Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Master of Horror

I'm not a fast reader. I'm pretty sure I'm not even a good reader. My snail pace doesn't actually allow me to retain more deeply the words I'm reading. I'm just slow.

But I like to read.

When I try to think back to why I like to read it's no surprise that comics were the start. I've always loved comics. At an early age I was specifically hooked on Peanuts. And not so much the daily strip in the paper, although I certainly paid attention to that, I was addicted to the paperback collections. I hoarded as many of those books as I could. Charles Schulz cemented the type of humor and pacing I appreciate nowadays. I also gathered as many Archie digests as I could get my hands on. My childhood bookshelf basically consisted of mangled Peanuts paperbacks, Archie digests, a bunch of Savage Sword of Conan magazines, and an entire run of the Funk & Wagnell's encyclopedia set above it.  I'd dip into the encyclopedias on rare occasions but not often. And we were missing the "N" book for some reason.

But I digress.

It took me awhile to warm up to full on novels. Pictures were important to me. Balloon-filled bits of dialog seemed much less intimidating than walls of text with no end in sight. The first no picture books I really read on my own were a series of dog stories written by Jim Kjelgaard. They mostly focused on hunting dogs and how they get separated from their owners and had a crazy adventure in the wilderness. The titles were simple. "Big Red", "Snow Dog", and "Stormy"to name a few. Conan comics moved me into the world of Robert E. Howard and the Conan novels. The Frazetta covers that housed the paperback reprints of the day totally suckered me into reading them. Anything that had images that cool on the front just had to be amazing reading inside! They mostly held up in retrospect.

But what truly launched me into a lifetime of reading was Stephen King. I grew up in his hey day. King of the paperbacks. Master of Horror. It seemed like every week he had a new book that debuted at #1 on the bestsellers list.

Up until that time I don't know if I even liked horror particularly. I appreciated the Twilight Zone and stuff like that but I didn't  actively seek out tales of terror.  The first Stephen King novel I read was "Salem's Lot". A friend had read it and kept pushing it on the rest of our gang of buddies. Sort of a dare. He'd read an adult scary story, could any of us 'man up' and handle it? There was some stressed looks exchanged but after a few days some of the guys started reading it. After internalizing on it for awhile I finally bought my own used copy at a local bookstore. I didn't read it right away. I kept studying the cover trying to decide it if it was worth my time.

That drop of blood. The all-black cover. I was intimidated. It seemed really scary! And it took me so long just to read short stories by Robert E. Howard. This book was huge. It was going to take forever!

I finally dove in.

Once I started I couldn't stop. I'd never read something that was so legitimately a 'pager-turner' like Salem's Lot. It still took me a long time to read it but I never noticed. I was so immersed in the world that Mr. King had laid out that time was irrelevant.

Salem's Lot began a routine of the next 5 or so years of my life where I sat curled up in our living room, listening to cassettes and reading until my eyes were crossed. I pored through Carrie, The Shining, Christine, Night Shift, Different Seasons, Firestarter, Cujo, and the ultimate victory for me, The Stand.

The size of The Stand was truly monumental in my slow reading world. When I finished that book I felt like I'd truly done something with my life. Anyone who could read a story that physically thick and over a thousand pages was truly a worthy human being. It gave me the courage to pull the tattered copy of Shogun off our cottage shelf the next summer and complete it. Nothing could stop me now.

At a certain point, whether it was just my age, or King's writing hitting a plateau of sorts, or both, I got off the Master of Horror's train. I remember clearly that it was after finishing "It" that I'd decided it was time to move on.

I never lost my appreciation for horror stories or my love of reading and for that Stephen King will always hold a special place in my literary heart.

I think he may have even slightly increased my reading speed. Just a smidge.


Johanna Gassner said...

Hey, welcome to the club of slow readers :D
I am also a slow reader and started more with comic books than "real" books in my life.

When it comes to horror stories, I admit, I haven't experienced a Stephen King book so far. But when you say something like "Salem's Lot" is awesome, I buy that (haven't heard of that btw). It's great to find books that can suck you in so easily.
I also haven't read many horror stories as books in general but the ones I really enjoy very much are Japanese ghost stories, "Rosemary's Baby" and such books that show the (real) horror in terrifying societies like "1984" or cult books.

A question about pictures in books: Do you generally like them or are you quite selective? Like "when the characters look way too modernized, I don't like it" or "I prefer traditional illustrations in books"?

grickleguy said...

Pictures in books are totally fine with me! If it helps enhance and not distract from the written story then I'm all for it! Modern or traditional. As long as it's adding to the experience and not taking away from it.