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February 17, 2004

Honor where due
Posted by Teresa at 12:59 AM *

A transcript of Stephen King’s acceptance speech, from the National Book Awards banquet where he was named the winner of the 2003 Distinguished Contribution to American Letters Award. I’ve been an admirer of his work ever since I read Carrie in its entirety while standing up at my then-local drugstore. The speech is all good. Here’s some:

This isn’t in my speech so don’t take it out of my allotted time. There are some people who have spoken out passionately about giving me this medal. There are some people who think it’s an extraordinarily bad idea. There have been some people who have spoken out who think it’s an extraordinarily good idea. You know who you are and where you stand and most of you who are here tonight are on my side. I’m glad for that. But I want to say it doesn’t matter in a sense which side you were on. The people who speak out, speak out because they are passionate about the book, about the word, about the page and, in that sense, we’re all brothers and sisters. Give yourself a hand. …

Now, there are lots of people who will tell you that anyone who writes genre fiction or any kind of fiction that tells a story is in it for the money and nothing else. It’s a lie. The idea that all storytellers are in it for the money is untrue but it is still hurtful, it’s infuriating and it’s demeaning. I never in my life wrote a single word for money. As badly as we needed money, I never wrote for money. From those early days to this gala black tie night, I never once sat down at my desk thinking today I’m going to make a hundred grand. Or this story will make a great movie. If I had tried to write with those things in mind, I believe I would have sold my birthright for a plot of message, as the old pun has it. Either way, Tabby and I would still be living in a trailer or an equivalent, a boat. My wife knows the importance of this award isn’t the recognition of being a great writer or even a good writer but the recognition of being an honest writer.

Frank Norris, the author of McTeague, said something like this: “What should I care if they, i.e., the critics, single me out for sneers and laughter? I never truckled, I never lied. I told the truth.” And that’s always been the bottom line for me. The story and the people in it may be make believe but I need to ask myself over and over if I’ve told the truth about the way real people would behave in a similar situation.

Of course, I only have my own senses, experiences and reading to draw on but that usually - not always but usually - usually it’s enough. It gets the job done. For instance, if an elevator full of people, one of the ones in this very building - I want you to think about this later, I want you to think about it - if it starts to vibrate and you hear those clanks - this probably won’t happen but we all know it has happened, it could happen. It could happen to me or it could happen to you. Someone always wins the lottery. Just put it away for now until you go up to your rooms later. Anyway, if an elevator full of people starts free-falling from the 35th floor of the skyscraper all the way to the bottom, one of those view elevators, perhaps, where you can watch it happening, in my opinion, no one is going to say, “Goodbye, Neil, I will see you in heaven.” In my book or my short story, they’re far more apt to bellow, “Oh shit” at the top of their lungs because what I’ve read and heard tends to confirm the “Oh shit” choice. If that makes me a cynic, so be it.

I remember a story on the nightly news about an airliner that crashed killing all aboard. The so-called black box was recovered and we have the pilot’s immortal last four words: “Son of a bitch”. Of course, there was another plane that crashed and the black box recorder said, “Goodbye, Mother,” which is a nicer way to go out, I think.

Folks are far more apt to go out with a surprised ejaculation, however, then an expiring abjuration like, “Marry her, Jake. Bible says it ain’t good for a man to be alone.” If I happen to be the writer of such a death bed scene, I’d choose “Son of a bitch” over “Marry her, Jake” every time. We understand that fiction is a lie to begin with. To ignore the truth inside the lie is to sin against the craft, in general, and one’s own work in particular.

I’m sure I’ve made the wrong choices from time to time. Doesn’t the Bible say something like, “for all have sinned and come short of the glory of Chaucer?” But every time I did it, I was sorry. Sorry is cheap, though. I have revised the lie out if I could and that’s far more important. When readers are deeply entranced by a story, they forget the storyteller completely. The tale is all they care about.

But the storyteller cannot afford to forget and must always be ready to hold himself or herself to account. He or she needs to remember that the truth lends verisimilitude to the lies that surround it. If you tell your reader, “Sometimes chickens will pick out the weakest one in the flock and peck it to death,” the truth, the reader is much more likely to go along with you than if you then add something like, “Such chickens often meld into the earth after their deaths.”
Almost all the best writing advice is simple. The trick is to learn to take it.
Comments on Honor where due:
#1 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 03:11 AM:

...or to hear it in the first place, which is unfortunately separate *squirm* from being told it.

#2 ::: John Farrell ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:45 AM:

Thanks, Teresa. This made my morning (and take that, Harold Bloom!)

#3 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 11:02 AM:

Great speech. Although someone should tell the NBA transcriber that there's a difference between jury rigging (like in an Alec Baldwin movie) and jerry [gerry?] rigging something (like Germans in World War II).

#4 ::: Emmet ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:06 PM:

Jury-rigged and jerry-built, I thought ? Or is this one of those transatlantic usage differences ?

#5 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:08 PM:

Jeff: I've seen both "jury-rig" and "jerry-rig" as correct, and "jerry-" meaning patchwork/inadequate certainly predates World War II -- it's used in that sense in Yeomen of the Guard (1888). Teresa can probably tell us whether one is a distortion of the other (as in "jaws harp" or "juice harp" becoming "jew's harp") (and if so which is original) or whether they're convergent, and in either case why....

And the whole of the speech is great -- not to mention tieing into the rejections thread; he didn't make a separate point of it, but he makes it clear he didn't get to the big bucks overnight or by networking, but by working until he produced publishable material.

I don't think I'd known he had taught high-school English; aside from the resonance with The Dead Zone, it makes another useful marker: "You won't sell if you don't have enough command of your language to teach it." (That's only the first step in being able to teach it, but it seems to me a necessary step.)

#6 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:22 PM:

CHip and Emmet, thanks for your ideas. Once again, I find myself saying, "Let's just pull out that OED," and then remembering I don't have one. :( Ooh! I have the internet! Yay!

#7 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:25 PM:

From Merriam Webster Online:

Main Entry: (2)jury
Function: adjective
Etymology: origin unknown
: improvised for temporary use especially in an emergency

And they didn't have jerry-rig at all.
Huh.

#8 ::: Skwid ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:39 PM:

Dictionary.com (American Heritage) has the following for jerry-rig:

To jury-rig

For jury-rig they have:
To rig or assemble for temporary emergency use; improvise: The survivors of the wreck jury-rigged some fishing gear.
[From jury-rig, jury-rigging, improvised rigging on a ship, modeled on jury-mast, temporary mast, perhaps ultimately from Old French ajurie, help, from aider, to help]

So there you go.

