Thursday, November 18, 2010

On Stephen King ...

Stephen King is rarely ever mentioned as "literature."  If anything, some critics seem to take his popularity as a sign that he is a lightweight.  Perhaps these criticisms are on the mark.  Perhaps they are the shadows of jealousy or disdain.  The two things that are hard to make an argument against is that his books sell, and they are fun to read.

King got me into writing with The Shining.  I was nine when I read it, and it scared the living shit out of me.  It also made me want to do the same thing to others.  Influential?  Yes, but if you read any of me fiction you'll be hard pressed to see those influences. 

My favorite King work (and I'll admit to not having read everything the man has ever produced) is Christine.  There is something about that story that strikes me as a perfect horror tale that is slightly experimental -- especially for King.  It will probably never be held in the same light as The Stand, but I think it is one of his best. 

Right now I'm reading the first part of The Green Mile.  I actually started buying this book in the serial format and then stopped for some odd reason, so I don't have all of them (they are fairly easy to find, so I'm not worried).  I'm enjoying it, but I'm not all very far into it.  From what I can see, it has the usual King hallmarks, and while that's not a bad thing, it is part of the problem with his work.

King has a habit of presenting many of the same types of characters over and over.  All with their own little quirks.  This irritates a lot of people ... including me sometimes.  Life, however, is a lot like that.  You encounter many of the same types of people day in and day out, each with their unique character features, which is often the only way to tell them apart from one another.  King is mirroring reality, but people don't read King's work to take in a dose of the outside world.  They read it to escape it, and therefore their criticisms may be sound.

The older I got, the more I appreciated his non-fiction work.  Reading his takes on writing is an endless source of fascination for me.  I find that a lot of what writes about makes sense, and it captures some of that magic I feel as I'm engrossed in my own manuscripts.  I think he easily conveys those moments to non-writers in a way few others have.  When he writes about it, it comes across as if he were having a conversation with you, and that immediately puts you at ease. 

I don't read much fiction these days.  When I do, it's rarely King.  It's not because I don't want to.  Instead it's because I have read most of his stuff.  When I do pick up one of his books (about once a year), I'm reminded of why he made me want to be a writer in the first place.  It's a comfortable feeling, and one I hope never changes.  Someday he'll give up the words, but I have no doubt his work will be available for quite some time to come.

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