Sunday, July 07, 2019

On Writing (2000)

I haven't read that much Stephen King, maybe a half-dozen of his novels, but I have a real fondness for two nonfiction volumes: Danse Macabre, a critical horror overview, and this one, a writing manual and memoir with free-rolling digressions, rudely interrupted by a roadside accident that nearly killed him. King is obviously not entirely comfortable with the memoir side of the project, which he freely admits, but he still has an interesting and great by-the-bootstraps story. He's rich now but he wasn't always and his drive and work ethic are impressive. The writing guide part of this is less interesting, though I generally enjoy the exercise and agree with him on many things. He may be too much of a Strunk & White partisan for my taste. That little book is hugely entertaining but it's full of gaps and I don't always agree with its style judgments. See Bryan Garner's Modern American Usage for the real stuff. In terms of memoir, I like King's loyalty to his roots—all of them, from the horror and science fiction genres to working-class Maine. And I love his dedication to wide-ranging and eclectic reading. My favorite part of this book might be the recent reading list of novels and other books he offers that takes up several pages at the end. It has room for Peter Abrahams, Richard Bausch, Joseph Conrad, Kent Haruf, Annie Proulx, and scores more. I also appreciate his devotion to his wife, especially when he credits her and not writing for bringing him back from the accident. It just feels honest. You surely know where you are on Stephen King—don't we all, at this point (and also J.K. Rowling)? This is an essential stop if you like him and worth a look even if you know you don't. As always, my preconceptions betray me. I'm surprised to see a certified master of horror who appears to be such a model of emotional health. Edgar Allan Poe better fits my own sense of the role—disreputable, in ill health, dead early, like that. In many ways somehow Stephen King is the Bruce Springsteen of horror fiction—vastly talented, vastly generous, and, yes, a certain model of virtuous mental health. I'm actually not sure where I am on King as a writer at the moment. I used to think he was underrated, now I tend to think he's overrated. I stalled completely on his Dark Tower series of eight books after the first, and I notice his stuff rarely improves on second readings. That's the case for me even here. I read this and liked it a lot when it was newer, but reading again for this write-up I wasn't nearly as dazzled. Its best features were the comforts of shared worldviews, which in a way is enough in a memoir.

In case it's not at the library.

1 comment:

  1. Like the Springsteen of Horror fiction. King's Red Sox vs. Bruce's Yankees. I've read Springsteen's latest is bland and irrelevant, which makes me dread hearing it a little.