#9 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 12:54 PM:

Interesting. I had believed the apocryphal etymology of Jerries=German therefore Jerry-rig=rig something up as a German would (they must have had a reputation as good improvisers for this to make sense, though).

#10 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 01:14 PM:

Thanks, Theresa.

#11 ::: Lee Mickle ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 04:35 PM:

After reading that excerpt, I can only say I would love to read the Stephen King story that includes the "Marry her, Jake" deathbed scene.

#12 ::: Kim Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 06:10 PM:

I get really tired of the "if it's genre it's clearly junk" argument.

King has some stuff that's junk. And some that's brilliant. And you have to have read him to know the difference. Just like with say, Shakespeare, who has both, too. (Not to say Steven King=Shakespeare) but they both have been accused of being hacks and out to make money.

Some genre stuff IS junk (I've gotten some of it in the mail to review and couldn't get past the first page in a FREE BOOK with hours and hours to kill.) But what do you define as genre, really? Some of the best writing I've ever read fits into a category that one could define as genre, and some of the most boring, pedestrian, mind-numblingly obvious stuff has been "regular fiction." Pfffhtt. Good books are good books. I don't care what label gets attached. And if you haven't read it, you aren't allowed to critique it.

#13 ::: Kim Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 06:11 PM:

Oh, and King's non-fiction book about writing, called On Writing, is quite good, and good advice, and also partly autobiographical. It's especially good, IMHO, on tape, because King reads it himself and he's a great reader.

#14 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 08:24 PM:

Kim, the people who have the "if it's genre, it's clearly junk" mindset are depriving themselves. By reminding myself of that -- and failing to engage them when the topic comes up -- I find my life is much happier.

When I pick up a work of fiction, I'm looking for a couple hours of enjoyable reading. Nothing more. People who like to discuss lit-ra-chur seem to think that's bad. I think that their lives must be very, very dull.

(PS: Regarding jury-rig, the OED agrees with the American Heritage.)

#15 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 17, 2004, 09:26 PM:

A peer of mine, back in college, who I'd found to be mostly pretentious and uptight, redeemed himself with a statement much like, 'Say what you will about Stephen King, but there's something about his nonfiction. If you read the prefaces he writes, there's something casual, even conversational about the way he writes to his readers. It's not like you're reading; it's more like you're sitting down over coffee, having a chat.'

On Writing is written in that conversational tone my peer spoke of. So is this speech.

I'm happy for him that he received this award. I won't go out on a limb and say anything like 'about time,' but I will say it was well-deserved.

#16 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:32 AM:

It's a great speech, all right, especially when contrasted with the ones that introduced him.

I don't think I'd known he had taught high-school English;

Makes me wonder what ambitions my HS English teachers harboured. Looking back, I hope they achieved them, or reasonable substitutes. They certainly did their best for me.

So, I've read a lot of King over the years, and this has bothered me for many of them: Pet Semetary. I gave it three readings, because I couldn't credit how much I disliked it after the first two attempts¹. One, I had nightmares, and two, it was predictable to a degree that makes my teeth grind. Between the two, I felt manipulated.

I've also thought that Cujo was quite a good tale that deserved better cover art than it got.
--
¹ "attempts" originally spelt "go - rounds", without the spaces, to which MT blacklist evidently objects.

#17 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:46 AM:

Shouldn't that be "a pot of message", not "plot"?

#18 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:55 AM:

So do we say that King tells a good story, even when he's making a speech? :-)

#19 ::: Jay Smooth ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:04 AM:

Great speech.. When King most when he speaks or writes about writing is always when I appreciate him the most.

And speaking of awards, congrats for the "special mention" in the Koufax awards thing.

#20 ::: Jay Smooth ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:05 AM:

That is, "When King speaks or writes about writing is always when I appreciate him the most."
Doh!

#21 ::: Individ-ewe-al ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:41 AM:

'Jury rig' has positive connotations, cf Skwid's excerpt from the dictionary. You admire someone who improvises something that's workable in adverse circumstances. But 'jerry-built' is negative; it means something is shoddy and poor workmanship.

I don't think it comes from 'Jerry' meaning 'German', I think it comes from 'Jericho': built like Jericho ie ready to fall down at a mere loud noise. But I can't find a source that backs me up, so that may be just a folk-etymology.

#22 ::: Harry Connolly ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 10:52 AM:

It's not the "genre is junk" attitude that annoys me, it's the "If it's not junk, it's not genre anymore" attitude.

I once met a writing teacher (not mine) who talked about how much he had enjoyed _Interview with a Vampire_. Then he began to talk about how books are removed from genre categories when they are good enough. As he spoke, he made pantomimed lifting a baby ducking out of an oil slick.

At the time, all I could think was that he had been too embarassed to tell his colleagues he'd enjoyed a book about vampires, and was trying to redraw the boundaries to make his pleasures more respectable.

#23 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:11 AM:

>>I [thought] he had been too embarassed to tell his colleagues he'd enjoyed a book about vampires, and was trying to redraw the boundaries to make his pleasures more respectable.

I'm sure you're right, Harry. I always think the same criteria divides "erotica" from "porn."

Stephen King is my patron saint. Joss Whedon is my god, and M. Night Shyamalan is my confessor.

Amen.

#24 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:33 AM:

once met a writing teacher (not mine) who talked about how much he had enjoyed _Interview with a Vampire_. Then he began to talk about how books are removed from genre categories when they are good enough. As he spoke, he made pantomimed lifting a baby ducking out of an oil slick.

I just have to say that from the point of view of someone who writes the stuff, being told that you've transcended your genre is like being called a credit to your race.

#25 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 12:32 PM:

King has some stuff that's junk. And some that's brilliant.

King's produced a lot of solid, entertaining, memorable work, but "brilliant" is a mischaracterization, I think. This isn't to knock him. I'm quibbling because King's work isn't brilliant compared to peers like, say, Nabokov, (or even Delany, maybe); but also because brilliance obviously isn't the only literary virtue to aspire to. Brilliance is an admirable literary virtue, but it isn't the only one. There's also charm, delight, entertainment, humor and many more. King's work has all of those virtures (some novels or stories more than others).

Incidentally, does anyone else think of Stephen King and John Updike as slightly more, slightly less "respectable" literary twins? Two prolific writers, writing traditional novels about the fears, desires and obsessions of mostly middle-class, mostly suburban late C20 Americans. That's a half-formed thought, so maybe it goes nowhere, but at times I've idly imagined Updike and King as the Superego and Id of a certain type of novel.

