Unpretentious reading

Stephen King is the subject of a pull-out section of his own in the Times this weekend — additional online features are at the link, including a submission form for asking the author questions. King’s latest book, Lisey’s Story, is excerpted at the Times link and is reviewed by David Montgomery in the Chicago Sun-Times — I don’t suppose the article will be free access for long though, so I’ll note here that David liked it. From David’s review:

"The Mystery Writers of America announced recently that in 2007 they will be honoring King with their prestigious Grand Master Award, the highest distinction the MWA gives to recognize outstanding achievement in the mystery field."

I haven’t read a Stephen King book for ages. I think Misery was the last. My favourites were "The Stand", "’Salem’s Lot" and the short story "The Shawshank Redemption" (it had a slightly different title in the book). I was mildly thinking of reading the book he wrote in 10 parts once they are all collected into one. I was also mildly tempted by his last, The Cell. Lisey’s Story sounds good, too.

Stephen King is one of those authors, like J K Rowling, about whom people tend to be snobby and even despise. I have got no time for that sort of attitude. Authors like King and Rowling get thousands and millions of people reading. Of course their books are a matter of personal taste, as are anyone’s, but I really don’t like it when one reads articles (usually pretentious ones) in which the writer condescends to these authors.

As I probably say far too frequently and boringly, J K Rowling should win the Nobel prize for literature when her seventh book is published. Nobody in our lifetime has done what she has done for reading. She’s opened the world of reading to more children than any other author, probably ever. But she won’t win the prize, though, because the world isn’t like that. However, far more people read authors like Rowling and King than read their detractors, so they will have the last laugh.

11 thoughts on “Unpretentious reading

  1. There are lots of King novels I particularly like, but “Needful Things” is an especially good one; and you would also like his little book “The Colorado Kid,” published last year by Hard Case Crime.
    NB: tetralogy is surely the more common word for a four-part work!
    And I too love Darjeeling tea with skim milk & “The Dancing Men”–I was fascinated by those puzzly Holmes stories when I was a kid, the one called “The ‘Gloria Scott'” was a particular fascination also… but they are all so great…

  2. As in “The Alexandria Quartet”? The Raj Quartet? 😉
    But neither quartet nor tetralogy is a patch on “quadrilogy”, I love it! I just don’t know if the collection is so called out of ignorance or as a clever marketing ploy (to make you remember its funny name).
    Just off to drink a cup of Darjeeling now, as it happens. Thanks for stopping by, Jenny.

  3. ‘However, far more people read authors like Rowling and King than read their detractors, so they will have the last laugh.’
    On the way to the bank, you mean? For surely you’re not judging a book by the number of its readers?

  4. I didn’t mean the bank– in fact the correct saying is “cried all the way to the bank” — everyone uses “laughed….” but if you think about it, it doesn’t make sense. The original saying was “cried”, meaning at least one got some financial compensation for some disappointment.
    In the case of this post, I was thinking of the fact that whatever the people who patronise and look down on “popular” authors may write, the “popular” authors have the satisfaction of knowing that lots of people are reading their words. Particularly the case for JKR, who is read mainly by children — who tend to make up their own minds rather than being dictated to by fashion and trends.
    But, Lee, I agree with your implication that the quality of a book cannot be judged by the number of people reading it, naturally. Apologies if my wording was careless. But even though I think, for example, that Da Vinci Code isn’t a very good book, and (these days) James Patterson isn’t a very good author (or franchise), I still think it is a good thing that people are reading these books rather than watching TV or beating up old ladies.

  5. King is really a good prose stylist, I think. I read part of “Lisey’s Story” in a wonderful anthology called _Amazing Stories_, edited by Michael Chabon (I think McSweeney’s/Dave Eggers are the publishers). Another tale of his, “The Man in the Black Hat,” showed up in the O’Henry Awards a couple of years ago.
    There are horror writers who can’t write (Dean Koontz, for one — he wrote one good novel called _The Watchers_ and every other one I’ve sampled was unreadable), but King’s not one of them. Whatever accolades he gets, he surely deserves.

  6. I agree with you on Koontz, Susan. I once, years ago, read a book by him by chance (I think I was sent it free as an inducement by a book club I was in), and quite enjoyed it. I’ve attempted one or two since then and not been motivated to finish them. I wonder if the one I read and liked was “the Watchers”?
    Interestingly, the one S King book I didn’t like was the one he co-wrote with Peter Staub, which I found overblown. But I have by no means read all of King’s output so I don’t have a properly informed opinion.

  7. Hmmm. I disagree with you on the JK Rowling front, Maxine, not because I don’t think she’s changed reading (she definitely has) but because I don’t think her writing is particularly nuanced or strong. She is a wonderful, entertaining writer – I read each of her books as they come out and also read them aloud to my husband. I thoroughly enjoy them. And which writer doesn’t dream of the success she’s had – more power to her! BUT I don’t think she is a “great” writer.
    I usually agree with everything you say, so we have to have something to disagree on! Rowling it is…!

  8. Thanks, E. Malcolm (my husband) isn’t too enamoured of Rowling either, but he and I get along just fine. So I am sure you and I shall continue to do so as well.
    I know that one of my traits is that I get carried away by my enthusiasms for something or someone — I develop quite a blind spot.

  9. Equiano, I agree with you in that Rowling’s work is entertainment rather than great art — but entertain it does. And Maxine, I’m with you about the way Rowling has gotten a whole generation reading who otherwise would simply watch the tube. (Who knows what great literature they may yet discover simply because Rowling has shown them the thrill of a good book?)
    Interestingly, a friend of mine from grad school and I were debating the merits of J.R.R. Tolkien (I devoured those books as a kid) and J.K. Rowling. My friend made a very interesting observation to support her preference for Rowling: The characters change and develop. In Tolkien, most of the characters are types who don’t change over the course of the narrative. Harry, Hermione, and Ron, however, go through adolescence and Rowling *shows* us, believably, their hormonal rages, freaks, and pouts.
    That is an achievement, too.

  10. Yes, Susan, I think Tolkien’s characteristation is weak to the point of nonexistence. He’s good (sublime) on the grand themes, though it is interesting that the “adventure” books of that era were so sketchy on the exciting details compared with today’s (bad) habit of dwelling on the gore. Blink and you’ve missed Gandalf and the Balrog or the fall of the Black Gate, for example. (These sorts of set pieces were where the movies came into their own.)
    I really like the way JKR develops the characters of Harry, Hermione and Ron over the books. In fact the only time Malcolm and I skated near to discord (as opposed to civilised disagreement) over HP was in HP5, in which Malcolm criticised Harry’s sulky, withdrawn and inarticulate demeneaour in that book (having been forced to listen to it on one too many car journey). But that is just what teenagers are like! (He should know, he was living with one at the time just as I was, but love is blind). In HP6, Harry is still not the brightest light on the street, but he’s developed, as have the other characters.
    I think you hit the nail on the head, though, Susan, in that JKR has stimulated the reading habit among many children who may not have been so stimulated otherwise — boys in particular, who tend to read less than girls. And so they may well go on to read Martin Amis et al., who knows.

  11. I didn’t know that about ‘cried all the way to the bank’. I’m always glad to learn something new, but as far as I’m concerned, the ‘laughed’ makes perfect sense too, which is probably why it’s used so often.
    One day we can get into an amiable argument about how to determine ‘correctness’.
    I agree that King is often underestimated as a stylist, but we will certainly disagree about JKR and the adolescent rages and sulks, which I find hackneyed almost to the point of self-parody.
    But who am I to complain? HP taught Abby how to read English!

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