Reading ‘The Shining’ at 19 and 49

the shining-newMy friend Mamie and I have embarked on a shared read of The Shining. I wanted to re-read it prior to starting the new sequel, Doctor Sleep, because it’s been so long since I read it. So far I have gotten to Chapter 20, which is about a third of the way through. I had forgotten how much stuff happens before the really really bad stuff happens, but that’s Stephen King for you. He builds the suspense with a plethora of quotidian detail and just a few hints of what’s to come, so that when the shit hits the fan you are totally invested in the characters and the situation.

I first read The Shining back in the mid-1980s. I was working part-time at the local newspaper as a sports stringer. Part of my job was hanging out in the office at night to take phone calls from coaches reporting their game results and box scores. The office was closed, of course, so I was alone in the building and usually didn’t bother turning on any extra lights other than the ones that burned all night and were more than adequate to see and read by.

I was 19, maybe 20 years old. I was already head-over-heels in love with newspapers and journalism, and I loved being alone in the building, where I could snoop around in the advertising department’s clip art library, play with the waxer (for page pasteup, not legs and eyebrows) and the old Linotype headline writer, and look at the pictures everyone kept on their desk. (Yes, I was a weird kid who grew up into a weird young adult and then … well, you can guess the rest.)

I would usually be there until about 11 p.m. or midnight, and there was lots of waiting time between coaches’ phone calls. I always brought along whatever book I was reading at the time. I locked the doors while I was there alone even though this was a small town (about 9,000 people) and there was little chance of anything bad happening. I was never afraid to be there by myself. Except…

Except the night I brought along The Shining. It isn’t particularly scary at first, as you know if you’ve read it. I mean, now we know what to expect from a Stephen King book so even when you’re reading the opening chapters of Under the Dome or 11/22/63  you are already mentally on edge for the horror to start, but back then I hadn’t read much of his stuff (there really wasn’t much of his stuff yet to read) so I didn’t know that.

The night I’m thinking of, I had gotten to the chapter I just finished reading tonight, Chapter 19, when young Danny has an encounter in a hotel hallway with a fire extinguisher. I won’t say more, but if you’ve read it I know you remember. I sat there at my desk in the newsroom of that empty, quiet-but-not-silent building, and reading every paragraph of that chapter was an agony of terror and anticipation. I kept forgetting to breathe and then gasping more air into my lungs. When the phone rang, I yelped out loud.

As I started re-reading The Shining this past Monday, I mentally prepared myself not to be disappointed because it was unlikely the book would affect me the same way now. Not only am I older and have more experience of the world, I already know what happens in the end. I told myself it would still be interesting to re-read from a more analytical perspective, to see how King’s writing has developed over the years and how he structured the story, etc etc etc.

Well, forget all that. Chapter 19 scared the bejesus out of me at 49 just as surely as it did at 19. I could scarcely stand reading to the end of the chapter and when I finally got there, I had to put the book down and do something else. I will not be reading any more in this book tonight, or any night after dark. We can analyze and theorize and intellectualize all we want about books and writing. Stephen King still scares the pants off me, and I hope he always will.


Writers Feel an Amazon-Hachette Spat |

This David Streitfeld article in the New York Times has been the subject of lots of chatter in the literary corners of the Web. People who are already wary of the immense power granted to Amazon by virtue of the fact that it sells roughly one-third of all books sold. The idea of a bookseller sabotaging one publisher’s books to force that publisher to agree to more favorable wholesale terms is disturbing on several levels:

  • Nobody like a bully, and Amazon appears to be taking advantage of its massive popularity to hold authors and readers hostage in a money grab.
  • Shoppers expect that if a product is available, they will be able to buy it. The idea that a seller would choose not to sell an available product to customers who want it seems nonsensical and could erode trust in online shopping (of course, there are people who would see that as a plus, not a negative).
  • Most readers have little idea of who published the book they are seeking. The average book shopper will likely not realize that the same book listed as out of stock at Amazon is probably available immediately at another site.
  • The people who are being most hurt are the authors, whose books are no longer readily available at the world’s largest bookseller. Fewer sales equals fewer royalties and fewer chances for emerging authors to build the elusive word-of-mouth that can spell the difference between a book’s success and its failure.

Among Amazon’s tactics against Hachette, some of which it has been employing for months, are charging more for its books and suggesting that readers might enjoy instead a book from another author. If customers for some reason persist and buy a Hachette book anyway, Amazon is saying it will take weeks to deliver it.

Ultimately, Streitfeld says, the tactic may backfire on Amazon:

If Amazon needs to improve its bottom line, it is a dangerous game to make things harder for its customers.

(via New York Times)

My reading life in 2011

People reading on the Paris metro

Photo by Pedro Figueiredo

For the first time in 2011, I actively kept track of how many and which books I read throughout the year. The impetus was the 75 Books Challenge for 2011 over at The group has more than 1,000 members, and I think the only thing they like more than reading is talking about reading!

When I joined the group last December, I had no idea if I could read 75 books in a single year, and even less idea which 75 books they might be. I’ve never been very good at organizing or planning my reading. Once in a great while, when I know an author I like has published a new book, I might seek out a specific title, but that’s not usually how it works. Much more often, I choose the next book by looking at what’s on my own shelves that I haven’t yet read, or browsing aimlessly at the library. I’ve stumbled on some pretty good books that way, but one of the big draws of the 75 Books Challenge was the idea of getting recommendations for good books that might otherwise slip past me. I was right. Many of the books I read this past year I “stole” after reading reviews posted by other group members.

closeup of hands on book

Photo by Brian Jeffery Beggerly

As of today, I’ve completed 108 books in 2011, and I don’t expect to add more than 1 or 2 to that total by year’s end. That’s quite a haul, and I won’t bother listing them all here. If you want to check out the list, you’ll find my 75 Books thread over on LibraryThing. There are a few great books, quite a few pretty good books, and a few pretty bad books on the list. There is also a handful of books that I abandoned, not necessarily because they were bad but because they just weren’t catching my attention at the time I tried to read them. I fully expect to attempt most of them again, perhaps in the 2012 75 Books Challenge.

I have to say, keeping a running log of books I’ve read was an interesting experience. I think it made me more thoughtful about my book consumption. For example, one of my decisions was that I am not interested in reading as many books as I can stuff into my eyeballs in 2012. I’d rather read fewer books (maybe even less than 75? Horrors!) and have them be really memorable. That will also free up some of my time to do other things, like … reading The New Yorker. And movies! Watching more movies is definitely on the list. We’ll see how that goes, eh?

In the meantime, I had so much fun with the 75 Books Challenge on LibraryThing that I’ve decided to throw my bookmark into the ring for another reading challenge in 2012. Ellie, the genial hostess over at Musings of a Bookshop Girl — and a fellow traveler on LibraryThing — has posted her Mixing It Up Challenge 2012. The idea is to dig out of any reading ruts you might be in and tackle at least one book from any of up to 16 categories: Classics; Biography; Cookery, Food, and Wine; History; Modern Fiction; Graphic Novels and Manga; Crime and Mystery; Horror; Romance; Science Fiction and Fantasy; Travel; Poetry and Drama; Journalism and Humour (did I mention Ellie is from the UK?); Science and Natural History; Children’s and Young Adult; and Social Sciences and Philosophy.

Whew! That’s quite a list of categories. I already read pretty heavily in quite a few of those, so I’m going to try to complete all 16. I’m busily making lists of potential books for each category, and I’d love your suggestions. Sometime after Christmas I’ll post my preliminary list. And sometime after that, it will be time to start reading!

And away we go!