Then he began to talk about how books are removed from genre categories when they are good enough.

True from a marketing point of view, maybe, but is any book ever really "removed" from a genre catagory, regardless of how "good" it is? I don't think so. All writing is catagorized by genre, even if the genre is just "great books." Knowledge of genres and their interplay is part of makes a writer sucessful, I'm inclined to think.

#26 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 01:17 PM:

Two more links for the pile, in a similar vein:

Orson Scott Card on Stephen King's winning of the National Book Award (scroll to the bottom):http://www.hatrack.com/osc/reviews/everything/2003-09-21.shtml

OSC on literary elitism and style: http://www.upc.es/op/english/sciencefiction/conferscottcard.htm

#27 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 01:50 PM:

There's a note on etymology of jerry-built (actually jerry-builder, as the former refers one to the latter) that reads:

"Origin not ascertained.
That jerry-builder and jerry-built originated in some way from the name Jerry is probable; but the statement made in a letter to the newspapers in Jan. 1884, that they commemorate the name of a building firm on the Mersey, has on investigation not been confirmed. The earliest example yet found is that of jerry-built 1869."

Note that the use of Jerry as military slang to refer to Germans post-dates this by approximately 50 years. Likely if there were any relation the direction of influence was the reverse of what many people assume.

Lastly, the name Jerry is probably a variant of the name Jeremy/Jeremiah rather than related to Jericho, but hey, you never know. :)

#28 ::: bryan ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 02:00 PM:

'Shouldn't that be "a pot of message", not "plot"?'

hence the following: ",as the old pun has it."

#29 ::: miriam ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:31 PM:

I would really like to see someone pantomiming lifting a baby ducking out of an oil slick.

#30 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 03:40 PM:

I just have to say that from the point of view of someone who writes the stuff, being told that you've transcended your genre is like being called a credit to your race.

Gaiman commented on renaming (rather than removing from) genre at a "New York Is Book Country" interview last September; (as I recall the remark) he mentioned somebody telling him he wrote "graphic novels", not comics, leaving him feeling like a hooker who has just been called a lady of the evening....

Tina -- interesting reference. If 1869 is the earliest, it certainly adapted quickly; my 1888 reference was to someone being called a jerry-jailer for ]letting[ a prisoner escape.

#31 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 04:08 PM:

I'm all for King getting his mad props, but Card's remarks are way over the top. There's a man reaching for a grievance or three to monger. Harold Bloom may speak for Card's imagined "literary elite," but Bloom is hardly a reliable indicator to the views of literary academia at large. Then Card conflates the publishing world with the literary world. No doubt there's a great deal of overlap, but the two are hardly coterminous. A former publishing CEO is no more representative of literary academia than Bloom. Card's jump from Bloom to Simon & Schuster to the "academic-literary elite" isn't even lucid.

OSC's assertion that King will be remembered when every writer "the literary elite" favors is forgotten is doubtful, but not worth disputing. No one knows who will survive; and prophecy doesn't have anything to do with enjoying any of those writers right now, anyway. Finally, it's worth pointing out, as Card doesn't, that the National Book Award has been awarded to writers who "tell stories," most notably in 1997 when Charles Frazier's first novel Cold Mountain beat literary elite faves Don Delillo and Thomas Pynchon. I could go on, but it's obvious to me that King's work doesn't interest Card anymore than it interests Bloom. Both just want a scalp.

I would barely know where to start disagreeing with Card's Barcelona speech. The whole thing seems largely a figment of his own imagination.

#32 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 05:53 PM:

Paul: Maybe we're reading different subtexts in the same article, or perhaps the subtext I got was a little bit further afield from the actual subject at hand. I do disagree with Card on the idea of King rejecting the award (too late anyway!) as I think it's more classy and humble to accept and just not care...and perhaps his manifesto smacks a little too much of "Methinks the lady doth protest too much..." but that's not to say that there isn't some value to examining the concept of elitism for what it is. As far as the idea of the exclusivist aesthetic goes, I think I've run across it plenty of times--particularly going through art school.

(Big digression here--skip to next paragraph to continue on writing thread: I had good teachers at my first school, but try telling my next set of profs that I wanted to go into graphic design and not Fine Art, with capital letters. Holeeeey shit! Man, did I get an earful about what a sin it would be to prostitute my talents in such a fashion. You know, the sort of folk who tell you that they want to see the spiritual aura of an object rather than its actual form. Oh, and sadly, once I got an award because somebody took one of my more stylized works and hung it upsidedown. I didn't find out until after the art had been judged, but apparently it had more Artistic Value that way.)


All that said, I've also seen a certain sort of literary snobbism, directed at genre literature. Or I've seen people harp on and on about style or allusions. (When I was little, I was convinced that a truly literary novel should have people saying random things in French, because there were a lot of British novels where people would talk in French for entire paragraphs--without translations. I felt very uneducated.) So I think there's something to be said for telling a story with clarity and trying to be true to life, instead of obfuscating and stylizing until your thesaurus has puked itself all over your screen/paper.

(Side note: I've never heard jury-rig...except as in rigging the jury. I knew about jerry-rig, but I always assumed for some reason that jury-rig was some malapropism. Silly me.)

#33 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 06:05 PM:

Paul, while you have a point about no one knowing for sure what will survive, Card points to some examples of why he believes what he does about King vs 'literary' authors' chances of survival, and it's a reasonable point.

Also, Card's not imagining the literary elite, although I think he meant literary elitISTs. He's not imagining anything he writes about in that second bit at all. It's people with that attitude that destroyed my interest in poetry for a dozen years; it's people with that attitude that keeps me away from anything that is not clearly a genre work unless I get a specific recommendation (i.e., I don't set foot in the non-genre parts of the fiction section unless I'm looking for something specific).

What annoys me is not so much the celebration of the vague, the "metaphorical", or the obscure as the fact that if you do not make your work pretty much inaccessible, it's lambasted by this crowd, which I must stress again, is either not imaginary or is apparently the mass hallucination of myself, Orson Scott Card, and a large number of my friends.

I am not going to say I agree with every word OSC has in those two essays, but I think he makes some extremely good, valid points, and if you have not run into the attitude he's describing and I'm affirming exists, you have been darn lucky.

#34 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 09:35 PM:

To go off on another tangent -- do you think it's all right to have a dying character say, “Marry her, Jake. Bible says it ain’t good for a man to be alone,” if the next thing he says is, "Oh, shit"?

I mean, there's you-should-listen-to-this last words and then there's the real last words. And I'm sure there's been a lot of the former, dutifully recorded, followed by the latter, dutifully unrecorded.

