22 September 2012

King of the Mountain

The name of the first Stephen King novel that I read escapes me, I started reading King when I was a teenager, along with James Herbert he started publishing at exactly the right time for me, which means I’ve been reading both King and Herbert for nearly forty years.

I’m not a collector, more of a accumulator, of books, King and Herbert have special shelves, obviously King has his own shelf while Herbert has to share with Frederick Forsyth and John Le Carré, his books have less pages if not less story, in fact King’s books are spread around the house, one shelf is unable to contain him. My collection of King books range across my life with him, I have 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond in paperback, softbacks and hardbacks and I even have The Green Mile in serial form, published in slim books month by month in a Dickens' style. In my periodic clear outs over the years, when the piles of books start to overflow from the shelves to the floor, both King and Herbert survive the cut. Incidentally it might seem unfair to continually lump the two of them together, but they are linked, they are both part of my life and for a large part of their careers bookshops have put them both into the horror section, I’m not sure that either are happy with that pigeon hole.

I would like to say that I’ve read all of Stephen King’s oeuvre but that would be untrue, just when I seem to get close he produces another couple of novels, screenplays or short stories. I’m sure they are people out there that have read everything, but they would be very scary people to know, I’m not sure what a diet of Stephen King would do to your mind, a irrational fear of clowns would be top of the list. I’ve often thought of trying to map his connections from novel to novel, he is forever cross referencing his own work, his imaginary (hopefully imaginary) area of Maine is a scary place, towns and people crop up in more than one story, but one look at the row of books and it seems that it would be a lifetime’s hobby, maybe I’ll leave that until I’ve retired.

It’s a dreadful thing to say, but I prefer King’s earlier work, the stuff he wrote when he was drinking, his later work, his sober work, is too bloated, as if the editing had become less and less vigorous, maybe when he was drinking he edited as he wrote, the last books I read were Cell and Lisey’s Story, neither are as concise and sharp as Carrie or The Dead Zone. Or it could be I’ve grown in a different direction to Stephen King, as he needs more space to tell his story I want less. As with James Herbert, as he has gone into more ethereal territory, I’ve drifted away. It started with The Stand, I read and enjoyed it when it was first released in paperback, but then a few years later it was re-published with passages that had originally been edited out reinstated. I borrowed it from the library; it seemed over-long and, despite King’s explanation, unnecessary.

Despite that, both Stephen King and James Herbert will be with me until the leaves start to fall, but I think that neither will find their way onto my Kindle, they will stay as paperbacks, old school.

Many happy returns Mr King, I suspect you will out live us all.


  1. I have several shelves of Terry Pratchett. Yes! I can say it without shame. The quality of writing goes up and down for any writer who has had a long career. Maybe there are things you did better 20 years ago than now and vice versa? I like that though, you know, if the books consistently improved by measurable amounts or stayed the same then they would not be living books... does that make sense? I often feel Kurt Vonnegut is a good example of this.

  2. Agree, my taste in books has evolved over the years and horror books don't feature as much as they did 20 years ago, it's going to be interesting what happens with JK Rowling now she has moved into adult books, will she carry her, now grown-up, audience with her or gain a new following. Ironically I downloaded a James Herbert book this week and am really enjoying it!

  3. James Herbert?! I'll pray for your soul ;)

  4. I think my soul is beyond redemption!