As superhuman abilities go, mind-reading has to be one of the worst. I mean yes, it’d be nice to call people on their bullshit, and the bar-trick possibilities are endless, but for the most part humans are vile creatures, and our thoughts the headquarters of depravity. Add to that telepathic stew an alcoholic and occasionally abusive father, plus a haunted hotel bent on your family’s destruction, and it’s no wonder that Danny Torrance, the child clairvoyant at the center of Stephen King’s The Shining, grew up to be Dan Torrance, an alcoholic and immoral drifter who drinks to dull the memories and manifestations of his own power.
Releasing a fiction sequel more than thirty years after its predecessor is the kind of gambit only Stephen King can pull off (though credit is due to the movie adaptation he’s so consistently talked down) and King, fortunately, seems to recognize the absurdity of trying to pick up where we left off, literally in ashes (in the book, the hotel blows up). And So Doctor Sleep is cast forward — through Danny’s troubled teenage years and his struggle to forget the Overlook (uh, YEAH), and into the present, where Obama is president, the Internet exists, and an adolescent boy band called ‘Round Here is at peak popularity. Even Twitter gets a mention.
In the present, Dan has learned – mostly through drinking – to temper his visions, and wanders from town to town doing odd jobs until some drunken episode forces him to pack up and move on. It’s only after settling down and getting sober that he is forced to face his shining head-on, and in so doing stumbles across a young girl in need of his help.
Here’s the thing: I read at night. I mean, not only at night – also on the train, and on weekend mornings, during commercials, and during superfluous portions of TV shows (read: all of X Factor). But I do a lot of reading at night, in bed, acting as a human Berlin Wall between my cats and further damaging my grandma eyes with the light of a propped-up iPad mini. (I actually have a book holder/travel pillow that, for the record, is dope.) I like to read in the (extremely relative) quiet of Bushwick-After-Dark, when the 18-wheelers stop rolling by for long enough that you might catch the sound of a bump in the night.
Which is all to say that The Shining is most definitely not a night book.
Everyone and their mother has been pointing me to Doctor Sleep, Stephen King’s long-awaited sequel to The Shining, which came out in 1977. But it irks me to read sequels without reading their predecessors, and so even though I’ve seen Stanley Kubrick’s famous Shining film adaptation about 65 times, I wanted to check out the original material.
Walking to work sometimes—my office is in Times Square—I think idly to myself about the benefits of a post-apocalyptic world. Fewer people. More space. The environment would probably get better. With any luck, Texas would be wiped off the map entirely. “A plague hits, and half of us survive,” I think to myself as I push past Elmos and Darth Vaders lined up like Wal-Mart greeters on 40th Street. “Maybe that wouldn’t be so bad.”
For secret misanthropes like myself, Stephen King’s The Stand is as fascinating as it is horrifying. Felled by a government-created (and accidentally released) superflu known as Captain Trips, the U.S. (and theoretically global) population is eviscerated—only about 1 in 10 people prove immune. Those that survive find themselves cast adrift in a world absent their loved ones, and are scared by the arrival of vivid mass dreams, dreams of a faceless man and a kindly old woman, the former evil, the latter virtuous, the former Satanic, the latter Godly. Propelled by their visions, the country’s remaining residents gather together in two separate locations—Boulder, Colorado for the good’uns, and Las Vegas, natch, for the bad—where they begin to negotiate the formation of new societies, and to prepare for a final showdown between good and evil.
If you’ve read this blog in the past, you’ll find that I enjoyme some StephenKing. He’s like a palette-cleanser, an old faithful I turn to between other books—more challenging books or less challenging books or books that are intellectually fulfilling but don’t quite suck me in. King for me is like a favorite record. You don’t listen to it every day, but when you do it’s like rediscovering music.
In the grand scheme of the King ouvre, Joyland is a throwaway. It’s more a novella than a novel, almost a campfire story. It occupies a limited universe, for the most part a single point in time, and lacks even one Maine resident, or rip in the space-time continuum (though there is a psychic kid). The book is short and sweet, and its supernatural elements are understated, almost to a fault. Joyland is the kind of novel I imagine King dreams up at a red light, or on a long elevator ride. “So…what if there was a carny legend about a haunted funhouse…” and then the signal goes green and he drives off. Bam. Novel.
And essentially, that’s what the book is about. Told in flashback by narrator/protagonist Devin Jones—now in his 60s—Joyland is the story of a summer and fall Dev spent working at Joyland, a seaside amusement park in North Carolina. While there, Dev makes friends, mourns a breakup and learns what it means to “wear the fur” on a 100-degree day in August. But throughout his time at Joyland, Dev is also haunted by the story of a girl who was murdered in the Horror House by her boyfriend. Carny lore is that her ghost still appears there to this day.
Well guys, 2012 is drawing swiftly to a close and I have nothing to show for myself except a sweet new job and the collective knowledge of ~53 finished books (52.3 if I’m being honest about Les Mis, 58.3 if I count the Gone series and all three FSOG books). A productive year indeed.
Last week I posted the mathematically irrefutable Best Books of 2012, a labor on which I spent an undisclosed number of hours (like five) but after a little rest, relaxation, and weirdly mortifying perusal of my own ramblings from the last 12 months, I’d now like to share a more important list: the books I read this year that made the biggest impact on my little reality-TV-filled brain. Few of these titles were released in 2012, a byproduct of my resigned refusal to spend $27 on hardcovers, but sometimes it’s nice to read a book a few years after its release, when you can absorb it in the vacuum of irrelevance.
So here are the books that touched my shriveled-up heart this year, in dramatic countdown order. Happy reading!