********************During the course of a “so, what did you get for Christmas?” conversation at work a week or so ago, one of my fellow dispatchers mentioned that his wife had gotten the latest Stephen King novel, “Lisey’s Story”. This naturally led to a discussion of the Master of Fright’s best books and our own personal favorites.
I first started reading Stephen King's stuff back in the early 1980’s when I was living in California and working as a Telecommunicator at the Stockton Police Department. Unlike my current job where you are not only the dispatcher but also the call-taker, SPD has two separate positions – dispatcher (police radio operator) and CRO (complaint receipt operator). If you were working the desk (the radio), there was NO WAY on God’s green earth that you were ever even going to think about picking up a book but if you were on CRO duty then chances were good you’d have some time to read as long as you knew enough to put the book down when 911 rang. This was especially true if you were assigned to the dreaded overnight shift.
There was a trick to reading while working the night shift and that was to make good and sure that you had a really GOOD book to read – something that would keep you awake and keep your head from slamming into the keyboard too many times when you drifted off to sleep after reading the same paragraph over and over twelve times. Stephen King always managed to fit the bill nicely so I began to haunt the library in search of his books almost as much as his ghosts and ghouls haunt various locales in Maine (a State that I will not go to anymore thanks to Mr. King!).
The first Stephen King book that I ever read was “Salem’s Lot”, a creepy tale of a vampire named Mr. Barlow and his faithful manservant Straker, new residents of the small town of Jerusalem’s Lot, Maine, and the unlikely heroes who eventually rid their town of the vicious blood-sucker. After this one, I was hooked and continued my new-found love affair with “The Dead Zone”, “Carrie”, “Christine”, and one of his short story collections “Night Shift” (the cover alone on this one would make my hand itch just looking at it!).
I’ve read so many Stephen King novels and short stories over the years that it’s hard to pick any one favorite but it’s fairly easy to pick out the ones that have creeped me out the most!
At the top of the list would have to be 1986’s “It” – the book that was the final nail in the coffin for any potential future trips to Maine! This is the first of many stories set in the fictional town of Derry, a place that is haunted by a monster that changes shape to match the fear of its victims. The creature first shows itself as Pennywise the Dancing Clown and, as someone who has always hated clowns, this book terrified me right from the get-go! I refused to watch the TV movie that was eventually made based on the book after just one look at Tim Curry’s depiction of Pennywise. To this very day I’ll still pass – thank you very much!
Other books that stand out at the top of my list are 1983’s “Pet Sematary” (my son Michael was the same age as the tragic/evil Gage at the time I read this one) and 1981’s “Cujo” because – if you think about it - a rabid dog terrorizing people trapped in a sweltering car is not that far-fetched of a horror! Additional favorites include “Gerald’s Game”, “Insomnia”, “Misery”, “The Shawshank Redemption”, and “The Green Mile”.
One of the reasons that Stephen King has always appealed to me is the fact that there are times when it seems that the man has climbed inside my head and written about the things that scare me the most – things in the closet, things under the bed, things in dark basements, things that just aren’t what they first appear to be! His characters are basic every day people in not so basic every day circumstances that act the same way that I would if put in the same unnatural predicaments. Though trust me, I'm staying far away from Maine where most of his trouble seems to start!
Now I ask you, with writing like that how can his books not be appealing and yet terrifying at the same time? So what about you , Constant Reader? Friends and neighbors? Do you have any favorite Stephen King stories, movies, and/or books? If you do, I’d be frightfully delighted to hear about them!