MY MOST FORMATIVE childhood experience involved Stephen King, and in particular my dread fear of his book The Shining. I was four or five years old, I think, though it may have been earlier. I had never read the novel, nor seen the movie; I was terrified of the book itself, the physical object. My father had this bright, taxicab-yellow paperback, a movie tie-in edition with a few glossy stills from the Kubrick film in the middle. I remember my older brother asking him one day what it was about, and I remember my father saying something about it being about a family that gets snowed in one winter. But mostly I remember the utter, paralyzing terror that the book caused in me. The stark yellowness of its cover that fairly leapt off the bookshelf, the one film still of Jack Nicholson’s face through the splintered door, the impressionistic, harrowing child’s face that shimmered through the text on the front cover. I was unable to enter my father’s study from that point on, and I became equally terrified of our Men Without Hats album, the one with “Safety Dance” on it, simply because it was the same color yellow (I was a child of many fears). My brother used to place the book in his doorway when he wanted to keep me out of his room. On a couple of occasions, I seem to remember, he drove me completely out of the house with it.
I was also obsessed with it, obsessed with this thing that I knew had so much power over me. A few years later, I watched (again with my father) half of a movie adaptation of ‘Salem’s Lot, which reawakened that terror, and gave me nightmares for weeks. Who can say why, despite such a mortal dread, I found myself drawn to King’s writing a few years later? It’s hard to say, other than that at some point my curiosity outweighed me fear, and when I was about 10 years old, I bought my first Stephen King novel, ‘Salem’s Lot. Expecting, perhaps, to hate it, or be terrified once again, instead a strange thing happened: I fell in love.
From ‘Salem’s Lot, I began devouring King’s work; within two years I had read literally everything he had published: 36 books (at that point), something like 160,000 pages of prose all told. I tracked down rarities like Cycle of the Werewolf, and paid $50 for a slipcased gift edition of “My Pretty Pony,” a story that wouldn’t be published in a mass market collection for years. Some books, like The Stand and The Waste Lands, I read dozens of times. My mother bought me Stephen King trivia books when I’d exhausted his corpus, and I dragged my father to god-awful film adaptation after god-awful film adaptation (I feel particularly bad for Graveyard Shift and The Lawnmower Man). I remember reading The Dark Half with a flashlight under blankets in the middle of the day so that my quotidian suburban bedroom wouldn’t break the spell of the writing. I was crazy, goofy obsessed. I did poorly in English because I couldn’t be bothered with Shakespeare or Dickens, but my English teacher also loved Stephen King, so whenever she hauled me up to reprimand me for not doing homework I’d desperately try to change the subject to why both of us thought that The Dead Zone was his least successful novel. For about four years, Stephen King was my life entire; it occurs to me now that despite my voracious reading I will go to my grave never having read as much work by any author as...read more