11/22/63 by Stephen King (TPR Challenge #18)

Remember my Audible.com dithering? I couldn't decide whether to pay for the convenience or figure out something else. Well, I finally decided to cut the cord, but not until I finished the amazing 11/22/63 by Stephen King. It took so long that I accrued two more credits in the meantime, so I downloaded two substantial books for the whole family (The Black Stallion and Anne of Green Gables) and then called it quits. The frugal ninny in me could not see paying for that convenience any longer, especially as libraries everywhere are expanding their digital audio offerings. Free is better, friends. It just is.

For my money (ironic), audio is the way to go with loooong, involved books like 11/22/63. I am a monogamous reader, so I don't often have more than one book going at a time, and sometimes, I avoid a longer book because I don't want to commit so much of my reading life to it. If it's a classic, I feel it is a worthy investment, something to accomplish, but for current stuff, I hesitate. Though I haven't read much King, I think I can safely say his stuff is an exception. It is so engaging and plot-driven that you don't get bogged down in the length. Would you agree? The audio, however, was a nice addition to the reading experience. The narrator, Craig Wasson, was very good, and though there aren't an excess of characters to juggle, he handled the voicing ably.

I like to know next to nothing about books before diving in, so all I knew about this one was that it was about the JFK assassination. With this title, it's hard not to know at least that much. I have always been especially interested in the JFK story, perhaps because 11/22/63 was my Mama's sixteenth birthday. When something terrible happens, it's always someone's birthday, but it still seems like a remarkable thing to me to have to share your day with something so huge. That said, for the first chunk of the book, I couldn't see how it was going to connect to JFK. It opens in 2011 with a Maine English teacher named Jake Epping, which seems about the furthest thing possible from Dallas in 1963. But we get there. Oh, boy, do we get there.

Is it a spoiler to say there is time travel involved? No. Here's a video from the 11/22/63 website:

The book is good, y'all. It raises interesting questions about the effects of the past on the future and made me think about the ripples we are sending out in the present. And though King's interview with the Paris Review didn't leave me trembling with shockwaves, it was still an interesting companion to this book. Conducted in two sessions (one in 2001 and the second in 2006), the interview captures King's voice (profanity and all) and spirit very well. In describing his earliest reading life, he explains,
I didn't know what popular fiction was, and nobody told me at the time. I read a wide range of books....Whatever came to mind, whatever came to hand, I would read. (466)
This quote is especially interesting because Stephen King's work stands apart from the distinction between "popular" fiction and "literary" fiction. With increased frequency, I'm annoyed by this divide. Why do we need it? Good books are good books, and I put more distance between my current reading life and my former book snob life every day. Speaking of book snobbery, this article by Matt Haig is a good one on the subject. King goes on to handle the subject more directly:
They should all be entertainments, you know. That is, in some ways, the nub of the problem. If a novel is not an entertainment, I don't think it's a successful book. (483)
The interviewer refers to his National Book Award for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters acceptance speech, where he talks about building bridges between popular and literary fiction and lists some popular writers who are ignored by the "establishment." Shirley Hazzard won for The Great Fire that year, and in her speech, she misses King's point and dismisses his "reading list." In the interview, King offers this rebuttal:
The keepers of the idea of serious literature have a short list of authors who are going to be allowed inside, and too often that list is drawn from people who know people, who go to certain schools, who come up through certain channels of literature. And that's a very bad idea - it's constraining for the growth of literature. This is a critical time for American letters because it's under attack from so many other media: TV, movies, the Internet, and all the different ways we have of getting nonprint input to feed the imagination. Books, that old way of transmitting stories, are under attack. So when someone like Shirley Hazzard says, I don't need a reading list, the door slams shut on writers like George Pelecanos or Dennis Lehane. And when that happens, when those people are left out in the cold, you are losing a whole area of imagination. (484)
King concludes his NBA speech with these words: "I hope you all find something good to read tonight or tomorrow." Isn't that what we are all doing here? Just finding something good to read?

For the record, 11/22/63 is something good to read.

1 comment:

  1. I'm a true King fan. He has strengths in plotting and characterization that many of his more 'literary' peers should envy. But I admit to getting bogged down in the middle of this one for some reason. I'll have to go back to it after I finish my current read.