quest for inner peace. Williams (1922–1994) won the NBA for Augustus (1973), and NYRB will republish his western, Butch's Crossing next year. Williams's prose flows in a smooth, efficient current that demands contemplation. (July)
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Review

"It’s simply a novel about a guy who goes to college and becomes a teacher. But it’s one of the most fascinating things that you’ve ever come across." — Tom Hanks, Time

"Stoner is written in the most plainspoken of styles….Its hero is an obscure academic who endures a series of personal and professional agonies. Yet the novel is utterly riveting, and for one simple reason: because the author, John Williams, treats his characters with such tender and ruthless honesty that we cannot help but love them." — Steve Almond, Tin House

"[T]he work deserves to be called a 'perfect novel' — there's not a misplaced word or a trace of contrivance." -Boldtype

"The best book I read in 2007 was Stoner by John Williams. It’s perhaps the best book I’ve read in years." -Stephen Elliott, The Believer

"John Williams's Stoner is something rarer than a great novel - it is a perfect novel, so well told and beautifully written, so deeply moving, that it takes your breath away." -The New York Times Book Review

"Williams didn't write much compared with some novelists, but everything he did was exceedingly fine...it's a shame that he's not more often read today...But it's great that at least two of his novels [Stoner, Butcher's Crossing] have found their way back into print." -The Denver Post

“A masterly portrait of a truly virtuous and dedicated man” —The New Yorker

“Why isn’t this book famous…Very few novels in English, or literary productions of any kind, have come anywhere near its level for human wisdom or as a work of art.” —C.P. Snow

“Serious, beautiful and affecting, what makes Stoner so impressive is the contained intensity the author and character share.” —Irving Howe, New Republic

“A quiet but resonant achievement” —The Times Literary Supplement

"Perhaps the greatest example of minimalism I’ve ever read...Stoner is a story of great hope for the writer who cares about her work." -Stephen Elliott

Stoner by John Williams, contains what is no doubt my favorite literary romance of all time. William Stoner is well into his 40s, and mired in an unhappy marriage, when he meets Katherine, another shy professor of literature. The affair that ensues is described with a beauty so fierce that it takes my breath away each time I read it. The chapters devoted to this romance are both terribly sexy and profoundly wise.”—The Christian Science Monitor

 

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  • Nancy L.

    The New York Review of Books has a study guide for Stoner.
    http://www.nybooks.com/media/doc/2009/06/29/stoner-rgg.pdf

    June 23, 2014

  • Wendy

    Agree with all the comments below. Always insightful and interesting commentary. I look forward to the diversity in opinions! Thanks Stephany for sending along the link from Alice McDermott!!

    December 4, 2013

  • Patty

    Great discussion - thorough. my first meeting with the group and am looking forward to more reads and discussion.

    December 4, 2013

  • Beatriz P.

    I enjoyed the discussion very much, such a nice group of people. Best discussion so far since I joined the club!

    December 3, 2013

  • Nancy L.

    I always learn so much from all of you!

    December 3, 2013

  • Lucy N.

    I look forward to the book meeting!

    October 24, 2013

  • artie

    i have already read this book and absolutely loved it! - unfortunately i cannot attend on monday evenings - i would love to hear what others say :(

    September 29, 2013

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We just grab a coffee and speak French. Some people have been coming every week for months... it creates a kind of warmth to the group.

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