#35 ::: JMKagan ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 10:57 PM:

NelC---I think you've got it.
I was there when my dearly beloved Elsie stopped breathing forever. Her last word was "Momma?" as if she was expecting her mom to be just around the corner to find her and catch her up and hug her. In the weeks following her death, I listened to any number of folks tell me her last words---the last words THEY heard from her, that is.
The hospice nurse told me later on that most people (male or female) who die at home in their own beds call for Momma.
I'm guessing the black box is different and "Oh, shit!" is more common therein.
That said, I think I'd believe a story (the *right* story) where the last words were "Marry her, Jake" and then "Momma!" The writer'd have to go some for me to believe "Marry her, Jake" and then "Oh, shit!"---but I've known writers who could make me believe that.

#36 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 18, 2004, 11:17 PM:

Combining two subthreads, I always liked the things that freshly-dead people said to Death in Sandman. My favorite was the SIDS baby who says "That's it? That's all I get?"

#37 ::: LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:06 AM:

I'm not a big horror reader, but the big thing about King is, you pick up one of his stories and read the first paragraph, and you're hooked. You can't put it down. You absolutely HAVE to know what happens next -- even if you're squinting and grimacing because really, you don't want to know. And usually, that pace doesn't let up till the very end.

That's a form of brilliance, imo.


-l.

#38 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:48 AM:

That's Pet Sematary. Let's spell it right...

#39 ::: pericat ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:48 AM:

My apologies, Robert. I thought I had it wrong, and googled my spelling and came up with a ton of hits, including one from Amazon. So I figured it was just me.

#40 ::: julia ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 02:19 AM:

Bloom is sort of a William Bennett figure, I think. He writes endlessly on Standards in the same way as Bennett flogs Virtues, and people who arent interested in either standards or virtues buy the books to prove they care very deeply indeed and then dont read them.

That could also be why they sell so well for sloppily argued tendentious books.

#41 ::: bad Jim ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 03:06 AM:

Once upon Mount Lassen in a thunderstorm, lightning stuck perhaps fifty feet ahead of me, flash and thunder simultaneously kaboom. I'm certain I exclaimed either "Jesus!" or "Shit!" but I've never been able to recall which.

#42 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 07:50 AM:

JM -- I really meant for "Oh, shit" to stand in for the whole class of exclamations. I guess the specifics will depend on the manner of one's going. Not everyone who dies in bed will be slipping gently from this existence; some of us will be going kicking and complaining. I can imagine the words as part of the phrase, "Oh, shit, that hurts" for example, though uncompleted.

I think my all-time favourite of unintended last words is: "Rubbish. They couldn't hit an elephant at this dist--". Some ACW officer, I think.

#43 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 09:29 AM:

"I drank WHAT?!?"

#44 ::: Paul ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 10:33 AM:

if you do not make your work pretty much inaccessible, it's lambasted by this crowd

What crowd is this? Is this a crowd with genuine malign influence or just crabby, snobby people, generally speaking? Card's conflation of the two is what I find most questionable about his remarks.

I don't want to sound as if I'm disparaging King or Card or genre fiction because I've enjoyed them all before and I will again. And I don't want to discount anyone's experiences with literary snobs and elitists, either because I've encountered them too and they're frequently just as unpleasant as Card says. But remarks like "The academic-literary elite prefers literature that cannot be properly understood unless you have your secret English Department Decoder Ring" and "Certainly you won't understand it unless you have paid money to an English professor to teach you how to read it properly. It's sort of an English Ph.D. Full Employment Policy" are just petulant. If there's any argument at all there, it's two deeply anti-intellectual assertions: A) "professors" (or the "academic-literary elite") write to intentionally confound common folk whom they despise; and B) common folk can't understand anything the "professors" write on their own, nor should they want to.

I ask you: who's the elitist here?

Card condemns an entire discipline and all his imagined pointy-headed intellectuals who aren't as in touch with the People as he is on the words of one eccentric critic and a CEO. That's what really chafes me about those remarks. Elitism isn't any less annoying when it's dressed up as faux-populism.

And Card's populism is faux-. That's the funny thing. He wants to despise Bloom's canon, but he also wants to incorporate King (and implicitly himself) into that canon. Card may say that "literature" is anything that people read and admire, but comments like "Meanwhile, though, King will have the last laugh." and "King will be remembered when all the writers favored by his disparagers are forgotten" suggest that he has an (unsurprisingly) conservative view of the literary canon as cultural validation. It's just not his canon. Someday, however, Orson Scott Card may yet take the place of F.R Leavis.

My disagreements with Card's Barcelona speech are similar, but I'll spare everyone them. If anyone must know what they are, hollar, and I'll write them up on my own blog.

#45 ::: Kim Wells ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 12:03 PM:

---first topic: Bloomin' around
Bloom makes me crazy. I am a literary academic-- eventually one of those Ivory Tower types Bloom wants to tell what to do. But I also aspire to be traipsing those ivory halls giggling to myself about teaching classes about sci fi, magic realism (not just the stuffy kind) and maybe even King, right along with classes on, say, Whitman and Dickinson.

So while I agree, in theory, that it's good for a literary type (and by this I mean anyone who reads) to have some kind of common ground (oh, you mean, when they talk about Grey-Eyed Athena, or a "dark woods" there's some precedent there?) I also get mad because canons leave out so much. There's only so much time, and we can't read everything, but honestly, will it ruin us to not read about a big white whale as opposed to Sethe and Beloved or maybe even Friday & Shadow?

I hate LISTS that leave out so many great writers and pretend that they don't exist. Bloom BARELY sticks Toni Morrison on his list. He doesn't include many writers who make me laugh, cry, sell my soul for another one by the author.... all the things that I think make great literature. It's like he is one of those people who says "I don't read living authors" because MOST of the books/authors on his lists are DEAD WHITE MEN.

I don't mean we should all aspire to only read "GREAT LITERATURE" in all marble, gothic capital letters, either. When I say great, I mean it as a simple adjective, not a holy writ.

So while I agree that a canon can be a useful thing, I constantly want to expand that canon to include things that Bloom does not include. Bloom gets to keep telling people that society is going to hell in a handbasket because we're too worried about these issues like, oh, race, and class, and gender, and forget about "UNIVERSAL" truths but I get to disagree with him that his idea of universal and mine are the same.

