Are you a Stephen King fan? : LUSENET : The Book Club : One Thread

We started talking about King over on the Xeney forum, but that thread got out of hand for other reasons. So what do you think? Are you a fan? Do you hate him? Is he the Charles Dickens of the 20th Century, or just another hack?

-- Beth (, May 17, 2000


Don't forget that Charles Dickens was the Stephen King of the 19th century: paid by the word such that when he read publicly, he'd edit himself, and not included in The Canon (which of course is undefinable ya ya ya) until several decades into this century. Viz my English prof Tom Roberts, who taught courses in sf and fantasy and graphic novels (much to the dismay of his similarly Dead, White, and Male peers): when he was in college (later Mezzozoic period, I think), Dickens was who you read for fun and your English professors scoffed at him. Such is the fate of any immensely popular author, and he *was* immensely popular in his own day.

On to Stephen King. I read him thoroughly and repeatedly from 8th grade or so, when I discovered him, through 10th, when I tried to write an English paper on him and was thoroughly drubbed for my choice. Perhaps my no longer reading him is therefore partly shame, but I think it is mostly my recognition as a maturing reader that he didn't have what I wanted.

I read from Carried chronologically through Dead Zone, didn't read Cujo because it was about a dog who would die, didn't read Christine because it was about a car (HO hum), read Pet Sematary (how many people grow up unable to spell cemetery because of him?), and stopped, except for short stories, there.

I used to read his short stories because it is there he does well, and sometimes with novellas as well. The novellas of Different Seasons are quite good, I think. The difference between his shorts and his novels is length. The man has logorrhea. He cannot pace, he cannot structure, he tells not shows, he rambles. He's worse than me. My theory is that before he was a major Name, he was edited more, and I mean excised. That's why, after he became a Name, he could rerelease The Stand as it was first written--he mentions, in the introduction, that its being cut was a matter of what the market would bear.

Currently, the market will bear as much as he can produce, as fast and clumsily and shoddily as he can produce it. Every writer produces dreck as a part of their writing process; the difference with King is that he can sell it.

The first thing I saw when we walked into the house we just bought was a bookcase full of Stephen King and Dean Koontz. She had King in both paperback and hardcover, each set arranged chronologically. In a library, an author's books aren't in chronological order unless I am its shelver; in a bookstore with everything in paperback it's harder to see. In hardcover, in chronological order, I saw how his books have gotten fatter and fatter in recent years, Insomnia particularly (perhaps because it's red and white, it looked even bigger). As he became more popular and could sell as much as he could write, he didn't bother to cut the boring bits, or even to rewrite (I assert without proof or having read the later books).

I picked up Dolores Clairborne at my mother-in-law's. I put it down again: no matter how stuubborn this woman is, there's no way her monologue would have been tolerated by any police force anywhere. Because Dolores is the only speaker, she has to rephrase every question that anyone asks that King wants her to respond to. It's like watching "Children of a Lesser God": even if I were deaf and couldn't hear it, I would throttle William Hurt for repeating every damn thing I said, which he had to do only because American audiences are so resistant to subtitles that his narration was the only way we'd understand sign language.

However, he's gotten a little bit better press with Bag of Bones and I considered reading it. There's lots of stuff to read, though, and if I read Bag only to see if he can be better when he tries, that's not compelling enough reason for me when there are only so many hours in the day.

Some say that King makes readers of otherwise non-readers, as is said of Goosebumps and Babysitters' Club books. Some say that reading anything is better than reading nothing, and that Big Mac authors like King (an epithet he choose for himself) might draw people in to other authors, more reading. The demand for Harry Potter has pulled kids into reading: first they read HP for the hype, and now they read more books because they've discovered it's fun. That's all to the good.

The Big Mac epithet is a useful analogy: once in a while, to consume either a Big Mac or a Stephen King isn't going to do you much harm. But if your entire diet consists of nothing more, you're going to be fat yet malnourished. A little more effort, a little less laziness, would benefit you.

-- Lisa Houlihan (, May 17, 2000.

I'm more than willing to be identified as a Stephen King fan. Rather than considering him the Dickens of the 20th Century, I see him as the Woody Allen of pop lit.

See, they're both fiercely prolific and deeply idiosyncratic artists (and I use that word with no embarrassment) who are alternately loved and loathed by the public. You could, I suppose, make a case that either is a hack, especially if you regard King as the author of only "The Tommyknockers" and "Christine" or Allen as the director of only "Shadows and Fog" or "Mighty Aphrodite."

