Thursday, May 26, 2011

Comfort reading

This is what my copy of Stephen King’s novel The Green Mile looks like.

I bought it at a flea market as a new paperback for half off the cover price when I was in eighth grade. Since then, I’ve gone through almost all of the rest of King’s non-Dark Tower repertoire, yet I keep going back to Paul Edgecombe’s story about Old Sparky and John Coffey and Melinda Moores’s brain tumor and how they all collide with each other in the unholy heat of a 1932 late summer.

I know its rhythm and plot beats and tone enough to recreate them in my head without really trying. So why do I still feel compelled to read the spine a little more tattered every six or eight months?

Because it’s become a 536-page talk with a good friend. I don’t know if thinking of certain books like that makes me incurable unsocial, but it’s extremely comforting. It’s like talking to a friend who just needs someone to nod and say “really?” in all the right places; it takes the pressure off you to do anything except listen to their amazing story.

It’s been with me as I’ve grown up, from when I first started reading it during middle school standardized testing time and showed off the cover as conspicuously as possible to the boy who wore Converse and was rumored to also like Stephen King; through high school while I learned what the crude parts really meant and blushed like a boiled tomato over the f word as I started scribbling my own stories; into college as I clung to something that felt like the best part of home in a strange new world. As I’ve gotten more serious about my own writing, I read it for the story structure, and as I read more things that are suppose to give me new ideas and ways of talking about them but mostly just make my head hurt, I read it for a palate cleanser. It’s my comfort brain food.

King, I think, is good at that because he’s good at writing conversationally. Everything else ignored, he writes well because his stories read effortlessly. He wrote in one intro or another of his that if you as a reader are looking for ol’ Uncle Stevie to come tell you a bedtime story, you’re barking up the wrong stack of dead trees, but that’s kind of exactly how I think of him. A big chunk of his pages curled up with a cold diet Coke calm me down every time.

It’s just great to have something reliable in the middle of the unknown. Does anyone else feel like that about specific books or authors?


  1. I 100% agree with this. Stephen King makes it seem effortless, though we writers know that it's anything but.
    I recently read the first few pages of Under The Dome and was immediately sucked into the world. It was kind of astonishing. People may say King's not literary enough, or scoff when I mention that he's one of my favorite writers, but those people don't know what they're missing. Go on with your Hemingway and your Fitzgerald, snobs! I don't want to hang out with you anyway!
    Besides King, I think another author I continually came back to during my high school phase was Michael Crichton. Oh, and Dean Koontz. He can be hit or miss - but when he hits, he hits hard. And I remember reading Tom Sawyer over and over when I was younger.
    Okay, long comment :)

  2. Hey now, Hemingway can be read for fun, too, especially "To Have And Have Not."

    I've yet to read any King aside from "On Writing," but he left a strong impression. His Entertainment Weekly columns were also good palate cleansers. Someday...

  3. Oh King's worth trying for sure. The Dead Zone and the Shining are his best novels, in my opinion. I'd be picky about his long fiction; it's not all great. But his short stories and novellas are.
    And I'd add Lionel Shriver to my comfort reading list except she makes me think so much. Which is a good thing.