So again, the point: I'm torn. Canon? Sure. Tiny 100 book canon that includes stuffy writers who make me fall asleep after reading four pages? Books I think "I really ought to read" and then can't get through? No. Harlold Bloom? Not invited to my dream dinner party. But then, I imagine he wouldn't want to come, because I would invite people whose work I love, like King, and Octavia Butler, and Sarah Orne Jewett, and Jaqueline Carey, and Twain, and Faulkner, and Shakespeare, and Gaiman, and Robin McKinley, Morrison, and Dickinson, and Woolf..... the list goes on and my dinner budget is high. Authors Bloom never includes on his "great books" lists would hobnob with the "GREAT" ones. And me, giggling like a madwoman in the corner. :)

---- second topic: Brilliant, King

And finally, I still like my description of King as sometimes brilliant. By this I mean brilliance in all its forms, including number 6:

bril·liant adj. 1. Full of light; shining. See Synonyms at bright. 2. Color. Relating to or being a hue that has a combination of high lightness and strong saturation. 3. Sharp and clear in tone. 4. Glorious; magnificent: the brilliant court life at Versailles. 5. Superb; wonderful: The soloist gave a brilliant performance. 6. Marked by unusual and impressive intellectual acuteness: a brilliant mind; a brilliant solution to the problem. See Synonyms at intelligent. n. A precious gem, especially a diamond, finely cut in any of various forms with numerous facets. –brilliant·ly adv. –brilliant·ness n.

Including: facets that make me think (the ones you don't really want to read but can't help looking at); including metaphorically "full of light". Including sharp and clear in tone-- sometimes, his voice is so sharp, and I feel I could walk down the street and meet his characters standing there.

I'm not arguing that brilliance is the same thing for everyone, but King definitely has those moments in some of his work-- like the Dark Tower series, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon, and many of his short stories. But then there's stuff like Desperation (ack cough). SO, maybe one will feel better if I quibble a bit and say MOMENTS of brilliance.

#46 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 01:04 PM:

Paul:
"What crowd is this? Is this a crowd with genuine malign influence or just crabby, snobby people, generally speaking? Card's conflation of the two is what I find most questionable about his remarks."

It's both. It's critics, whether published or the group of people you're dealing with in an academic setting or a group of people who you hoped would critique your work and are busy sneering at you for not being avant-garde enough or for daring to write something in a formalist style (if poetry) or write (and the word is always said with a sneer) 'genre' novels. They seem to primarily be found in or around college campuses, but can also be found at the helm of a poetry magazine or in online groups. (rec.arts.poems comes to mind as far as poetry goes, at least r.a.p in the '90s, the last time I ventured in there.) It's not every critic out there, certainly, but I don't think Card ever claims it is; he claims that it's a large number of vocal critics, that's all.

The pointy-headed intellectuals are not imaginary. They may be a minority, but they are vocal and they are snobs who have been known to convince people what they write is unpublishable crap simply because it doesn't meet their standard. They're small-minded, and mean, and bullies, and I repeat again, they are the reason I stopped paying any attention to poetry -- my own or others' -- for years.

Believe me when I say my dedication to formalist poetry is entirely because of people like this.

If you have not encountered the phenomenon, the image seems ludicrous, I concede, but as has been noted in passing in many other threads, it doesn't take a lot to discourage a budding writer. Being told what you're writing is crap because it doesn't conform to some literary standard that you're obviously too stupid to understand will put a cramp in your writing.

#47 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 03:25 PM:

Kim, did you mean Wednesday and Shadow? Or am I missing the reference? (I saw you listed Gaiman.)

Incidentally, when you google literature, character, Friday and Shadow (without quotes) the first hit is a list of OSC's works. Weird.

#48 ::: Bill Osment ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 03:45 PM:

Thanks for posting this. I only want to add a comment about King's introductory remarks about his wife, Tabitha.

Last fall and out of the blue she lent encouragement and support to my Web site when I was ready to fold the tent and cease to be online.
At first I did not realize it was her who was contacting me via email. Since that time which occurred before the DISTINGUISHED CONTRIBUTION TO AMERICAN LETTERS AWARD and the last exchange of emails we have had, I can say with confidence, that no finer person could Stephen King have married.

Both remember well lesser times and now rich as they are, have contributed time, money and much effort to improve the lives of many Americans. And never once out of guilt.

Tabitha's emails had less to do with "St. Stephen" and more about common interests, etc. And yes, like he said in his speech, her sarcasm carries much weight. But it comes from a hale and hearty soul, who in one bit of a rant about rich Republicans in Florida, had me rolling on the floor with laughter. Thanks, TJ.

Bill Osment
http://moose-and-squirrel.com

#49 ::: TL Hines ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 04:39 PM:

I remember reading my first Stephen King book, "The Shining," when I was 10 years old. It was the first novel that made me think, "Wow, I'd love to be a writer."

I rather think Stephen King has had that kind of impact on many people over the years, launching them into the world of writing. He should get an award for that alone.

#50 ::: Barbara ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 04:54 PM:

Thank you, TB. Faulkner it isn't, but it says many things about writing which should be said and considered.
Let's not disparage the white whale book. Some of the best writing I 've read is in that story.
I long ago threw away the books which I should have read but didn't. On the other hand, the efforts of the literary elite to make me love Paradise Lost succeeded. No thanks to H. Bloom, however. He has believed too many of his dinner introductions and press notices and is become a pompous spewer of status quo and it's good because I say it is.

#51 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:08 PM:

TL - same story, different book. Pet Sematary scared me so badly, I wanted to write something just as scary, to get it out of myself and give it to someone else.

#52 ::: Cur the Mudgeon ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:20 PM:

King speechifies: "If I happen to be the writer of such a death bed scene, I’d choose “Son of a bitch” over “Marry her, Jake” every time. We understand that fiction is a lie to begin with. To ignore the truth inside the lie is to sin against the craft, in general, and one’s own work in particular."

I've only read one S King book, Blood and Smoke; I was on a train, a captive audience, eager to like it, but I thought the prose was terrible. The PROSE. Terrible. I don't have the book or I'd look up samples... the passives, the frags... bad prose, bad, bad, bad.

The situations he debunks in his speech, as quoted here, the Great truth sayer "people say SHIT when they're about to die"--big deal. His great self-praise defense/attack doesn't seem to apply 1) against writers I like who I can't find in supermarket shelves; 2) to the problems of his own writing, if Blood and Smoke is a legit' sample.

Now take let's look at the plot of one of his stories from B&S. Man goes into hotel room and its really weird! Things get weirder and even surreal! The walls are melting! The evil women in the painting bears her breasts! Something about smoking! Ahhhh!!!! The end.

