Thursday, June 18, 2015

Return of the King

Yesterday I was simultaneously finishing a book I was reading just for fun and thinking of clever stuff to say about a complex literary masterpiece for my next StarkNotes post.

So I put the fun book aside, thumbed through the more important work just to trigger some memories, cranked up the computer, stared at the screen awhile, and started feeling sort of lonely.

I missed hanging out with the narrator and characters from the fun book. I really got to know them and enjoy their company during the week I spent with them. Even the really evil guy -- he said such vulgar, insensitive, politically incorrect things, I had to laugh at him (I was in the privacy of my home, so no one heard me).

That fun book was written by Stephen King. It was his latest: Finders Keepers. What a pleasure that book was! It was the sequel to Mr. Mercedes, and I sure liked that one, too. And there's another sequel on the way -- I think it's called End of Watch -- and I'm dang sure gonna pre-order it the first time I see an offer.

So, yes, this is the topic of my chat with you today, beloved StarkNotes readers: I, a book snob of the highest order (or water, whichever is correct), am (or was) a closet Stephen King fan. I am addicted. I am helpless. Lately, I even read him right out in the open, too. No longer do I place, say, Bag of Bones behind a copy of James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. I'm out there, baby!

In order to demonstrate the depth of my disorder, I must indulge in a brief patch of pretentiousness: I have read from and practically understood the works of authors such as Proust, Joyce, Henry James, George Eliot, Donald Barthelme, Robert Coover, Roberto Bolano, David Foster Wallace, Philip Roth, Saul Bellow, John Milton, John Donne, Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hawthorne, Dickinson, Virginia Woolf and Faulkner.

Let's face it: I'm just a dumber, more rural, state-university-educated Harold Bloom!

Being in the presence of literary giants makes my jaw drop and my heart leap up; it heats up my brain, makes me feel smart, gives me that special reading rush that accompanies the presence of genius. I know I'm looking at something I can never dream of creating in the best moment of my life no matter how long I live.

After living pretty exclusively on this vitamin-rich, rarefied gourmet cuisine for many years, my son and friend of mine suggested I take another look at Mr. King (okay, I dabbled with him a bit in the '80s, reading Misery, Carrie, The Shining). One recommended Doctor Sleep (2013), a sequel to The Shining; the other recommended 11/22/63 (2012).

The latter, especially, evoked a Proustian moment: As I was reading it one day, I re-experienced the innocent bliss of childhood reading.
Marcel Proust
You know, those times when you fall through the book into a world so much richer than this one (sadly, I just remembered Proust himself describes this very sensation -- so leave this and go to him), and it takes some serious concentration to exit that world and reenter this one. And it's a drag to be back. And it's darker than when you began reading.

When my mom or dad would politely ask me to "get [my] nose outa that book, because those leaves out there ain't gonna rake themselves," I'd respond, "Just lemme finish this page" or "I'm almost done. I only got 3 pages to the end!" Then I'd hope they'd forget all about it, and I'd just keep reading.

That's what King brought back to me. Wallace's Infinite Jest gave me pleasures and headaches I'll never have again. King gave me pleasures I'd had before and didn't even know I missed.

Furthermore, scholars have determined there's no such thing as guilty pleasure: Pleasure is just pleasure. Enjoy it. I have the documentation for that somewhere.

Now that I've had the courage to announce my dark secret to the world, perhaps one day I'll talk about why I think King's work is way underrated by his haters, by Bloom and his ilk. I now know from experience there is much to admire about the guy, but I'll leave you with this:
Stephen King
No one creates more hospitable narrators than Stephen King. No matter who he chooses to tell his wonderful yarns, I feel like I'm being greeted at the book's front door by a smiling man (usually, even though he's had many great female narrators) offering me a glass of iced tea. I enjoy the storyteller's company from the first sentence -- even if there's something just a little suspicious about that smile.

He's gonna be homey, informal, irreverent, occasionally distracted, a little vulgar, a little profane, witty, sometimes a little corny, and I'm really, really gonna like him.

But right now I got some plants in my yard that ain't gonna water themselves.

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