Weekly Download Vol. II No. 18

Separator by Radiohead – Someday, (sighs) I’ll understand this or else I’ll write a screed about R-head being both truly talented and also being the most pretentious band…..ever. This is from their new album, The King of Limbs.  For its release, R-head trained ravens to drop copies of cassettes down the chimneys of random citizens of Sri Lanka or launched a satellite into space to broadcast it into a black hole or something.  We get it.  You’re eccentric.  Just play Creep.

Contest, over.  Some people got really close and some just got really, really funny.  Cobra Commander, fucking-A.  No one got it exactly correct, but everyone who played is a winner (spoken like a truly shitty athlete.)  Email me your addresses (not counting you, wife) to reap your reward.  Lacking further ado…..number 2:

Stephen King –  The Day: 6th grade Hinton Middle School.  Its library held exactly one Stephen King novel, Pet Sematary (misspelling, his).  The novel itself had no business  in the library of Hinton Public Schools. Of that much, I’m now certain.  Too much violence, too lascivious, too much occult for a town with ten churches and no bars (my father’s unbelievably apt description of the town in which we both grew up).  But luckily, it was there, no doubt a refugee of a well intentioned book donation gone awry.  I found it and I read it.  The particular day I remember, I sat in the library and consumed (spoiler alert, I guess, if you haven’t read it) the scene where the recently killed toddler, re-buried in the Pet Sematary by a bereaved father, re-animates and wreaks morbid havoc on the once unremarkable family.  It was so visceral and, frankly, fucking scary that I actually broke into a sweat, real physical manifestations of freak out.  I rememeber saying to myself, what the fuck (or whatever a 6th grader would say (and those of you who knew me are probably correct in believing that is what I said)).  I remember specific amazement that words, a story, could elicit that acute reaction from me.  If it’s ever happened to you, that psychological rush which began with thoughts in a writer’s head to words in manuscript to sentences on the blank page of a musty book to your hungry but unaware mind….wow.  I can only imagine, like that first syringe full of the horse (yes), you instantly crave more.  I instantly craved more, and really never stopped.  It (that emotional/psychological rush) hasn’t happened too many times since (non exhastive list (1) The Dollmaker by Harriette Arnow; (2) Where Men Win Glory by John Krakauer; and (3) You Shall Know Our Velocity by Dave Eggers (which is quickly becoming the Drive-by Truckers of books for me. In that no matter how much I reccomend it, I can’t get anyone to read it.  (Except for you, Ford)).  But that afternoon, with Stephen King and his excessively violent gothic morality lesson, was the first.

King is very much unfairly maligned as a “low-brow” novelist.  This infuriates me.  He was then and continues to be a master storyteller.  That, to me, at their core are what novelists are supposed to be.  They can be cute with SAT prep words and obscure allegories and (ahem) parenthesis, but ultimately their jobs are to convey stories, to fill the blank page with words communicating what’s in their mind to yours.  King is an expert at this.  He also understands (at least for me) the process of writing, the mentality of the writer.  Some of his best works have writers as the main character (e.g. Misery, The Dark Half).  He also wrote, hands down, my favorite and probably the best (from a process rather than technical sense) book on writing, titled On Writing.

“You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair; the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.” ~ On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

My favorite words ever about writing.  Still not convinced?  Perhaps the best movie of an entire decade (the 90s – The Shawshank Redemption) was born of his storytelling prowess.  I firmly believe King’s magnum opus, The Dark Tower (and the films, if made properly) will be viewed by the next generation similarly to The Lord of the Rings.  In that they’re both epic in scope and but tell their stories through characters you actually care for.  And no matter how many shitty movies are adapted from it, nothing will ever denigrate the pure narrative and allegorical power of The Stand.  How long do you want me to go?  Read Hearts in Atlantis or Insomnia and you’ll feel what it’s like to age.  Read It or The Body (a/k/a Stand by Me) and you’ll be a kid again.  Hell, read The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon and you’ll give a shit about the Red Sox for a bit.

Attempting to write as much as I now do, I’m beginning to understand that any writer must be supremely gifted in imagination, wordcrafting (made up word (can you hear me giggling at myself? Classy, huh?)) and stamina to see that imagination, that idea, codified (poor word choice resulting from law school.  Coalesced or amalgamated are maybe better.  Hell, published might be the most accurate).  King has each of these gifts.  He has them in opulent excess and he should be venerated for sharing them.  So dismiss Mr. King’s work as low-brow opiate for the masses all you want (I personally save that for anything involving teen vampires, wizard academies or secret codes from renaissance-men (however, rest assured, given the criticisms written by King himself, he would disdain me for my uninformed dismissals)). But do it at your peril and at the risk of missing a generation’s best storyteller.

I didn’t miss him and in that afternoon with dear sweet Glennette Jacques in the 10-church-0-bar library, my love of reading began.  Soon thereafter, the love of writing began and every time I sit down in front of a blank page with a cursor flashing at me, I struggle “to come to it anyway but lightly.”  I’m no longer one of whom King refers to affectionately as his Constant Readers (although, there was one point in my life when I had read almost every novel he’d ever written).  I find more enjoyment elsewhere, but I refuse to dismiss that as moving on or graduating past King.  His teaching me to “read” was far too important to dismiss.  He gave me a lifetime gift.  So his face is next to Tarrantino’s on the ugliest shrine ever cobbled together.  Enjoy

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