Okay, how about another story plot from B&S: Man and unpleasant wife/or exwife go to fancy french restaurant in NYC. Maitre D. (or maybe it was the chef??) talks in a weird, consciously fake French accent. His talkin' gets weirder and weirder, goofy even. He starts waving a knife around, chasing and killing people. Something about smoking, the end!!! WOW! Now there that's some fancy writing. He tells it like it is. Give him an award, and let him trash all those bad-good writers who write "Marry him, Jake" before the plane crashes, writers like Gabriel Garcia Marquez, for instance, not to mention Tolstoy.

I liked some of the S King-based movies I saw. They were fun. So I'm not totally against the dude. But come on, he's not sayin' it like it is, so let's not all get on the Amen train just because it's fun to tip over pillars.

#53 ::: Jeff Allen ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:46 PM:

Cur (you said it not me):
Like you said, you only read one. Unfortunately it's one I haven't read, so I won't dispute you directly on that.

However, having read a little GG Marquez, I must say that I prefer King's truth. Love in the Time of Cholera was good, very good, but I felt alienated by it. Greater minds can discuss the differences in language and culture.

I found a little book while browsing up in Maine, and I wish I could remember the title. It was a kind of manifesto against the writing styles of a few of today's so-called literary giants. Delillo was one, I believe. The author did such a wonderful job of examining/deconstructing the prose, showing that lines of text could deliver very little content.

I don't mean to put GGM or Tolstoy or anyone else in this "group." It just struck a chord with me. While it could be argued that SK could edit just a tiny bit from the final draft, none of his writing ever seems superfluous. He may go into great detail in describing, say, a smoke-induced hallucination. But each detail rings true to me. It's a kind of noble simplicity.

I worry that I've not made my case. "Simplicity" might be taken to mean "simple." A better-read Delillo or Marquez fan could chime in. But for me, Stephen King is pure gold. Sorry you haven't experienced that.

#54 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 06:50 PM:

I've hardly read any Stephen King mostly for the reasons I've hardly read any horror: weak stomach for grue in writing. Or TV; I can't watch X-Files. (For some reason, by way of contrast, my dad's open heart surgery textbooks have little effect. Go figure.) I still admire the tangliness of Eyes of the Dragon, however, which I read with delight because it didn't knot up my stomach. I haven't read enough King to call him brilliant or non-brilliant, but I liked what I was able to get past my weak stomach, and I am happy that he did, after all, get selected for the award.

I haven't had enough contact with the literary elite and/or elitists to speak to that much, but I was one of the top two English students at my high school and I remember the absolutely boggled look in 12th grade World Literature IBH when I walked in with some X-Men comics borrowed from a middle school girl friend. And the: Comic books, Yoon Ha? I dunno, we were already reading things like Tess of the d'Urbervilles (ugh) and Macbeth for class, why shouldn't I read comic books (along with all the other things, like Sidney Lanier and Roger Penrose and Isaac Asimov and John Keegan and...and...) outside of it? I hate to say it, but high school English scared me off taking any literature courses in college, and in retrospect I think I might have enjoyed them.

This was also the teacher who asked us for a favourite author and, when I said Harlan Ellison (I was stuck on "The Deathbird" even though it nearly stopped my heart), thought I had meant Ralph Ellison. (I really must read The Invisible Man one of these days.)

I can only imagine the expression that teacher would have if I went back to visit and mentioned that I'd gotten, of all things, science fiction published. I suppose similar experiences have soured people on a Literary Establishment, which saddens me, because I also had wonderfully supportive English teachers who encouraged me to write whatever I was writing, even if it was stuffed full of shapeshifting dragons and spaceships. But it took so few teachers to scare me away from "literature" when I'd gone into high school with the goal of becoming an English major.

Of course, maybe what the world needs is more Tabithas.

(Sends thankful vibes toward her husband-of-letting-the-crazy-Yoon-write-at-will.)

#55 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 07:04 PM:

Yoon Ha - if it's the grotesque and frightening that keeps you away from most of King's works, then I do recommend The Talisman, but perhaps you should avoid its follow-up, Black House. Though Talisman IS written for adults, its main character is still a child, and I found it to be much less unsettling than most of King's books, when I was still "too young to be reading Stpehen King" (according to my teachers, not my parents.) Perhaps Straub's influence on the book; perhaps not.

(ps - forgive my lack of italics for book titles, but I am unfamiliar with what sort of formatting this site requires, and relatively uninformed on such things. If someone could e-mail me simple formatting instructions, it would be much appreciated, and all future posts will avoid this faux pas.)

#56 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 08:28 PM:

Cur: I thought _Blood and Smoke_ was only "published" in audio format.

I find audio books to be difficult, because it's hard to get pulled headlong into story when you're tied to the pace of the reader.

#57 ::: Alice Keezer ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 08:55 PM:

Kate: Though King does a lovely job of reading his own stuff. I certainly walked away from Blood and Smoke with a different idea of King's writing and reading ability than Cur.

And yes, Blood and Smoke is only available in audio format, though (I believe) all 4 stories are available in print in the anthology, Everything's Eventual. I don't know which version Cur initially ran across, but I do recommend first hearing the stories aloud, then reading the anthology versions for clarification, if anything.

My first encounter with Blood and Smoke was that I needed something to fill the silence during a six-hour road trip to Maine late at night. I don't recommend this approach, unless you like giving toll booth operators the impression that they resemble the latest serial killer.

#58 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 09:58 PM:

I stopped reading King a long time ago. The third book in a row where It's The AntiChrist! and/or Native Americans Are To Blame made me give up. I read The Shining (Native American burial ground gets its revenge), Pet Sematary (ditto), and The Stand (not only the AntiChrist, but an evangelical-Christian polemic of a particularly repellent nature IMO). I also read FireStarter, which lacks both of those traits (no AntiChrist, no vengeful NA spirits), and which I liked a lot better.

I guess, not having ever been a Christian, the AntiChrist (and the Devil etc) has no power to scare me, and horror minus scary pretty much equals boring. I have to admit I found the frequent presence of Native Americans as mystical tropes (they're The Evil in The Shining, Pet Sematary, and (partly) in Firestarter; I'm not sure about The Stand) kind of offensive; my discomfort with it blunted my enjoyment even of Firestarter, which I otherwise liked.

Now, I have nothing against his style at the sentence level. No howlers jumped out at me (it's been years, but I still remember howlers from other authors that long ago). It's just that the stories he writes aren't ones I'm intereseted in reading. That doesn't make him a bad writer; just a bad choice for me.

