Stephen King

Recently Richard got me Stephen King’s Doctor Sleep as a present.  It’s the sequel to The Shining, which I had never read.  I’d seen the Stanley Kubrick/Jack Nicholson movie, but had heard the book is different (and it definitely is) so I decided to read the book first.

The Shining was an enjoyable, page-turning airplane read that I finished on the return leg of our recent trip to Phoenix, and I was looking forward to starting the sequel that seemingly just came out.  As we were walking through the airport on our way to our car, however, we passed the bookstore and I noticed that Stephen King had another new book out, called Revival.  My God, I thought:  how many books has Stephen King written?

The answer is . . . a lot.  According to King’s website, if you just count novels, there are more than 50.  50!  Indeed, in between Doctor Sleep and Revival there was at least one other book, Mr. Mercedes — and perhaps two, because I can’t tell whether Doctor Sleep was published before or after Joyland.  And that is just novels; there are countless essays, short stories, and other pieces in a listing of written works that seems impossibly long.

By anyone’s definition, Stephen King has been astonishingly prolific.  Those of us who aren’t creative can only marvel at where he could come up with so many ideas for books — but what really impresses me is King’s obvious dedication to his work and his craft.  You can only publish that many books, short stories, and writings if you are willing to sit down at your writing desk, day after day, and work.  And Stephen King is still doing it, at age 67.

Critics will probably never look upon Stephen King with the same affection they have for, say, Jonathan Franzen or David Foster Wallace.  I don’t pretend to know precisely what separates fiction from “fine literature,” but I do know this:  Stephen King has stayed atop the bestseller lists for decades now, producing book after book that people want to read, and he has done it by working hard, grinding away at new stories when he presumably could kick back, live off his royalties and speaking fees, and become a man of leisure.

If you want a living testament to the merits of a strong work ethic, consider Stephen King.  We should all be able to find some inspiration in his example.

Thoughts on Oprah’s Book Club

In 2001, you may remember, Oprah took Jonathan Franzen’s novel The Corrections off her book club list after the author told interviewers that he wasn’t entirely comfortable with her endorsement.

The media portrayed Franzen as a snob worried that Oprah’s sticker would debase his masterpiece, but I think he had good reasons for doubting whether Oprah’s endorsement was good for his book. The presence of that gold sticker on the cover could label the novel as just the latest offering from Oprah’s self-improvement empire, and not the insightful work of fiction he intended it to be.

When Franzen finally released his next novel, Freedom, this year, Oprah offered him a second chance to contribute to her club, and he accepted without expressing any qualms. He even appeared on Oprah’s show earlier this week for a discussion on the book, which you can watch here.

I’ve always been skeptical about Oprah and her effect on American society. Her influence scares me, especially when she promotes self-help hacks like Dr. Phil who offer a cheap, sensational way of looking at life. After watching her discussion with Franzen and looking more closely at her book club, however, I’ve come to think that my opinion of her was mistaken. I give Oprah credit for motivating millions of Americans not only to read, but to read challenging, thoughtful books. In addition to Freedom, her book club list includes worthwhile books like Cormac McCarthy’s The Road, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love in the Time of Cholera, and Elie Wiesel’s Night, as well as classics like East of Eden by John Steinbeck and A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens. I guess I was mistaken when I thought the list consisted mostly of phony redemption stories like A Million Little Pieces.

I was also impressed by the questions Oprah and her audience asked Franzen about his book. They seemed to have thought hard about its meaning and its application to their lives, which is how books should be read.

Oprah is a rare example of an influential media person who is actually concerned with steering our culture in a better direction, instead of just pleasing the masses to make a quick buck. I don’t know enough about the rest of her empire to offer an opinion of her overall effect on our society – like I said, I don’t like Dr. Phil’s way of looking at things, and I know she’s caused some controversy by giving a platform to people who claim that immunization shots cause autism. But I support what she’s doing with her book club.