My Bookshelf Part 1: Why Stephen King Doesn't Scare Me

It's been snowing all day here and all I want to do is read a book, so I figured the next best thing would be to write about what I'm reading. Here goes my first bookshelf post. 

OnWriting

On Writing

When I was younger, probably in middle school, I remember being at my grandparents’ Florida house and telling a family friend I wanted to be a writer. Before we went home, this friend made sure I had a copy of Stephen King’s “On Writing.”

I read it before I’d even heard of Stephen King. The book intrigued me and left me wanting more, but my mom warned me his books were scary, so I stayed away. (In retrospect I can now see that she was merely hoarding them for herself ... I never buy his books firsthand because I know I can count on reading my mom's copies). 

Years later, we were visiting the same grandparents — this time in Maine — and I was so enchanted by the state that I bought a compilation of “Today's Best Maine Fiction,” edited by Wesley McNair. While making my way through the stories, I of course came across a Stephen King story called “The Reach.” It was a charming and beautiful tale about growing older, families and a tiny island off the coast of Southern Maine ... and it wasn't in the least bit scary.

Misery

With “The Reach” and “On Writing” safely under my belt, I felt safe enough to tiptoe a little deeper.

I read “Misery” next. In my book journal, I had this to say about it:

 Me gushing about reading "Misery" for the first time. I'm sorry about the handwriting, and even sorrier that it hasn't gotten any better since I wrote this. 

Me gushing about reading "Misery" for the first time. I'm sorry about the handwriting, and even sorrier that it hasn't gotten any better since I wrote this. 

My 21-year-old self had no idea what I was in for. Soon I was onto "Everything's Eventual," and then “11/22/63,” and before I knew it, I was reading all-out scary stories like "Bag of Bones," "The Shining" and "Carrie." Although I soon became de-sensitized to things like flying bits of skull (have you ever noticed how much he loves to writes about brain matter?), I still wasn't ready for the uncut edition of "The Stand." It was the only King book I had to put down and come back to several months later. To this day, I turn pages of books with caution, just in case a picture of a decaying body jumps out at me on the next page. 

I'm grateful for each King book I've read, and I'm glad there are still so many of them on my reading list. No matter how many I read, however, I know I'll never forget my first. Like many of King's stories, "Misery" is about a writer, Paul Sheldon. Coming off the heels of "On Writing," I fell head over heels for Sheldon's mental image of the "hole in the paper" that you have to fall into to begin writing. But what I loved even more was how the process of writing is ultimately what saves Sheldon's life in the darkest of circumstances. 

He owed his survival to the fact that he wanted to finish the piece of s*** Annie had coerced him into writing. He should have died ... but couldn’t. Not until he knew how it all come out.
— Stephen King, "Misery"

I don't think I can say that writing has saved my life, and I hope I'm never held captive by Annie Wilkes, but I can relate to the compulsiveness of writing — the need to keep going to find out how it all comes out. 

Everything's Eventual

I know there are way too many books on my reading list, but for some reason, I'm re-reading a lot these days. I’m re-reading "On Writing" now that I actually call myself a King fan. I'm a big underliner of books, so it's always funny going back and re-reading the parts that I marked up — and the parts that I curiously did not mark up. I did not, for instance, underline the part in his Third Foreword that says: "to write is human, to edit is divine." In middle school, I didn't know how much I would grow to love grammar and the art of shaping words. Now, I turn to this quote whenever I'm frustrated with my writing. Writing is only human, after all. It's the editing that is divine. 

I'm also re-reading "Everything's Eventual," a collection of short stories I read 5 or so years ago that just won't leave my mind alone. Two stories in particular bubble up in my subconscious on at least a weekly basis: "The Road Virus Heads North" and "Riding the Bullet" — King's first e-book. 

In "The Road Virus Heads North," another story about a writer, this one line keeps coming back to me, and I'm always trying to remember the exact wording when I try to explain to people why I like Stephen King so much. Here it is. 

He hadn’t been attracted to this painting because he wrote horror stories; he wrote horror stories because he was attracted to things like this painting.
— Stephen King, "The Road Virus Heads North" (Everything's Eventual)

I believe that every writer has an innate sense of curiosity about something, and as long as they keep tapping into that place, they'll have content to write about forever. They don't go looking around for ideas; they just nourish the creativity and curiosity inside of them, and when the idea presents itself, they're ready to record it. 

I'm not going to say anything about "Riding the Bullet" except that you should read it. Or watch the movie and tell me if it's any good. Or both. 

Stephen King's books may haunt me for years, but it's not because I'm scared of the monsters under my bed (or driving the ice cream truck across the street, for that matter). They lurk in the shadows and remind me that good writing doesn't fade with time. They nag at me to get back to my notepad, back to that hole in the paper where the story starts telling itself.