OTOH, this is also the guy who wrote the stories for Stand By Me and The Green Mile, both of which I enjoyed immensely as films; while River Phoenix was an astonishingly good actor even at that age, and Tom Hanks...is Tom Hanks, it was the stories that caught me up. While each (as movies; I have not, alas, read the actual stories) has its gory bits, neither of those can reasonably be called horror.

(To be fair, Kubrick's version of The Shining -- NOT the cheesy miniseries version -- is a masterpiece, but then I like Kubrick...I even liked Eyes Wide Shut, which everyone else I know hated.)

So write me down as one who wishes King would stop writing horror altogether; I might start reading him again.

As for Card? I refuse to even pick up one of his books. Songmaster was so full of homophobic hate that I literally almost threw up after finishing it. I read one more book of his, just in case that was an aberration; it was the same. I walked past him (quickly) at WorldCon one year as he was doing some standup routine apparently making fun of Secular Humanism; I was tempted to say People Who Live In Glass Houses, dude. But of course I didn't; I've had my fill of homophobic jerks for one lifetime. I just hope he's utterly forgotten and disCarded when his own life is over.

#59 ::: Yoon Ha Lee ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:09 PM:

Alice--thanks for the recommendation. I didn't realize there was significant? variation in horror-content over his novels. That's what I get for taking an inadequate sample, I guess (but when you're in your bedroom alone at night, "I shouldn't have started reading that at 10 PM" is cold comfort for scaredy-Yoons). And hey, what's a few italics between acquaintances; I knew which were the titles in your post. :-)

I really need to reread Songmaster. I did not pick up on homophobia as a subtext, but at the time I read it I was barely aware of sex, and heterosexual vs. homosexual was the etymology thing that I got in trouble over in 5th grade. (I couldn't see what the big deal was: homo-, same, hetero-, different, and sex? Sex was the stupid thing grown-ups made too much fuss about, whatever it was.)--Er, it was in 9th grade or so I read Songmaster, not 5th. But I was an exceptionally naive 9th grader...

#60 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:40 PM:

Xopher, I'm in part with you. I'm also greatly suggestible and Mr. King SCARES THE FREAKING HELL OUT OF ME. I can barely stand to read his books, and the movies are right out. I get nightmares from reading, and do not want to think about viewing the movies.

This was reinforced by the time I was reading an anthology of short stories that was lead by, I think something called "the Fog," which was about a mysterious fog where supernatural creatures invaded the land and preyed upon the people in that land (of Maine-like proportions). We drove down from Lawrence, KS to Afton, OK in what I vaguely recall was late spring for the burial of one of my myriad uncles, we had to do it in a day because we were both working for the University of Kansas and all we had for uncles was a day. We were returning late at night, and suddenly encoutered a deep, enrobing fog cloud, which almost caused us to prang into the 'highway divides to four lanes" on the road just south of Garnett, KS. I had read the collection on the way down, I realliy really had the creeps all the way back to Lawrence and could not wait to be in the safety of our everyday, wonderful, safe apartment.

I have watched Carrie a number of times, and even though it's a good movie, it gives me the same creeps every time.

#61 ::: Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: February 19, 2004, 11:50 PM:

Xopher: Stephen King is also responsible for Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption, the movie version of which cut off the first half of the title. (In the same collection as The Body, basis for Stand By Me, and Apt Pupil).

I must admit, I read Pet Semetary and the Shining at a decidedly young age (12, I think?) and missed the Native American is Evil bits. I did observe that Dreamcatcher seemed to be blatantly going that way just from book blurbs and movie reviews, and opted to give it a miss - but then, i haven't read much by King for many many years, simply because he's inconsistent. No GREAT writer is consistently equally great, but there are many whose names are still clearer signposts of quality than King, and I do like having some signposts.

Re: Card. I didn't really get the kind of homophobia that involves hate or makes me want to vomit out of reading Songmaster. I DID get the impression the author himself was not comfortable with the homosexual implications, and therefore twisted his plot away from them. Whether from hate or personal discomfort or serious lack of confidence in his own heterosexuality. And that kind of authorial intrusion ruins a book whatever the underlying cause (Although it's worsened when the underlying cause is something offensive to that reader in particular). He's almost as uneven a writer as Stephen King.

But then, he also wrote Ender's Game, Speaker for the Dead, Seventh Son, and Enchantment. Those four forgive a lot of bad books, even their own sequels. Doesn't mean I'll rush out and seek his next book; again, not enough of a signpost. But it does mean I won't dismiss him entirely.

#62 ::: Tina ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 01:55 AM:

Hrm, I don't know that you really have to be Christian to appreciate The Stand, but hey, different strokes and all that.

I like King's stuff because it's archetypical. There's usually a twist of some sort in it, but he does the common very well.

I don't like everything he's written. But I like a lot of it.

As far as Songmaster goes: am I the only person who didn't feel there was some sort of homophobic message in it? I read that and said "Huh?" Maybe it's just my "what author thinks and characters think aren't the same" filter cropping up.

#63 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 02:28 AM:

Card is easily my least favorite author that is generally well-liked by readers who have tastes similar to mine. (I hope that makes sense...) I thought Ender's Game was really mediocre--like Harlan Ellison on a bad day. I'd be worried that I was letting my dislike of his politics seep into my opinion of his books, but at the time I read it I didn't know anything about his politics.

And to paraphrase Oscar Wilde, anyone who can read "Unaccompanied Sonata" without laughing has a heart of stone. Actually, that one's bad enough that I recommend it to aficionados of kitsch.

All IMHO, of course--no offense meant to Card fans. I'm sure there's someone I love that you feel the same way about!

King I can take or leave, but usually leave. He'd be a fun guy to have lunch with, though.

#64 ::: Holly M. ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 10:50 AM:

I have to weigh in and say that I don't believe "Native Americans are evil" was the theme or the intent of _Pet Sematary_ or _The Shining_. In Pet Sematary, the idea was that naive or selfish people were calling on ancient forces which they had no business disturbing. As best I can remember, the fact that the place had been an Indian burial ground was merely an Ominous Horn.

I never did figure out where the evil came from in The Shining, which weakened the book for me somewhat. When I last read it a few years ago, I sort of sketchily concluded that the hotel was full of evil because so many people had done evil things there, but then again, a lot of the scariest things are scary because there IS no explanation.

Regarding Card, I have only ever read Ender's Game, and although I enjoyed it immensely, I felt it had some sexist elements--see, Xopher, we all have our little betes noirs. However, I usually enjoy Card's essays and agree wholeheartedly with most of what he says about writing.

As far as King and the elitist snobs...

I've said for years that King is my patron saint. I've been less avid about following his horror works since Gerald's Game, but I greatly admired On Writing and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. That's partially a reflection of my changing tastes.

