Better Read Than Never: On Stephen King

SK back when, perhaps about the age of Clay, the artist/teacher protagonist of "Cell".

SK back when, perhaps about the age of Clay, the artist/teacher protagonist of “Cell”.

I’m something of an agnostic when it comes to Stephen King, but I still attend the Church of Steve occasionally. I recently read his 2006 novel Cell, not a decade too soon, and enjoyed the ride; we’ll get to that soon. However, I’m sure I’m not alone, though as usual I’m well outside the best-buying mainstream, in preferring King’s non-fiction to his ever-popular novels and shorter stories.

Danse Macabre, his query into the attractions of the dark and haunting tales he likes, charmed me long ago with its range, its sense-making and its humility. I know what I am. I’m a hack, though I try to be a good one. Not long after, reading Misery — this must have been late ’80s, early ’90s — I was abducted (partly) against my will by that tale of a writer haunted by the insanity of fan-dom. I was often knocked out by his word-smithing, too, which is why I was periodically irritated by moments when he seemed to undermine his own eloquence by inserting some cheesy pop-culture reference or gratuitous vulgarity. He seemed to be saying, Okay, got a little fancy there, folks, but don’t worry, I’m still just harum-scarum Steve. The man can write, though. A quick look at his publishing list reminds that he can’t not write, either.     

Just found it! Stored away in a basement box I'd forgotten. A keeper.

Just found it! Stored away in a basement box I’d forgotten. A keeper.

And his On Writing? Tremendous. I gave King’s take on the literary life to all my sons and several other young scribes, and it looks like I didn’t keep a copy for myself. Bad move, that, as it’s an immensely sane and readable and, yes, inspiring book on the craft and the art of writing, one of the best such things I’ve ever read. Besides Misery, too, I’ve read and enjoyed two of his novella/short story collections, Different Seasons and Just Before Sunset. Each went down easy, and I didn’t feel like I was dumbing and slumming at all.

Yet I’ve never read The Shining, never did more than browse Cujo or Carrie or Christine, never even tried to heft the bricks that are The Stand or It. Son Four is on a King roll, though, proud to have finished the uncut version of The Stand, launching into The Green Mile and he’s very interested, since he’s been primarily a fantasy fiction lover, in Sir Stephen’s epic Dark Tower series. I may take some of these text-trips with him, or dive into the intriguing 11/22/63, his novelistic take on the Kennedy assassination, a rather different kind of horror. Anyway, Fourth had picked up Cell in Thailand on our family’s Spring Festival escape from China, loved it and encouraged his old man to take a shot.

So I did. And it got me.

Dear friend: you’ve been reading so hard, so let’s take a small break before you read King Too: Howdy Finally Gets to the Actual Book Review of Cell. It’s going to be good ‘n’ long.

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