December 2013 | Nate Pedersen

Almost Forgotten Novel from 1965 Wins Waterstones Book of the Year

A nearly forgotten literary novel from 1965 has won Waterstones Book of the Year, building upon strong word-of-mouth and high-profile blurbs. John Williams' novel Stoner, first published by Viking in 1965, has won the coveted British prize, attracting attention from prominent modern novelists like Colum McCann who said it was "one of the great forgotten novels of the past century...The book is so beautifully paced and cadenced that it deserves the status of classic."

The rather bleak novel is about William Stoner, a Midwestern academic in the early 20th century whose career stalls as his marriage falls apart.  Stoner begins a brief, but ill-fated affair with a younger scholar, before retreating into himself as his life draws to a close.

First published by Viking in 1965, the novel went out of the print the following year.  Attempts to revive it have been launched periodically by American scholars and journalists. The book was most recently re-issued in America by the New York Review of Books in 2006.  Despite these occasional efforts, Stoner has never really caught on in the States.  In Europe, however, Stoner has been steadily building buzz over the last year, becoming a bestseller in France and now winning a major bookseller's award in Britain.

Its author, John Williams, was born in Texas in 1922.  After earning degrees from the University of Denver and the University of Missouri on the G.I. Bill, Williams returned to Denver to serve on its English faculty for 30 years. Williams died in Arkansas in 1994.

While copies of Stoner reprints are readily available, if you're looking for a true first edition expect to pay $800+.