Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

stephen king

~post commandeered & compiled by Joe T.

This saturday, September 21, marks the 66th birthday of Stephen King! For nigh on 40 years now (his debut novel Carrie was published back in 1974) King has been terrifying generation upon generation and his influence has inspired hundreds of writers to emulate him and hundreds more to do everything they can to be unlike him. Love or hate this ex-teacher from Maine, there is no escaping the fact that not since Charles Dickens has a writer so left his mark upon the culture around him both high brow and low brow.

Here at BookPeople, we’re not afraid to admit our abiding love for the man. We’re still excited when there’s a new book out (Joyland), we’re pumped when there’s an unexpected new addition to the Dark Tower series (The Wind Through The Keyhole), and we are beyond stoked when there’s a his rare sequel to one of his classic novels (the forthcoming Doctor Sleep.)

So to honor the Master of Horror who has been scaring me since I first read Pet Sematary as a young 8th grader back in 1989, a few of us have selected our favorite Stephen King novels to share with the world as we all wait with bated breath for Doctor Sleep, the follow up to The Shining that will grace our store come this Tuesday.

Joe: Bag of Bones

“Winner of the 1998 Bram Stoker award for Best Novel, Bag of Bones is an oft-overlooked book in the Stephen King canon. Whilst King described it as “a haunted love story,” it is also a tale about an aging, burned out author faced with the mortality of life and mortality of career. To a certain extent (especially when read after the fact as I did) the mood and tone almost prefigures King’s near fatal accident which occurred a year after the book was published. It reads as coming from a man who is perhaps facing the end of his career. Perhaps the most “literary” book that Stephen King has written, it’s always one of the first titles to jump off my tongue when I’m asked what’s my favorite book of his.”

Bosco: ‘Salem’s Lot

“Salem’s Lot was my first Stephen King book. It’s my favorite vampire novel and my favorite work by King. I first read it in 1979. The language is often beautiful, even poetic. In terms of craft, he is in top form in Salem’s Lot. I absolutely love the way he uses the concept of place as a lightening rod for evil and a small town’s ugly silent complicity as evil’s channel. I was living in small town America then. I immediately identified with his descriptions of “mindless, moronic evil” lurking beneath the idyllic facade. It was very personal in a way that probably nothing else had been. His vampires are monsters not tragic romantic victims. They are evil that demand supplication or confrontation with no middle ground. Salem’s Lot is beautiful, tragic and scary. It acquainted me with one of life’s great and difficult lessons, bad things happen to good people. How we deal with that it is how we live.”

Steven:  Firestarter

“There is no more appropriate conduit for channeling adolescent frustration than Stephen King’s brazen, rebellious thriller Firestarter.  Steeped in rage and dread, this conspiracy of power runs the gamut from overblown action explosion-piece to simmering, slow-burn nightmare.  As a consequence of youthful indiscretion, a child with extraordinary powers erupts onto the world, and a vague, shadowy organization will stop at nothing to harness her fury.  Firestarter speaks to my inner child, and my inner child is an unrepentant pyromaniac.”

Katie: The Talisman

“Stephen King wrote The Talisman in collaboration with Peter Straub in 1984. It’s a bit of a departure for both these amazing horror writers because it is considered a fantasy. It follows Jack, a 12-year old boy, out to save his mom. As he walks across America, he flips into the “Territories,” a strange parallel universe that mirrors our own, and where he learns about his unique nature. He also gets an awesome companion named Wolf. A LOT of stuff happens! The Territories is the most vivid fantasy world I’ve read about, it feels like I’ve been there. There are also some references to Roland and the Dark Tower, another favorite…but a completely different story.”

Andrew Hilbert: On Writing

“Besides Strunk & White’s Elements of Style, this is really the only other book on writing that a writer needs. Not only are you sure of Stephen King’s legitimacy on the subject unlike so many other books on writing, but his account is extremely readable with anecdotal stories of struggle and success and enough practical advice to keep you going. He pulls no punches but also spares no encouragement. Reading On Writing is a rewarding endeavor that gives practical advice on writing without being overly technical and stodgy-sounding. Stephen King is a master of the craft. Whether or not you are a fan of King’s, if you’re a writer you owe it to yourself to read I.”

Tommy: The Eyes of the Dragon

“I’ve never been a big fan of horror fiction, so when a friend of mine kept telling me I had to read this one Stephen King book I was more than a little skeptical. Eventually she wore me down and I read Eyes of the Dragon. It’s a deep, mystical tale that digs into the nature of good and evil, the power of magic, and betrayal. Eyes of the Dragon is a fantastic stand alone adventure that really makes me wish that King wrote more fantasy.”

Julie: Duma Key

“Growing up, my parents’ shelves were lined with King mass markets and hardcovers. I read Pet Sematary and It alongside The Babysitters Club. I remember looking at the size of The Stand and thinking, ‘Someday’. The book I want to remember here, though, is the novel that brought me back to King as an adult – Duma Key. Somehow I wound up with a free hardcover copy. I had a free night. I sat down on my couch and that was the end of it – I was in. The man can tell a story. The protagonist in Duma Key is an artist and I immediately fell into King’s descriptions of the man’s process and how that process was driven by some otherworldly force. Who can help but draw lines between oil paint and words? King comes through – artist in process; man recovering from debilitating accident; father navigating a relationship with his adult daughter. Of course I was creeped out (the book is set in Florida and let’s be honest, Florida is just unnerving), and I loved it. Most recently I read 11/22/63. I bought it for my mom for Christmas but of course she’d already read it, so I cracked it open on the plane ride home. Here I am a person who has read all of DeLillo but hasn’t picked up Libra because JFK conspiracy isn’t my thing, and I DEVOURED this book. Again – the man can tell a story. And ditto everything Andrew said about On Writing. If you want to be both reassured and kicked in the butt as a writer, read On Writing. Stephen King feels like a member of my family. I’m glad we’re sending him this virtual birthday card.”

If you feel so inclined, let us know your favorite Stephen King work (and why).

5 thoughts on “Happy Birthday, Stephen King!

  1. The only one I’ve read twice is “On Writing.” I have this severely limiting need to identify with protagonists, and the way Stephen recounts the events of his life related to his love of movies, books, and writing gives me hope and reassures me I’m not alone. Also, the man can sure paint a picture with words. Plan on picking up “Joyland” soon. It looks like a lot of fun.

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