But that would miss the point that both take real creative risks. Just as Allen has experimented with faux documentary, the trappings of German Expressionism and the movie musical, so has King continued to try his hand at new themes and styles: the serialized novel, the epic fantasy, the psychological thriller. Not all of these experiments have been successful. Some have been downright appalling. But I don't think you can prove that either Allen or King is just in it for the money, merely publishing or filming whatever they think can make a fast buck. I'll defend "The Shining" and "The Body," "Manhattan" and "Bullets over Broadway," against anybody who wants to take me on.

As for the complaints that "the books aren't as good as I thought they were when I was 13," well, no shit. There's very little popular fiction that grabs me with the same intensity I felt when I was younger and stupider. You get older, and you get jaded. That doesn't necessarily mean that the artists who made you happy during your adolescence are now suddenly worthy of your contempt.

-- Michael Berry (, May 17, 2000.

Well, as I mentioned in the other forum That Shall Not Be Named, I used to be a TREMENDOUS Stephen King fan. I read "IT" when I was in 4th grade, and it scared the shit out of me. Seriously, I was terrified to set foot in the bathroom for weeks.

Then I started reading all of his other stuff. At this point I have read everything he's written except for the two most recent books, and some of the errata that only got published in editions of 500 or whatever (and even most of that stuff -- "Cycle of the Werewolf," "Dolan's Cadillac," has been reprinted in mass market format by now).

I really do like King's writing. I heard it described once as "cinematic," and I can agree with that. It's more prone to "movie of the mind" style visualization than a lot of the other stuff out there. It's low on symbolism and meaning and high on readability and terror -- you could do a lot worse, I think.

Granted, some of his stuff just sucks. I hated Cujo, thought Carrie was forced drivel, nearly couldn't finish Gerald's Game, and got sick of Christine about halfway through.

But the bad stuff is more than made up for by the good stuff, the really GREAT stuff. Like IT. Or the short story, "The Langoliers." Or The Shining. I could read The Shining over and over again. I think it's a great story.

I think King takes a lot of criticism because he's considered to be this popular hack; conversely, English majors take a lot of criticism because they're perceived to hate anything that's popular. Both are vast generalizations. I'm sure that some English majors like King. And not everything that King wrote was as outstanding as his best stuff.

But man, his best stuff is just AWESOME. At least, I think so.

-- Jan (, May 17, 2000.

I disagree about books you liked when you were younger, Mike. I still love most of the books I loved when I was a child (see this thread); I think a good book is a good book, and while it might not be something you'd run out and read now, if it's really good, you'll still appreciate it even after you become "jaded."

-- Beth (, May 17, 2000.

I have always liked Stephen King, except when I was pregnant and after my child was born, I couldn't read any of his stuff where kids got hurt. I most recently read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and liked it alot. My daughter read it for her book report (7th grade) and enjoyed it too. He takes little stuff and makes it horrifying. Plus I identify with him; we both read the book The Snake Pit as kids, and it scarred us for life. I don't think every book he writes is a masterpiece of literature, but I do enjoy most of them.

-- Joy (, May 17, 2000.

I'm not sure you and I disagree, Beth. I think, for example, that "The Lord of the Rings" is a great book, but I simply can't muster the same level of feeling for it that I experienced at age 14 or whatever. The book hasn't changed, but I have. It would be silly of me now to say, "Boy, Tolkein sucks after all!" (Which seems to be the attitude of some of King's former readers.)

I was responding to the folks posting in the Diary-net thread, who seemed to be lamenting the fact that they ever found King readable and dismissing everything he's written since they were in their teens. My point is that one shouldn't expect the same kind of emotional reaction to an author throughout one's entire life. LeCarre's spy novels resonate more with me now, as I approach middle age, than they did when I was 17. Did he become a better writer, or did I become a better reader?

-- Michael Berry (, May 17, 2000.

I have read every one of Stephen Kings books. I believe he is an incredible writer, so much so it is hard for me to describe his work in words, and I wouldn't do it justice. He has a gift..... He is so much more then just a "horror" writer. He touches, and your the touched...................

-- Karen (, May 18, 2000.

I read "The Shining" when I was 13 and to this day I've never been so afraid. I couldn't sleep and I was shaking in fear. It's not that he's a bad writer it's just that after you've read 5 or 6 of his books, he won't surprise anymore. When I read for pleasure I prefer to be surprised (amazed, astonished) by the writers skill. That's why I go back to Theodore Dreiser, H. L. Mencken and Rebecca West over and over again.


-- John Jones (, May 26, 2000.

I used to be an avid King fan, reading every book as soon as it was published. Then after Dolores Claiborne, I ran out of time to read those looooong books! I do agree that Different Seasons is good. I still love Eyes of the Dragon, it is so different from the rest of his books. I am anxious to read his online book. Has anyone done so?

-- Sarah (, May 30, 2000.

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