Books: Koontz & King

I was thinking today—or really, the thought crossed my brain somewhat at random—that I should re-read The Dead Zone. And that got me thinking about Stephen King books in general, and which were my favorites. And that got me thinking about Dean [R.] Koontz, too, because of course I started with those.

When I was a kid, my dad and I would sit out on the deck with a telescope, and he would tell me stories. These were the stories from the books he was reading, and so this was how I first heard of Frodo and The Ring, and of Smaug, and even of Sherlock Holmes. And then, when I was in fourth or fifth grade, my dad gave me a copy of Koontz's Lightning. And I loved it. Went on to read Watchers, and Twilight Eyes, and The Bad Place, among others.

Having developed a taste for the extraordinary, I got it in my head to thieve some of Dad's Stephen King. Now, like me, my dad has Asperger's. But we have two different ways of managing our bookshelves. He goes by last name and then by title, as one would in a library. I separate my books into genre/topic, then go by last name, then by publication date (but separate my hard cover books from my paperbacks, else the shelf just looks messy).

This is beside the point except to say that I tried to hide the fact that I'd slipped IT off the shelf by shoving another book into the blank space. But of course Dad noticed right away. "Just don't tell your mother," was all he said to me.

And so IT became the first Stephen King book I ever read, and for that it will always hold a special place in my heart. I did really enjoy it. But there are a number of King books that I like more. Salem's Lot I've read many times over, and also The Dead Zone. Those are two of my favorites. I also really liked Bag of Bones and Duma Key, to name a couple more recent titles. I never did read Carrie, couldn't get into Christine, but The Dark Half was great, and I liked Needful Things, which I'll always remember as having seen me through a long flight to Alaska. And Misery, of course, is a classic.

I went into writing this thinking I'd be making some kind of list of my favorite Stephen King books, but I'm not sure I could rank them. There are so many I haven't read, and so many I tried to read but couldn't get through—to say all his books are wonderful would be to tell a big lie; someone so prolific can't bat a thousand. I'll always be beholden to Insomnia for introducing me to Stephen Dobyns; as for the rest, I couldn't finish it, what with the Great Gazoo or whatever it was floating around.

I read Pet Sematary, and I read The Shining. Never got around to Firestarter. Dad told me the story of Cujo during one of those dark night chats on the deck. And of course I've read any number of Stephen King stories in all those anthologies . . . The cover to Skeleton Crew, the one with the cymbal-clanging monkey toy, always bothered me far more than all the eyes on the hand on the Night Shift cover.

I was chatting with a friend not so long ago, and Stephen King's Castle Rock came up, and I guess it is in Needful Things that this happens, this moment that we both recalled so clearly though it's been years since either of us read it: Alan catching the glass. We even said it at the same time, my friend and I, and it is a testament to Mr. King's writing that this sticks out. I've often found that his stories rooted mostly in the real world—stuff like The Dead Zone and Bag of Bones—resonate most with me. The idea of the extraordinary injected into the ordinary . . . That is powerful.

Because everyone wants to experience something amazing in life. At least, we all think we do. Because we all assume that something amazing = something good. But King shows us that the extraordinary is not always welcome. That "amazing" can just as easily be "horrific." King reminds us that the original roots to "wonderful" and "awesome" are not always meant in a pleasant way.

It is a lesson worth learning. Particular through the pleasures of King's well-crafted prose.

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