Thursday, June 23, 2011

On Stephen King

I’ve noticed that it’s almost not cool to confess a love for Stephen King’s work – or maybe he’s taken for granted by so many of us.

‘Who’s you’re favorite horror author?’ they’ll ask.

I’ll try to think of all the new hot, cool authors out there, before stating my obvious choice, because, you know, an old stand-by just ain't fresh and - cool. But I'll eventually say, ‘Stephen King.’

‘Yeah, yeah, yeah,’ they say, unsatisfied. ‘But who else?’

As if he's been around too long to be cool.

Remember how when you were a teenager eager to get your driver’s license, and then you finally get it and you can finally take the car out on your own? It was such a freeing experience, the first giant step toward independence. That car took you places, man! And it was thrilling – you got to choose where to turn, choose which roads to take. There was no one to tell you to roll the windows up or down or turn off the air conditioner or change the radio station.

Your ability to drive took you into that adult world of work and freedom and sex. For so many of us, our cars were the only privacy available if we wanted to get out from under our parents’ noses - where else could we take our girlfriends or boyfriends to experience those first sexual fumblings? Or - at the very least our cars could transport us to that old graveyard at night, where there were only the dead to witness our youthful exuberances.

But then...

But then you begin to take the old, reliable car for granted. You forget how amazing it was and still is.

Stephen King is kind of like that.

My older brother had a paperback copy of The Shining. You remember the silver one with the black silhouette on the cover? That’s the one. Anyway, I’d seen it sitting on his bookshelf for quite a while, and one summer day, when I was bored and nothing was on TV (only three channels, mind you!) and there was nothing else to read, I picked up that novel, and...

And my life changed.

Please realize I already enjoyed reading at that time, and was fairly well-read for my age. So it wasn’t that it opened my eyes to reading. did. It re-opened my eyes to reading.

It was the way he crafted the words – the way he used italics and sentence fragments, forcing my eyes race to across the page, starting and stopping and pausing to his rhythm – a rock-and-roll kinda rhythm. He created a pulse in that novel that attached itself straight to my heart and forced the blood to nearly burst through my skin.

Of course the storytelling was top-notch, too. Without the storytelling, all the writing tricks in the world wouldn’t have helped.

But his ability to tell a story...


I was thirteen years old when I read The Shining, and after reading the last sentence of that novel, I had to have more. I proceeded to read every novel he had out at that time and every short story of his I could find. And my parents, God bless ‘em, always bought me his newest hardcover for my next handful of birthdays. It was always my favorite present.

So now, all these years later, all of these Stephen King novels later, I think readers take him for granted.

I know that I sometimes do.

‘Yeah, of course he just wrote another great novel, but so what else is new?’ they say.

Sorta like he’s a car. ‘Runs great, been driving ‘em for years, so?’

So without the car, man, it’s one hell of a long and tedious journey from here to there. Dig?

Maybe we’ve grown a little old, perhaps a bit too large around the middle to make love in the back seat of our cars, but they can still take us places – amazing places, places you wouldn’t fuckin’ believe...

So yeah, I’m happy to admit that Stephen King is my favorite author. He’s brought me on some of the best journeys, some of the most exciting road trips – and so many of them! And best of all, the engine on that thing still purrs like a son-of-a-bitch.


  1. Joel,
    I'll gladly join you in admitting that Stephen King is still one of my top five favorite authors. I've never laughed so hard, cringed in fear, or been emotionally moved by any other the same book, over and over again. I don't like every book he's written, but I've read, and re-read close to 80% of his novels. I'd read most of them again, if I had the time. You're right though, I find myself whispering his name when asked about favorite authors. No more!

  2. I was a huge Stephen King fan in my earlier reading days. What I loved about his writing was the way it made me view average objects and events in new ways. I wasn't a fan of every single one of his books, but, by and large, he changed my thinking. I rarely collected books, but I have all of his up to a certain year. I couldn't get into his latest at all.


  3. I don't like every book he's written, either, but most of them I've really enjoyed. He has this very comfortable authorial voice that I love. When I open one of his books, it's often like listening to an old friend.

  4. You're right, the Master of Modern Horror is like an old friend. I recently read The Shining again and it really took me back to my SK days. That book never gets old. However, On Writing wasn't nearly as scary as I thought it would be.

    If you're looking for fresh and cool - check Joe Hill.
    Nice post!

  5. Sean - ha! Yes, true that On Writing didn't deliver the scares. :)

    I will check out Joe Hill. I've heard lots of good things about him.