Offbeat – 27 September 2013
This is, so, like, an important moment for me. I don’t have to pretend to have read ‘The Satanic Verses’, or anything by Philip Roth, to pretend to be smart.
It’s often a struggle to find ideas that get me going for this column. Tonight I could be writing about Baba Yaga and children, or the way that music evokes feelings, and why thunderstorms make me feel like a lovesick teenager. None of that has me interested just yet. The words might be a bit difficult if I went there.
The one thing that has been on my mind for the last few months is Stephen King. He has just released ‘Doctor Sleep’, a sequel to ‘The Shining’. It took a couple of decades too long to get to the sequel in my mind. Let’s go there.
‘The Shining’ is an interesting item to think about. There are two schools of thought. Some people think Stanley Kubrik’s movie version is the greatest horror film ever made. There have been documentaries and learned tomes about what he did with the movie. The other side, which includes Stephen King, thinks that the book is the best way to go. I’m neither here nor there. Both of them deliver their frights, or thrills if you are a horror fan.
Whatever the case, anyone who loved ‘The Shining’ has a compelling reason to go out and look for the new book.
I gave up on Stephen King for a long time. In my snobbish way, I switched him for HP Lovecraft, the father of modern horror, thinking King a bit too pop. I got back to him a couple of years ago out of curiosity with ‘Duma Key’ and found myself enjoying him thoroughly again. One thing leads to another, and I found myself reading up on him.
It turns out that he has become quite an important writer. He’s not one of the luminaries in the field of belles-lettres. You don’t have to have him on your bookshelf to show that you are discerning and intelligent, even if you haven’t read the thing. You can however give him credit for changing the way people write.
Here’s an example. When last did you spot an adverb in a book? According to Stephen King, saying ‘the woman ran quickly’ is awful style if you can say that she sprinted or raced. I read a book full of adverbs a couple of months ago, and it really came across as lame. Hats off to Stephen King.
There are other things that he passes on. Build your writing descriptively. Your protagonist shouldn’t run quickly away from the monster. She should skitter, with a thumping heart, tumbling and tripping as she tries to look over her shoulder to see if the hot, poisonous breath she feels on her back is from near or far.
It’s hard to write like that, incredibly hard. Then you get to stuff like characterisation, which King is awesomely good at, and so on. It gives me a headache thinking about it. I need lots more practice.
This is, so, like, an important moment for me. I don’t have to pretend to have read ‘The Satanic Verses’, or anything by Philip Roth, to pretend to be smart. I can just say I’ve read the whole of ‘The Shining’ from cover to cover, and back it up with the fact that, actually, the boiler exploded.
So what’s the point of this whole riff.
I think it must be that ‘culture’ has become way too smart and elitist for its own good.
Still on the topic of books, there are items out there, literary tomes, on the bestseller lists, that even a reader like myself puts aside with dizziness and confusion. To give you an idea of how bad that is, I am so addicted to reading that I read the instructions on the labels or boxes of household utensils. Those instructions are a lot more fun than some of the stuff that sells by making people look clever for having them in their bookshelves, albeit unread.
There’s lots of other types of current cultures out there that are worthy of current assessment. If Rihanna or Miley Cyrus are the Barbara Cartlands of the music scene, who are its unrecognised greats? Norah Jones and Amy Winehouse are worth considering. What about comics? They are considered low brow by many, but they are everywhere.
Stephen King gives me hope that there is some kind of current magic, even if I struggle to write that way. There is something new under the sun.