by Stephen King
Scribner, June 2014
448 pages / $30 Buy from Amazon
Like many writers my age (31), I probably wouldn’t be one if it weren’t for Stephen King. At 16, finding the idea of short story writing woefully unambitious, my early attempts at novels were thinly-masked Stephen King impersonations. Based on the malodorous work that turns up in self-publishing, writers’ workshops, and slush piles, I’m not alone in that my first fictional efforts reeked of The King.
His influence isn’t necessarily a bad one. King became a best-selling author thanks to his expert pacing, gift for metaphor, wry sense of humour, and a number of intangible talents. Adam Ross and Justin Cronin are recent devotees who demonstrate that even elite ‘literary’ writers can benefit (both financially and creatively) when they borrow from King’s bag of tricks.
The most important way that King aided in my development is that his work has always been littered with literary and cultural references. (In recent years, he’s been obsessed with Philip Roth, comparing the reception of his own work to Roth’s in essays, and frequently bringing him up in fiction.) In this way, King inadvertently sabotaged my love for him. He’d reference Jack Kerouac or Norman Mailer, and their writing would end up on the bookshelf in my childhood bedroom. With all those major works waiting to be read, I found myself in a situation described by Arthur Conan Doyle in The Magic Window, a short volume that celebrates the contents of his book collection.
“It is a great thing to start life with a small number of really good books which are your very own. You may not appreciate them at first. You may pine for your novel of crude and unadulterated adventure. You may, and will, give it the preference when you can. But the dull days come, and the rainy days come, and always you are driven to fill up the chinks of your reading with the worthy books which wait so patiently for your notice. And then suddenly, on a day which marks an epoch in your life, you understand the difference. You see, like a flash, how the one stands for nothing, and the other for literature. From that day onwards you may return to your crudities, but at least you do so with some standard of comparison in your mind. You can never be the same as you were before.”