On Writing and Misery
On Monday morning, in search of something to read, I plucked my copy of Stephen King’s On Writing from the oldest of the three bookshelves which sit against the wall opposite my desk. It’s the bookshelf where I keep my favorite books, the ones I know I’ll want to turn to often when I’m writing, and that should give you some idea of how much I enjoy that particular text. It’s my favorite book on the craft, actually. And I’m surprised I don’t come back to it more often.
It’s a slim volume, On Writing, and by Wednesday morning I was in need of something else. It’d been years since I’d made an attempt at tackling one of King’s novels, but I figured why not? I did have a couple of them on my shelves (though not on my favorites shelf, I’m afraid to say) and, seeing as I can’t afford to buy any new books just now, and I was itching for something with at least some semblance of newness, it seemed like a good idea. I decided on Misery, the thinner of the two that I could easily find. The Stand seemed a bit too ominous to me, early on a Wednesday morning.
I’m a little ways into Misery now and I do have to say that reading King now, as a twenty-eight year old, is a bit easier than reading him as a thirteen year old was. I used to thumb through his books in the basement of the Chelmsford Public Library, just after I’d finished delivering my papers for the day. My yellow and orange Lowell Sun sack balled up under my arm, I did my best to take in what I could of It and The Dark Half. And I even took out The Gunslinger, on one occasion. But I could never get through any of them. Maybe some thirteen year olds have. But I was a dumb thirteen year old, with an attention span hovering just above zero, and I was much more interested in comic books anyway.
The thing that I think keeps me from buying King’s novels now, aside from the fact that I can’t afford to buy any novels at the moment, is that, just looking at the size of some of them sitting on the shelves, I can’t help but be reminded that, with On Writing, which is just as much a memoir as it is a writing manual, the power of King’s tales comes from how succinct they are, how brief. Not having read any of his fiction all of the way through, I can’t speak to whether he really is as verbose as the sheer heft of his works seems to suggest. But Janet Maslin of The New York Times, in her review of On Writing, wrote, “For once, less is more in Mr. King’s storytelling.” So, it seems to me that there are some people out there who have read his work and do believe him to be a little long-winded.
But I’m enjoying Misery. That’s where I’m going with this. I’m enjoying it more than I expected to and I’m wondering where I go next, if I’m interested in more King. Is The Stand going to turn me off completely? Do I need to finally break down and get a library card and see what the Merrimack Library has to offer instead? If you’ve read a lot of King, if you’re a fan of his, let me know. It seems to me that I’ve misjudged him, that his fiction can rise to the level that the anecdotes in On Writing rise to. So, I want to know where I go next.