Why I Still Think Stephen King is one of the Best American Writers of All Time

Long time readers of this blog may remember that I grew up in the  magazine and book distribution industry. So sometime around 1977, when the first paperback edition of Stephen King’s “Salem’s Lot” showed up (sans cover) on the carpeted stairs leading to our second floor, I snagged it, made a beeline for my room, and didn’t come out until it was done. That took awhile. It’s a long book.

The book made it’s way around my circle of friends. Many of us worked on the school newspaper and we all had the reading bug. It was the mid to late ’70’s so we were all open to pretty much anything we could try and experience. Soon, the catch phrase, “There’s lot’s more of us now” was heard in the newspaper office and it’s all over my Junior Year yearbook.

If that phrase is meaningless to you because you’ve never read the book. Get it. If that phrase is meaningless to you because you’ve read the book, but don’t remember it. Get the book. It’s held up better than you’d think over the years.

Why on earth am I suddenly so excited about a thirty six year old novel written by one of our better known, wealthy and celebrated novelists in the country? I recently had the opportunity to sit through the audiobook version of “Salem’s Lot” on a long ride out and back to Kansas to pick up my daughter from college. I managed to hear about three quarters of the book and the rest will be heard piecemeal while running errands over the next few weeks.

What I’ve always liked about King is his honesty, the depth and openness of his characters. While I will never want to have a beer with a politician, a night spent in Matt Burke’s living room having beers with Ben Mears and Susan Norton and listening to old rock and roll records sounds like time well spent. I love Kings ability to describe the New England landscape and towns that we both love and know so well (Although I don’t get to live there anymore). Some people I know are big fans of his “Dark Tower” series. They always left me cold. For me, Kings’ best work is this book, “The Stand,” “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon,” “The Shining”, “Cell” and most recently, “Under the Dome”. There are others too, but King has written many books. These are the ones I always think of when I consider his work.

Let me share with you the passage that got me to sit up in the middle of the Iowa cornfields and pay attention:

Fall and spring came to Jerusalem’s Lot with the same suddenness of sunrise and sunset in the tropics. The line of demarcation could be as thin as one day. But spring is not the finest season in New England-it’s too short, too uncertain, too apt to turn savage on short notice….

But when fall comes, kicking summer out on its treacherous ass as it always dones one day, sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile, like an old friend that you have missed…

Get the book. Read this passage. If you’ve ever lived in New England, you get this. If you’ve never been in New England, you will get it, and you will want to witness it for yourself. And the seasons will stay with you.

In his earlier books King wrote about working class people – people I grew up around, if not with. The descriptions always resonated deeply with me. It gave me a glimpse into the lives of people who I knew from school, saw in the neighborhoods of my working class city. But I always wondered what their lives were like. His descriptions ring true.

Over the years I’ve seen critiques of his writing that imply that Stephen King is a hack. A pulp writer. Not serious. Nonsense. He gets America. Spend a few minutes reading one of his columns from Entertainment Weekly. He gets our culture. He loves our culture. When he critiques it, he does it with love and insight. And I’m very glad that I had a long, back aching, Jolly Rancher chomping opportunity a week ago to get reacquainted.

He’s an old friend, and he was missed.

Caution: Technology May Not Work As Advertised

There’s a rimshot line in one of my favorite movies, “Master And Comander” where Russell Crowe’s Captain Aubrey stares at a model of the warship he’s chasing into the Pacific and marvels at the wonders of “modern technology”. It’s a throwaway line, designed to get the knowing 21st century audience to chuckle. And it works, too. Every time I see the movie, I laugh at that same moment.

Some days I sit at my work desk and marvel at how far technology has driven my industry. It used to take many weeks and many hours of compiling to get an idea of where and how a title is selling in specific markets. Now that information is at my fingertips waiting for me to access it (If I’m willing to pay the price, of course. This is the 21st century, after all.) and I can then use my very powerful “personal” computer to interpret the data in ways I never would have even considered twenty years ago.

And it is all pretty wonderful. I find the line between people from my parents generation, and my children’s generation very telling. My parents, and their peers ask the question: Why do you want to do that? Tweet, Facebook, text, watch a movie on an iPod Touch? My kids say, because we can. I usually ask, “That’s interesting, and cool. But will it really work?”

For the last few weeks, in between marveling at modern technology, I’ve been dealing with a series of small, highly time consuming and frustrating glitches in all of my wonderful machines and thinking: Wouldn’t it be nice if on these commercials, and on the boxes of wonder that we open, if there weren’t a large warning tag that said:

OK, so there’s no way a company would really put a warning label on a box that said that. But ask yourself, wouldn’t that be nice?

I’ve been engaging in a series of conversations with a client about digital formats for their magazines. What will work? What won’t work? What do you really want to do? Why are we having this conversation? There were some fascinating articles in today’s “BoSacks” e-reading list discussing cloud based storage and Bo finally offered us some insight into his new publishing model, consortium publishing. Interesting. And it was all there. In my in box.

Now if I could only get my mail out of my “out” box. If only one of those two hundred helpful suggestions on Google would actually work. If I could only get my iPod to re-boot, jut like the manual says. If I could only get that piece of social media technology to do what it’s advertised to do. If only the website where all of that data I need for this morning’s report would stop crashing ever time I press “Process”!

I have to ask, “Do I really need to change my password every four weeks? Really?” I want to know, “You keep telling me that your back office support for this website is not designed for this browser. But the browser it is designed for always crashes. Can you give me an answer I can understand?”

This riff could go on for quite awhile. But it’s something for all of us in the publishing industry to keep in mind as we make the transition to more digital media. The technology has to work. Every time. Let’s let our readers marvel at the wonders of “modern technology”. We want them to read. Not chase their tails.

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