I got put through the wringer of Literary Criticism, too. In high school, I was told I would "outgrow" my interest in spec fic.

My college CW prof told me to my face I was a hack. It took me a few years to realize he was telling me, "You're too good to be wasting yourself on this stuff." I suppose it's a backhanded compliment, but it was ironic coming from a man who used to make a living writing for National Lampoon. His idols were Faulkner and Updike; the former I can't read and the latter I admire but don't much like. That professor got me so twisted up as to what was "right" that I dropped out of college and didn't write anything for a year.

Which is not to say I didn't learn anything from him; I did. But you are what you read, and when all you read is angst from the New Yorker and Atlantic Monthly, that gives you a very narrow strainer through which to force the maelstrom of a story. It took me nearly a year to incorporate the useful bits of Prof. W's classes so that I could apply them to my own work without guilt.

Extrapolating from what Kim Wells said, above: teaching writing and literary criticism would go down much more easily, and stick better, if the texts used to teach from were more accessible. Good writing is good writing, the "rules" apply to Danielle Steele just as they apply to Faulkner (I won't be drawn into a debate about Steele's quality; I've never read her). And Kim, for what it's worth I adore your scheme to teach all those diverse authors in the same class. A survey class of that type would be far more useful to the average college student than an intensive study of a single author. A student is bound to find something they like in that broader scope, and maybe fewer of them will come away with the idea that all "literature" is as heavy and dry as a bran muffin.

And for the record, when I went back to college three years later, one of the first things I wrote was for a persuasive writing class: "Why Stephen King is the Shakespeare of Our Time." I don't know whether they agreed with my conclusion, but my technique must've been sound, because it got an A.

#65 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 07:23 PM:

Xopher: as a militant agnostic, I was not put off by The Stand; if that's the Anti-Christ, where is the Christian symbolism? (I'd say it's more a creature of raw chaos -- the sort who might frighten the credulous into praying to an imaginary spook because it might be better than hiding under the covers.) I'd recommend 'Salem's Lot if you're interested in horror, and The Dead Zone in any case, if you're willing to give King another try. I've skipped most of his work because I don't have a taste for horror, but he does tell a good story.

#66 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 20, 2004, 08:36 PM:

I suppose I have encountered the Literary Establishment that Card - and Tina - decry, but I refuse to give them any power. If I let them decide what I should read, that would be empowering them, but it would also be empowering them if I run off and read the OPPOSITE of what they like.

When I make a list of my favorite writers, some of them are sf writers, and others are very literary indeed: Richard Russo (2002 Pulitzer Prise in fiction), William Kennedy Smith (Pulitzer nominee, winner of the MacArthur "genius grant," National Endowment for the Arts Fellow, Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters in France), Roddy Doyle (Booker Prize), and Michael Chabon (Pulitzer).

Chabon is a special case - he's not an sf writer, but he is a stone comics fan.

#67 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: February 21, 2004, 01:54 AM:

Chabon's last book was an out-and-out fantasy.

#68 ::: Mitch Wagner ::: (view all by) ::: February 22, 2004, 02:11 PM:

The YA book on baseball? I haven't read it yet. I'm behind on my Chabon.

#69 ::: Jon Mann ::: (view all by) ::: February 23, 2004, 11:26 PM:

It seems a shame that Harold Bloom praises John Crowley so highly, yet can't abide King. Isn't there room to enjoy both?

Another King recommendation: he wrote some tight, non-supernatural horror novellas as Richard Bachman. 'The Long Walk' is particularly good.

#70 ::: Lis Riba ::: (view all by) ::: February 24, 2004, 12:14 AM:

[King] wrote some tight, non-supernatural horror novellas as Richard Bachman. 'The Long Walk' is particularly good.

I read that one back in HS... Brrr...
The funny thing is, as popular as Stephen King was, I avoided his work because horror scares me too easily. [This was back in the mid-80s, before King really broke out into other genres]. Yet I happily read the Bachman books in ignorance, and was greatly surprised when King came out about the pseudonym a few years later.

#71 ::: jenny ::: (view all by) ::: February 25, 2004, 06:21 AM:

i've always been a big steven king fan, like others have said, he has writen some crap stuff, some ok stuff, but then a hell of a lot of really good stuff that far outweighs anything else. the award was deserved and the speech was excellant, honest and in a way quite inspirational to a wannabe writer such as myself.

#72 ::: Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 29, 2004, 08:52 PM:

Um, this is probably too late, but it seems worth noting that beginning with Julia's comment of February 19, several people--Julia included--appear to be confusing Harold Bloom with the late Allen Bloom.

Both Blooms are known for attempt to mold the canon, but it's Allen who was really the "William Bennett type figure." Harold Bloom is a much more flamboyant, weird, complicated, and interesting character.

(Disclaimer: Teresa and I once worked for Harold Bloom, at a remove. Teresa never actually met him; I did.)

#73 ::: DM SHERWOOD ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 11:02 AM:

I'm trying to remember the Literery Award (over here in the UK) that had a couple of critics threaten to walk out if PHILLIP PULLMAN'S Dark Materials Triology was seriously condired. No Kiddie Lit wanted Here. Sorry its gone thru my sieve of a memory.

#74 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: March 01, 2004, 12:59 PM:

DM Sherwood--I think you might be referring to the Booker.

#75 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: March 02, 2004, 02:29 PM:

Xopher and Holly M.--you might want to take a look at King's "Danse Macabre," a very entertaining history of horror literature from 1950-1980, with a few earlier works covered. The publisher's work on the most recent edition was not kind: a number of errors were corrected in the text, but footnotes were swapped and I think the index had some bad page numbers. Despite this, you get a pretty good history of the field and what King thinks are the key elements in any film, radio, or printed horror.

Holly M.--it's pretty clear from King's comments in "Danse Macabre" that he wanted to write a book about "the Bad Place" without falling back on the evil being caused by the house structure itself (used in "The House Next Door") or the unexplained bad spot (used in "The Haunting of Hill House"), which means the McGuffin needed to be something that might be found in Colorado. At least it's not as distracting as the end of one of my favorite horror novels, "Hell House" by Richard Matheson. The explanation and method of dealing with the Bad Place is perfectly logical and reasonable, but everything before that has been so tension-filled that it comes across as an anticlimax.

And for anyone creeped out by what happens to the psychic medium in the film version, called "The Legend of Hell House," I *strongly* recommend you avoid the book. Matheson's version will give you nightmares, and couldn't have been filmed back then: I'd be hard pressed to picture it being done today.

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