I’m still trying to get through the list of books I posted in January. An unexpected library hold became available and set me back a little, but I’m motoring pretty steadily through “Jitterbug Perfume” and loving it. Thankfully, because I’ve tried to read other Tom Robbins books and thought they were just okay. One of my old regulars from my bartending days gave me his copies of “Another Roadside Attraction” and “Skinny Legs and All” because they were his favorites. I made it almost all the way through “Another Roadside Attraction” before giving up because one of the characters – who was supposed to be likable – made me furious, and probably didn’t get past page 100 of “Skinny Legs and All” because as much as I enjoy fantasy and absurdism, a group of inanimate objects going on a cross-country trip because of…magic? God? Something? Was a little too ridiculous to be entertaining.
“Jitterbug Perfume” is magnificent so far. I’m a bit more than halfway through and want to bathe in the language on every page. It’s so rich and brilliant and I’m so envious of these peculiar and gorgeous descriptions that I close the book a little bit exhausted every night.
Now that I’m employed at 7:00am every day, I don’t read as much as I used to when I had tons of paycheck-free time on my hands. Luckily, though, I seem to be choosing better books, and I’ve started getting into fiction again. I can’t remember why I stopped focusing on fiction in the first place, but lately, I’ve been able to rediscover why I’ve loved reading since I was a kid. If you’re not a reader, first of all, fuck you, but what I’m about to describe might be a little hard for you to understand. And if so, like I said, fuck you.
Okay, you know those vignettes or cartoons where a character is being told a story, and the entire scene starts out blank? And then the narrator says something like “there was a tree,” and an image of a tree gets drawn into the scene, or pops up out of nowhere. And maybe the first image is an oak tree, but when the narrator says “It was a willow tree,” the image shifts into that of a willow, and when the narrator says “it was winter,” the image shifts again, with the leaves stripped off and snow surrounding the trunk. And as the narrator continues listing details, other parts of the scene fill in, change, and sharpen to create the basis of the story.
Imagine this with entire worlds, and that’s how reading is. Of course you know this if you read, but it’s one of those things that has never failed to blow my fucking mind, not once for the past 26 years. Ever since I learned how to read, I filled in stories in this way, and I respect the shit out of any author who can skillfully manipulate the blank scenes in my head when I start a book. Because not all of them can do it. They try, of course, because that’s what writing is, but when the changes don’t seem right or jar with the actual words, the story doesn’t work.
Which leads me to another Unpopular Opinion.
I like Stephen King. Which is technically not unpopular at all; in fact, liking Stephen King is very popular, but this is precisely why a lot of book people – literary people – don’t like Stephen King. To them, Stephen King is populist and formulaic and unchallenging. Stephen King is not literary. He will never be classical. He is and will remain an airport author, one whose books you pick up for $10.00 apiece when you’ve got a layover followed by another three hours in the air.
This is all bullshit, though. The literary people are wrong. Stephen King is wonderful.
Stephen King has this great ability to create and shape not only worlds, but entire universes. Literally multiple universes, each of them equally vibrant but completely separate and bizarre. He doesn’t just scare me, either. His books (especially “Lisey’s Story,” which just slays me) scare me, make me sad, and drive me to the Holden Caulfield impulse to meet and be friends with the person who wrote the thing I loved. He’s a master of names and dialogue and seems delighted to sit in front of a set of keys and not only communicate what’s in his head, but also honor the tradition of writing stories. Just stories. Imaginative, hardworking, enjoyable stories. His non-fiction book “On Writing” is one of my favorite books about writing, and as solipsistic as that probably seems, I really dig books about writing.
And I don’t care how uncool or unliterary that makes me. I adore Stephen King, and the term guilty pleasure will never apply:
“I don’t believe in guilty pleasures. If you fucking like something, like it. That’s what’s wrong with our generation: that residual punk rock guilt, like, “You’re not supposed to like that. That’s not fucking cool.” Don’t fucking think it’s not cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic.” It is cool to like Britney Spears’ “Toxic”! Why the fuck not? Fuck you! That’s who I am, goddamn it! That whole guilty pleasure thing is full of fucking shit.”
– Dave Grohl